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Carib Indians Settlement In Martinique

Early in his exploration of the New World, the Amerindian inhabitants of Cuba and Hispanola told Christopher Columbus about a smaller island which they called Martinino. Coming to the island in 1502, Columbus gave it the name Martinique.

Indigenous Carib islanders called it Madiana or Madinina ("Island of Flowers"), designations still used informally in song and poetry. The Carib Indians of Martinique, however, were eradicated by the French in the seventeenth century and ensuing Martinican history and culture has been the result of creolization between French colonial and African slave societies. Martinicans are French citizens.

Location and Geography. Situated in the Lesser Antilles of the Windward Islands in the Caribbean, with the islands of Dominica to the north and Saint Lucia to the south, Martinique measures 431 square miles (1,120 square kilometers). It is a mountainous, tropical island of volcanic origin. The 1902 explosion of Mount Pelee totally destroyed the major town of Saint Pierre resulting in the capital being relocated to Fort-de-France.

Demography. As of July 1998 the population of Martinique was estimated at 407,284. Another 30 percent of Martinicans currently reside in France. Almost half as many people are born in France of Martinican parents as there are residents of Martinique itself.

About 5 percent of the population residing in Martinique hail from France. Only about 2,500 Martinicans on the island are direct descendants of the original French settlers (bekes). Most of the fewer than five thousand resident foreigners are agricultural laborers from other Caribbean islands.

Linguistic Affiliation. As part of France, the official language of Martinique for its government, schools, newspapers, and media is French. However, the vernacular which is spoken in most informal and family contexts is Creole. Derived mostly from French (with sprinklings from African, Amerindian, and English dialects), Creole is particularly expressive and idiomatic, using a relatively simple grammatical structure.

Creole originally developed out of the need for African slaves to communicate among themselves as well as to understand the commands of their French masters. The lack of local Creole literature has prompted many Martinicans to deny that Creole constitutes a language. In Martinique itself, Creole is becoming more and more French as a result of increasing cultural influences from France. Standard French is widely spoken, albeit in a distinctive, lilting French West Indian accent.

Symbolism. Ile aux Fleurs ("Island of Flowers") is one of the island's unofficial nicknames; the other, invoking its magical charm, is Pays des Revenants ("Land to Which One Returns"). The gommier (wooden fishing boat) symbolizes a society surrounded by the sea while the bakoua (a high conical hat woven from the pandanus plant) represents the early predominant peasant culture. Colibri (hummingbird) is the island mascot.

Colorful, striped female dress (madras) with a knotted kerchief represents the languorous West Indian woman of the past. Music and dance, especially of a sensuous variety, are distinctly Martinican. Poets and writers have used the mangrove (swamp) as metaphor for Martinique.

Find more on Martinique Amerindian History