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French Antillians

French Antillians


The French Antilles is a group of islands (total area, 1,880 square kilometers) in the Caribbean that are governed by two separate French départments d'outremer. The department of Guadeloupe governs the islands of Guadeloupe (16°15 N, 61°30 W), Saint Barthélemy (17°55 N, 63°50 W), Marie Galante (15°57 N, 61°20 W), the French part of Saint Martin (Sint Maarten) and the nearby smaller islands of Les Saintes and La Désirade through a prefect appointed in Paris; the total 1994 population in this department is 428,000. The department of Martinique governs the island of Martinique (14°36 N, 61°05 W), also through a prefect appointed in France; the total population is over 340,000. Both departments have popularly elected legislatures of thirty-six members, as well as locally elected senators and deputies to the French Parliament. The judicial and monetary systems are French. The official language is French, but most everyday conversation takes place in a local creole that has some African grammatical structures but much French vocabulary. The racial/ethnic makeup of the islands reflects the importance of earlier African slavery: the population is 90 percent Black, 5 percent White, and 5 percent Lebanese, Chinese, or East Indian.

The islands did not attract much early attention from the Spanish because they were defended by the Carib Indians. The French later colonized them, imported slaves, and turned them into important sugar producers. Britain sought them for their sugar, but France managed to keep these islands, although they lost several others to Britain in the Napoleonic wars. The islands' slaves were freed in 1848. The status of the islands was changed in 1946 from that of colonies to that of departments. The major sources of income are construction, cement, and rum and oil refining. Tourism is becoming more important, although the facts that few people speak English and that prices are higher than on other Carribean islands hinders this development.


Burton, Richard D. E., and Fred Reno, eds. (1995). French and West Indian: Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guiana Today. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

Dauty, Denise, and Monique Potier (1975). Guadeloupe et Martinique: Bibliographie: Tendences des recherches en sciences humaines et en médecine, 1945-1975. Paris: Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociale, Centre Charles Richet.

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