views updated May 29 2018


(including Guadeloupe and French Guiana)

Departments of Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guiana

Major City:

Other Cities:
Basse-Terre, Cayenne, Grand Bourg, Kourou, Le Vauclin,
Les Trois-Ilets, Maripasoula, Pointe-à-Pitre,
Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, Saint-Pierre


In the 16th and 17th centuries, France amassed a vast empire in North America and the Caribbean. Today, the three Overseas Departments of France in the Western HemisphereMartinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guianaencompass virtually all that remains of that imperial sovereignty.

MARTINIQUE is one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean, and its beauty is matched by the richness of its history. Although discovered by Columbus, the island was taken for France in 1635 and has since been a possession of that country, except for three short periods when it was under British occupation. A singular feature of its history is that it has bred a race of queens. Joséphine, who was to become Empress of France; her daughter Hortense, who became Queen of Holland; Madame de Maintenon, morganatic wife of Louis XIV; and Aimée Debuc, the sultan validah, or queen mother, of Turkeyall were born on Martinique.

Named for Santa María de Guadelupe de Estremadura by Christopher Columbus when he landed here in 1493, GUADELOUPE offers a blend of cultures, manifested in colorful dress and a variety of culinary delights. FRENCH GUIANA was probably discovered by Columbus on his third voyage in 1498. It has good beaches, but its principal charm lies in the unspoiled inner regions, reachable only by air or motorized canoe. The infamous penal colony, Devil's Island, was located off French Guiana.



Fort-de-France, with more than 100,000 residents, is the only significant metropolitan center on the island. The city is picturesque in that the architecture is colorful, and the effects of the tropics tend to explain, and even soften, the rather shabby aspect of much of the town. Open drainage ditches alongside some streets are an eyesore and a nuisance, but they no longer carry sewage and are gradually being covered up.

Martinique was first settled by Europeans in 1635, and many parts of the island are associated with the history of the past three centuries. However, the climate, earthquakes, and the total destruction in 1902 of Saint-Pierre, then the island's principal city, have erased many vestiges of the past. It was only after Saint-Pierre was destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mount (Mont) Pelée that Fort-de-France gained prominence. Interesting archaeological sites exist on the island, once the scene of important developments of Arawak and Carib cultures dating back to the beginning of the Christian era.

Martinique and Guadeloupe are densely populated, tropical, and agricultural. Sugar, bananas, pineapples to a lesser extent, and assistance from metropolitan France are the economic underpinnings of the islands, providing them with a standard of living higher than that of most of the rest of the Caribbean. French culture is pervasive. The tourist industry has been slow to develop, although tourists are much in evidence during winter. They arrive aboard cruise ships, but generally leave after spending less than a day on Martinique.

Martinique lies about halfway down the arc of the Lesser Antilles that extends from Puerto Rico to Trinidad. It is some 900 miles north of the equator, about 280 miles from the South American mainland, and 4,400 miles from metropolitan France. Guadeloupe is 100 miles north of Martinique. Its island dependencies of French Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthélemy are 150 miles north of Guadeloupe proper and about 100 miles from the U.S. Virgin Islands. French Guiana, wedged between Brazil and Suriname on the north coast of South America, extends from the second to the sixth degree of north latitude.


Lightweight clothing is worn throughout the year; washable, wrinkle-free fabrics are preferable. Cotton underwear and children's clothes can be purchased locally. Good quality yard goods are available, but expensive.

Men wear clothing similar to that worn in Washington, DC in the summer. Dark suits are appropriate for evenings. Women rarely need hats (except sunhats) or gloves; these are worn almost exclusively at church ceremonies. Dressy cottons are comfortable and suitable. During winter, some women wear cocktail dresses of silk and brocade. Also necessary is an ample supply of low-heeled shoes for walking over the rough sidewalks and streets in town. Shoes may be found locally, but none narrower than a B width. A coat is never needed but, on occasion, a fabric stole is useful.


A number of supermarkets are found in Fort-de-France, including large ones in residential districts. Most stock is imported, and prices are high. Variety of produce is usually good, although delay in transport can result in occasional shortages. A few American brands are carried locally, usually manufactured under license in Europe.

Locally produced meat and fish have their own sizable markets in downtown Fort-de-France, and several similar markets sell local fruits and vegetables.

Supplies & Services

A few tailors and dressmakers do good work relatively inexpensively. Shoe repair is adequate. Dry cleaning and laundry services range from fair to good, but are expensive by U.S. standards. Beauty shops have reasonable prices, offer adequately skilled service, and are beginning to install up-to-date equipment. Radio and other household repair service is apt to be casual, with disregard for deadlines or commitments.

Pharmacies are well-stocked with French drugs, but precise equivalents of American products are not always available.


All local education is in French. The public and parochial elementary and secondary schools have lower academic standards than in metropolitan France, although they operate according to the same system. Kindergartens are both available and good. During the past few years, Americans have enrolled children in elementary schools or kindergartens in Fort-de-France, but it is hard to gain admission to some of these institutions.

American children who speak French have no difficulty making friends among the children in the various communities on Martinique, either local or from metropolitan France.

High school students are normally sent to boarding schools in the U.S. or elsewhere. For teenagers who want to stay with their parents and are willing or able to follow French courses, education is possible here.

Fort-de-France has a school of music and a number of private music and dance teachers. Tutoring is available in diverse subjects to those whose French is adequate. A branch of the University of the Antilles and Guiana, a government-owned institution whose headquarters are on Guadeloupe, offers a four-year program in some subjects and a two-year program in others.


The Martiniquais are sports-minded. Everyone, it seems, plays or closely follows one or more sports. Football (soccer), cycling, and basketball are among the more popular games. In recent years, Americans have enjoyed sports such as tennis (four courts are available through membership in two tennis clubs), riding (two riding stables are in the residential environs of Fort-de-France), golf (one nine-hole course 45 minutes from Fort-de-France), gymnastics, and judo classes for both men and women. Boating is popular and may be attractive to those willing to assume the expense involved. Sailing lessons under French governmental auspices are inexpensive and popular. Martinique is a fairly good spot for scuba diving, spearfishing, and snorkeling.

Being a beautiful mountainous island, Martinique would seem to offer much in the way of outdoor activities. However, much of the island's potential is undeveloped, and the hot, humid climate is not conducive to sustained physical effort. Few parks or public recreation areas exist on the island, and the only beaches near Fort-de-France are artificially made beaches adjoining the principal hotels, mostly across the bay in Trois Islets area. Black volcanic beaches are in the north, and beautiful white-sand stretches in the south are accessible within an hour's drive.

Hiking in and around Fort-de-France is difficult because of the climate and the total lack of serviceable sidewalks or footpaths. The higher mountains have trails for hardy hikers. Only in French Guiana is there any worthwhile hunting. For those who enjoy the out-of-doors, nature studies are attractive.

The area around Victor Hugo, Schoelcher, and Antoine Siger Streets in Fort-de-France is replete with boutiques and duty-free shops. There are also a department store, a designer fashion shop, and an arts and crafts center in this area.

There are a few small museums on Martinique. The sugar-plantation birthplace of Empress Josephine has been turned into an historical repository and included here is a display of Napoleon's love letters. Other archives include the Volcano-logical Museum in Saint-Pierre, a new gallery dedicated to Paul Gauguin, and a small museum that displays pre-Columbian and colonial artifacts.

There are 30 hotels on Martinique. Discotheques, nightclubs, and gambling casinos light up the night, but dining seems to be the favorite evening activity; an endless choice of restaurants feature French and creole cuisine.

Twice a year, a small company of actors comes from France, once to produce classical French plays and once to sing operettas. Occasionally a musician, a traveling lecturer, or a local artist offers his talent for public enjoyment. There is considerable interest in music here, and amateur musicians can find ample scope to develop their talents in a congenial atmosphere.

The American community on Martinique is small, and is confined to a few business people, missionaries, several American spouses of French citizens, and some Martiniquais who have acquired American citizenship after living in the U.S., but have chosen to retire in the Antilles. Social organizations, such as the local bridge club, attract many of these Americans.

The most socially active times of year are the Christmas/New Year holiday season and pre-Lent carnival, and early summer. Most social life is centered around the family and, for this reason some single Americans assigned here have found it difficult to establish contacts. Reasonable fluency in French is the principal requirement for establishment of professional and personal relationships.


BASSE-TERRE , the capital of Guadeloupe, located at the southern tip on the island which bears the same name, is a banana port and commercial center. It was founded by the French in 1643 and, with a population of roughly 14,000, it retains its French colonial atmosphere. The city is in the mountainous section of the island. The volcanic peak, Soufrière, emits sulphurous fumes, but has not erupted in several years, and can be climbed. Basse-Terre's beaches are volcanic sand and, therefore, black. Snorkeling is good on the reefs off the west and south shores. Fort St. Charles, built to protect the port between 1650 and 1780, now houses the local historical museum. Fishermen from the island of Les Saintes come to Basse-Terre daily to sell their catch; Saturday is the best day to visit the native market. Other sites on this island include Carbet Falls Gorge, the archaeological park at Trois Rivières, and the rain forest.

CAYENNE , the capital of French Guiana, is located at the mouth of the Cayenne River which empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The city was founded in 1643 by the French. An Indian massacre destroyed the town, and it was not resettled until 1664. Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands fought for control of Cayenne and the surrounding region during the 17th century, and it later was occupied (from 1808 to 1816) by both the British and the Portuguese. The development of the city has been slow because of internal strife, the tropical climate, and the prevalence of disease. The harbor is shallow, making it necessary for deep-water ships to anchor some distance out. Exports include rum, timber, essence of rosewood, and gold. The Pasteur Institute here specializes in the study of tropical diseases. Several buildings from Cayenne's colonial days still stand, and there are many lovely parks. The city gave its name to the pungent pepper which is derived from plants that grow in profusion in this area. The 2000 population of Cayenne was approximately 52,000.

GRAND BOURG is the capital of Marie-Galante Island, Guadeloupe. Situated in the far southwest corner of the island, it has a protected beach and is known for its Creole-sauce seafood. Two hotels are available: Le Salut and Solédad. El Rancho, a new entertainment complex, offers a movie theater, restaurant, discothèque, and overnight accommodations.

KOUROU is located about 30 miles west of Cayenne and has a population of about 6,500. From 1851 to 1946, it was the center of the penal settlements in Guiana. The most famous of these was Devil's Island, built in 1852 on îles du Salut, an island in the Caribbean off the coast of French Guiana. Used largely for political prisoners, its most famous was Alfred Dreyfus. Excursions may be taken to these offshore islands, where the crumbling remains of the prisons can be seen. Today, Kourou is the site of an extensive space center from which the European Space Agency launches commercial satellites.

LE VAUCLIN is one of Martinique's most scenic areas, situated in the southeast, 16 miles from Fort-de-France. This fishing town of 3,000 has a palm-lined beach that suddenly comes to life with the arrival of the fishing boats. Salt marshes and the other worldly Savane des Pétrifications are nearby. The latter is an arid region where veins of lava flows appear to be petrified wood.

LES TROIS-ILETS , on Martinique, is six miles south of Fort-de-France Bay. It is best known as the birthplace of Joséphine Beau-harnais (1763-1814), the Creole beauty who became the first wife of Napoleon. Her house, La Pagerie, has been partially restored. The church where she was baptized can be visited, as well as a museum of the Napoleonic era. The estimated population of Les Trois-Ilets is 1,500.

MARIPASOULA lies on the Lawa River, 140 miles southwest of Cayenne, on French Guiana's western border. This village of about 550 is the threshold to Wayana Indian territory. The Wayanas are warm, friendly people; they are hunters who follow colorful rituals. Maripasoula has a small airstrip and an inn near the water to accommodate visitors.

POINTE-À-PITRE is the largest city on Guadeloupe, with a population estimated at 27,000 in 1995. It is located on the island of Grande-Terre, at the southern entrance of the Rivière Salée, the narrow, shallow ocean channel that separates Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre. Pointe-à-Pitre is its island's main port. More than 900 ships call each year; chief exports are rum, coffee, sugar, and bananas. Yachting is a major business, with close to 1,500 pleasure boats based here. Pointe-à-Pitre is also the finishing point (in November and December) for the Route de Rhum Rade, a 3,700-mile solo transatlantic event that begins at Saint-Malo, France. The marketplace at Pointe-à-Pitre is one of the most colorful in the area. Fort Fleur d'Epée, at Bas du Fort near Pointe-à-Pitre, was used to repel the British invasions of the 1700s. The new Edgar Clerc Archaeological Museum houses a collection of Arawak and Carib Indian artifacts from the Lesser Antilles. The stores in Pointe-à-Pitre have a fine selection of perfume, crystal, gold jewelry, and rum. There is also fine dining, especially at the little Creole restaurants, as well as dancing, and shows.

SAINT-LAURENT-DU-MARONI is a city of approximately 14,000 people on the Maroni River, 120 miles northwest of Cayenne, French Guiana. Shipping and the making of parquet flooring are the main economic activities here. This seaport was once a receiving station for prisoners during the prison era. All but the incorrigibles were housed here; ruins of the prison remain. Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni is the starting point for river excursions. The Atyp and Peslier hotels are said to provide basic, reasonable accommodations. The area nightspots bring this quiet community to life during the evening.

SAINT-PIERRE , 12 miles northwest of Fort-de-France, Martinique, was the first city the French founded in the area, in 1635. It was the scene of one of the most horrendous volcanic calamities of all time in 1902. Mont Pelée's last eruption wiped out all but one of the city's 30,000 people. The survivor was a prisoner in solitary confinementin an underground cell. Saint-Pierre, in its heyday, was renowned as the "little Paris of the West Indies." The steps and some columns from its beautiful opera house are all that remain of that era. The city is now a tourist stop, and caters to that trade with the Musée Vulcanologique. On a hill is La Factorerie, a large restaurant run by a student-restaurateur staff. A black-sand beach in the southern district is popular. Saint-Pierre's estimated population is 5,000.


Geography and Climate

Martinique, part of a group of islands known as the Lesser Antilles, stretches across the entrance to the Caribbean Sea. This archipelago, in the shape of an arc bowed out toward the Atlantic Ocean, extends for 450 miles from the Virgin Islands southward, almost to the coast of South America. The northern part of the group is called the Leeward Islands; the southern half, the Wind-ward Islands. Many of the islands are the result of volcanic eruptions forcing the ocean bed up 10,000 or more feet. From prehistoric times, this string of islands has stretched across the throat of the Caribbean like a chain of smoldering furnaces about to burst into flame.

It is customary to speak locally of the period from December to May as the dry season when, in fact, some lowering of precipitation and temperature occurs. Throughout the year, however, the mean temperature in the capital, Fort-de-France, varies only slightly, from a low of 76°F to a high of 81°F, while humidity ranges from 65 to 95%. The weather fluctuates from hour to hour; rain showers are quickly followed by bright and sunny weather, and the heat is almost invariably lifted by the trade winds. The relief brought by these prevailing easter-lies makes an otherwise difficult climate more comfortable, particularly in the evenings.

Because of the consistently high temperature and humidity, insects are numerous; lack of screening makes them particularly noticeable. Rust and mildew must be continually combatted.

Guadeloupe is actually two islands, the mountainous Basse-Terre and the flat Grande-Terre, which together resemble the shape of a butterfly. Separated by the Rivière Salée, the islands are connected by a drawbridge. The highest point is the volcano Soufrière, which rises 4,850 feet. November through April are usually the coolest and driest months. Temperatures vary from 74°F in January to 87°F in August; humidity varies from 77% in April to 85% in August.

French Guiana, the largest of France's overseas departments, with an area of 32,252 square miles, is situated in the northeast corner of South America. Suriname is on the west, and Brazil on the east and south. The land consists of low-lying coastal plains, with tropical forest to low hills. The climate is sub-equatorial, and the temperature averages 80°F throughout the year. Annual rainfall amounts to more than 100 inches, with the wet season extending from December through June.


The population of Martinique is estimated at 412,000 (June 1999). One-third of the population lives in or near Fort-de-France, the island's only major city. Migration of young people to metropolitan France in search of career opportunities limits the annual population growth rate to about 1%. Guadeloupe, Martinique's sister island 100 miles north, has about 421,000 residents. French Guiana's population is approximately 168,000 (1999 est.), half of whom live in Cayenne area.

French is spoken by virtually everyone in all three places, although a Creole patois is often heard. A good knowledge of French is essential for daily living, as well as for official and social requirements. The American community is quite small, and the few Frenchmen who know English usually prefer to speak their own language.

The people of Guadeloupe and Martinique are generally friendly toward Americans and other foreigners. The islands are 90% African and African-Caucasian-Indian mixture; 5% Caucasian; and less than 5% East Indian, Lebanese, and Chinese. French Guiana is 66% black or mulatto; 12% Caucasian; 12% East Indian, Chinese, and American Indian; and 10% other. A large proportion of the administrative and military cadre is metropolitan French.


Since 1946, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, and Martinique have borne the formal designation, Départements d' Outre Mer (overseas departments) of France. The senior French official is the prefect/commissioner of the republic, a title which replaced that of "prefect" in 1982 in all French departments under a decentralization policy. The prefect/commissioner reports to the secretary of state for Overseas Departments and Territories who, in turn, reports to the minister of the interior.

Each of the overseas departments/regions has a general council, whose members are elected from each canton, and a regional council whose members are elected by proportional representation. The policy of decentralization provides that many of the powers formerly held by the prefect will be transferred to the elected assemblies. The French military commandant for the French Antilles and French Guiana, normally a general of brigade, has headquarters in Fort-de-France, as does the French Regional Navy commandant.

The French flag, consisting of three vertical bands in blue, white, and red, is flown in Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guiana. Martinique and Guadeloupe also have their own territorial flags. Guadaloupe's flag consists of a broad horizontal red band, separated from green stripes at the top and bottom by narrower white stripes. In the red band there is a gold star offset toward the hoist. Martinique's flag has a light blue field with a centered white cross; a white serpent is in each of the four blue quarters.

Arts, Science, Education

Education is compulsory through age 16; literacy is about 80-90% in all three areas.

Two cultural centers in Fort-de-France present musical groups, including some American musicians or ensembles from metropolitan France. (Many Martiniquais are well versed in the history of American jazz.) Occasionally, local groups perform plays, sometimes in Creole. An international guitar festival has been a cultural highlight in recent years. Some opportunities are available for amateur musicians to participate in local chamber music groups. The Ballet Folklorique de la Martinique performs three or more nights weekly at various tourist hotels.

Fort-de-France has a small museum that displays pre-Columbian and colonial artifacts. A small museum across the bay, La Pagerie, is devoted to Empress Josephine of France, who was born on Martinique in 1763.

Commerce and Industry

While the resources of French Guiana remain virtually unexploited, the economies of Martinique and Guadeloupe are based on sugar, bananas, rum, pineapples, tourism, and spending by the French government. Manufacturing is peripheral and in support of the agricultural base. Local markets are dominated by metropolitan France, and the prevalence of imported over locally made products contributes to the high cost of living.

Martinique's gross domestic product (GDP) is nearly $4 billion, or about $$10,000 per capita (1995 rates). Ten percent of the labor force is engaged in agriculture, which includes bananas, pineapples, vegetables, flowers, and sugarcane for rum. Industry in Martinique includes construction, rum, cement, oil refining, and tourism. Exports include refined petroleum products, bananas, rum, and pineapples; imports are petroleum products, foodstuffs, construction materials, vehicles, clothing, and other consumer goods. France is Martinique's major trading partner.

Guadeloupe's GDP is approximately $3.7 billion, or $9,200 per capita. Over half of the labor force is engaged in services, commerce, and government. Guadeloupe's industry includes construction, cement, rum, and tourism. Bananas, sugar, and rum are the main exports; imports include vehicles, foodstuffs, clothing and other consumer goods, construction materials, and petroleum. Franc-zone countries are Guadeloupe's major trade partners.

French Guiana's GDP is about $1 billion, or $6,000 per capita. Sixty percent of the French Guianese labor force work in services, government, and commerce. Agricultural products include limited vegetables for local consumption, as well as rice, corn, manioc, cocoa, bananas, and sugar. Industries include construction, shrimp processing, forestry products, rum, and gold mining. French Guiana exports include shrimp, timber, rum, and rosewood essence. Among the imports are foodstuffs, consumer goods, producer goods, and petroleum.


Travel among the three departments is mostly by air. American Airlines flies between New York and Fort-de-France on weekends. Air France has flights between Miami and Fort-de-France, usually with stops at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Three or four ships (freighters) sail monthly between the U.S. and Martinique.

Leeward Islands Air Transport (LIAT), whose headquarters are in Barbados, and Air Guadeloupe provide scheduled service between Martinique and several neighboring islands. Air France also operates between Martinique and Guadeloupe and between each of these and French Guiana. One or two commuter airlines offer service to nearby islands, geared to the tourist trade. Except for Air France, schedules and reservations can be erratic.

The scheduled bus service in Fort-de-France is rarely patronized by Americans. Taxis are expensive. For any extended stay, a personal or rented car is the most convenient method of transportation. Since the town streets are narrow, with few available parking spaces, and roads elsewhere are equally narrow and winding, compact cars are advisable. A U.S. license may be used on the island for a visit of up to 90 days.


Local telephone service is adequate. Calls to the U.S. can be dialed directly from Martinique, but operator assistance is required for some calls in the reverse direction. Telegraph and airmail service vary in adequacy.

The local radio station, Radio-Télévision Française d'Outre-Mer (RFO) broadcasts daily from early morning until late evening. Programs are produced locally, with occasional dramatic and discussion programs produced in metropolitan France. Medium-wave receivers pick up Radio Caraïbe from the nearby island of St. Lucia, and Radio Antilles from Montserratboth stations broadcast in English and French and, occasionally, in Creole. About a dozen small, private FM radio stations broadcast in Martinique. Some medium-wave English-language stations in St. Lucia and Barbados, and the Voice of America (VOA) station from Antigua, can often be received. A shortwave is useful and recommended for American Armed Forces Radio, VOA, and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) broadcasts. Shortwave reception varies from fair to good.

Television is aired on the same time schedule as is radio. Except for the locally produced daily news, most programs originate in metropolitan France.

Newspapers are barely adequate in reporting local news, and coverage of international developments is superficial. All popular French periodicals and most Paris newspapers appear on local newsstands, usually several days to two weeks after publication. Scarcely any English-language books, either hardback or paperback, are on sale in Martinique, although some bookstores do stock standard French works, fiction and nonfiction. The public library in Fort-de-France has a few English-language books.


Local doctors, dentists, oculists, and opticians are competent for normal needs. Serious or complicated medical problems may require recourse to medical services in San Juan, Puerto Rico, or in the continentalU.S. Physical facilities are improving, but remain below American standards; emergency treatment and laboratory work are particularly poor. Maternity facilities are adequate for routine deliveries only; these are normally accomplished without anesthesia and without the presence of a physician.

The water supply in Fort-de-France is safe. Reconstituted, canned, and pasteurized milk is available. Raw fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly cleaned, although this precaution has limited value since it is often ignored by those who prepare food eaten outside American homes.

A yellow fever vaccination is required for travel to French Guiana. Inoculations against typhoid, tetanus, poliomyelitis, and the common infantile diseases are advisable. Common serums and vaccines are available locally.

The invariability of the tropical climate must be included among debilitating factors for those not accustomed to prolonged periods in this type of climate.

The government public health machinery is adequate, but tropical conditions and human indolence encourage diseases and unhealthy conditions. Unsanitary conditions in most eating places, the questionable standard of food preparation, and prevalence of insects encourage disease. A person of generally good health can expect to build up an immunity to most health hazards. Although filariasis, leprosy, bilharzia, and venereal diseases are present among the local population, only dysentery, skin infections, kidney and liver ailments, flu, mononucleosis, and dengue fever have affected Americans.


Passage, Customs & Duties

Fort-de-France can be reached on flights scheduled by American carriers out of New York, Miami, and San Juan.

Passports are required of U.S. citizens entering the French West Indies. Visitors who arrive on a commercial air carrier with a round-trip ticket may enter for up to 90 days without a visa. For further information, travelers can contact the Embassy of France at 4101 Reservoir Road, N.W., Washington, DC 20007; telephone 1 202 944-6000; or the nearest French consulate in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, New Orleans or San Francisco; Internet:

There is no U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the French West Indies. For assistance in the French West Indies, U.S. citizens may contact the U.S. Consular Agency at 9 Rue Des Alpinias, Dedier, Fort de France, Martinique, Monday-Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., except local and U.S. holidays; telephone (011) (596) 71-96-90 or fax (596) 71-96-89. The mailing address is P.O. Box 975, CEDEX 97246, Fort de France, Martinique. For after-hours service, American citizens may contact the U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados, telephone 1-246-436-4950. U.S. citizens living in or visiting the French West Indies are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown, and obtain updated information on travel and security within the French West Indies. The Consular Section is located in the American Life Insurance Company (ALICO) Building, Cheapside; telephone 1-246-431-0225; fax 1-246-431-0179; Internet: The Consular Section is open for American Citizens Services from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday, except local and U.S. holidays.

Passports are required of U.S. citizens entering French Guiana. Visitors who arrive on a commercial air carrier with a return ticket may enter for up to 90 days without a visa. For further information on entry requirements, travelers can contact the Embassy of France at 4101 Reservoir Road, N.W., Washington, DC 20007; telephone 1-202-944-6000; or the nearest French Consulate in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, New Orleans or San Francisco. Internet:

There is no U.S. Embassy or Consulate in French Guiana. Americans living in or visiting French Guiana are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Paramaribo, Suriname, and obtain updated information on travel and security within French Guiana. The U.S. Embassy is located at Dr. Sophie Redmond-straat 129, Paramaribo; telephone (011) (597) 472-900. The Consular Section is open for American Citizens Services from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., Mondays and Wednesdays, except local and U.S. holidays, or by appointment. In an emergency after normal business hours, American citizens may contact the duty officer by pager at (011)(597) 088-0338.


Pets may be imported provided they have health certificates and documentation of recent vaccination against rabies. No quarantine restrictions are imposed on dogs and cats.

Currency, Banking & Weights and Measures

The local currency is the French franc. Chase Manhattan Bank has offices in Martinique.

The metric system of weights and measures is used.

The time in Martinique and Guadeloupe is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) minus four hours (or equivalent to U.S. Eastern Daylight Saving Time, year round). The time in French Guiana is Greenwich Mean Time minus five hours (the same as U.S. Eastern Standard Time).

Disaster Preparedness

The French West Indies can be affected by hurricanes. The hurricane season normally runs from June to the end of November, but there have been hurricanes in December in recent years. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Feb/Mar Carnival*

Mar/Apr. Good Friday*

Mar/Apr. Easter Monday*

May 1 Labor Day

May 8 Veterans Day

May 22 Emancipation Day

May/June Ascension Day*

May/June Pentecost

May/June Pentecost Monday*

Aug. 15 Assumption Day

Nov. 1 All Saints' Day

Dec. 25 Christmas Day



The following titles are provided as a general indication of material published on this country:

Horowitz, Michael M. Morne-Paysan: A Peasant Village in Martinique. New York: Irvington Publishers, 1983.

Laguerre, Michel S. Urban Poverty in the Caribbean: The Martinican Experience. New York: St. Martin, 1990.

Miles, William F. Elections & Ethnicity in French Martinique: A Paradox in Paradise. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing, 1985.

Smith, A.L., and M.J. Roobol. Mt. Pelee, Martinique: A Study of an Active Island-Arc Volcano. Boulder, CO: Geological Society of America, 1991.


views updated May 23 2018


Culture Name

Martinican (sometimes spelled Martiniquan)

Alternative Names

(as part of broader geocultural grouping) French Caribbean, French West Indian, French Antillean, Antillean


Identification. 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 Pelée 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 (békés ). 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.

Recently, symbolism has been used to commemorate emancipation from slavery. Initially, credit for the abolition of slavery had gone exclusively to Victor Schoelcher, the "Abraham Lincoln" of the French colonies. In the last two decades Martinican nationalists have campaigned to emphasize the role of slave revolts and marronage (escape) in their actual liberation. The combined French and Caribbean Martinican identity has created a complex political symbolism that celebrates the French Bastille Day as well as the Martinican abolition of slavery.

Metissage, the mixing of multiple races and ethnicities (particularly French and African but also East Indian and Chinese) into a composite, multi-racial society, includes the controversial concepts of négritude (black consciousness), antillanité (West Indianness), and créolité (transcultural fusing with a Caribbean emphasis). Doudouismthe image of a tropical island paradise with a French accent, laced with romance and lassitudeusually is regarded as a saccharine stereotype.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The existence of a Martinican "nation" is a matter of dispute. After the definitive abolition of slavery in 1848 (an earlier emancipation act of the French Revolution was rescinded by Napoleon), the dominant colonial policy became assimilation: the full extension of French education, language, and civil rights to all those living under the French flag. This policy came to its apogee in 1946 when, at the urging of the representatives of the local populace (especially member of parliament AiméCésaire), the National Assembly in Paris voted to make Martinique an overseas department of France. As full citizens of France, Martinicans are members of the European community.

National Identity. Society is more like that of France than on other Caribbean islands. A relatively small group of nationalists demand outright independence for the island while others prefer autonomy within the French Republic. Most Martinicans, while preserving French West Indian cultural identity through Creole language, music, cuisine, and mores prefer not to sever their political ties with the French nation.

Ethnic Relations. The békéswhite descendants of the original French settlershave long constituted the local élite engendering varying degrees of both envy and resentment. Residual racial preferences within the non-white populace (lighter is preferred to darker skin) still mark marital and other social choices. Metros (short for metropolitans, whites from France) are regarded as outsiders by all Martinicans. Metros often occupy visible positions in government, civil service, and education, which local nationalists periodically protest. Intermarriage between Martinicans and metropolitans is fairly common.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Departmentalization and concomitant economic change have transformed the rural sugar plantation character of the island into one highly dependent on the tertiary sector and urban activity. One-third of the island's population converges daily into Fort-de-France, whose narrow symmetrically squared streets are as congested during the day as they are empty at night. Distinctive colonial-era architecture adapted to the tropicswood and stone constructions of large, open spaces with verandas and light filtering (but wind porous) windowsis gradually giving way to more "functional," enclosed, air-conditioned construction. Such architectural change, especially in government buildings, projects a less colonial look and feel in favor of a more uniform and efficient French model. An unwalled, conical straw shelterthe carbetstill dots the landscape and is reminiscent of Amerindian days.

In addition to the classic war memorials which dot villages throughout France (and therefore Martinique), monuments to Victor Schoelcher, the leader of the abolitionist movement, are also common. One monument in particulara statue in the Savanna (central park) of the Fort-de-France of the Empress Josephine, the Martinique-born wife of Napoleon Bonapartehas been the object of continuous vandalism for those who see it as a symbol of racism and continued colonialism (Napoleon's decision to reinstate slavery is attributed to the influence of Josephine).

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Until supermarkets and imported common cuisine (including steak-and-fries and fast food chains) proliferated, daily Martinican cuisine was characterized by a unique blend of French and Creole cooking, often laced with piment (hot pepper). Open air markets still supply locally grown fruits (bananas, coconuts, guava, pineapples, mangoes, love apples, and passion fruit) and vegetables (breadfruit, chinese cabbage, yams, gumbo, and manioc). Much Martinican cuisine is prepared from seafood and shellfish including salted cod, lambi (conch), octopus, blaff (boiled fish with chives) and the national dish, court-bouillon (fish in a spicy tomato sauce). However, one-quarter of the average household food budget is now spent on mostly imported meats and poultry, especially beef. Restaurants have yet to cultivate the same air of sophistication and hospitality as in France.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Boudin a fat sausage of spicy pig's bloodis a staple at all holidays. At Easter and on Pentecost a spicy dish of crab and rice, matoutou, is always served. Small fried vegetable or fish cakes (acras ), used to be reserved for saints days but have become a popular appetizer. Special occasions call for a gumbo and vegetable soup with crab or salted meat (calalou ). East Indian influence is evident in the colombo, a mutton, goat, or chicken curry. No social gathering is complete without drinking a ti-punch (straight rum with a twist of lemon sweetened with cane sugar) or a planteur (fruit juice and rum). Shrubb (rum with marinated orange or tangerine rinds) is served at Christmas.

Basic Economy. The economy is linked to that of France. The agricultural basis for the islandbanana, sugar, and pineapple plantationsis heavily subsidized by the French economy.

Land Tenure and Property. Nearly one-half of large land holdings were inherited from colonial-era distributions. Land tenancy may be practiced either by share (colonage ) or cash (métayage ). Land division for inheritance purposes is supposed to follow normal French legal practice but unresolved plot disputes abound.

Commercial Activities. While the agricultural sector employs only about 10 percent of the population, approximately one-third of workers are in government service. Another one-third of the workforce is chronically unemployed.

Major Industries. Sugar cane processing and tourism are the major industries.

Trade. Imports are equal to more than five times exports. Primary imports are consumer goods and agro-industrial products. Major exports are bananas, pineapples, flowers, and rum. Martinique's principal trading partners include metropolitan France, Great Britain, Germany, and Guadeloupe.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Universal suffrage and departmentalization (i.e., statehood) have seen the power of the békés shift from politics almost exclusively to economics. Mulattos (mixed-race persons) still retain a residual social edge over those who are descended more directly from exclusively African forebears.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Western dress, urban outlook, white collar employment, and automobile ownership are all traits of social advancement. However, the most direct hallmark of upper class status besides skin color is the use of the French language rather than Creole and a metropolitan accent rather than a West Indian accent.

Political Life

Government. Martinique is one of one hundred départements (states) of the French Republic and one of five overseas departments (DOMs). It sends four deputies (representatives) to the National Assembly in Paris and in turn receives an appointed prefect who serves as the central government's local executive. There are also two locally elected assemblies: the general council with forty-five members, which is responsible for roads, housing, transportation, education and overall infrastructure, and a regional council with forty-one members, which oversees economic, social, sanitary, cultural and scientific development.

Leadership and Political Officials. The establishment and exploitation of patron-client relations are significant means of leadership attainment in this small society. Job and contract distribution is a major criterion for political popularity. Political parties can be classified into three major categories: local affiliates of French parties which are in favor of continued departmental status for Martinique (the gaullist Rassemblement pour la République, the moderate right Union pour la Démocratie Française, and the leftist Fédération de la Martinique); those advocating autonomy for Martinique within the French Republic (the Parti Communiste Martiniquais, Parti Progressiste Martiniquais); and proindependence parties (Combat Ouvrier, Conseil National des Comités Populaires, Group Révolution Socialiste, Mouvement des Démocrates et Ecologistes pour une Martinique Souveraine, Mouvement Indépendantiste Martiniquais). The major figure in twentieth-century Martinican politics is AiméCésaire, founder of the Parti Progressiste Martiniquais.

Social Problems and Control. The legal and judicial systems of Martinique are those of France, as are the police force and gendarmerie. They are accorded high legitimacy in the eyes of the populace. The most common crime is theft, especially car break-ins and automobile theft. Economic and financial crimes are also common. Social and political protest movements have occasionally resulted in fatalities. Politically motivated vandalism has damaged or destroyed monuments and installations at electricity, telecommunications, police, and court offices.

Military Activity. France's armed forces in Martinique are the third strongest military contingent in the Caribbean after the United States and Cuba. Land, sea, and air units are represented as well as the gendarmerie. Over five thousand officers, sailors, and soldiers serve in Martinique and Guadeloupe, most of whom are from France. A special program of "adapted military service" permits Martinican conscripts to remain in the French Antilles, receiving vocational training and contributing to local development.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Martinicans benefit fully from the generous package of welfare programs available to all French citizens, covering health, retirement, widowhood, and large families. Given the high rate of unemployment in Martinique, the workfare program plays an important role in ensuring a minimal income level for the least privileged. A joint commission made up of members of the general and regional councils controls local economic development. As part of France, Martinique is part of the European community, and has benefitted over the years from development funds made available through the community. In anticipation of the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht creating a single European economic zone, the European community instituted a special program to ensure that the overseas parts of constituent members not be adversely affected by economic integration.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Local branches of nongovernmental organizations such as Amnesty International, the Red Cross, Doctors of the World, and Catholic Rescue channel Martinican philanthropy throughout the world.

Gender Roles and Statuses

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Machismo, a long-established tradition within West Indian society, still permeates Martinican society. There is a long matrifocal history of single female-headed households, which since 1975 have been heavily subsidized through government family allowance funds. Women retain power and influence in the private domain but in the more public spheres few women (with some exceptions in the fields of education and culture) occupy positions of high authority. Contraception has created a "fertility revolution," decreasing the child bearing average from almost six children in the 1950s to slightly over two in the 1990s.

Since the 1980s over one-half of Martinican women have entered the workforce, where they are disproportionately represented as salaried employees in the services sector where they are employed as servants, clerical workers, and teachers. Martinican women are three times as underemployed and more unemployed than men. One-fifth of women have achieved middle class economic status. Despite an evolution among the young and middle class, the combination of large numbers of unmarried women in an economy that creates pressure for marriage puts wives in a vulnerable position within the household, where they must often submit to male chauvinistic attitudes and behavior lest their husbands abandon them and/or take mistresses.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. In principle, Martinican couples marry by mutual consent on the basis of love. Particularly in village society, this typically follows a period of premarital co-residence and, frequently, childbirth. Families often apply subtle pressure to ensure that their eligible children "marry up" or at least do not "marry down" in terms of class and, especially, race as measured by skin color. Strong pressures to maintain endogenous family ties are exercised within the béké community. Legal formalities for marriage and divorce are those of France; declarations of common law marriage (concubinage ) may be made at town hall. Approximately two thousand marriages are performed yearly in Martinique; between three hundred and four hundred divorces are processed. Little more than one-third of eligible age Martinicans (age 18 for men, age 15 for women) are in fact married.

Domestic Unit. The domestic unit in Martinique has evolved somewhere between the nuclear and extended family. Couples live together with their children without the benefit of formal matrimony, and nearby relatives often assist with child care. Approximately one-third of single mothers are heads of the household and depend on relatives for child care and housework. Feminist challenges notwithstanding, it has been a longstanding practice in Martinican society for men to take mistresses.

Inheritance. Inheritance follows the laws of France. In practice, particularly due to a high frequency of "illegitimate" heirs, following death the division of land and real estate may be subject to dispute and protracted litigation.


Child Rearing and Education. Child rearing is strict and often includes corporal punishment. In households where the father is present, it is generally he who is in authority. Martinique benefits from the same highly developed child care infrastructure and school system in place in France.

Higher Education. Even before the establishment of the University of the AntillesFrench Guiana in Schoelcher pursuing a higher education in France was the goal of upwardly mobile Martinicans. University and professional degrees convey high status in local society. University education and professional training abroad (particularly in France) carry more weight in local eyes than do equivalent educational experiences in Martinique.


Formality and social distancing characterize most interactions between strangers in Martinique. Language is the principal means by which social distance is established and maintained. Even though Creole is the lingua franca it is much more polite to address the other, at least until a sufficiently close relationship is established, in French. It can be considered disrespectful to initiate conversations in public spaces (i.e., government offices, stores) in Creole. If one can speak French, addressing a stranger in Creole is to acknowledge that person as socially inferior. Respecting French language norms of politeness (such as second person usage of the more formal vous as opposed to tu ) is also a must. Shaking hands is part of local etiquette.

Informal interactions call for more intimate social exchanges. These include double (and even triple and quadruple) cheek kissing, even between members of the same sex. While double cheek kissing parallels that of French society in its frequency, it is performed in a distinctly Antillean style: more slowly and with greater head turning for a more perpendicular cheek-to-lip encounter.


Religious Beliefs. Ever since the establishment of French rule Roman Catholicism has been overwhelmingly predominant. In recent years evangelical Protestantism (e.g., Seventh Day Adventists) has been growing in strength as have Jehovah's Witnesses. Bahai, Jewish, and Muslim faiths also have their own sites of religious and cultural congregation.

Throughout and beyond the slave era a parallel system of belief and practice, known as quimbois, has existed alongside Christianity. Quimbois encompasses plant and herb remedies, sorcery, and spiritual healing, and is embedded deep within popular culture. A version of nineteenth century Hinduism, brought to the West Indies by south Indian immigrants, still survives in small temples and shrines where the burning of incense, garlanding of statues, and offering of sacrifices are still practiced. Both Hindus and quimboiseurs ordinarily consider themselves also to be Catholic while the local Rastafariansa sect that began in Jamaica and worships the late emperor, Haile Selassiebreak more squarely with Western religion.

Religious Practitioners. An archbishop presides over forty-seven parishes and over 60 priests.

Rituals and Holy Places. In addition to the regularly celebrated Catholic holidays (Christmas, Easter, All Saints Day, etc.) each commune (district) organizes an annual celebration in the name of a saint or Catholic holiday. Annual local Catholic pilgrimages include Sacré Coeur in Balata, the Way of the Cross of Mount Vauclin, Notre Dame de la Salette in Sainte-Anne and Saint-Michel in François. Notre Dame de la Délivrande, celebrating the 1851 rescue of Martinique's first bishop from a tropical storm in the Atlantic, has become the patron saint of the island as well as the pilgrimage of Morne-Rouge. A number of Martinicans partake in the cult of miraculous medal of Sainte Catherine Labouréin Paris. In recent years there has been annual revival of the Hindu mela.

Death and the Afterlife. Death announcements are a regularly scheduled part of the daily official radio program. Funeral rites invariably follow Roman Catholic practice and, especially in villages, include public funeral processions in which men are uniformly dressed in black suit, white shirt and black tie. Jour des Morts (Day of the Dead), when people gather in cemeteries after dusk to light candles at grave sites, is observed 2 November, the day after All Saints' Day.

Medicine and Health Care

Modern medicine, administered through the Administration of Health and Social Services of France, has supplanted rural medical beliefs and practices relying on herbal cures. Folk or traditional medical practitioners (guérisseurs ) are no longer common even in villages. Widespread belief in quimbois (sorcery) and the associated concepts of the evil eye and devil's work has been supplanted by psychiatric and other scientific explanations of extraordinary behavior.

Secular Celebrations

In addition to all the national holidays of France such as Bastille Day, Armistice Day, and May Day, Martinique observes Emancipation Day (marking the end of slavery) and Bannzil Kréyol (the International Day of Creole). Although originally grounded in Catholic ritual (encompassing, in particular, Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday) Carnival has become a more secular and boisterous festival. Distinctive and often wild costume and behavior are on display, as groups vie in parade for attention and appreciation. On Mardi Gras regalers dress in red; the following day, in black and white. Music and dance "wake the dead." Vaval, a giant puppet, is the symbol of Carnival, and each year personifies a new theme. Vaval's ritual bonfire at Wednesday dusk marks the end of the raucous festivities.

The Arts and the Humanities

Support for the Arts. Martinique is endowed with an extraordinarily rich infrastructure for the arts: that of the region (FRAC-Regional Funds for Contemporary Art); the municipality of Fort-de-France (SERMAC-Municipal Service of Cultural Action); and mixed national and departmental (CMAC-Martinican Centre of Cultural Action). Festivals for artists and musicians, competitions and prizes, and concerts and institutional acquisitions support every art genre.

Literature. Explorers and missionaries (Father Labat being the most renowned) introduced seventeenth century Martinique to the world. A rich indigenous oral literature, best represented by the folk tales of the wily rabbit Compère Lapin, developed during the slave and post-slave era. With the publication of Return to My Native Land (1939), AiméCésaire explained négritude (black consciousness of Africa and its West Indian diaspora) to the rest of the world; Edouard Glissant (The Lizard ; Antillean Discourse ) followed this genre. Psychiatrist Frantz Fanon provided a penetrating analysis of the French West Indian mentality in Black Skin, White Masks (1952). Contemporary Martinican writers of note include Patrick Chamoiseau (whose novel Texaco won the Prix Goncourt) and Raphaël Confiant (The Negro and the Admiral ).

Graphic Arts. The most notable graphic arts movements are the 1970s Caribbean Negro School, inspired by apprenticeship in Africa following study in France; and the 1980s Fromajé, steeped in the island's ancestral heritage. Annual artistic events are CMAC displays of paintings and sculptors, pastels and watercolors; SERMAC's Festival of Fort-de-France; and expositions by the Association of Young Martinique Artists (ADJAM) and the Martinican Association of Plastic Artists (AMPC). FRAC hosts artists-in-residence and degree-granting training is offered by the Regional School of Plastic Arts of Martinique (ERAPM). Legacies of Carib Indian culture survive in basket weaving and artisinal pottery from the colonial era continues but the Trois-Ilets Pottery has been modernized.

Performance Arts. Around the world Martinique is popularly known for its music, thanks to such groups as Kassav and Compagnie Créole. Zouk has largely supplanted the biguine of the past although the group Malavoi preserves a traditional instrumental style. A distinctive style of drumming is gwo-ka. Theater flourishes, especially at the Municipal Theater and Regional Dramatic Center. The Grand Ballet of Martinique maintains the island's folk heritage, mostly for the tourist audience.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Research institutes of France in Martinique include those for general science and development, geography, agronomy, geology and mineralogy, and oceanography. Demographic and economic studies are conducted through INSEE (National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies). The Martinican campus of the University of the Antilles-French Guiana offers two tracks of study: law and economics; and letters and social sciences. Training courses for social work, business and management, and nursing and midwifery are also available.


Bernabé, Jean, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Raphaël Confiant. Éloge de la Creolité/In Praise of Creoleness, 1990.

. "Towards 1992: Political-Cultural Assimilation and Opposition in Contemporary Martinique.French Cultural Studies 3: 6186, 1992.

, and Fred Reno, eds. French and West Indian: Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guiana Today, 1995.

Césaire, Aimé. Return to My Native Land, 1971.

Chaimoiseu, Patrick. Creole Folktales, trans., 1994.

Constant, Fred. "The French Antilles in the 1990s: Between European Unification and Political Territorialization." Caribbean Studies 26 (34): 293243, 1993.

Daniel, Justin. "Political Constraints of Economic Dependency: The Case of Guadeloupe and Martinique." Caribbean Studies 26 (34), 311334, 1993.

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks, trans., 1966.

Guilbault, Jocelyn, et al. Zouk: World Music in the West Indies, 1993.

Horowitz, Michael M. Morne-Paysan. Peasant Village in Martinique, 1967, reissued 1992.

Lasserre, Guy, and Albert Mabileau. "The French Antilles and Their Status as Overseas Departments." In Hilary Beckles and Verene Shepherd, Caribbean Freedom: Economy and Society from Emancipation to the Present: A Student Reader, 1996.

Miles, William F. S. "Abolition, Independence, and Soccer: Premillennial Dilemmas of Martinican Identity." French Politics and Society 17 (2): 2333, 1999.

. "Deja Vu with a Difference: End of the Mitterrand Era and the McDonaldization of Martinique." Caribbean Studies 28 (2): 339368, 1995.

. Elections and Ethnicity in French Martinique. A Paradox in Paradise, 1986.

Murch, Arvin. Black Frenchmen. The Political Integration of the French Antilles, 1971.

William F. S. Miles


views updated May 21 2018


Basic Data
Official Country Name:Department of Martinique
Region:Puerto Rico & Lesser Antilles
Language(s):French, Creole patois
Literacy Rate:93%

Except for brief periods, Martinique has been a French possession since 1635, and it became a department of France in 1946. In July 2000, the population was estimated at 414,516. Unemployment is high27 percent in 1997. Consequently, many Martiniquais live in metropolitan France. GDP per capita was $10,700 in 1996. French is the official language, but Creole is widely spoken. In fact, the study of Creole is now available in the upper grades of some secondary schools, and an Institute for Creole Studies has been created at the university.

Martinique is an overseas department of France; therefore, the education system is the same as in France. Education is compulsory for 10 years from the ages of 6 to 16. The school year runs from the first week of September to the end of June. The language of instruction is French, although the proponents of créolité (creoleness) (who emphasize the existence of a distinctive Caribbean culture composed of elements of African, European, Amerindian and Asian cultures, and a racially inclusive Creole identity) have urged the increased use of Creole in the school system. Since 1999, programs have been in place to train school heads, resource personnel, and teachers in the pedagogy of the new technologies: computers and the modern world, multimedia, and networks, including the Internet.

At age two, students may enter preprimary education. Primary education begins at age six and lasts five years. In 1999-2000, there were 19,508 students enrolled in preprimary education, 34,292 in primary education, and 527 in special education, taught by 3,266 teachers.

Secondary education begins at age 11 and is divided into two cycles: the premier cycle (lower secondary), completed in the collège and lasts four years; the second cycle (upper secondary), completed in the lycée and lasts three years. The baccalauréat exam marks the end of the lycée education, and passing is required for admission to the university. In 1999-2000, there were 28,859 students in the collèges and 21,034 in the lycées, taught by 4,227 teachers.

The Université des Antilles et de la Guyane was founded in the 1880s as a School of Law, became the Centre Universitaire des Antilles-Guyane in 1970, and a university in 1982. The Martinique campus of the university has the Schools of Letters and Human Sciences and of Law and Economics. The Institut Universitaire de Formation des Maîtres (University Institute for Teacher Training), affiliated with the university, provides teacher training. Since January 1997, the school system is headed by the recteur of the newly created Académie de la Martinique (the Martinique Academy), responsible to the French Ministry of Education.

The education system has been very successful in reducing illiteracy to 2.6 percent in the year 2000; in fact, at 0.2 percent, it has been practically eliminated for those aged 15 to 24. Failure rates, however, although declining, remain too high in the collèges and the first year of the lycée. For 1999-2000, failure rates in the first, third, and fourth years of the collège and the first year of the lycée were 16.2 percent, 17.7 percent, 9.4 percent, and 20.3 percent, respectively. In the lycée, there is also a much greater demand for some programs than actual places available.


Académie de la Martinique, December 2000. Available from

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Fact-book 2000. Directorate of Intelligence, 1 January 2000. Available from

Europa. The Europa World Yearbook 2000, Vol. 1. London: Europa Publications, 1999.

International Association of Universities. International Handbook of Universities. New York: Grove's Dictionaries Inc, 1998.

Michel, C., and G. Pigeon. "Guadeloupe and Martinique: System of Education." In The International Encyclopedia of Education, vol. 6, 2536-2544. Tarrytown, NY: Elsevier Science Inc, 1994.

Mooney, Carolyn. "On Martinique, Elevating the Status of Creole." Chronicle of Higher Education no. 40, 9 June 2000.

UNESCO. Statistical Yearbook/Annuaire Statistique 1999. Paris and Lanham, MD: UNESCO Publishing and Bernan Press, 2000.

Université des Antilles et de la Guyane, December 2000. Available from

Gilles Labrie


views updated May 11 2018


Psychoanalysis is a relatively recent activity in Martinique. West Indian intellectuals studying in Paris in the 1930s nevertheless showed an early interest in it. Martinican students could thus declare, in the review Légitime defense (Legitimate defense): "As for Freud, we are ready to use the immense machine for dissolving the bourgeois family that he set in motion."

The poetic works of Aimé Césaire began to be published in 1939 and were hailed by André Breton as "The greatest lyrical monument of our time [. . .] a general abdication of the mind." There is a definite influence of a Surrealist version of psychoanalysis on a poetic project that set as one of its major goals the exploration of the depths of the black psyche.

Frantz Fanon, the Martinican psychiatrist, criticized psychoanalysis in 1952. He claimed that Freud, Jung, and Adler had not thought of blacks in their research. Similarly, he saw the Oedipus complex as being impossible in West Indian families. For more than twenty years the complex conflicts surrounding decolonialization in the West Indies were to make Fanon's critique the breeding ground for resistance to psychoanalysis in the name of a cultural determinism with uncertain principles. The few people who took any interest in psychoanalysis had no more than a bookish knowledge of it.

The first psychoanalytically-informed work in Martinique began in 1973: interpreting children's drawings, a seminar directed by the French child psychiatrist Bernard Bousquet. But the true beginning of psychoanalysis in Martinique dates from 1974. It derived from the presence of a Swiss couple, Pierre and Lucette Stittelmann, two non-physician psychoanalysts. Shipwrecked on their way to the Trobriand Islands (Papua New Guinea), they had to land on the island. Their stay was extended until 1980. The Stittelmanns had been trained by and were members of the Swiss Psychoanalytic Society (affiliated with the International Psychoanalytical Association [IPA]). They thus provided analysis, training and supervision for all who wished to become psychoanalysts.

In October 1975 the first psychoanalytic group came into being: the Groupe antillais de recherche, d'étude et de formation psychanalytique (GAREFP; The West Indian Group for Psychoanalytic Research, Study and Training), the founding members being Héliane Bourgeois and Luce Descoueyte, along with Mrs. Marcel Manquant and Mrs. Raymond Saint-Louis Augustin. From 1975 to 1980 this group worked to secure theoretical training of its members with analysts from the Paris Psychoanalytic Society, affiliated to the IPA. Among the members were Florence Guignard, Jean Bégoin, René Diatkine, and Michel Neyraut. There was also an initial collaboration with Roberto Fontaine of Venezuela for transactional analysis. Dr Mauriello, a Martinican psychoanalyst living in Quebec, also contributed to the effort.

Following the trauma occasioned by the departure of the Stittelmanns in 1980, the GAREFP developed a Lacanian orientation that increased with time, some of the founding members having decided to withdraw from the group.

December 1990, saw the birth of another association, the Forum, the founding members being Benedetta Jumpertz, Marcel Manquant, and Guillaume Suréna. It organized the first Martinican symposium on psychoanalysis in March 1991. It organizes training for its own members and is not affiliated with any external psychoanalytic associations. Its members come from various different backgrounds but it sees Freud's work as its cornerstone. In this sense it could be said to identify with the IPA orientation, although it is not a member.

The absence of West Indian doctors and academics is easily noticeable. Twenty-five years after the introduction of psychoanalysis, there were only two Martinican psychiatrists practicing psychoanalysis there and the two existing associations had been founded by non-physicians. Psychoanalysis has no direct influence on either the medical or the academic world. The paramedical and in the psycho-educational sectors have displayed a certain amount of interest.

As of 2005, psychoanalysis does not yet play any significant role in West Indian culture. It is not present in questions of national identity, literary debates, or political aspirations. Martinican psychoanalysis has not yet created distribution networks. A very small number of individuals have written clinical and theoretical papers but there has been no substantial contribution to psychoanalytic theory.

This psychoanalysis is evolving in isolation in relation to the Caribbean, like Martinique itself. There are a few practitioners in Guadeloupe, but no organized movement. Our ignorance of what is happening in English-speaking and Spanish-speaking countries is proportionate to the divisions established by five centuries of European rivalry in the Caribbean.

In conclusion, we can say that psychoanalysis exists in Martinique in spite of all. Changes coming from the inside will probably ensure the development of fecund psychoanalytic thinking.

Guillaume SurÉna

See also: Fanon, Frantz.


views updated Jun 11 2018


An overseas department of France

  • Area: 425 sq mi (1,100 sq km) / World Rank: 174
  • Location: Northern and Western Hemispheres, bordered by the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, near the South American continent, part of the Lesser Antilles chain in the Caribbean Sea, between the islands of Dominica and St. Lucia
  • Coordinates: 14°40′N, 61°00′W
  • Borders: None
  • Coastline: 217 mi (350 km)
  • Territorial Seas: 12 NM
  • Highest Point: Mount Pelée, 4,583 ft (1,397 m)
  • Lowest Point: Sea level
  • Longest Distances: 47 mi (75 km) SE-NW / 21 mi (34 km) NE-SW
  • Longest River: None of significant size
  • Natural Hazards: Hurricanes, flooding, volcanic activity, earthquakes
  • Population: 418,454 (July 2001 est.) / World Rank: 166
  • Capital City: Fort-de-France, located on the western coast of the island
  • Largest City: Fort-de-France, 100,000 (1996 est.)


Martinique is part of the Lesser Antilles, a line (or arc) of volcanic islands in the Caribbean. The line is formed by the subduction of the North American Plate under the Caribbean Plate (which formed during the Cenozoic-Mesozoic period 240 million years ago). The two highest peaks on the island are volcanoes, and the rest of the landscape is composed of mountains, hills, and plateaus. Reefs of different origins are located along the island's coasts. The coasts are also home to several bays. Martinique is a possession of France.


Most of Martinique is mountainous, with the two highest peaks, Pelée 4,582 ft (1,397 m) and Carbet 3,923 ft (1,196 m), being volcanoes. Mount Pelée lies in the northwestern area, while Carbet is in the central area. Steep cliffs line the northern coastline, while the island's other southern regions are characterized by hills, plateaus, and forests.


Martinique's only inland waters are small streams and ponds.


Oceans and Seas

An island, Martinique is surrounded by the Caribbean Sea on the south and west, and the Atlantic Ocean on the north and east. A barrier reef of algal origin lies off the east coast of the island. South of the Caravelle Peninsula in the north-central region of the island, and parallel to the coast, a barrier reef made of coral and algae extends for about 15 mi (25 km). The Martinique Passage is to the north of the island, the St. Lucia Channel to the south.

The Coast and Beaches

White sandy beaches are located in the southern region of Martinique. In the north, especially on the western coast, the beaches are shorter, and the sand is dark gray or black and of volcanic origin. Fort-de-France, Le Robert, Galion, and Baie du Marin, to name a few, are large and deeply indented bays with extensive mangrove forests and seagrass beds. At the southernmost tip, Cap Salomon juts out into the ocean.

Along the northern and northwest coasts, the beach sand is black. The northwest shoreline is ringed by lush palm trees, while at the northernmost tip of the island, steep cliffs surround a narrow strip of beach.



Temperatures are mild year-round, and a rainy season occurs between June and October. Humidity is high year-round as well. The average temperature for the island is about 80°F (26°C). The mountainous northern area is cooler and rainier than the coastal region.


Annual rainfall averages about 75 in (190 cm), and a rainy season occurs between June and October. In April (the driest month), measurable rain falls an average of 13 days, and about twice as often in September (the rainiest month). Average humidity ranges from 80 percent in March and April to 87 percent in October and November.

Forests and Jungles

Approximately 25 percent of the land is wooded, housing European and tropical trees. Rainforests cover the slopes of the mountains in the northern interior, with lush underbrush including ferns, vines, and bamboo groves. Stands of mahogany, locust, rosewood, and other species of hardwood are also located in this area.


Half of Martinique's population lives in Fort-de-France (the capital, located along the western coast), Saint Joseph, and Lamantin, all of which rest in the central area of the island. The remaining population is unevenly distributed throughout Martinique.


The island's coastal scenery, beaches, and cultivable land are its natural resources. Bananas and sugarcane are the main crops, and pineapples, mangoes, citrus fruits, avocados, cacao, and coffee are also grown. As an overseas department of France, trade is mainly with that country.


The Civilized Explorer. Martinique—The Cosmopolitan Island. (accessed March 11, 2002).

French Coral Reef Initiative. Martinique. (accessed March 11, 2002).

Martinique. Montréal: Ulysses Travel Publications, 1994.

Rosette-Rose, Robert. Martinique, French Indies. New York: Vilo, 1982.


Saint-Pierre was the capital of Martinique until the eruption of Mount Pelée in 1902 destroyed the city and killed 30,000 inhabitants. The capital was moved to Fort-de-France after this destruction, where it remains today.


views updated May 17 2018


Basic Data

Official Country Name:Department of Martinique
Region (Map name):Caribbean
Language(s):French, Creole patois
Literacy rate:93%

Martinique is a part of the Windward Islands chain in the Caribbean Sea, north of Trinidad and Tobago. Christopher Columbus was the first European to visit the island, landing in 1493. The French colonized the island in 1635 despite opposition from the indigenous Carib Indian population, and it has remained connected to France ever since. In 1974 its association with France was upgraded from an overseas department to a region. There are rumblings among the population for increased autonomy, but its status so far remains unaffected. The French president is the chief of state and is represented locally by a Paris-appointed prefect.

The country is governed by a unicameral, 45-seat General Council and a unicameral, 41-seat Regional Assembly. Both bodies are led by a president. The official language is French, but many speak Creole Patois. The population is approximately 415,000; the literacy rate is 93 percent. Mainstays of the economy are: sugarcane, bananas, tourism and light industry. Most of the sugar produced on the island is used in the production of rum.

Freedom of the press is guaranteed under the French law. Martinique's daily newspaper is the French-language France Antilles. It appears Monday through Saturday; its approximate circulation is 65,000. Other weekly publications include: Le Progressiste, Aujourd'hui Dimanche, Justice, Le Naif, and Antilla.

Martinique does not have an AM radio station, but there are 14 FM stations for 82,000 radios. There are 11 television stations broadcasting to 66,000 televisions. There are two Internet service providers.


Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). "Martinique." World Fact Book, 2001. Available from

"Country Profile.", 2002. Available from

"Media: Newspapers.", 2001. Available from

Jenny B. Davis


views updated May 14 2018

Martinique Caribbean island in the Windward group of the Lesser Antilles, forming an overseas department of France; the capital is Fort-de-France. Discovered in 1502 by Christopher Columbus, Martinique was inhabited by Carib Indians until they were displaced by French settlers after 1635. Attacked in the 17th century by the Dutch and the British, the island became a permanent French possession after the Napoleonic Wars. Of volcanic origin, it is the largest of the Lesser Antilles. In 1902, a volcanic eruption completely destroyed the original capital, St Pierre. Industries: tourism, sugar, rum, fruits, cocoa, tobacco, vanilla, vegetables. Area: 1079sq km (417sq mi). Pop. (1999) 381,325. See West Indies map

About this article


All Sources -
Updated Aug 13 2018 About content Print Topic