L’île Martinique

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For those who don’t know what or where Martinique is I will introduce its location and a bit of its history. Martinique is an island in the Caribbean as a part of France d’outre-mer, which is to say French territories outside of Europe. The island is former colony and speaks French alongside a creole language that mixed with the native dialect. The country is a common vacation destination, as might be imagined for a Caribbean island, though it only accounts for approximately 3.3% of GDP as of 2016. The island is large exporter or Rum, bananas, and sugar cane as well.

The temperate island entered the world stage on September 1, 1635 when Pierre Bélain d’Esnambuc established the colony of St. Pierre under for the French crown. The island was fought over between the imperial powers for the large extent of the colonial period but generally remained a territory of France. The island’s main purpose was the cultivation and export of sugar, and later the rum derived from it. This was accomplished via slave labor from the African slave trade after other means of labor proved less profitable.

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Remnants of a former sugar plantation

Due to this past, the island has diverse demographics compromising of Europeans, Africans, Native Americans, and small portions of external ethnic groups. This diverse make up and blurred origins has left the majority of the population with a confused identity in an ever globalized western world. The people of Martinique balance African roots, a large French influence, the remnants of slavery, and Native culture. And so, while the country is French in name, Martiniquans also boast a rich Creole culture and language that is just as important.

Combining these characteristics has been the subject of many visionaries and leaders from Martinique, such as the famous Aimé Césaire who led to inclusion of Martinique as a French territory instead of a colony. Césaire’s concept of Négritude is credited as one the first to articulate a common identity for the black population and identified it as a man that is to be on par with other races. His work was followed and accompanied by writers such Joseph Zobel and Édouard Glissant who worked toward a Créole identity that would combine the past and present of Martinique to move forward. Créolité was the result as its praise of Martininque’s unique culture stands against encroaching globalization trends that threaten to eliminate it.

In my visit to Martinique I have experienced this history’s effect on the island culture. The French influence is impossible to miss as stores with a French origin like Carrefour and Fran Prix can be found throughout the island. Eating habits and food are also prevalent on the island though it no doubt has a Martinique twist. The language is the most obvious example seeing as French is the common language. Teaching of Martinique Créole in schools has become a subject as debate in schools as some see it as a past best forgotten and a language unfit for a western dominated world (it should be noted that those who oppose it are largely the black population much to my surprise). American pop culture is also palpable among the population and most residents know a fair amount of English (the youth especially so). A more difficult to express influence is the idealization of beauty in Martinique. The females that comprise the majority of our study abroad group are pursued aggressively by the local populace because, I assume with reasonable certainty, they are white and American.

On the flip side, the results of Créolité and Négritude are also present. Every individual I have asked thus far has known the Créole language. Many combine French and Créole in everyday discourse thus persevering the language. Artwork of individuals such as René Louise preserve Créole culture and spread it globally via galleries and expositions. Even in a local grocery stores, children’s books and calendars were in Créole language. The bélé style of dance and music also derives its roots from the combination of African and Caribbean styles. The island’s adaptation of the European derived Carnival into a uniquely Caribbean style is an example of combining the two cultures. No doubt there’s many other influences that are either not immediately apparent or are difficult to discern to a foreigner.

All in all the island is gorgeous and I look forward to discovering more of its unique culture and scenic landscapes.

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