Martinique’s first inhabitants were Arawak people who came to the island about 100 C.E., got chased out (or worse) by the volcanic eruption of Mount Pelée in 295, came back, then got chased out (or worse) by Carib people who came in about 600. Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1502 and claimed it for the King but the Spanish didn’t pay much attention to it. The French did, though, and colonized Martinique in the mid-1600s. The French built sugar plantations, brought slaves from Africa and started to make money.  When the British captured Martinique in the mid-1700s, the French thought Martinique, and its sister island Guadaloupe, were so valuable that they traded them to the British for the entire land mass of Canada. (whoops.) Over the next several decades the island changed hands several times between the French, who would abolish slavery when thy would take charge, and the British, who would reinstate it. This  resulted a lot of confusion and several slave rebellions.

The French eventually got Martinique back and kept it, supporting it through several natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes and a massively destructive eruption of Mount Pelée in 1902. Today, Martinique isn’t an independent nation; rather it’s an “overseas department” of France with French as its official language and the Euro as its currency.

Most Martinicans are descended from African slaves forced to work on sugar plantations, but there is substantial mixing with French, Carib and even with East Indian people, who the French brought to work on the Island after they abolished slavery. There is also a small but economically powerful Béké community, descendants of early French and British, who mainly live in mansions along the island’s Atlantic coast. Though Martinique prides itself on its being a multi-racial society, diversity isn’t easy. According to “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). Doudouism—the image of a tropical island paradise with a French accent, laced with romance and lassitude—usually is regarded as a saccharine stereotype.”

More information:
Wikipedia on Martinique | on Martinique | “What Lies Beneath? — Cultural Excavation in Neocolonial Martinique”: questioning European colonialism in Martinique and deconstructing the image of Martinique as a carefree island paradise | Mt. Pelee says to Martinique in 1902: BOOM!

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