Author Archive: Renee Hanson

In Love with Martinique.. Here’s Why

Martinique is an island that is situated in the Caribbean Sea and is one of the twenty-six regions of France. It covers an area of four hundred and thirty-six miles and has a population of over four hundred thousand residents. The official language of Martinique is French and since its a region of France, is also a member of the European Union. The northern portion of the island is heavily forested and mountainous. There are four enclaves of volcanoes and mountains; Mount Pelee, Piton Conil, Pitons du Carbet and Morne Jacob. The highest of these mountains is Mt. Pelee, which stands at almost fourteen hundred feet. The southern portion of the island is a lot easier to travel and as such has the highest traffic of tourists. The southern portion of the island also has a lot more restaurants, hotels and beaches than the north side which contributes greatly to its appeal.

The history of the island has been traced all the way back to the first century when it was inhabited by the Arawak and Carib peoples. Around 295 CE, the majority of the population on the island was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Pelee. One hundred and five years later, the Arawaks repopulated the island. Two hundred years later, the Arawak population was destroyed by the invasion of the Carib people. European interest wouldn’t become a part of the history of the island until the seventeenth century. This is when Pierre Belain Esnambuc landed on the island with a force of one hundred settlers. Initially they were met with hostility by the natives, but they were able to thwart this resistance due to their superior weaponry. These French settlers settled in the northern region of the island and erected Fort St. Pierre. In 1636, Pierre Belain Esnambuc became sick and the command of the colony was passed to Jacques Dyel du Parquet, his nephew. The settlers cleared the land around the fort and grew a variety of crops which included tobacco, indigo, cotton, cacao and potatoes.

Prosperity of the island grew, partly due to the fact that many foreign merchants would come to the island to purchase exotic goods. In 1638, the colonists erected a second fort named Fort St. Louis. Within two years it was transformed from a wooden palisade to a stone fortification that had a moat, high walls and a battery of over twenty-five cannons. Over the course of the next thirty years, the French were able to establish complete control over the entire island. The rebel Carib force were systematically exterminated and forced the rest of the Carib tribes back to the Caravelle Peninsula. During this period, the island began to focus its attention on the growth and exportation of sugar cane, which was a highly profitable endeavor. King Louis XIII, ordered the removals of Africans from their homelands to work in the French sugar cane plantations. This allowed the creolization of the population as interaction between the French locals and African transplants increased. The French National Assembled voted to change Martinique from a French Colony into a department of the French government in 1946.

Two things that the island of Martinique is well known for is its colorful festivals and its interesting cuisine. One of its primary festivals is Carnival. The Martinique Carnival occurs over the course of four days, starting right before Lent and ending with the burning of Vaval (a symbol of the Carnival). The Carnival contains dancing, singing, drums and parades. Residents dress up in costumes and many of the men dress up in drag. Other festivals on the island include Micareme, Beaujolais Nouveau and Jazz a la Martinique. Cuisine on the island is dominated by French and Creole food. It includes dishes that are based on seafood, fritters, breadfruit, cassava, crepes and chien sauces. A popular attraction on the island is La Savane Park. This park covers an area of twelve acres and is located on Fort de France Bay. It was originally known as Jardin du Roy and its original purpose was to perform experiments on new plants.

The gardens face Fort St. Louis and is bordered by the Schoelcher Library. Inside the park is a market that sells exotic souvenirs and there are also two statues; a statue of Josephine Tascher de La Pagerie and a Carrara marble statue. Diamond Rock is another must see attraction in Martinique. This geologic formation is five hundred and seventy-four feet high and composed of mostly basalt. Technically, its an island but is uninhabited. Diamond Rock is situated just south of Fort de France. The island gets its name from the reflection that it cast on the ocean during the afternoon. Diamond rock is classified as a volcanic plug and has its own characteristics. It tends to receive more sun than Martinique and is usually drier. The topside of the rock is covered in cacti and moss. Since Diamond Rock is relatively remote and harsh, it has become a sanctuary for many different types of species such as the Couress Grass Snake.