The Martinique


A French administrative 'Département' as of 1946, Martinique is a 1,080 km2 volcanic island, sixty-four kilometers long and thirty wide. It counts 392,000 inhabitants, with one third concentrated in the Fort-de-France region. Its climate is marked by two seasons: "l'hivernage", or rainy season lasting from June to November; and the hot and dry "Carême", from March to June. The transition from one season to the next is helped along from December to end February by the cool breezes of the Trade Winds (Alizés),.

Discovering the Island

Christopher Columbus discovers Martinique during his fourth trip, in June of 1502. Pierre Belain d’Esnambuc takes possession of it in the name of the King, Louis XIII in 1635. Until 1653, Carib Indians cohabited with the French and transmitted their knowledge of the country and their skills in the area of fabricating dwellings and furniture (such as the hammock) with local wood and plants. This mixture is found in the architecture of the "cases" or village huts, Creole homes and the "master's house".

Plantation Estate Society

But, upon arrival of the new settlers, cohabitation ceases. The Caribs, being weaker, must step aside for the "habitants" and their "habitation" (plantation estate) society, terminology which is derived from the fusion of two verbs. At the time indeed, to come "habiter" (live) in the islands and become familiar with them, "s'habituer", meant founding an estate. The word , "habitation" therefore, meant not only the house but also the land and crops, the workers and their dwellings, the factories, tools, livestock … When, following "pétun" (tobacco) and indigo, sugarcane is planted in the Caribbean, the settlers are rapidly in need of labor: hence, the Slave Trade remains very closely and symbolically linked to the expansion of the sugarcane crop (in the XVIII th century, the census shows ninety thousand slaves in Guadeloupe et seventy-six thousand in Martinique). This cruel system is definitely abolished in 1848 following several bloody revolts and the efforts of abolitionists (Victor Schœlcher among them), heirs to the concept of the "Lumières" philosophers).