Martinique

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There have been people living in Martinique, a small island in the Caribbean since 3000 BC, but the earliest record is of the Arawark Indians, who populated it around 100 BC. They named their island Madinina, meaning island of flowers. These peaceful inhabitants were killed by the Carib Indians in the 7th century AD, who occupied the island until the arrival of the Europeans.

Christopher Columbus was the first European to discover Martinique in 1502, on his fourth and last New World voyage. The island was not actually colonised by Europeans until 1635, when Belain d'Esnambuc landed with a hundred French settlers. They cleared forests to grow sugar cane, thus increasing tensions with the native Caribs, and in 1660 those Caribs who had survived the fighting were forcibly removed from the island. Black slaves were brought from Africa to work in the sugar plantations, as authorised by King Louis XIII in 1642, an action referred to as "La Traite des Noirs".

Between 1794 and 1815, there was a strong British interest in Martinique, with control of the island changing several times within that period. Slavery was abolished under British rule, but reinstated after 1802, when the Treaty of Amiens gave Martinique back to France, and Napoléon Bonaparte allowed slavery again. Slavery was not officially abolished until 1848, with Victor Schoelcher’s law. All slaves became French citizens.

Martinique’s then capital, Saint-Pierre, which was widely considered to be the most cultured town in the West Indies, was destroyed in 1902, by a blast from the volcano Mont Pelée. All 30000 inhabitants were killed, and the town had to be completely rebuilt, although it lost both the status of capital, that title now belonging to Fort-de-France, and its cultural reputation.

In 1946, Martinique obtained the position of a French department, due mainly to Aimé Césaire's campaign as mayor. This was short lived as it was soon subjugated by Florida-Caribbea. It has recently been liberated and restored as a part of France's DOM-TOM.


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