History of Martinique

Cap 110 Memorial d'esclaves

From the first Indians to the arrival of Christopher Columbus, through European colonization and the abolition of slavery, Martinique has experienced many upheavals in its history before experiencing some stability since it became a French department in 1946.

Pre-Columbian History of Martinique

Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in Martinique on June 15, 1502, the Caribbean island experienced several waves of population. According to archaeological excavations, it was in 2000 BC that the oldest traces of human life would be located in Martinique. However, these first “inhabitants” being nomads, they did not settle there permanently.

Like the other islands of the Caribbean, the first settlement of Martinique dates back only a century before J.-C. It is in fact on this date that the Indians called the “Arawaks” arrived.

The Arawaks were originally from the Orinoco basin, now Venezuela. Around the 10th century, new inhabitants, the “Caribbean” gradually conquered the lands of the archipelago, but it was around the 14th century that they settled in Martinique. These populations ate the products of agriculture, hunting and fishing. They had settled there in the coastal areas and consumed mainly seafood (fish, crustaceans, turtles and manatees).

Arrival of Christopher Columbus

Caravels of Christopher ColumbusOn June 15, 1502, Christopher Columbus landed on the beach of Anse Carbet. He was amazed by the island and reportedly said,

This is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, so I can not strain my eyes to contemplate such a green.

But for more than a century, Martinique fall into oblivion. However for more than a century, Martinique will fall into oblivion. Indeed, the Spaniards judged that the Lesser Antilles were not lands that could bring in enough wealth to be interested in. It is the French who will find it interesting and will settle there permanently.

Arrival of the French

Statue of Pierre Belain d’EsnambucCardinal Richelieu, behalf of King Louis XIII created the Compagnie des Indes d'Amériques (1635-1650) to colonize the islands of the Lesser Caribbean. The conquest of Martinique begins on September 1, 1635 with the arrival on the island of a Norman adventurer, Pierre Belain Esnambuc (picture on the left). He moved to Martinique with a hundred companions in an area that is now the city of Saint Pierre, the first capital of the island. The Martinique became a French land administered and operated by a company with a commercial vocation.

If at first, the French try to live with the Caribbean population, over time, this common life do not go well. The Indians took a dim view of the arrival of these people who continue to expand their territory at their expense. The relationship between the people then become hostile and warlike.

The French want the Caribbean who were accustomed to the place, to work on the farm fields they will implement. Caribbean refuse to be enslaved in a land they had conquered and defended against the French.

Under the guidance of leaders Beausoleil and François Rolle Loubiere, the Caribbeans are permanently removed or expelled from the island in the late 17th century. Some still prefer suicide to be enslaved by the "enemy" (see Tombeau des Caraïbes (Tomb of the Caribbean). Survivors then fled to the islands of Dominica or St. Vincent.

The slavery period

From the end of the Caribbean to the abolition of slavery

With the Caribbean decimated, the French settled more on the island. They want to enjoy the climate to exploit certain resources of the island who would arrive directly on the table of the King of France. This period also marked the arrival of a new population in the island. To exploit the resources of the island, the settlers rely on the Royal Crown in order to enable the slave trade from Africa. Following the royal agreement, ships left the ports of the Atlantic cities to go to Africa and buy or exchange the slaves against european products.

Slaves working in a sugar cane plantationWomen were captured to take care of household chores in the masters' house (housework and raising children) or for the maintenance of plantation gardens, men were responsible for work in the fields. They will work side by side in the sugar cane plantation, at the height of the sugar era in Martinique.

Black populations in Africa were expected to withstand the climate better and be more robust and able to withstand heavy workloads.

Slavery began in the West Indies as soon as the settlers arrived in 1635. In 1673 the Compagnie du Senegal was created with the objective of deporting black slaves to the islands of the Caribbean and the countries of America. The slave trade became a real market and a constant exchange against Africa and the Caribbean.

Between 1635 and 1789, around 700,000 slaves were deported to Martinique, Guadeloupe and Saint-Domingue, the three French colonies in the Caribbean. In 1745, out of 80,000 inhabitants, 65,000 were slaves.

Economy during the period of slavery

Coffee will be the first culture exploited. Introduced into Europe by the Dutch, coffee growing rapidly in the colonies. The French implanted in their Caribbean colonies (Martinique, Guadeloupe, Saint Domingue). They quickly become the world's leading coffee producers. With nearly 50,000 tons of coffee produced annually, they represent more than three quarters of global consumption at the time.

However, this dominance in the coffee sector does not continue. Indeed, the cultivation of coffee requires costly investments and fierce competition of Latin America requires settlers to turn to the production of tobacco and sugar.

The secret of making cane sugar was introduced in Martinique by Dutch Jewish settlers driven from Brazil. The cultivation of sugar cane replaced that of tobacco in the Antilles and made the fortune of Martinique in the 18th century. With the first cane juice distillation techniques, improved by Father Labat in 1694, the era of alcohol began.

Father Labat perfected the production process by inventing the still. Many sugar factories will then be added to a distillery. The French Antilles became the engines of the development of the production of sugar and rum. The first sugar factories were born in Martinique, the capital was provided by the merchants of the various ports of France and the Paris region.

The sugar industry developed rapidly: the number of sugar factories increased from 119 in 1671 to 456 in 1742. The areas cultivated with cane increased while the concentration of land continued. In total, more than half of the cultivated land belonged to large landowners, the future Békés (White colons descendants). Technical advances, such as mills, allowed for increased production.

The profitability of cane was also increased by the production of exported raw molasses. For two centuries, sugar cane was exploited in Martinique. The banana made its appearance in 1730, but the royal authorities had to impose it to keep it alive.

The French Antilles become engines of development of production of sugar and rum.

The cultivation of fruits and vegetables, bananas (that appeared in 1730 was consumed as much as a fruit as a vegetable) and breeding, were necessary for the subsistence of the population, and in particular for the food of the slaves. However, despite the warnings, obligations, and penalties, the settlers did not care much about feeding their slaves. They seek to discharge this obligation and end up giving the slaves the day of Saturday to cultivate a piece of land for their subsistence on the dwelling.

In 1787, a quarter of the land was cultivated for food. The development of cultures necessitated the conquest of new lands. Little by little, the rest of the island was populated: Ducos from 1682, Lamentin in 1690, then came the turn of the rest of the Atlantic coast (Robert in 1697, François in 1694, and finally Vauclin in 1720), and Gros-Morne, which specialized in cocoa production. The population went from 23,362 inhabitants in 1701, to 74,042 in 1738, then to 89,300 in 1783.

Technological advances, such as mills, allow increased production. The profitability of cane is also increased by the production of exported raw molasses.

Thanks to the Exclusive system, which exploited them, the colonies made the wealth of the metropolis, and in particular port cities like Nantes or Bordeaux which benefited from direct trade with the islands (textiles, food products, raw materials such as construction materials and manufactured products) and triangular trade, i.e. slave trade.

In addition, the Exclusive prohibiting the islands from refining sugar, it is the merchants and refiners of the mainland who derive enormous profits. In 1789, France supplied half of the sugar consumed in Europe!

The Code Noir

Code Noir, the book establishing the rules of slaveryFirst intended to prohibit the abuse and mistreatment of slaves on plantations and suppress illegal trade between Africa and the West Indies, the Code Noir of 1685 became more of a text to regulate and institutionalize slavery.

Slave houses in MartiniqueIn 1724, the second version of the text made the practice of slavery legal. The slaves from Africa lived in wooden huts on the vast estate owned by their master. They were considered property of their master and owed them unfailing dedication.

While the men worked on the plantations, the women held domestic positions in the homes of wealthy landowners. They were responsible for both household chores and the education of the settler children.

The masters had to baptize and instruct their slaves in the Catholic religion. The Code Noir repressed births outside marriage between a slave woman and a free man. Slaves could marry each other, complain about ill-treatment and build up a nest egg to buy back their freedom. An escape attempt was heavily penalized if the slave was subsequently found.

Monument on the liberation of slaves at Le PrecheurA slave could be traded or sold to another owner. Although several slave revolts took place in Martinique, none resulted in a change in the condition of these servile populations. This system lasted for two centuries in Martinique before the abolition of slavery on the island was decreed on May 22, 1848.

Political and institutional developments during slavery

In terms of local institutions, the colonial administration was marked by the supremacy of the military authority, which, due to the remoteness of France, concentrated in it all powers. In 1674, the King finds its prerogatives and implements a single military government for the colonies in the Caribbean, who lives in Martinique.

On several occasions, the Martinique is sometimes in English possession sometimes in French's one. While France is undergoing The Revolution, several voices of Philosophers to denounce the status of Non-White people in the colonies. The abolition of slavery is an idea championed by some figures of the French Revolution, but the British occupation (1794-1802) marks a return for Martinique in the Old Regime.

In other French colonies, the evolution was different. The removal and the restoration of slavery in the colonies by Napoleon led to the independence of the Republic of Haiti in 1804.

In Guadeloupe, the British occupation in 1794 only lasts a year. The English were driven out by Victor Hugues with the help of former free or freed slaves. The removal and recovery of slavery in 1802 by Napoleon leads a revolt led by Louis Delgrès, a free black man born in Martinique. With the help of various companions, they make the choice to live free or die.

Returned by England to France, Martinique does not know these developments, perpetuating slavery until 1848. February 24, 1848, the Monarchie de Juillet is overthrown. François Arago, Minister of Marine and Colonies, recognizes the need for the emancipation of Black people, but wishes to adjourn this matter until the final government.

Under the urgent intervention of Victor Schoelcher, Under-Secretary of France for the Colonies, a series of decrees was promulgated on April 27, 1848. The first one abolished slavery but provides for a period of two months after its promulgation in the colony. It also provides compensation to former slave owners.

In Martinique, at the same time, the tone rises. Violence erupts on the island houses, slaves, who got wind of what's happening in France, do not want to wait. They rebel and the culmination of these revolts on 22 and 23 May 1848 in Saint Pierre change everything. Regardless of the initial deadline for their implementation, decrees are effective immediately. On May, 22, 1848 the abolition of slavery was officially proclaimed by the Governor of Martinique.

From the end of slavery in the departmentalization

French port in PondicherrySince the end of slavery has been decided, the settlers face difficulties in labor. This will increase with the proclamation of the abolition of slavery. The newly enfranchised refuse to work for their former master and prefer to grow small plot of land acquired after their release. The settlers therefore want quick solutions to have cheap labor who are willing to heavy working conditions.

It is to Asia (India and China) ad Africa (the Kongos) they will turn. If the Chinese, spared from the fields, adapt well to the local community and are looking to trade, Indians arrived in this period, whose living conditions are miserable, desert for some the fields or opt for repatriation to India in a few years.

Some adapt and integrate into the local population by marrying including Creole descendants of former slaves. These new arrivals do not upset the local life. No inter-ethnic tension is worth noting.

In 1898, there were 175,000 inhabitants in Martinique, including 150,000 blacks and mulattos (85%), 15,000 Indians ( 8.5%) and 10,000 whites (5.7%). Contrary to what one might think, the end of slavery in 1848, does not rhyme with the end of importation of men in Martinique. Indeed, between 1853 and 1885, more than 29,000 blacks brought from Africa with contract and guarantee free return. They came from Central Africa (the actual two Congos and Gabon). Blacks are still in a precarious situation.

However the 3rd Republic brand some progress, with universal male suffrage and progress of compulsory public education, secular and free (1881). The fact remains that the White heirs of slavery, called Békés, preserve land and economic power. A new class seems to be born : the Mulatto, who, at the crossroads of both White and Black communities, has more privileges than the second without having as much as the first. These privileges featured prominently access to education, which allows mulattoes to climb the social ladder by accessing often first to the professions (doctors, lawyers ...) to also be in a good position in the sectors commercial.

The prevailing mentality is then the "chapé la po", ie, for women, to ensure that their offspring is as white as possible in order to escape poverty. Even today, you can still find traces of this mindset.

Martinique at the 20th century

Eruption of Mount Pelée in May 1902One of the most striking elements of the history of Martinique in the 20th century was the eruption of Mount Pelee. This eruption will reshuffle the cards. Fort de France become the new capital of Martinique instead of Saint Pierre completely destroyed by the lava from the volcano. The Martinique known thereafter many economic and social problems. The sugar industry is crippled by competition from beet sugar produced in France and sugar cane cheapest other surrounding islands.

Aimé Césaire, poet and former politician of MartiniqueAimé Césaire, a young Black Martinican returns after his studies in France. He wrote several poems and books on the condition of black people in the Caribbean is the most famous "Notebook of a Return to the Native Land" (Carnet de note du retour au Pays natal).

In 1946 he was elected Mayor of Fort de France and Deputy of Martinique. He denounced the corrupt power and without sharing of the Békés. While the world stands a movement of revolt and quest for independence (India , Indochina, North Africa), Césaire thinks the best way for the development and economic modernization of Martinique would be better integrated within France. So he defends the law of departmentalization to make Martinique a French department, like other French departments of the city and no longer a colony.

On March 19, 1946, Martinique became a French department in its own right. If the change of status of Martinique helped to develop economically and to receive aid from the European Union, there remains the economic face of Martinique has not changed . The Békés still hold the majority of economic power of the island, 52% of the land and continue to dominate. They have large Groups (supercenters stores, plantations / banana exports, purchase and rental cars, etc ...).

In addition, tensions are still palpable among a black population often confined to secondary positions whose situation is more modest than those of the heirs of the former colonists.

Strike of February 5, 2009Strikes and demonstrations broke out in 2009. The population denounces expensive life, considered high prices of supermarkets and petrol as well as raising low wages. After 40 days of paralysis of public and private administrative services, an agreement was signed between the main unions, the prefect for the state and local politicians .

If the measures decided calmed the revolt, it remains that the decisions were made for a certain period of time and are no longer active . Since the revolt called grève du 5 Février (February 5th strike) the situation has calmed Martinique without seeing some important problems resolved.