Culture of Martinique

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Martinique dancers in traditional costume.

As an overseas départment of France, Martinique's culture is French and Caribbean. Its former capital, Saint-Pierre (destroyed by a volcanic eruption), was often referred to as the Paris of the Lesser Antilles. Following French custom, many businesses close at midday, then reopen later in the afternoon. The official language is French, although many Martinicans speak a Creole patois. Based in French, Martinique's Creole also incorporates elements of English, Spanish, Portuguese, and African languages. Originally passed down through oral storytelling traditions, it continues to be used more often in speech than in writing.

Most of Martinique's population is descended from African slaves brought to work on sugar plantations during the colonial era, white slave owners or from Carib or Kalinago people. Today, the island enjoys a higher standard of living than most other Caribbean countries. The finest French products are easily available, from Chanel fashions to Limoges porcelain. Among young people, studying in France is common. For the French, Martinique has been a vacation hotspot for many years, attracting both the upper class and more budget-conscious travelers.

Music[edit]

Music contributes a great deal to Martinique's culture. The most popular style is zouk, which originated in Martinique and Guadeloupe by combining elements of a number of musical styles from the Caribbean and United States. Its biggest influence was biguine, which was popular dance orchestra music from the 1930s to 1950s. Zouk today has evolved from big band ensembles to smaller, electronically peppered bands. Musicians use synthesizers, DIGITAL samplers, and drum machines, which they program to sound like native percussion instruments.

Another favorite musical genre, bèlè is an early form of biguine which incorporates group dance and song accompanied by drumming, often led in a call and response style. For most of the year, local music dominates. But during Carnival, other music like calypso and soca can be heard as well.

Festivals[edit]

Martinique's version of Carnival, is a four day event beginning just before Lent and ending on its first day, with the burning of Vaval, a papier-mâché figure symbolizing Carnival. Businesses close during Carnival.

Like other Caribbean Carnivals, Martinique's is a high-energy event with parades, singing, drums, and other festivities. People dress up in costumes, with devils and she-devils being especially popular. During Carnival in Martinique, many men parade in drag queen costume, sometimes with very elaborate and provocative outfits, with no obvious hint at alternative sexuality. It must also be mentioned that traditionally, some women dressed as men for burlesque weddings on Monday. The high presence of men in drag is a reference to the central role of women in Martinique's society and family structure.[original research?]

Towns throughout Martinique elect their own Carnival Queen, Mini-Queen, and Queen Mother.

Halfway through Lent, Martinicans take a break from abstinence with the one day holiday Micarême. The one day mini-Carnival features dances, parties, and similar activities. Afterward, people return to their repentance until Easter begins.

Just as in France, every year on November 21, Martinique celebrates the release of the year's Beaujolais nouveau. In odd-numbered years in early December, the island hosts its prestigious Jazz à la Martinique. Both top local talent and internationally known musicians like Branford Marsalis perform at this jazz festival. Jazz Festivals all over the Caribbean are very enjoyable.

Cuisine[edit]

As one would expect, French and Creole cuisine dominate Martinique's culinary landscape. The two styles also combine by using French techniques with local produce, such as breadfruit, cassava, and christophine (chayote). Creole dishes rely heavily on seafood, including curries and fritters. An exception is Boudin, a Creole type of blood sausage. A dash of Chien sauce (made from onions, shallots, peppers, oil, and vinegar) adds a spicy touch to meals. The favored island drink, 'Ti punch, is a mixture of five parts of white rum to one part sugarcane syrup. Crêperies, brasseries, and restaurants featuring cuisine from various French regions can be found all over Martinique.

Resources[edit]

  • Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music From Rumba to Reggae, by Peter Manuel. Temple University Press, 1995.
  • Fodor's Caribbean 2004. Fodor's Travel Publications, 2004.