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(môrĭtā`nēə), officially Islamic Republic of Mauritania, republic (2015 est. pop. 386,000), 397,953 sq mi (1,030,700 sq km), NW Africa. Fort-de-FranceFort-de-France
, city (1999 pop. 94,049), capital of the French overseas dept. of Martinique, West Indies. It is a popular tourist resort and a free port, exporting mainly bananas, sugar, and rum.
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 is the capital. The department and the island of Martinique are coextensive.

Land, People, and Economy

Of volcanic origin, the island is rugged and mountainous, reaching its greatest height in Mt. PeléePelée
, volcano, 4,429 ft (1,350 m) high, on N Martinique, in the West Indies. On May 8, 1902, the day after the eruption of Soufrière on St. Vincent, Pelée also erupted, engulfing Saint-Pierre at its base in a pyroclastic flow and killing c.
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. The mainly Roman Catholic population is largely of African or mixed descent. French and a creole patois are spoken.

Most agriculture occurs in the hot valleys and along the coastal strips; a large part of this area is devoted to sugarcane, which was introduced from Brazil in 1654 and which provides one of Martinique's chief exports, rum. Bananas and pineapples are also important agricultural products. The island's industries consist mainly of petroleum refining, sugar and rum production, and pineapple canning. Tourism, which has eclipsed agriculture as a source of foreign exchange, constitutes a major sector of the economy, and the majority of the people work in the service sector or administration.


Visited by Columbus, probably in 1502, the island was ignored by the Spanish; colonization began in 1635, when the French, who had promised the native Caribs the western half of the island, established a settlement. The French proceeded to eliminate the Caribs and later imported African slaves as sugar plantation workers. In the 18th cent. Martinique's sugar exports made it one of France's most valuable colonies; although slavery was abolished in 1848, sugar continued to hold a dominant position in the economy. A target of dispute during the Anglo-French worldwide colonial struggles, Martinique was finally confirmed as a French possession after the Napoleonic wars. In 1902 an eruption of Mt. Pelée destroyed the town of St. Pierre.

Martinique supported the Vichy regime after France's collapse in World War II, but in 1943 a U.S. naval blockade forced the island to transfer its allegiance to the Free French. It became a department of France in 1946 and an administrative region in 1974. Although the island has recovered from the extensive damage caused by a hurricane in 1980, France has continued its attempts to improve the economic life of the Martinique, which is plagued by overpopulation and a lack of development. A referendum on increasing the island's autonomy was defeated in 2010, in part because the proposal did not specify the extent of the change.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a country and island in the Caribbean Sea, in the Lesser Antilles island group (Windward), in the West Indies. A possession of France; officially an overseas department of France since 1946. Area, 1,100 sq km. Population, 340,000 (1972), mainly descendants of slaves from Africa, racially Negroes and mulattoes. Small groups of Chinese and emigrants from India also live there. Official language, French. Most believers are Catholics. The island is administered by a prefect appointed by the French government. The General Council is elected for six years. Martinique is represented in the French parliament by three deputies to the National Assembly and two senators. The capital is Fort-de-France (population, 99,000 in 1971).

Natural features. The island is mountainous, composed primarily of volcanic rock. A hilly plain divides it into two unequal parts—a southern low-lying area (up to 500 m) and a northern area with volcanic mountains, among which the highest is the active volcano Mt. Pelée (1,397 m). The eastern and southern shores are extremely jagged, but entrance to the bays is blocked by a broad strip of reefs. The bay of Fort-de-France has good harbors. Martinique has a tropical trade-wind climate. Mean monthly temperatures range from 24° to 27°C. Precipitation totals 1,500-2,000 mm a year. The rainy season (with thunderstorms and hurricanes) lasts from July to November. Rivers are numerous but small, and most of them are unnavigable. On the mountainsides are tropical forests (palms, mahogany, rosewood, logwood, and breadfruit trees) that have been greatly thinned out by illegal logging. There are marshes and a savanna on the plain. The fauna belongs to the Antillean subregion.

Historical survey. The island of Martinique was discovered for the Europeans by Columbus in 1502. In 1635 the French began their colonization, which was accompanied by the total annihilation of the local population (Carib Indians). Negro slaves were brought from Africa to work on the plantations. Rebellions by the Negro population were brutally crushed by the colonialists. Cotton and tobacco were grown in Martinique, and in the late 17th century and the first quarter of the 18th sugarcane and coffee plantations arose. In the 17th and 18th centuries Great Britain repeatedly undertook attempts to seize the island. During the Great French Revolution (late 18th century) a bitter struggle was waged in Martinique between the Royalists and the Republicans. By a decree of the Convention in February 1794, slavery was abolished. In 1794, Martinique was occupied by British troops, and by the Treaty of Amiens of 1802 it was returned to France. Slavery was reinstituted in Martinique. From 1809 to 1814, Martinique was again governed by Great Britain. In 1848 slavery was abolished in the French colonies, including Martinique. After the fall of the Second Empire (1870), the island’s residents received the same suffrage rights as the population of the metropolis and gained representation in the French parliament. In 1900, Martinique achieved financial autonomy.

In the early 20th century, trade unions and political parties began to operate. During World War II (1939-45) the island was under the authority of the Vichy regime from 1940 to 1943. In July 1943, Martinique began supporting the French Committee of National Liberation. Because of the people’s struggle to end the colonial regime, the island was granted in 1946 the status of an overseas department of France. In 1957 the autonomous Martinique Communist Party was created on the basis of previously existing Communist organizations. The island’s progressive forces are struggling for recognition of the right of the people of Martinique to self-determination and for the establishment of genuine autonomy in Martinique.

Economic geography. The basis of the economy is agriculture, which, as a result of the country’s colonial status, is oriented toward export. Ten families are dominant (the Beke, descendants of the first French colonialists); they control three-fourths of the land and the sugar refineries and are closely associated with French capital. More than two-thirds of the gainfully employed population are agricultural and industrial workers. Most of the cultivated land is in sugarcane (7,000 hectares; 22,000 tons of unrefined sugar in 1972) and bananas (9,000 hectares; 190,000 tons in 1972). Pineapples (26,000 tons), coffee (100 tons), and cacao are also cultivated. Livestock raising is well developed; cattle (45,000 head in 1972), sheep (18,000), and pigs (32,000) are raised. There is also fishing. Industry is represented by enterprises for processing agricultural raw materials, such as sugar, alcohol-and-rum, canning, and chocolate enterprises. There are 1,300 km of highways, of which 700 km are paved (1968). The chief port is Fort-de-France. The main airport is near the town of Le Lamentin. Fruit, sugar, and rum make up 90 percent of the value of exports. Imports include food, raw materials, fuel, machinery, and industrial equipment. The chief foreign-trade partner is France (89 percent of the value of exports and 70 percent of imports in 1969). The monetary unit is the French franc.

Public health. In 1968 there were 15 hospitals with 3,700 beds (11.5 beds per 1,000 inhabitants); there were 208 physicians (one per 1,600 inhabitants), 62 dentists, 67 pharmacists, and more than 500 middle-echelon medical personnel.

Education and cultural affairs. In the 1969 academic year 68,400 pupils were attending eight-year elementary schools; there were more than 20,000 pupils at incomplete secondary schools—four-year general-education and technical colleges— and about 10,000 pupils at complete secondary schools—seven-year general-education and technical lycees; various types of vocational-technical schooling involved about 2,000 students. In the 1970 academic year more than 1,600 students were attending Martinique’s only higher educational institution—the Henri Vizioz Institute of Law and Economics (in Fort-de-France). The institute has a library (about 5,000 volumes).

Literature. A rich folklore, created in the tongue of the Negro poor, has existed in Martinique for a long time. Written literature in French appeared at the end of the 19th century and was oriented toward French models. But by the 1920’s, with a definite link to the rise of Negro culture in the USA (the Harlem renaissance) and international interest in African culture and art, the poets G. Gratiant (born 1895) and E. Léro and the critic R. Menille called for the development of a national distinctive literature that did not lose touch with its African “roots.”

The first significant native work was a narrative poem by the great Antillean writer A. Cesaire (born 1913), Notebook of a Return to the Native Land (published 1939; complete edition 1947), which was an artistic defense of the culture and dignity of the black race and contributed to the growth of anticolonial sentiment. The poetry of Martinique, despite a certain influence from French surrealism is dominated by an effort to interpret the history of the homeland and its distinctiveness, as may be seen, for example, in the poems of E. Glissant (born 1928).

The prose of the 1940’s and early 1950’s was dominated by descriptions of folk life that also contain elements of social criticism, such as the novels Diab’lo (1947) and The Street of Negro Hovels (1950) by J. Zobel. In works of the late 1950’s and 1960’s an attempt was made to recreate an epic panorama of folk life (the novels by Glissant The River Lézarde, 1958, and especially The Fourth Century, 1964, which are not devoid, however, of sketchiness and romantic abstractness). The struggle of the people of Martinique was depicted as a part of the overall struggle of the oppressed against the bourgeois world. The novel by S. Etchart The World as It Is (1967) created the figure of a Communist fighter, a leader of the people. In the 1950’s and early 1960’s revolutionary pamphleteering was an outstanding success—for example, Cesaire’s “Speech on Colonialism” (1950) and especially the publicistic works of a participant in the national-democratic revolution in Algeria, F. Fanon (1925-61), who wrote Black Skin, White Masks (1952) and The Wretched of the Earth (1961). Some of Fanon’s ideas are used by present-day leftist-extremist groups (in France and the USA in particular).

The abolition of colonialism in Africa had a substantial influence on the literature of Martinique. The drama which appeared in the 1960’s interprets the problems of developing countries. The best examples are Cesaire’s plays The Tragedy of King Christopher (1963) and A Season in the Congo (1966), which recreated the figure of P. Lumumba.


Vremia plameneiushchikh derev’ev: Poety Antl’skikh ostrovov. Moscow, 1961.
Kesteloot, L. Aimé Césaire. [Paris, 1962.]


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


an island in the E Caribbean, in the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles: administratively an overseas region of France. Capital: Fort-de-France. Pop.: 395 000 (2004 est.). Area: 1090 sq. km (420 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
February 2006) was a Martiniquan percussionist, painter, and sculptor.
As a result of this late influence, Medard has become part of Martiniquan life.
Spirituals, too, moved black Paris, and when Roland Hayes toured Europe in 1924, he gave a benefit concert for the Ligue universelle de defense de la race noire, a civil rights organization composed of Martiniquan and westernized African intellectuals.
Vincent Placoly: Un ecrivain de la decolonisation, edited by Jean-Georges Chali & Axel Artheron (Matoury, Guyane: Ibis Rouge, 2014, paper 20 [euro]), should help raise the visibility of this Martiniquan playwright, novelist, and essayist whose work spanned the 1970s and 1980s and who represented a broadly Americanist literary vision that surpassed that of the previous Cesairien generation or that of the succeeding generation of creolistes.
In Peau noire, masques blancs (1952) [Black Skin, White Masks (1965)], Fanon insists that when the Martiniquan author Mayotte Capecia announces in her autobiography Je suis Martiniquaise [I Am a Martiniquan Woman] (1948) her desire to marry a white Frenchman, she is seeking "la lactification" (40) ["a kind of lactification" (Black 47)].
The Ethiopianist Garvey writers, for example, probably spent more time than anyone else reviewing Rene Maran's seemingly non-Ethiopianist Batouala after the Martiniquan won the French Goncourt Prize in 1921.
Was he, as the bookcovers of his New Directions books suggest, brought up by an Orthodox Jewish German father and a Martiniquan Catholic-"voodoo" mother?
Turning to contemporary Martiniquan poetry, Monchoachi's latest collection is Lemiste (1.
Jules-Marcel Monnerot, a Martiniquan surrealist writer, comments
Three years later, shortly after finishing Giovanni's Room, he was to report on the historic Conference of Negro-African Writers and Artists held at the Sorbonne in Paris, among whose major speakers were the Senegalese poet and statesman Leopold Senghor and the Martiniquan poet Aime Cesaire.