Guadeloupe: Culture & History
Guadeloupe draws its culture from the mainly the French but also from African, East Indian and West Indian influence. This is displayed in the architecture of their buildings, which range from French colonial to Hindu temples. The food is a creation of the mixture of these cultures into a unique Creole cuisine. Guadeloupe is the center of the Caribbean's Creole culture and it boasts a blend of the above-mentioned influences. The official language spoken is French but creation patois is prevalent in the homes. Actually, festivals and cultural events, the traditional Creole dress, which is comprised of bright madras type plaid of oranges and yellow accompanied by a matching headdress usually dominate the scene.
There is a great deal of artistic talent on the island that consists of a thriving music scene which includes beguine and zouk which are distinctively Afro-French-Caribbean; calypso and reggae which are distinctively Caribbean.
Guadeloupe comprises two islands, Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre and has Pointe-a-Pitre as its more prominent city which is the center of the landmass. The capital of Guadeloupe is called Basse-Terre is on the southwestern side of the island. The majority of the resort hotels and larger marinas are located along the southern shore of Grande-Terre.
Guadeloupe has a population of less than half-a-million people made up of mixed African, French, and, the European and East Indian descent comprise about seventy-five percent. Roman Catholicism accounts for about ninety-five percent of the religious beliefs, while the other five percent are comprised of Hindu and pantheistic African. The major industries in this island are construction, cement, sugar, rum, tourism, enormous mahogany, gum trees, ginger and helicon.
There are a few islands to the south and west of Guadeloupe, which are rural and laid-back. These islands offer a good opportunity to get away from the crowds to simply relax. Islands such as Terre-de-Haut, Terre-de-Bas, Marie-Galante and La Desirade have nice beaches but they are somewhat rural. Terre-de-Haut is Mediterranean in appearance but rather French in culture. It has a beautiful landscape of volcanic hills and deep bays. It is a beautiful fishing village where tourists seek to visit on their vacations. Marie-Galante is noteworthy for its rum distilleries. Its rum is known worldwide as being one of the finest. It is a fishing village, which is dotted with, ruins of old sugar mills that were present during the 1800s.
Point-a-Pitre is Guadeloupe's main principality and has a mixture of old and new architecture of both French colonial and West Indian. It started out as a fish market and has grown tremendously over the years. Fishermen bring in their catch along the dock and sell their fish. People, usually women have cloth turbans on their heads sell their fruits, vegetables, flowers, pungent spices, handicrafts and clothing. La Place de la Victoire is an open space, which has sidewalk cafes and tall royal palms lining the streets. There are also a couple of museums, one of which is Musee Schoelcher, named after the abolitionist Victor Schoelcher that features artifacts that relate to slavery. There is also la Musee Saint-John Perse that depicts a nineteenth century Creole home with adorned wrought-iron balconies. This museum is dedicated to Alexis Legea who lived until eighty-eight years old. He is better known as Saint-John Perse.
When Christopher Columbus and his crew sighted Guadeloupe in 1493, they wanted to claim it for Spain. The inhabitants there, the Carib Indians, called the island Karukera, which means "Island of Beautiful Waters". Spain made two attempts to seize the island but was repulsed both times by the Caribs. They finally gave up their claim to the island in 1604.
French entrepreneurs landed on the southeastern shores of Basse-Terre in 1635 and killed the Carib Indians. They then set about planting sugar cane and within a decade built the first sugar mill. A slave-based plantation was already well established by the time the French annexed the island.
The British invaded Guadeloupe and placed an inordinate amount of pressure on the French who eventually traded their claims in Canada for the return of Guadeloupe with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763. France was weak and chaotic during the French Revolution so Britain again invaded Guadeloupe in 1794. The French sent a contingent of soldiers led by Victor Hughes, a black nationalist, who freed and armed Guadeloupean slaves. Hughes and his group killed over three hundred Royalists, some of whom were plantation owners. The U.S. got involved and declared that Hughes attacked American ships, so the U.S. declared war on France. Napoleon Bonaparte, ruler of France sent a general to Guadeloupe to put down the rebellion, restore order and re-institute slavery.
Guadeloupe was the most prosperous island in the French West Indies, and the British continued to covet it making incursions and occupying it between 1810 and 1816. The Treaty of Vienna in 1816 restored sovereignty to France in 1816, and it has remained a French colony ever since the. Slavery was finally abolished in 1848, which was in large measure due to a campaign led by Victor Schoelcher, a French politician. The planters in Guadeloupe decided to import labourers for Pondicherry, a French colony in India, to work on the sugar cane plantations.
Guadeloupe has been represented in the French Parliament since 1871 and was established as an overseas department of France in 1946. The French flag is flown in the island and occasionally there is the feeling by some people to rise up and secede from France. This has not happened and in the year 1970, La Soufriere erupted and belched out sulphurous fumes. Agriculture remains the mainstay of the economy, but tourism has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. Even though French is the official language, not Guadeloupeans are able to understand and speak English. This has helped increase tourism from the United States and from the Caribbean islands.
The little islands south of Guadeloupe, les Saintes are a veritable haven of peace with a pleasant climate. They are eight islands that comprise les Saintes and the two that are inhabited are Terre-de-Haut and Terre-de-Bas. These islands are extremely hilly which makes it difficult to walk, but there are beautiful and quiet. Fishermen and their families mainly inhabit these two islands. There is Fort Napoleon there that can be visited and Terre-de-Haut's jagged shoreline which is comprised of rocky coves and quiet bays, is a playground for water sports enthusiasts of any kind.