The Culture of Guadeloupe

Guadeloupe offers many cultural forms for travelers to enjoy

Photo credit: © Aalborg Carnival - Photographers

Guadeloupe's Culture

The islands of Guadeloupe have been home to many cultures since their earliest settlements. Arawak culture gave way to the Caribs, and the French introduced African and Asian workers. The English also tried to gain control of the islands, which completed Guadeloupe's unique fusion of influences that are still strongly felt today.

Much of Guadeloupe's culture can be found in its arts. The region has been home to many writers, artists, dancers, and musicians who express the varied cultural background of the islanders with depth and style. Islanders also dress in many traditional fashions that express their culture. However, Guadeloupe is also known for its food and language.

Literature and the Arts

One of Guadeloupe's most famous writers is not even known by his true name. He wrote under the pseudonym of Saint-John Perse. Born Alexis Leger, he studied in Bordeaux and wrote in many styles before completing his work of poetry that earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature. In fact, his 1924 poem "Anabase" was translated by T.S. Eliot.

Other Guadeloupean authors include Simone Shwartz-Bart, Ernest Pepin, Gisèle Pineau, Maryse Conde, Max Rippon, Luc Hubert Sejore. Guadeloupe's writers have mastered forms as varied as daily news reporting to cultural epics and have brought the island literary recognition.

Painting is also important on Guadeloupe, where colors of sea, sky, and sand can all inspire. In fact, museums across the islands showcase paintings from local artists. Most regional styles are done in charcoal and oil paints, but crafts are important, too. Islanders have found ways to use nearly everything available within their natural surroundings, and they even blow colored glass from Guadeloupe's multi-hued sand.

Music and Dance

Guadeloupe is home to many interesting dances, and some dance steps that delighted older generations are now coming back into style. Popular dances include the "zouk," "zouk-love," and "toumbélé." Dances follow music such as "La Biguine" and "Gwo Ka La Base."

Local music began with "La Biguine," though Martinique has laid claim to the creation of this style. More than just a musical style, this term is also the name of a couples dance that requires much hip-swaying. This style combines the tastes of the aristocratic classes with a distinctly Caribbean flair. Ladies wear long skirts, and men wear coats with tails.

Another local form of music is named after the instrument used to play the style - the "Ka." The "Gwo Ka La Base" is made up of what are known as the seven rhythms: "aladja, Lewoz, Mendé, Toumblak, Graj, Roulé, and Gran-jambel.

One dance with Guadeloupean roots is the quadrille "au commandement." Much like the original quadrille, this dance differs because dancers follow the commands of the singer. Moves have descriptive names such as "pastoral," "hen," "summer," and even "pants."

Of course, these aren't the only popular styles on the island. Tropical fusion jazz is an important component of island life, and reggae and dance hall music have made a splash with younger islanders especially.

Traditional Costumes

...home to a cultural mix that is very unique...


Guadeloupe is home to a cultural mix that is very unique - one that developed from the forced combination of African and French islanders. One of the many aspects that developed from this combination is a local style of dress.

The base of many Creole costumes is a basic dress, which was probably Church-inspired. Over the top goes a grass skirt, which, once full-length, has been shortened since it was first worn. The evolution of these designs has taken place over centuries and alongside other cultural influences.

Emancipated slave women wore "le costume de l'affranchie" - usually clothing handed down to them by owners' wives and adapted to suit their own bodies and styles. These costumes included a work dress known as "la travailleuse" and a dressing gown, which is known by several names: la "Rob di chan?m," "cozy one," or "main dress." These often featured embellishments such as lace or embroidery, and later a kerchief, called a "mouchoir," was added. This mouchoir was knotted and decorated with jewelry. Petticoats were also added.

Something islanders learned quite quickly was that hats were a necessity for those who spent time in the Guadeloupean sun. While men generally stuck to straw hats, women developed many styles of headdress. These headdresses have many colorful names and meanings, so you may run across such styles as the "bat," "firefighter," "zamboist," "liberalist," "Lewoz," and even "Guadeloupean woman."

Jewelry is also an important addition to any outfit in Guadeloupe, and necklaces and bracelets each have their own names. Some are named after plants, like the "cabbage" necklace or the "pineapple" bracelet. Others have more unusual names, like "thick syrup" and "colonial helmet." Decorative pins, "la trembleuse," also hold the patterns of the headdresses in place.

Spend a bit of time while you're in Guadeloupe getting to know the heritage of these unique people. Their culture has grown from several lifelines into one vibrant, beautiful culture all its own.


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