The Culture of Martinique

Martinique's culture derives its elegance from the French, but the island has been influenced by many ethnicities

Photo credit: © West Indian sis

Culture of Martinique

As one of the largest French outposts in the Lesser Antilles, Martinique is an island that carries off a noticeable air of sophistication that comes from its French heritage.

This cultural refinement is apparent in almost all aspects of everyday life on Martinique. Not only does this beautiful Caribbean island boast French influence in its culture, but it also has been shaped by African, West Indian, and Creole traditions.

Traditionally, Martinique has been the epitome of French culture, and people often referred to the city of Sainte Pierre as the Paris of the Lesser Antilles, prior to the devastating volcanic eruption in 1902 that wiped out the entire city. Were it not for the tropical environment, visitors could easily believe they were in France. As one of the most developed islands in the Lesser Antilles, Martinique is a chic country that has perfectly mimicked the fashion and style of its mother country.

Today, there is some controversy over whether or not Martinique should remain a territory of France.  Some argue for independence, while others enjoy the perks that come with a French allegiance, and don't want to rock the boat.  Meanwhile, the békés, who are white and direct descendents of the original French settlers, are considered to be the elite members of society, garnering both envy and resentment from those with darker skin.  French citizens who come to the island directly from France are called Metros, and are considered to be outsiders.


As a part of France, the people of Martinique are considered French citizens, and the official language on the island is French.  StillLanguages, many of the islanders speak a Creole patois among themselves. The word Creole originates from crioullo, which is Portuguese for speech. In Martinique, Creole is a mixture of various languages including English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and native Caribbean and African dialects. The Creole language is spoken all over the West Indies in such places as Haiti and the Grenadines. With only a few differences in a specific country's vernacular, spoken Creole can be consistent from island to island.


In Martinique, Creole is spoken more than it is written. Traditionally, Creole was part of an oral tradition passed on through island storytellers during evening meetings. The storytellers used the language to teach history and to pass on traditional tales and fables central to Martinique's heritage. Creole embodies the savory aromas, images, and vivid colors of the island, and the language is beginning to earn a place in world literature.  Because of the lack of a written Creole language, many Martinicans do not consider it an official language, and over time, Martinique's Creole has become more and more infused with French words.


In keeping with their French heritage, many islanders practice Roman Catholicism.  There is one arch bishop on the island that oversees 47 parishes and 60 priests.   Other religious groups like Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims, and Jewish exist on the island in respectable numbers as well.

There is another form of religion prevelent on the island that dates back to when African slaves were brought to Martinique.  This is called Quimbois.  Sorcery and spiritual healing coupled with a wide use of herbs and natural healing remedies opitimizes the religion.  There is also a small sect of Rastafarians in existence on Martinique. 

Music and Celebration

Throughout the year, travelers can visit Martinique and experience many of the island's celebrations and events. Several activities take place year-round, ensuring that something fun will be happening whenever you choose to visit Martinique. Islanders find many reasons to hold special events, which include celebrations of arts, culture, music, and various competitions, such as sailboat and bicycle races.

Perhaps the most famous celebration in the Caribbean is Carnival, and Martinique throws its own kind of party for this heralded Caribbean event. The Carnival celebration on Martinique is one of the island's most animated yearly festivals. Carnival starts just before the beginning of Catholic Lent. But before this period of atonement begins, the streets of Martinique fill with the sounds of rhythmic drums, singing, and festive parades. People don elaborate costumes, sometimes portraying ghostly figures and spirits such as devils and she-devils.

Carnival, or Vaval as it is known by the islanders, lasts four days, and all business is put on hold while islanders and vacationers alike come together to enjoy this wondrous celebration. During Carnival, the islanders elect a Carnival Queen, a Mini-Queen, and a Queen Mother for each town, and small children dress up in costume and go to the crossroads to ask drivers for candy and money.

The unique culture of Martinique will make any visit to this festive, beautiful, and elegant island an unforgettable experience.

As you can see, this small island has no shortage of culture. If you want to learn more about the specific areas of Martinique's heritage, the articles below are a good place to start.

Specific Articles
Arts and Entertainment
Events & Festivals

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