Guadeloupe — History and Culture
Learning about Guadeloupe’s troubled past will help you understand its culture and its people. The forts in Pointe-a-Pitre and Basse-Terre are testimonies to the wars that have destroyed the island, as well as the dark period when slave trade was the norm. It is important to note that Guadeloupe has been a part of France since 1635, though it fell into Swedish hands from 1813 to 1814 because of the Napoleonic Wars. Guadeloupe was also one of the islands originally discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493.
From 700 BC until 1000 AD, Guadeloupe served as a home to different populations, including Amerindians who traveled from Venezuela by their pirogues. The Arawaks and Igneris were the main occupants of the island at this time, but the aggressive Caribs arrived between 1000 and 1400 AD and took over.
Christopher Columbus’ second journey led him to the Guadeloupe. He landed on November 4, 1493 and referred to the land as Santa Maria de Guadaloupe. The French later found the island, and the Caribs did their best to resist the invasion, but both Great Britain and France fought for the territory. Around this time, commerce among Europe, Africa and the West Indies was at an all time high, causing the deportation of slaves to the plantations.
The Company of the American Islands (Compagnie des Îles de l’Amérique) controlled Guadeloupe in 1635 until it went bankrupt. As a result, the island was purchased by Charles Houël, who appointed himself lord governor and owner. It was not until the reign of King Louis XIV that Guadeloupe became a formal part of France, entrusted to the East Indies Company. Its bankruptcy in 1674 put Guadeloupe completely under the French royalty’s control. By the end of the war, Great Britain occupied the West Indies, but the Treaty of Paris caused it to return to France, which in return ceded Dominica, Grenada, Canada, and a few other territories.
Victor Hughes completely abolished slavery in 1794, but Napoleon Bonaparte reinstated it in 1802 despite Louis Delgres’ efforts and resistance. Fort de Louis Delgres still stands in the capital, Basse-Terre. It was completely abolished in 1848 by Victor Schoelcher and a museum in Pointe-a-Pitre is dedicated to his heroic effors.
The year 1936 was when Felix Eboue, a Guyana-born citizen, became Guadeloupe’s first black governor. The West Indies requested that Guadeloupe become an overseas department in 1946. After the decentralization policy of President Mitterand in 1980, Guadeloupe became an administrative region.
Guadeloupe is a melting pot of cultures. Its art, music, dance, and culinary traditions have been influenced by France, Africa, India, and its neighbors in the Caribbean. The majority of the locals are Roman Catholic, with a predominantly Evangelical Protestant minority. People on the island are informal and relaxed, making casual clothes appropriate. If you are going to a nightclub or dining out, though, consider dressing to impress.
La biguine is one of the local genres of music you can enjoy in Guadeloupe, which is described as a combination of Creole bélé and polka. Zouk and gwo ka la base are also common in the streets and clubs.
Guadeloupe’s culture is defined by its artisans, who are very skilled at handicrafts. Pointe Noire is notable for its woodwork, while Saint Francois is known for its sculptures made from coconut. La Broderie de Vieux-Fort is the place to go to buy embroidered products.
You cannot fully experience Guadeloupe’s culture without immersing yourself in local cuisine. Creole-style seafood is the staple on most menus, and is usually served with freshly harvested vegetables. Indian-inspired dishes such as meats with curry and rice, and exotic fruits like coconut and papaya are also part of the main island fare. Guadeloupe locals love their champagne as much as they love their traditional beverages, including fruit punches and ti-punch.