Guadeloupe and its smaller neighboring islands of Marie-Galante, La Desirade and Illes des Saintes, in the Lesser Antilles, are an overseas territory of France. Known to local people as karukera or ‘island of beautiful waters’, Guadeloupe’s two main islands are joined together by a mangrove swamp, and together take the shape of a butterfly. The fusion of modern infrastructure, Caribbean cuisine and local culture illustrates how the island hosts an eclectic mix of French, African and Caribbean influences.
Christopher Columbus was the first European to land on Guadeloupe in 1483, naming it Santa Maria de Guadeloupe de Extremadura. While he was here, Columbus was also known for discovering the Pineapple and taking it back to Europe. In the 17th century, the French colonized Guadeloupe. They brought African slaves to work on the plantations, which made the colony prosper in the trade of sugar and tobacco. In the 1980s, Guadeloupe experienced pro-independence bombings by a few independence groups. Ever since then, the country has seen a rise in the cost of living, which has also been followed by protests. Sectors of the population still harbor resentment against the continued colonial influence of the French, as well as the lack of investment and pervasive poverty on the island.
Guadeloupe’s cultural significance belies its small size. It has an especially strong literary culture which has been recognized on an international scale. For example, author Saint-John Perse, also known as Alexis Leger, won a 1960 Nobel Prize in Literature. Other well-known authors are Maryse Conde, Simone Schwartze-Bart and M. Ernest Pepin. Because oral history is also an important element of the culture, there are many annual poetry competitions held here in both French and Creole and artists and writers receive help from the French state. Music and dance are also integral to Guadeloupian culture. Local contemporary styles enjoyed are Zouk, Zouk-love and Kompa, while more traditional Guadeloupian styles are Biguine, Kadans and Cadence-lypso. Guadeloupian culture is also known for the colorful fabrics that are worn on festive occasions.