Martinique is an overseas department of France which hosts a synthesis of French, Caribbean and African culture evident throughout the island. Tourism plays a major role in the economy of Martinique and the island has become a popular destination for cruise ships. Whilst the standards of living on the island are higher than on many other Caribbean islands the country is still heavily reliant on aid from Paris and discontent over high unemployment and the lack of autonomy has flared up in recent decades. Despite this widespread dissatisfaction voters overwhelmingly rejected greater autonomy from France in a 2010 referendum.
Martinique was originally home to the Arawak and Carib peoples who lived on the island for centuries until the arrival of Europeans. Christopher Columbus visited the island on one of his first voyages to the Americas in 1493 but it was not colonised until 1635, when it was settled by the French. The island was embroiled in several European wars over the next few centuries and was briefly captured by the British in the late 18th century. However it was eventually returned to the French who developed the sugar industry on the island, importing African slaves to work on the plantations, the descendants of whom make up a large proportion of the current population. In the early 20th century Martinique suffered a devastating natural disaster when the volcanic Mount Pelée erupted. The eruption and subsequent pyroclastic flows killed approximately 30,000 people and destroyed most of the city Saint-Pierre, which was at that time the capital of Martinique.
The culture of Martinique is syncretic, mixing elements of the various emigrant communities and colonial influences that have come to the island. The language, which is a Creole patois with elements of French, English, Spanish and Portuguese, as well as several African languages, is evidence of the diverse influences on the island’s culture and society. The most prominent writer from Martinique is Édouard Glissant who is often cited as one of the foremost Caribbean cultural figures of his age. He is celebrated for his postcolonial works and his work to develop a Creole tradition in literature. He was also involved heavily with the Négritude movement as was his compatriot Aimé Césaire, a poet and politician from Martinique. Some other prominent writers from Martinique include Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphaël Confiant, both of whom contributed to the development of a specifically Creole literature which could embody the nuances of Martinique life.