Martinique is one of the Windward Islands in the eastern Caribbean Sea located off the northwestern coast of South America. It is essentially mountainous with an area of 1102 sq km.
Like most of the islands in the Caribbean Martinique as originally settled by indigenous Kalina-go (Caribs).
The first Europeans to attempt colonization were French settlers from St Kitts who landed in 1635 and proceeded to clear land to grow tobacco and sugar cane. As on other Caribbean islands the colonizers ran into stiff resistance from the indigenous Kalina-go who fiercely opposed the region wide attempts to take over their lands.
The attacks on Martinique continued as settlement expanded, until 1660 when the last group of Kalina-go warriors was massacred and the survivors forced to seek refuge on other islands (see also Dominica).
For over two centuries afterwards hundreds of shiploads of Africans in chains were imported and forced to provide slave labour on the sugar and tobacco estates.
The island prospered and attracted British interest towards the end of the 1700s. As a result the territory changed hands several times between 1794 and 1815. This included during the French Revolution when the local plantation owners alarmed by the slave revolt in nearby Haiti, placed the Martinique under British rule.
As a result of these upheavals Napoleon Bonaparte – whose wife Josephine was the daughter of Beauharnais a Martiniquan plantation owner – sent a contingent of troops to the region in 1802 to ensure that slavery would continue on Martinique and other French West Indian islands.
Martinique was officially returned to France in 1815 under the Treaty of Vienna, and slavery was not officially abolished until 1848, at which time all former slaves became French citizens.
The labour shortfall resulting from emancipation was filled by indentured labourers shipped in from colonial India after 1854. The Indian contract labourers were required to work for five years in return for wages and free passage. They were then at liberty to find other work or to return home. (See also Guadeloupe, Guyana, Trinidad, Jamaica and Suriname). A majority remained.
In 1946, Martinique became a French overseas department and in 1974 gained more autonomy when the island was granted regional status.
Main languages: French, French Creole
Main religions: Christianity (Roman Catholic)
Main minority group: East Indians
The majority of the population is of African descent. There are small minorities of Europeans, mainly of French origin, and also East Indians.
The East Indian community is much smaller than in Guadeloupe and is estimated at three per cent of the population.
There has also been Afro-descendant immigration from Haiti, Dominica and St Lucia; some of it illegal.
Martinique like Guadeloupe has been a département d’outre mer (DOM) of France since 1946 but unlike its neighbour it is also one of the 26 régions of France and is an integral part of the Republic. Martinique is administered by a prefect and is represented in the French National Assembly by two senators and four deputies.
Tourism is an important part of the economy but it also depends on large annual subsidies from Paris. The majority of the work force is employed in administration and the service sector hence its attraction to economic migrants from other Caribbean countries.