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Discover well-known and little-known Martinique traditions

The Martinique carnival

The carnival of Martinique, which takes place at the beginning of the year with the Epiphany, is a very colorful event. It is an unavoidable tradition that animates the island every year (when the health context allows it...). This very particular carnival takes root in the city of Saint-Pierre between the 17th and 18th century in the rich families who organized masked balls. A few centuries later, with the contribution of the Creole culture, the carnival of Martinique became a mixture of African and European cultures. To sum up the parades in a few words, they are joyful, colorful and musical! If you are in Martinique during this period, don't hesitate to go there to enjoy the atmosphere! Find here our article dedicated to the carnival of Martinique to know a little more about the event.

The gastronomy of Martinique

When it comes to gastronomy, Martinique is not to be outdone! Whether it is throughout the year or for special events, the Martinicans have imagination and taste. It is a mixture of European, Indian and African cuisine with spicy accents. Among the typical dishes of the island we find mainly :

  • the smoked chicken

  • the colombo of chicken

  • various accras (cod, shrimp...)

  • the gratin of christophine

  • pork and pigeon pea stew

  • the dog sauce

  • the sinobol...

Enjoy all the flavors of these exotic dishes in the many restaurants of the island. In the meantime, to make your mouth water, discover our top 5 traditional recipes of Martinique.

The cockfight

If there is a Martinican tradition that is less known, at least in France, it is the cockfighting tradition! The discipline is authorized because it is recognized as a historical heritage. But be careful, cockfights are well supervised, they are only done in "pitts (rings) known and recognized by the authorities. For those who are not used to the show, it can be very surprising as the birds are very aggressive and lively. For the more sensitive, some pitts offer demonstrations without real combat. Cockfighting in Martinique, as in the West Indies more generally, is a tradition that has been well established on the island for hundreds of years. Recognized as a historical heritage in Martinique, cockfighting is allowed. To attend these rather spectacular fights, you will have to go to a pitt, the ring of feathered fighters (otherwise called gallodrome). There are about twenty of them on the island. Between the Ashen Roosters, Madras or Kalagawi, you may be surprised by the vivacity and ferocity of the different species of Gallus Gallus. Some fights are to the death. If you prefer to avoid this sight, some pitts offer dedicated times for tourists during which demonstrations are organized.

The Nwel songs

At the approach of the end of the year celebrations and especially Christmas, a Martinican tradition is heard on the public squares of the villages and cities of the island: the chanté nwel. Groups of Martiniqueans form to sing Christmas carols to the rhythm of Creole music. The atmosphere created by the Chanté Nwel is festive and warm, Christmas being an important event in Martinique. For tourists and locals alike, these street performances are a pleasure for both the ears and the heart!

The Tour des Yoles of Martinique

Martinique being an island, the boat is a means of transportation and a leisure activity that cannot be ignored. The yole is the most typical of the island's vessels, to the point where the boat has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site! Originally a fisherman's boat, the yole, in addition to becoming a symbol, has become a sporting activity in its own right. Indeed, a major sporting event in the Martinique calendar is awaited by a large part of the population: the Tour de la Martinique des yoles rondes. It is a team race organized every year, the goal being for the crews, as the name indicates, to go around the island in a yawl and of course to arrive first! The event takes place in July-August, so if you are on the island at that time, don't hesitate to go to a stage town to enjoy the competition.

The traditional Martinican costume

In the Martinique tradition, the traditional costume, for women or men, is rich in bright colors. The madras, this colorful fabric with checks and stripes, is an almost unavoidable component. The traditional costume is no longer worn on a daily basis, but it is still worn for important events such as weddings, baptisms and local celebrations. The name of these costumes is also part of the folklore. Grand'robe, douillette, titanium or cotonade are the names of dresses. For their part, tête chaudière, bakoua or tête 1 bout are names of headdresses worn by the ladies! Original, isn't it?  In addition to clothing, jewelry also takes an important place. The creole is the name of a ring-shaped earring, more or less large, which is also found in metropolitan France. To go with it, long gold and pearl necklaces complete the ensemble to offer a complete and most ravishing panoply! 

The rum of Martinique

Rum is probably the best known Martinican tradition in the world. The rum of Martinique has letters of nobility and it makes it known! Produced from sugar cane, whose plantations dot the island, rum is exported to the 4 corners of the world. Martinique's rum even benefits from an appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC), so well known is the know-how of its production! To familiarize you with its history and its manufacture, many distilleries open their doors to make you discover the backstage as it is the case for the Habitation Clément. Visiting the island? It's an obligatory stop!

Matoutou, the traditional Easter crab cuisine

At Easter, there is a very particular gastronomic tradition in Martinique; the hunting of the crab and the cooking in matoutou (or matété)! During the Easter period, a real crab hunt is opened! The crustacean that hides during the day and comes out at night is appreciated and sought after for its meat. To catch one, you have to be cunning and trap the animal with a dobby to be installed near the burrows. When the crustacean is trapped, it is good to be cooked in crab matoutou. This recipe puts the flavor of the crab in the spotlight, and accompanied by spices, sublimates it! If you visit Martinique during Easter, don't hesitate to try this characteristic Caribbean dish!

The quimbois, a form of black magic in Martinique

In Martinique, there is a mysterious practice, close to witchcraft: the quimbois. A variant of Cuban Santeria or Haitian voodoo, it brings together superstition, beliefs and black magic. The quimboiseur, the sorcerer, is a character consulted to see the future, to acquire aphrodisiacs and love filters, to protect oneself against bad luck, but also to be cured by plants. It is not uncommon on the island to find traces of the practice, such as the remains of a dead rooster tied to a chair.

Bèlè, more than a tradition, a Martinican musical art

We know the taste of the Martiniquais for dance and music. It is easy to think of zouk, but it would be wrong to know the island if we were content with that. Indeed, in Martinique, a musical and choreographic tradition has been perpetuated for decades: the bèle. The word bèlè is misleading and refers to the musical genre, the dance, the festive gathering or the musical instrument (the bèlè drum). In any case, in its musical sense, this Martinican art, which some say originated during slavery, combines song, music and storytelling in a warm, colorful and lively atmosphere. A museum, the Maison du Bèlè, is even dedicated to it as the bèlè is part of the cultural heritage of the island. To visit the island and meet all these traditions, it is advisable to turn to car rental in Martinique with Europcar. Benefit from a wide choice of vehicles that will facilitate your travel during your stay!

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