Martinique Culture Notes
By Maya Jolly
Carnival (Carnaval) is a well-known tradition in French-speaking countries. It takes place the week before Lent (le Careme), ending on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi gras), at the stroke of midnight. In Martinique, however, Carnival lasts until midnight of Ash Wednesday (Mercredi des cendres), and is celebrated with parades, music, music, dancing, fasting, and colorful costumes. Queens are elected to reign over the festivals, and on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, they parade through the streets of the city to the beat of Creole songs. On Monday, mock weddings are held in which the participants dress in burlesque costumes. On Tuesday, Carnival performers dance wildly in red costumes decorated with mirrors. Finally, on Ash Wednesday, people dress in black and white costumes to mourn the death of the cardboard king, Roi Vaval, who symbolizes the spirit of carnival. At the stroke of midnight, the dancing and music stop, and Lent begins. Other cities famous for their Carnival celebrations are Nice in France, Quebec City in Canada, and New Orleans in Louisiana.
In Martinique, people speak French and creole, a mixture of French and African languages with some Spanish, English, and Portuguese words.
Music and Dance
Music and dance are an integral part of life in Martinique. A popular saying is that in Martinique tout finit par une chanson. Much of the music arises from the time the first Africans were brought as slaves to work in sugar cane fields. The rhythms of the songs and the steps of the dances they created are still in existence today in the biguine, mazurka, and the internationally popular zouk.