Culture & History
History of St. Maarten
The island is know by its name, Sint Maarten, given by the (Dutch) Europeans in namesake of the Roman Saint. However, the island's first inhabitants, the Amerindians, would have used the name "Soualiga", the land of salt, or "Oualichi", the land of the brave and beautiful women. It seems the name was prophetic, as though the Amerindians no longer inhabit the island, the brave and beautiful women still do. The words Soualiga and Oualichi form, together with other words denoting Caribbean geography, strong linguistic evidence that people from Africa came to the Caribbean long before the Europeans.
Discovery of Saint Martin by Christopher Colombus
Allegedly, Cristóbal Colón, a Genovese mercenary in the service of the Spanish King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I on his second voyage to find a westward route to India sighted the island and named it Santa María la Redonda. A few days prior, on November 11, 1493, his ships anchored off the coast of the island, which we commonly know now as Nevis, and called it Santo Martino as it was that saint’s feast day according to the calendar. However, Santo Martino became known as Nevis and Santa María la Redonda became known as Saint Martin. This must have had something to do with the utter confusion, among the Spanish, British, French, Danish, and Swedish factions disputing the ownership, about which island was which as Cristóbal’s maps and stories turned out to be not so accurate.
Changing Powers to the Treaty of Concordia
The name Antilles for the islands in the Caribbean is derived from the Spanish ‘Islas Inútiles’ or useless islands. Despite the name, the Spanish occupied most of the islands leading to the extinction of the Caribs, Arawaks, and Tainos who lived there. The other European nations heard the news, and moved in quickly to have their share leading to the further the annihilation of locals. According to their customs, the Europeans exchanged the ownership of islands frequently either by force or by treaty. In 1620 Santa María la Redonda, by then known as Saint Martin, was explored by the Dutch for salt.
The Spanish, still at war with the Dutch, came to claim the island and built defense structures to secure their territory, placing structures on either side of the entrance to Great Bay and the salt ponds; a fort (now Fort Amsterdam) and a battery (near what is now Pointe Blanche). The Spanish under the Marquis of Cadereyta drove the French and Dutch settlers from Saint Martin in 1633, only to evacuate the Spanish garrison again in June 1647.
Early in 1648, the Spanish returned with some French and Dutch laborers to destroy the fort and other structures on the island. Five of the Dutch, four of the French and one mulatto escaped and hid until the Spanish had left. The Dutch built a raft and made it to Statia where they asked for help from their compatriots; the French reached St. Kitts and did the same. They returned with some extra hands, but instead of engaging in the usual sword buckling, the French and the Dutch adventurers sat together and decided to share the island. They made it all look very official by drawing up an agreement and calling it the Treaty of Concordia, signed by their leaders posing as representatives of the French king and the Dutch republic on March 23, 1648 on the top of the Mont des Accords.
By 2010, the French kingdom had turned into a republic and the Dutch republic in a kingdom. Sint Maarten that had been part of the Netherlands Antilles since 1955 became a country with limited autonomy within the kingdom of the Netherlands on October 10, 2010 and the Netherlands Antilles ceased to exist.
The Rich Culture of The Friendly Island
Sint Maarten for its openness to visitors and free trade was branded Friendly Island. A tradition going back to the times of the Treaty of Concordia and that adds to the friendliness is the willingness to assist one another to realize plans one cannot do on one’s own. Family, friends, and neighbors come together to help you build your house and bring food and drinks to make the building a happening celebrating goodwill and generosity. With the rapid growth of the economy and the population, mostly through immigration, this and other traditions mutated in a vibrant hospitality sector.
Home to many Cultures
The migration from island to island for economic reasons has been taking place for ages and connected the islands in the Caribbean through the ensuing family ties. The developments in Sint Maarten brought immigrants from all over the world, which is why Sint Maarten on its 37 square kilometers counts over 130 different nationalities who manage to work and live together and contribute to a pulsating diverse Caribbean cultural palette. The contact between all these different people has led to excellence in many areas of culture among which the culinary, music, and dance.
Events & Local Music
The culture of Sint Maarten is celebrated especially during Carnival (in April) and around Sint Maarten Day (November 11), but is very much alive in clubs and restaurants, beach bars and hotels where bands and singers, dancers, and performers have the audience experience the essence of these arts in their many different forms. The visual and plastic arts are exhibited in the different galleries and in wall paintings very much all over the island. Just walking through Philipsburg will give one an overview of the diversity and high quality of the visual arts [link to video].
In the mix of people that Sint Maarten is, one can hear the distinct sounds, words, and expressions of S’Maatin English. One such expression is ‘By bus 11’ meaning ‘walking’. It is a combination of original metaphors and sometimes abbreviated, sometimes expanded forms of Standard English, combined with a distinct Caribbean rhythm and words borrowed from Dutch, French, and Papiamentu.