The first inhabitants of Martinique came on boats from the tropical forests of South America. The Arawak were the first to occupy the island, but they were later expelled by their fellow South Americans, the Caribs. The Caribs called the island “Madinina,” which was translated by Christopher Columbus to Martinique. He landed on the Caribbean side of the island in 1502, and, as he had already named the region the West Indies, dubbed the Caribs “Indians.”

Despite Columbus’ initial discovery, Martinique was eventually claimed by France. England and France fought several wars over Martinique, and in 1763 France ceded Canada to England in return for the West Indies. However, the battles over Martinique continued and in 1805, the British Navy stationed itself on Diamond Rock island, just off the coast of Martinique. Finally, in 1815, France gained total control over the island. In 1946, France made Martinique an official Department (DOM), and it now has all the rights of a French state.

One important date to know is May 8, 1902: the day Mt. Pelee erupted. The volcano destroyed Martinique’s capital city, St. Pierre, killing tens of thousands of its inhabitants. Today, the capital of Martinique has been moved to Fort-de-France and the volcano is considered inactive, but Martinicans still remember this date.