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Discover > History

The troubled history of Guadeloupe
It would be impossible to understand Guadeloupe without knowing its history which marked the souls of its nation so deeply. Even if the forts scattered with canons protecting Basse Terre and Pointe à Pitre testify of the neverending rivalries of which Guadeloupe found itself at the heart of for three hundred years, this warlike history must not hide the suffering of the enslaved African nation and the jolts which lead to its emancipation in 1848.
The period running from -700 before JC to the year 1000 saw the progressive populating of the island by the first amerindians having travelled in pirogues from Venezuela. These were the Igneris or Arawaks. From the year 1000 to 1400, having come from the continent like their predecessors, the Caribs were far more war-like and aggressive. They exterminated the Arawaks (or ate them maybe?) and enslaved their women.

On the 4th of November 1493, on his second journey, Christopher Columbus landed on the island and christened it Santa Maria de Guadaloupe. The Caribs fought to the very end against the invasion of the French and later the invasion of the English who were fighting for the island. A long period of triangular commerce opened up between the West Indies, Africa and Europe that would witness the deportation of millions of black slaves to the plantations. More resistant than the Europeans to the local conditions, they allowed for a fast development of the Carribean economy. The police edict of 1685, better known under the name of the black code described the laws governing slave exploitation, until now considered as furniture, and the condition of the freed slaves.

In 1635, the Company of the Islands of America took possession of Guadeloupe and their dependencies. After it went bankrupt, Guadeloupe was bought by Houël, lord and proprietor of the island. It wasn't until Louis XIV came to the throne that France bought Guadeloupe and entrusted it to the East India Compagny. In 1674, the bankruptcy of the latter incorporated Guadeloupe into the royal domain. A number of whites immigrated to the Carribean hoping to make their fortune. Plain workers or tradesmen, young people from the lower middle-class and the younger of the families, very few survived the fevers, the hard work or inactivity drowned in tafia.
At the end of the seven year war, the English had occupied the West Indies. The Paris treaty returned Guadeloupe to France in exchange for Canada. The West Indies became, from then onwards, a comfortable source of income through exportation and commerce in Europe with its sugar and coffee.

After he had driven the English out of Guadeloupe in 1794, Victor Hughes abolished slavery in accordance with the law voted by the Convention. In 1802, Bonaparte reestablished slavery and abolished the rights of coloured people, despite the resistance and sacrifice of Louis delgrès and his black soldiers. It wasn't until 1848 that slavery was permanently abolished under the leadership of Victor Schoelcher. When the former slaves refused to carry on working in the plantations, the proprietors were forced to recrute free workers, mainly tamoul indians. But from then onwards, the extra cost of these salaries and the competition of the cultivation of sugar beets in Europe made the profitability of the sugar exploitations fragile. Rhum offered a limited alternative to the last cane farmers.
After the destruction of Pointe-à-Pitre in an earthquake in 1848, a monstruous cyclone precedented by a tidal wave devastated Guadeloupe and caused the death of thousands of victims.

In 1936, the Guyana-born Félix Eboué became the first black governer of Guadeloupe. Upon request of the populations of the West Indies, Guadeloupe and its dependencies became a department, marking the end of the de-colonization. The economy of Guadeloupe was re-oriented around cultivating bananas and sugar canes necessary for the production of rhum which became more popular in metropolitan France. Nonetheless, the island was still dependent of subsidies and Guadeloupe experienced some problems between 1961 and 1975.