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GUADELOUPE, Part 1

 
 
           
 
Regional Council symbol for Guadeloupe

 
 
Flag of Guadeloupe

The French tricolore is the official flag of Guadeloupe. The unofficial flag (below) may sometimes be seen flying beneath it.

Unofficial Flag of Guadeloupe

Guadeloupe {gwah-dah-loop'}, a French overseas department, consists of a group of eight islands (see map) in the Lesser Antilles chain of the eastern Caribbean Sea. The islands include Basse-Terre, Grande-Terre, and the smaller dependencies Marie-Galante, Îsles des Saintes (or Les Saintes), La Désirade, Saint-Barthélemy, and the northern half of Saint Martin. Their combined area is 1,780 km² (687 mi²), and their population is 431,170 (2001 est.).

Basse-Terre, of volcanic origin, has three summits exceeding 1,220 m (4,000 ft), the highest being La Soufrière (1,467 m/ 4,813 ft), which erupted in the 18th and 19th centuries, and is still active. Grande-Terre has low, limestone bluffs. The climate of all the islands is tropical with a rainy season in winter (July to October), and vegetation is dense. Bananas, sugarcane, eggplant, and cut flowers are the chief cash crops, refined sugar and rum are the leading manufactures, and tourism is important, but the islands are heavily dependent on French aid and imports. Basse-Terre (1999 pop., 12,410), a seaport town on the southwest coast, is the capital of the island. Pointe-à-Pitre (1999 pop., 20,948), on Grande-Terre, is the chief port.

Guadeloupe was first settled by Arawak Indians, a peaceful tribe of fishermen from Venezuela, in about A.D. 200. Carib Indians, a cannibalistic tribe — also from Venezuela, overran this agricultural and fishing community around A.D. 1000, decimating the Arawaks. Although the islands were later discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493, the Spanish held little interest in establishing a stronghold there. However, the French colonized Guadeloupe in 1635, eliminating the Caribs and bringing in African slaves to help establish sugarcane plantations. Despite several periods of British occupation in the late 1700s and early 1800s, the islands were confirmed as French possessions in 1815.

Officially, Guadeloupe became an overseas department in 1946. It is represented in the French parliament by three deputies and two senators. Local administration is similar to that of regions and departments in metropolitan France. The appointed commissioner is assisted by a 41-member general council, elected by universal suffrage, and by a newly created regional council.

LA DESIRADE

Discovered by Christopher Columbus, who named it "Desirada", this island (see map) is best explored by scooter, bicycle or on foot. While the northern coast features primarily steep cliffs and poor vegetation, the south coast offers tropical vegetation and pleasant beaches protected by coral reefs. The island's only road — 6 mi. (10 km) in length — connects the villages of Grande-Anse (the capital), le Souffleur, Baie-Mahault, and les Galets.

ÎSLES DES SAINTES

 
Francois Joseph Paul de Grasse

François Joseph Paul de Grasse,
French Admiral whose fleet
was defeated at
The Battle of the Saintes

 

Just six miles south of Guadeloupe, Îsles des Saintes is an archipelago of eight small islands (see map), only two of which are inhabited. Terre-de-Haut, only three miles long and about two miles wide, is often referred to as the "Carribbean St-Tropez", offering superb beaches, gorgeous bays, exceptional snorkeling and fascinating historical sites, as well as excellent restaurants, interesting shops and unique art galleries.

About 3,000 people inhabit the islands. Roughly half of them live on Terre-de-Haut, where less than three dozen four-wheeled vehicles travel its roads. There is just one doctor, and his home — designed to resemble a ship's bow — is something of a local landmark. In a centuries-old cemetery, names engraved on weathered headstones reflect the island's Breton and Norman ancestry; decorative conch shells honor its sailors lost at sea.

The men of Les Saintes are fishermen, reputedly the best in the West Indies, and watching them haul in their filets bleus (blue nets dotted with burnt-orange buoys) can fill an entire morning. On Bourg's main street you still see some of the men in an odd kind of headgear, a flat straw or bamboo platter covered with cloth called a salako. It is patterned after one reputed to have been brought here ages ago by a seafarer from China or Indonesia. Whatever its origin, the salako is unique to the Îles des Saintes.

The history of Les Saintes is as rich as its cuisine. Columbus spied these islands on November 4, three days after the Feast of All Saints, and thus named them Los Santos. The first French settlers ventured here in the mid-17th century, and the neighboring seas subsequently served as the battleground for many a skirmish with the British. Some of the history is recalled in Terre-de-Haut's most important annual event, La Fête des Saintes, a two-day affair celebrated in mid-August.

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