St. Martin Today
St. Martin, a Multicultural Island
Since the early 1980s, St. Martin has seen a major change in its demographic. In the French part, the population grew from 8,000 inhabitants in 1982 to over 32,000 in 2017. On the Dutch side of St. Maarten, more than 41,109 inhabitants were listed in the 2017 census. But when Hurricane Irma passed through in September 2017, a portion of St. Martin’s population moved from the island.
In total, over 120 nationalities are known to inhabit St. Martin, the majority of which are French, Haitian, Dominican, American, and European. We also have nationals from other Caribbean islands, Latin America, Asia, and Africa. The official language used in public administration and schools is French, and due to the well-traveled nature and background of the island’s people, English is also largely understood and spoken. The other main languages spoken are Haitian Creole, Guadeloupian Creole, Martiniquan Creole, Papiamento, Dutch, Portuguese, and Italian.
St. Martin / St. Maarten: an Island with a Unique Status
The island is divided into two geographical zones, and was separated in two in 1648, with the signing of the Treaty of Concordia. Holland acquired the south side of the island (St. Maarten) and France acquired the north (St. Martin), yet the border was kept open. Even today, though both sides of the island have differing characteristics, only welcome signs and flags indicate a border crossing.
The French Side
After the 2003 referendum in which the people voted to grant it more autonomy, St. Martin became a French Overseas Collectivity. The St. Martin Collectivity was officially put in place on July 15, 2007. It is made up of a territorial assembly of 23 members, one executive council, and seven members directed by the president of the Collectivity, who is elected by popular vote for a mandate of five years.
Through its officials and territorial council, St. Martin is capable of establishing its own territorial laws, particularly in terms of taxes, town planning, housing, transportation, and tourism.
Daniel Gibbs, President of the Collectivity Since 2017
In the first territorial elections in 2007, Louis-Constant Fleming was elected President of the territorial council in St. Martin. Frantz Gumbs replaced him on August 12, 2008. On March 25, 2012, Alain Richardson was elected to the head of the Collectivity. After he was dismissed from office in 2013, Aline Hanson, the Collectivity’s first Vice-President, also became the first female President. On April 2, 2017, Daniel Gibbs won the election and became President of the Collectivity for the next five years.
The St. Martin deputy seat was filled for the first time during legislative elections in 2012. Occupied by Daniel Gibbs until 2017, today the position is held by Claire Guion-Firmin. Since its renewal in September 2008, St. Martin also occupies a seat in the Senate. Senator Guillaume Arnell has represented St. Martin since 2014.
The Dutch Side
In 1954, the Netherlands granted the Dutch Caribbean (Curaçao, Aruba, Bonaire, Saba, Saint-Eustache, and St. Maarten) broad internal autonomy, and only Defence and Foreign Affairs remained under the Netherlands’s jurisdiction. In 1957, when the Treaty of Rome, which created the European Economic Community (E.E.C.) was signed, the Netherlands excluded the Dutch Caribbean from the European territory. The Dutch side of the island thus became an Overseas Country and Territory (OCT). Until October 10, 2010, the Dutch side had an autonomous government and was part of the Dutch Caribbean, after which St. Maarten became disconnected from the Dutch Caribbean and became an independent nation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, like Aruba, Curaçao, and the Netherlands. The government of the “country of St. Maarten” is a parliamentary democracy, with Silveria Jacobs as its Prime Minister.
St. Martin, Island of Colorful Architecture
The architecture of St. Martin boasts multiple influences. Beautiful masters’ houses harking back to the slave period have been maintained, while smaller traditional Creole buildings still prevail on the French side. These typical wooden huts carved with fine details, decorated, and painted in vivid colors are the jewels of Marigot and Grand Case street life.
When the Europeans arrived on the island, they designed the streets of Marigot in a grid, lining up houses in a row. From this, many of the structures in Marigot are built on two or maximum three floors, from wood or stone, often brightly painted with a metal rooftop.
Where Tradition Meets Modernity
St. Martin architecture also has a distinctive “aliturian” influence, named after architect Ali Tur, who brought his style to the Caribbean in the 1930s. He combined traditional well ventilated structures with good sun protection to the more modern use of reinforced concrete.
In St. Maarten, a distinctive American touch has come to influence the Dutch half-timbered houses. Overall, the colorful houses dominate the landscape, and the locals are proud of them. It’s through these facades that we feel a zest for life, an omnipresent sense of welcome and friendliness.
St. Martin, an Island Filled with Music
Whether they’re English, Spanish, or French, Caribbean islands all have some points in common: rhythm, dancing, and singing. Just like its neighbors, St. Martin is immersed in tropical music, with soca, salsa, reggae, zouk, samba, steel band, beguine, and even rock filling the air. Here, all styles blend together, and can be heard everywhere in the streets, in beachfront restaurants and bars along the road, in cars… Music contributes to the island’s warmth, its friendly spirit, and love for life. In St. Martin, there’s always a reason to celebrate, dance, and have fun.
From the Jump Up parade during Carnival to the more pious “Chanté Nwel”, you’ll hear all types of contemporary music: salsa, Ggwo ka, zouk, kompa, calypso, beguine, steel pan, dub, merengue, reggae, mambo, cha cha. Life in St. Martin moves to the rhythm of tropical music. The renowned steel band percussion groups are also usually present during events.
St. Martin, an Island of Games and Traditions
The peaceful game of dominos ranks high on the list of Caribbean hobbies. There’s a relish for this game, even more so since card games are rarely played. Here, players divvy up all 28 pieces without leaving any in the deck. At the beginning of the match, the players’ main skill consists of organizing seven wooden tiles in one hand and, in one swift move, slamming them all onto the table. In St. Martin and elsewhere, friendly arguments over games often ensue in front of homes, which only adds to the lively street atmosphere.
Bingo is a game prized by the Haitian community of St. Martin, who come together to play after their work week. The price of this unwinding is one dollar per game, and the rules are simple: everyone has three cards with 25 squares on each. The first who completes a straight or diagonal line with five grains of corn wins the game.
A cruel sport for some and a source of income for others, cock fighting is an island tradition. Once a week, spectators rally around a pit for the victory of the cock they bet on.
St. Martin, Island of Painters
The sparkling light dazzling the landscapes, the many shades of translucent waters and, glimmering hues of all colors, the love you develop for a culture, for its people, for the island in and of itself… The reasons to paint St. Martin are endless, which is why the island is home to a bevy of artists, painters, sculptors, and ceramists, some of whom are known the world over.
Some artists were born here, while others have come from afar to prop their easels in inspiring St. Martin. Caribbean influences meet those of all the continents, and new genres are born. The island is teeming with art galleries, namely those of famous St. Martin painters like Roland Richardson and Francis Eck, and exhibitions run strong all year long. There is also an artist collective that works together on contemporary art projects. Since 2010, HeadMade Factory has strived to be a vehicle for new forms of art on the island. Because in the Caribbean, like anywhere else, art enriches society.
- Minguet La Maison des Arts (Rambaud): +590 690 53 12 64
- Galerie Roland Richardson (Marigot):
- Tropismes Gallery (Grand Case): +590 690 54 62 69
- NoCo Art Studio (Terres Basses): +590 690 10 09 70
- Eck Francis Atelier (Orient Bay): +590 690 59 79 27
Religions and Faiths in St. Martin
Religion plays an important role in the lives of St. Martin locals, with roughly 50 religions based on Christianity present on the island. Because of the island’s multi-ethnic culture, engendering many religious influences, a variety of communities thrive side by side. The most widespread are: Catholic, Anglican, Adventist, Protestant, Voodoo, Methodist, Muslim, Rasta, and Hindu. At dusk and on Sunday mornings, there’s a special feeling, an air emanating from the most humble temple to the biggest church. Allow yourself to be swept away by the gospel—it’s purely St. Martin.