Guadeloupe is an archipelago of eight islands in the Lesser French Antilles with a rich and colorful history of assimilation and influence. Beginning as early as 5000 BC several significant emigrations took place of nomadic hunter-gatherers from the Orinoco River area of Venezuela to the islands of Guadeloupe. The invading force improved and absorbed the native Amerindians into their folds or eliminated them altogether. These invading tribes brought with them their languages, customs, deities, and unique methods of tapping into natural resources for survival, peaceably dominating through education and generosity, other times through cannibalistic terror campaigns. After a tumultuous history of dominance and subservience, revolt and resistance, extinction and rebirth, Guadeloupe was ready to serve a new master.
The first known peoples to inhabit the island of Guadeloupe were native Amerindians. They were a simple tribe, not overly agricultural until the arrival of the Saladoids. Also referred to as the Arawak Indians this tribe migrated from Venezuela in the fourth century BC. The Arawak are proven to have been the more advanced of the two tribes relying heavily on their agricultural, fishing, and hunting expertise while freely teaching their backward cousins, the Amerindians. In addition the Arawak were capable navigators and loved to explore. Along with advanced farming techniques the invading tribe introduced new species such as sweet potatoes, chillies, and manioc (also known as Yucca and similar to a potato) to Guadeloupe and the Greater Antilles, as they moved north. The anthropological study into the nature of the relationship between these two civilisations shows no history of a conflict or resistance; therefore scholars have concluded that theirs was peaceful and mutually beneficial consolidation.
The Caribbean region is thought to have thrived in this way for thousands of years, growing, building, and learning. The Norman Estate in Saint Maarten, roughly 200 miles to the northeast of Guadeloupe, provides the most ancient evidence of the region dating back as far as the turn of the second millennium BC. Everything seemed to be going fine until the conglomerate of people on Guadeloupe and the Lesser Antilles suddenly stopped making contact with their kin on the continents. While there is no definitive answer as to what caused this, it is thought that another, more savage tribe had followed in the footsteps of the Arawak.
This new tribe was known as the Huecoids, later as the Caribs or Kallingos, and was a cannibalistic tribe from the same Orinoco River area in Venezuela that the Arawaks hailed from but more brutish and wielding iron. Their savagery and shock-warfare undoubtedly helped them to progress northward across Trinidad and Tobago, past Grenada, The Grenadines, Saint Lucia and Martinique until finally swallowing up Guadeloupe in 700 AD. The Kallingos were consistent in their removal of all things Arawak during their progression of brutality, including the language. Very little of the original culture remained, most regrettably amongst the lost art was their poetry and fine ceramics for which the dull Caribs had no use. After the suppression of the Caribs by the newly arrived Spanish conquistadors, sixteenth and seventeenth century colonists noted that there were differing dialects and linguistic characteristics among the natives. For unknown reasons the Kallingos didn’t eat the Arawak women, and in fact took them as wives. Thus the native tongue was carried on by these only survivors.
Christopher Columbus discovered the island of Karukera, or the island of the beautiful waters, on November 2, 1493, during his second voyage. He baptised it Guadeloupe in the name of the Spanish throne and in tribute to a monastery in the city where he received his commission from the crown to sail for a route to India. Shortly after the introduction of the Spaniards came the English, French and United Provinces all seeking to possess the strategic islands of Guadeloupe. The production of sugar and coffee had exploded upon introduction to the perfect volcanic soil and climate of the Caribbean. Plantation owners were wealthy and considered the aristocracy. Individuals were seduced by the opportunity to gain nobility status if they performed a required number of years of exemplary service in the hot tropical environment of Guadeloupe. Unfortunately for the invaders their plans came to a grinding halt when the natives refused to play along.
During the subsequent century the territory was passed around like a baseball card to whichever country needed leverage in the Caribbean. When first the French, then the English, and then the Netherlands realized that the natives would not be their laborers, they wiped them out and tapped into a resource that had worked so well for them in recent years: the African slave trade.
Similar to the corporate-minded business structure of today, plantation owners were only concerned about the bottom line. Owners shipped in slaves by the dozen without regard to family units or common languages: the slaves did not understand their masters or each other. As communication is paramount to communal living, the slaves began to form a language of their own. Fragments of remaining Carib were blended with African, mingled with phrases from their masters’ tongues in English or French. From this discombobulated effort to improve life in a basic way at most, the Creole language and culture was born.
The heart of everything Creole is tied to the slave trade, whether hardships, poverty, or stifled dreams. As a testament to their incredible resiliency, the implanted people of Guadeloupe took fragmented and broken languages and created something beautiful, much the way Carnival celebrates the life they live.The word Creole is French meaning indigenous and therefore illfitting for those who speak the language and celebrate a culture of blended people, customs, passions and histories. Theirs is an old legacy reborn in a new generation. Creole, the language that was banned in schools in recent years, is becoming more a source of national pride for those who call Guadeloupe home.