What should you know about the culture in St. Maarten?

St. Maarten is a small island in the Caribbean that is known for its rich and colorful culture. The island’s culture is a melting pot of Dutch, French, Latin, African, and British heritage which contribute to the many different languages, customs, music, and cuisine that exist in Saint Martin. All of these influences give St. Maarten its unique identity within the Caribbean that keeps many tourists coming back year after year.

Although both French Saint Martin and Dutch Sint Maarten share the same cultural heritage, the culture of each side is uniquely influenced by its respective homeland. Saint Martin, the French side of the island has more of a European influence than its Dutch counterpart, Sint Maarten. This is reflected in the prominent languages that are spoken on each side of the island such as French and Dutch. The culture of St. Maarten can also be seen with the unique festivals and cuisine that exist on each side of the island. Traveling to St. Maarten is truly an opportunity to experience two cultures in one vacation.

How was the culture of Saint Martin formed?

The culture in St. Maarten was formed from a variety of influences. These influences come from countries such as the Netherlands, France, Britain, the United States, and various countries in West Africa. The Dutch, French, British, United States, and West African cultures have influenced the culture of Saint Martin each in their own way during the time period of the early 1600s to the mid-1900s. The impact that each influence has made on the current culture of Saint Martin is further explained below.

The European cultural influences came to St. Maarten in the early 1600s when settlers from all over Europe came to the island to trade goods. During this time, St. Maarten was a bridge into the new world for many settlers who were coming over from Europe. To avoid conflict both the French and Dutch nations decided to split the island between them. Both influences have remained on the island and can be experienced in Saint Martin down to this day.

The West African influence took place in the 1800s when there was slavery on the island and many West Africans were brought to the island of Saint Martin to work on the plantations. The people from West Africa have influenced the language, music, and cuisine in Saint Martin in ways that can be experienced up until our modern day.

The United States influenced the country as well during the mid-1900s when the tourism economy in St. Maarten started to prosper and many tourists from America started to visit the island for vacation. This has resulted in English being spoken throughout both sides of the island and has influenced the music on the island as well.

What are some traditions in St. Martin?

St. Maarten has many unique cultural traditions and festivities. The island is known for its calendar year full of celebrations that include music, dancing, and lively performances. The traditions are a blend of French, Dutch, and local Caribbean cultures.

The most popular traditions in St. Maarten are listed below:

  1. Carnival: The most popular festival on the island of St. Maarten. Carnival is celebrated on both sides of the island and is a three-week-long festival that begins in the middle of April and finishes on the first weekend of May. The festival has grand parades, bright and colorful costumes, pageants, barbeques, live music, dance competitions, and a vast array of delicious local foods. This is a celebration that the locals in Saint Martin hold dear to their hearts.
  2. Maarten’s Day: Also known as Martinmas, this festival is a celebration of St. Martin of Tours, who was the man that Christopher Columbus named the island after when he discovered it on November 11th. This day is also a celebration of the union of French and Dutch culture on the island and is commonly called “the day of concord” after the treaty of Concordia that was signed by France and The Netherlands in 1648. This is a very vibrant celebration with parades, sporting events, live music, dancing, and delicious local cuisine.
  3. SXM Festival: One of the most popular music festivals not only in Saint Martin but the entire Caribbean. This festival is usually held in the middle of March and is a popular destination for music lovers, partygoers, and tourists all over the world. DJs and musicians perform, and many people dance on the beautiful surrounding beaches while eating the delicious local food and drink.
  4. Holland Festival: A festival that is usually held in mid-March on the Dutch side of St. Maarten. During this festival, there are colorful street parades, concerts, art installations, and a symbolic straw statue that is burnt at the end of the festival. The statue symbolizes King Momo, who is considered the king of festivities in the Caribbean and Latin American countries. It is believed that after the statue is burned, good luck will be bestowed on all throughout the year.
  5. Grand Case Festival: This festival takes place on July 21 and is a commemoration of the abolition of slavery in 1848. Homage is paid to the famous abolitionist Victor Schoelcher. The celebration starts with religious ceremonies at the catholic church and leads into a parade with speeches, musical entertainment, sporting events, and fireworks in the evening at Grand Case Bay.
  6. Maarten Food and Wine Festival: A very popular festival that is held in November that showcases Saint Martin’s top chefs and their signature dishes. Chefs from all over the island present their best dishes and visitors get to enjoy the delicious local cuisine. The event is usually hosted in Phillipsburg.

What countries affect the culture of Saint Martin?

The countries that have affected the culture of Saint Martin are listed below:

  1. France: Settlers from this country settled in Saint Martin in the early 1600s and began trading there. Ever since then their influence has been seen and heard especially on the northern side of the island where French is widely spoken.
  2. The Netherlands: Dutch settlers settled in Sint Maarten at the same time as the French settled the island in the early 1600s.  The Dutch influence has remained a part of St. Maarten’s culture ever since then. This can be experienced in the southern Dutch-owned side of the island, where Dutch is commonly spoken.
  3. United States: The influence of the United States in Saint Martin mainly came in the 1980s when the tourism industry in Saint Martin started to take off. With the proximity of Saint Martin to the United States, many tourists from the U.S. would visit St. Maarten on vacation, which resulted in many of the businesses starting to conduct business in English. English is now the most widely spoken language on both sides of Saint Martin. American culture has also left its mark in mostly southern Dutch Sint Maarten.
  4. Britain: In the 1600s many British colonizers tried to settle in Saint Martin. The island went back and forth between the British, French, and Dutch colonizers for many years until France and the Netherlands finally took hold of the island in 1648. However, the British influence has remained on the island of Saint Martin until this day and can be seen in the cuisine, and the English language being widely spoken throughout Saint Martin.
  5. A Collective of West African Countries: The slave trade made its mark in Sint Maarten in the 1600s when slaves from West African countries were brought to Saint Martin to work on the sugar plantations. The abolition of slavery in Saint Martin was in 1848 but the influence of these people left a mark on the culture of Saint Martin that can be seen to this day by the music, language, cuisine, dance, and customs of the island.

Who are the important artists of Sint Maarten?

The paradisiac surroundings of Sint Maarten have been the muse of many artists throughout time. Saint Martin is an island full of local artists and galleries.

Some of the most prominent artists of Saint Martin are listed below:

  1. Sir Roland Richardson: Born in Saint Martin, Sir Roland Richardson is considered the “Father of Caribbean Impressionism.” His paintings are inspired by the local landscapes of Saint Martin and painted using many mediums such as watercolor, charcoal, oil paints, and pastels. His works have been highly esteemed all over the world and have been publicly featured in public institutions such as Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City, Erasmus MC Cancer Institute in Rotterdam, and le Palais d’Elysée in Paris.
  2. Antoine Chapon: Born in Bordeaux, France, Chapon migrated to St. Martin in 1981 to the village of Columbier. His art can be seen at the Tropismes Art Gallery in the tiny village of Grand Case. His works in watercolors mostly and his paintings and sculptures are noted for their minimalism as well as for capturing the tranquil essence of Saint Martin. He has had many exhibitions in Sint Maarten, surrounding Caribbean islands, Paris, and the United States.
  3. Francis Eck: This French-born artist’s work spans over three decades and is inspired by the beautiful landscape of St. Maarten. Eck has had exhibitions all over the world. His art is performed in many mediums such as watercolors and oil-based paints.
  4. Patty Meotti: An Italian-born artist who has settled on the island of Saint Martin and is famous for her abstract paintings done in acrylic, oil watercolors, and pencil. Much of her inspiration has been taken from the breath-taking scenery in Saint Martin. She has been recognized multiple times and won many awards for her outstanding paintings which feature scenes from the landscape of Saint Martin with an Italian flair.
  5. Ruby Bute: Born in Aruba to parents who were native to Saint Martin, Ruby Bute moved to Marigot, Saint Martin in 1976. She is a self-taught painter, writer, and storyteller who became the first woman to publish a book in Saint Martin with her poetry collection “Golden Voices of S'maatin” in 1989. The book was a bestseller on the island, selling out its first printing in three months. Bute's short stories and poetry mostly focus on women's issues, particularly the lives of Afro-Caribbean women. Bute is often referred to as “the first dame of St. Martin’s cultural arts”, Her paintings are often referred to as folk art that depicts life and culture in Saint Martin in vibrant color.

What is the music culture in Sint Maarten?

Saint Martin's music and its history go hand in hand. Many influences have contributed to the various styles of music that can be found on the island. Each style of music adds a different element to the overall culture of Saint Martin.

The popular music in St. Maarten and its cultural background are listed below:

  1. Calypso: A style of music that is recognizable throughout the Caribbean, calypso music originates from the islands of Trinidad and Tobago in the early 20th century. Calypso was created by descendants of African slaves who were brought to the different islands in the Caribbean by the European settlers to work on plantations. Calypso music is known for addressing social and political issues. The steel drum that many people associate with calypso music came from many 55-gallon oil drums that were left on the Caribbean islands by the US Navy during World War II. The locals fabricated these steel drums into instruments and ever since then, they have become a staple in calypso music and Caribbean culture.
  2. Merengue: A very popular music style in the Caribbean for dancing, especially in Spanish-speaking areas. Merengue originated in the Dominican Republic and has been passed onto the culture of nearby Saint Martin. Merengue is mostly played in dance venues and is famous in the many nightclubs in Dutch Sint Maarten.
  3. Reggae: Reggae is popular in Saint Martin as well as all over the world. This music developed in Jamaica and originated from calypso in the 1960s. Reggae incorporates some of the musical elements of jazz, rhythm and blues, calypso, and traditional African folk rhythms. Reggae features many social and political messages. Although it originates in Jamaica, Reggae has become synonymous with that laid-back Caribbean lifestyle and is prominently featured in Saint Martin.
  4. Zouk: Meaning “party” or “festival” this style of music is very commonly heard in St. Maarten. Zouk originates from Martinique and Guadeloupe, nearby French islands in the Caribbean, it is also mixed with Haitian compas (a Haitian style merengue). It has a very festive and upbeat tempo that locals and tourists enjoy. Zouk uses synthesizers and other digital instruments. This form of music is very popular in the dance clubs of Saint Martin.
  5. Soca: Meaning “soul of calypso” this style of music developed in the 1960s when soul and funk were very popular in the United States. Soca is a type of music that continually evolves, it has elements of calypso and is often played with electric guitars and bases. The spirit of soca is one of celebrating and enjoying life. Soca is a mixture of calypso, funk, soul, and east Indian music and is very popular in the nightclubs of Dutch Sint Maarten.

What is the national dance of St. Maarten?

The national dance of St. Maarten is the Ponum Dance. This dance dates back to the 19th century and is over 150 years old. The Ponum Dance captures a pivotal moment in Saint Martin’s history and was created when slavery was abolished Saint Martin in 1848. It is reminiscent of the way the slaves celebrated when they found out that slavery was abolished.

The Ponum Dance is also referred to as the dance of emancipation and freedom, the dance is a physical representation of the feeling of freedom the slaves had when they were emancipated.

What is the local culture of Sint Maarten?

The local culture of Saint Martin is known to be very warm, welcoming, and hospitable. This can be seen by the friendliness and helpful nature of the natives towards the vast amount of tourists from different lands that come to vacation on Saint Martin. Their warmth is so outstanding that St. Maarten is often called "The Friendly Island". The natives also love to celebrate different festivals on the island such as Carnival and enjoy dancing, cooking, celebrating the natural beauty of St. Maarten, and eating foods that are native to the island.

The natives in Saint Martin have also been through difficult events that have shown their resilient spirit. Saint Martin was hit by two major hurricanes; one was hurricane Luis in 1995 and the other was hurricane Irma in 2017. Both hurricanes left the island devastated. However, due to the determination and hard work of the locals, St. Maarten has since made a significant recovery in the economy and rebuilding the island to its former glory. This is a testament to the resiliency of the natives who always handle hardship with a smile.

What is the food culture of Sint Maarten?

The unique mixture of cultures in Saint Martin has led the island to have some of the most eclectic and delectable cuisines in the Caribbean. The island is known for its culinary prowess that stems from European influences of France and the Netherlands blending with local Caribbean cuisine, all of which add to the rich culture of Saint Martin.

Saint Martin is home to over 400 restaurants ranging from gourmet restaurants to lolos (open-air food shacks found alongside the road featuring local Caribbean dishes).

A prominent food style in St. Maarten is “creole” style food, which is a mix between French, Latin-American, Amerindian, and east Indian-style foods. This food is often spicy and uses local ingredients that can be found on the island.

The best food in Saint Martin can be found in Grand Case (the culinary capital of the island). Dozens of gourmet restaurants and cafes can be found there lined along Boulevard de Grand Case which feature fine French cuisine with a local twist.

What food is St. Maarten known for?

Saint Martin is known for its vast array of delicious food and local dishes. Some of these foods that Saint Martin is known for are listed below:

  1. Johnny Cakes: Small round cakes that are made of cornflower and fried in corn oil and served with syrup, honey butter, or jam.
  2. Maarten Spareribs: These can often be found at many of the local “lolos” on the island and cooked on the grill and tossed in spicy and savory barbecue sauce. This traditional recipe is passed down for centuries on the island of Saint Martin.
  3. Conch and Dumplings: A spicy dish made from a large sea snail that is seasoned with many herbs and spices and cooked in a pressure cooker. This dish is usually paired with round, fluffy dumplings and topped with gravy.
  4. Codfish Fritters: Salt Fish sautéed with onions, green pepper, thyme, tomato, celery, and local hot sauce. It's blended with flour, milk, and eggs and deep-fried in corn oil.
  5. Locri: A simple and delicious meal made of rice chicken and a medley of vegetables and seasonings. Cooked together in one pot while the flavors mix into one another. It is an enjoyable dish and a staple of St. Maarten cuisine. Some think of it as a Saint Martin-style Spanish paella.
  6. Callaloo: A Caribbean staple, a hearty soup made with fresh kale, spinach, and callaloo (which is a spinach-like vegetable) and seasoned with thyme, pepper, and local hot peppers.

What is the drinking culture of Sint Maarten?

The vast amount of cultures in Saint Martin contribute to a large variety of beverages that are available on the island such as locally made rums, wine, beer, and Dutch liquors. The drinking age in Saint Martin is 18 and alcohol is served in most restaurants and grocery stores. Drinking alcoholic beverages is an integral part of the culture of Saint Martin and is commonly used during the many festivities and celebrations that happen on the island throughout the year.

Some of the best drinks in Saint Martin are made using guavaberries. Not to be confused with the guava fruit, guavaberries are small orange and blackberries that are found on trees in the high hills of Saint Martin. The locals combine these berries with rum to create many cocktails as well as the famous Guavaberry Liqueur, which is a staple of St. Maarten’s culture.

What is the entertainment culture in Sint Maarten?

Saint Martin offers an immense variety of entertainment options for both tourists and locals. The entertainment culture on the island includes various activities such as dancing, relaxing on the beach, hiking, surfing, eating delicious cuisine, and much more. All of the options available for entertainment on the island contribute to the joyous and celebratory culture of Saint Martin.

Dutch Sint Maarten is known for its exciting nightlife, with its plethora of nightclubs, bars, and casinos. Many of the local venues feature dancing and live music that both locals and tourists enjoy. Annual festivals such as Carnival, St. Maarten’s Day, and the SXM festival are usually hosted in the southern part of Sint Maarten. These festivals feature many entertaining activities such as parades, live music, beachside barbeques, dance competitions, and lively street parties. These activities have become a staple in the traditions and culture of St. Maarten.

French Saint Martin is known for its beautiful natural landscape and stunning beaches that provide a wide amount of entertainment for all kinds. Many activities such as hiking, ziplining, Surfing, horseback riding, snorkeling, jet-skiing, parasailing, sailing, and more are available on this side of the island. Saint Martin also has many great areas for shopping and fine dining in the towns of Marigot and Grand Case. This is enough to satisfy any local or a tourist looking to experience the entertaining culture of Saint Martin.

What are the historical events that created the culture of Sint Maarten?

There have been many historical factors that have contributed to the rich culture that Saint Martin has today. Some of these historical events are listed below:

  1. The European Settlers: Settlers from France and the Netherlands came to St. Maarten in the early 1600s and gave the island its unique European flair that is detected in the cuisine and the languages used on the island.
  2. Slavery in the 1800s: Many locals on the island can trace their roots to Africa since their ancestors were brought to Saint Martin as slaves to work on the plantations. The influence from the people from these west African countries has influenced the culture, language, food, and music, and dance that adds so much to the vibrancy of the culture of Saint Martin.
  3. Rise in Tourism in the late-1900s: The rise of tourism in the 1980s led to the friendly and welcoming culture of Saint Martin. At this time St. Maarten had many tourists coming to the island from English-speaking countries and immigrants migrating to the island for work in the tourism industry, this has influenced the languages spoken on the island as well as the warm and welcoming spirit the island is known for.
  4. Hurricanes Luis and Irma: Two devastating hurricanes struck the island and caused major devastation in Saint Martin. Hurricane Luis in 1995 and Hurricane Irma in 2017. These difficult events have contributed to the resilient spirit of the locals in Saint Martin. The locals on the island gathered together and have made great efforts each time to rebuild the island and restore the economy following each hurricane.

What are the languages spoken in St. Martin?

There are a few languages spoken in St. Martin such as English, French and Dutch. The most common languages spoken in Saint Martin are listed below together with their percentages:

  1. English - 67.5%
  2. Spanish - 12.9%
  3. Creole - 8.2%
  4. French - 6.6%
  5. Dutch - 4.2%
  6. Papiamento - 1.5%

Does climate have an effect on the culture of St. Martin?

Yes, the climate in Saint Martin is tropical and sunny all year round, which contributes greatly to the culture of Saint Martin. The bright and warm weather invites many tourists and immigrants to the island, which causes a wide range of diversity on the island. There are over 120 different nationalities on Saint Martin, this has resulted in a very inclusive and welcoming culture on the island.

The tropical climate in Saint Martin allows delicious fruits and vegetables to be grown at any time of the year, the local produce is used in dishes native to Saint Martin. The warm weather also allows locals and tourists to wear clothes for warm weather all year round which leads to a very laid-back atmosphere on the island.

There is a cool breeze that is caused by the trade winds coming into St. Maarten from the east that gives the island a cool and refreshing temperature. This provides a pleasant atmosphere that contributes to the relaxing nature of St. Maarten.

Many establishments such as bars, casinos, nightclubs, and outdoor venues can operate all year round thanks to the beautiful weather, this contributes to the fun-loving and joyous spirit of Saint Martin.

Last Updated on October 8, 2021