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Martinique (France, Overseas Department)

Last modified: 2002-01-12 by dov gutterman
Keywords: martinique | france | st. lucia | cross | snake | carribeans |
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[Flag of France]
Official flag
by Mark Sensen

[Flag of Martinique]
Unofficial flag
by Pierre Gay



See also:


Overview

Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyane and Reunion, the 4 french "DOM" (departement d'outre-mer - over-seas department) are each both a departement and a region : so, they are 4 regions made of only one departement. Regions and departements having precise and different parts to play in the french system, the 4 DOMs have both a regional and a general council.
Olivier Touzeau, 31 December 2001


Description of the Flags

The official flag is the French one, but there is a banner of the arms: a blue field with a white cross, and in each canton a white snake in the form of an 'L'. I don't know if this is official, but it appears in Hesmer's book. Devereux's book [dev94] says it flies only with the French Tricolour. It was the flag for the former French colony of Saint-Lucia/Martinique. The "L" snakes which appear in the arms and flag recall the "L" of Lucia, although this flag never flew on that island. The proportions are 2:3.
Pascal Vagnat, 13 March 1996

The snakes are in the shape of a stylised "L", a bit like the British pound sign. The L means "Lucia" because Martinique was administered from St. Lucia before the British took that island. The flag is therefore quite old - it pre-dates the French Revolution. The white cross on blue can also be seen in the flag of Quebec, and is in fact France's traditional national cross - equivalent to England's red cross on white.
Roy Stilling, 6 July 1996

The flag of Martinique (white cross on blue with four snakes) is given as a flag which is used since 1766. That flag was introduced by law of 4 August 1766 "for all the ships of the [French] colonies of Martinique and St. Lucia". It was a French flag and was surely abolished when the British took over those colonies.
Ralf Stelter, 27 June 1999

The unofficial Martinique flag is not especially associated with aspiration to independence. Independentist movements use totally different flags. Anyway, the snake flag, often improperly considered as the departmental flag of Martinique, was once official.
In Vexillacta #9 (September 2000), L. Nyssen adds some interesting information to what is already mentioned about the snake flag. The snake flag is considered locally as a 'blazon', and is not available locally as a flag. It is mainly erroneously used as a courtesy ensign by yachtmen, which should hoist the Tricolore civil ensign. Pascal Vagnat quoted Devereux saying that the Martinique flag was always associated with the French Tricolore, but I guess this is a confusion or an erroneous generalization of the status of the French Polynesia flag (which is official and prescribed in association with the French Tricolore).
The snake flag was adopted as an ensign in 1766, and was nothing but a variant of the civil ensign used by French vessels. According to an edict by Colbert (1689, quoting a previous edict of 1661), merchant vessels should hoist a blue ensign with a white cross. Such ensigns were also used in the French ports. When a civil ensign was used in a colony, a distinctive emblem was added in each of the four blue quarters (example: the fleur-de-lys for the ensign of Nouvelle-France, the current flag of Quebec). The snake used for Martinique and St. Lucia is a venomous snake related to the rattlesnake, the 'trigonocephale', very common in the sugar cane and banana plantations. Since the ensign is a banner of arms, the particular design of the snake is not specified. The snake has a triangular head (as its name says it in Ancient Greek) and a forked tongue. In the drawing shown beside the original text translated below, the artist misinterpreted the snake name and gave it a triangular tongue. According to this drawing, the relation between the snake shape and the L of (St.) Lucia seems very dubious. Most 'blazons' seen on stickers and postcards show the 'standard' snake drawn by Pierre Gay, . A L-shaped snake is shown in the last release of the tourism guide Michelin Guadeloupe - Martinique - Petites Antilles.
L. Nyssen gives the text of the original edict setting the Martinique and St. Lucia ensign. His original source is Code de la Martinique, new edition by Durand Molaro, Saint-Pierre, 1807, volume 2, p. 487. The book was consulted at the Schoelcher library in Fort-de-France. My translation follows:

N 359. - Edict of Messrs. the General and the Intendant, which requires any captain or owner of vessels, ships, schooners and boats of Martinique and St. Lucia to hoist a distinctive ensign [and which] set the ensign of these two Colonies. From 4 August 1766.
"Since all places of the Kingdom and the Colony of St. Domingue have each of them a specific and distinctive ensign, so that one can identify from a distance to which harbours or countries belong the vessels which would like to enter any harbour or port of the French Colonies or approach the coasts, We found necessary to set an ensign for the Colonies of Martinique and St. Lucia, which shall be described below. We, [etc...] rule on and prescribe the following:

Article 1. 
Any owner of vessels, ships, schooners and boats, depending on the Government of Martinique and St. Lucia, shall equip their vessels with a blue ensign with a white cross which shall quarter the ensign ; in each quarter, and in the middle of it, a white snake will be figured, so that there will be four white snakes in the ensign, which shall be recognized as the ensign of Martinique and St. Lucia.

Article 2.
When captains or owner enter the ports and harbours, or reach the coasts of this Government, any other French Colony, or the Kingdom of France, they shall prescribe to hoist the ensign described above, so that they will be recognized as vessels from Martinique and St. Lucia, and they shall hoist it the same way the captains of the other ports of the Kingdom hoist their ensign.

Article 3.
Any owner of a vessel who, within the alloted time ofthree months after the release of the present edict, will not have equiped himself with the ensign described above, shall be fined 300 pounds, to be allocated to the repairing of the Port of Fort-Royal [now Fort-de-France].

Article 4.
Any captain or owner who shall not conform to the present edict and not hoist the distinctive ensign of the two Colonies when he approaches the coasts shall be fined 100 pounds, to be allocated as described above.

[We] command the Admiralties of this Government to register the present edict [...]

Given to Martinique on 4 August 1766.

Signed: d'Ennery and the President de Peinier."

Ivan Sache, 28 September 2000

I was lucky enough to have a honeymoon in september in Martinique. The unofficial flag for Martinique, as far as I can say, rather rarely seen on the island. In fact, in spite of having always been looking for it, I saw it only once : in Saint-Pierre, the city which was destroyed in 1902 by the Montagne Pele'e, near the museum of the eruption. It was flown near France, European Union, Canada, and United States flags.
Olivier Touzeau, 20 November 2001


Martinique General Council


by Pascal Vagnat, 30 December 2001

As every french de'partment d'outre-mer, Martinique is at the same time a r'egion and a d'epartement, and has both a general [de'partement] and a regional [region] council. The flag of the general council is easy to see when you are in Fort-de-France. It is flown proudly on the building of the general council, and look like we have above: logo on white field, no text.
Olivier Touzeau, 20 November 2001


Martinique Regional Council


by Pascal Vagnat, 22 November 2001

I tried to see too the flag of the regional council. But I even could not find the building of the regional council. After two hours of driving in the same sector where it was supposed to be, I was forced to give up my flag-hunting. It is supposed to be the logo on white. The logo can be seen at http://www.cr-martinique.fr/francais/institution_regional/logo.htm
Olivier Touzeau, 20 November 2001

Pascal Vagnat sent me the image of the supposed flag of the regional council. A thumbnail of such a flag can be spotted on a flagmaker's site, at http://www.eco-drapeaux.com  (website now unreachable). Unconfirmed!!!
Olivier Touzeau, 22 November 2001

Description and symbolism of the logo according to the regional council website at http://www.cr-martinique.fr/:
"For a territorial collectivity, it is a system of graphic identification. For this purpose, it must be the meeting point between a region, its history, its elected and their projects, its habitants and their expectations.
It is a sign bearing several values; it also represents a consensus and the adhesion of various personalities to a same signature.
It means the total cohesion into a global action of communication.
The bird, with a long beak, could be assimilated to a colibri, traduces the idea of dynamism, of flight, of take-off, of impetus. It symbolises the leads by the assembly that is in charge of the economical development of Martinique.
This bird seems to be propelled by a kind of spiral. Inside of it, Martinique, stylised, with the letters C R M : Conseil Regional of Martinique.
The circle symbolises fullness, strength and balance."
Pascal Gross, 22 November 2001


Unidentified Flag


by Olivier Touzeau, 20 November 2001

Here is a UFE seen in Sainte-Marie, on the road to the museum of banana. I saw those tricolore flags with muslim emblems flown near a rather isolated house. I suppose the house belongs to someone who fought during french decolonization in Northern Africa, but I may be wrong. There was nobody there, so I could not ask any question about that. Any other hypothesis?
Olivier Touzeau, 20 November 2001






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