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World Travel Guide > Guides > Caribbean > St Maarten

St Maarten History, Language and Culture

History of St Maarten

Occupied since prehistory by Carib Indians, St Maarten was sighted by Christopher Columbus on St Maarten's day in 1493. However, the first European settlers were French and Dutch who, in 1648, partitioned the island. The island has remained under dual sovereignty ever since, the Dutch sector achieving partial independence from the Netherlands in 1954 with the establishment of the Netherlands Antilles.

At the 2002 general election for the Staten, the local governing body of the Antilles, the socialist Frente Obrero Liberashon (Workers' Liberation Front) won the largest number of seats but was excluded from office by a four-party centre-right coalition led by the Partido Antia Restruktura (Party for the Restructured Antilles, or PAR). The PAR,  based on the island of Curaçao, had dominated Antilles' politics since its formation a decade ago.

After the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles on 10 October 2010, St Maarten and Curaçao were granted autonomy as 'constituent countries' in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

St Maarten Culture

Religion in St Maarten

Protestant, with Roman Catholic and Jewish minorities.

Social Conventions in St Maarten

Dutch customs are still important throughout the former Netherlands Antilles, but tourism has brought increasing US influences and St Maarten is perhaps more easy-going than the southern islands. Dress is casual and lightweight cottons are advised, but it is common to dress up in the evening.

Language in St Maarten

Dutch is the official language. Papiamento (a mixture of African, Dutch, English, Portuguese and Spanish) is the commonly used lingua franca. English and Spanish are also widely spoken.