The cultural diversity of St. Maarten springs from its historical role as a crossroads for visitors to the New World. Dutch, French and British traders brought European traditions, while the Africans brought the language and culture of West Africa. Today the range of influences is reflected in the number of languages spoken. Dutch is the official language, but English is taught in schools and spoken everywhere, while other common languages are Spanish and Papiamento, the dialect of the Netherlands Antilles. St. Maarten's premier cultural event is its annual Carnival, which includes parades, calypso competitions, reggae shows, and an endless array of stands serving traditional island food.
In traditional island-cooking, the ingredients are all thrown together in the same pot. Creole foodblends local ingredients with French style, and is the most widely available fare on the island. Other West Indian stock dishes are based around cooking with salt-cod, okra, callaloo, coconut and Caribbean alcohol (rums or guavaberry)
If you have a sweet tooth there is a cure for that as well...just sample some of the local specialties like sugar cakes, scones, potato-pudding, guava berry tarts, and coconut pies
Island Specialty: Guavaberry Liqueur
Guavaberry is the legendary folk liqueur of St. Maarten. It was first made here hundreds of years ago in private homes. People made as much as they needed to serve family and friends.
Guavaberry became and still is an integral part of the local island culture. The word itself conjures up memories of the olden days, folk songs and stories.
The Guavaberry itself is a wild local berry, which is found in the warm hills at the center of the island. Guavaberry fruits are rare and seasonal, making the liqueur even more unique.Carnival
Costumes and dancers jam and jump their way along the streets of St. Maarten's capitol - Philipsburg- to the beat of calypso, soca and other island rhythms. If you are watching this 4-mile long parade of color and glitz, it's impossible not to get into the party spirit that we all call Carnival.
Two carnivals are held on the island each year - the one on the French side takes place during Lent, keeping the tradition of the French Creole Mas, while the other, the largest of the two, is celebrated on the Dutch side over a period of 17 days and nights with its main parade scheduled to coincide with the birthday of Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands, Beatrix.
Preparations for Carnival usually begin to warm up just after Christmas with the calypsonians releasing sneak previews of the songs for the event. Many of these songs, as is a tradition in local Caribbean music, have a double meaning and poke fun at some aspect of life or government. Some are more daring that others and even include sensual double-meanings. No matter which, these songs fill the airwaves of the local radio stations, and within a short time are being hummed, sung, and talked about around the island.
A large open area is converted to a Mecca of sights, sounds, shows, and local culinary treats - we call it 'The Carnival Village'. This is where all the fun starts and ends during the 17 party period known as carnival. In the 'village' more than 100 booths are erected and patrons keep themselves busy preparing mouthwatering dishes like conch and dumplings, Johnny cakes, barbequed chicken, and a host of spicy soups which are said to all have aphrodisiac qualities.
In the village, calypsonians from all over the Caribbean compete for the title of King and Queen. There are also other shows and performances by local, regional and international performers. After the crowning of the Calypso King and Queen, the revelers hit the streets for the Jouvert Jam - this is a parade of music and dancing through the streets which starts at 4AM and goes until sunrise.- but it doesn't end there, more parades, parties and pulsating tropical rhythms fill the day.
The finale for carnival is the burning of King Momo, a straw figure who is the manifested spirit of carnival. Legend has it that by burning King Momo, the villages sins and bad luck are burned away, leaving the island pure and filled with hope for good things to come.
Carnival brings the whole island together - residents and visitors alike - there is no such thing as a bystander. Anyone can join in the celebration and feel the carnival spirit move through them......we invite you to join us for Carnival.