Half An Island - Saint Martin 1

Half An Island – Saint Martin

Interestingly, Saint Martin is the only island thus divided by two colonial powers.  Cyprus remains divided but one half of the island is operated as an independent nation.  The French and British jointly administered the New Hebrides Islands, now the independent nation of Vanuatu, but there was no boundary line on any island or area, instead the entire island group was jointly, if confusingly, administered by both nations.  Saint Martin stands unique in terms of being an island divided into separate overseas territories of European powers.

Hideaway for the Rich and Famous - St. Barthélemy 2

Hideaway for the Rich and Famous – St. Barthélemy

As happened frequently among the Caribbean islands of France, the British took over briefly in 1758.  The French in turn gave Saint Barthélemy to Sweden in exchange for French trading rights in Gothenburg.  With this transfer the island’s fortunes changed for the better.  The Swedes ushered in a time of progress and prosperity as the Swedes declared Gustavia a free port, which made it a favored port for the trading of European goods, including contraband items.

Nickel Island - The Flag of New Caledonia 5

Nickel Island – The Flag of New Caledonia

As is true of all component territories of Overseas France, the only official flag is the French tricolor.  However, there is an unofficial flag that may be seen flying in New Caledonia and this is the flag we flew today on our own flagpole.  This flag was approved in July 2010 by the Congress of New Caledonia. 

The blue symbolizes the sky and the ocean surrounding New Caledonia.  The red symbolizes the blood shed by the Kanaks in their struggle for independence.  The green symbolizes the land itself.  The yellow disc is a representation of the sun and the symbol upon it consists of a flèche faitière, a kind of arrow that adorns the roofs of Kanak houses thrust through tutut shells.

Little Known Mayotte - Today's Flag 6

Little Known Mayotte – Today’s Flag

Mayotte was purchased by France in 1841. Mayotte was the only island in the archipelago that voted in both 1974 and 1976 to retain its link with France and forgo independence.  The Comoros continue to claim the island. Mayotte became an overseas department of France in March 2011. Mayotte is a small island with only 256,518 people.  However as the island is only 144 square miles in size, which results in a very densely populated island with 690 people per square kilometer while the same space in France is only occupied by, on average, 122 people. The main island, Grande-Terre is 39 kilometres (24 mi) long and 22 kilometres (14 mi) wide, and its highest point is Mount Benara.

Today's Flag - Guadeloupe 8

Today’s Flag – Guadeloupe

Originally Guadeloupe was inhabited by the relatively peaceful Arawak peoples from about 300 CE and by the 8th century the more hostile and warlike Caribs had taken over.  They remained isolated an in undisputed control until their discovery by Columbus, on his second voyage, in November 1493.  He gave the island the name that it carries to this day.  It is also said that Columbus first saw a pineapple on Guadeloupe even though they had been grown in South America for centuries, but of course, Columbus never found the South American mainland.

Today's Flag - French Polynesia 10

Today’s Flag – French Polynesia

The flag consists of two red horizontal bands which encase a wide white band.  The bands are at a fixed width ratio of 1:2:1.  In the center of the white band is a blue and white disk with a blue and white wave pattern which depicts the sea on the lower half and a gold and white ray pattern which depicts on the upper half.  There is a Polynesian canoe riding on the wave pattern.  The canoe has a crew of five, represented by five stars.  The five stars are meant to symbolize the five island groups (The Bass Islands are generally grouped with the Austral Islands even though they are geographically distinct and separate from the main Austral archipelago.

Today's Flag - French Guiana 11

Today’s Flag – French Guiana

But the prison system wasn’t isolated to the three islands of the Isles of Salvation.  The main prison camp was along the western border with Dutch Guiana, now known as Suriname.  The islands were used to isolate the “worst of the worst” as well as for political prisoners who were housed on Devil’s Island itself.   Île Royale was for the general population of the worst criminals of the penal colony to roam about in moderate freedom due to the difficulty of escape from the island.  Île Saint-Joseph was for the worst of those criminals to be punished in solitary confinement in silence and for extra punishment in darkness of the worst of the worst criminals of the penal colony.  Conditions were so harsh, especially the presence of tropical diseases that would likely go untreated, that of the estimated 56,000 prisoners sent to the islands, only about 10% survived the experience.  Those who survived their sentence enjoyed freedom but were never to be allowed to return to metropolitan France, instead being condemned to live the rest of their days on the mainland.

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