France – A Country in 6 Continents
By Gurubaran Magesh
Class 5 Student, Bangalore
Foreword by Venkat
History is not just a sequence of events but of people, power and decisions. The events are dynamic and may have had a fair chance of being something else, steered by different decisions. And often decision-making is never so straightforward as it may seem on the face. In this wonderfully detailed description of the French colonial rule, Gurubaran highlights the great influence and reach of the empire. The fact that it still has overseas regions and collectivities may not be so well known to the current generation. Hence this strikes the attention and provides the trigger of curiosity to understand France and the colonial history better. It is well written with all the relevant information in place. Readers are welcome to add or provide information in the comments that could be of interest to note in this subject.
Explore the pieces of French history that shine through in this beautifully collated research by young Gurubaran. Well done!
Gurubaran Magesh is a 5th grader living in Bengaluru. He has strong interests in Geography (mainly political), Maps and Railways and Urban planning.
France – A Country in 6 Continents
Let me ask you a question. In which continent is France located? This might seem like a dumb question. All of us would say, Of course it is Europe. While that is true, it is not entirely true because France is also located in Africa and North America. In fact, it is in 6 out the 7 continents. This because of overseas territories which France holds. As you would have guessed, it is also the topic of this post.
The overseas territories of France are the remnants of the French empire, one of the largest in the world. There are more than a dozen places which are overseas territories of France so let’s just jump in. All overseas territories of France are classified into two categories:
Overseas Regions: These are like the Regions in Mainland France in terms of power.
Overseas Collectivity: These are areas which have greater autonomy compared to Regions.
You would be surprised to know that in the 16th and 17th century, large parts of North America, were under French Control. These areas were called New France. The mid-eastern parts of USA and Eastern Canada were under the control of The French Empire. Now all that is left of it is Saint Pierre and Miquelon Islands near Canada which are now an Overseas Collectivity of France.
France had annexed Guadeloupe islands in 1674. and few other islands with complex French names (such as Îles des Saintes, Marie-Galante and La Désirade). In 1946, Guadeloupe became French overseas Region with all other France controlled islands in Caribbean coming under it. These islands had option to upgrade to the status of overseas collectivity of France Two of these islands, Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin opted to become so.
Saint Martin collectivity is actually one half of an Island, which is also named Saint Martin. The other half is owned by Netherlands. This makes it the only place in the world, where France and Netherlands share a border.
The Guiana region of South America (parts of modern-day Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and Brazil) has been under the control of various European powers such as Spanish, British, Dutch, French and Portuguese from 16th century. While others have long since left the region. France continues to hold onto a territory named as French Guiana. This is the largest overseas Region of France and is almost the same size as Austria.
Almost all of Africa has been colonized by the European nations in the 18th and 19th century. France at one point had control of huge parts of North-western Africa (which includes countries like Algeria, Morocco and Mali) and the Island of Madagascar. Now all that remains in control of France, are small islands near Madagascar such as Reunion and Mayotte.
Réunion, is an island about 700 kilometers east of Madagascar. Almost half of the island is a national park and UNESCO world heritage site and it is the most populated of all the overseas Region with almost 8.5 lakh people.
Mayotte, the least populated of all the islands, is geographically part of the Comoro islands and the country of Comoros even claims it to be theirs, but the island voted overwhelmingly to remain a part of France in a referendum in 1975 when Comoros became an independent country.
The many small islands on the pacific ocean (commonly referred as Oceania) has been exchanging hands between Europe and USA since the 18th century. Currently France has three Overseas Collectivity in this region.
Wallis and Fatuna: These are two islands. Interestingly it has 3 kingdoms of its own, each with a king, who rule these collectivities.
French Polynesia: These are an archipelago of islands in the middle of pacific ocean and is famous for tourism.
New Caledonia: This island chain located near Australia is an overseas collectivity with a special status, which allows them to become independent, if they want. So far People of New Caledonia, have preferred to remain part of France.
There are also French Southern and Antarctic Lands, which are few islands in the southern Ocean and France’s Claim to Antarctica. Needless to say, nobody except scientists lives here.
In summary, there are 5 overseas regions and 5 Overseas Collectivities for France. Technically these regions are all part of the European Union and use Euros as their currency (except for the pacific ocean ones which uses Franc). But they are not part of the Schengen area meaning you have to bring a passport to go from mainland France to an overseas Region or Collectivity. So next time, you meet a French citizen, they could have been born not in mainland France, but in some remote Pacific islands.