Folklore surrounds the history of the once ever-changing border division between St. Martin and Sint Maarten, and a popular story among locals narrates that “to divide the island in two sections, [in 1648] the inhabitants were told to choose two walkers, one chosen by the French-dominated community and the other one by the Dutch-dominated community, who were put back to back in one extreme of the island, making them walk in opposite directions while stuck to the littoral line, and not allowing them to run.
The point where they eventually met was set as the other extreme of the island, and the subsequently created line was chosen as the frontier, dividing Saint-Martin from Sint Maarten. Seemingly, the French walker had walked more than his Dutch counterpart (each one earned his land, respectively, 54 km² and 32 km²). As the first man chose wine as his stimulant prior to the race, while the latter chose Jenever (Dutch Gin), the difference between such beverages’ lightness was said to be the cause of the territorial differences by French locals, while Dutch locals tended to blame the French walker for running. In 1994, the Kingdom of the Netherlands and France signed the Franco-Dutch treaty on Saint Martin border controls, which allows for joint Franco-Dutch border controls on so-called “risk flights”. After some delay, the treaty was ratified in November 2006 in the Netherlands, and subsequently entered into force on 1 August 2007. Though the treaty is now in force, its provisions are not yet implemented as the working group specified in the treaty is not yet installed. The status of the Dutch side was due to change to a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands in December 2008, but this was postponed to (and took place on) 10 October 2010.
Neither side of the island is part of the Schengen Area; full border checks are performed when travelling between the island and Europe. There are rarely checks at the border between the two sides of the island. The Franco-Dutch treaty on Saint Martin border controls is being implemented to harmonize external checks at the two main airports.
St. Martin’s Dutch side is known for its festive nightlife, beaches, jewelry, exotic drinks made with native rum-based guavaberry liquors, and plentiful casinos.
Ancient relics date the island’s first settlers, probably Ciboney Indians (a subgroup of Arawaks), back to 3,500 years ago.