Official name Commonwealth of Dominica
Formation 1978 / 1978
Population 72,969 / 252 people per sq mile (97 people per sq km)
Total area 291 sq. miles (754 sq. km)
Languages French Creole, English*
Religions Roman Catholic 77%, Protestant 15%, Other 8%
Ethnic mix Black 87%, Mixed race 9%, Carib 3%, Other 1%
Government Parliamentary system
Currency East Caribbean dollar = 100 cents
Literacy rate 88%
Calorie consumption 3115 kilocalories
The first evidence of civilization on Dominica dates back to 3,100 B.C.E. The first settlers were the Ortoroids, who came from the South American mainland. Columbus (1451–1506 C.E.) reached Dominica on November 3, 1493, and gave it its present name, which means “Sunday” in Italian. Dominica’s history is similar to that of other Caribbean islands. The Spanish tried in vain to colonize the islands in the Lesser Antilles (of which Dominica is a part). However even their missionaries failed in their attempts to convert the local populations. The missionaries were either killed or held as hostages.
By 1727 some French families had entered Dominica as traders, lumberjacks, and farmers. Both the English and the French looked at Dominica as an island of strategic importance and in 1761 the English attacked Dominica in an attempt to gain control of the region. In accordance with the Treaty of Paris (1763) Dominica officially became a part of Britain. The French tried to regain possession of Dominica in 1795 and 1805 but failed to recapture it. The island of Dominica remained a British colony, and the English administered the island as a part of the Leeward Islands Federation until 1939.
Many sugar plantations were set up in the country during this period. In 1831 the British passed the Brown Privilege Bill, allowing social and political rights to free blacks, and three free black men were permitted to join the legislature. In 1834 slaves throughout the British West Indies were emancipated. In 1838 Dominica became the only Caribbean nation in the British Empire to have a black-controlled legislature.
Eventually Dominica was added to the Windward Islands Federation, and in 1958 it joined the West Indies Federation.
In 1967 the country became an Associated State of the United Kingdom. Dominica won its independence in 1978, on the 485th year of its discovery by Europeans. In 1980 it became the first Caribbean nation to have a woman prime minister—Mary Eugenia Charles (1919–2005).
Historically Dominica has been a favorite tourist destination because of its ecology and political stability.
The year 2001, however, saw a reduction in the number of tourists because of the terrorist attacks on the United States, and by 2002 the country faced a deep economic and financial crisis.
j GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE The island of Dominica is popularly known as “The Nature Island of the Caribbean” due to its spectacular and varied flora and fauna and its breathtaking natural beauty. It is the most mountainous of all the islands grouped under the Lesser Antilles; its volcanic peaks are the cones of lava craters and include the Boiling Lake, the second largest thermally active lake in the world. (The Lesser Antilles has one of the highest concentrations of potentially active volcanoes in the world.) Dominica’s tropical rain forests, numerous waterfalls, and rivers owe their existence to the heavy rainfall in the interior of the island. The terrain is made up of rugged highlands and mountains interspersed with fertile valleys. Dominica has a tropical maritime climate with little seasonal variation.
The Dominican economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, with nearly half of Dominican workers engaged in farming-related jobs. Dominica’s primary exports (bananas, soap, bay oil, vegetables, grapefruit, and oranges) are mainly agricultural. The country has some industries (soap, coconut oil, tourism, copra, furniture, cement blocks, and shoes), which employ around 30 percent of the island’s workforce. The island has high rates of poverty and unemployment.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
The French culture, language, customs, and religion are deeply rooted in Dominican culture, as evidenced by the prevalence of Roman Catholicism, the preference for French names, and the use of the French language. Several other cultural influences can be seen in Dominica, such as Creole society, a blend of French, African, and Caribbean cultures and people. The Creole Music Festival that takes place in the month of October is a major tourist attraction. Other celebrations such as Independence Day and Carnival are also significant.
Despite the varied culinary influences—African, Carib, Indian, French, and Creole—Dominica’s cuisine is simple. The menu includes plenty of fresh crabs, crayfish, agouti (a member of the rat family), and manicou (a variety of crab found in Dominica).
Fried chicken and fish and chips are available in plenty as are Creole dishes such as goat columbo (a stew) and callaloo soup (a creamed spinach-style soup), as well as other common Caribbean items such as curry-filled flat bread. The most famous national dish is the ubiquitous mountain chicken, which is actually made of the legs of a giant mountain crapaud (“toad”). A native of Dominica and Montserrat, the giant toad may only be caught between September and March to conserve its numbers.
Prepared in a number of ways, it is said to taste like chicken and is usually eaten with the light locally brewed beer, Kubuli.
For Dominican parents the birth of a child assures the continuation of the family line and heritage.
People send flowers, cards, or gifts for the baby.
Dominicans hold the Christian baptism ceremony within the first few months of the child’s life.
Baptisms take place during the Sunday church service or on Sunday afternoons. Catholic children generally receive two names, one of which is that of a saint.
Most marriages are celebrated according to Roman Catholic tradition. The bride wears the customary white gown, and the groom, a black formal suit. The wedding ceremony takes place at noon in a church and is known as the nuptial Mass.
The bride and groom exchange vows and rings in front of their relatives and friends. The bride places her bouquet on the altar and then both the bride and the groom light a large unity candle from two smaller ones as a symbol of their new life together.
When a Dominican dies the body is washed thoroughly for the journey into the afterlife. Close friends and family members hold a wake at the home of the deceased. Thereafter the body is taken to the cemetery to be buried. At the church and graveside the funeral services consist of readings from the scriptures and prayers. At the funeral reception after the burial family members serve food and drinks to the guests. For Catholics, a Mass is held on every anniversary of the death.