Dominica: Culture & History
Dominica is one of the Windward Islands and is located between two French administered islands, Guadeloupe to the north and Martinique to its south. The soil formation is of volcanic origin and it possesses a mountainous terrain. The highest point is Morne Diablotins, but it has several other mountainous terrains. It has a lush green colour as there is plenty rainfall especially in the mountain areas. It also has many small rivers and a Boiling Lake, from which sulphurous gases frequently escape. The government promotes sustainable management of the forests to help protect the island's biodiversity.
Roseau is the capital of Dominica and the chief port. The majority of people there are of African descent, brought over from there during the eighteenth century. There are also a number of Carib Indians who live on the island. English is the official language of the island, but a great number of people speak the French dialect, Patois. Roman Catholicism is the main religion, which accounts for more than three quarters of the inhabitants followed by the Protestant church.
Dominica possesses very fertile soil, which enables it to develop such agricultural products as bananas, citrus fruit (especially grapefruit and limes), coconuts, coconut oil, cocoa, cinnamon, mangoes, vanilla beans and vegetables. The manufacturing sector is mainly used for processing farm products. The main manufacturers are fruit juices, alcoholic beverages, soap and essential oils. Pumice, which is a light, porous, volcanic rock used in powdered for is exported for smoothing or polishing purposes.
The first settlers in Dominica were the Ortoroid people who originally lived in South America. It is believed that they settled in Dominica about 3100 B.C. and became extinct by 400 B.C. The Ignesi or Arawak Indians who settled there in 400 A.D followed these. The Arawaks were farmers and peaceful people. A thousand years later, another tribe from South America called Kalinago or Caribs ventured out from their homelands to the Caribbean area. These were more aggressive and warlike people. They attacked the Arawaks, killed the men and took their women. They subsequently overran the island and took charge.
Columbus sighted Dominica on a Sunday in 1493 and gave the island its name. The Carib Indians defended their island against the colonialist masters, Spanish, French and English excellently. The Spanish were the first to try and failed miserably. The French were the next to try by using missionaries. The British were more brutal and systematically destroyed the Caribs. The British introduced European diseases, a threat to which the Carib had no resistance. Today there are a few thousand Caribs that live in the North East part of the island.
The French were the first European settlers and their main forms of trade were wood cutting, tobacco and cotton growers. The British and the French fought over controlling Dominica in 1761. The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763 and Dominica was ceded to the British. The French had nevertheless left its mark on the island as still seen to the day through the language (patois), customs, religion and the many French place names. Slaves were imported to provide labour during this time period and this is one of the greatest influencing factors in the ethnic make-up of the island.
A series of calamitous events happened which affected the island adversely. The French defeated the English in 1778 and two hurricanes, one in 1779 and the other 1780 followed by a big fire in the capital, Roseau helped to decimate the island. Britain successfully attacked the French in 1782 and regained control. Some escaped slaves called Maroons became well armed during the instability period of time. They were never able to defeat the British, but they did make things uncomfortable for them. These skirmishes took place until 1815.
There was as decline in colonial agriculture in the 1800's, which was exacerbated by natural disasters and, also, the end of slavery. There was also a change in the agricultural crops with a switch being made to limes and cocoa. There were also challenges by blacks to the privileged conservative whites who were making effort to maintain the existing discriminatory race structure.
There were great upheavals during the nineteen sixties, seventies and eighties as a new political system and constitution were debated. Dominica finally gained its Independence from Britain on November 3, 1978. Since the political situation has been stabilized, eco-tourism has taken on a new stimulus and is growing ever more rapidly.