HISTORY, HERITAGE & CULTURE
Geologically speaking, Dominica is one of the youngest islands in the Caribbean chain. It is a spry 26 million years old, still actively evolving with continuous geothermal activity.
Dominica's first inhabitants, the Ortoroids, arrived from South America around 3100 B.C., and lasted on the island until around 400 B.C. Next came the Arawaks, who settled in about 400 A.D. By 1400, the Kalinago or "Caribs" moved aggressively up the Caribbean from South America, eliminating the Arawak from the region, including Dominica. When Columbus ushered in the era of colonization to Dominica in 1493, the same fate that befell the Arawaks would threaten the Caribs.
Ignoring the Kalinago name of "Waitukubuli," Columbus renamed the island Dominica as he first made landfall on a Sunday. The Kalinago successfully resisted efforts of Spanish colonization, but the British and French followed from the 1600s on, battling each other, and the Kalinago, to claim the Island. Through the many battles and ravaged by disease, the Kalinago gradually lost control of the island, fleeing back to South America. However, today approximately 2,000 Kalinago remain on the island, most living in the Kalinago Territory in northeast Dominica. You may note that many village names in and around Dominica are a mix of Kalinago, French, and English-reflecting the power struggles of the last 500 years.
On November 3, 1978, the island attained its independence from Britain. The new era of freedom and independence brought increased challenges as well as economic and political struggles. By the mid-1980s, though, Dominica had settled down as a stable and peaceful country. The success of the banana trade, the island's major export, brought economic buoyancy to the island. By 1992, however, Dominica saw sharp declines in banana exports with the loss of its preferential access on the UK market.
Today, the Government of Dominica is investing heavily in tourism to drive economic development, focusing on the island's unsurpassed natural beauty, and the popularity of diving, hiking, wellness and eco-tours.
PEOPLE + CULTURE
Dominica is a vibrant tapestry of European and African cultures, with the Caribbean's only remaining population of pre-Columbian Carib Indians. Properly known as the Kalinago, Dominica's indigenous people inhabit a 3,700-acre territory or reserve on the eastern coast of the island. Migrating in waves from South America from as early as the 3,000 B.C., various tribes made Dominica their home and by 1,000 A.D. were well-settled, calling the island "Waitukubuli," meaning 'tall is her body' in the Kalinago language.
Despite fiercely resisting European colonization for centuries, the Kalinagos eventually succumbed to the disease, greed, and tyranny unleashed by the Spanish, English, and French colonizing forces. Their grip on the island slowly slipped away with each major European offensive. In 1903, the British Administrator at the time, Hesketh Bell, agreed to allocate 3,700 acres to the Caribs, and also officially recognized the Carib Chief with ceremonial adornments and a financial allowance.
Today, approximately 2,145 Kalinago inhabit this enclave now known as the Kalinago Territory. Visitors should shred any delusion of finding a primitive people in grass skirts practicing ancient rituals. There is little to differentiate them from the rest of the population. It is, however, still possible to acquire a glimpse of their ancestral roots, especially from their craft, canoe building, and physical attributes. Certainly, it is common to find outbuildings in original tribal design, teeming with traditional cultural activity.
There's no better way to connect with the rhythm of tropic life than by visiting the Kalinago Territory - home to the Kalinago. The descendants of the island's original people, the Kalinago are always eager to treat guests to the joys of living with nothing more that what the land and sea and sky provide.
Originally known as the Caribs, the Kalinago are believed to have originally come from South America and represent the last remaining tribe of the pre-columbian Carib Indians going back to about 3000 B.C.
A life wedded to nature suddenly changed with the arrival of Christopher Columbus and the subsequent arrival of European settlers with whom the Kalinago battled bitterly to keep their life and lands.
Eventually, they had to flee to the isolated eastern side of Dominica - taking with them rites, rituals, and a way of living reaching back to the island's original settlers. It wasn't until 1763, when the British gained full control of Dominica, that the Kalinago were officially given 232 acres of land originally dubbed the Carib Reserve. Their territory was expanded to 3,700 acres in 1903.
Their culture - dance and song, artistry, and daily living - can help you discover your ancient self - and how your most distant forebearers experienced the world. Here you can learn their ageless crafts of basket weaving, canoe building, pottery making, and wood carving, to name but a few.
Among the Kalinago, you can live what life is like when everything is handcrafted, everything contains nothing but natural ingredients, and entertainment centers on human voices and bodies moving to a beat kept by drums and handmade instruments. Their rich language and their deep connection to nature can be heard in their name for their island, "Waitukubuli," meaning "tall Is her body."
Tours of the territory - offered by Kalinago guides - include hikes along the Asulukati river and its waterfall as well as climbs to the peak of Kabet. From short hikes to overnight stays in simple cottages, how long you wish to travel back in time is entirely up to you.
Cabrits National Park
You can't escape history - even on Dominica. But you can escape to Fort Shirley, part of the Cabrits National Park and located on a scenic peninsula just north of Portsmouth. This fortress is most famously known for a revolt by African slave soldiers in 1802, an event which would lead to freeing of all British slave soldiers in 1807.
The fort itself was built within a volcanic crater and served as part of a network of defenses along the Lesser Antilles during international conflicts between Britain and France in the 18th and 19th centuries. These conflicts left behind echoes of a different era and some of the fort's ruins are being slowly reclaimed by the encroaching forest.
Much of the fort is intact or has been rebuilt, allowing you to see what the area must have looked like back when the fort was operational. Take a moment to climb the walls, look out from a row of cannons, and imagine setting your sight on ships slowly drifting into range.
The Officer's Quarters has undergone a major renovation and is now home to weddings, receptions, concerts, and other events. Offering stunning views of Prince Rupert Bay, nearby beaches, and the mountains rising behind it, Fort Shirley is a natural lookout on the region. And if you're planning a visit during May or June, plan ahead so you won't miss Dominica's Jazz n'Creole Festival that is held here annually.
Home to uprisings, victories, and defeats - Fort Shirley now connects visitors to an island at peace.
Botanic Gardens of Dominica
The Creole Language
From as far back as the sixteenth century, the word "creole" has been constantly changing in meaning. The Portuguese may have been the first to use the word creole (crioulo) to refer to a person of Portuguese decent born in the colonies. The French (Créole) and Spanish (Criollo) were quick to adopt.
At the time of the emancipation of slavery in the Caribbean and the Americas, free blacks who showed signs of wealth were also added to the list. This means the first Creoles were people: white and later mixed (mulattos) and blacks.
There is also a small, intelligent horse known as the Criollo.
By the early nineteenth century Creole started to cease being attached to people or any specific geographic space but a cultural space which comprised communities across the Caribbean regardless of ethnic background , a part of North America (Louisiana), part of South America (French Guyana), the Indian Ocean (Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar, Reunion) all of which sharing a common history of slavery of Africans from the 15th century.
The culture which emerged from this space has produced a language, cuisine, music, arts, dance, dress, literature, and lifestyle.
It must be noted that every Creole community mainly islands projects despite the distinguishable commonality of "creoleness" its own specific flavor of the aspects. For example, the local vernacular spoken in the Cape Verde islands is Portuguese based but considered Creole. Similarly, what is known as Jamaican patois also with some variation spoken in the Leeward Islands and in the Woodford Hill, Wesley, Marigot area of Dominica also called "Kokoy" is English based.
The dominant Creole language is French based.
Languages are said to comprise different dialects and at one point in the English language the word dialect was substituted by the word creole. This however is no longer in common use.
During the period of slavery and the early colonial days the English-speaking elite demonstrated their "diglossic" superiority by calling whatever the others spoke "patois", thus a broken language.
Today only a handful of people continue to refer to the language as patois.
The other aspects of the culture are very much alive throughout the global community. The cuisine is vibrant, the Madras fabric named after a town in India proudly features in Creole dress highlighting the Indians who arrived in the colonies for the most part as indentured servants after the abolition of slavery. The music is probably the most prolific of the aspects of Creole culture as it is quickly moving from pastime to industry.
Despite many changes over the centuries the word Creole is still evolving and does not mean the same thing everywhere. In Mauritius in the Indian Ocean for example, where the Creole language (Morisien) is widely spoken, paradoxically though, the people referred to in this diverse and multi-ethnic society as Creoles are the "Afro-Mauritians".
The Creole lifestyle is present and experienced by millions around the world with growing enthusiasm. Some have abandoned certain aspects; however, efforts are made to catch up and take the culture to higher heights.