The Nature Island of the Caribbean
We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again- to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.
– Pico Iyer
About The Nature Island of Dominica
Uniquely Natural. Naturally Unique. A rich tapestry of lush rainforests, rivers and waterfalls, with volcanic wonders on land and under the sea. The people of Dominica welcome you to share the beauty and tranquility of “Nature’s Island.” To discover the rich culture of the people. An enriching eco tourism experience. The physical challenge of extreme adventure. Or the serenity of a secluded spa retreat. When you discover Dominica, you discover yourself – and a Caribbean experience like no other.
Where is Dominica?
Dominica’s location is 15 degrees North latitude and 61 degrees West longitude. The island sits midway along the Eastern Caribbean archipelago, just a few miles from Martinique to the south and Guadeloupe to the north. Its official name is the Commonwealth of Dominica, which is mostly referenced in official communiqués and to distinguish the island from its northerly Caribbean sister, the Dominican Republic.
Known as “The Nature Island,” Dominica’s tropical rainforests cover two thirds of the island, and are home to 1,200 plant species. Rivers, lakes, streams, and waterfalls abound, fed by the island’s high annual rainfall. Its volcanic physique points to extensive geothermal activity – even underwater. The Morne Trois Pitons National Park was the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Caribbean.
The island is sparsely populated with 70,000 people inhabiting its 289 square miles. A significant portion of the population lives in and around the capital city of Roseau. About 80% of the population is Roman Catholic. English is the official language, spoken with a melodic French lilt, but a large portion of the population speaks Kwèyòl (Creole), and a few northern villages speak Kokoy.
The history of Dominica
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 Caribs successfully resisted efforts of Spanish colonization, but the British and French followed from the 1600s on, battling each other, and the Caribs, to claim the Island. Through the many battles and ravaged by disease, the Caribs gradually lost control of the island, fleeing back to South America. However, today approximately 2,000 Caribs remain on the island, most living in the Carib Territory in northeast Dominica. You many note that many of village names in and around Dominica are a mix of Carib, French and English, reflecting the power struggles of the last 500 years.
On November 3rd 1978, the island was finally granted its independence from Britain. The new era of freedom and independence brought increased challenges, and 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 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 acres territory or reserve on the eastern coast of the island. Migrating in waves from South America from as early as the 3,000BC, various tribes made Dominica their home and by 1,000AD were well settled, calling the island “Wai’tukubuli” meaning ‘Tall is her body’ in the Kalinago language.
Despite fiercely resisting European colonisation for centuries, the Kalinagos eventually succumbed to the disease, greed, and tyranny unleashed by the Spanish, English and French colonising forces. Their grip on the island slowly slipped away with each major European offensive. In 1903, the British Administrator of the time, Heskith 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 2,200 Caribs inhabit this enclave now known as the Carib Territory. Potential visitors should shred any delusion of finding a primitive people in grass skirts practicing primordial rituals. There is little to differentiate them for the rest of the population. However it is 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 outhouses in original tribal design teeming with traditional culinary activity.