Dominica (officially Commonwealth Dominica) is an island state in the Lesser Antilles in the eastern Caribbean. The state extends over the island of the same name and is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. In the language of the Caribbean indigenous population, Dominica was called Wai’tukubuli (“Her body is high”) in reference to the mountainous island profile of Ouaitocoubouli or in more recent transcription.
In addition to the official language English, Antilles Creole, called Patwa (Patois) by the inhabitants, is widely used as a colloquial language.
Dominica lies between the French Caribbean islands of the overseas departments of Guadeloupe in the north and Martinique 25 km in the south. About 250 km to the west is the uninhabited Venezuelan island of Aves. Dominica is 46.4 km long and 25.6 km wide.
According to British usage, the island belongs to the “Leeward Islands”, which is the northern part of the archipelago that is called islands above the wind in German and other languages. Since the West Indian English partly follows the international language usage and moreover in some language areas the border between the northern (English Leeward Islands) and the southern (English Windward Islands) part of the islands above the wind is drawn differently, the exact assignment of Dominica to one of the two island groups causes difficulties.
Dominica bears the unofficial nickname “the nature island” because of its lush and species-rich fauna and flora. Some of the highest mountains of the Lesser Antilles, over 300 rivers and streams and several lakes (e.g. Boeri Lake) can be found on the island. The mountains are of volcanic origin, the Morne Diablotins is with 1447 m the highest elevation of Dominica and the second highest mountain of the Lesser Antilles, towered only by the active volcano Soufrière on the island Basse-Terre of the French overseas department Guadeloupe. The Morne Trois Pitons National Park, where many of Dominica’s sights are located, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
The climate is tropical, tempered by northeasterly winds, with heavy rainfall, which can lead to flooding and landslides, especially in the hurricane season between May and November.
Dominica has about 72,000 inhabitants (estimated in 2007) Due to the strong emigration (mainly to other Caribbean island states, the USA and Canada), the growth rate is only 0.184%. About 80% of the population is Catholic, 15% Protestant (5% Methodists, 3% Pentecostals, 3% Adventists, 2% Baptists, 2% Others). Voodoo and voodoo-like religions are also common and are often practised in parallel with Christian religious beliefs.
The Dominican population is divided into the following groups: 86.8% black, 8.9% mulatto, 2.9% caribbean and 0.8% European.
The Caribbean has its name from these indigenous people who call themselves Kalinago or Kalinagos. In a reservation (Carib Territory) in the east of Dominica lives the largest almost homogeneous population of the Caribbean in the world. The figures for the unmixed indigenous people of this reserve diverge. Dominica Weekly names 1000 unmixed Caribbeans for 2008. In deviation from this, one Caribin puts the number of unmixed Caribbeans in the reserve at only about 300. The British colonial government established the Caribbean Reserve in 1903 and its chief is Garnet Joseph, who was elected in July 2009.
In 1902 Henry Hesketh Bell (1864-1952), the administrator of the island, wrote to Joseph Chamberlain, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, that at the time of the discovery on some islands it had been a “mild and shy race”, on the small islands warlike Caribbeans, as he believed to know from French historians of the 17th century. By their unbending – “heroic” – resistance they escaped slavery on the other islands, according to Bell. He further reports that the Caribbeans came from the mainland as conquerors and subjected the “Arrowak”. From now on the daughters had spoken the Caribbean language, but the sons had spoken the Arouak language. The number of inhabitants was however altogether small, the villages designated as “Carbet” consisted never of more than 30 huts and lay at the coast. Only for hunting did the Caribbeans move into the mountains. They built seaworthy canoes and went fishing with them. The fact that they went on slave hunts can be regarded as certain, but whether the rumours of man-eating had a true basis or only served to deter the Spaniards is unclear.
In any case, already in 1547 this was the argument with which the enslavement of the Caribbean was permitted by the Spanish king. Since they were worthless as slaves – they preferred to die than to live as slaves – they were killed immediately and without any contact. Around 1600 the Caribbeans ruled only Guadeloupe, Dominica and Martinique. Europeans also settled on Dominica, in this case the French. One of them, Du Tertre, gave for 1633 the number of Caribbeans with 938, which were distributed on 32 villages. On the other hand there were 349 Frenchmen on the island, 23 mulattos and 338 black slaves. In 1635, several Caribbean troops attempted an attack on Guadeloupe, but it was fended off and then used as an excuse to exterminate the Caribbeans on Guadeloupe. Some escaped to Dominica. Since Martinique was apparently doing the same, numerous refugees came to Dominica, where most of the Caribbeans now lived. Again the local French had to give way to their superiority. In 1666 the French also evacuated Antigua. In the Treaty of Aachen of 1748, in which the ownership conditions were also regulated in this region, Dominica appears as a neutral island, since it did not belong to any of the colonial powers. Nevertheless, French settlements developed on Dominica’s western side, and the Caribbeans could not expel the settlers. The British supported the Caribbeans against the French, but as soon as they became colonial rulers themselves in 1763, they treated the Indians themselves as the French had done before. Only a tiny area of less than one square kilometre (232 acres) was left to them. But the Caribbeans successfully defended the interior and escaped slaves joined them. In 1791 only 20 to 30 families existed and they had fled to the northeast of the island, to the villages Salybia and Bataka. They are also said to have abandoned cannibalism around this time. At the end of the 19th century they were so assimilated that on Sundays, as Bell wrote, they wore black skirts and high hats. He estimated the number of thoroughbred Caribbeans to be 120, with about 280 hybrids. Rochefort compiled a concise glossary in 1665. Around 1900 their chief was Auguste François, but he was called “Ogiste”. Bell suggested to enlarge the Caribbean reserve to 3700 acres (15 km²).
In May 2008, Chief Charles Williams proposed to ban marriages between the approximately one thousand Kalinagos, as the Caribbeans are called in distinction to the others living in the reserve, and non-Kalinagos, but the government rejected the program to save the last Caribbean population because this would restrict liberty rights.
Dominica is home to an unusually large number of centenarians, i.e. people beyond the age of one hundred. In 2001 over 20 centenarians were officially registered, which corresponds to a rate of one centenarius per 3,450 inhabitants (for comparison: in Germany the rate is about 1 in 12,200, as of 2000, almost 75% lower). Legends today still revolve around one of the supposedly oldest people in the world, the Dominican Mione Elizabeth George Israel or simply Ma Pampo, who died on 14 October 2003 at the legendary age of 128 on Dominica. However, there is no document that could prove her birthday (January 27, 1875) without a doubt (see also the article about the oldest person).
Between 5000 and 3100 B.C. the first human traces can be found. For a long time the assumption dominated that first the Ciboney or stone people had lived on the island, then the peaceful Arawak appeared, which had been exterminated by the warlike Caribbeans.
Dominica was discovered on 3 November 1493 by Columbus on his second voyage, but he did not go ashore. Columbus named the island after the weekday of its discovery, a Sunday (in Latin: Dominica). The inhabitants were apparently afraid of people coming from Carib or Canib, which caused the word Caniba, cannibal, to penetrate into Spanish and from there into many languages. The Caribbeans living on the mainland were still called so by ethnologists, the other groups were called island Caribbeans. These call themselves Kalinago and they controlled the islands between about 1400 and 1700. Their infamous robberies are to be addressed probably rather as women-robbery than as cannibal-trips. Their last retreat was Dominica, after St. Vincent had become British in 1796 and several thousand of them had been deported.
In 1627 Dominica came to the Earl of Carlisle, and England claimed the island until 1748, when it ceded Dominica to France. But as early as 1635 France, which had tried to missionize the Indians, agreed to leave the island to the inhabitants.
Dominica was the last Caribbean island colonized by Europeans because of the strong resistance of the natives. In 1763 the French handed the island over to Great Britain, which declared it a colony in 1805. It was administered by the Government of Grenada, but in 1768 Dominica received its own legislative assembly. After a five-year French intermezzo (1783-88), the island returned to Great Britain. In 1784 the Maroon revolt took place, in 1831 all non-whites received full civil rights, in 1834 slavery was abolished. The main export product at that time was coffee, which accounted for about one third of the export value. In 1838, the mulatto reached a majority for the first time under the leadership of newspaper publisher George Charles Falconer.
In 1865 the island was elevated to crown colony, but it was not until 1898 that this was put into practice by the dispatch of the administrator Sir Hesketh Bell. It was not until 1938 that political pressure was yielded to, and the Moyne Commission considered it appropriate to found political parties. In 1951 the right to vote was abolished and replaced by an equal right to vote. Women’s suffrage was also introduced in 1951. Parties were formed and in 1957 the island received its first Chief Minister. In 1957/58 the West Indian Federation came into being, which was dissolved in 1962. In 1967 the island was given limited autonomy, as the defence and foreign policy remained with Great Britain. On November 3, 1978, independence from Great Britain was proclaimed, and Dominica became a member of the United Nations on December 8, 1978.
The first prime minister was Patrick John of the social democratic DLP. His reign was marked by personal gain and corruption, which led to bloody demonstrations, among other things. A National Committee (CNS) elected Oliver J. Seraphin, Minister of Economic Affairs, as Prime Minister on 25 June 1979. In June 1980, Mary Eugenia Charles was elected successor by the DFP party and was the first head of state in the Caribbean region to remain in office for 15 years. Patrick John failed in 1981 with the attempt to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Eugenia Charles with the help of members of the right-wing extremist American Ku Klux Klan. Because of this coup attempt the armed forces were dissolved. In 1997, the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, named after the mountain of the same name and established in 1975, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From 2003 onwards, pirate films such as Pirates of the Caribbean will make a further contribution to the upturn in tourism. After the sudden death of Prime Minister Pierre Charles, Roosevelt Skerrit took up this post in 2004.
Dominica became independent from Great Britain on November 3, 1978. The country is a parliamentary republic with a unicameral parliament, the House of Assembly, with a five-year legislative term and 30 members. Of these, 21 are elected, 5 by the head of government and 4 by the opposition. All persons aged 18 and over are entitled to vote.
On December 18, 2009, the last election was held with the following result: Dominica Labour Party (DLP) 18 (against 12 in 2005), United Workers Party (UWP) 3 (8), Independent 0 (1), Dominica Freedom Party (DFP) 0 (0).
The country is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), the Organization of American States (OAS), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the Bolivarian Alliance for America (ALBA). It is also one of the sponsors of the University of the West Indies.