The Caribbean gets sold as a single location, especially by the cruise industry, and this is a major disservice to the region and all its beautiful cultures. Dominica was the first place I ever traveled in the Caribbean, and as a hiker, it is my favorite island so far (although, they are all amazing!). This island nation is special for more than just its natural beauty, however, because its people are warm, artful, and part of a resilient society. Strap in and get ready to learn 10 things about the culture of Dominica that you didn’t know before.
Dominican Culture and History
(1) Most people in Dominica are Roman Catholic, and a small number of people also have a unique set of beliefs called Obeah that is a mix of African, European, and Kalinago traditions.
(2) The national dress of Dominica is called wob dwiyet. Women primarily wear this during celebrations, and includes a colorful scarf worn on the head. The dress itself has a white, collared shirt with beautiful embroidery as decoration.
(3) Dominica is serious about taking Sunday off. Almost everything on the island is closed on Sunday except for hotels. If you need to go grocery shopping for the weekend, be sure to go on Saturday, but go in knowing that the lines will be out of this world. The longest grocery lines I have ever seen were in Dominica.
(4) Dominica is home to one of the large medical schools that US and Caribbean students alike attend. Traditional remedies are also still practiced by a few. These address the presence of evil spirits, called jombies, and makes use of medicinal plants.
(5) Dominica was passed between France and Britain for a long time, and this struggle is evident in the mix of French and English names on the island. Shortly after Britain abolished slavery in 1834, Dominica was the first of its territories to have a black legislature. It goes without saying that African traditions and resilience have played a key role in the unique character and culture of Dominica.
Kalinago Culture and History
(1) The Kalinago people once lived throughout the Caribbean, but retreated to Dominica when European colonization and war decimated their population. The mountains of Dominica protected them from the colonists for a long time and the island is now home to the world’s last community of Kalinago people. Although native cultures aren’t often acknowledged in outside materials about the Caribbean, the culture of Dominica and the region were founded on their civilizations.
(2) The Kalinago people make up a little less than 1% of Dominica’s population, but they have their own region of the island. They offer some very genuine tourism experiences, as well as traditional handicrafts.
(3) Kalinago society was far more egalitarian than European culture. Women held as much power as men, and although both genders did different work within their civilization. In the past, they were governed by a chief, but they now have a council that helps run their communities.
(4) The traditional Kalinago religion held the volcanic peaks of the Caribbean to be the source of life for the islands of the region. The people created statues out of stone and conch shells which were called zemis and represented the peaks. Volcanic peaks are, in fact, the heart of these islands, having formed them. The Kalinago people also believed that it was essential to maintain the balance between good and evil in the world, and maintain the close relationship between humans and nature.
(5) The Kalinago people were expert navigators on the water and originally colonized the Caribbean from the Orinoco River Basin of South America. They were also powerful warriors that fought against the Taino people that had built a civilization in the Caribbean before the Kalinago arrived. They also fought valiantly against European colonists, but they were greatly disadvantaged by smallpox and other “old world” diseases.
Learn More About Kalinago Culture
Experts on Kalinago Culture:
– List of References for Further Reading
Chances for Travelers to Learn More From the Kalinago People:
– Living Village Experience at Touna Kalinago Heritage Village
For more information on travel in Dominica, be sure to read through our guide.