OFFICIAL NAME: Commonwealth of Dominica
AREA: 751 Sq Km (290 Sq Mi)
LOCATION & GEOGRAPHY: Dominica is an island located at the northern end of the windward chain of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea. It is situated between the French island groups of Guadeloupe to the north and Martinique to the south. The island is almost rectangular in shape and has a deeply indented coast line. It is of volcanic origin with many fumaroles and sulfur springs. The interior of the island is dominated by a series of high peaks and deeply incised valleys which are carpeted by deep forest. The Clyde, Pagua, Rosalie, Roseau and the Layou Rivers flow from the central ridge of mountain peaks to the coast. Major Cities (pop. est.); Roseau 15,900, Portsmouth 3,600, Marigot 2,900 (1991). Land Use; forested 67%, pastures 3%, agricultural-cultivated 23%, other 7% (1993).
CLIMATE: Dominica has a tropical climate with extreme humidity and temperatures which are constantly tempered by sea breezes. There is a vast dry season on the west side of the island and a hurricane season between July and September while the wet season is usually between June and October. Average annual precipitation varies from 1,750 mm (69 inches) on the coast to 6,250 mm (246 inches) in the central mountainous area. The average temperature ranges are from 20 to 29 degrees Celsius (64 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit) in January to 23 to 32 degrees Celsius (73 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit) in June.
PEOPLE: Most of the population are descendants of the Black African slaves which were imported as plantation slaves during the 17th and 18th centuries. Black Africans account for 91% of the population and other ethnic minorities include the Mulattoes who are of mixed African and European descent and account for 6%. Additionally, there are also a small number Carib AmerIndians who number around 500.
DEMOGRAPHIC/VITAL STATISTICS: Density; 111 persons per sq km (288 persons per sq mi) (1991). Urban-Rural; N/A. Sex Distribution; 46.4% male, 53.6% female (1989). Life Expectancy at Birth; 73.0 years male, 78.0 years female (1989). Age Breakdown; 35% under 15, 28% 15 to 29, 15% 30 to 44, 10% 45 to 59, 12% 60 and over (1989). Birth Rate; 19.9 per 1,000 (1990). Death Rate; 7.4 per 1,000 (1990). Increase Rate; 12.5 per 1,000 (1990). Infant Mortality Rate; 18.4 per 1,000 live births (1990).
EDUCATION: Aged 25 or over and having attained: no formal schooling 6.6%, primary 80.6%, secondary 11.1%, higher 1.7% (1981). Literacy; literate population aged 15 or over 94% (1986).
MODERN HISTORY – WWII TO 1993: Dominica gained independence in 1978 after being ruled by Britain since the 1700’s. Universal adult suffrage was introduced in 1951 and Britain gradually increased Dominica’s control over its own affairs, resulting in the island gaining full internal autonomy in 1967 as an associate state. Dominica gained full independence on Nov. 3, 1978 led by Patrick John. In 1979 a major hurricane struck Dominica and killed over 50 people as well as causing widespread property damage. In the same year controversial measures introduced by John’s government culminated in his and his cabinets resignation. An interim government was installed until elections in July 1980 which were won by Dame Eugenia Charles. In 1981 there were two coup attempts led by John who was eventually tried and sentenced. In 1983 Dominica and several other Caribbean nations joined the United States in an invasion of Grenada to overthrow the Marxist government there. In 1985 Charles retained power after the elections. In Apr. 1991 the government narrowly survived a vote of no confidence that was introduced by the Dominica United Workers’ Party (DUWP). In 1991 construction began on the island’s first international airport to be based at Woodford Hill in the north of the island with US military help. Also during 1991 there were significant increases in tourist arrivals while the government actively encouraged the construction of small hotels through investment incentives. In 1992 the government faced opposition on the issue of whether it should “sell” citizenship to Taiwanese or Hong Kong businessmen for investments of US $35,000. In Apr. 1992 the DLP opposition leader for seven years, Michael Douglas, died of cancer. In May 1992 the DUWP led demonstrations that forced the government to announce adjustments to the policy in Sept. 1992 that required an the deposit of additional US $25,000 in a special fund and that the investment be maintained for at least 10 years. In May 1993, Prime Minister Charles reaffirmed the DFP’s policy of selling state enterprises in the face of opposition. By April 1993 some 466 people, mostly Taiwanese, had become Dominican citizens under the controversial immigration policy which had contributed an estimated $5.8 million to the economy. In Aug. 1993 the external affairs minister, Brian Alleyne, was elected as the new DFP leader to take over from Prime Minister Charles when she retired prior to the planned 1995 elections.
ECONOMY: Gross National Product; USD $193,000,000 (1993). Public Debt; USD $85,500,000 (1993). Imports; ECD $299,200,000 (1992). Exports; ECD $151,400,000 (1992). Tourism Receipts; USD $34,800,000 (1994). Balance of Trade; ECD -$131,200,000 (1993). Economically Active Population; 26,364 or 38.0% of total population (1991). Unemployed; 23.0% (1994).
MAIN TRADING PARTNERS: Its main trading partners are the UK, the USA, other EU countries and other CARICOM countries.
MAIN PRIMARY PRODUCTS: Bananas, Cattle, Cocoa, Coconuts, Citrus Fruit, Pigs, Pumice, Timber.
MAIN EXPORTS: Bananas, Cocoa, Copra, Citrus Fruits, Essential Oils, Spices, Soap.
TRANSPORT: Railroads; nil. Roads; length 756 km (470 mi) (1988). Vehicles; cars 2,500 (1989), trucks and buses 1,500 (1989). Merchant Marine; vessels 8 (1990), deadweight tonnage 3,631 (1990). Air Transport; N/A.
COMMUNICATIONS: Daily Newspapers; nil. Weekly Newspapers; total of 2 with a total circulation of 5,050 (1991). Radio; receivers 45,000 (1994). Television; receivers 5,200 (1994). Telephones; units 15,791 (1994).
Dominica has been inhabited by human beings for a long time – there is evidence that the island was inhabited in at least 3100 BC. The first settlers were the Ortoroid people who set out from the South American mainland and gradually spread northwards through the Caribbean island chain. Evidence suggests they became extinct around 400BC. Later came the Igneri or “Arawak speakers” who settled in about 400AD. Their way of life was agricultural and peaceful with a well-defined culture. By 1400 this was about to change as a similar tribe, the Kalinago or as the “Caribs” (as they became more commonly known) departed South America and aggressively moved their way up the Caribbean. The Gli Gli (sparrow hawk) sailed from Dominica to the OrinocoRiver in remembrance of the journey undertaken by the Ortoroid people 3000 years earlier
The Caribs seemed to be very much into raiding and the men aggressively attacked the Igneri, stealing their women when it was deemed feasible. The Caribs were organised and were very successful in eliminating the Igneri from many of the Caribbean islands, including Dominica.
Columbus was the first European to set eyes on Dominica on 3rd November, 1493 – it was a Sunday – so he named it after the day. Dominica’s history from this point in many ways mirrors that of other Caribbean islands but differs in a few very significant ways. The Spanish were the first to try to colonise islands in the Lesser Antilles and they were met with stiff resistance. Spanish attempts to colonise Dominica and surrounding islands with their Christian missionaries failed miserably – the Caribs either killed or held the missionaries hostage and the Spanish were not willing to pit their fighting skills against a skilled enemy and the rugged terrain of Dominica. In fact, this attitude pretty much summed up how the next wave of European colonists, the English and the French, were to feel when they arrived in Dominica at the start of the 1600’s.
The English and the French were in a race to colonise the Caribbean in order to tap into the riches that lay in exploiting the natural resources of the Caribbean. They fought long and hard with each other and the Caribs and Dominica bears the scars of these battles. The place names in Dominica are a mixture of French, English and Carib. After unsuccessful attempts by the French to win over the Caribs with Christianity, a more hardline approach was adopted – especially by the English – who went out to systematically destroy the Caribs who got in their way. They managed to reduce the Carib population by forcing them to flee back to the South American mainland and, rather unwittingly, by introducing new diseases against which the Caribs had no resistance. About three thousand Caribs still inhabit Dominica today, most of them living in Carib Territory up in the North East of the island.
The French were the first to really set up shop in Dominica and by 1727 there were 50-60 French families in Dominica. Most were woodcutters gathering wood for export but some grew tobacco and cotton. They were a tough lot and there was no overall plan governing their presence or development. Officially, Dominica was a neutral country throughout this period belonging neither to the French nor English – but the English were hungry for territory and saw Dominica as strategically important – so they attacked it in 1761. By year end the island was basically under British control. In 1763 at The Peace of Paris Dominica was officially ceded to Britain. But the French had left an indelible mark on Dominica – and it can still be seen to this day through the language (patois), customs, religion and the many French place names. Slaves were imported to provide labour during this period and, as in other Caribbean islands, this was to leave a permanent impression on Dominica’s ethnic make-up.
The British realised that to send the French settlers packing would mean disrupting the growing agricultural economy of the island – so a kind of peaceful co-existence was established. Forts were built, the largest at The Cabrits above Portsmouth and above Roseau at Morne Bruce.
The French military attacked the British fortifications in 1778, encouraged by the American War of Independence, and won. Things did not go well. Most of the English inhabitants left taking their reciprocal trade links with them. This strained the existing agricultural system (big hungry French occupying force) and the economy was under pressure. A hurricane decided to hit in 1779 and, obviously not satisfied with the damage, returned in 1780. In 1781 Roseau was destroyed by fire. In 1782 the English saw their chance to settle the score. The ensuing naval battle, The Battle of the Saintes, saw an English victory and ousted French administration over Dominica once and for all.
Escaped slaves, known as Maroons, had become well armed during all the recent troubles and they took on the English 1785-86. They were cornered and defeated and their leaders imprisoned and/or executed. The French Revolution resulted in a French Republican invasion in 1797. They were eventually defeated. Maroon-related fighting took place until around 1815 and their effectiveness was always helped by Dominica’s rugged terrain into which they could retreat to relative safety. This typified the European experience in Dominica whether it be Carib resistance or the Maroons and set the tone for the island making it palpably different from its English-administered neighbours.
Dominica was hit hard by the decline in colonial agriculture in the 1800’s -exacerbated by natural disasters and the end of the slavery era -other cash crops were undertaken, namely cocoa and and limes but a long, gradual decline and long overdue social upheaval meant tough times for Dominica. As in many other Caribbean islands, Dominica experienced increasing domestic political battles. The priveleged whites were consisitently challenged for ther conservative views and efforts to maintain the prejudicial social structure. As their power dwindled, many in Dominica pushed for greater autonomy. It acheived it, slowly but surely – but not without turbulent politics and sometimes violent confrontations as the island debated a new political system and constitution. The late 1960’s, 1970’s and early 1980’s were characterised by serious political instability. This retarded Dominica’s ability to take advantage of the the booming tourism industry being experinced by many of its Caribbean neighhbours. The Independence Constitution, after much political wrangling, took effect on 3rd November 1978 separating Dominica from British control. Increasing poilitical stabilty from the mid-1980’s allowed Dominica to offer itself as a pristine Caribbean eco-destination, unspoiled by indiscriminate development.
The island’s economic development was, and is, shaped in large part by its topography – the steep mountains, ravines and thick rainforest always played a role in Dominica’s history. Dominica’s human history has often been characterised as a struggle between man and nature, but in more recent times this Georgian-era analogy has become less relevant. Today sees Dominicans aware of the value of their natural resources and controlling development to protect these resouces as much as possible – eco-tourism is a rapidly growing industry and offers increased diversification from an economy traditionally based on agriculture.
Dominica’s Natural History:
Dominica is known as “The Nature Island of the Caribbean”. It boasts of a variety of natural attractions including rivers and streams, deep river gorges, waterfalls, fumarole areas, a boiling lake (considered the world’s largest) and four cold freshwater lakes, two situated more than 2,500 feet above sea level.
Dominica’s relatively high range of altitude, coupled with its rainfall, has given rise to a wide variety of vegetation. The undisturbed forests have been described as the most extensive in the Lesser Antilles, while its rain forests are considered the finest in the insular Caribbean. Over 60% of the island is still under some form of natural vegetation.
Native flora includes over 1,000 species of flowering plants including 74 species of orchid and 200 ferns. Twenty-two endemic species of plants have been identified, one being Bwa Kwaib, officially designated as the island’s National Flower. Showy plants along the west coast are the scarlet Bwa Kwaib, purple Savonnet, Campech with its bottle-brush-like flowers and the orange, pink and #00d600 Lantana. In the interior, the bright orange blossoms of Immortelle, the red, #00d600, or green heliconias and the purplish young leaves of the blue-wax flower catch everyone’s attention.
Dominica has a relatively varied fauna and hosts the most diverse assemblage of wildlife in the smaller Eastern Caribbean islands, with birds and bats particularly represented. To date, 172 species of birds have been recorded and two endemic and endangered species of parrot – the Sisserou (Dominica’s National Bird) and the Red-necked or Jaco Parrot. The twelve species of bat on the island are the only native mammals.
Several species of whales and dolphins are found in the waters around Dominica, which is fast positioning itself as the leading whale-watching destination in the region. There are several small coral reefs around Dominica with a variety of sponges, corals, soft coral and tropical fish. Mollusks and marine plants add to the marine bio-diversity of the island.
The opossum, agouti, birds, frogs, iguana, crab, and several species of freshwater shrimp and fish are used for food. The island observes an annual six-month closed season, during which time it is illegal to catch terrestrial wildlife. There are no poisonous snakes on the island, but the elusive boa constrictor is at home here.