At only 26 million years old, Dominica is one of the youngest islands in the Caribbean chain and is still actively evolving with continuous geothermal activity.
The Ortoroids, Dominica’s first inhabitants,arrived from South America around 3100 B.C. and inhabited the island until approximately 400 B.C. The Arawaks settled in about 400 A.D., and around 1400, the Kalinago or “Caribs,” moved aggressively migrated to the Caribbean region from South America.
The Caribs severely impacted the Arawak population, and 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 made landfall on a Sunday. The Caribs successfully resisted Spanish colonization, but the British and French followed from the 1600s on, battling each other, and the Caribs, to claim the Island. The many battles with superior war technology and diseases ravaged the Caribs and they gradually lost control of the island. Today approximately 2,000 Caribs remain on the island, most living in the Carib Territory in northeast Dominica. Many 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 granted independence from Britain. The new era of freedom and independence brought increased challenges, economic and political struggles. 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.
The Government of Dominica is heavily invested in tourism as a tool to drive economic development. The island’s natural beauty, and the popularity of diving, hiking and eco tours is helping to bolster this mission.
Dominica offers much more than a stunning nature adventure. Its rich culture is a blend of English, French, African, and Carib peoples. Colorful costumes, music, and pageantry are on display at a host of celebrations, from Carnival to the World Creole Music Festival, and the many independence celebrations around the island. Though Dominica received its independence from Britain on November 3rd 1978, the country commemorates this date with an extended period of cultural celebrations which can last as long as four weeks.
Dominica boasts wonderful examples of Caribbean architecture with a distinctive mix of French, English and Spanish influences. Monumental buildings from colonial times, as well as some old plantation estates, are a must see. A self-guided walking tour through historic Roseau, from the Society for Architectural Preservation and Enhancement (SHAPE) office in Roseau, allows you to experience the rich history and architecture of the capital city.
Dominica is the only Caribbean island with a remaining population of pre-Columbian Carib Indians. Migrating in waves from South America as early as 3,000 B.C., various tribes made Dominica their home, and by 1,000 A.D. were well settled, calling the island “Wai’tukubuli” meaning ‘tall is her body’ in the Kalinago language. Today, over 2,000 Caribs, properly known as the Kalinago, inhabit a 3,700 acre territory on the northwestern side of the island.
Don’t expect to encounter a primitive people in grass skirts practicing primordial rituals. There is little to differentiate them from the rest of the population. But it is still possible to acquire a glimpse of their ancestral roots, especially from their craft, canoe building and traditional culinary activity.