Cascading waterfalls, crystal clear waters, an abundance of fruits and vegetables, flowers in every colour of the rainbow, lush rainforests… No, it is not the Garden of Eden. It is the beautiful nature island, Dominica.
Dominica, from the Latin word for Sunday, the day that Columbus set foot on its shores six centuries ago, is said to be the youngest of the Caribbean islands. The first inhabitants of Dominica, the Arawaks, were expelled by the Kalinago (Caribs) who came to the island voluntarily or in search of a new home have been forced out by the Europeans as they settled elsewhere in the Caribbean. They called their new home Wai’tu kubuli –Tall is her body – in reference to the mountainous terrain. The Carib people in the Commonwealth of Dominica survived the many battles between the British and the French and can still be found weaving baskets or digging out canoes in the north-eastern section of the island known as the Carib Territory.
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Throughout the 1600s both the British and the French were unsuccessful in their attempts to capture Dominica. The Treaty of Paris (1793) handed Dominica over to the United Kingdom from France and in 1805 it was made a British colony. Dominica formed part of the ill-fated West Indies Federation from 1958 to 1962 after which it was granted Associate statehood. Full independence finally came on November 3, 1978.
Dominica‘s demography although diverse is dominated by descendants of African slaves. About 3,000 Caribs remain. Recently there has been a large influx of Haitians seeking refuge from economic oppression in their country. The population estimated at 69,000 in July 2006 is steadily dwindling due to migration. More significant is the fact that the island boasts of an average incidence of centenarians that is tripled that of developed countries. The life expectancy is 72 years for males and 78 for females.
The French influence on the daily lives of Dominica people is still very strong. The mass vernacular is a French creole called Patwa and Roman Catholicism is practised by approximately 80% of the population. Cocoy, an English dialect, is spoken in the north-eastern communities of Wesley, Woodford Hill and Marigot. Many of the family and place names in Dominica are of French origin. The historic French dominance has also given rise to a vibrant and unique cultural climate that can be felt particularly on Creole Day and during independence celebrations when food, dress, and music come alive.
Education is compulsory for all between the ages of 5 and 15. The literacy rate in Dominica stands at 94%. Early childhood education in the Commonwealth of Dominica is undertaken by private entities, particularly the churches, throughout the island. Currently, there are approximately 55 primary schools and 15 secondary schools on island. The Dominica State College is the only local tertiary learning institution. The University of the West Indies has a distance education centre in the vicinity of Roseau and there are two medical schools: Ross University in the town of Portsmouth and All Saints’ University of Medicine in the heart of Roseau. There are quite a few opportunities for studying abroad offered by both the Dominican and friendly governments.
Dominica is currently ranked 71st on the Human Development Index (HDI) scale with a rating of 0.798. According to a 2006 government report there is 30% poverty and 23% unemployment. Dominica’s Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, stood at 478 million according to a 2005 estimate.
Agriculture has been the mainstay of the Dominica economy since the late nineteenth century lead first by lime then by bananas in the 1900s. About a quarter of the island’s workforce is employed in the agricultural sector. Recent developments such as the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) ruling against preferential treatment have weakened an industry that was already on the decline.
Hence the new thrust to promote Dominica as an ecotourism destination. A hike through the Valley of Desolation, a scenic ride on the aerial tram, a boat ride up the Indian river, a dip in the warm springs at Wotten Waven, or a relaxing evening at the Jungle Bay Resort, are just the beginning of the countless opportunities for the nature loving tourist. It is claimed that Dominica is just as beautiful under the sea as it is on land. Two of the island’s best scuba diving spots have been ranked among the best in the world. In 1995, the Morne Trois Pitons National Park was accorded World Heritage Site status.
The tropical forests found in Dominica are home to some of the most awesome and unique flora and fauna and fruits of all flavours. The Sisserou or Imperial (Amazona imperialis) and the Red-necked or Jacquot (Amazona arausiaca) parrots are indigenous to Dominica. The two Dominica parrots are mainly found in the Syndicate area in the Northern Forest Reserve near the town of Portsmouth. The Sisserou, the larger of the two, can be found at higher elevations, is the national bird and is featured on the coat of arms and the national flag. It represents Dominica aspiration to higher heights and aspirations. The Barn Owl, the Mountain Whistler, the Broad-winged Hawk, and various species of the humming bird such as the Purple-throated Carib can also be spotted on island. The Mountain Chicken or crapaud, a local delicacy, is also native to Dominica. The small, red, yet beautiful Bwa Kwaib (Sabinea carinalis) is the national fl