When Christopher Columbus discovered this beautiful island he named it “Dominica,” the word for Sunday in Latin. Since its discovery the island became a French colony first then British, and finally in 1978 it became its own nation. Given its history there is a heavy French and English influence that can be experienced through food, tales, language, and folklore. Also due to the migration from South America that started around 3,000BC, various tribes settled here and called the island “Waitukubuli,” meaning “Tall is her body” in the language of the Kalinagos.
There are two distinct cultures in Dominica, the one of the european settlers and the one of the indigenous people, the Kalinagos.The Kalinagos still elect their own chief, and live in the Carib Territory in the north east side by Atkinson and Castle Bruce, they hunt, fish, farm, and live very simply. They are very welcoming in spite of appearances; a machete is associated with hard work and the ability to provide food for their family, so it is not uncommon to see people walking on the side of the road with machete.
With tourism becoming more popular in Dominica and with the presence of many Americans, Canadians and Europeans that have moved there in the past 20 years, the culture is shifting from collectivist to more individualistic. Agriculture is still the chief economic trade, with almost one third of the island’s residents still connected to banana production. The decline of banana imports to Europe has lead Dominica to branch out into citrus, mangoes, and coffee.
It is not uncommon for goods and services to have a different price for visitors, and you may even run into people in remote areas asking you for a money donation (our Locals recommend not to give money). Pro Tip: Whenever you buy something the price is given in dollars, but they mean EC dollars, so it is common to make a mistake or to being taken advantage of.
Music and dance are an important part of Dominica’s culture as they reflect the roots and values of its people, creole music, calypso rhythms, and most recently Bouyon (from gumbo soup) accompany the everyday life of people in Dominica.
Carnival is as big of a celebration in Dominica as is in the rest of the Caribbean with many competitions, showdowns and parades of music, dance and beauty. While the celebrations cannot rival those of Rio de Janeiro, the lack of media coverage, floods of tourists, chaotic crowds makes Carnival in Dominica much more enjoyable.
When you start mingling and interacting with locals it is very common to be greeted with “okay”, or ‘okay okay.” Much like Hawaiian’s say “aloha,” this is the Dominican way to say “hi” or “bye.” Feel free to reply in the same manner.
While the people of Dominica are outgoing, casual and open you still need to ask before taking their photographs, and don’t be offended if you are told “no.”
Dominica has the only remaining pre-Columbian population (Carib Indians) in the Caribbean. But don’t expect to meet primitive people in grass skirts practicing ancient rituals. The dress is casual, and evening clothes are informal but on the conservative side.
People in Dominica walk long distances to go to work or school that for most people would be unthinkable. They often do it along the side of the road, scaring out of town drivers, especially when coming around a curve. For this reason it is customary for men and women to ask for a lift of any distance that might help shorten their walk.
The safety of the island is extraordinary, and possibly one of the safest places in the Caribbean. How many places in the world do you know of where children can stand on the side of the road and get picked up for school from complete strangers? That is unheard of these days, but the community of Dominica is like that.
It is also quite normal for men to carry a machete; when we were there we picked up a gentleman with his machete and saved him an eight mile walk, and in exchange he gave us some greens and fresh bananas. If you are with a Local from VoomaGo you are safe, but on your own stick to only picking up children going to school.