You may have noticed that I have been very quiet recently. I’ve been quiet for a number of reasons, one of them being that I was on a hiatus from jewellery through the second of 2014 and early 2015 while pursuing various other projects, so studio time was reduced, (but hadn’t actually stopped).
I also took the time to do a bit of travelling (two weekend trips last year within Europe, and one long haul trip in February 2015). My mum brought me and my brother to Jamaica several times during our childhood so we could see when she was from, but unlike my brother, I had never visited Dominica, where my father is from, so my dad decided it was time we fix that. So I spent February 2015 in Dominica with my dad and his wife and my grandma, seeing the sights, and reuniting with relatives whom I’ve met before while meeting other relatives for the first time.
Just to be clear, Dominica is NOT the Dominican Republic. They are two different counties and two different islands. Also note Dominica actually had the name first. But I’ll leave it to those from the D.R. to explain their own history how they came to call themselves the Dominican Republic, while I continue to talk about Dominica, my father’s home country. Dominica is an island nation in the Lesser Antilles region of the Caribbean Sea, southeast of Guadeloupe and northwest of Martinique. Roseau is the country’s capital. Christopher Columbus named the island after the day of the week on which he spotted it: Sunday (dies Dominica in Latin), 3 November 1493. Dominica later became colonised by the French, who had the longest European influence on the island; it was then colonised by the British after France formally ceded possession of the island to Britain after losing the Seven Years’ War). Dominica gained it’s independence from Britain on 3rd November 1978. Although English is now the official language, an “Antillean Creole ” (known locally as kwéyòl), based on the French language, West African and Kalinago influences, is still spoken by many residents, especially people of older generations.
Just like the rest of the Americas, there were already people on the island before Columbus came along claiming to have “discovered” it. It’s pre-columbian name given by the Kalinago people (the island’s indigenous people) was Wai‘tu kubuli, which means “Tall is her body”. Please note that the indigenous people of Dominica do not like to be referred to as “Caribs”, they prefer to be known as Kalinago. Today the Kalinago have the use of some reserved land, known as the Kalinago Territory, an area similar to the Native American reserves of Canada or the USA. Dominica is the only island in the Caribbean that has an indigenous reserve, partly because it’s one of the few islands that still has an indigenous population.
Dominica has been nicknamed “the nature isle of the Caribbean” for it’s unspoilt natural beauty, it’s largely covered in lush mountainous rain forests, and has 365 rivers as well as many waterfalls and springs. Some plants and animals thought to be extinct on surrounding islands can still be found in Dominica’s forests. The island has several protected areas, including it’s national parks. Dominica is also a volcanic island, and the island is home to 9 out of the 12 volcanoes in the Lesser Antilles region of the Caribbean. It is also the youngest island in the Lesser Antilles region and is still being formed, hence there is a lot of geothermal-volcanic activity on the island, and the island is home to the second largest hot spring, Boiling Lake.
Lennox Honychurch is Dominica’s resident historian, you’re likely to get the most information about the island, it’s people, history, and culture from him. His website is:
You can also find information about the country and it’s history from the following links provided below, but there are plenty more sources out there:
Like most of the Caribbean and South America, Dominica is very much a carnival culture. There were many events in the weeks leading up to the main carnival events on Monday 16th and Tuesday 17th February, including the Miss Dominica Carnival Queen pageant, the Calypso King competition, several free concerts, etc. The main carnival events kicks off with J’ouvert, which starts at 04:00AM on the Monday before Lent. Yes, you read correctly, the first of the main parties starts at four o’clock in the morning, J’ouvert is a large street party during Carnival in the eastern Caribbean region, and it’s the first of the main carnival events. Traditionally, the celebration involves calypso, soca, and bouyon bands and their followers dancing through the streets, as previously mentioned the festival starts before dawn, usually around 04:00AM, and peaks a few hours after sunrise.
The word “J’ouvert” is a contraction of the French jour ouvert, or dawn/day break. It began during the trans atlantic slave trade when carnival was introduced to the Caribbean by French settlers. The enslaved Africans were banned from the masquerade balls of the French, and so in response to this they would stage their own mini carnivals in their backyards using their own rituals and folklore, but also imitating and sometimes mocking their masters’ behaviour at the masquerade balls. The origins of street parties associated with J’ouvert coincide with the emancipation from slavery in 1838. Emancipation provided Africans with the opportunity, to not only participate in Carnival, but to embrace it as an expression of their newfound freedom. The traditions of J’ouvert vary from island to island; in Dominica, locals celebrate by blowing flutes and conch shells or by beating goat skin drums, irons or bamboo sticks while singing folk songs, bouyon music (a genre of music originating in Dominica) is a major feature, as well as calypso.
You can find more information on the culture behind Dominica’s carnival here:
It was during the Carnival Monday celebrations that I had the opportunity to get a proper look at the Sensay costume. My dad said that he used to make them as a child, apparently you won’t find this costume on any other island, it’s a Dominican thing. Seeing these costumes gave me some design ideas, which I’m currently working on.
The costume is similar to costumes worn in tribal ceremonies in West Africa, particularly a costume worn by the Twi people of Ghana. The word Sensay comes from the Ghanian word ‘senseh’. In the Twi language spoken in Ghana, ‘senseh’ is a chicken with ruffled feathers. Traditionally, Sensay costumes were made of sisal rope, derived from natural fibres of the agave sisalana plant. Today, they are made from crocus bags, banana leaves, frayed rope and cloth, with a mask and cow horn headpieces. The costume is tied around the entire body in layers so that it falls from the head to the feet- resembling a ‘frizzle fowl’.
More information on the island’s carnival traditions can be found here:
I discovered in the weeks before my journey to Dominica that carnival is a family tradition; my grandmother never misses it, she is in the parade every year and I was expected to take part in the parade as well. I grew up watching carnival parades but never took part in the parade, so this was the first time I wore a costume and joined a carnival band, it was great fun. I’m intending to go back to see the boiling lake but you can only get to the boiling lake on foot, and it’s a six-hour trek, so some training is needed. It’s worth mentioning that there is no direct flight to Dominica from outside the Caribbean; to get there you either have to fly to Antigua or Barbados, and then change flights onto an island hopping airline called Liat, or if you’re coming from the USA or Canada, you can fly to Puerto Rico and then use an airline called SeaBoard. I flew from London to Antigua and the flew Liat to Dominica via Guadeloupe.
Worth watching the video embedded below:
Back to work I go! 😉
Update: 6th September 2015
You may have heard in the news about Tropical Storm Erika that caused devastation in Dominica on the 27th August 2015.
The tropical storm was one category down from being classed as a hurricane, and caused all 365 rivers to burst their banks resulting in flash flooding and landslides all over the island leaving 34 dead and 22 people missing. The floods also devastated villages, the worst of the disasters being Petite Savanne which was completely destroyed and had to be evacuated, so a lot of people have been displaced. The people of Dominica did not receive adequate warning of the storm, and so as a result were not prepared.
Tropical Storm Erika caused widespread infrastuctural damage all over the island, enough damage to set Dominica back 20 years, so right now the country could use all the help they can get. So posting a few links of where to donate, the Dominican government and High Commision have endorsed a couple of GoFundMe pages:
- Dominica High Commission in the UK – http://www.dominicahighcommission.co.uk/?id_w=28
Yes, my family are okay.