officially Commonwealth of Dominica,
Island country, Lesser Antilles, Caribbean Sea.
It is located between the French islands of Guadeloupe and
Martinique. Area: 290 sq mi (750 sq km). Population (2005 est.): 69,000.
Capital: Roseau. The majority of the people are of African or mixed
African and European descent. Languages: English (official), French
patois. Religion: Christianity (predominantly Roman Catholic; also
Protestant). Currency: Eastern Caribbean dollar. A mountainous island,
Dominica is broken midway by a plain drained by the Layou River. It has
a warm tropical climate with heavy rainfall. The main crop is bananas.
Dominica is among the poorest of the Caribbean nations. A developing
tourist trade was helped by the establishment in 1975 of Morne Trois
Pitons National Park, a unique tropical mountain wilderness, but the
country was ravaged by hurricanes in 1979 and 1980. With financial help
from Britain, it is trying to protect its coastline. It is a republic
with one legislative house; its chief of state is the president, and its
head of government is the prime minister. At the time of Christopher
Columbus’s arrival in 1493, it was inhabited by the Caribs. Because of
its steep coastal cliffs and inaccessible mountains, it remained in the
possession of the Caribs until the 18th century; it was then settled by
the French and later taken by Britain in 1783. Subsequent hostilities
between the settlers and the native inhabitants resulted in the Caribs’
near extinction. Incorporated with the Leeward Islands in 1833 and with
the Windward Islands in 1940, it became a member of the West Indies
Federation in 1958. Dominica became independent in 1978. See also West
Indies. Offshore banking, a controversial boom to the Dominican economy
in the late 20th century, was discontinued early in the 21st century.
Official name Commonwealth of Dominica
Form of government multiparty republic with one legislative house (House
of Assembly )
Chief of state President
Head of government Prime Minister
Official language English
Official religion none
Monetary unit Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC$)
Population estimate (2008) 72,500
Total area (sq mi) 290
Total area (sq km) 750
1Includes 21 elective seats, 9 appointees of the president, the speaker
(elected from outside of the House of Assembly membership as of the 2005
elections), and the attorney general serving ex officio.
officially Commonwealth of Dominica,
island nation of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea. It lies
between the French islands of Guadeloupe and Marie-Galante to the north
and Martinique to the south. It has been a member of the Commonwealth
since independence in 1978. It is 29 miles (47 kilometres) long, has a
maximum breadth of 16 miles, and is 290 square miles (750 square
kilometres) in area. The capital and chief port is Roseau.
Physical and human geography
Relief, drainage, and soils
The island is of volcanic formation, signs of activity including
solfataras (volcanic vents) and hot springs. A range of high,
forest-clad mountains runs north to south, broken in the centre by a
plain drained by the Layou River, which flows to the west; the highest
points are Mount Diablotin (4,747 feet [1,447 metres]) and Mount Trois
Pitons (4,670 feet [1,424 metres]). In the south, Boiling Lake lies
2,300 feet above sea level; its waters are often forced three feet above
normal by the pressure of escaping gases. The soil is rich, and the
numerous rivers are all unnavigable.
Dominica has a pleasant climate, particularly during the cool months
from December to March. Summer temperatures reach an average high of 90°
F (32° C); winter temperatures are not much lower, the average high
being anywhere from 84° to 86° F (29° to 30° C). The dry season is from
February to May, and the rainy season is from June to October, the most
likely period for hurricanes. Rainfall varies, being especially heavy in
the mountainous interior. Average annual coastal rainfall varies from
about 60 inches (1,500 millimetres) to 145 inches (3,700 millimetres),
but in the mountains average rainfall can reach 250 inches (6,350
Plant and animal life
Dominica is the most heavily forested island of the Lesser Antilles.
The forest is the habitat of a considerable variety of birds and
animals. Two parrots—the imperial parrot, or sisserou (Amazona
imperialis) and the smaller red-necked parrot (Amazona arausiaca)—are
found only in Dominica. There are many hummingbirds, of which the
blue-headed (Cyanophaia bicolor) is native only to Dominica and the
neighbouring island of Martinique. Large frogs, known as crapaud or
mountain chicken, are a culinary delicacy.
The population is mainly of African descent, with some Europeans,
Syrians, and Caribs. Dominica is the only island with a relatively large
and distinctive group of Carib Indians, descendants of the people who
inhabited the island before European colonization. Most of the remaining
Caribs, a small number of whom are pure-blooded, live in the 3,000-acre
(1,214-hectare) Carib Reserve. English is the official language, but a
French patois is commonly spoken, and the original Carib language is
evidenced in a number of place names. The majority of the population is
Roman Catholic, but there also are Methodists, Pentecostals, and
Seventh-day Adventists. Dominica experienced out-migration throughout
the 1970s, a trend that culminated with a massive exodus after Hurricane
David in 1979. This trend, however, reversed in the 1980s.
Dominica is one of the poorest of the Caribbean nations, its economy
dependent upon agriculture, which is intermittently destroyed by
hurricanes. Attempts to diversify have had minimal success.
Pumice, a volcanic rock used chiefly for building purposes, is the
most important commercial mineral. There are also deposits of clay and
Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries
Agriculture remains the most important sector of the economy, in
terms of both employment and contribution to the gross national product.
The main crops are bananas, citrus fruits, and coconuts. Bananas account
for nearly half of Dominica’s export earnings. Cocoa, coffee, and
vegetables are also produced. The forests have potential for marketable
timber. The fishing industry was devastated by Hurricane David, when
nearly all of the island’s fishing boats were destroyed. Recovery has
Most of the main products and exports are derived from the
agricultural industry; they include copra, coconut oil, soap, bay oil,
and fruit juices. Wood products, including furniture, are produced from
local timber. Portsmouth is the main boatbuilding centre. Imports
include food, mineral fuels, and manufactured goods. Tourism has been
slow to develop because of poor transport and the lack of hotel
facilities and good beaches. The island has sought to develop preserves
of its unique flora and fauna to attract tourists.
High rainfall and rugged terrain have impeded road building in
Dominica. The first road across the island was not completed until 1956,
and it was not until 1984 that a major road rehabilitation project was
launched to greatly improve accessibility. The main airport is at
Melville Hall, 36 miles from Roseau. A second airport at Canefield,
closer to the capital, was opened in 1982. Larger vessels use the
deepwater port at Woodbridge Bay near Roseau, but Portsmouth remains the
major banana-shipping port.
Administration and social conditions
Dominica’s government is a parliamentary system, with the parliament
consisting of the chief executive and the House of Assembly. Most of the
House members are elected, but some, usually called senators, may be
either elected or appointed. The chief executive is the president, who
has the responsibility of appointing the prime minister, an elected
member of the parliament with the support of the majority of its
members. Terms of office are for five years, and there is universal
Primary education is compulsory and free in government-run schools.
There are many secondary schools, and a university centre is operated by
the University of the West Indies.
Health and welfare
There are several major hospitals. Local medical needs are handled
by health centres throughout the island. Intestinal diseases, diabetes,
anemia, tuberculosis, and sexually transmitted diseases constitute the
major health problems of Dominica.
Carib material culture remains evident in the production and use of
dugout canoes and intricate woven baskets. The Department of Culture has
encouraged revival of slavery-era traditions, which had almost died out,
including Afro-French dances, drama, music, and costumes. The Botanical
Garden, although it has lost its collection of exotic plants, provides
an idyllic setting for the island’s main sport of cricket.
Before colonization the island was a stronghold of the Carib
Indians who had migrated from South America, driving out the earlier
Arawak Indians. It was named by Christopher Columbus, who sighted it on
Nov. 3, 1493, a Sunday (Latin: dies dominica, “the Lord’s day”).
The French and British colonial period
The first colonists (1632) were French, but, with the Treaty of
Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), Great Britain and France agreed to treat the
island as neutral ground and leave it to the Caribs. From this time
until 1805, Dominica went back and forth between France and Britain.
French planters continued to settle in Dominica until 1759, when the
British captured the island. It was formally ceded to Britain in 1763.
In 1778, French forces from Martinique captured Dominica. The British
recaptured the island in 1783. The French, coming this time from
Guadeloupe, again failed to capture the island in 1795. The final French
assault on the island was in 1805, and although they burned the capital,
Roseau, they were forced to withdraw.
At first administered as part of the Leeward Islands, in 1771
Dominica was made a separate colony. It was rejoined administratively to
the Leewards in 1883 and remained thus until 1940, when it was
transferred to the Windwards as a separate colony. In 1958 Dominica
joined the West Indies Federation. After the federation was dissolved in
1962, discussions for alternative forms of federation took place. These
issues were settled by the West Indies Act of 1967, which gave Dominica
the status of association with the United Kingdom. Under the 1967
constitution the island became fully self-governing in internal affairs.
On Nov. 3, 1978, Dominica achieved full independence, with Patrick
Roland John as its first prime minister. John’s government was
implicated in a rumoured invasion of Barbados that was to have been
launched from Dominica. In the ensuing Cabinet crisis Oliver Seraphine
emerged as the new prime minister (May 1979).
Hurricane David severely damaged the island in August 1979, virtually
wiping out the nation’s agricultural economy. The hurricane carried away
most of the island’s topsoil, and it was estimated that it would take 20
years to rebuild what had been destroyed. The economy was set back by
Hurricane Allen a year later and in 1989 by Hurricane Hugo.
The winner of the 1980 elections, Eugenia Charles, became the
Caribbean’s first female prime minister. She had initially formed her
party, the Dominica Freedom Party, to oppose legislation limiting
freedom of the press. More conservative in her approach than either of
her predecessors, she moved Dominica toward closer ties with Barbados.
Her government faced several coup attempts in 1981, but these were
perhaps of less significance than the plight the country faced in
attempting to recuperate from the two hurricanes. Under Charles’s
administration, however, Dominica made marked advances toward recovery,
with considerable decreases in unemployment and inflation. Her party was
returned to power in 1985 and became more firmly entrenched in the 1986
elections. Dominica joined with other eastern Caribbean states and the
United States in the 1983 invasion of Grenada.
David Lawrence Niddrie
Janet D. Momsen