Saturday, December 28, 2013

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


Last month, my husband and I got the rare opportunity to go on a date night.  That almost never happens.  And this one was rare even at that because it was during the week. My husband had surprised me on our anniversary (this year was our 9th), that he bought us tickets to go see spoken word poetry.  It was held at this small restaurant that had a unique menu: part Middle Eastern/Mediterranean and part from the Dominican Republic.  I knew I was close to doing Dominican Republic, so that’s what I was ordering: yaroa (French fries topped with shredded chicken, a ketchup-mayonnaise mix, and melted cheese – the perfect drunk food, like a Dominican version of Canadian poutine) and accompanied by a nice, cold El Presidente beer.  It was absolutely wonderful, and I knew I was getting into something good here.



The Dominican Republic takes up the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea, just east of Cuba and Jamaica and just West of Puerto Rico.  The island is mountainous; there are four mountain ranges on this side of the island.  It’s also dotted with many lakes and lagoons, as well as offshore islands. However, one of these lakes is listed as one of the world’s most polluted areas from a battery recycling center that was closed down years ago.  It’s also susceptible to hurricanes.  The last major hurricane to hit Hispaniola was Hurricane Sandy in 2012. 



The original people living on the island were the Taíno people.  They were basically hunter-gatherers who also fished and did some farming as well to supply their villages with food.  After Christopher Columbus’ crew arrived, the Taíno people resisted against being conquered by the Spanish.  The Spanish responded by giving them all smallpox, measles, and other communicable European diseases they had never come in contact with and had no immunity to.  Outside of intermarrying, the Taíno population was, for the most part, extinct within 50 years of the Spanish arrival on the island.  And while the Spanish had control of the eastern side of the island, French buccaneers had set up camp on the other side (eventually to become Haiti).  In 1805, Haitian troops came over and invaded the Dominican side, which was the start of a huge rift that lasted centuries.  This occupation lasted for years, and in 1844 Dominicans declared their independence from Haiti.  There have been several short-lived governments in its time, and in 1916 the US stepped in and took control of the island for eight years, which they gained independence once again.  Since then, there have been several governmental changes, assassinations, and years of political unrest. 


The capital city of Santo Domingo de Guzmán, or simply known as Santo Domingo, lies on the southern shore of the island. Christopher Columbus’ younger brother, Bartholomew Columbus founded the city in 1496 on the mouth of the Ozama River.  It’s also home to the first cathedral, the first castle, the first monastery, and the first fortress in Americas.  From 1936-1961, the city’s name was changed to Ciudad Trujillo, after the dictator at that time, Rafael Trujillo.  After he was assassinated, it changed its name back.  Santo Domingo is the country’s largest city and center for government, but it’s also an important port and point of shopping, museums, parks, universities, and sports events.   The climate is tropical – average highs in the mid-80s and the lows in the mid-60s.  Infrastructure is fairly stable in the city for major businesses, but they’re still susceptible to blackouts in certain areas using antiquated grids. 


In comparison to other countries in Central America and the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic has the second-largest economy, just after Cuba.  Their economy is largely based on the agricultural industry, followed by mining.  However, energy shortages frequently plague the country, one factor in rising costs of goods and services.  Tourism is one of the key industries that are driving their economic growth.  Beachfront resorts are especially popular destinations, as well as the growing trend in ecotourism. 



Almost 70% of the population is Roman Catholic, and about 18% is Evangelical Protestant.  There are also small amount of other religions practiced here as well, such as Judaism, Bahá’í, Buddhism, Mormons, and spiritualism. 

Spanish is the dominant language of the Dominican Republic, influenced by the strong Spanish roots in their history.  It does have a lot of influence from African words as well as the native Arawak language.  English is commonly-taught foreign language in school, although there is a small community on the island who speak a dialect of English called Samaná English – this area was settled by free African Americans escaping from the United States during the mid-1800s. It’s actually close to other Caribbean Creole English varieties.  Because of the number of Haitians that have crossed the border, Haitian Creole is also spoken in many communities as well. 


So, while it’s cold here in Indiana, and I’m a little jealous of their weather, that’s ok. At least I get to listen to their music and eat their food.  I’m excited about this – mostly because all of those Dominican Republic sites I kept coming across when I was trying to research for Dominica are now relevant. 

Up next:  holidays and celebrations

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