Dominica’s People

Dominica’s people can be described as mixed bag of ethnicity and heritages, however the vast majority of Dominicans are of African descent.

There is a growing mixed population, along with a significant Indo-Caribbean or East Indian groups, a small European origin minority (descendants of French, British, and Irish colonists) and there are small numbers of Lebanese, Syrians and Asians.

Related: Getting to Dominica

As of 2016, the population is estimated to be 73,757, with approximately 27,000 people living in and around the capital, Roseau.

Dominica's People
© Amy Hobbs | Kalinago dancers don traditional wear for displays at the Baruna Aute in the Kalinago Territory.

The Kalinago

Dominica is also the only Eastern Caribbean island that still has a population of pre-Columbian native Kalinago, who were exterminated or driven from neighboring islands. As of 2014 there are more than 3,000 Kalinago remaining. They live in eight villages on the east coast of Dominica.

This special Kalinago Territory was granted by the British Crown in 1903. There are also about 1,000 medical students from the United States and Canada who study at the Ross University School of Medicine in Portsmouth.

Population

The population growth rate of Dominica is very low, due in part to emigration to other countries. As at 2013, emigrant numbers for the most popular countries are as follows: the United States (35,425), the United States Virgin Islands (6,547), France (6,336), United Kingdom (5,043) and Antigua (4,624). [See UNICEF Migration Profiles]

It has recently been noted that Dominica has a relatively large number of centenarians. As of March 2007, there are 22 centenarians out of the island’s 71,000 inhabitants—three times the average incidence of centenarianism in developed countries. The reasons for this are the subject of current research being undertaken at Ross University School of Medicine.

Peoples from Montserrat, Antigua and Martinique

Dominica was partially integrated into the federal colony of the Leeward Islands in 1832. Later, in 1871, it became a full part of the Federation of the Leeward Islands.

From the start it was a peculiar relationship, for previously Dominica had played no part in the political or cultural traditions of the other more Anglophone islands of the federation. Now, as a Leeward Island, this much larger territory, with thousands of acres of forested unclaimed land, was open to the people of Montserrat and Antigua.



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Related: Key Facts about Dominica

At the beginning of the 20th century the Rose’s Company, which produced Rose’s lime juice, saw demand for its product outgrow its ability to supply the product from Montserrat. Their response to the situation was to buy land on Dominica and encourage Montserrat farm laborers to relocate. As a result, there came to be two linguistic communities in Dominica, Wesley and Marigot.

In 1902, on 8 May, the Mount Pelée volcano on Martinique erupted destroying the city of Saint-Pierre. Refugees from Martinique arrived in boats to the southern villages of Dominica and some remained permanently on the island.

Dominican Kweyol Language
This is the cover of Sylvia Henderson’s “Dominican Kweyol for Beginners.” www.kweyol-nou.com

Languages

English is the official language of Dominica and is universally spoken and understood. However, because of historic French occupation during different times in history, and the island’s location (it lies between the two French-speaking departments of Martinique and Guadeloupe), Antillean Creole, based on French, is spoken by many people on the island.

Due to a decline in its usage by the younger generation, initiatives have been set up in an effort to increase usage and promote this unique part of the nation’s history and culture. Here’s one tool that can help beginners – Kweyol Domnik – by Sylvia Henderson.

The dialect of Dominica also includes Kokoy, along with Creole—French-based patois. Cocoy, or Kokoy, is a mix of Leeward Island English Creole and Dominican Creole. It is mainly spoken in the north-eastern villages of Marigot and Wesley by immigrants from Montserrat and Antigua. Over time there has been much intermarrying, but there are still traces of difference in origin.

As a result of this mixture of languages and heritage, Dominica is a member of both the English-speaking Commonwealth of Nations and the French-speaking La Francophonie.

Related: Dominica’s History

Island Carib, also known as Igneri (Iñeri, Igñeri, Inyeri), was an Arawakan language historically spoken by the Kalinagos of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. The Kalinagos lived throughout the southern Lesser Antilles such as Dominica, St Vincent and Trinidad, supposedly having conquered them from their previous inhabitants, the Igneri. It went extinct about 1920, but an offshoot survives as Garifuna, primarily in Central America.

Religion

About 80% of the population is Roman Catholic, though in recent years a number of Protestant churches have been established. There is also a small Muslim community in Dominica, and the nation’s first mosque was built recently near Ross University.