Afro-Dominican (Dominica)

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Afro-Dominicans
Total population
61,838
86.8% of the Dominican population (2001)
Languages
English · Dominican Creole French
Religion
Predominantly Roman Catholicism,
minority Protestantism
Related ethnic groups
African people · others Afro-Caribbeans · English people · French people

Afro-Dominicans are Dominicans of Black African descent. They make up the majority of the Commonwealth of Dominica's population. According to the 2001 census, black people make up 86.8% of the population, while mixed, 8.9%.[1]

Origins[edit]

The places from which the slaves came seem to have been various. It is possible to ascertain this through colonial records preserved in Dominica, where data regarding the arrival of boats to the island seems quite complete. These records indicate not only the different ports from which slave ships embarked (and, in some cases, the ethnic groups to which the slaves belonged) and the date of their arrival at the island, but also the number of enslaved people on board these boats and the number of those who survived the journey to reach Dominica. Based on these records, we can affirm that the majority of slaves came from the Bight of Biafra;[2] both from present-day south-eastern Nigeria (Igbo, Ibibio) and coastal Cameroon.[3] They made up 62% of the slaves imported to Dominica, numbering more than 57,000.[2]

The rest of the slaves came from the established ports in what is now Senegal (from which comes, in part, the word "Kwéyòl" that designates the Creole dialect of Dominica[4]), Gambia, Sierra Leone (from where 4.8% of the slaves came[2]), Windward Coast (who made up 11% of the slaves who arrived in Dominica),[2], Liberia (from whichspecifically people of the Bassa´s tribesmen, who belonged to the Kru ethnic group, were taken), Ghana (from where only 3% of the slaves came.[2] Arrived Akan slaves[5]), Benin (only 1% of the slaves,[2] from the Popo Kingdom, South of the country), Congo Republic (Loango Kingdom , where 82 people were taken from this kingdom to Dominica, making them the smallest ethnic group to be brought to the island), Angola (Ambundu)[3] and Southeast of Africa (where 670 people were taken). The slaves from Congo and Angola were 6.7% of the total (more than 6,200 people). All these places (except the Congo and Southeast of Africa), exported thousands of slaves to Dominica (especially from the Windward Coast, from which more than 11,000 slaves were taken to Dominica, and Senegambia, with more than 6,400 slaves in the archipelago).[2]

Other slaves in Dominica belonged to the Yoruba, Ewe, Fula, Kongo and Wolof ethnic groups.[5]

History[edit]

During the British rule of Dominica, at least 100,000 slaves reached the island,[3] 40,000 of whom arrived between 1763 and 1778 (as of the 1760s, 10,551 slaves arrived[3]) many of whom were destined to trade with growers of the islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Lucia, also former French colonies.[6] However, with the French reoccupation of the island between 1778 and mid-May 1783, no slave ship arrived from Africa to Dominica, at least not directly, with the exception of a ship that arrived in late 1781. After the British recovery of the island, between May 1783 and late 1789, the slave trade was restored. Thus, 38,328 new slaves arrived on the island during these years. This number is increased in the 1790s with the arrival of about 11,776 more slaves, especially in 1792.[3] However, already in those years, the number of slaves in Dominica was significant, which prompted, in 1795, a slave rebellion on the island, influenced by the Haitian Revolution, that was called Colihault Uprising.[7]

The revolt, however, did not yield positive results, and in the first eight years of the 19th century, about 7734 more African slaves came to the island.[3]

As was the case in the rest of America, both the slaves - who were in the majority - and freed slaves and black property owners were forbidden to intervene in political and economic discussions and decision-making, even if they could be affected by these decisions as part of the population of the island.

Owing to the large number of slaves and the treatment they received from the British, the Maroons and runaway slaves had been increasing over time. These ex-slaves were well armed and rebelled against the British between 1785 and 1786. However, they were defeated and their leaders were imprisoned and/or executed. However, the conflicts between the Maroons and the British would be revived several times, persisting until 1815.

In 1831, even though slavery was still in force on the island, the Brown´s Act of privileges conferred political and social rights to free Afro-Dominicans, and the following year, three coloured men (coloured, not black) were elected members of the House Dominican legislative Assembly. Two years later, on August 1, 1834, the Abolition of Slavery, which was passed by the British Parliament a year earlier, was put into effect in Dominica. Thus, in 1838 there was a coloured majority in the chamber and the Dominican island became the first British colony in the Caribbean with a legislature controlled by coloured people and white people in the 19th century. Moreover, most coloured legislators were smallholders or merchants whose economic and social views were diametrically opposed to the interests of wealthy English landowners. In reaction to the perceived threat, the planters lobbied for more direct British domain, while lawmakers began pushing for the implementation of laws that would promote the welfare of former slaves on the island. This caused a growing internal political instability, as there were still settlers who rejected anti-slavery law. So, clashes were revived between ex-slaves and settlers. In 1844, another group of freed slaves, joining with the Kalinago people, rebelled against the whites.[6]

In 1865, after much agitation and tension, the British colonial authority replaced the elective assembly, composed of half elected and half appointed members. So, the landowners were allied with colonial administrators and often they exceeded with this tactic to elected lawmakers. In 1871, Dominica became part of the Leeward Islands. The power of the black population declined progressively. In 1896 the colonial government was restored, so that the political rights of the vast majority of the population were restricted. The development aid, offered as compensation for disenfranchisement, proved to have negligible effects.

Demography[edit]

According to the 2001 census, blacks make up 86.8% of the population, while mixed make up 8.9%. In total, the Afro-Dominicans are 95.7% of the population. Most Dominicans speak English. Although there are some communities that speak Creole French and Kokoy dialect, a mix of English Creole and Dominican Creole French.[8] The Kokoy dialect, arrived in Dominica in the 19th century, with immigrants from Antigua and Montserrat.[4] In addition, the population is mostly Catholic with a Protestant minority.

Cultural contributions[edit]

African contributions to language and Dominican culture are remarkable, seen reflected in the dances, music, food, clothing, religion and the practice of certain herbs and medicinal plants. The following is a list of African contributions on the island:[5]

  • Language: The African influence is recorded in some words and syntax, ad the way sentences are constructed. Many words incorporated into French Creole from Dominica are of various African origin, allowing us to gauge at least some of the origins of the slaves. These words are of Yoruba, Ewe, Igbo, Akan, Fula, Kongo and Wolof origin.[5]
  • Dance: Several types of Dominican dance derive from West Africa, among which stands out the Bele.
  • Music: As in other countries and American islands, African retentions in the musical folklore of Dominica are also notable. Particularly highlighted is the frequent use of drums and African rhythms in dances and music. One example is called - in Creole- "Lavway", a type of music based on call and response. The "Lavway" were sung in the ships that brought the enlaved Africans to the island. Currently, the Lavway are used in Bele, in Carnival songs and years ago in work and in the Wood constructions in which they played.
  • Food: Among the African foods of the island are yams, ackras and "one pot hold all".
  • Dress: Dress reflecting African origin includes the use of gold chains, jewellery and, in the case of men, ornaments made with massif gold. Also the Douillette, an ornamented garment that shows the social status of the people who wear it, has a clear African origin.
  • Spiritualism: As in other American places with large black populations, animism is also common in La Dominica. This religious practice was adapted to Christianity, being important in the funerals, "nine night" wakes and the annual Fete La Toussaint, when the souls of the dead are remembered.
  • Plants and herbal medicines: The Africans who came to the island used the tropical plants in many different ways, including for teas, baths and poultices used to cure sickness. Some plants also served as amulets to ward off evil.

References[edit]