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51. Animal in Dominica during 1764 - 1848 CE

MAY. 12, 2022


This week it’s off to the Caribbean island of Dominica to discover animals that make music, animals you can eat, animals you can drink and animals you can run up the flagpole. Join us in the rainforest – bring a brolly.

Animal in Dominica during the Revolutionary Period (1764 - 1848 CE)

In this episode Ryan takes Pete on an escape onto a Caribbean island and looking through the dense foliage to uncover the natural world of… the Commonwealth of Dominica.

Not to be confused with the Dominican Republic 600 miles away, this is an island in the Caribbean, halfway between North and South America.

Only 26 million years old, it’s one of the youngest islands in the Caribbean, in the Windward Islands, between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean.

It’s not an enormous country, only 29 miles long, 16 miles wide and measuring 750 square kilometres. And most of it is mountain, as the island is an ancient volcano with a highest point at Morne Diablotins, at 1,447 m (4,747 ft).

It’s a dormant volcano, which, after a six hour hike, offers amazing views including the islands of Guadaloupe and Martinique.

60% of the island is covered in rainforest and it is one of the most rain-heavy places on the planet with rain falling heavily somewhere on the island at least once a day. Wet season is August to January, with heavy continual rain fall for two weeks.

Locals spend Eastern Caribbean dollars and speak English but you’ll also hear some locals talking Creole, a combination of French, African and English.

The flag of Dominica was adopted on 3 November 1978, designed by playwright Alwin Bully and it is the only national flag in the world to feature a parrot and is also one of only two national flags that uses the colour purple (the other one is Nicaragua).

Dominica is home to a 60-foot rock at Pagua which, according to folklore, is home to a small white flower which blooms only one day a year. It is said that anyone who finds the flower can rub it in the palm of their hand, point their hand towards anyone, call their name, and have mind-control over that person.

Sounds exotic, but there actually is a white flower that blooms infrequently near the rock – and the plant, while it’s in bloom, has a strong hallucinogenic and psychedelic effect.

In 2017, a category-5 Hurricane Maria hit Dominica, resulting in 95% of buildings on the island being damaged or destroyed. More than 50,000 people left and never came back and estimates.

History of Dominica

In the 400s, a South American tribe, known as the Arawak who lived in Venezuela, got in boats on the Orinoco River, and followed the South Equatorial current to settle on various islands within the Caribbean chain – including the island which will become known as Dominica.
In the 1300s the Kalinago, also known as the Caribs, also from the South American mainland, arrived on the island and settled there. They called the island Wai‘tu kubuli, which means "her body is tall" – a reference to the fact that the island has the largest mountain range in the Caribbean.

Then came the Europeans. On Sunday, 3 November 1493, Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage to the Americas, sailed past the island and he named it after the day of the week - 'Dominica'.

In 1632 - the French claimed Dominica but also didn’t settle there and in fact in 1660 the French and English agreed that Dominica should not be settled at all, leaving it for the Caribs as neutral territory.

It couldn’t last – in the 1700s – the English and French started harvesting timber and in 1715 a peasant uprising in Martinique, saw rich French landowners flee to Dominica and create the first permanent settlements there.

In 1727 - M. Le Grand, a French commander, established a government, making Dominica a colony of France. In 1761 the British led by Lord Rollo made a successful expedition into Dominica and conquered the island and in 1763 – Dominica becomes a British colony - the last island in the Caribbean to be colonised.

The French couldn’t stand for that an din 1778 the French invaded back, with help from some of the French-speaking population.

After some back and forth, by 1805 the British were importing slaves and producing and shipping sugar and coffee to Europe . Fortuntaely, 1834 saw the abolition of slavery and on 1st August, 1838 full emancipation was granted.

On 3rd November 1978, the Commonwealth of Dominica is granted independence and became a republic.

Slavery in Dominica

In the 16th Century, the Spanish and Portuguese had a problem - their African slaves kept escaping and “disappearing” off into surrounding mountains and forests. Who knows why?

The Spanish referred to these runaways as – ‘cimarron’, a word which means “the beast who cannot be tamed” and which up to that point they had used to refer to cattle which had wandered off.

One quote from a book written by a slave owner in the period, suggested that slaves, “If treated with excessive severity will run away … into the Mountains and Forests where they live like so many beasts”

Eventually the cimarron problem became so common among the European colonisers, that the English and French shortened the word to maroon / marron, which more directly described a “runaway black slave”.

Notably the Africans themselves used “Nyankipong Pickibu” which means “Children of the Almighty”

When the British took over the island in 1763 there were already more than 300 Maroons (including women and children) living in small settlements in the interior.

Against the backdrop of the French Revolution, the British wanted to reduce the number of potential agitators on the island by any means possible so they passed dozens of acts against them and spent millions of pounds and dollars to try and recapture maroons.

During the period of 1763 - 1778, numerous Maroons were captured and brought to jail where conditions were so appalling that many died there soon after arrival. Unsurprisingly, the Maroons started to fight back, becoming experts in guerrilla warfare.

One of the sounds of an impending attack was the sound of a person blowing on a large conch seashell.

A conch, or Queen conch (Strombus gigas) is a very large sea snail that can survive for as long as 40 years.

The Maroons learned of the conch through their interactions with the Kalinago who used the creature for food, tools and jewellery and, importantly, as a sort of horn.

THe conch soon became a sort of island telegraph. Messages were transmitted by blowing different sounds. In fact, the conch was still being used to communicate well into the 20th century.

Rum in Dominica
In the 17th century, sugar plantation owners in Barbados and Jamaica discovered that by-products of their molasses refineries could be fermented into rum which quickly became the liquor of choice in the Caribbean.

When rum hit Dominica in the 18th century, the locals started producing their own. So far, so good. But as well as the rum most people know today, there is another type of rum which Dominica is famous for.

Inspired by the Carib and African knowledge of ‘bush medicine’ i.e., using different herbs and plants to cure illnesses and ailments, Dominicans started to infuse their rum with different plants and animals.

Known as ‘Bush Rum’, these Dominican rums were infused with flowers, herbs, twigs, mango, maize, guava, passionfruit, paw-paw, carrot, beet, hibiscus, ginger and plenty more.

There’s even one secret combination which promises to “put the booster in your rooster” - as a natural Viagra!

As well as plants, bush rum can also feature, um, creatures. Snakes, lizards, slug, grasshoppers, centipedes, worms and beetles could all find their way into a bottle for their medicinal effects. Yum!

Dominica is home to:
o 188 species of birds
o 11 species of stick insects
o 55 species of butterfly
o 17 species of reptiles
o 4 amphibians
o 10 species of bats
o 320 species of reef fish

And the national animal – the Sisserou Parrot. Found only on Dominica, this parrot has lived on the island for several hundred thousand years and it is the parrot found on the national coat of arms and on the national flag.

Their chest is a dark shade of purple, which is striking compared to the upper parts and wings which are green and they can live up to 70 years.

This parrot mates for life usually grieving to death rather than finding a new mate. A pair nest only every other year, normally fledging one chick from a clutch of two eggs.

The Sisserou is an extremely endangered species with a population of just 250–350 individuals.

In the water around the coast around Dominica is warm, currents are few, and visibility is routinely 50+ feet – making it one the best places in the world for free-diving.

The coral reefs are full of marine life, including 320 species of reef fish. One reef, named Champagne Reef, gets its name from the bubbles of volcanic gasses spring from small vents on the ocean floor.

And the local waters are also home to a resident pod of sperm whales who reside 365 days a year there, the only place in the world where sperm whales live year-round.

Delicious Animals of Dominica

And the maroons face a perpetual battle for food because almost everything they have to eat comes from foraging - an increasing problem as the plantations expanded into forested areas.

They would eat saltfish, which is dried and salted codfish, and Chatou water, a type of octopus soup.

Mammalian meat is hard to come by on the island, but one in particular was hunted – the Agouti (Dasyprocta leporine).

This guinea pig like creature would be cooked in a stew with a spicy sauce, served with various vegetables like dasheen and yam.

Agouti can be hard to catch – as they are shy and move quietly so are easily missed, plus they live on the sides of mountains in covered areas, on steep slopes, and along streams. They are easily frightened, and their defence tactic is to jump up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) in the air, spin around, land, and dash off in the opposite direction.

Agoutis have layers of twisted enamel on their teeth that are incredibly strong – strong enough to crack a brazil nut (the only animal that can do this).

Another less-mammalian dinner creature from the wet and rocky rainforests of Dominica was.. the “Mountain Chicken”.

This is actually a frog - called the Crapaud, a French word meaning "toad".

The Crapaud on Dominica is one of the largest frogs in the world and one of only four amphibians found on the island. They usually live at higher elevations and are easy to catch, they formed a stable food source for the maroons with the frogs providing a generous amount of protein given the lack of work required to catch them.

The meat is described as tasting like chicken – hence the name ‘mountain chicken’.

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