A Tour Through The Nature Island Of Dominica

Back to Nature

Roseau Valley Tour * Trois Pitons National Park * The Cabrits National Park *Prince Rupert's Garrison *Indian River Boat Ride *Portsmouth
*The Carib Territory *We Are Not The Dominican Republic
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Roseau Valley Tour

There are interesting sights in the heights of Roseau valley which, though not within the boundaries of the national park are closely associated with it. The Valley Road through Bath Estate branches out to four villages: Laudat, Trafalgar, Wotten Waven and Morne Prosper. The Laudat road takes you to the National Park, the lakes and the Titou Gorge; Trafalgar road takes you to the waterfalls, Wotten Waven road takes you to the Sulphur Springs.

Climbing past the village of Trafalgar Falls, cascading side by side out of the deep gorges which they have carved for themselves. The motorable road stops at the hydro-electric power station and you then walk up the trail past Papillote mountain lodge and restaurant until you are arrive at the viewpoint above the river. To your left is the tallest waterfall which some guides from the village like to call the 'father' to your right is the shorter 'mother' fall. Others prefer to call them the 'male and the 'female'.

The father comes from the fresh water reservoir by way of Titou Gorge and the volume of water therefore fluctuates depending on how much is being taken off for the power plant. At its base, hot iron filled orange water pours out of cracks in the black rocks. Climbing up to the pool at its base, over the large, slippery boulders, is dangerous. Also beware of flash floods during heavy rains. At least one visitor has been lost, swept away by a sudden surge of flood water during the rainy season.

The 'mother' fall comes from deep in the heart of the National Park over the hill from the Boiling Lake, and is the end of the breakfast river tributary. The water is colder, clearer and more constant than that of the other fall, and there is a lovely deep pool at its base which also requires some balancing and clambering skills to get to.

On the way back you may wish to call in at Papillote for a meal or drink. Papillote also has the best private botanical gardens on the island, specialising in rainforest orchids and bromeliads from the jungles of Dominica and South America Among the bromeliads you will find pitcairnia angustifolia with its slender, arching stems culminating in a spiky, brilliant red flower. Another , the Nidularium innocentii, with its central pink-tinted leaves, is an oasis in the rain forest offering a cup size pool of water at its centre for tree frogs, birds and insects. There is also a comprehensive collection of heliconias in combinations of red, yellow and green. Among the aroids is the rare Anthurium dominicense which comes from the remote Valley of Desolation.

For those not able or eager to do the boiling lake hike, you can visit miniature versions of the fumaroles and hot springs of the valley of desolation, by taking the road to Wotten Waven. You stop in the centre of the village and take a track border by ginger lilies to a bridge. From here you can see hot springs bubbling and steaming along the river bed and, further on, dotted across the cow pasture, are mud pools coughing and spluttering. The site has been studied for possible geothermal energy.

The main roads which wind along the steep sides of the Roseau Valley offer spectacular views of the rugged landscape. Tree-ferns and bamboos arch over the road, and from windows through the thick foilage you look down onto the silver threads of streams or across to mountains in the distance. From the plateau village of Morne Prosper, off the road to Wotten Waven, you get a panoramic view of the main mountains of the National Park.

There is a regular bus service to and from Trafalgar village on weekdays, buses have no set schedule, but leave Roseau from a point at the bottom of the Valley Road just up from Police Headquarters.


Trois Pitons National Park

Because Dominica has been so lavishly blessed with the natural assets of fertile soil, clean sources of water, rain forests, spectacular mountains and coral reefs, its inhabitants generally take their continuous provision for granted. Recently, however, concern has increase about ensuring that water catchment areas are protected, water disposal is controlled and the precipitous landscape of the central mountains is protected from erosion caused by deforestation. With the population concentrated along the coast, it has been possible to promote the conservation of the central range which is, in fact, the storehouse of water and forest lands for the villages below.

An active forestry department spearheaded by British assistance in the 1940s was the embryo for the establishment of legislation and systems for the proper control of the ecology of the island. Forest reserves were surveyed in the northern and central mountain massifs and a system of forest guards and rangers was established. In the 1960s, international and local concern over better systems for preserving the environment led to interest in organising a national parks system.

Then in July 1975, after two years of boundary studies, surveys and legal preparation , the House of Assembly passed the National Parks and Protected areas Act establishing a 16,000 acre National Park.

The Canadian Nature Federation, with the backing of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and with co-operation from Parks Canada, the National Museum of Natural Science and the Canadian Federal Justice Department, assisted in setting up the Trois Pitons National Park. The American owner of the Springfield plantation limited, John Archbold, donated another section of forest to be attached to the park as the Archbold Preserve. The park development park concentrates on two elements: the maintenance of hiking trails and the interpretation of the environment, including signs, literature and guided tours to explain the park to students and visitors.

Six trails exist along with picnic and rain shelters, The three most popular visitor sites are the Emerald Pool, Freshwater Reservoir and the less accessible Boiling Lake. In spite of pressing economic and social problems on the island, the creation of the Trois Pitons National Park and eleven years later, the Cabrits National Park, both represents the strong conservation commitment of the staff of the Forestry and National Parks Department and of this young country as a whole. Dominica was the first of the Commonwealth Caribbean countries to establish a National Park. Potential returns from short term alternative uses of the land have given way to long term benefits and a modest nature oriented tourism industry.

Access by the park is gained by three routes: The Laudat Village road has trails to Freshwater Reservoir, Boeri Lake, Boiling Lake, East Coast Lookout, Grand Fond Trails, Morne Micotrin and Morne Watt. The Cochrane Village road gains access to the Middleham Falls trails, including the Stinking Hole. This trail makes a loop to come out near Laudat. The third point is at the extreme north of the Park, on the Pond Casse to Castle Bruce road for the Emerald Pool Trail. The ascent to the summit of Morne Trois Pitons also starts in this northern section.

The entire park is about the same size as the island of Carriacou in the Grenadines. Its name comes from the dominant volcanic massif which, when viewed from the west, does indeed appear to have three peaks, hence: Trois Pitons. The huge bulk of this mountain, reminded one of a titanic elephant at rest, rises to 4,600 feet. Damp, dripping montane forest and elfin woodland cover the entire massive and hide the fact that its surface is extremely rocky, with hardly a foot of topsoil upon the volcanic 'hard-pan' and boulders. These particular forest types thrive on the heavy rainfall and quick decomposition and absorption of nutrients.

Most of the park is covered in these two types of cloud forest. This is because about 80% of the park is well above the altitude favoured by true Tropical Rain Forest, which thrives between 1000 and 2,500 feet above sea level.

Moving south of Morne Trois Pitons, we come to Morne Micotrin, 4,006 feet high. The French called it Morne Macaque, but their reason remain a mystery for Monkeys are not native to Dominica and there is no evidence of domestic monkeys having gone wild in that area. The original Carib name - Micotrin - has survived and is more commonly used today.

Micotrin and its surrounding lakes are part of a whole volcanic unit which had its birth about 5 million years ago. One of the greatest eruptions ever to have rocked the Caribbean occurred , creating a crater one and a half miles wide, eventually , the whole cauldera began to resemble a teacup turned upside down onto a saucer. Micotrin was the teacup and the old crater, the saucer. A few million years later we find the two lakes caught into the lip of the saucer, Boeri Lake and the Freshwater Reservoir. Standing on the road above the Freshwater Reservoir you can still see the worn edges of the old crater forming an arc to the south.

Standing in the same position, you can also see the sharp humpback of Morne Nicholls (2,965 feet) and the tall pinnacle of Morne Watt (4,017 feet). Both are named after the two men who, in March 1985, ventured to the Boiling Lake and made it existence known to the world. Dr. Henry Nicholls, particularly, wrote articles for The Times, Illustrated London News and the Geographical Journal, which recounted the strenuous hike in the tones of dramatic Victorian adventure, similar to exploring the Congo or reaching the source of the Nile.

Further south, one sees the gently sloping flanks of Morne Anglais tapering to a point 3,683 feet above sea. The last one thousand feet of this mountain is within the park boundary , and it can be climbed relatively easily, starting from the village of Giraudel. The last 100 feet of the summit are, however, extremely dangerous, if not impossible, depending of the conditions of recent landslides. Let discretion be the better part of valour, and admire the spectacular panorama before you come from the safety of the lower peak. Dominica is spread at your feet: Roseau appears like a tiny patchwork triangle and on a clear day you can see Martinique, Guadeloupe and occasionally, Montserrat. Across to the east is the most southerly mountain in the National Park, the virtually inaccessible Morne Perdu Temps, 3,150 feet high.

Apart from the mountains, there are five other major natural sites within the park. Starting from the north, there is the Emerald Pool. This small pool is fed by a delicate cascade which plunges of the edge of a fern covered cliff. The trails which leads to and from the pool is the best and easiest introduction to the tropical rain forest, at a point where it gradually becomes montane forest. From the well maintained trail, you will see hundreds of fine examples of ferns, undergrowth shrubs, lianas, epiphytes and tall pillar like tree trunks at close range. From two lookout points you can survey the forest canopy from above, and look down the Belle Fille Valley to the pounding surf on the east coast. Part of the trail follows the route of the old Castle Bruce Road, dating from the eighteenth century and perhaps from the Caribs before that. The rough cobbles you may see were laid in 1828. Until 1965, this track was the only link by land between Castle Bruce and Roseau. Imagine the reluctant mule trains from the plantations, the burden porters on their way from town and the sick being carried in hammocks through the dripping forest.

The start of the Emerald Pool trail is clearly marked along the side of the present motorable road to Castle Bruce, at a point about half a mile after the junction with the road to Rosalie and La Plaine. The closest refreshment stops to the Emerald Pool are the Bush Bar, a mile further on, the Mano's Wayside Shop near the Tarrish pit.

The Middleham Falls is best reached from the village of Cochrane, although you can also venture there from a market point on the Laudat road, or from Sylvania on the Imperial Road. The latter is the longest and most difficult trek. This tall, thin waterfalls shoots down into a narrow cul-de-sac similar to a half open funnel, at the bottom of which is a round, clear pool. Coming from cochrane, one arrives at the top of the waterfall - so expect a steep, slithery climb down to the pool. Nearby is another less accessible waterfall called the Fond England Falls.

The Stinking Hole, which can be passed on the way to the falls is exactly what the name implies. It is simply a deep crevice on the forest floor, a haunt for thousand of bats, whose smell, mixed with some subterranean sulphurous fumes, creates the far from pleasant aroma which pervades the spot.

The origin of the Boeri Lake and Freshwater Reservoir were described earlier, as part of the Morne Micotrin eruption. The Freshwater Lake used to look rather like a blot of split ink, as it had about four different fingers of water radiating at crooked angles. Since being dammed for use as reservoir, it surface area and shape have changed. It is the source of the Roseau River, and also the subject of myths and legends. A single eyed-monster, with gem-like carbuncles, was said to reside there, as reported by historian John Davies in 1966. For centuries, it was also said to be bottomless although it was actually only 55 feet deep. If you visit on a grey, surface, you will forgive the storytellers for creating their far fetched legends.

The two and a half mile stone road from Laudat village to the Reservoir is part of Dominican Folk History. Until 1963, it was the only route to La Plaine and the other south east coast villages. Innumerable stories are attached to the journeys along the Chemin L'Etang, and colourful folksongs recall the rain drench barefooted slog of it all. From the lookout point, high above the lake, you can turn eastward and look down to Grand Fond and the coast at Rosalie. hikers can continue walking down into the Rosalie Valley along the old track until they reach the village of Grand Fond. Here you meet the motorable road which takes you to the east coast.

The Boeri Lake trail leads off from the shores of the Freshwater Reservoir in a north easterly direction around the back of Morne Micotrin. An easy one and a quarter mile walk will lead you up and over two sharp ridges to the rocky shoreline of the lake, at al altitude of about 2,800 feet.

According to the National Parks Service, Boeri Lake may be at least 117 feet deep and its almost circular surface covers an area of about four acres. While the Freshwater Reservoir is fed by hillside streams, Boeri Lake is filled by rainwater and runoff. The level of the lake fluctuates according to the annual rainfall, and sometimes depending on the severity of the dry season, the level may drop more than 25 feet below high water mark. The level is normally at its highest between October and December, when water may be seen leaving the lake via the eastern outlet. At other times, it seeps out through the rocky lake bed like water through a filter, and depends on the high rainfall so as to be regularly topped up.

During the dry season, the huge, slippery boulders on the lake shore are exposed. Hikers have to be extremely cautious here, since the boulders lie haphazardly upon one another with gaping crevices in between , and one false step may mean twisting an ankle or breaking a leg.

Recently visitors have seen major intrusions into this section of the Park, because the original Freshwater Lake and the outflows from the Boeri have become sources for our hydro-electric power stations. The lake was excavated, streams rechannelled and the water level raised by over 20 feet. The original freshwater lake is now being operated as a giant man made reservoir.

The Boiling Lake and Valley of Desolation are reached by way of a narrow trail from Laudat, less than four miles long as the tape measures, but taking three to four hours to walk one way. The whole expedition requires a full day. It is only for the fit and agile, capable of using both arms and legs as a means of locomotion over every conceivable gradient of terrain Good strong shoes are a prerequisite, and a small bag pack containing the essentials in food and drinks is advisable. If you are not going with people who have been there before, you should hire a guide. Arrangements should be made a day or two in advance, either through your hotel , the Tourist Board or the national park service. The guides are usually villagers from Laudat, and I am afraid payment is a matter of bargaining, because the fee has not been standardized. It is usually EC $80.00 for up to four people with an extra charge for every person over that number.

The hike begins at Laudat, across canals channels water for the hydro-electric power station and then across the mouth of the Titou Gorge. This dark, narrow, water-filled canyon winds along to the base of the waterfall. The powerful flow of the water, which is too deep for standing, makes this little diversion an adventure only to be tried by strong swimmers. Take something to float on for a more leisurely swim up the Gorge. A hot cascade at the mouth of the canyon can also give pleasant relief to sore muscles after returning from the boiling Lake hike.

Continuing on our way, we cross gently slopping forest land until we drop into the valley of the Breakfast River which is so called because hikers traditionally stop at this point for refreshment before continuing their journey to the Boiling Lake. then the endurance test begins. Up and over the narrow ridgeback of Morne Nicholls, from the top of which you get your first glimpse of the vapours rising from the lake and a little further on birds eye view of the Valley of Desolation. Clambering over the side of a steep ravine, we enter the steaming, rumbling valley which , as the same implies is rock strewn and barren, except for hardy ferns and grasses. After walking down the valley, avoiding bubbling fumaroles, burst of hot steam, soft clay landfalls and simmering pools of black, blue and yellow water, we rise again on the left bank to walk along another ridge.

Then, through two more ravines, we get into open country. Walking across a moonscape, a hard carpet of moss-covered clay, we found the final ridge and there is the Boiling Lake, hopefully rumbling restlessly within the steep walls of its crater. It has many moods and it is impossible to predict from one visit to the next what state it may be in. I have seen it lanquid as a pale green soup, surging like a grey, stormed tossed sea; or white-,milk with a central swirl of foam rising every few seconds to lash out against the craggy shore.

William Palgrave, who visited the lake in 1876, just a year after the track to it was first cut, has given a description of this curious phenomenon which can hardly be improved.

Fenced in by steep, mostly perpendicular banks varying from sixty to a hundred feet high, cut out in ash and pumice, the lake rages and roar like a wild beast in a cage, the surface, to which much measurements as we could make assigned about two hundred yards in length by more than half the same in breadth, is that of gigantic seething cauldron, covered with rapid steam, through which, when the veil is for a moment blown apart by a mountain breeze, appears a confused mass of boiling waters.

One tragedy at the lakeside is still remembered. In 1901, Wilfred Clive, a descendant of Clive of India, died, presumably by asphyxiation by poisonous gases, while trying to save his guide who had collapsed after being engulfed by fumes along the shoreline of the lake. In recent years two other hikers have suffered accidental death along the Boiling Lake route. One tried to find his way back to Roseau by himself and fell over Trafalgar Falls. Another diverted slightly from the track on Morne Nicholls and fell 150 feet into the ravine below. Others have gone off on their own into the forest and have been lost for days, causing the police to send out search parties and, in some cases, request helicopters from Martinique. Please be extra careful on the more treacherous paths. Remember that the knotted terrain and the forest which covers it are like a giant maze, or as one visitor put it: A large wet green trap.


The Cabrits National Park

The Cabrits National Park on Dominica's north-west coast is one of the unique protected sites of its kind in the Caribbean. Stunning mountain scenery, tropical deciduous forest and swamp-land, volcanic sand beaches, coral reefs and the romance of a fortified 18th century garrison are linked together within the 260 acre park. The name 'Cabrits' comes from the Spanish Portuguese and French word for 'goat' because sailors left goats to run wild on the headland to ensure fresh meat on future visits.

The spectacular headland of the Cabrits, formed by the twin peaks of extinct volcanoes, overlooks two of the island's finest beaches. The town of Portsmouth nestles among the palms along Prince Rupert's Bay, while to the north, Douglas Bay shelters fascinating coral reefs. The park is surrounded on three sides by the sea, its forested sloops plunging sharply into the blue green water of the Caribbean. A fresh water swamp of ferns, grasses and trees, which connects the park to the mainland, is the nesting place for herons and doves and host a variety of migrant bird species. All this is dominated by the volcanic massif of Morne Diablotin - Dominica's tallest peak. From viewpoints at the Cabrits Park one looks northwards to the French islands of Les Saints and Guadeloupe across the channel.

Prince Rupert's Bay has a rich maritime heritage dating from prehistoric time when Amerindian seafarers arrived in their long canoes. After Columbus' second voyage in 1493 adventurer on ships of all nations used the bay to refresh their crews and trade with the Carib Indians for food after the long Atlantic crossing. Spanish treasured ships called regularly. British privateers and explorers, including Drake, Hawkins, John White and Richard Grenville, visited. Horatio Nelson called often. French corsairs and Dutch traders found shelter. Prince Rupert of the Rhine sojourned here. United States naval pioneer Decatur fought a duel on the beach. Confederate ships defied the Yankee naval blockade here. Massachusetts whalers used the bay as a depot for half a century. Ann Davidson, the first woman to cross the Atlantic single-handed, made her landfall here, and all types of vessels bearing rovers, rogues, regiments and royalty have anchored in the placid waters of Prince Rupert's.

Part of Douglas Bay forms the marine section of the Park. Graceful coconut palms, sea grape and West Indian Almond trees offer shade along the beach for picnics. A marine underwater trail in the centre of the bay provides interesting snorkelling. The more adventurous can explore fascination rock and coral formations under the cliffs at the north end of Douglas Bay or hire a village fishing boat for the short trip.


Prince Rupert's Garrison

Hidden beneath the lush vegetation which covers the Cabrits, are the picturesque ruins of one of the most impressive military sites in the West Indies. constructed between 1770 and 1815, the fortified garrison contains over fifty major structures. This military complex defend the north of the island during the period of colonial conflict and protected naval vessels anchored in Prince Rupert's bay to rest their crews and collect fresh fruit, wood and water.

Most of the construction was undertaken by the British, but significant addition was made by the French during their occupation of Dominica 1778-1783. Together they amassed a garrison comprising one fort (fort Shirley), seven gun batteries, seven cisterns, powder magazines, ordnance storehouses, barracks and officers' quarters to house and provide for over six hundred men on regular duty.

The buildings on the Cabrits, or Prince Rupert's Garrison as it was officially called, are constructed of the same volcanic stone found scattered all over the hillsides. Skilled slaves and poor white artisans chiselled and shaped the hard rocks into the required forms for arched lintels, window sills and corner stones. Some softer, dull pink stone from quarries at Grand Savanne was used for framing doors and windows. All of the red clay bricks one sees in the arches of the powder magazines, bakery over or water cistern walls came from England, transported as ballast in the sailing ships and removed on arrival in the colonies for private purchase or government use.

The cement used to bind these walls throughout the garrison was made of coral limestone. Collected on the reefs nearby, chunks of coral were heated in kilns on the beach until the limestone turned to powder. This was then mixed with fine aggregate, water and some molasses to help bind it together. Except for the action of tree roots, this mortar has certainly stood the test of time for it has kept everything together through hurricanes and earthquakes for over two hundred years.

The most attractive periods at the Cabrits were during the American War of Independence, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. The Battle of the Saints, fought between the French and the British fleets on 12 April 1782, occurred within sites of the ramparts of the Cabrits. Fort Shirley was the scene of the famous revolt of the Eighth West India Regiment, an Afro West Indian unit which mutinied and took control of the garrison for three days in April 1802 in a protest against conditions there.

The Cabrits was abandoned as a military post in 1854 and the luxuriant forest immediately regained control, tearing walls apart and shattering fine masonry. Several iron cannons were removed but many were left scattered among the trees where they still lie today. The trails used by visitors to the park were laid by military engineers over 200 years ago and lead through the valleys and along the hilltops to all the main defence posts and viewpoints. The cruiseship reception berth and car park are situated on the site of the original dock where warships and merchant ships landed troops and supplies for the garrison. The terraced stone causeway leads up to the main gate from which the trials begin.

A complete tour of the park can take half a day. Wear sensible walking shoes and light clothes. Take along your swimsuit and a snack, a camera, binoculars, diving mask and snorkel will enhance your trip. A suggested route is to start from the park entrance. visit Fort Shirley and the museum, the valley and the Commandant's House, the centre Battery at the top of the Inner Cabrits, and back down to the Douglas bay battery. Please do not remove any artifacts.

The Cabrits Park is part of the Dominica National Park System. It's establishment in 1986 was assisted by numerous funding agencies in co-operation with the Eastern Caribbean Natural Area Management Programme (ECNAMP of the Caribbean Conservation Association.


Indian River Boat Ride

The Indian River has it source in the foothills of Morne Diablotin, and before entering the sea it meanders for about a mile through low-lying swamp-land just south of Portsmouth. The Caribs lived on the higher ground up-river, but used the estuary as a route to the sea. Early European sea captains who visited the bay for wood and fresh water knew it as the 'river of the Indians' and often rowed up to the settlement to offer greetings to the chief. Soon it was marked on the map simply as Indian River, but the Indians have long since gone.

What attracts attention now is the luxuriant vegetation hanging overhead and along the banks of the placid waters of this meandering stream. Its twisting course is made even more contorted by the serpentine roots of the grand mang trees which cling to the bank. Ferns, Lianas, and reeds cluster between the trees and the narrower sections of the river forming a green tunnel of foilage. Herons break the silence and beady-eyed crabs shuffle between the roots. Fish occasionally break the surface and now and then showers of rain hiss down upon the thick canopy of leaves above. Disney World may have produced all this in fibre-glass, but here is the real thing- a miniature Amazon adventure.

Arranging for a boat ride up the river may be the toughest part of the trip. All around Prince Rupert's Bay potential boatmen will be hustling you to take a ride up the Indian River. Take your time; do not be ruffled. The best place to make your choice of boatmen and boat is the Borough's Square, near to the old Portsmouth jetty. Either you set off from there, or they arrange to meet you at the mouth of the river itself. which is about two hundred yards away. The standard fee is EC$20.00 per person.

After about three quarters of a mile, the river narrows and the way is stopped by a miniature rapids. Here you can get out and explore the surrounding secondary forest, before joining your boat once more for the return trip.



Portsmouth is a popular call for yachts and a centre for Caribbean inter-island trading ships. Traditional sloops and schooners are still built along the shore. It is different from Roseau. This is very much a seaport town of schooners hands, captains of tramp steamers, hucksters and street-wise youth, and therefore has a jaunty, buccaneering air about it. The original British colonists planned it as the capital of the island, but commerce and government remained firmly concentrated in Roseau. This neglect and lack of activity over the years have created a 'North versus South, Roseau versus Portsmouth' attitude to district affairs, which is most marked in political matters and is always a subject of contention at election time.

The visitor can obtain a number of services at Portsmouth. Immigration and customs are situated at the Police Station on Bay Street. The Banks, gas station and Tourist Board Agency are all within 100 yards of the landing jetty. Up the hill from the Roman Catholic Church is the Portsmouth Hospital.

Small guest houses with basic facilities are located in Portsmouth. Bars and restaurants serve simple snacks and local dishes. Hotels along Picard Beach provided resort type accommodation. The nearest refreshment stops to the Cabrits National Park are the Purple Turtle Beach Club, The Umbrella Bar at Sunshine Village Resort and Prince Rupert's Tavern in the park itself.

The Market, near the end of Bay Street, offers local fruits and vegetables early on Saturday mornings, shops stock a good variety of groceries and Waldron's bakery on Rodney Street is recommended for bread and cakes. As already mentioned, boat tours up the Indian River can be arranged with guides near the jetty at Boroughs Square.


The Carib Territory

The mixed descendants of the last Island Caribs who inhabited the Lesser Antilles lives on the north-east coast of Dominica. This simple fact has been so exaggerated and distorted over the last thirty years of tourism publicity, that there tends to be much misunderstanding, bewilderment and eventual disappointment among visitors who come to view the Carib Territory as on e of the 'attractions' of Dominica.

Some years ago, before the motorable road went completely through this area, I was travelling with a group of visitors who had rocked and jolted across the island to see the 'Indian Reservation' as they called it. Having passed through all the scattered hamlets which made up the isolated community, the vehicle reached the end of the road and turned around to go back to Roseau. Immediately there was the plaintive wail of North American accents from the rear of the land rover 'but where's the Carib Village?'

It struck me at once what the problem was. Somewhere, in all the glossy promotional hype, they had been led to believe that there they would see a primitive tribe in its last halcyon days; with thatched huts, grass skirts, a chief in feather and perhaps a few hulahula dancers. It is nothing like that at all.

Visually there is little to differentiate it from any other part of rural Dominica. The same small farms of mixed crops dominated by bananas and coconuts are clustered around the roadside and surrounding hills. The same houses, some of concrete, some of wood surrounded by tidy flower gardens face onto the road. One slight distinction may be that some of the wooden houses are raised on stilts to shelter drying timber, cocoa, coffee or reeds for basket making. Increasingly you'll see the family pick-up truck packed nearby and television aerials sprouting from bamboo poles. Perhaps a thatched outhouse or kitchen utilising traditional materials and building methods may be seen.

Only three things hint that here live the remnants of disappearing tribe: the small craft shops selling the basketwork which follows style and patterns handed down for centuries, now and then the sight of a half finished canoe being hollowed out of the single trunk of a giant Gommier tree and the sight of people whose skin tone and facial structure vaguely recall the Mongolian origin of their forefathers, who once had free rein over all these islands.

The weakening of their hold on Dominica began from the time that the first Spanish caravelles dropped anchors in Prince Rupert's Bay, shortly after the second voyage of Columbus. From then on, ships of all nations came regularly to collect wood and water and to trade with the Caribs for fruit and cassava flour. For almost two centuries, contact was limited to trading and occasional skirmishes, by the mid seventeenth century Dominica had become a refuge for Caribs retreating from the other islands where the surge of French, English and Dutch colonisation was sweeping from off their ancestral lands. The rugged mountains, thick forest and iron coastline provided a natural citadel for the final retreat. From this base they made attacks on the fledgling European colonies and suffered at least two massacres in retaliation; one at Anse De Mai in 1635 and another in 1674 at the village which is still called Massacre today.

Christianity was first introduced in 1642 and missionaries of the Dominican, Capucine and Jesuit Orders installed themselves at various points on the island. They had little spiritual success but collected masses of anthropological data on the Carib language and way of life. At the same time propaganda was being used to justify extermination. Pamphleteers in Europe were having a field day on the subject of Carib cannibalism, outdoing each other to create ever gory accounts about the consumption of human flesh. One of them, Rochefort, has Carib gourmets comparing the taste and texture of various European nationalities. Being a Frenchman, his story concludes, of course, that the French were the most tasty! It appears, however, from the more balance accounts of respected missionaries that such tales of cannibalism were greatly exaggerated and may have been based on the occasional ceremonial use of ancestor and enemy remains.

By 1700 French lumbermen had established their ateliers along the leeward coast and soon the Caribs were withdrawing to the windward side, exchanging land rights for rum, brass bowls, iron axes, cutlasses and hoes.

When the British formally took over in 1763 European conquest was complete. British surveyors divided the island up into lots for sale and plantations were established around the island. Only 232 acres of mountainous land and rocky shoreline at Salybia were left for the Caribs. This was done, legend has it, at the request of Queen Charlotte, wife of George III. This subsequently developed into the myth that Charlotte had left them half of Dominica - a myth which today many older Caribs consider, erroneously, to be an historical fact.

For another 130 years the Caribs were left to themselves, shadowy figures hardly seen by the growing Creole society of African slaves, free men and European officials and landowners. Now and then they appeared in the estate yards and at Sundays markets to sell baskets and fish, but quickly dissolved into the mountains once more along forest tracks towards Salybia.

When the Robert Hamilton was sent by the British Colonial Office as Commissioner in 1893 to find out why Dominica was: more backward and less developed than almost any other of the islands, and why its people were: less prosperous and contented than her Majesty's other West Indian subjects, he received a tragic letter from the Caribs:

In the name of God, my Lord, W e humble beg of your kindness to accept our petition of your poor people, Indians or Caraibe, of Salibia, to...emplore the marcy of our Beloved Mother and Queen Victoria, for her poor and unfortunate children. We don't have nothing to support us, no church, no school, no shope, no store. W e are very far in the forest; no money, no dress...They call us wild savages. No my beloved Queen, it is not savages but poverty. We humble kneel down in your feet to beg of your assistance. Accept your humble children of Salibia...

Nine years afterwards an enlightened Administrator, Heskeith Bell, sent a lengthy report to the Colonial Office making certain proposals for the future of the Caribs. He advised that 3,700 acres should be set aside for them and that a chief should be officially recognised by the colony and given a token allowance of six pounds annually. This was approved, and a year later the chief was invested with a silver headed staff and ceremonial sash.

Economically and socially, however there was no improvement and emotions flared up in September 1930 in a conflict with police over smuggling. It was only in 1970 that a motorable road was cut through the area and telephones and electricity followed in the 1980's Bananas and coconuts have improved earnings, but because all the land is owned in common, it is intensively used and therefore has the most serious soil erosion problem in Dominica and has lost many to its smaller streams through deforestation.

The position of the Chief is less romantic than most visitors like to believe. In 1952 a Carib Council was created as part of a local government system for the whole island. Legislation was upgraded at Independence in 1978 with the Carib Reserve Act. There are elections every five years and the chairman of the council is designated the 'Chief, except for this title, he plays the same role as all the other village Council chairmen in Dominica. To further confuse the matter, the Carib Territory, as it is now popular called, also has a Parliamentary Representative who sits in the House of Assembly in Roseau and is elected every five years. The Chief and the Parliamentary Representative usually makes an effort to relate to one another, but in fact the Representative sitting in the nation's House of Assembly has more power than the Chief. However, the Chief is more in demand as the spokesman for the Territory, particularly by visiting journalists and international conferences on Amerindian and Aboriginal affairs.

It is a sad irony that his tribe of seafarers, after whom the waters of the Caribbean have been named, should end up in a corner of the island where access to the sea is almost impossible. There are only two difficult landing places on this wild and dramatic shoreline. One is at Salibia Bay where you can see the rocky Salibisie Islets and the Church of St. Marie with its altar carved in the shape of a canoe.

Walking straight down the hill opposite the Salybia Police Station you come to the mouth of the Crayfish or Isulukati River where waterfalls cascade from rock pools over a stony ledge into the sea. A fifteen minute walk from the hamlet of Sineku takes you to L'escalier Tete Chien or the Snake's Staircase - Tete Chien being the local name for the boa constrictor because its head look like that of a dog. Geologically, this rock formation is called a dyke. It resembles a gigantic petrified serpent crawling up the hillside from the ocean with its back crystalised into wedges of rock which forms a natural staircase. This 'escalier' features prominently in Carib myth and folklore.

Natural landmarks such as the rock at Sineku are highlights of ancient Carib mythology. A huge rock overlooking Pagua River near Atkinson, the islets off Londonderry beach, a cave near Kraibo Bay at Wesley were once featured in Carib tales, most of which have long been forgotten.

The strongest link with the past however are the Carib baskets which are sold in little craft shops all along the road through the Carib Territory. The brown, white and black designs of the larouma reed have been handed down from generation to generation. The square paniers and side bags are made in two layers with heliconia leaves in between. This waterproof design is a remnant from the days when food and goods had to be kept dry from sea spray in the open canoes and from rainfall along the forest trails across the mountainous interior. Such a basket is the most authentic souvenir you can get of the Caribbean and of the people who gave the region its name.


We are not the Dominican Republic

Dominica is an English-speaking island in the Windward Island group of the Eastern Caribbean. But there is one Spanish sentence that every Dominican knows, and that is Mal encaminado a Santo Domingo: Missent to the Dominican Republic. It appears stamped in purple ink across many of the letters we receive from abroad. It is an inconvenience we have to live with. It always has to be emphasised that these are two completely different Caribbean states. The Dominican Republic is in the Greater Antilles, the Commonwealth of Dominica is in the Lesser Antilles.

The Columbus family has a lot to answer for where the people of Dominica are concerned. Christopher Columbus sighted the island on Sunday, 3 November, 1493 and christened it in Latin Dominica in honour of the Lord's Day. Five years later his brother Bartholomew established a city on the island of Hispaniola much further north and called it Santo Domingo. Over three centuries later the descendants of these settlers established The Dominican Republic, and since then the two islands have been tied in a knot of confused identity.

When the British Colony of Dominica prepared for Independence in 1978, it considered the problem of nomenclature. Some suggested that the island should revert to its original Carib Indian name. But that was Wai'tukubuli and the majority considered it was too much of a mouthful. To make matters more confusing, Dominica was to become a Republic, but the word 'republic' had to be avoided at all costs. So the government settled on the wording Commonwealth of Dominica which, as someone soon pointed out, has more letters in it than Wai'tukubuli!

Nevertheless, the confusion remains and every citizen of Dominica is resigned to the fact that whenever he goes abroad, or writes in the international press, he has to give a lesson in Caribbean geography. The simplest version goes: 'The Dominican Republic is the biggest one next to Haiti, we are the smaller ones south.'


Reference Section

Air Travel
By connecting flights with international airlines through Antigua, St. Lucia, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Barbados and Puerto Rico, its easy to get to Dominica. Here has no jet airport, but the Caribbean Airline, LIAT, provides several daily scheduled flights for the inter-island hop, both northbound and southbound. Also, Cardinal Airlines flies daily from Antigua, and St. Martin and Barbados Monday to Friday, and schedule flights on Sunday and Saturday enabling connections to be made with the rest of the Caribbean and the WORLD.

Daytime temperatures vary between 75-90 degree farenheight, the coolest months being from December to March. It can be much cooler in the mountains. It is usually dry, particularly on the western coast, between the months of January and June. Rainfall varies from 50 inches on the coast to 300 inches in the mountainous areas.


Casual. Light summer wear, adding a sweater for evening up in the mountains. Swimwear may NOT be worn on streets.

US$1.00 = EC$2.7169, and vary at business places. Banks open: 8.00 am - 3.00 p.m. Monday to Thursdays, and Fridays - 8.00 - to 5.00 p.m. One can buy up to EC$100,000 in US currency


Time zone
One hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time. Four hours behind GMT.

Electric current
220 - 240 volts, 50 cycles. A transformer is needed for American appliances.

Custom regulations
There are no restrictions placed on the amount of money a person may bring in to the country. The following items are admitted duty free: personal or household effects which have been in use for at least one year.


Documents required
No passports or visas are required from US or Canadian citizens but proof of citizenship (such as valid passport, a birth certificate or voter's registration card) and an onward or return ticket are required. Income tax clearance is also required on leaving the island only if business has been conducted. This can be obtain from the Income Taxes on High Street in Roseau. Departure tax is EC $30.00

Religious services
Roman Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Pentecostal, Baptist, Church of Christ, Seventh Day Adventist, Jehovah's Witness, Bahai and various other denominations.

This page © CaKaFete 1996-2007
Created: Friday, September 13, 1996, 9:42:07 PM