Dominica is one of the Windward Islands and is located between two French administered islands, Guadeloupe to the north and Martinique to its south.

The Caribs, who settled here in the 14th century, called the island Waitikubuli, which means 'tall is her body'. With less poetic flair, Christopher Columbus named the island after the day of the week he spotted it - Sunday, 3 November 1493...

In 1607, Captain John Smith and his followers stopped at the Dominican coastal settlement of Portsmouth for a couple of days before heading north to establish Jamestown, north America's first permanent English settlement. The harbour became so important to the British that they intended to make Portsmouth the island's capital until outbreaks of malaria and yellow fever thwarted the plan.

France laid claim to the island in 1635 and a few years later sent a contingent of missionaries, who were driven off by unwelcoming Caribs. The French and English signed a neutrality treaty in 1660 agreeing to Carib possession of the island. Nevertheless, French settlers from the neighbouring French West Indies began establishing coffee plantations on Dominica toward the end of the century. France then sent a governor in the 1720s and took formal possession of the island.

For the remainder of the 18th century, Dominica was caught up in the French and British skirmishes that marked the era, changing hands between the two powers several times. Under the Treaty of Paris, the French reluctantly ceded the island to the British in 1763. The French tried to recapture Dominica in 1795 and again in 1805, when they managed to burn much of Roseau to the ground.

After 1805 the island remained firmly in the possession of the British, who established sugar plantations on Dominica's more accessible slopes. The British administered the island as part of the Leeward Islands Federation until 1939, when it was transferred to the Windward Islands Federation.

In 1967, Dominica gained control over its internal affairs as a West Indies Associated State; in 1978, on the 485th anniversary of Columbus' 'discovery', Dominica became an independent republic within the Commonwealth.

In 1980 Mary Eugenia Charles was elected Prime Minister, becoming the first female elected head of state in the Caribbean. Within a year of her inauguration she survived two unsuccessful coups, including a bizarre attempt orchestrated by Patrick John involving mercenaries recruited from the Ku Klux Klan.

Almost all 81,000 Dominicans are descendants of African slaves imported by planters in the 18th century. Dominica is the only island in the eastern Caribbean to retain a colony of its pre-Columbian population, the Carib Indians, about 500 of whom live in a reserve on the island's east coast.

The 10-day celebration that takes place in February is Dominica's Carnival known as Mas Domnik an exciting time of mass and merriment, a time when all classes, varied backgrounds push aside their differences for the Party of the year.


Information provided courtesy of: Caribbean Association Midwest America