DOMINICA: Then and now
The 21st century contemporary, Dominica is perhaps not unlike any other Caribbean island today. The hustle and bustle of everyday; public servants delivering on the agenda of elected parliamentarians, a private sector providing goods and services for a diverse population pursuing their hope and dreams. Conversely, 400 years ago, the Caribbean, was not known as the tourist destination of choice as we know it today, but a theatre of war between European powers jostling for newly-discovered ‘ islands. The islands of the West Indies, were coveted not for the picturesque beauty, but for the purpose of colonisation and planting grounds on which to establish their sugar and tobacco plantations from which, as time would tell was a source of imminence wealth which transformed Europe into the behemoth commercial hubs they have become today.
© IWM TR 6964 Marie David inspecting tobacco plants at the Hillsborough Tobacco Estate in Dominica in the Windward Islands, March 1955.
If you could toggle back and forth from the 15th to the 21st century, your jaw would drop to your feet in horror to witness the sheer scale of the effects that the Atlantic Slave Trade, on these picturesque islands like jewels in a crown surrounded by a blue sea of velvet. You would see the terrific wars of conquest between the English and the French. Their galleons being bombarded with canons, and maybe even hand to hand sword fights. Later you would see the slave ships with lumber into crude harbours with their human cargo. You would witness the auctions, forced labour on the massive plantations, and instead of lush forests, miles and miles of sugar cane, and gangs and gangs of slaves,: men, women and children, right at the bottom of this ungodly social order.
From Hispaniola, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Jamaica in the Greater Antilles in the North, to Carriacou, one of the smallest of islets in the Grenadines. If the particular island was too mountainous to immediately transplant their Eurocentric quests and notions of genteel European society, or less ideal suited for sprawling sugar plantations, the islands would be used for other essential crops that could fetch a good price such as Cotton and tobacco. As we will see in a future post, islands such as Dominica, specialised in a diverse range of crops, including coffee and cocoa and citrus. From the 1600s right up to the middle of the 19th Century, the West Indies, whether the islands were possessed by the Dutch, Spanish, French, Danish or English, regarded as part of the ‘New world’ An exotic land of milk and honey where personal fortunes were to be made, and sovereign powers to be enriched. Indeed for the British, its possessions in the New World were at the very centre of its source of wealth and power, as it extended the reaches of its empire well beyond its boundaries and surrounding seas.
96 DEGREES IN THE SHADE
THE HILLSBOROUGH TOBACCO ESTATE IN DOMINICA IN THE WINDWARD ISLANDS, MARCH 1955 (2020). Available at: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205189790 (Accessed: 31 July 2020).Mountains of Dominica | a virtual Dominica (2020). Available at: https://www.avirtualdominica.com/project/mountains-of-dominica/ (Accessed: 31 July 2020).
Mountains of Dominica | a virtual Dominica (2020). Available at: https://www.avirtualdominica.com/project/mountains-of-dominica/ (Accessed: 31 July 2020).
Kehoe, Mark C. (2020) Pirate Surgeon’s Journal: Golden Age of Piracy: Booze, Sailors, Pirates and Health, Page 10, Available at: https://www.piratesurgeon.com/pages/surgeon_pages/booze10.html (Accessed: 31 July 2020).
‘I won’t cut her hair!’ – Parents of dreadlocked girl incensed at ‘systemic racism’ after court ruling (2020). Available at: http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20200801/i-wont-cut-her-hair-parents-dreadlocked-girl-incensed-systemic-racism?fbclid=IwAR1kFHf2955xtSS8vepHFRXk_5xq9UOmBWIKLhy02ztUrJ7NIegVXiCWyUY (Accessed: 3 August 2020).