A Protecting Environment

The magnificent environment of this “Island of Adventure” – Dominica, has been both a protection and a constraint. In the past, it protected the island from total exploitation by even the most grasping of European adventurers and settlers as there were no great riches to be made with only small patches of flat land.

Although the colonizers managed to drive the resident Caribs from the leeward coast into the mountain fastnesses and to the remote northeast, they were not entirely wiped out. The environment protected them. Again, in the 18th century, the forests provided a sanctuary for the maroons (escaped slaves) and it also enabled a strong-minded independent peasantry to develop, cultivating “gardens”, as they still do, in forest clearings.

The early settlers, at the end of the 17th century, were small-timers, Frenchmen from Martinique, who traded with the Amerindians, cultivated tobacco and later coffee and cocoa on estates whose names alone – Temps Perdu or Malgre Tout – evoke a sense of loss and resignation.

When the British finally took control in 1783, wrestling the island from the French, sugar, then limes and eventually bananas in the 1930s became the main crops. The banana industry flourish spectacularly in the 1960s becoming known as “green gold”. But now challenged by the large Latin American competitors, modern Dominica, independent from Britain since 1978, is looking to tourism as a main source of income and employment.

But unlike neighboring Caribbean islands, Dominica has no casinos; no multi-national chains, all inclusive resorts with white marble pillars, golf buggies and limbo nights. At least, not yet. For visitors to Dominica glory in its otherness. Instead of lounging on sunbeds on white sand beaches, they dive into pools at the base of rainforest waterfalls or bathe in rivers whose cliffs are smothered in vines, giant terns and the yellow-red claws of the dramatic heliconia plant. They hike into the forests, up trails that are still used by Dominicans to reach their forest gardens, past the buttressed trunks of great trees, such as the chatanier, or the gommier, from which the Caribs still make their canoes.

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