The Dominican Republic is located on the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with Haiti. Its capital is Santo Domingo, the first city established in the New World by the Europeans. Because of its great beauty, it shouldn’t surprise us that Christopher Columbus loved this island more than any of the other places he discovered.
The Cordillera Central (mountain range) separates the country into two parts: the eastern part is very developed while the western part is virtually unexplored. Although the people living in this underdeveloped are live in extreme poverty, this part of the island is extremely beautiful.
Pico Duarte, the highest peak in the region (3,174 meters) is a popular place for tourists. In addition to mountains, there are various lakes, many beaches, and 108 rivers in the Dominican Republic. It is believed that Lago Enriquillo, a lake located below sea level, has as much salt as the Dead Sea. Because of its fertility, Cibao Valley is the center of a lot of agricultural work, such as livestock farming and the cultivation of tobacco. Sugar, fruit, coffee, meat, tobacco, and cacao are the most exported products in the country.
When the Spaniards arrived at the island of Hispaniola, they encountered the Taínos, an
indigenous group whose culture was fairly developed. In fact, their culture was in the process of becoming an advanced civilization. The Taínos were very skilled at pottery, the making of gold jewelry, and manipulating stone. The majority earned a living by hunting, fishing, and farming, and each village was directed by a leader that was called the cacique. These villages were grouped in districts directed by a single, powerful cacique. If the cacique directed a large village, he received advice by a witch doctor (the behique).
The Taínos valued the capacity of contributing something to the community. For example, even children had to work at taking care of the conuco, a section of land in which yucca was grown. Elderly people were thrown out of the community if they couldn’t work. Nevertheless, the Taínos were a peaceful people and they didn’t have slaves.
According to Christopher Columbus, the Taínos were a generous and beautiful people. Thus, it was easy to take advantage of them. After the arrival of the Spaniards, many Taínos died because of abuse, war, and sickness. It is calculated that about 85% of the population had been exterminated by the beginning of the 16th century. Nevertheless, the influence of the Taínos survives in the language, art, agriculture, and religion of the modern Dominican Republic.
Food and music
The Dominican Republic has a large variety of foods. Some basic ingredients in the Dominican gastronomy, of course, are beans and meet. Beef and chicken are quite common, but goat and pig meat are also eaten. La bandera, for example, is a typical dish composed of rice, beans, and meat, and is eaten with a salad and fried plantains. If you like coffee, you would love the Dominican Republic, where people take a cafecito (cup of coffee) during any part of the day. Dominican coffee is extremely rich and thick.
Music is a central part of Dominican culture – you can hear music everywhere. In fact, many musicians play in the streets! In regards to folkloric music, this genre has roots in the music of the Taínos, Africans, and Europeans. Some common instruments are pallitos (little sticks), maracas, the guayo, and the güiro. La bachata is a type of Spanish music/dance in which the guitar is the principle instrument. It’s a bit sentimental and melancholic because it often focuses on themes of love and rural life. The national dance is el merengue.
Traditions and celebrations
Like other Latin American countries, the Dominican Republic has many holidays and
celebrations. The national festivals are Independence Day (February 27) and Restoration Day (August 16). Although Christmas and Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter) are the most popular holidays, there are several unique celebrations as well. For example, the Day of the Virgin of Altagracia (the country’s patron saint) is celebrated on August 10th. On this day, many pilgrims travel to the Basilica at Higüey and venerate the saint. This tradition, which comes from the Spaniards, is extremely important. In fact, about 8% of Dominicans are named in honor of the Virgin of Altagracia. During the journey, the pilgrims spend time together, dance, and taker care of the bulls that they bring as an offering to the Virgin. The pilgrims hope that the Virgin will help them amidst the pains and difficulties of life.
Carnival, which is celebrated before Ash Wednesday, is another important festival. This week is characterized by parades, masks, floats, and excitement because for a moment the barriers between societal classes are forgotten. Carnival was a pagan tradition until the Spaniards converted it into a Catholic celebration.
The Dominican Republic is a representative democracy with three branches like those of the United States: executive, legislative, and judicial. Its capital is, of course, Santo Doming. The current president is Danilo Medina Sánchez, who was elected in 2012. Since the country so small, many of the politicians are related and personal connects are very important.
Although the Dominican government has tried to establish good relationships with other countries in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Western Europe, there is a great deal of political (and social) tension between the Dominican Republic and its neighbor, Haiti. Still, the country has a close relationship with the United States. The two countries work together to combat drug trafficking, prevent illegal immigration, etc.
In 2014, the Dominican Republic was classified as a 32 in a range from 0 (very corrupt) to 100 (very clean). Evidently, corruption continues being a problem in spite of the democratic advances of the country, especially in the security forces, private businesses, and civil government. Notwithstanding, many governmental groups are striving to combat corruption, such as the National Ethics and Anti-Corruption Committee (created in 2005).
Like many other countries, poverty is a huge problem in the Dominican Republic. In fact,
more than 1/3 of the population survives on less that %1.25 every day. Of course, rural areas suffer more from poverty than do urban areas. Farmers don’t have the technology and the resources they need to make a profit, and the government doesn’t invest much in the rural areas because it is focused on tourism.
Because of its economic problems, the country also suffers from social and economic inequality. Only 30% of children finish their primary education. Without an education, these children aren’t capable of improving their situation and they will never be able to reach a higher status in society.
Another problem is the lack of drinking water and clean toilets. According to one person, “At times, some women have come to me and told me, ‘I turned the faucet on in my house to drink water and I saw some birds and water insects'” (Inzaurralde). The influx of Haitian immigrants has only made the problem worse. In fact, the cholera epidemic that has caused so much devastation in Haiti is spreading to the Dominican Republic.
In addition, it is difficult to receive proper medical attention, especially in rural areas. Unfortunately, President Sánchez doesn’t seem to be worrying himself over rural communities. He is more focused on increasing tourism.
A young boy draws near to a car parked at the traffic light and washes the windshield to receive a few coins. His family had left the fields to move to the city in search of a better life. Upon arriving, they discovered that the city did not offer many job opportunities because of overpopulation and the class system, in which people with darker skin face more obstacles in improving their economic situation. Although the boy’s father has a small food vending business and his sister works as a servant, the family has a hard time making a living.
Note: the above story is fictional, but it is based on the experiences of many people living in the Dominican Republic.
It is common in the Dominican Republic to see various people sitting outside, evidently not doing anything. In reality, these people do not have jobs and cannot do much because of the heat. Because of that, they sit outside and spend time together. The sense of community they create is essential for the well-being of the people.
Los Taínos – https://abagond.wordpress.com/2013/09/14/tainos/
La bandera dominicana – http://www.kristinschell.com/la-bandera-a-traditional-dish-from-the-dominican-republic/
Peregrinos de la Virgen de Altagracia – http://hemisphericinstitute.org/journal/5.1/eng/en51_pg_tallaj.html
Una casa – Imagen del autor
Un calle en Constanza – Imagen del autor
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