The Culture of Dominica

The four very different cultures that influenced Dominica can still be seen today

Photo credit: © tps58

Culture of Dominica

Four diverse cultures mingled to create the island culture of Dominica: The native Caribs influenced the British and French settlers who brought slaves from Africa with them. The resulting creole culture is evident in Dominica's food and language, as well as in many other important cultural expressions throughout the island.

Festivals and Music

Like most Caribbean islands, Dominica is home to several important festivals that center around music. Music of every kind can be found on the island, but calypso, reggae, and local folk music are particularly important.


Each village on the island has its own village feast, which is a celebration of that village. Village feasts happen throughout the year around the island, but Carnival is an island-wide festival that takes place throughout the Caribbean.

Dominica's Carnival celebration is known as Mas Dominik. It occurs before Lent and involves a "jump-up" celebration, as well as street parades and, of course, music. Wild costumes and calypso music are entertaining pieces of the celebration.

The annual World Creole Music Festival is held on Dominica each October. During the festival, bands from around the world gather to play Creole music. Many bands hail from Caribbean basin countries such as Haiti and Venezuela, but several groups from Europe have also taken the stage.

Language is also important in island festivals. The local Kokoy and Kwéyòl patois give the celebrations, particularly Carnival, a linguistic tradition with deep roots in many cultures.

The Flag

...a rich tradition of national symbols...


Dominica's flag is just one part of a rich tradition of national symbols. Three stripes of yellow, black and white cross the flag vertically and horizontally. At the intersection of the stripes sits an emblem of a red circle emblazoned with a Sisserou Parrot standing atop a twig. Ten light green stars ring the parrot inside the red circle. Each element and color on the flag has a specific meaning.

  • The parrot is the national bird of Dominica and is shown on the flag and the coat of arms. It is a symbol of flying high and encourages islanders to aspire toward their loftiest goals.

  • The stars symbolize hope, but also represent each of the island's parishes. Their equality in the circle symbolizes the equality of all people on Dominica.

  • The stripes symbolize the Trinity, and the cross that they form supports the Dominicans' belief in God.

  • Red is the color of social justice.

  • Yellow is the color of sunshine and agriculture and is a symbol of the early Carib and Arawak tribes.

  • White represents the clarity of the rivers and waterfalls and the purity of the Dominican people.

  • Black represents the African heritage of many islanders, as well as the soil that supports the island's agriculture.

  • Dark green was chosen as a symbol of the rich, green landscape, particularly the forests.


Dominica has a long history filled with traditions. One of the most noticeable of these traditions is the style of dress seen on the island. Colorful garments often show plaid and batik-inspired patterns. Women in particular wear this unique style of clothing.

The first creole style worn by freed women was worn on special occasions - Sundays and feast days - and was called the "jupe." These outfits consisted of a floor length skirt in a bight color over top of a white cotton chemise. The neck, sleeves, and hem were trimmed with lace, and a handkerchief in white was wrapped around the head or shaped into a bonnet. A "foulard," a cotton triangle in white or another bright color, was laid over the chest. The dresses resembled those of French provincial women.

The "madras" began to replace the white handkerchief on the head. Petticoats became fashionable, as did ribbons, which were threaded through the lace. A West African custom of slinging one's skirt over one's arm was also popular, and allowed these petticoats to be partially viewed.

The modern-day Dominican woman's ensemble contains a mouchoir, foulard, jupe, chemise, and jupon a dantell, as well as gold jewelry. Older islanders felt uncomfortable with the European décolleté chemise and often wore a long-sleeved velvet jacket over the chemise. Long-sleeved dresses with duller materials began to take the place of the jupe.

However, bright colors quickly returned to this local fashion, thanks to the Creole Bird of Paradise, the "dou-dou matador." A "grand robe," but was not worn by the most fashionable ladies, who still wore the "ti robe."

Since fashion had become so important, an entire system of dress was developed. Matching colors became an important step in the process. Even the different racial mixtures had their own "best" colors. Social pride was a very important part in the dress as well.

With such a rich cultural backdrop, you're sure to find plenty to inspire and entice you during your stay on Dominica. The island's people are proud of their heritage and wear their eye-catching colors with pride.


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