Spirited people who have overcome a troubled past are the heart and soul of the Dominican Republic's culture. Elements of the native Taíno people, Spanish colonists, and African slaves have wound their way into a truly distinctive way of life. Today, most Dominicans are a mestizo mix.
The island's natives, the Taíno tribe, have passed down some of their own words and foods. Origins of the words for hammock and tobacco, for example, can be traced to the native Arawak language of the island. Similarly, local foods and agriculture form the basis of the current mix of culinary styles.
The Spanish, however, made the language what it is today. But language is by no means the only influence the Spanish had over Dominican culture. Roman Catholic religion is the dominant practice on the island, with a few Episcopalian Christians and Jews filling out the mix. The cultural machismo is also a Spanish influence.
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Africans who were brought to the Dominican Republic as slaves also brought their own cultural influences. Over the years, African religious beliefs have combined with Roman Catholic faith to become part of a folk religion, and the music and dance combined with local styles has merged into forms that are distinctively Dominican.
Still, this island's complex cultural mixture doesn't end here. The Dominican Republic has welcomed cultures from around the world to their island. Baseball, for example, is one of the most famous and important cultural activities that takes place on the island. The Dominican Republic is known for producing some of the best players in Major League Baseball.
Native crafts are extremely important as cultural expressions, and many vacationers choose to bring home these crafts as souvenirs. Mahogany and guano (dried palm tree leaf) rocking chairs are extremely popular, but other notable crafts are made from horn, snail, shell, wood, leather, amber, and larimar materials. Pottery/ceramics, basketry, embroidery, and locally manufactured cottons are also popular.
Art is another popular cultural item. In spite of the many blights perpetrated by the dictator Trujillo, his fondness for painting did encourage the art community on the island. In fact, the Dominican Republic is home to an art school as well as a museum of modern art. Architecture is another important cultural aspect. As the new world's first European city, architecture lovers will find many sites to explore.
Merengue is the most popular form of music in the Dominican Republic, but bachata is the music of the rural country folk of the island. Salsa is another important musical form, filling out what is sometimes referred to as the trinity of island music. However, there are plenty of mainstream musical types to enjoy, including rock and hip-hop. Music, however, is noticeably one of the most important components of Dominican culture.
Local instruments help Dominican music stand out as a unique cultural form. The güira is a rhythmic instrument, which is made of a cylindrical brass grater. The Indian population is responsible for the gourd-based areíto music. The güiro, a scraped-out gourd, is rasped rhythmically with a fork. Tambora is a type of drum with the skin of a male goat tempered with rum on one side, and the skin of a female goat that has not given birth on the other side. Perico ripiao is a three-person interpretation of this vernacular music.
With so many cultural treats to offer, the Dominican Republic is the perfect place to experience an unusual concoction of European, African, and American influences. The fascinating convergence of these cultures has created something truly unique.
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