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Arts & Cultural Response 

The arts and culture scene can always provide a unique insight on to how communities respond to the trauma of natural disasters and the frustrations surrounding the progress forward in the aftermath. Dominica is home to a unique eclectic range of art, some art originating right from Dominica’s soil, with all artists add their own creole flavor. Lennox Honychurch in his book The Dominica Story: A History of the Island goes into depth on how Dominica's cultural landscape evolved from African and European traditions.

 

Investing in the arts and cultural landscape is vital in Dominica’s push for climate resilience since resilience also requires communities that can work together and understand one another with one goal. It is important to never underestimate the power that art possesses in speaking for communities that are invisible to most and in making people feel seen and heard.

Shot of Dominicans in the streets dancing at the J'Ouvert monring of Carnival Monday festivities

J'Ouvert Morning Carnival Monday 2023 shot by Daniella Rolle

Carnival 

Photos from the Opening of Carnival 2023 shot by Daniella Rolle

One of the most vibrant and historical displays of music and fashion culture is the carnival season. The culture of carnival was forged through the fire of colonialism and exploitive slavery. A culture was born on the slave plantations — one that was a mosaic of African and French culture.

 

Traditonal Sensei Costume

In Roman Catholic traditions in Europe, two days of feasting occurs before lent. The French would celebrate Samedi Gras through J’Ouvert to Mardi Gras. This tradition was brought to the Caribbean by the French settlers. These were days when the French estate families would visit each other for creole fetes (parties).  The slaves would dance outside while others played music indoors, served, and entertained for tips. Since the emancipation, the former slaves brought the festival to the streets on the weekend before lent. Masquerade, which would become carnival, became a brief annual revolt of the masses of society. Many of the costumes used were taken from those used in tribal festivals in Central African Kingdoms, such as those for the sensei.

Men dancing in traditional sensei costumes at the opening of Carnival

Jou'vert Morning

People dancing in sensei costumes at J'Ouvert morning

Dominican Carnival has always been a time to reflect on the community’s resilience from the days of slavery and historically given space for the forcefully displaced people to connect themselves to their homelands. In Dominica carnival is not only a celebration for those who are descendants of slaves, but it also has made room for the Kalinago people’s expression of their culture and for any other people group on the island are given an open invitation to participate. Dominica’s carnival is a special one. It brands itself as the most original carnival because it still retains vibrant displays of African traditions through the music and costumes in comparison to the more modernized/westernized version of carnival practiced on other islands.

Currently, Carnival is no longer just a two-day celebration, but fitting to the Caribbean attitude, it now encompasses an entire month long celebration with events displaying the arts and culture of the island every day. One of the key elements of carnival is calypso music. Google Arts & Culture describes calypso as an Afro-Caribbean musical tradition that emerged in Trinidad and Tobago in the mid-19th century. Its roots are believed to stem from the West African Kaiso and Canboulay music sung by African slaves working on plantations in the 17th century. The music became a means of communication when “Enslaved Africans were not allowed to communicate with each other” (Google Arts & Culture). From its origins, in the Caribbean it emerged featuring various elements of Trinbagonian culture. The history of calypso functions as a catalog of the process and sentiments felt by communities in the Caribbean for the struggle towards freedom under different time periods. The lyrics are raw expressions of  politically-charged statements that are disguised by the charismatic and easy-going poetic ballads and rhythms. It is a genre that requires an attentive ear.

The month of February in Dominica is full of calypso tents across the island with local artists singing humorous and insightful social commentaries. Cleverly crafted lyrics allow for individuals to express injustices and struggles that entire communities face. Calypso is a medium allowing citizens to hold their political leaders accountable for gaps in governance and empty promises. In 2023 calypsonians sang about the themes of government corruption, inflation crisis, and gas shortages.