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Roseau, Dominica – Land of the “Obeah”

dominica-headerRoseau is the capital and largest city of Dominica, with a population of 16,582. It is a small and compact urban settlement, located within the Saint George Parish and surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, the Roseau River and Morne Bruce. Built on the site of the ancient Kalinago Indian village of Sairi, it is the oldest and most important urban settlement on the island of Dominica.

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It is located on the west (leeward) coast of Dominica, and is a combination of modern and colonial (French Style) architecture. Roseau is Dominica’s most important port for foreign trade. Some exports include bananas, bay oil, vegetables, grapefruit, oranges, and cocoa. The service sector is also a large part of the local economy. There is a prominent diocese called Roman Catholic Diocese of Roseau.

The city of Roseau sits on an alluvial fan formed hundreds of years ago as the river after which it was named meandered across the area from what is now known as Newtown to its current location. Over the last two thousand years, Amerindians migrating through the islands settled the area attracted by the nearby river.

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With the arrival of the Europeans on the island in the 16th and 17th centuries, a small settlement was established by the French who in their tradition of naming places after what they found there named the settlement with their name for the river reeds which grew along the river banks. A plan was created for the settlement which mirrored examples in France where streets extended from a central point at what is today the Old Market and extended out to the rest of the settlement.

Conflict raged between the French and the British over the area on several occasions. Finally, the British gained a stronghold and by the late 18th and early 19th centuries set out plans for the city which included fortifications and government structures, the grid road street system and blocks and new urban areas to the north and south known today as Potter’s Ville and Newtown. Goodwill was established in the 1950s and Bath Estate in the early 1980s.

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Since then several new semi-urban settlements — such as Stock Farm, Castle Comfort, and Wall House — have been constructed around the existing ones. Some older settlements like Fond Cole and Canefield nowadays belong also to the semi-urban area that lies around Roseau.

The French influence can still be seen today, however, in its architecture, and crooked streets which extend from the Old Market Plaza. Examples of the English influence is also evident in architecture and street names.

Climate and scenery

Roseau’s nearby scenery (mostly in its so-called valley) includes Boiling Lake, 10.5 km (6.5 mi) east, in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, waterfalls, thermal springs, and scenic plateaus.

Morne Bruce provides panoramic views of most of downtown Roseau and northwards toward Woodbridge Bay deepwater port and Fond Cole. From Morne Bruce there are also views of the Botanic Gardens at its base as well as the Caribbean Sea which look quite spectacular on cruise ship days when several cruise liners are in port.

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Roseau’s climate is a tropical rainforest climate, featuring relatively constant temperatures throughout the course of the year with average high temperatures generally between 28 and 31 °C (82 and 88 °F) and average low temperatures between 19 and 23 °C (66 and 73 °F). Rainfall is common throughout the course of the year, with the city seeing on average nearly 2,000 mm (79 in) of rain per year. Roseau features a noticeably drier stretch from February through April, though each of these months on average still sees at least 100 mm (4 in) of precipitation.

Architecture

The central district of Roseau is tightly packed with small and large houses and even larger modern concrete structures. There is little green or open space situated within the city, and this is even more so today, as many of the courtyards which was once commonplace within the city are giving way to office space. The district is, however, framed in every direction by natural elements.

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The sea and the river provide water element while the Botanical Gardens and the Government House gardens frame the city with green space. Both these elements are rare in the Caribbean. No other centre in the region has such extensive botanical gardens with such central location, and the Roseau River is amongst the largest rivers that flow through any Caribbean capital.

 

The urban structure of Central Roseau is based on an irregular grid system of miniature proportions, making it a highly illegible city. Even though the grid area is not very extensive, it is relatively easy for a visitor to get lost there.

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The grid area has some 80 blocks in the area of 30 hectares (74 acres). In comparison, the grid areas of Kingstown and Castries — capitals of Saint Vincent and Saint Lucia — have some 50 and 60 blocks in the areas of over 40 ha (99 acre). The average block size in Central Roseau is thus some ⅓ hectare (1 acre), i.e. about half of the figure of Central Kingstown.

There are some fine examples of West Indian architecture in Roseau. The ones that stand out the most are the French Colonial style and the vernacular form. Much of the French influence can be found along King George V Street. Around the city you will come across some good examples of the English influence in the form of large colonial town houses and colonial public/government buildings.

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The churches in Roseau are fine examples of Europe in Dominica with a bit of creolization. The Roman Catholic Cathedral stands prominent in Gothic Romanesque revival and the Anglican Church on Victoria Street in Georgian style. Amongst these buildings you will find much of the urban vernacular squeezed in between larger colonial and more modern buildings.

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Because of the suburban sprawl, few people live in Central Roseau, but more of them commute daily. Motorized vehicles pour into the central district thus introducing a mode of point-to-point interaction in an environment that was created for multiple use. As elders said, first there were no streets but just a space between the buildings. The streets of Roseau, and especially those of its central district, are not only ways to move from place to place but they are places themselves. They are used as gardens, playing fields, and social meeting places.

A little bit about some of the Cruiseships that dock at Roseau, Dominica

When I visited Roseau, Dominica a few years back it was the time when I was sailing on the Holland America Line cruiseship namely the Noordam and I will post here some photos of this very cruiseship. Its a pretty large mid-sized cruiseship as they say in the industry with a passenger capacity of just over 2,000 passengers and about 600-800 crew.

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That’s not alot if you consider the much larger ones in the market like those of the Royal Caribbean and Princess cruiselines. Holland America line has 15 ships sailing around the world and I have gone cruising with at least 7 of them. I’ve travelled to places not many get a chance to travel too like the whole of South America, St Petersburg, Russia, Tallin, Ireland, Vladivostok, Russia, Hawaii and even to Alaska.

 

Some of the Cruise Ships Calling to Dominica

Cruise Line Name of Ship
Aidavita
Aidavita at Woodbridge Bay
Aidavita at Woodbridge Bay
Princess Cruises Sea Princess, Caribbean Princess, Ruby Princess
Norwegian Lines Norwegian Sky
Holland America Noordam, Maasdam, Prisendam
Clipper Cruises Royal Clipper
Cunard Lines Queen Mary II
Carnival Lines Victory
Royal Caribbean Adventure of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas
P & O Cruise Lines Ventura

Here is an excerpt of what a typical cruiseline company will tell its passengers about Roseau, Dominica;

A visit to Dominica (pronounced Do-min-EE-kah) promises to be unlike any other stop on your itinerary. Prepare to slow down, take in the scenery, breathe fresh air, sample fruit right off the trees and experience nature in a way unique to few places on earth.

This “Nature Island” measures 29 miles long by 16 miles wide and encompasses about 290 square miles of untamed rain forest; dense, lush vegetation; waterfalls; freshwater pools and bubbling hot springs, heated by the active underwater volcanoes surrounding the island. Much of the interior can only be reached on foot.

It’s easy to see why producers selected Dominica as a backdrop for two sequels in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series. As you drive the coastline on roads hacked out of the mountainside, jagged edges plunge into the ocean, as mango trees and ginger root cascade down into the sea.

Once off the ship, head inland to visit the island’s impressive national parks or into the water to spot plentiful sea life. Dominica ranks as one of the top sites for scuba-diving in the Caribbean. Its beaches are mostly rocky.

The island features no chain hotels or big-box mega-stores, though there are a Pizza Hut and KFC in Roseau, the capital city.

Originally populated by the Carib tribe of Indians, the island gets its name from Christopher Columbus, who first spotted the land in 1493 on a Sunday. (Domenica means “Sunday” in Italian.) In the 1800’s, the French and British fought for control of the island. If you glance at a map of Dominica, it’s clear by the town names that the French populated the South (Roseau, Soufriere), while the British occupied the North (Portsmouth).

Roseau in Dominica 032Eventually, the British conquered the French portion of the island and maintained control until 1978, when Dominica gained independence. The island still has a Carib population of about 3,000; they occupy a northeastern corner of the island. A drive through this “Carib Territory” will give you a rare glimpse at traditional native life in the Caribbean.

Dominica has survived with a predominantly agricultural-based economy that includes bananas. Tourism also remains strong, with Dominica attracting a stream of naturalists who flock to the island to see 172 types of birds, 12 major waterfalls and peaks that rise to 5,000 feet.

Whale-watchers also come in hordes to explore the waters that plunge to nearly 6,000 feet right off the coastline, providing an ideal base for seven types of whales that can be seen nearly year-round, including a resident population of sperm whales.

Roseau in Dominica 039Weather on the island averages 77 degrees in winter, 82 in summer, although it’s cooler in the mountains, humid in the rain forest and warmer on the coast. The driest months are January through April, but don’t be surprised if you experience a brief downpour every day” . Interesting no doubt to read all this information, which quite frankly is pretty enticing dont you think?.

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As far as I am concerned and from my own personal experience, its quite true and I wouldnt differ in opinion with the above. There were of course some elderly passengers who felt that Roseau wasnt that safe meaning to say, the people there look rather unkept and maybe a little rough in appearance as well as in their dressing but hey, that’s what travelling is all about – seeing different cultures, even if its to “third world” countries like so many in the Caribbean Sea. the younger crowd had no issues of course. They just enjoyed themselves as you will see in three self-shot videos I took whilst venturing around the town.

All the following videos (3) were shot by me of downtown Roseau, Dominica.

Within the city of Roseau, there are many opportunities for recreation. Many persons seek out the tranquility and cool of the Botanical Gardens as a getaway on Sunday afternoons and at lunch. As well, it is a popular venue for local cricket matches and sports training. Football is a popular sport; there are several pitches throughout the city area (at Newtown, Potters Ville, and Bath Estate), as well as in the sports stadium at Windsor Park.

Sporting facilities and infrastructure

There are dedicated sports facilities around the city. Private tennis courts are located on High Street; netball and basketball courts also abound in the city’s major high schools. These are complemented by community facilities at Goodwill. A dedicated netball and basketball stadium is located at Stockfarm near the Dominica State College.

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In 2007, Windsor Park, also home to the Dominica national football team, was completed with a donation of EC$33 million from the government of the People’s Republic of China. Elsewhere in the city it is not uncommon to find that a section of the street, sidewalk or even the beach has been adapted to makeshift games of cricket or football. Popular sports include netball, basketball, rounders and (to a much lesser extent) tennis.

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Oh by the way, before I forget…Dominica is one of the many Caribbean nations that practice Obeah; Obeah (sometimes spelled Obi, Obea, or Obia), is a term used in the West Indies to refer to folk magic, sorcery, and religious practices developed among West African slaves, specifically of Igbo origin. Obeah is similar to other Afro-American religions including Palo, Vodou, Santería, and Hoodoo.

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Obeah is practiced in Suriname, Cuba, Jamaica,Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, Guyana, Grenada, Belize, The Bahamas, and other Caribbean nations.

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Obeah – well, thats for next time okay?. So do look out for my “Obeah” article, only on www.livingmsia.com, where else?

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Hope you enjoyed reading about Roseau, Dominica and the array of photos I took when visiting there a few years back. Dont forget to read my other travel articles inclusive of Bridgetown – Barbados where Grammy Award Winning Artiste Rihanna was born, The Tian Tan Buddha – Hong Kong, Busan – South Korea and the amazing Antartica!

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As the people of Roseau would say ” Mek sure betta dan cock sure ” (It is better to verify than to assume)

 

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