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People and Culture

population of Dominica, Jean Rhys, Orchid House, Charlotte Bronte, Ash Wednesday

Dominica has a total population of 72,514 (2008 estimate). Despite a high birthrate and a long life expectancy (74 years), the population of Dominica has grown slowly, owing to emigration to other islands of the Caribbean and to Great Britain. More than 90 percent of the inhabitants are black, descendants of people brought from Africa in the 18th century. A small number of Carib Indians also live on Dominica, descendents of the inhabitants of the island when Europeans first arrived.

English is the official language and is used mainly in government and commerce. Most of the people speak a French-based creole. Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion, but there are also several large Protestant communities, including Seventh-day Adventists, Pentecostals, and Methodists. Roseau (population, 2003 estimate, 27,000) is the capital and chief port.

Education is free and compulsory in Dominica from the ages of 5 to 15. The literacy rate for adults is 94 percent. The best-known writers to come from the island are Jean Rhys and Phyllis Shand Allfrey. Rhys spent most of her life in Europe and wrote little about Dominica. However, in the novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), Rhys used her knowledge of the West Indies to imagine the early life of Antoinette Cosway, the first wife of Mr. Rochester from Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre. Allfrey devoted most of her time to the Dominica Labor Party and was a newspaper editor; her only published novel was The Orchid House (1953).

The main festival on Dominica is Carnival, which takes place on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It features street bands and masked and costumed dancers. A typical costume consists of layers of banana leaves or cloth, topped with a frightening mask with horns.

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