Identification. The Dominican Republic became a nation on 27 February 1844 when a group of revolutionaries seized power from the Haitian rulers of the island of Hispaniola. When Christopher Columbus first discovered the island in 1492, he named it La Isla Española, which became Hispaniola. A few years later the city of Santo Domingo became the Spanish capital of the New World, and because of its location in the trade winds, it was the gateway to the Caribbean. France gained a foothold on the western end of the island, which became prosperous, and by 1795 Spain ceded the entire island to France. By 1804 the black African slaves in the western portion of the island (now Haiti) rebelled against the French and ruled the entire island. French troops eventually reclaimed the island, but were able to occupy only the western end. In 1838 a small group of Spanish-speaking Dominican intellectuals from Santo Domingo organized a secret society called La Trinitaria to overthrow the Haitian rule. The society was established by Juan Pablo Duarte, the son of a wealthy Dominican family. After the overthrow, Pedro Santana, one of the leaders in the revolution, became the first president of the Dominican Republic.
The complex heritage of Arawak, Spanish, African, and French traditions, plus an early independence, set the Dominican Republic apart from other Caribbean islands. Independence was won before slavery was abolished in the Spanish Caribbean and a century before the decolonization of the other islands. The Dominicans consider themselves more Latin American than Caribbean. In addition, they retain close ties with the United States, which occupied the island in the early twentieth century. The national community is struggling to build a democracy against a corrupt and authoritarian political elite.
Location and Geography. The Dominican Republic is located on the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola and is 18,816 square miles (48,734 square kilometers), about twice the size of New Hampshire. The western portion of the island is occupied by the republic of Haiti. Hispaniola is near the center of the West Indies, a group of islands that extend from Florida to Venezuela. To the north of Hispaniola is the Atlantic Ocean, to the south the Caribbean Sea, to the east Puerto Rico, and to the west Cuba. Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Jamaica are referred to as the Greater Antilles.
The mountains of the Dominican Republic divide the country into northern, central, and southwestern regions. The northern region includes the Cordillera Septentrional (northern mountain range), the Cibao Valley, which is the country's major agricultural area; and the tropical Samaná Peninsula with its coconut plantations and bay, where humpback whales breed.
The central region is dominated by the Cordillera Central (central range) which ends at the Caribbean Sea. The highest point in the Caribbean is Pico Duarte, which reaches an elevation of over 10,414 feet (3,175 meters) and has alpine forests near the summit. The Caribbean coastal plain includes a series of limestone terraces that gradually rise to a height of about 328 feet (100 meters) and has sugarcane plantations.
The southwestern region lies south of the Valle de San Juan and encompasses the Sierra de Neiba. Much of the region is a desert and it includes Lake Enriquillo, the island's largest lake. Lake Enriquillo is a saltwater lake that lies 150 feet (46 meters) below sea level and is inhabited by unique fauna, including crocodiles, huge iguanas, and flamingos.
The diverse geography of the country includes 800 miles (1,288 kilometers) of coastline with beautiful white-sand beaches and rocky cliffs and
The weather is mostly tropical, especially along the southern and eastern coasts. The time and magnitude of the rainy season varies in different parts of the country, but generally occurs in late spring and early fall. In the west and southwestern regions the climate is dry and desertlike because of low rainfall and/or deforestation.
The capital, Santo Domingo, was the first permanent European settlement in the New World and was established by Spain in 1496. The Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo is one of the great treasures of Spanish America today, with many original buildings intact and restored.
Demography. The population of the Dominican Republic is about 8.4 million (2000 estimate) and is increasing at a rate of 1.6 percent per year. More than 1 million Dominicans live full or part time in New York City and are called Dominican Yorks. Seventy-three percent of the population is mixed race—combinations of descendants of Spaniards and other Europeans, West African slaves, and natives. Sixteen percent is Caucasian and 11 percent is black, which includes a Haitian minority.
Dominicans have migrated from rural areas to the cities. The capital, Santo Domingo, has over 2.14 million people, while the population of other large cities, including Santiago de los Caballeros, La Romana, and San Pedro de Macorís, ranges from 124,000 to 364,000. Estimates of the birth rate range from seventeen per thousand (1994) to twenty-five per thousand (2000 estimated). The death rate estimate varies from one per thousand in 1994 to five per thousand (2000 estimated). The infant mortality rate is quite high at thirty-six deaths per thousand live births (2000 estimated). Nevertheless, the total fertility rate is three children born per woman (2000 estimated). The net migration rate is minus four migrants per thousand (2000 estimated).
Linguistic Affiliation. Spanish is the official language and is universally spoken. Dominicans pride themselves on the purity of their Spanish and it is considered by some to be the most classical Castilian spoken in Latin America. Nevertheless, Dominican Spanish has a distinctive accent and incorporates numerous African and Taino (native) expressions. For example, small rural houses are now called bohios, after the rectangular houses of the Tainos. A large number of place-names as well as social and cultural terms are inherited from the Tainos. Some English is spoken in Santo Domingo, particularly within the tourist industry. Some Creole is spoken near the Haitian border and in the sugarcane villages, where many Haitian workers live.
Symbolism. The colors and shapes used in the national flag symbolize patriotism and national pride. The flag has a large white cross, a symbol of salvation, that divides it into four quarters. Two quarters are red and two are blue. The blue sections represent liberty, while the red sections symbolize the blood of the heroes who died to preserve it. In the center of the cross is the Dominican coat of arms.
A recent national symbol, constructed in 1992, is the Columbus Lighthouse. It was a work project conceived of by President Joaquín Balaguer when he was 85 years old and blind. It is an enormous cross, flat on the ground, facing the sky and bursting with lights, and was built as a tourist attraction. The physical remains of Columbus have been moved to the lighthouse (although Spain and Cuba also claim to have them). The lighthouse burns so brightly it can be seen from Puerto Rico, but, ironically, it is situated in the midst of a poor neighborhood where the people live without water or electricity and with unpaved, dusty streets and uncollected garbage. A wall was built around the lighthouse to protect the visitors from the neighborhood. Some Dominicans call it the Wall of Shame and argue that the country needs basic services, such as dependable electricity and transportation, not expensive monuments to Columbus. In addition, Dominicans have mixed feelings about Columbus and superstitiously refer to him only as the Great Admiral, believing that to say his name will bring about bad luck.
Emergence of the Nation. The Taino were the native people of the Dominican Republic who greeted Columbus. They were a peaceful subgroup of Arawaks who had their origins in the tropical forests of South America. Columbus encountered an island populated by at least 500,000 Tainos living in permanent villages and subsisting on agriculture. The houses were made of wood with thatch roofs, and several families lived together in the same house. Most people used hammocks to sleep in, and goods were stored in baskets hung from the roof and walls. The houses were irregularly arranged around a central plaza, where the larger home of the chief was situated. Villages were arranged into districts, each ruled by one chief, and in turn the districts were grouped into regional chiefdoms headed by the most prominent district chief. There were only two classes of villagers, which chroniclers equated with nobility and commoners. There were no slaves. Instead of simply slashing and burning the forest to make a clearing for agriculture as is common in the Amazon, the Tainos made permanent fields to cultivate root crops. They retarded erosion and improved the drainage, which permitted more lengthy storage of mature tubers. The Tainos mined gold and beat the nuggets into small plates. Then the gold was either inlayed in wooden objects or overlaid on clothing or ornaments. Columbus took special notice of the Tainos' gold work, believing it offered him a chance to repay his debt to the king and queen of Spain. Because nearly all the Tainos died within about three decades of Columbus's arrival, the culture and traditions of these gentle people are not as clearly present in everyday life as, for example, the Maya culture in Mexico today. A more nomadic and warlike group of Arawaks called the Caribs was present on a small portion of the island and are said to have shot arrows at Columbus upon his arrival.
In 1492, when Columbus first landed, he named the island La Isla Española, which later changed to Hispaniola. Although Columbus was a superb navigator, neither he nor his brother Bartholomé could rule the new colony. Both alienated the Spanish by demanding that they work, and they also disrupted the native agriculture by forcing each Indian to dig up a set amount of gold instead of allowing farming. By 1496 many natives had died, and those that rebelled were harshly punished. Food was in short supply and the population of natives was greatly diminished. It was then that Bartholomé transferred the capital from Isabella to the new city of Santo Domingo, located in a more productive region with a good harbor. It was a natural destination for ships following the easterly trade winds from Europe and the Lesser Antilles and remained the Spanish capital of the New World for the next fifty years, when a change in sailing routes made Havana the preferred port. When Columbus returned to Santo Domingo for the third time, he was faced with a revolt by the colonists. To placate the rebels, he distributed not only land but also native communities. Spanish settlers could legally force their Indians to work without wages in a kind of semislavery called encomienda, a system that rapidly caused the demise of the Taino Indians because of the harsh forced-labor practices and the diseases the Spanish brought with them. The Spanish imported African slaves to work in the mines and established a strict two-class social system based on race and state domination.
The Spanish abandoned Hispaniola for more economically promising areas such as Cuba and Mexico, but the Spanish institutions of government, economy, and society have persisted in the Dominican Republic. The island became the hiding place for many pirates and was captured for ransom by British admiral Sir Francis Drake. For nearly two hundred years Hispaniola remained in a state of disorganization and depression. In 1697 Spain handed over the western third of Hispaniola to the French, and that portion began to prosper by producing sugar and cotton in an economy based on slavery. By 1795 Spain gave the rest of the island, where most people were barely surviving on subsistence farming, to the French. By 1809 the eastern part of Hispaniola reverted back to Spanish rule. In 1822 the black armies of Haiti invaded and gained control of the entire island, which they maintained until 1844.
On 27 February 1844, Juan Pablo Duarte, the leader of the Dominican independence movement, entered Santo Domingo and declared the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola an independent nation. He named it the Dominican Republic. The first of the strong-armed leaders called caudillos, Pedro Santana, became president. The emerging nation struggled, going in and out of political and economic chaos. Using the Monroe Doctrine to counter what the United States considered potential European intervention, the United States invaded the Dominican Republic in 1916 and occupied it until 1924.
During the period of U.S. occupation, a new class of large landowners resulted from changes made in land-tenure. A new military security force, the Guardia Nacional, was trained by the U.S. Marines to be a counterinsurgency force. In 1930, Rafael Trujillo, who had risen to a position of leadership in the Guardia, used it to acquire and consolidate power. From 1930 to 1961, Trujillo ran the Dominican Republic as his own personal possession, in what has been called the first truly totalitarian state in the hemisphere. He and his friends held nearly 60 percent of the country's assets and controlled its labor force while they abolished personal and political freedoms. He typified the caudillismo that has shaped Dominican society.
After Trujillo was assassinated in 1961, his son fled the country and a democratic election was held. Ultimately, the Dominican military with the help of twenty-three thousand U.S. troops defeated the constitutionalists in 1965. The Dominican economic elite, having been reinstalled by the U.S. military, achieved the election of Joaquín Balaguer, one of Trujillo's puppet presidents. Until the early 1970s the Dominican Republic went through a period of economic growth and development arising mainly from public-works projects, foreign investments, increased tourism, and skyrocketing sugar prices. Most of the benefits went to the already wealthy while the unemployment rate, illiteracy, malnutrition, and infant mortality rates were dangerously high. With the mid-1970s surge in oil prices, a crash in the price of sugar, and increases in unemployment and inflation, the Balaguer government was destabilized, and human rights and political freedom were better observed. The country, however, incurred enormous foreign debt, and the International Monetary Fund required drastic austerity measures, such as a government wage freeze, a decrease of funding, an increase in prices of staple goods, and restricted credit. These policies resulted in social unrest and Balaguer, nearly eighty years old and legally blind, regained control of the country. He once again turned to massive public-works projects in an attempt to revitalize the economy, but this time was unsuccessful. Balaguer was forced to step down in 1996 and Leonel Fernández Reyna was elected.
National Identity. A large factor that influences Dominican national identity is its Spanish heritage and early independence. The native population was decimated or assimilated within decades of the arrival of Columbus, and the island was repopulated with Spanish colonists and their African slaves. Spanish is the national language, universally spoken today. Light skin color, which is considered to reflect European ancestry, is valued, while dark skin tones reflect the West African slave ancestry. The Roman Catholic cathedrals still stand and the majority of the population is Roman Catholic. A proud aggressive attitude is admired in sports, business, and politics. Machismo permeates society, especially among rural and low income groups, with males enjoying privileges not accorded to females.
The common expression, Si Dios quiere (If God wishes), expresses the belief that personal power is intertwined with one's place in the family, the community, and the grand design of the Deity. People have been forced to accept the strong class system begun by the Spanish and maintained by the strongman leaders where only a few historically prominent families hold a great deal of the wealth and power. Some of the few surviving traits of the gentle Tainos may account for acceptance of the system with relatively few revolts.
The family unit is of primary importance. Relationships among people are more important than schedules and being late for appointments, and people often spend time socializing rather than working. Dominicans are warm, friendly, outgoing, and gregarious. They are very curious about others and forthright in asking personal questions. Children are rarely shy. Confianze (trust) is highly valued and not quickly or easily gained by outsiders, perhaps as a result of the human rights and economic abuses the people have suffered at the hands of the powerful.
Ethnic Relations. Dominican society is the cradle of blackness in the Americas. It was the port of entry for the first African slaves, only nine years after Columbus arrived. Blacks and mulattoes make up almost 90 percent of the population. There has been a longstanding tension with Haiti, particularly over the Haitian desire to migrate there. In the early fall of 1937 Trujillo's soldiers used machetes, knives, picks, and shovels to slaughter somewhere between ten thousand and thirty-five thousand Haitian civilians, claiming it was a Dominican peasant uprising. Even loyal personal servants and Haitian spouses of Dominicans were killed by the soldiers. Today there is still great disdain for Haitian and other blacks.
A massive migration from rural to urban areas characterized the twentieth century. About 60 percent of Dominicans live in urban areas. The capital, Santo Domingo, is the largest city by far and has a population of 2.14 million. Its population approximately doubled every ten years between 1920 and 1970. The second and third largest cities, Santiago and La Romana, also experienced rapid growth, especially in the 1960s and 1970s.
Santo Domingo was a walled city, modeled after those of medieval Spain, and for three decades was the seat of Spanish power and culture in the New World. Today the area known as the Zona Colonial stands as a monument to Spain's time as a superpower, with some buildings dating back to the early sixteenth century. The layout of the city followed the classic European grid pattern, with several plazas. Plazas are popular meeting places for area residents, tourists, vendors, taxi drivers, guides, and shoeshine boys. The plazas usually contain shade trees, park benches, and monuments.
Food in Daily Life. The main meal is served at midday and can last up to two hours. La bandera (the flag) is a popular national dish; the white rice and red beans remind people of the flag colors, hence the name. The third ingredient is stewed meat, and it is usually served with fried plantain and a salad. Another favorite dish is sancocho, a meat, plantain, and vegetable stew. On the coast, fish and conch are enjoyed, and coconut is used to sweeten many seafood
Dining out is popular and restaurants in Santo Domingo are superior and reasonably priced. The Hotel Lina has been voted one of the ten best restaurants in the world. Even the food sold by street vendors, such as grilled meat or tostones (fried plantain patties), is delicious.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. On special occasions, such as Christmas or Easter, extended families sit down together for large feasts. Roasted pig, pigeon peas (small yellow beans), and boiled chestnuts are served at Christmas. Fish is the traditional dish at Easter.
Basic Economy. The Dominican Republic is among the fastest-growing economies in Latin America. Even though the gross domestic product (GDP) tripled in the last generation, 70 percent of the people are affected by poverty and unemployment is high. Throughout history, the economy has been based on the production and export of sugar. Sugarcane is still a big cash crop, along with rice, plantains (starchy green bananas), and bananas. Fluctuating world prices make the market volatile.
Land Tenure and Property. Land-tenure patterns reflect both Dominican and international politics. Sugar and cattle production require large tracts of land and ownership has changed over time. In 1916 when the United States invaded, the military enacted legislation to facilitate the takeover of Dominican land by U.S. sugar growers. Communal lands were broken up and transferred to private ownership. By 1925 eleven of the twenty-one sugar mills belonged to U.S. corporations and most of the sugar was exported to the United States.
Cattle raising, an important source and symbol of wealth in the countryside, was feasible for many because the animals were branded and left to graze freely on open land. Much of the land was expropriated by Trujillo, and later he established a law requiring livestock to be enclosed, ending the free grazing. By the 1970s the government created state-subsidized credits for cattle production, enabling people to buy land for grazing in an attempt to increase production.
Major Industries. Agriculture, including forestry and fishing, contributed about 13 percent of the GDP in 1996. Industry, including mining, manufacturing, construction, and power, provided about 32 percent of the GDP in 1996. The services sector contributes 55 percent of the GDP. With the relative stability of the Dominican democracy and tax incentives, tourism is the most rapidly growing sector of the economy. With more hotel rooms than any other Caribbean country and beautiful beaches, tourism in the country is now the largest source of foreign exchange, along with manufacturing in the free trade zones. The government is working to increase electric generating capacity, a key to continued economic growth, and the state-owned electric company was ultimately privatized by 2000.
Trade. Mining of ferro-nickel, gold, and silver has recently surpassed sugar as the biggest source of export earnings. Manufacturing of food, petroleum products, beverages, and chemicals contributes about 17 percent of the GDP. A rapidly growing part of the manufacturing sector is occurring in the free trade zones, established for multinational corporations. Products such as textiles, garments, and light electronic goods intended for export are assembled. Industries locate in these zones because they are permitted to pay low wages for labor intensive activities; also, the Dominican government grants exemptions from duties and taxes on exports.
Division of Labor. The Dominican Republic is the world's fourth-largest location of free trade zones, and much of the nation's industrial work occurs there. Two-thirds of these zones are owned by U.S. corporations. The majority of the workers are women; in 1990 the average monthly salary was $59 (U.S.) with no benefits. Most are assembly and factory workers who produce electronics, jewelry, furniture, clothing, and shoes for export. Nevertheless, free trade zones have created much-needed jobs and have brought more advanced technology to the island. Companies pay rent and purchase utilities and supplies.
On most sugarcane farms, working conditions are dreadful, and Dominicans are too proud to work for such low wages. Companies hire Haitians to work the fields for twelve to fifteen hours a day. Workers are as young as eight years old. There are no cooking or sanitary facilities. Children born to Haitian sugarcane workers effectively have no country and no medical or educational benefits.
Classes and Castes. Dominican social stratification is influenced by racial and economic issues. The upper class is historically descended from European ancestry and is light skinned. The lower class is most often black, descendants of the African slave population or Haitians. The mulattoes are people of mixed African and European ancestry and make up the majority of the population; they have created a growing middle class. This middle class is divided into indio claro, who have lighter skin, and indio obscuro, who are darker skinned. The term indio (Indian) is used because many Dominicans do not yet acknowledge their African roots.
Symbols of Social Stratification. The symbols of social stratification are similar to those in Western cultures. Many of the growing middle-class population own homes and cars, and enjoy updating them with the latest electronic appliances. Their children graduate from high school, and may go on to college. People take pride in their personal appearance and prefer New York fashions and jewelry. However, there is still a large segment of the population which lives in urban slums and poor rural areas without electricity or running water.
Government. The Dominican Republic is divided into twenty-nine provinces, each run by a governor who is appointed by the president. The president and vice president and a bicameral Congress of thirty senators and 120 deputies are elected by popular vote every four years. The voting age is eighteen. A nine-member Supreme Court is formally appointed every four years by the Senate, but is greatly influenced by the president.
Leadership and Political Officials. One of the most influential political parties is the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) and it has a liberal philosophy. A spin-off is the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) and it is considered even more liberal. A conservative group is the Revolutionary Social Christian Party (PRSC).
Unfortunately, many people aspire to be elected to government positions so that they can obtain bribes. Each time government salaries are cut, the corruption in government grows. Also, government contracts are awarded to business in return for money paid directly to the official who makes the decision.
Social Problems and Control. During much of its history the Dominican Republic has been governed by strongarm dictators who have denied human rights to their citizens, particularly darker-skinned people. The most recent constitution was adopted in 1966 after the civil war following Trujillo's rule. Although it puts few limitations on the powers of the president, it stresses civil rights and gives Dominicans liberties they had never before been granted. In 1978 reforms were made to reduce the military's political involvement in order to prevent a coup. The military were given civic duties such as building roads, medical and educational facilities, and houses, and replanting forests. The judicial branch is subject to the political mood since they are appointed every four years. Since the 1960s the court has become more independent, even if it is not an equal branch of government.
Military Activity. Military service is voluntary and lasts for four years. In 1998 the armed forces totaled 24,500 people, with most in the army, followed by the air force and the navy. There are about fifteen thousand members of the paramilitary. The defense budget in 1998 was slightly less than the amount spent on welfare.
A voluntary national contributory scheme exists to provide insurance coverage for sickness, unemployment, dental injury, maternity, old age, and death. Only about 42 percent of the population benefits from it.
Many nongovernmental organizations exist. Some collaborate with international organizations such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization of American States, and private voluntary organizations such as Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross, CARE, and Catholic Relief Services. They implement a wide variety of projects in agriculture, microenterprise, water and sanitation, and health.
In the 1970s and 1980s, after the end of the Trujillo regime, there was an increase in Dominican interest groups. For example, the Central Electoral Junta is an independent board that monitors elections. The Collective of Popular Organizations is a political pressure group. Many organizations exist to promote business, including the Dominican Center of Promotion of Exportation and the Dominican Sugar Institute.
Division of Labor by Gender. About one-quarter of the lower-class people are unemployed. Among this group, women tend to find jobs more easily than men, especially in rural areas, and are paid less. Women often support their households, but do not make enough to bring them out of poverty.
The Relative Status of Women and Men. In middle-class and upper-class families the structure is patriarchal, and the dominant father-figure is the norm. As women gain control over the number of children they bear, they have been able to gain greater educational and employment opportunities. Among the lower-class families, the structure is often matriarchal because the father does not live in the house.
Marriage. Three different types of marital union include church marriages, civil marriages, and consensual or common-law unions. Church and civil marriages are most prevalent among the upper classes and the ceremonies can be costly, whereas consensual unions predominate among the poor. These patterns can be traced back to the Spanish colonial and slave periods. The Spanish settlers brought with them a strong ethic of family solidarity, and the father was the dominant figure. Slave families were broken up and marriages were often not allowed. Informal unions between the Spanish settlers and African slave women were encouraged, and the present-day range of skin tones and marriage
Domestic Unit. The extended family, composed of three or more generations, is prevalent among the Dominican elite. The oldest man holds authority, makes public decisions, and is responsible for the welfare of the family. The oldest married woman commands her household, delivers the more private decisions, and nurtures the family. Married brothers and their wives and children are part of the extended family, and have a strong allegiance to their father. Married daughters become part of their husbands' families.
Consensual unions create a more loosely structured family, and responsibilities fall to the mother. The result is a lower-class household which often becomes an extended matriarchy with the oldest woman at the head and her unmarried children, married daughters, and grandchildren constituting the household. Some men have more than one wife and family and are often absent from a particular household.
Inheritance. Among the two-parent families, land, money, and personal possessions are usually left to the surviving spouse and children. When the household is headed by a woman or when there is a consensual union, inheritance policies are more loosely structured.
Kin Groups. Family loyalty is a virtue ingrained from early childhood when individuals learn that relatives can be trusted and relied on. At every level of society a person looks to family and kin for both social identity and succor. A needy relative might receive the loan of a piece of land, some wage labor, or gifts of food. More affluent relatives may adopt a child from needy relatives and help out the parents of that child as well.
Formal organizations succeed best when they are able to mesh with pre-existing ties of kinship. Until the 1960s and 1970s, most community activities were kin-based and consisted of a few related extended families joined together for endeavors. Families with relatively equal resources shared and cooperated.
When kinship is lacking and where families wish to establish a trusting relationship with other families, they can become compadres. Strong emotional bonds link compadres or co-parents, and they use the formal "usted" instead of "tu" when addressing one another. Compadres are chosen at baptism and marriage, and the relationship extends to the two couples and their offspring.
Child Rearing and Education. Public education is provided through the high-school level at no cost except for the school uniform and books. Attendance is mandatory to sixth grade, although many children, particularly girls, drop out before then. Over one thousand schools were destroyed by Hurricane George in 1998. Scarce funding before and after the hurricane has resulted in limited resources and understaffed facilities. Many urban families send their children to private schools. Considering the lack of enforcement of education laws, the adult literacy rate of 83 percent is quite high, nearly double that of neighboring Haiti.
Higher Education. The oldest public university in the New World was built by the Spanish in 1588, and the University of Santo Domingo is its descendant. Most of the twenty-eight Dominican universities are privately owned and offer student loans. Total enrollment for all colleges and universities in 1998 topped 100,000. Some students go abroad to attend schools and universities.
Politeness is a very important aspect of social interaction. When you enter a room or begin a conversation, it is polite to make a general greeting such as buenos días, which means "good day." Handshakes are another friendly gesture.
Personal appearance is important to Dominicans and they do their best to look neat and clean. They like the latest in New York fashions. Men wear long pants and stylish shirts except when at the beach or doing manual labor. Professional men wear business suits or the traditional chacabana, a white shirt worn over dark trousers. Rural women wear skirts or dresses, but in urban areas jeans and short skirts are acceptable. Bright colors and shiny fabrics are favored. Children are often dressed up, especially for church or visiting. Short pants are not allowed in government buildings and shorts and tank tops are not worn in church.
Formal introductions are rare, but professional titles are used to address respected persons. Older and more prominent people may be addressed as Don (for men) or Doña (for women), with or without their first names. Most women ride sidesaddle while on the backs of motorcycles, because sitting with the legs apart is considered unladylike. Personal space is limited, touching is normal, and crowding, particularly on public transportation, is common.
Dominicans are animated and often make gestures and use body language. "Come here" is indicated with the palm down and fingers together waving inward. To hail a taxi or bus, one wags a finger or fingers depending on the number of passengers in need of a ride. Dominicans point with puckered lips instead of a finger. Men shake hands firmly when they greet and close friends embrace. Most women kiss each other on both cheeks, and a man who trusts a woman will also kiss her.
Religious Beliefs. About 95 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, even if not all of these people attend church regularly. Catholicism was introduced by Columbus and the Spanish missionaries and even today is an important force in shaping society. Although many Dominicans are fairly secular, children are often taught to ask for a blessing from their parents and other relatives when greeting them. For example, a child might say "Bless me, aunt," and the response is "May God bless you." The dominance of the Catholic Church was diminishing at the end of the twentieth century, due to a decrease in funding, a shortage of priests, and a lack of social programs for the people. Although some Protestants are descendants of non-Spanish immigrants who came to the island in the early 1800s, the Protestant evangelical movement has been gaining more support. The style of worship is much less formal than that of the Catholic Church and emphasizes family rejuvenation, biblical teachings, and economic independence. Despite differences in belief and opinion, there is little conflict between religious groups.
During World War II (1939–1945) the small town of Sosúsa was built by a group of European Jews who escaped persecution, and is still the center for the tiny Jewish population of the island.
Voodoo is practiced secretly, primarily along the border with Haiti, and originated with the African slaves, particularly those from the Dahomey region. Practitioners believe in one God and many lesser spirits. They believe that each individual has a protector spirit who rewards that person with wealth and punishes him or her with illness. Nature spirits oversee the external world. Ancestral spirits are the souls of dead ancestors and will protect the living if properly remembered with funerals and memorials. Because the early colonists forbade the practice of voodoo, people learned to disguise the spirits as Roman Catholic saints. For example, the Madonna who represents motherhood, beauty,
Religious Practitioners. Roman Catholicism has been combined with traditional folk religion, particularly in rural areas. It is quite common for devout Catholics to consult a folk practitioner for spiritual advice or to prevent some calamity. The ensalmo is a healing chant that is usually performed by an elderly woman, and is among the most respected folk practices. Folk healers work through the saints and ask for special help for those in need. A few people are skilled in the use of herbs and other natural objects for healing, and are called witch doctors. They are also believed to have the power to banish evil spirits.
Public clinics and hospitals provide free care, but people who can afford to prefer to go to private doctors. Public institutions tend to be poorly equipped and understaffed, and the focus is on curative rather than preventive care. There are about one thousand people to each doctor, with over eight hundred people per each hospital bed. There is a separate system for members of the armed forces. Private health care is also available, primarily in urban centers. Many people still consult native healers, including witch doctors, voodoo practitioners, and herbalists. Parasites and infectious diseases are common. Contaminated water must be boiled in rural areas. Malaria and rabies are still a problem. In spite of this, the life expectancy is sixty-eight for men and seventy-two for women.
Secular holidays include New Year's Day on 1 January; Juan Pablo Duarte's Birthday on 26 January; Independence Day from Haiti, celebrated with a carnival featuring parades, costumes and parties on 27 February; Pan-American Day on 14 April; Labor Day on 1 May; the Foundation of Sociedad la Trinitaria on 16 July; the Santo Domingo Merengue Festival, in late July; the founding of Santo Domingo on 5 August; Restoration Day on 16 August; Columbus Day on 12 October; and United Nations Day on 24 October.
Support for the Arts. There are a variety of organizations and schools which support all forms of art, from fine arts to traditional crafts. The Fine Arts Council controls the Academies of Music, the National Conservatory of Music and Elocution, the School of Scenic Art, the Fine Arts School (in three different cities), and the School of Plastic Arts. The Institute of Dominican Culture promotes cultural tradition and encourages artistic creation and expression of the spirit of the Dominican people. Recently, Dominican artists have gained international recognition.
In the capital city of Santo Domingo there is a neighborhood of Haitian immigrants, which includes many people who try to make a living by selling their paintings to tourists. The paintings are usually oil on canvas and are colorful, stylized, and inexpensive. These people have a history of being mistreated by the police.
Literature. The Dominican literary heritage has historically come from the elite, particularly the Henríque-Ureña family, who had the advantage of formal education. The literary works and style have a European influence, particularly Spanish and French. Gaston Fernando Deligne led the movement into modernism. Don Pedro Mir is known as the National Poet. More recent Dominican authors, such as Julia Alvarez, are leaving the Spanish influences behind and creating a unique Dominican style.
Graphic Arts. Folk arts provide a cottage industry for many. Both glazed and unglazed terra-cotta pottery pieces are sold in markets. Particularly popular are terra-cotta figures for Christmas nativity scenes. Carved calabash or gourds are made into masks or filled with seeds to rattle as maracas. Women in rural areas are well known for their macramé hammocks and bags. Other crafts include basket making, palm weaving, and jewelry made from native coral and seashells. More elaborate jewelry is made from the high-quality native amber and larimar, a semiprecious ocean-blue gemstone found only in the Dominican Republic.
Performance Arts. Dominicans love music and dancing. Merengue, with its African tom-tom beat and Spanish salsa spirit, is the most popular. Other influences are the sound of reggae from Jamaica and the Spanish guitar. Music can be heard on every street corner and there are large outdoor festivals. There is also the National Conservatory for Music and Speech.
The University of Santo Domingo, founded in 1538, is autonomous, although state-supported. After the fall of Trujillo, the Madre y Maestra Catholic University and Pedro Henríquez-Ureña National University and others were also formed in Santo Domingo. Likewise, there are universities in most of the largest cities.
Among the oldest of the technical colleges is the Higher Institute of Agriculture, which was founded in 1962. The Institute of Technology of Santo Domingo offers undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and research. The Technological University in Santiago has faculties of social and economic sciences, architecture and engineering, health sciences, and science and humanities. There are also a variety of joint programs such as Indiana University's Underwater Science program, which is supported by the Catholic University of Santo Domingo and grants from local groups for the study of underwater archaeology of the Columbus shipwreck and Taino sites.
Two research institutes are the Dominican Sugar Institute and the Military Cartographic Institute. There is a natural history museum and a museum of Dominican man in the capital. Technology is also being brought into the country by multinational corporations in the free trade zones for light manufacture. United States AID also provides grants for research.
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—E LIZABETH V AN E PS G ARLO