Dominican Republic Culture
There’s no place quite like the Dominican Republic. That’s because its history is the result of an unlikely mixture of influences; nowhere else will you find a blending of European, African, and native Taíno Indian cultures.
These distinct cultures still drive the social identity of the people today. Every aspect of their food, music, art, sports and religion provides a unique insight into the development of their country. In a single day you can experience both ancient and modern cultures from around the globe.
Nowhere is this diversity more evident than in their food. As a former Spanish Colony, many of its dishes carry a familiar Latin American feel. Lots of rice, beans, meat and seafood can be found in their cuisine. However, strong influences from its heritage give the meals a unique twist. Traditional Taíno dishes are still made featuring yucca, plantains, and potatoes; as well as African recipes using similar native ingredients.
The most common food on the Island is called La Bandera, or “The Flag.” It is made with meat, rice, and red beans and many will also serve it with fried plantains called “tostones.” As a culture that loves to eat, the meal will often continue beyond this first course. Be prepared to try boiled green plantain known as “mangú,” wrapped turnovers cooked in banana leaves and various casseroles, stews, and meat dishes featuring braised goat, pork and chicken rinds.
In addition to their rich culinary history, Dominicans also demonstrate their unmistakable heritage through art. The island is filled with many different types of bright and colorful artwork. Jewelry made out of amber, bone, horn and coconut husk can be found at local markets and shops, where the native Taíno influence can still be seen. In addition to jewelry, Dominican artists also use clay, porcelain, hemp, and guano to make both decorative and religious figurines.
As the first city founded in the Americas, the Dominican Republic’s capital city of Santo Domingo boasts an incredible collection of museums, historic sites, art and music.
Although food, art and history are important parts of Dominican culture, the true life of the culture is baseball. Much more than a national pastime, baseball is a major source of national pride and identity. In fact, almost 40 percent of players in the U.S. Major League Baseball and minor leagues come from Latin America- with most of those coming from the Dominican Republic. Some of their most famous Dominican players include Pedro Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Sammy Sosa.
Another critical part of Dominican culture is the Carnival. This annual celebration of independence spans the entire country, with each city putting on its own unique version of the festival. They fill the streets with colorful masks, music, and of course, dancing. However, Carnival didn’t always look this way. It is actually the culmination of all three cultures; native Taíno, Spanish and African. Carnival lasts throughout the month of February, climaxing on the 27th.
Other Dominican Holidays include January 26th, the day of the patriarch Juan Pablo Duarte; March 9, the day of the patriarch Francisco del Rosario Sánchez; August 16, the Restoration of the Republic; and Constitution Day on November 6th.
Religion in the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is 95.2% Christian, including 88.6% Roman Catholic and 4.2% Protestant. Recent immigration, as well as proselytizing, has brought other religions. Today estimates for other religions are as follows: Spiritist: 2.2%, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: 1.0%, Buddhist: 0.1%, Bahá’í: 0.1%, Islam: 0.02%, Judaism: 0.01%, Chinese folk religion: 0.1%.
The Dominican People
There are differences in class and education that separate different groups. The metropolitan culture available to the upper class and diminishing middle class—due to the economic turbulence, as of late—is often comparable to the life of city dwellers in the rich countries of Western Europe and the United States. But this metropolitan culture doesn’t generally reach the poorest people, who may not always have the most basic necessities.
Rural Poverty in the Dominican Republic
According to the latest official data, more than a third of the country’s total population lives in poverty, and almost 20 percent are living in extreme poverty. In rural areas poor people constitute half of the population.
Who are the country’s poor people and where are they?
Poor rural people include women and men who are heads of households, small-scale farmers, landless farmers, micro entrepreneurs, small merchants, agricultural workers and laborers for rural service operators. Some of the poorest include Dominicans of Haitian origin living in the border areas. They are particularly vulnerable, and they suffer not only from low incomes and poor living conditions but also from social exclusion. In all groups, women who are heads of households and children are extremely vulnerable. Because they are without proper documentation such as birth certificates and identity papers, about 20 percent of the poorest Dominican families do not benefit from most types of social assistance programs.
The highest incidences of poverty and extreme poverty occur in the Dominican-Haitian border regions, in the mountainous areas and also in the lower valleys. Here there are a high concentration of slums (called bateys), settled by extremely poor Dominicans of Haitian origin and migrant seasonal workers from Haiti who work on the sugar cane plantations.
Why are they poor?
The persistence of rural poverty is the result of several factors, including government priority given to developing the tourism industry and services sectors during the last decade. Agricultural productivity is low, and government investment in social and productive development in rural areas is limited. Natural crises such as hurricanes and tropical storms are a recurring threat to rural zones and to the living conditions and incomes of the rural population.
The country’s poor farmers have little land and their production is too low to enable them to support their families. A large number of small-scale subsistence farmers and their families have to seek off-farm employment or another income-generating activity to supplement household incomes.