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Culture

Dominican Republic Culture

The culture of the Dominican Republic is a result of an unlike mixture of influences. Nowhere else will you find a blending of European, African, and native Taíno Indian cultures.

To understand why Dominican Republic has such a unique blending of cultures, is important to understand its early history.

The island of Hispaniola, of which the Dominican Republic forms the eastern two-thirds and Haiti the remainder, was originally occupied by Tainos, an Arawak-speaking people before Christopher Columbus landed on December 6, 1492. However, a hundred years after Columbus discovery, disease and war had almost exterminated Arawaks.

To ensure adequate labour for plantations, the Spanish brought African slaves to the island at the beginning of 1503.

In the next century, French settlers occupied the western end of the island, which Spain ceded to France in 1697, and which, in 1804, became the Republic of Haiti. The Haitians conquered the whole island in 1822 and held it until 1844, when Dominican Republic proclaimed its independence.

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.

Dominicans 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.

Dominican Republic Culture

In addition to their rich art heritage nowhere is more evident the Spanish, African, and Taino cultures 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.

Although food and art 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.

However, to truly understand the depth of the Dominican People, you must experience Carnival. This annual celebration fills the streets with colorful masks, music, and of course, dancing. Carnival is the culmination of all three cultures; native Taíno, Spanish and African. Brought together, they create a swirl of energy and culture that you can’t find anywhere else. Carnival lasts throughout the month of February, climaxing on the Independence Day February 27.

Religious Practices

Religious Practices

The "official" religion in the Dominican Republic is Roman Catholic however the Constitution provides for freedom of worship and the Government respects the right to practice your religion of choice.  There are two Archdiocese on the island, one in Santo Domingo and one in Santiago.  There are nine dioceses in the country, in Barahona, Bani, Higuey, La Vega, Mao-Montecristi, Puerto Plata, San Francisco de Macoris, San Juan de la Maguana, and San Pedro de Macoris.

Over 80% of the population are Catholics, however there are many Evangelical groups and Protestant denominations now active in the country.   These include the Assembly of God, Church of God, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Baptist, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Pentecostal.  The Jehovah's Witnesses have a large headquarters in the Dominican Republic, as do the Mormons with a temple in the capital city of Santo Domingo including an administrative educational facility.  Judaism and Islam are two other up and coming religions that are very slowly expanding in the Dominican Republic, and there is a very small contingent of Buddhism and Hinduism.  According to the International Religious Freedom Report 2006, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, there is a very small Jewish community on the island, mostly in the city of Santo Domingo, which has a synagogue.  Sosua on the north coast also has a small synagogue which was descended from the European Jewish refugees that fled here at the start of the Second World War. 

The worship to the Virgin is demonstrated in two different ways: in commemoration of the Virgin Altagracia, (celebrated on January 21st), patron of the  country; and in commemoration of the Virgin Mercedes (September 24th). Both are national holidays and are celebrated with important processions: in Higuey, where the Basilica of Altagracia is located, and in La Vega with the procession that goes until Santo Cerro.   
Voodoo and Santeria are also practiced in the Dominican Republic, mostly by Haitian and Cuban immigrants, but the majority of their ceremonies are hidden from the main population due to many Dominican's beliefs that these are paganistic.  It is therefore difficult to determine how many people in the country practice these rituals which incorporate magic, possession, witchcraft, and African rhythms and dance.

All of these expressions are part of the Dominican culture which makes it unique.

Art and Crafts

Art and Crafts

In the Dominican Republic, you have the opportunity to shop for arts and crafts that you can't find anywhere else. Their unique blend of Aborigine, European and African cultures has created an artistic style found only on the island. Over time, each culture's methods have blended together to create a new Dominican melting pot of techniques and traditions. These have produced some of the most popular crafts in the country, including basket-weaving, pottery, ceramics and jewelry made out of Dominican amber and larimar.

Visitors to the Dominican Republic fall in love with our beautiful gemstones, earrings, necklaces, rings and bracelets. Many are so taken that they bring others back for their friends and family. Larimar, a blue-colored semi-precious stone found only in the Dominican Republic, gives the jewelry a stunning twist unlike anything you've ever seen. You will also find many beautiful pieces that have been manufactured with bone and cow horn, coconut husk and other materials.

One of the best places to purchase Dominican ámbar and larimar jewelry, is right at the Ámbar Museum and the Larimar Museum in Santo Domingo and Puerto Plata. You will also find them in nearly all the hotel and resort gift shops. Many more Dominican crafts can be found at artisan's shops in the Modelo Market in Santo Domingo.

Using an ancient method, artists make baskets, bags, hats and backpacks from guano or cane. They also make Ceramic pieces that feature the Dominican landscape and classical floral designs.

In the charming seaside villages and small towns you will see dozens of little houses and decorated in the style of the local crafts. Here, they make beautiful pottery and faceless Dominican dolls known as Limé dolls. They make a great souvenir of the distinct Dominican culture. Local artists also create wooden figures from local Guayacan wood as well as many products out of locally produced leather.

In Santo Domingo, you will find an even larger selection of crafts around holidays. You should particularly keep an eye out for these seasonal items around the Christmas season and the annual Craft and Visual Festival.

Architecture

architecture

Like its food, dance, and music, the architecture in the Dominican Republic represents a blending of rich cultures that have produced something truly unique.

As with any form of art, one must become familiar with the historical context to truly appreciate Dominican Architecture. The country’s eventful past gathers a great heritage of influences shown in buildings and towns.

Indigenous Influence: The indigenous peoples of the Dominican Republic inhabited the Dominican long before the arrival of Columbus and Spanish colonists. The Taino people relied heavily on the mahogany and guano (dried palm tree leaf) to put together crafts, artwork, furniture, and houses. Utilizing mud, thatched roofs, and mahogany trees give buildings and the furniture inside a natural look, blending in with the island’s surroundings.

Spanish Colonial: The deep influence of the Spanish colonists is evident throughout the country, characterized by ornate designs and baroque structures, the style can best be seen in the capital city of Santo Domingo, modeled after those of medieval Spain. . Today the area known as the Zona Colonial (Colonial Zone) has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and 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, well preserved monuments, forts and churches where bricks and stones prevail in harmonious arches and columns; corridors, cobblestone streets, ruins, and majestic houses of important colonial personalities, make this area a wonderful journey into the past.

The most important building in the entire colonial city is the First Cathedral of America: Cathedral of Santa Maria La Menor dedicated to our Lady of the Incarnation and Santo Domingo Guzman. This is the first Primate Cathedral in America.

Modern Style: With the rise in tourism and increasing popularity as a Caribbean vacation destination, architects in the Dominican Republic began to incorporate cutting-edge designs that emphasized luxury. In many ways an architectural playground, villas and hotels implemented new styles, while still offering new takes on the old. This new style, though diverse, is characterized by simplified, angular corners, and large windows that blend outdoor and indoor spaces.

As with the culture as a whole, contemporary architects embrace the Dominican Republic’s rich history and various cultures to create something new. Surveying modern villas, one can find any combination of the three major styles: a villa may contain angular, modernist building construction, Spanish Colonial-style arched windows, and a traditional Taino hammock in the bedroom balcony. Whether you’re dedicated for one style or are set on combining all three, the Dominican Republic offers a combination for everyone!

Music

music

The music of the Dominican Republic is known primarily for Merengue, though Bachata, salsa, Reggaeton, Jazz and other forms are also popular. Music forms part of the daily life of the Dominicans. Rhythm and harmony run deep within the culture.

Dominican music as we know it today is the product of the influences that have been interweaved on the island of Santo Domingo since the ancient “areítos taínos”. Following the conquest, and through different historical circumstances, many different genres of music arrived to the island.

Traditional Dominican music has regional features. For example, the Cibao and the South areas have a large Spanish influence - with variations on the footwork. In the sugar areas of the East and on the border with Haiti, the influence is mainly African - with ritual dances and touched sticks. In other places, where the Hispanic and African element merged, rhythmic expressions of urban cores such as “Creole” music, “merengue”, “bolero” and “bachata” prevail.

Merengue is a musical genre native to the Dominican Republic. It has a moderate to very fast 2/4 rhythm played on güira (metal scraper) and the double-headed tambora. The accordion is also common. Traditional, accordion-based merengue is usually termed merengue típico and is still played by living accordionists like Francisco Ulloa, Fefita la Grande, El Ciego de Nagua, and Rafaelito Román. More modern merengues incorporate electric instruments and influences from salsa, and rock and roll. Choruses are often sung in a call and response form by two or three back-up singers, or more traditionally, by the musicians playing tambora or güira. Beginning in the 1960s, dancing became a part of the singers' work with Johnny Ventura's Combo Show format, and is now a staple of many of the genre's biggest stars. Lyrically, irony and double entendres are common.

The 1980s saw increasing Dominican emigration to Europe and the United States, especially to New York City and Miami. Merengue came with them, bringing images of glitzy pop singers and idols. At the same time, Juan Luis Guerra slowed down the merengue rhythm, and added more lyrical depth and entrenched social commentary. He also incorporated bachata and Western musical influences with albums like 1990's critically acclaimed Bachata Rosa.

music

The National Symphony Orchestra has been integrated by outstanding Dominican musicians, as well as musicians of various nationalities, many of which have made Santo Domingo their home. The most recent history of the Orchestra is intimately linked to the Fundación Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional (Sinfonía). This private non profit organization was founded in 1986 by Pedro Rodriguez Villacañas, who together with his wife Doña Margarita Copello de Rodriguez, actual President, gathered a distinguished group of music lovers with the purpose of helping in the consolidation and increase of the prestige of the National Symphony Orchestra. For more than two decades, “Sinfonía” has done an extraordinary work, always with the support and collaboration of the Dominican Government, together modelling the present and the future of the musical life of the Dominican Republic.

Michel Camilo combines his mastery of the jazz piano tradition, including stride and the blues, with equally deep understanding of mambo, rumba, salsa, and flamenco. A dynamic performer with exceptional technique, Camilo uses both hands equally to create a rich blend of sounds.

Carnival

Carnival

Dominican Carnival is the most authentic popular expression of our culture; it is an explosion of intense colours, music, traditions and happiness expressed in different ways.

The origins of Carnival in the Dominican Republic date back to 1520, during the colonial period. Some researchers say the first Carnival events took place as a celebration of a visit by Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, when its inhabitants disguised themselves as Moors and Christians.

It is believed that these celebrations were linked to certain religious festivals, which were later incorporated into the celebration. In 1795, Carnivals took place on the saint's day festivities in honor of James the Apostle, Corpus Christi and Carnival season in the city of Santiago.

Between 1822 and 1844, costumes disappeared almost completely because of the Haitian occupation. However, these costumes returned after the country achieved its independence on February 27, 1844 and were no longer associated with church celebrations. They evolved into actual Carnivals, celebrated during the three days prior to Ash Wednesday and February was declared the Carnival month in the Dominican Republic.

Each Sunday during February, different cities hold their own parades. One of the country's oldest and most popular carnival takes place in the city of La Vega, with the major participation of the groups: "The Broncos" and "The Fieras," or "Savage Beasts". 

The grand national Carnival parade takes place along the city of Santo Domingo's seaside promenade, and is usually held on the last Sunday of February or the first Sunday of March. Each region holds its own celebration, highlighting the culture and history of the groups in that area. They become organized into dozens of floats and groups, creating a striking collective event. Their expression differs completely: Santiago is known for its representation of Diablos Cojuelos, Cotui for its platanuses and papeluses, Monte Cristi for its toros (or bulls), San Pedro de Macorís is known for the Guloyas, descendants of the English-speaking black people who immigrated to this city, and who perform a very outstanding dance set to music, and Cabral is famous for beautiful horned masks of the cachúas and civiles. The Santo Domingo carnival also includes recognition and awards for the best costumes and groups in different categories from the Ministries of Culture and Tourism.

Regardless of the expression and the region, the Dominican Carnival is always a great collage of bright, colourful costumes, wild and exciting music and dances, a variety of masks and original ornamentations, the fusion of culture and religions, and… the constant happiness of the Dominicans.

Dominican Republic Cuisine

Dominican Republic Cuisine

The Dominican Republic thanks to its cultural mix offers a variety of dishes that blends influences Tainas, Creole, Spaish and African and due to the fact that the Dominican Republic is rich in agriculture and livestock offers an explosion of taste rich colors, seasonings and flavours. Lots of rice, beans, meat and seafood can be found in the Dominican cuisine. The main meal is served at midday.

La Bandera (the flag) is the most popular national dish that consists of meat and red beans on white rice accompanied by salad and it is called like that because it reminds the people the colors of the flag. Sancocho is a Dominican stew cooked with 7 different meats is a derivative of pot-au-feu Spanish, prepared differently in each region. Another typical dish, the Mangu, mashed plantains seasoned with oil and served with fried onions. Chenchen is a typical dish from the South, consists of corn cut into little pieces and boiled for hours with different spices, accompanied by goat stew. The locrio is a rice dish with meat, chicken or sausage-and great mondogo is a tripe stew.

Habichuelas con dulce is a sweet bean liquid dessert typically from the Dominican Republic that is especially popular around the Easter holiday, it is made with red beans, cinnamon, nutmeg, coconut milk, evaporated milk, raisins, butter, sugar and salt.

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