Celebrating Creole Day in Dominica

Gwendominica relaxes after a delicious Creole-inspired Dominican meal in Roseau on Creole Day 2011. The painting in the background is by Dominican artist Ellingsworth Moses and is entitled ‘Mama’s Yard’. Photo taken by Nancy Osler.

Every year around the end of October, the Nature Island gears up for its Independence season, which culminates on November 3rd.  This year marks Dominica’s 34th  anniversary as an independent nation.  Proud Dominicans return in great numbers from abroad to take part in numerous organized events, as well as reuniting with family and friends.

One of my favourite activities is the celebration of Creole Day, which is held on the last Friday of October.  At this time, Dominicans honour their heritage, which is a mix of African and European traditions that have endured over the centuries. The Creole language is a blend of French words and West African grammar and syntax,  as well as a smattering of other tongues.  On this special day, it is spoken everywhere, although the older generations who live in the countryside still converse in this language with each other, as well as English.  Traditional foods are served in restaurants and people dress up in what is referred to as ‘national dress’,which is made from brightly patterned madras fabric.  The whole day is a real feast for my senses and I love to take part in it as best I can!

I spent the morning wandering around Roseau and  admiring the beautiful Creole costumes. It was a brilliant, hot, sunny day and there was most definitely a festive feel in the air.  Express des Iles ferries were arriving at the Bayfront, where they offloaded hundreds of excited French West Indians (who share a similar Creole heritage) from Guadeloupe and Martinique.  Their weekend visit was prompted by the opening of the 16th World Creole Music Festival, which would start later that evening.

Madam Wob 2012 Annette Bates is wearing a ‘wob dwiyet’ (dress), which is a symbol of Dominica’s cultural heritage.

Almost everyone on the streets of town was adorned in beautiful madras fabric in an array of traditional and contemporary designs.  While I normally do not ask strangers for a photo, I did request one from a lady who was wearing a style of dress that harkened back to an earlier era in Dominica.  She in fact had just won a pageant called ‘Madam Wob’ where she and several other ladies competed for this title by wearing  the lovely ‘Wob Dwiyet‘, which is a traditional dress of tremendous elegance and contrasting colour. It is acknowledged internationally as a symbol of Dominica’s heritage.  Although she was rushing to take her place in the Creole Day parade, she graciously consented to pose for me.

The ladies at Cartwheel Cafe sported madras head-wear on Creole Day.

Simone from Kai K Boutique (440-6922) on the Bay Front wears a beautiful custom-made contemporary madras dress with matching necklace.

I stopped for breakfast at one of my favourite Roseau haunts on the Bayfront, the Cartwheel Cafe (448-5353).  There I feasted on breadfruit, codfish and salad, along with a strong cup of coffee. That would hold me for a while.  The place was packed and I met up with some friends who were stepping out in Creole style that special day. I was very impressed with young Andrew, who dressed up in the traditional wear worn by men – simple but elegant with white shirt, black pants and a red sash.

Wendy and her son Andrew were heading to a special event at Andrew’s school, Orion Academy (440-3233) in honour of Creole Day.

Dora and Dernelle at Dr. Green’s dental office really capture the spirit of Creole Day with their unique designer outfits.

On my Roseau rounds, I persuaded Arun Madisetti of Images Dominica (www.imagesdominica.com) to take a picture of me on the General Post Office porch. Thanks Izzy!

I even passed by Dr. Green’s dental office, where I knew that some of staff would be wearing smashing outfits created by their own Dora. I was amazed by their unique styles.

Woody’s cool Creole style combines contemporary with traditional. He is wearing a ‘chapeau paille’ (straw hat) which is a symbol of Dominica’s heritage.

After a  few more sweeps around Roseau, I saw that the parade was slightly delayed.  It was extremely hot, so I decided to head out-of-town for my next adventure.  I was going up to Springfield Plantation, my first home in Dominica, where I would have Creole lunch with friends.  Somehow or other, I had not been back there for a couple of years!  As I headed back to the car, I caught sight of Woody, a local tour operator who takes his guests Off the Beaten Trail (275-1317). We only spoke for a moment,  as he had a jeep full of visitors and would no doubt take them on a real Dominican adventure!

It was actually a relief to drive away from Roseau, as it appeared that just about  everyone was going “to town” for Creole lunch.  I didn’t mind the relentlessly winding ascent into mountains on that perfect day in paradise. The road was in good condition and there were no rain clouds in sight. I was very excited about reacquainting with my old home, eating great food prepared by Dominican Chef Sandra, and relaxing over the meal with friends Nancy and Sarah.

Gwendominica, Nancy and Sarah enjoyed a lovely Creole Day afternoon having a special lunch at Springfield Plantation.

Nancy, who is Managing Director of the Archbold  Research Center based at Springfield, warmly welcomed me.  I almost squealed with glee to be surrounded by Springfield’s stately splendor once again.  Here, on the edge of the rainforest, gentle breezes tempered the harsh heat of the midday sun.  As I looked down the Antrim Valley to the Caribbean Sea, I recalled numerous previous occasions where I had lingered on the porch of this mid-18th century great house, which is now a dining room on the ground level.  Sweet memories came rushing back to me about those halcyon days in Dominica, but Nancy quickly disturbed my daydreams.  Sarah had arrived and it was time to eat!

My Creole lunch at Springfield was divine. I left a little room on the plate so I could go back for more!

The stately dining room at Springfield. It dates back to the mid 18th century.

There are gorgeous vistas both near and far at Springfield.

The grounds around Springfield are simply stunning.

From the buffet table, I filled my plate with all kinds of Dominican delicacies: mildly seasoned codfish; perfectly prepared steamed tuna; dasheen (a starchy  root vegetable) puffs; sweet fried plantains; fawine balls (avocado and cassava flour);  avocado pear and  tangy watercress salad.  I sipped a glass of freshly pressed carambola (star fruit) juice as we savored the distinctive tastes of everything on our plates.  On this divine day on the Nature Isle, we took our time, had a few ‘seconds’ to fill any remaining empty spaces and finished off the meal with fresh fruit salad, guava tart and coconut cake.

Before I knew it,  almost four hours had passed and it was time to go back down the mountain to beat Roseau’s Friday afternoon rush hour though the congested town.

It is so pleasurable to gaze down the densely forested Antrim Valley to the Caribbean Sea from Springfield’s covered dining porch.

As I drove away, I felt especially privileged to have had such a memorable  Creole lunch in this spectacular place.  Thanks to Nancy and the  staff  at Springfield for  a superbly delicious meal in such sensational surroundings.  I promise I’ll be back again soon!