‘Ma Pampo’ and the Centenarians of Dominica*

Dominica's Mountainous Terrain, Lush Valleys and Clear Sky
Photo by Edwin Whitford

‘Longevity’ is a household word on Dominica, the Nature Island.

Presently, around 20 centenarians thrive as part of the country’s 70,000 people. That’s about three seniors over the age of 100 for every 10,000 residents. Reports suggest that their prevalence in the population is higher than most developed western countries!

A scientific study has examined a number of common traits among these 100-plus-year-olds. The findings suggest that this accomplishment is neither coincidence nor is it genetic.

Consider Elizabeth “Ma Pampo” Israel, who passed away in Dominica on October 14, 2003 at the extraordinary age of 128 years.

In 1999, a curious caregiver found a copy of her baptismal certificate in local Roman Catholic Church records. It indicated that her birth date was January 27, 1875. Shortly afterwards, a Dominican broadcast journalist announced this amazing piece of news to the media. Then Pampo achieved international notoriety in various publications including Time Magazine (February 14, 2000), as well as mentions on popular television programs.

However, the original birth record was destroyed by Hurricane David in 1979 and a building fire that same year burned the relevant government documentation. Therefore, the Guinness Book of Records could not authenticate the claim that Ma Pampo was the oldest human ever.

Nevertheless, the Government of Dominica and senior church officials remain proud to acknowledge Ma Pampo’s incredible achievement. She received the country’s highest tribute, the Dominica Award of Honour in 2002. When she died, hundreds of people attended her official ‘state’ funeral.

Dominican broadcaster and playwright Alex Bruno spent much time with Ma Pampo during the last few years of her life. He considers her the link to Dominica’s historic past from the modern world. She candidly revealed some insights as to the possible reasons for her abundance of time on earth. He was so inspired by her revelations that he wrote and staged a play entitled Pampo: the Drama, which is about her life. (www.cakafete.com/pampo).

Although she was the oldest of six children, she laboured on a plantation near Portsmouth on the northwestern coast of Dominica from a young age and retired when she was 104. She married “later in life” and had one child – a son, when she was in her forties. Her priorities were to take care of herself, her family and her job. Her daily toil initially earned her a penny a day. While she did not have many material goods, she managed with what she had.

Many varieties of locally grown fruits are found at the Roseau Market.

Organic produce is readily available on the Nature Island.

Even at an advanced age, she was very particular about what she ate. She felt that no one would live long if they ate fruits and vegetables contaminated by synthetic fertilizers. It was also clear that she practised a holistic lifestyle. Pampo firmly believed and demonstrated that people should embrace simplicity, honesty, good faith and proper health care – along with humour, patience and kindness every day of their lives.

A healthy diet can still be easily obtained on Dominica, thanks to fertile soil for growing numerous natural foods.

Coincidentally, a scientific research report was undertaken by professors at the Portsmouth Dominica campus of Ross University Medical School. It is entitled ‘Extreme Longevity in Dominica, West Indies: A Population Study’ (2004).

The results disclosed that there are specific trends and characteristics in common that prevail throughout the lives of other centenarians as well as Ma Pampo.

Clean fresh water is abundant on the Nature Island.
Photo by Edwin Whitford

It also revealed that Dominica’s pristine environment, very low levels of pollution, tranquil surroundings, minimal stress, abundant organic produce, high-protein, low-fat consumption; minimal use of alcohol and cigarettes, and clean water have enhanced the long lives of the centenarians. Life-long physical activity and accessible public health care also contributed to their well-being.

Elizabeth ‘Ma Pampo” Israel was a humble, hardworking, clean living person who did not bring any prominence upon herself. The remarkably similar healthy lifestyles of all living centenarians in the above-mentioned research study serve as an example to all that the right ingredients for a long life are readily available on Dominica – the Nature Island of the World.

Copyright ©2008, 2012 by Gwenith M. Whitford. All Rights Reserved.

*This post was originally published on a web site in 2008 that has since closed down.  There have been a few slight changes to the piece to make it current.  Pictures of Ma Pampo will be found on some of the linked web sites.

Online Resources and Links (2012):           




Hard Copy:

‘Irma is one hundred’ in The Sun Newspaper, Commonwealth of Dominica, Monday November 21, 2011, Front Page.

Whitford, Gwenith. ‘How to live to be 100’ in Queen’s Alumni Review (Kingston, Ontario Canada), Spring 2002, Back Page.

4 comments on “‘Ma Pampo’ and the Centenarians of Dominica*

  1. Myan says:

    I definitely believe that eating natural foods is the way to help us live for a long time, processed food contains so many chemicals that can be damaging to the body. It’s amazing how Ma Pampo’s lifestyle change gave her such longevity. Wonderful article!


  2. gwendominica says:

    I think we can learn lots from centenarians and younger seniors in terms of having a healthy lifestyle. Dominica has all the right ingredients – clean air, food and water – so it can be easily achieved on the Nature Island!


  3. elizabeth says:

    very nice photos, looks like you have a professional photograpehr, eh;)


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