The Roseau Public Library Highlights Black History Month in Dominica

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Dominica’s Public Library in Roseau proudly promoted Black History Month with displays of their circulating and reference collections that focus on Black history, culture and literature from national, regional and international sources.

It was not in Dominica where I first became familiar with the value and importance of the12593902_10153992852545962_6201929265960829090_o  celebration of Black History Month, which now takes place annually in many countries.  In the early 1990’s I was working as a librarian at the Nova Scotia Archives in that Canadian province’s capital city, Halifax. Within that library’s collection were numerous monographs and serials which emphasized the tremendous cultural, educational and historical contributions of African Nova Scotians  to the Maritime region in particular.

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The Roseau Public Library was built in 1906. It is a treasure trove of local, regional and international books!

Since that time, festivities surrounding Black History and Culture have expanded to many countries, including the Caribbean.  Dominica’s Roseau Public Library is no exception, and I was delighted to see their promotion of this important event during the  month of February.

As a bibliophile, I really enjoyed perusing the special collection of materials that emphasize Black authors, history and literature.  Although these books are housed in the reference section, they are available for a special loan. You can search the collection’s OPAC (online public access catalog) with the subject of Black History to see the extensive listings here.

Here is a glimpse at some of the incredible titles that are found in that section:

A carousel of books in the circulating collection also featured prominently upon entering the library.  I was delighted that one of my donations, The Book of NegroesDSCF6973

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This carousel featured books that represent Black history and related topics during the month of February.

by award-winning Canadian author Lawrence Hill has been heavily borrowed by keen readers in the past few years.

While I am always interested in books, I rarely take in a film or video, even though I can access these genres as easily as anyone else.

But during Dominica’s Black History Month, I broke that tradition, as I was very interested in seeing  one of their featured films: 12 Years a Slave.

Many people may have already viewed this renowned and acclaimed film, which was released in 2013. I was one of a small crowd that gathered at the library  one evening to see itDSCF6974 up close and personal.

From the start, I was completely taken with the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who lived in northern New York state  in the 1800’s. He was tricked into going ‘south’ in 1841 and was immediately sold into slavery, ending up in very abusive and cruel conditions on two plantations in Louisiana.  This movie was so graphic and detailed in terms of the gruesome violence that he and other slaves experienced that I could not look at the screen during those episodes.  It was enough to hear their cries of anguish. Tears were already falling down my cheeks by the time Northup meets a Canadian abolitionist who was working on the plantation as a carpenter.  This man risks his life to get letters delivered to family and authorities who in turn ensure Northup’s release from bondage by physically removing him from the property.  Of course, the southern slaves could only look on as he made his way back to freedom in the ‘north’. (Note: his experience took place a few years before the Civil War).

Certainly, there is more to the story, and I’ll leave that for you to experience on your own.  I can only conclude this brief review by remarking that human beings are capable of the most despicable acts of cruelty against each other, and on the other hand, the resilience of the human spirit is awe-inspiring.  I was so moved by this story that I dreamed about it.  I don’t think I can ever forget what I saw and heard in 12 Years A Slave. .  However,  I know that it reinforces my personal beliefs that we are all equal, regardless of culture, race or background and that when we treat each other with kindness, compassion and respect,  we will create a more harmonious, peaceful world in which to live.

Hats off the the staff at the Roseau Public Library and the organizers of Black History

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Miss Belinda is one of the friendly and helpful staff members at the Roseau Public Library.  You can find out more about events at this wonderful educational institution right here.

Month in Dominica. About 800 students, their teachers and the general public have benefitted tremendously from the presentations, displays and films that have given us further understanding and knowledge about various aspects of Black history in Dominica, and around the world.

 

 

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Roseau Dominica: Charming Caribbean Capital – Part 2

The Barracoon Building is just north of the round-about by the General Post Office in the Bayfront. It was built in the mid-18th century and was initially used as a holding centre for slave arrivals and auctions.

I pick up my walk around town from where I left off last time, which you can read about here.  As I continue north along the Bayfront, I pass the Post Office and the round-about.  On the east side of the street, I stand before the Barracoon Building, which is considered one of the oldest structures in Roseau.  It was once a holding centre for recently arrived slaves from the mid-18th century until the abolition of this trade in 1807.   This structure serves as a sombre reminder of this unfortunate aspect of Caribbean history. It is the only one that remains intact in the region.  A court house and the Roseau City Council currently occupy the premises.

Freshly cut flowers can be purchased for a very reasonable price at the Roseau market every Saturday. Seen here are white anthuriums in the foreground, bird-of paradise in the centre and red ginger lilies in the background.

The Roseau Market is a feast of colour for the eyes and offers substantial nourishment for the body. I go every Saturday for the widest selection of produce.

As I am close to the Roseau River where the New Market  is located, I meander over to purchase some farm-fresh local fruits and vegetables. I also love to buy a bunch of flowers, usually anthurium lilies grown or harvested by ladies in  the mountain villages of Wotten Waven, Trafalgar and Giraudel,

One of the four guardian ‘Fu Dogs’ which are found on the outer four corners of the Chinese built ‘friendship bridge’ over the Roseau River.

A recent addition to the riverfront near the New Market is the Chinese-built ‘Friendship Bridge’.  The symbolic ‘Fu (Foo) dogs’ adorn the four end points of the bridge. There are now three bridges across the Roseau River, which aid traffic congestion tremendously.

With  purchases packed in my reusable bags, I head back into the town’s centre.  I really enjoy taking time to admire the diverse street scenes of this Caribbean capital.

This brightly painted Ti Kaz- like building advertises a soft drink product very well!

Look at the lovely fret work on the balcony of this stately King George V Street building. The private veranda provides shelter for pedestrians below and shade for inside inhabitants. The steep shape of the roof, called ‘hipped’ helps deflect high winds.

The dormers on this King George V Street building help hot air to escape and also provide more space to stand up straight! The yellow hurricane shutters are open on the dormers but are closed on the veranda.

Occasional hurricanes and fires over the years have left their mark, particularly in the absence of trees and some vacant lots that once contained wooden buildings.  Presently, some of the existing wooden  Ti Kaz  (little house) types are brightly painted and lend cheer to the pervasive grays found in the volcanic stone  buildings, which have largely been around since the 19th century.  Very often, the second floor is built from wood.  Fancy fretwork, protruding verandas, dormer windows and hurricane shutters are predominant features that reflect what is called a “Caribbean Creole” style.

Pizza Hut (foreground) and Fedex (sign in the background) do good business in Roseau.

Of course, progress does not escape even the smallest island. Multinational companies set up shop amidst more traditional ones.

La Flamboyant Hotel on King George V Street adds colour and contrast to conventional surroundings.

Newer businesses, such as La Flamboyant Hotel complement the existing traditional designs with a more contemporary style.

This building on the corner of Cork St. and Independence street was the childhood home of early 20th Dominican novelist Jean Rhys.

Some older buildings have considerable historical significance.  Jean Rhys, a novelist who is greatly admired by the international literary community was actually born and raised in Roseau in the early 20th century.  Although she left  for England when she was 16, and only returned once in her lifetime, her works are rife with references to the Nature Island.  Her most famous work, Wide Sargasso Sea is frequently found in libraries, advanced literature courses and general  reading lists.

Marvo’s Corner is found on the east side of Independence Street, about a block north of its junction with King George V St.

Marvo welcomes you to her snackette. Ici on parle francais, as well as English!

Since I have been walking around town for a while, it is time for a delectable Dominican treat.  From the former home of Jean Rhys on the west side of Independence Street, I cross to the east side, and head in a southerly direction.  About a block before the junction of Independence and King George V Streets, I stop to place my take-out order at Marvo’s Corner. This talented lady (qui parle francais aussi) and her husband have created little roadside snack shops that rival all the others.  Marvo serves up Creole-style breakfast meals ‘to go’, such as substantial bakes (like deep fried bread)  filled with omelettes, seasoned codfish, provisions (starchy vegetables) and salad, fresh local juices, fruit or vegetable smoothies, accras (deep fried seasoned often with tasty little fish) and other filling snacks.  If you’re going home, back to your guest house, over to the Botannical Gardens or on an outing, you can pack these hearty treats to take with you.  For those who are planning a long hike, or simply relish the taste of something rich and sweet, be sure to ask for energizing homemade cocoa tea with coconut milk.  It’s the best in Roseau!

Pearl’s Cuisine in the Sutton Place Hotel’s dining room fills with hungry patrons who enjoy the lovely  ambience and delicious meals.

The Sutton Place Hotel is a welcoming place with good food in the heart of the city.

Another of my favourite food stops , if I happen to be in town on  either a Wednesday or a Saturday, is Pearl’s Cuisine (448-8707) in the historic Sutton Place Hotel on Old Street.  My main mission is to devour a substantial  and very economical West Indian roti, which is packed with  either a curried meat or fish or vegetarian filling, other cooked vegetables and wrapped up in a flour ‘skin’.  I love the ambience of this pretty dining room.  At lunch time, the place fills with a veritable mix of hungry diners and can be a real who’s who of various professionals who have business offices in the area.  Of course, tourists, expats and conference participants know that a roti lunch will hit the spot any Wednesday or Saturday of the year! (NOTE: As of November 2012, some rotis (chicken and vegetable) are available from Monday to Saturday, but are no longer served as twice weekly specials due to the unfortunate death of the man who prepared the genuine roti ‘skins’.  The staff assures me that once someone else is found who can undertake this particular skill, then they will offer specials once again).

Now it’s time to digest those wonderful meals and head home.  There is much more to be said about Roseau, of course.  The gardens and the government buildings will feature in subsequent posts.  Hope you can join me on my next ‘walk’ around town!

References:

Honychurch, Lennox. Dominica: Isle of Adventure. Second Edition. (MacMillan), 1995.

Honychurch, Lennox.  Historic Roseau: The Capital of Dominica. (Paramount), 2000.

SHAPE (Society for Heritage, Architecture, Preservation and Enhancement. Self-guided walking tour: Historic Roseau. (booklet).