‘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.

A Morning on Mero Beach

Mero Beach – northerly direction

On a mid-week morning in March, I ventured up the west coast of Dominica from Roseau to the seaside village of Mero.  My visit was two-fold:  I had an appointment with my French physiotherapist/osteopath Martine Varlet (767-316-2270) so I  looked forward to relief from some of my health challenges; and of course, I  had to allow a little time for a beach ‘lime’ (West Indian for hanging out).

Because it was a beautiful day and there were two cruise ships in port, I decided to visit the beach well before my 11 a.m. appointment. After a half hour on the public bus,  I hopped off it by the Mero Village entrance and within a couple of minutes , I was strolling along the seaside.  To my delight, there was not a soul in sight!   Mero is a popular spot for cruise shippers,  but they would not arrive until about midday on their tour buses.  For now, the pristine beach was all mine!

Mero Beach – southerly direction

I didn’t wander too far  along the expansive stretch of beach this time. I actually had a third goal: French pressed coffee and a slice of  the sensational passionfruit chocolate cake baked by Chef Dominique at Romance Cafe (767-449-7922)  right  on the beach.

Romance Cafe is set right on Mero Beach.

Carla and Tarrie will welcome you at Romance Cafe

Staff Carla and Tarrie greeted me in their usual warm and friendly way and then prepared my order.  Meanwhile, I walked around the tables and admired the very diverse artists’ works that are found on several table-tops.  A number of painters, both local and foreign have created  works of art, upon which one may dine and can even buy, if so desired.

After my perusal of this unusual gallery,  I selected a seat with my favourite table-top painting and gazed out to sea.  It was an idyllic Caribbean setting – the kind that most people dream about, I think.  The calm, inviting surf beckoned me and idle boats drifted lazily around their moorings.  There was no time for a ‘sea bath’  and an inviting lounge chair  that day, but those plans are definitely on the agenda for next time!

A Table-Top Painted by my friend Susan Weeks.

The Beach Chairs Beckon

One View from my table

I savored my treats, while relishing this tranquil and spectacular morning in paradise.

When I had finished the dregs of my coffee and picked up every last crumb on my plate, I glanced at my watch and realized it was almost 11 a.m..  I paid up and parted this lovely locale with promises that I would back very soon.                                                                                                                                                         for  a French/Dominican inspired meal, if I am lucky.

You might call me selfish, but I really don’t mind sharing a slice of the Nature Isle.  I just feel particularly blessed when I have a few moments of this precious place all to myself!

An Afternoon in the Rainforest

gwendominica on the suspension bridge over the Breakfast River Gorge 300 feet below.

UPDATE: MAY 30, 2012.

Dominica’s Rainforest Aerial Tram has ceased operations.  This is a very sad day for the tourism industry in Dominica.  I wish all the staff the best of luck and thank them for providing an excellent tourism product.  For further information, consult:

http://dominicanewsonline.com/news/homepage/news/business/sixty-six-jobless-as-aerial-tram-shuts-down/  and


On a cool and drizzly Sunday afternoon, I accepted a friend’s invitation to join her and members of the Dominican Welfare and Hospital Aid Scheme on an outing to Laudat in Dominica’s interior .  In this lush location, we took a tour on the Rainforest Aerial Tram. (http://www.rainforestadventure.com/)

I had not been back to take another Tram tour since it first opened in 2003!  I wasn’t really sure what to expect after all those years.  When we arrived, we had to wait for some time, as a number of groups from a cruise ship were preparing to board the gondolas which could each only hold 8 guests and a guide. In the mean time, there was delectable Dominican coffee to drink, sheltered picnic tables upon which to sit and spectacular scenery to admire at the ‘ground level’.

After about half an hour, we were asked to assemble in an orderly  fashion and we quickly  boarded several of the 22 gondolas in preparation for our above-ground tour.  Our ascent would begin at about 2,000 feet above sea level.  We would climb to 2,500 feet (the upper limit of the rainforest) where we would disembark for a brief walking tour.  Then we  would descend on another cable line that would keep us above the tree-tops for most  of the return journey.

Our friendly guide, Craig Johnson  incessantly plied us with piles of  fascinating facts about the flora, fauna, geology and history  of Dominica for more than one hour. My only regret is that I was not carrying a notebook .There was so much to remember!

A friendly ‘Parasite’ forms a symbiotic relationship with a tree

Craig told us about the four levels of the rainforest and its abundant foliage. There seemed to be endless plants, trees, flowers and birds thriving in this moist and fertile terrain.  He especially amazed us with his in-depth knowledge of plants and their scientific names, as well as their English and Creole versions.  I was further impressed with his understanding of the medicinal and traditional uses of a number of  plants. It seemed that a remedy for almost every ailment can be found in the rainforest.  We saw plants that could alleviate migraines, reduce hypertension, soothe sores and enhance sexual vitality, among other things.  We all  agreed that nature’s pharmacy is obviously found on the Nature Isle.

The plaintive calls of thrushes and the melodious trills of the elusive mountain whistler accompanied us as we  slowly moved along while admiring all of the stunning sights. “Rider,” a bold little Bullfinch hopped on board for part of our excursion as he searched hopefully for a crumb or two.  We were certainly completely immersed in our rainforest experience!

While we oooed and aaahed at this ‘heaven on earth’, Craig  reminded us that there are frighteningly few rainforests and that they only cover  about 6 % of the entire planet.  These precious portions of land are too vital to our survival  to ever be destroyed again.

As an avid hiker, I also paid strict attention to which plants could provide food and water in case I were ever lost  in Dominica’s  dense  jungle.

But next time, I’ll be sure to bring that notebook!

Magnificent buttresses of the Chatannye (pronounced Sha-tah-nay)tree.They are a prominent and spectacular sight in Dominica’s rainforest areas.

The rainforest here is dense and lush with hundreds of plants and trees, which have regenerated since Category 4 Hurricane David wiped most of them out in 1979.

Look out below! The depths of the Breakfast River Gorge 300′ below the suspension bridge. It flows into the ‘mother’ or female cascade at the twin Trafalgar Falls.

Mighty Morne Macaque (French) Micotrin (Carib) which means monkey in English is one of Dominica’s highest mountains at 4,006 as seen from the upper descending gondola line’. There are no monkeys on the Nature Isle, but you would have to be one to climb it!

Another Day in Dominica

But this is no ordinary day, I should say.  That’s because I have finally decided to post some articles, thoughts, and feelings about Dominica on my new blog.

It’s slow going, but that is the name of the game here.  I am on ‘island time’, after all.As a long time resident of Dominica, I feel very much at home here on the Nature Island.  I am very fortunate to benefit from the bountiful clean air, food and water on this lesser-known island in the Caribbean. It has been said repeatedly, that if Christopher Columbus were to revisit the Caribbean now, Dominica would be the only island that he would easily recognize.  I feel very lucky to live here, and my health has benefited from it tremendously.

Today is very showery and breezy, typical of this time of year when the strong trade winds from the east blow over Dominica’s tall mountains and low clouds moisten the exotic rainforest and the seaside.

More about me later, as this blog unfolds.  For now,meditate upon a photo or two of this lovely island until my next episode.