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Dominican Republic: Ethnic Heritage
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > Racial and Ethnic Groups > Ethnic Heritage

ETHNIC HERITAGE


The island's indigenous inhabitants were the Taino Indians (Arawaks) group and a small settlement of Caribs around the Bahía de Samaná. These Indians, estimated to number perhaps 1 million at the time of their initial contact with Europeans, had died off by the 1550s. The importation of African slaves began in 1503. By the nineteenth century, the population was roughly 150,000: 40,000 of Spanish descent, an equal number of black slaves, and the remainder of freed blacks or mulattoes. In the mid-1980s, approximately 16 percent of the population was considered white and 11 percent black; the remainder were mulattoes.

Contemporary Dominican society and culture are overwhelmingly Spanish in origin. Taino influence is limited to cultigens and to a few vocabulary words, such as huracán (hurricane) and hamaca (hammock). African influence has been largely ignored, although certain religious brotherhoods with significant black membership incorporated some Afro-American elements. Observers also have noted the presence of African influence in popular dance and music.

There was a preference in Dominican society for light skin and "white" racial features.Blackness in itself, however, did not restrict a person to a lower status position. Upward mobility was possible for the dark-skinned person who managed to acquire education or wealth. Social characteristics, focusing on family background, education, and economic standing, were in fact more prominent means of identifying and classifying individuals. Darker-skinned persons were concentrated in the east and the south. The population of the Cibao, especially in the countryside, consisted mainly of whites or mulattoes.

Dominicans traditionally preferred to think of themselves as descendants of the island's Indians and the Spanish, ignoring their African heritage. Thus, phenotypical African characteristics were disparaged. Emigrants to the United States brought a new level of racial consciousness to the republic, however, when they returned. Those who came back during the 1960s and the 1970s had experienced both racial prejudice and the black pride movement in North America. Returning migrants brought back Afro hairstyles and a variety of other Afro-North Americanisms.

Data as of December 1989




Last Updated: December 1989


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Dominican Republic was first published in 1989. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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