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Culture, Society and Religion

Dominican Republic - Culture, Society and Religion


The Dominican Republic is a melting pot of the Spanish colonists, African slaves, and Taino Indians. This can be seen in the physical characteristics with around 80% being brown skinned (mulatto), and the rest being white or black. There is a desire to be whiter, and most of the rich Dominicans are paler skinned. Whilst racism is not overtly apparent there is definite discrimination against the Haitians. Many Taino Indian words are used within the language, and also some of their food. The African elements are found in the dance, and the music such as merengue. The three most important elements of Dominican culture are music, family and food. They cannot live without all three.

Music is a very important part of life to Dominicans and is usually played extremely loud, which many expats find hard if they happen to live near a Dominican family. The three traditional forms of music were bachata, merengue and salsa, but in recent years, due to the American influence the young are now listening to reggaeton and hip hop. Music is played constantly in every home, in every shop, on the guaguas (buses) and in the street. In the evenings people will dance in the streets in front of the colmados, which are the neighbourhood convenience stores.

Family is very important to Dominicans and the children, once working, will always give money to their parents. Members of the family will often leave to go to America and send a part of their wages back to the Dominican Republic to their family. Whilst this has had the effect of helping to keep part of the population out of poverty, it has also resulted in the fragmentation of families, with mothers leaving young children in the care of other relatives. Although the family is important, very few Dominicans actually marry, they just live together. The relationships do not always appear to last long, and it is common for a woman to have several children by many different fathers. As there is no social security system in that there are no pensions, no state money for the unemployed, disabled or sick, people will have many children hoping they will provide the family income in the future.

Every aspect of life is affected by the fact that most of the population are poor. They are all desperate to get out of poverty, but it is almost impossible. The men all want to work in tourism, hoping to meet foreign women who will take them to the promised land of USA, Canada or Europe. Many of the women end up as prostitutes and certain areas of the country are sex tourism Meccas.

Nonetheless the overall impression for the visitor is a country where people are happy, friendly and always willing to help or to share what they have. Dominicans live for the day, and they are constantly laughing. Neighbours look out for each other, and bring each other fruit or vegetables from their garden. If you have a puncture on the road, someone will stop and help you within minutes. Dominicans also want you to feel happy too, so they will always tell you what you want to hear. Asking if it will be sunny tomorrow will invariably be met with a yes, the garage mechanic will tell you the car is almost ready when he hasn’t even started, and if you ask for directions you will always be told the way, even if the person you asked has no idea at all and will send you in the wrong direction. This can all be frustrating for the newly arrived expat, until you learn to understand the culture of the country.

Another frustration will be the time keeping. The Dominican Republic definitely has a mañana attitude. This is not helped by the fact that many people cannot actually tell the time and have no idea what time it is or how long five minutes actually is. You will invite people for dinner and three hours later, when you telephone them they will say “estoy llegando,” meaning “I am arriving,” when they have not yet left their house!

The Dominican Republic is a Roman Catholic country with around 70% of the population described as Catholic. The Church affects daily life, in that birth control has only been allowed relatively recently, and abortion is still illegal. However, although the figures state that less than 20% are evangelical, there are significantly more evangelical churches, especially in the rural areas, and they are well attended. Most Dominicans will say they believe in God and when speaking will often use the phrase “Si Dios quiere.” (If God wishes it). With the presence of so many Haitians, voodoo or brujeria is also extensively practiced by both Dominicans and Haitians although usually only to divine the winning lottery numbers or by women to put a spell on errant husbands to stop them straying. Interestingly, During World War II, Trujillo invited displaced Jews to come to the Dominican Republic, it is said to try and introduce more white people to the country. The Jews founded the town of Sosua, which has remained the centre of the Jewish population ever since.


Useful Resources

A great little book about the culture and the customs of the Dominican Republic
Dominican Republic – Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture
By Ginnie Bedggood and Ilana Benady (Kuperard, 2010)

This guide was compiled with the help of Lindsay de Feliz, a British expat blogger living in the Dominican Republic. Visit her blog at yoursaucepans.blogspot.com.


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