Ahmadnagar, India March 2019

Ahmadnagar (also Ahmednagar) is a city of 400,000 in western central India, about 200 km inland, East of Mumbai.  It is noisy, busy, trashy, and industrious with a few traffic signals, no street signs, and almost nothing that resembles a sidewalk.  Like most of India, the informalities do not seem to bother the locals who endure the surging vehicle, pedestrian and animal traffic with mild detachment.

20190302 Ahmadnagar Farah Bagh View (51)Ahmadnagar is located on the Deccan Plateau, the geographic feature that defines the triangle of the Indian subcontinent south of the Ganges River.  It is a tropical climate, hospitable to humans since the Stone Age.

The Deccan hosted some of India’s major medieval dynasties including the Vakataka Empire, a Brahmin dynasty from the 3rd century CE, contemporary with the Northern Gupta Dynasty, during India’s “Golden Age”, a period of great scientific, cultural, economic and political advancements.  Remnants of the Vakataka Empire include the rock cave complexes at Ellora and Ajanta, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

20190302 Ahmadnagar Ellora Caves (32)

Hindu (perhaps the world’s oldest religion), Buddhist and Jain dynasties competed in Southern India for centuries.  As early as the 7th century CE, Islam began its influence in India as the original Middle East (Turkic) sultanates fractured.  Invasion became the primary means of international diplomacy.

By the 10th century, Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms in India were being plundered by Turkic Mamluk militias, at least 17 times between 997 and 1030.  But the real invasion began in the 13th century when the Mamluks established the Islamic Delhi Sultanate and colonized most of the subcontinent for the next 320 years.  The fusion of Islam and Indian cultures led to profound growth of both civilizations.  Trade expanded throughout Africa and Asia.  Architecture, politics, literature, commerce and language were advanced, still now applauded with international renown.

20190302 Ahmadnagar Fort (25)

The Delhi Sultanate also brought military credibility.  While he was thrashing his way across the rest of Asia (including the homelands of the Delhi Sultans), Genghis Khan ordered an India invasion in 1221 in pursuit of a Persian-Turkic bad guy, Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu.  His armies invaded and ultimately defeated Mingburnu, but stalled out against the stronger Delhi forces.  Genghis left his 3rd son, Ögedei to pursue India, but his death in 1241 prompted the Mongols to return to friendlier (conquered) territory to the North.  It took another 300 years for Genghis’s descendants (the Mughal Empire) to finally overcome the Delhi Sultanate.

Along the way, discontent was spreading through the Delhi Empire.  In 1345, the Delhi sultan attempted to quell the uprisings by moving his capitol south to Daulatabad.  It did not go well.  His army was devastated by plague, demoralized, and rebellious.  The troops switched allegiance to the remnants of one of the medieval Indian kingdoms, the Bahmani Sultanate, led by an Afghan military general, Ismail Mukh.  They revolted against Delhi and re-established the historic empire, although now commanded by northern Islamic foreigners.

20190302 Ahmadnagar Farah Bagh (54)

The new sultanate found itself wedged between hostile kingdoms who had held out against Delhi – Gujarat, Malwa, and the powerful Hindu Vijayanagara kingdom, as well as their own internal foreign sympathizers who were not well accepted by the locals, and vice versa.   Bahmani shrewdly survived for 150 years through political, cultural, economic and military manipulations,  but eventually, contention with the Vijayanagara kingdpm led to collapse into what became known as the five Deccan Sultanates – Nizam Shahs (Ahmadnagar), the Adil Shahs (Bijapur), the Qutb Shahs (Golconda), the Imad Shahs (Gawilgarh), and the Barid Shahs (Bidar).

20190302 Ahmadnagar Farah Bagh (45)

Malik Nizam-ul-Mulk, patriarch of the Nizam Shahs, was a noble at the Bahamani court from a well off Indian family of Pathri.  He had converted to Islam during his service to the sultan, and promoted the Nizam Shah Dynasty as the only “native” of the Deccan kingdoms. His Indian patrimony was a source of friction with the many Bahamani ex-pat nobles.  Malik was assassinated by them in 1486, during the Bahamani break up.

His son Ahmad Nizam Bahri was then governor of Junnar, also in the Maharashtra District.  He rebelled, defeating the Bahmani army on May 28, 1490 and declared independence for the Nizam Shahi dynasty.

20190302 Ahmadnagar Damdi Waterworks (20)

In 1494, the foundation was laid for his new capitol, humbly named after himself, Ahmadnagar. He initiated construction of a fort that was renowned for its security (used by the British into the 20th century), began mosques and monuments and one of the most impressive waterworks of the era, an extensive underground storage and distribution system that delivered water over a 15 km network.

One of Ahmad’s zealous chroniclers, Tarikh-i Firishtah, described the scene:

… Ahmad Nizam Shah laid the foundation of a city in the vicinity of the Sena river, to which he gave the name of Ahmadnagar. So great exertions were made in erecting buildings by the king and his dependents, that in the short space of two years the new city rivalled Baghdad and Cairo in splendour.

20190302 Ahmadnagar Damdi (18)

After several attempts, he secured nearby Daulatabad the fort that had started the decline of the Delhi Sultanate.  His son and descendants expanded the territory well into the 16th century, attracting the attention and hostility of the ever pressing Mughals who by 1526 had conquered and dispatched the Delhi Sultanate.

Through family intrigue (poisonings, traitorous regents, imprisonments …) and wars with the invaders, the dynasty survived for 109 eventful years before the Mughals finally won out, but not before Chand Bibi, Ahmad’s great granddaughter and India’s greatest female warrior, gave them several humiliating defeats.

20190302 Ahmadnagar Salamat Tomb (57)The Mughals spent the 17th century trying to conquer the rest of India.  In 1632, Shah Jahan, the  5th Mughal emperor (builder of the Taj Mahal), captured the fortress at Daulatabad, and imprisoned Hussain Nizam Shah III, the 13th and next to last king of Nizam Shahi.  Shah Jahan appointed Aurangzeb as Viceroy of the Deccan.

Aurangzeb  (Muhi-ud-Din Muhammad), “Ornament of the Throne”, rose to become the sixth Mughal emperor, reigned from 1658 to 1707.  He died at Ahmednagar.

Aurangzeb was a ruthless militant and religious fanatic.  He subdued almost the entire subcontinent, burdened the Hindus and Sikhs with heavy taxes, destroyed temples, tortured and assassinated Muslim saint Sarmad , killed his own brother Dara Shikoh for un-Muslim behavior, bricked alive  two young sons of Guru Gobind Singh, age 7 and 9, for not converting to Muslim.

20190302 Ahmadnagar Farah Bagh View (46)The Mughal Empire reached its peak under Aurangzeb in 1700, a kingdom of 158 million subjects (world population 650 million at the time), 10 times larger in revenue than that of his French contemporary Louis XIV, and surpassing China as the world’s largest economy with nearly a quarter of world GDP.

At age 88, after 49 years on the throne during another military campaign in southern India, he realized that he was dying along with his intolerant empire, and was not destined to conquer the rest of the subcontinent.  He died in 1707 at Ahmednagar on his way back to his hometown Khuldapur.

More than 300 years later now, in this city of Ahmadnagar, the remnants of the empire are a remarkable site against the bustle and clutter of today’s city. Four of the most enduring legacies include:

Damdi (Dumdani) Masjid Mosque

20190302 Ahmadnagar Damdi (16)

Built in 1567, this small mosque is an exquisite work of carved stone masonry, a fine example if Islamic-Indian architecture.  The mosque is attributed to Queen and warrior Chand Bibi.  Damdi was the penny of the Nizam Shah currency, honoring the contributions made by the peasants and laborers of Ahmednagar.

It is set in a Muslim cemetery, neighboring a non-mulsim graveyard and the Ahmednagar Fort.  It is also the site of one of Ahmednagar’s famed water utilities, an underground water tank, a Bawli, connected to the city’s distribution network, offering liberal ablution opportunities for the worshippers.

The mosque was all but abandoned following the Partition of India (Ahmadnagar is now 90% Hindu), but maintained for generations by a local family.

Ahmadnagar Fort

20190302 Ahmadnagar Fort Nehru Room (26)The fort was originally built in 1427 by Malik Ahmad Nizam Shah I, namesake of Ahmednagar. It was made of mud but fortified in stone in 1562 after a 4 year upgrade. It is the site where, in 1596, Chand Bibi repulsed the Mughal invasion, though it fell under her leadership in 1599 and Chand was killed by her own troops during the 4 month melee.

After Aurangzeb died at Ahmednagar Fort on 20 February 1707, the fort passed back to the Nizams, then the Marathas and Scindias. During the Second Anglo-Maratha War in 1803, the British defeated Maratha forces and the fort was occupied by the East India Company.

 In 1942, when Gandhi called on the British to leave India, his colleagues Jawaharlal Nehru and the Indian National Congress drafted the Quit India Resolution.  Nehru and most of the committee were arrested and imprisoned at the Ahmednagar Fort until 15 June 1945.  Nehru used his time there to study politics and write his pioneering book “Discovery of India”.

Currently, the fort is under the administration of the Armoured Corps of the Indian Army.

Farah Bagh

20190302 Ahmadnagar Farah Bagh (42)

Farah Bagh (also Faria Bagh, Farah Baksha) is a palace finished in 1583, intended for Burhan Nizam Shah I (1510-1553), the 2nd ruler of the Nizam Shah Empire.  It was the center of a larger imperial complex situated 3 km outside Ahmadnagar on a lake, now seasonal.

The complex was started in 1573, completed for occupancy by the 4th emperor, Murtaza Nizam Shah (1565-1588), who played chess here and added a separate palace for himself in the garden.  Sultana Chand Bibi also frequented the palace.

Nyamat Khan, a favored artisan, was assigned the design.  Construction started, but his contemporary critics convinced Burhan Nizam Shah that the design was all wrong.  He had it torn down, started again.  The job was then delegated to Salabat Khan I who soon died from the burden, and construction was finished by his nephew, Salabat Khan II.

The octagonal 2 storey greyish-pink stone structure was set on an island in the lake, surrounded by gardens. The main chamber, called Rang Mahal, is a magnificent space with detailed stucco and carved stone features, about 60×100’ with a central dome maybe 30 feet high.  The monument has a dimension of about 250 feet square consisting of chambers, corridors and stairways around the central hall.  The style is called Iranian, noted for its stone arches.  The palace also boasted an evaporative cooling and ventilation system tied to the lake and fountains.

The Ahmadnagar aqueduct fed the lake, reported to be seventeen feet deep and 150 feet wide. The garden and grounds extend about 500 yards from the palace, still traces evident today.

Farah Bagh’s overall volume and appearance is strikingly similar to the Taj Mahal. Muslim Emperor Shah Jahan, the one who captured Daulatabad, and appointed Aurangzeb to subdue the Nazim Shahs, lived in Ahmednagar in the early seventeenth century while he was rebelling against his own father.  He knew Farah Bagh.  His visit to nearby Daulatabad in 1632, the same year as he started construction on the Taj Mahal seems more than coincidental, feeding speculation that the structure was inspiration for his later monument.

Tomb of Salabat Khan

20190302 Ahmadnagar Salabat (10)The Tomb of Salabat Khan II (Architect of Farah Bagh) is a three-story stone structure situated prominently 13 km from Ahmednagar, visible from almost anywhere in the city.

It is believed that the structure was planned to be seven-stories but only three were built. The plan is octagonal consisting of simple massive stone arches.

The tombs are set in the base where Salabat Khan and one of his wives lie, surrounded by the stone foundation, reported to be 12 feet thick.  The 3 story arches rise to about 70 feet with a continuous gallery twelve feet wide all round, accessible by the narrowest of stairways, practically hidden in the wall.

Salabat Khan II, was a minister of the fourth Nizam Shah, Murtaza (1565-1588).  He followed his father as a statesman, appointed minister (Sardar) in 1579 after the mad minded Murtaza put to death his previous regent in a fit of suspicion and rage. In 1588, Murtaza was killed by his son and successor Hussain Nizam Shah II.  Salabat went on to complete the royal complex at Farah Bagh, and served the kingdom with distinction until his death in 1589.

 

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Dominica Architecture – October 2018

The Architecture on Dominica is natural, local, functional and unsophisticated.  Also colorful, under-maintained and susceptible to nature’s most devastating special events.

Dominica Colonial ROSEAU, Market Street 1910s 01Early 20th century Roseau

Columbus came to the Indies to make a profit.  Gold, silver, then sugar, bananas, tobacco and anything else with sales potential in Europe.  Security became an issue as loot was stockpiled, and the colonizers moved quickly to develop a lasting form of structure.  They chose local stone and local wood, grand resources at the time on Dominica.

Historically, the island was one of the last to develop in the Caribbean, thanks to the determined efforts of the native Kalinago.  But eventually, the Europeans oozed onto the island, fostered a European framework for settlement, then did their best to improve that which needed none.

Kalinago Camp 01

Traditional Kalinago House Reconstruction

The Kalinagos were doing just fine without Eurostyle, living in balance with their environment for more than a thousand years, perfecting their own civilization based on native climate, geography and materials.  Houses need no climate control in Dominica.  Shade and breezes are nice, so traditionally structures were open, modest and expendable, rebuilt every few years as the weather cooperated or not.  Thatched roof dwellings survived into the 20th century in the Capitol Roseau.

In their otherwise horrible misadventure, the French and British imposed “architecture” on the island, what is known now as Creole Caribbean Architecture.  Creole is the term describing mixed African and European heritage, especially related to the West Indies.  It applies to people, food, music and culture.  The local scene began to Creolize in the 18th century as the Europeans expanded plantations, imported more Africans, and built using local stone and lumber, first for military and religious uses, followed by housing and commercial structures.

Fort Shirley Cabrits 04

Fort Shirley, Cabrits National Reserve

The forts in the Caribbean are still the most impressive structures on the islands, no different on Dominica.  The French started military construction in violation of their treaty in the early 18th century.  As the French and British traded assaults later that century, each of them added to the fortifications, eventually establishing defenses that successfully withstood France’s most aggressive attacks in 1795 and 1805.

The local stone, along with mortar made from shellfish, proved its value.  The complete inventory of Dominica’s 18th century Home Depot consisted of local stone (river rock or volcanic) a selection of local hardwoods, and clams.

Dominica Commercial 14

Roseau Commerical, 19th Century

Everything European, and then Creole, including streets and sidewalks were built of these local resources.  Churches quickly followed the forts, then houses, warehouses, and commercial buildings.  Unlike many of the other islands, Dominica never developed ostentatious plantation houses.  Plantations were typically run by overseers working for an absentee landlord.  Offsite investors wanted the money used for production, so the only significant European historic house in Roseau is the Catholic bishop’s house.  It’s a pretty nice Palladian-Georgian Victorian.

Dominica Colonial Warehouse 1784 01

1784 Roseau Warehouse and Trading Post

Warehouses along the seafront in Roseau are significant stone structures, mostly dilapidated now, like most Dominican buildings, but still used actively with partial roofs and failing porches.

The most likable of all the heritage architecture are the commercial buildings.  Using the same stone and hardwood, the buildings reflect the island geography and lifestyle.  Cars have ruined their street charm, but their characteristic dignity is intact.

Dominica Old Town Street 08

One and two story, sometimes 3, the structures typically have stone foundations and stem walls, beamed floors, and a finely crafted mortise and tenon roof.  Porches and verandas figure prominently.  Doors and openings are framed in solid stone arches, mostly shuttered.  Window glass is still optional.  Housing is often incorporated on the upper floors.  Detached housing was often a modest simplified version using the same materials.

Due more to poverty than preference, Roseau is fortunate to have dozens of these structures remaining, in spite of the occasional roof removal by nature, or collapse due to unsympathetic remodels, both of which are also prevalent in the town.

 

Operation Red Dog Dominica July 2018

You’re a lazy 30 year old redneck without a job, negative political convictions, living in Texas.  Your father gassed himself in a trailer park, your sister married at 13, your mom’s new husband beats her, you served a year in prison for raiding people’s vacation homes, you like guns and money, don’t like blacks or communists, grew up in the shadow of KKK’s hometown in Tennessee.  Your only real work experience is military except for bank fraud and selling pot, all of which ended badly, forcing you to compulsively lie about the experiences.  You read Soldier of Fortune magazine.  It’s 1979.

You judge yourself to be perfectly qualified to invade a country.

You are Mike Perdue.

He found the perfect partner, Wolfgang Droege. a German/Canadian, high school dropout, hate filled organizer who introduced Perdue to David Duke, the White Supremacist.  Operation Red Dog was off and running.

red-dog-uk-posterx

Perdue was inspired by the 1979 military revolution in Grenada, which itself was inspired by Castro’s success in Cuba.  The New Jewel Movement (NJM) in Grenada was led by Maurice Bishop, a London educated attorney/revolutionary, who had pestered Grenadian Prime Minister Eric Gairy since independence in 1974.  The People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) was proclaimed on 13 March 1979 after the People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA), a secret militia of NJM, launched an armed takeover of the radio station, police barracks, and other key locations while Prime Minister Gairy was on a trip to the US.  The PRG suspended the constitution and ruled by decree with Bishop as prime minister. All political organizations except the NJM were banned, and membership in the party was thereafter tightly controlled.

Caribbean Islands 01

Naturally, Bishop was looking in his rearview mirror, aware that revolution had shallow roots, and that Grenada was under intense scrutiny from the UK, Russia and the US, all looking for an excuse to “set things right”.  Speculation bred that Gairy in the US was trying to raise his own army to regain the country.  Bishop baldly asked for help to withstand the (real or imaginary) mercenary forces, and Soldier of Fortune duly reported all the intriguing opportunities.

 

DominicaSupremeCourtBuilding 02x

Dominica High Court of Justice.  One of the invasion target sites.

Mike Perdue took the bait.  He tracked down Gairy in San Diego, posed as a reporter, and set up a meeting at Gairy’s hotel.  Perdue dropped any pretense and embellished a story to Gairy about his skills, connections, and ambitions and the only thing he needed from Gairy was a contract to return him to power in Grenada.  Gairy was lukewarm and offered no contract, but Perdue was certain that he could be convinced.  He began planning the invasion of Grenada.

Perdue’s dream wandered to the possibility that he had opened the vault door.  In addition to a lucrative mercenary contract, Perdue imagined gaining government sanctions for a series of lucrative businesses, including cocaine manufacturing plants, casinos, hotels, brothels, gunrunning, even exploiting the country’s labor and natural resources for profit – a “crooks paradise” he would later admit.

Bayou of Pigs 01

Perdue knew Droege through the KKK and solicited his help to organize the invasion.  Droege was able to attract initial financing from Canadian sympathizers some of whom visited the island for reconnaissance.  In return, the investors were promised gunrunning approval and money laundering opportunities.  Perdue and Droege began to search for likely mercenaries for the mission.

 

Perdue wanted to set up a training ground for his mercenaries.  He knew the Caribbean well enough to understand that the sparsely populated island of Dominica would be an easy place to camp out.

Perdue felt that operation was progressing well, but as discussions with Gairy continued, their strategies differed.  Perdue liked a military style assault by boat while Gairy suggested the mercenaries enter the country as tourists and seize weapons locally from the police and army.  At the same time, Bishop’s Grenada government was experiencing internal conflict and blatant corruption that was gathering more international attention.

 

Dominica PoliceHeadquarters 05xDominica Police Headquarters

By the time he met with David Duke later in 1979, after some coaching by Droege’s Canadian friends, Perdue’s plan had changed.  Grenada was out, Dominica was the target, offering all the same benefits with much less trouble or resistance.  The island was conveniently suffering from deep poverty, a devastating hurricane David, a well-established militant resistance called the Dreads, and an ugly political struggle leaving a deposed Prime Minister, Patrick “PJ” John, wanting desperately to return to power.

In the summer of 1980, Droege spent two weeks on the island with syndicated investors from Las Vegas. Perdue and Droege subsequently approached John directly in Dominica.  In September 1980 Perdue and John agreed in writing to commence what they called “Operation Red Dog,” a violent coup that would place John back in charge of the government and in return, John would use his influence to assure military support for the coup, give Perdue license to use the island for a casino, drug smuggling, and money laundering, and the mercenaries would receive more than $8 million cash.  In turn, Perdue promised the Las Vegans access to all natural resources and development projects on the island.  By winter 1981, Droege and Perdue secured more than $100,000 in capital for the invasion.”

Perdue gathered 8 conspriators for his core militia.  They included right-wing North Americans, Caribbean leftists, white supremacists, neo-nazis, black revolutionaries, capitalists, socialists, a nightclub owner, a gunrunner, a gay vigilante, a nurse with Irish Republican Army connections, and a couple of country boys who thought they were working for the CIA.  On the island, Prime Minister John was organizing a guerilla force of disgruntled army veterans and Rastafarian rebels.

The Manana

Mike Howell’s Boat Manana

Perdue’s plan was to travel from New Orleans to Dominica on a chartered boat, land on the island at night using rubber boats, meet up with John’s group and attack the police headquarters, courthouse, statehouse and political leaders and declare the new government.  They expected casualties.

In fact, Perdue’s entire plan appeared to be copied from the 1980 movie “The Dogs of War” (Christopher Walken, Tom Berenger), based on the book by Frederick Forsyth.

Dogs of War 1980

In February 1981, with a referral from David Duke, Perdue had arranged a captain and crew for the transfer.  The guy  backed out.  Perdue then walked down the pier, approached a local boat captain, Michael S. Howell. Perdue told Howell the CIA needed his boat for a covert operation.  Howell played along.

Howell, a Vietnam vet, was suspicious enough to contact the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).  The caper was busted, unbeknownst to Perdue.  ATF watched the whole show.

 

DominicaCapitolBuilding 04x

Dominica Capitol Building

Meanwhile, in March 1981, Droege’s buddy James McQuirter, the Grand Wizard of the Canadian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, thinking he would build his image, contacted a Toronto radio reporter and spilled the story.  The reporter, eager for a blockbuster, had 2nd thoughts and went to the police.  Bust #2, this time with CMP and FBI.

With conspirators on the ground in Dominica scouting the plan and coordinating with John, Perdue and the mercenaries assembled automatic weapons, shotguns, rifles, handguns, dynamite, 5000 rounds of ammunition, and a Nazi flag.  All under the watchful eye of the ATF.

Roseau Panorama 01x

On April 25, after Dominica officials were advised of the coup by Canadian authorities, John was arrested.  It was international news.  Not to be dissuaded, Perdue told his guys “it’s too late to turn back.”

The next day, Droege and Perdue met with three facilitators in New Orleans to transport the weapons, set up by Captain Howell.  ATF agents, of course.  All was set for a departure the following night.  The 10 mercenaries rendezvoused with the 3 facilitators and all the weapons in a small neighborhood park.  The ATF agents managed to convince Perdue to put all the weapons in one van, and all the conspirators in another.

Off they went to the marina where they were greeted with spotlights and a substantial welcoming committee from the police and FBI.

Droege and Perdue received three-year prison terms.  The other mercenaries received sentences from 6 months to three years.  McQuirter was convicted in association with the coup, along with other murder and counterfeiting charges, was locked up until 1989.

One of the conspirators, 21 year old George Malvaney served his sentence, went on to get a college degree, worked for the state, headed up Mississippi’s oil spill clean-up efforts for the EPA and participated in recovery for Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Wolfgang Droege was shot dead in a suburban Toronto 14 April 2005.

“PJ” John was sentenced to 12 years in prison in Dominica.  The commander of the army, three army officers, and two civilians were also imprisoned.   John was pardoned by Prime Minister Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica in 1990.  After his release, the former soccer star served as president of the Dominica Football Association, an affiliate of FIFA.

 

Dominica Agriculture July 2018

 

Being a tropical island with abundant water and an ideal climate, Dominica has tried to coax agriculture from every angle.  Nature has not accepted the invitation.

The native Kalinagos numbered about 100,000 in the Caribbean when Columbus arrived in 1493.  They had cultivated fruits and vegetables, harvested useful timber, and managed to leave the islands in their natural state.

Banana Plantation 07 0613Abandoned Banana Plantation

As early as 1632, Spain and France had thoughts of colonizing the island.  Spain was more interested in gold and silver.  Dominica had neither.  France was developing sugar plantation agriculture on neighboring Martinique and Guadeloupe, but Dominica’s rugged geography and the Kalinago natives were a deterrent for most of the 17th century.

The island’s natural offerings were too plentiful to resist forever.  By 1690, French woodcutters set up timber camps to supply the French islands with wood.  The Brits followed.  Commercially valuable woods included mahogany, mahoe, and teak as well as a local hardwood called basalata, known as ironwood.  You can’t drive a nail in it.  Today, 60% of the island, 110,000 acres, is classified as forest, but less than 1000 acres produces commercial timber.  Most of the remainder comprises Dominica’s national parks, the showpiece for their “Nature’s Island” identity.

SugarCane Factory Ruins 01 0615Ruins of 18th century Sugar Cane Factory

By 1725, the French began plantation farming on the low lying coastal areas, about 25% of the island’s land mass.  They planted sugarcane and coffee, often on the same plantation.  Eventually coffee, Arabian Coffee, became the predominant crop, well suited to Dominica’s soil and rainfall.  Coffee production increased from 684,000 pounds in 1743 to 1,585,000 pounds in 1753.  It was successful enough that the supporting slave population soon outnumbered the Europeans, and the advantage has held ever since.  Coffee continued as Dominica’s primary agricultural product for the next century, with exports to neighboring islands, Europe and the Americas, reaching 3,000,000 pounds at its peak.

Coffee 03 0620Coffee Tree

Early in the 1800’s, coffee began to suffer from blight and coffee leaf miner.  A hurricane in 1813 wiped out much of the crop.  When slavery was abolished on Dominica in 1838, the industry collapsed from more than half of the island’s exports to a fraction – 10,877 pounds in 1877, and limping along into the 20th century.

Sugar cane, never prosperous on Dominica in spite of persistent French efforts, met the same fate for the same reasons.  Dominica does, however, in true Caribbean fashion, has maintained a limited rum production, the only lasting remnant of the island’s sugar cane industry.

Rum recipes are rampant, and sacred.  Cuba claims priority with rum, but Jamaica, Antigua, Barbados, Guyana, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Dominica all produce rum with local character and enthusiasts.

Dynamite Rum 01Dynamite Rum – A local spice rum

Rum is distilled from sugarcane molasses and sugar by-products, aged in oak casks. The older and darker, the better, says Havana Club, though the many recipes, including the addition of caramel and local spices, throw off the simple comparisons.  Age is prominently noted on each label, if the bottle has a label.

Rum is the cultural lubricant of the Caribbean, like craft beer is to Oregon.  Dominica’s most official brand is Macoucherie, the only one distilled from local cane, raised on the Shillingford family’s colonial estate, producing 10,000 gallons annually.  Unfortunately, it shut down after Maria, still awaiting an announcement about recovery.

There’s nought no doubt so much the spirit calms as rum and true religion                              – Lord Byron

The unofficial brands are called cask rum or spice rum.  One bar in Roseau has at least 67 varieties of cask rum, each one specialized with banana, mango, guava, cinnamon, rosemary, absinthe, pepper, or other fruits and herbs.

Rum BoisBandex

The bad boy of the lot is called ‘bois bandé’, a medically “proven” aphrodisiac.  In Dominica, it’s illegal even to take the bark from the bois bandé tree.  It’s bad.

Moonshine Rum, “Mountain Dew”, is also illegal, but production is so prolific, the state does not bother.

Finally, Bay Rum is a popular international brand from Dominica, though not made from Sugar Cane.  It’s a men’s deodorant.

As coffee and sugar production withered at the end of the 19th century, cocoa (cacao) and citrus fruits, mostly lime, became Dominica’s bread and butter.  European and American demand offered record agricultural harvests for cacao and limes in Dominica up to World War 1.

Market Roseau 03x

Dominican Agriculture was such a prized industry at the turn of the 20th century that the Roseau Botanical Gardens was established to research, teach and market ornamental and commercial species from the all of the tropics.  Seeds and seedlings were considered the finest in the West Indies up to WW2.

Lauchlan Rose, a Scottish shipbuilder, turned his attention to limes in 1867.  He patented a process that preserved the juice without alcohol, much to the disappointment of sailors, who got rations of lime juice from the Royal Navy to fight scurvy and disease onboard.  At the time, Dominica was the world’s largest producer of limes, and Rose judiciously purchased 2 of the largest lime plantations on the island to supply his popular Rose’s Lime Cordial and marmalade.  The company converted a sugar cane factory to lime processing and another in 1921 to produce citric acid crystals for carbonated beverages.  4 more estates were purchased by 1958 when Rose was bought out by Schweppes, then Cadbury, who consolidated their operations in Ghana and Cameroon.  So much for Dominica’s lime industry.

The cacao plant thrived on Dominica, still apparent along roadsides.  The quality was high, and the UK commanded their colony’s entire production with an exclusive trade mandate.  That was good for Dominica, for a while.  As lime prices escalated to supply WW1, cocoa prices dropped because nonessential transport was restricted by Britain on behalf of the war effort, leaving Dominica with no market for its cocoa production.  After WW1, disease, falling world prices, and hurricanes in 1926, 1928, and 1930 wiped out the industry on the island.  At the beginning of the 1930’s Dominica agriculture was as depressed as the World economy.

PawPaw 03 0622Papaya

In the mid 30’s, a US ex-pat started a vanilla enterprise that quickly caught on among the small farmers, and boomed with the establishment of the Vanilla Grower’s Association.  Dominican vanilla had a profitable 10 year run until several simultaneous events brought on a quick death.  Hucksters began to sell look-alike White Cedar pods as vanilla beans and managed to undermine the market, synthetic vanilla was invented, and the association warehouse burned down along with 50,000 pounds of beans.  By 1960, the industry was no longer.

As early as 1931, Dominica was shipping commercial bananas to England. By 1934, Dominica had secured trade agreements with US and Canadian distributors, and the Dominica Banana Growers Association was formed.  By 1937, banana export ships docked every two weeks for cargos to North American and Europe. But WW2 put an end to that.  Ships were needed for the war effort.  Not until 1949 did banana exports pick up again.  When Geest Industries Ltd. bought out the local trader in 1954, banana export became Dominica’s main revenue.

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Bananas grow all year round.  They propagate vigorously in the right environment, and can regenerate fruit in 9 months or so.  For Dominica, that meant even if a hurricane wiped out the entire crop, or a disease killed off all the plants, recovery was less than a year away.  It was Dominica’s territory.

Local farmers had never known such steady production.  Banana plantations spread through all the favorable areas, putting abandoned colonial estates back into production.  Government supported the farmers who collectively bargained for healthy prices, road maintenance, and adequate port facilities.  Bananas offered an economic and social profit previously lacking on the island.  The industry expanded through the 50’s and 60’s, peaking at a value of 80% of the islands exports.   Two generations of Dominicans benefited from the banana.

Banana leaf spot struck in 1978.  Many crops had to be destroyed and replanted.  Bananas grow on relatively soft stalks with barely enough structure to hold up the genetically- and fertilized-enhanced Robusta and Lacatan fruit varieties.  When Hurricane David hit in 1979, the trees were almost totally leveled.   Hurricane Allen hit the following year. Hugo in 1989, Luis in 1995 and Lenny in 1999 pretty much finished off the enthusiasm for bananas.

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The Grower’s Association solicited international support to sustain the industry and took on considerable debt, with Government backing, to save Dominica’s prime industry.  As production, handling and shipping costs escalated in the 80’s, US companies Dole and Chiquita promoted their Africa and South America products.  In spite of high quality, Dominica’s bananas have not kept a competitive pace, now limited to less than 2% of the global market, and almost exclusively for domestic consumption.

The limited geography, transportation hurdles (one community of about 1300 was isolated just this weekend due to a road washout), disease, hurricanes and Dominica’s limited geography have proven to be persistent obstacles. The island still has about 9,000 farmers and 10 agricultural cooperatives, accounting for about 20% of GDP and 40% of the labor force.  Oranges, grapefruit, coconuts, vanilla, spices, cassava, pineapples, mangoes, and passion fruit all have a small production, but quantities are modest, and the production is limited to hand care operations.

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Every few years a new or renewed proposal comes about.  In 2009, Hugo Chavez proposed a coffee factory using imported Venezuela beans, 2000 tons per year, then transitioning to Dominica beans as the plantations matured.  In 2015, the government budgeted $2 million to energize the local cocoa industry.  Banana recovery proposals come up annually.  Those proposals are still on the table.

In the meantime, after 300 years of trying for an agricultural champion, with remnants of the banana industry evident everywhere on the island, leftovers of citrus, coffee and vanilla farms, and amid ruins of the water driven 18th century sugar cane factories, Dominica seems to have accepted that Nature is not going to provide a viable export, rather better to leave her alone and bring tourists to the Caribbean’s “Nature Island”.

 

Dominica and Europe June 2018

Unlike most New World countries, Dominica was a holdout from European colonization.  In the 15th century, it was a Kalinago (Carib) stronghold, called “Wai’tukubuli,” meaning “Tall is her body” (Dominica’s local beer is called Kubuli).  The Kalinago were conquerors of the Antilles, having recently subjugated the Arawaks and Taino on Dominica and the adjacent islands.  Their Caribbean population at the time of European discovery numbered about 100,000 and their tribal system was several hundred years old at that time.  They had no need for supervision from a feathered helmet head.

Dominica Europe Capitol Roseau (06)

Columbus landed but was unceremoniously convinced that his presence was not welcome.  Poisoned arrows and all.  Spanish ships sailed to the island over the next hundred years, but the Kalinago sent them packing.  The Spanish eventually gave up on Dominica since it offered no gold, but before they left for good, they managed to trash the Kalinago reputation with rumors of human atrocities.  Of course, this also worked to the Kalinago’s advantage since their “wild” status kept the other colonizers at bay.

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The Europeans lusted after all New World territory, so it was just a matter of time before they got serious about Dominica. The English timidly made approaches.   Captain John Smith and his Virginia Colony stopped in Northwest Dominica at Portsmouth Bay in 1607 to take on some of Dominica’s plentiful fresh water.  They were on their way to establish Jamestown, the first English colony in North American. The British briefly moved to settle Portsmouth, but disease and native threats kept the settlement from taking hold.

In 1627, the opportunist prettyboy Earl of Carlisle claimed the island, a hollow advance since there was no attempt at settlement.

In 1632, the French ignored Carlisle’s proclamation, made their own claim: Compagnie des Îles de l’Amérique which covered all the ‘Petite Antilles’.  Their early logging and farming settlements in the North failed to accommodate the Kalinago’s use of the land.  In 1635, a local native war party canoed to the site of a French village, burned it to the ground and killed several Frenchmen.   The French Captain in charge retaliated by ransacking a Kalinago village and naming it after himself.  It’s still named after that putz.

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French missionaries worked the island from about 1642, softening the eventual invasion. The Caribs were savvy enough to observe the threat of disease and military force on the other Caribbean islands.  In 1660, they negotiated a treaty with England and France whereby Dominica and St. Vincent would remain neutral territory.

But France and England continued to expand their logging and farming.  The Kalinagos were not about to give up.  The natives began a systematic attack on Europeans meddling on Dominica and other nearby islands. In a culmination of atrocities, in 1674, the Kalinago raided the British colony of Antigua.  Sir William Stapleton, the Governor of the Leeward Islands, waiting for an excuse to subdue the “cannibals”, launched an attack on a stronghold of the Kalinago a few miles north of the Dominican capitol Roseau.  80 Caribs were killed, others enslaved, the houses burned.  The village is still known as Massacre.

Dominica Europe Capitol Roseau (66)

Following the Massacre incident, the Kalinago were rounded up and sent to a 232 acre reserve on the remote windward side of the island, property that the French found of no value.  English and French loggers continued harvesting Dominica’s prized timber into the 18th century.  A group of disgruntled French colonists abandoned neighboring Martinique in favor of less French Dominica in 1715, followed closely by their countrymen from the other neighbor, Guadeloupe.  French plantations soon were seriously growing coffee for which they imported West African slaves to the New World because the native Caribs were “uncooperative”.

France could resist no longer.  In 1727, M. Le Grand claimed charge of the French colony of Dominica.  Of course, nothing is ever really settled between England and France, so Lord Rollo invaded Dominica in 1759, and Britain officially gained control under the 1763 Treaty of Paris.  That same year, Britain established a legislative assembly, the Government of Grenada which included the islands of Grenada, the Grenadines, St. Vincent, Tobago, and Dominica, representing only the white population.

Dominica Europe Capitol Roseau (14)

In 1768, Dominica established its own Legislative Assembly supervised from London, ruling a white minority of mostly French sympathizers and a large majority of unrepresented African slaves and native Kalinago.

When England found itself distracted with the American Revolutionary War in 1778, France invaded Dominica at the invitation of the locals and settled back in, about the same time that the African – Kalinago/Carib population decided that they did not like either of the European options.

Dominica managed to maintain nearly complete records of the incoming slave ships, indicating ports of embarkation, ethnic groups, date of arrival, and the number of slaves on board.  It is a unique record.  Between 1715 and 1808, Britain and France imported more than 100,000 slaves to the island, some of whom were transited to nearby island colonies.

Dominica Europe Capitol Roseau (32)

Much to the relief of West Africans, the French halted slave trade to Dominica when they took the island back in 1778.  But when Britain regained control under the 1783 Peace of Paris, the trade started up briskly again at a rate of about 10,000 Africans per year.

At the end of the 18th century, when Newton was busy inventing modern Physics in Cambridge, apparently the rest of Britain did not understand math very well.  England was running its colony on behalf of a few thousand Brits while disgruntled French, hundreds of hostile natives, and tens of thousands of freed, runaway and enslaved Africans were excluded from the government.  England was outnumbered.  The Colihaut Uprising was predictable, a well supported slave rebellion in 1785 and 1786.  The British eventually quashed the rebellion, but rebel freed slaves, known as Maroons, escaped to the mountains and agitated strategically until 1814 when Britain was forced to soften its discrimination.

Dominica Europe Capitol Roseau (28)

In the meantime, France did not give it up.  They invaded in 1795 and again in 1805, both of which were repelled by the British.  Roseau was burned to the ground in the 2nd attempt, but the British regrouped and sent France packing, never to return.  Except that France never really left.  The cars drive on the left side, and the laws are British, but place names are French, natives speak Creole, and the island is 80% Catholic.

In 1831, the Brown Privilege Bill conferred political and social rights on free African-Dominicans, but not Africans. Three coloreds (not blacks) were elected to the legislature. Slavery was abolished on Dominica in 1834.  14,175 slaves were released.  Britain paid the slave owners £275,547.  Slaves got a holiday.

Dominica Europe Fort Shirley 1760 (2)

A political party known as the Mulatto Ascendancy gained a majority in the House of Assembly in 1838.  It was the first and only 19th century British Caribbean colony to have a Black-controlled legislature, although it was still subject to the House of Commons whose sympathies rested with the English plantation owners.   The Dominicans in the legislature, naturally, supported and advocated for former slaves on the island, threatening the authority and profitability of the English planters.  England intervened, causing another uprising in 1844.  In 1865, the colonial office replaced the legislature with a half elected-half appointed membership, then manipulated the proceedings to favor the planters. That caused more friction, so Britain simply eliminated the local rule and re-established the colonial government in 1896, wiping out the rights of the majority.

In 1903, Sir Heskeith Bell, the British administrator and friend of the Kalinagos, expanded the Carib Reservation to 3,700 acres and eventually allowed the native population to run its own affairs.  The Reserve re-established its communal land tenure system of pre-Columbian times. About 3,000 Kalinago live on the Reserve today.

Dominica Europe Capitol Roseau (6)

The Caribbean colonies fought their way back to local rule as Britain’s global empires collapsed in the early 20th century.  Dominica endured several versions of colonialism through the world wars, and gradually took charge of their own internal affairs, officially becoming an associated state of the United Kingdom in 1967.

The Commonwealth of Dominica declared independence in November 1978.

Dominica Roseau 1776

 

Photos of 17th and 18th century European buildings on Dominica – Fort Shirley (British from 1763), Dominican Capitol Roseau, and Newtown.  French masons used the nearby Roseau River stones to expertly craft houses, churches, commercial and government buildings starting in the late 17th century in Roseau.  Lime mortar was manufactured using local coral.  Fort Shirley was constructed not far from where Columbus landed in northwest Dominica.  It was built by the British to protect the island from mostly French pirates, and was the stronghold where the Brits saved the island from French invasion in 1805.  It is constructed of local lava stone.

 

New World Dominica May 2018

Columbus ran into Dominica on his second trip to the New World.  He set sail from Cadiz, Spain on 24 September 1493 with 17 ships and 1200 men. Same as his first journey, the flotilla stopped at the Canary Islands, leaving 13 October on a more Southerly route, hoping for better winds.  He guessed correctly, making it to land in 3 weeks, arriving within sight of the island on 3 November 1493.  He named the island Dominica, Latin for Sunday, the day he arrived, and forever made confusion for the islands of Dominica and nearby Dominican Republic.

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Columbus made history with his first voyage, crossing from the Canary Islands in 5 weeks to the “Indies” in the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria with a crew of 87.  The first trip ended up on Hispaniola (Haiti/Dominican Republic), where the Santa María ran aground and had to be abandoned.  With only 2 ships, he made a deal with the local chieftain, Guacanagari, to leave 39 of his men behind in a settlement called La Navidad, then sailed off on January 16, arriving at Lisbon on March 4, and on to Palos, Spain March 15, 1493.

His return was a triumphal sensation, bringing back native Indians, plants and a sample of gold.  But the Spanish underwriters worked him over for losing one of the three ships and not bringing back more treasure, gold in particular.  Still, Columbus had little difficulty in convincing Ferdinand, Isabella and their financers to mount a second voyage, this one heavily commercialized, hoping to establish an agricultural industry, christianity and trading in what Columbus still thought was India, or maybe China.

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Upon his second arrival in the Indies, Columbus discovered a lush tropical forested island set on volcanic peaks with sparse beaches, inhabited by a native population.  He visited the Northwest part of Dominica with a small garrison, but they were intimidated by the unfriendly natives.  They withdrew, headed North for Guadalupe, Puerto Rico, and eventually Hispaniola where he intended to link up with the remains of his 1492 crew.

Unfortunately, while Columbus was back home, his naughty sailors had angered the native Taino population by raping the women.  The natives slaughtered them to the last man.  Columbus got even by enslaving the tribe he judged responsible, a precedent for the generally horrible European treatment of the Native American population.

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The 15th century Dominican natives called themselves Kalinago, probably descendants of South American Kalina tribes from the Orinoco River in Venezuela who migrated to the islands about 1200 AD.   Kalinago language and culture evolved through trade and competition with other island populations such as the Igneri and Taino.  At the time of the Columbus visit, Kalinagos inhabited much of what is now the West Indies, having conquered, acquired or otherwise assimilated earlier neighboring cultures.  They had no use for Spanish colonizers, quickly and decisively delivering a “no thanks”, including poisoned arrows, to the 1493 visitors.

Agostino_Brunias_Carib_Painting ca 1770

Caribs by Agostino Brunias, about 1770

Columbus botched their name to Canib and Carib, then went on to vilify the Kalinago culture because of their short hospitality. We criticize what we don’t know about.  In any case, his visit was certainly vivid since he named the Caribbean region after the tribe, undiplomatically and mostly inaccurately libeling them as “human flesh eaters”, for which the term cannibal was crafted.

Shakespeare even liked the term, inventing an unsavory, disheveled, wild half man named Caliban for a starring role in the Tempest written about 1610.

The fact is that the Kalinago/Caribs were the fiercest warriors and most astute diplomats in the West Indies, due largely to their skills as boat builders and sailors. They had control of many of the Southern islands after 200 years of warring, trading, and mating.  Like the Rome and Mongol empires, Kalinago learned to assimilate local cultures and honored the bravery of their conquered enemies, even adopting the local language over their South American origins (the last known speaker of Island Carib died in the 1930s).

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In spite of Queen Isabel’s ruling to the contrary, by 1511, Spanish explorers had justified enslaving the Caribs because of their belligerence (heroism) and uncivilized (speculative) cannibalism.  The Kalinago reacted violently, keeping Spanish, French and English interests off of Dominica for the next 150 years, strategically using the island’s mountainous terrain to suppress European advances.

Finally in 1660, facing an uncontrollable wave of European invaders and their diseases, the Carib nation (Island Caribs) signed the Treaty of Saint Charles  with France and England agreeing to hand over all the islands except Dominica and Saint Vincent, which were to be honored as Carib reserves.

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Fort Shirley, British Dominica from 1760’s

\That lasted until 1763 when the English ignored the treaty and annexed both islands, leaving a puny 233 acre reservation for the 400 or so Caribs left on Dominica.  In a moment of uncharacteristic guilt, England expanded the reservation to 3700 acres in the early 20th century, on which about 3,000 Caribs survive today, the only remaining native Caribbeans.  They now again elect their own chief in traditional manner, a royalty with pedigree that rivals the English crown.

 

 

Dominica Hurricane Maria May 2018

Dominica is a Caribbean island 30 miles long, 15 miles wide with a population of about 70,000, now less the 10,000 citizens and expats who left the island after their homes were destroyed by Hurricane Maria in September 2017.  90% of all the buildings on the island were damaged.  The winds ripped off whole roof structures, flew them out into the ocean, then the flooding and landslides washed out whatever was left in their path.

Maria Dominica Satelite 3t

Maria is regarded as the worst natural disaster on record in Dominica and Puerto Rico, the deadliest storm of the robust 2017 Atlantic hurricane season. Maria was one of three consecutive major hurricanes to hit the islands in two weeks, after Irma and Jose, each swiping through a slightly different path.  Not to mention Tropical Storm Erika, the next worse natural disaster, that ripped through Dominica in August 2015.

The hurricane reached Category 5 strength on the early morning of Monday, 18 September. 160 mph winds (257km/h), according to the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC), as it made landfall on Dominica at around 01:15 AM GMT, the first Category 5 hurricane to strike the island. Maria ploughed through Dominica, then moved North, increasing intensity to its peak over the eastern Caribbean at 175 mph (280 km/h), and proceeded on to blast Puerto Rico.

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At least 31 in Dominica were confirmed killed by the hurricane with dozens still “missing” 8 months later.  The physical devastation was catastrophic for Dominica, among the poorest of the Caribbean Islands.

According to Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit the following day, “… we have lost all what money can buy and replace.”  The island was left with a total communication blackout, 80% electrical blackout, crippling housing damage, roads, bridges and highways washed out every few miles and the remaining infrastructure nonfunctional.  The seaport, airports, utilities, and almost every commercial establishment were shut down. Dominica’s pride, the lush vegetation had been 75% eradicated.

Beachfront Housing

The UN estimated that there were 33,000 buildings on the island.  After 8 months, it’s easy to see that most buildings have not fully recovered.  Thousands of abandoned buildings, others patched with tarps.  Many tenants just ignore the damage, run their car repair shops or sell cosmetics without a roof.   Still others arguing with their insurance companies, like the hotel we are assigned that has no hot water, windows missing, ceilings collapsed, paint blistered, floor tile peeling, debris in the courtyard, but open on Bookings.com, ready for your tropical vacation.

I work for Engineers Without Borders, who have contracted with the UN to provide quality control for installation of the $3 million worth of building materials that China donated.  Germany, UK, Israel and India have also made significant contributions. The UN has at least 4 agencies here distributing the goods.  It’s complicated.  10 other NGO’s are on the island competing for materials with each other and the locals.  Home Depot has been contracted to deliver more containers filled with supplies, currently the best source.  Our challenge is to coach the installers so that the materials stay on the island next time the wind blows.