The Dominican Republic: A Brief History
From its rich history and physical beauty to its food and music, the Dominican Republic stimulates all of the senses. Together, these trademarks shape the distinct culture that has developed over centuries. Despite this, the country and culture are unfamiliar in many parts of the United States. Many Americans don’t know what the Caribbean island is or what it means to be Dominican. Because of this, Pisqueya wants to shed light on our paradise and share its spirit and lifestyle with the rest of the world.
Growing up in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in NYC, within a diverse community of Latinx people, the founder of Pisqueya did not realize that there was a lack of knowledge regarding the Dominican Republic until she entered corporate America. Having spent her childhood summers at the foot of the Dominican alps in Jarabacoa, Maritza Abreu knows how much there is to take away from her beautiful country — more than just the extravagant resorts offered to tourists. In hopes of leaving those unfamiliar to the DR with some kind of understanding, she would often direct her colleagues and friends to her family’s kitchenette in Brooklyn, now known as Puerto Viejo Dominican Bistro.
“There’s a lot that we can learn from this vibrant island,” she says proudly. “Dominicans are the Italians of the Caribbean, epitomizing la bella vita.”
As we continue to share the flavors of the island with you through our sauces, we also want to use this space to highlight the history of the DR so that everyone can come to understand just how special our island truly is.
The Last of the Taínos:
The island was originally called Quisqueya by its indigenous Taíno inhabitants (an Arawak-speaking group widespread across what is now Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico), but today is known as Hispaniola and shares its western half with Haiti. The Taínos were an inventive civilization, and their culture flourished. They grew crops, used plants medicinally, built advanced canoes to travel across waters, and made goods like pottery and clothing. Tribes split their island into 5 chiefdoms, ruled by 5 different caciques (tribal chiefs), and established a culture that lived in harmony and respect with the earth and natural elements of the island — until the Spanish accidentally arrived.
Despite welcoming the Spanish with open arms and initiating friendly relations with them in 1492, coexistence on the island was very short-lived. The Spanish took advantage of the generosity extended to them and decided to claim the land as theirs. While the Taínos were some of the most physically powerful people, the Spanish were still able to overrule them, but not without resistance.
Taíno warriors fought to the death against the Spaniards, who had the advantage of guns and other technology. Some Taínos were able to flee, and others preferred to commit suicide over being conquered. The millions of remaining Taínos were enslaved and forced to work in goldmines and plantations, while many others starved due to no longer being allowed to farm on the land that was stolen from them. The Taínos also lacked immunity to Old World diseases, so they fell ill to smallpox, measles, and other European sicknesses. By the 1500s, over three million Taínos had perished, leading to the extinction of the indigenous society.
The legacy of the slave trade, brought over by the Spanish, introduced African influences to the island, creating a culture of mestizos and mulatos, which is still evident in the diversity of Dominican people today. This mix of European, African, and Taíno culture is visible in all of the DR’s architecture, music, religion, and food.
The island has been through many changes since colonization. After fighting and gaining independence on February 27th, 1844, the modern country of the Dominican Republic was founded.
While the narrative of the island is complex, and sometimes painful, we want to honor all of the experiences that have created the richness that is the Dominican culture. With this blog, we intend to share more of its history and heritage so that everyone can learn more and understand the beauty of all that is Dominican.