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Dominican Republic is the second-largest nation, after Cuba, in the West Indies. Christopher Columbus discovered this island in 1492. The Spanish and the French then occupied it. The Taino Indians (Arawaks) and a small settlement of Caribs around the Bahia de Samana were the island's indigenous inhabitants. There were around 1 million Indians when the Europeans first made contact with them. They were almost decimated by disease, warfare, and the effects of forced labor by the 1550s. In 1503, African slaves stated arriving to this island. The population was around 150,000 by the nineteenth century, and there were about 40,000 African slaves around. Another 40,000 were of Spanish descent. The remaining were mulattoes (mixed white and black) or freed blacks. By the 1980s 11% of the population was black, 16% white, and the remaining were mulattoes.

Food, Language, Religion, and Sports

Dominican Republic today is the result of many different influences over the centuries. The national beer of this island nation is Presidente, while the national drink is rum. The country has a rich art heritage, like the Museo de Arte Moderno in Santo Domingo. The language that is dominantly spoken here is Spanish due to the Spanish colonialism. English is also becoming prevalent because of the continued emigration to the United States. The Catholic Church is the majority religion here. Other religious groups are the Evangelical Christians and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. About 1% of the nation's inhabitants practice pure spiritism. The Taino culture has influenced many foods and medicines in this country. The Tainos generally cook their meat and fish over barbacoas, which are outdoor charcoal-fueled grills. The African slave trade also had a significant influence on the culture of Dominican Republic. The national sport is baseball, which is played with much passion. United States marines introduced the sport here. It gradually gained popularity until the 1960s, when Juan Marichal, the Alou Brothers (Felipe, Mateo, and Jesus), and other Dominicans became prominent major league players. All Dominicans speak Spanish, but some who live near the border with Haiti also speak Creole English.

Arts and Literature

Many Dominican painters, including Ramón Oviedo, José Rincón Mora, and Leopoldo Navarro, have produced canvases ranging from exuberant Haitian-style paintings to abstract and Impressionistic works. The tourist trade has led to a renewed interest in Dominican handicrafts, such as ceramics, textiles, wood carvings, jewelry, dolls, and baskets. During the 19th-century Haitian occupation, a nationalist spirit began to develop in Dominican literature, expressed in the poetry of Félix Maria del Monte. Manuel de Jesus Galván continued the trend with his fictional epic Enriquillo: leyenda histórica dominicana (meaning The Cross and the Sword), which depicted Spanish settlers' brutality toward Taino Indians. In the early 20th century, writers such as Américo Lugo and Gastón Fernando Deligne were more influenced by modernism. Nationalist expressions arose again in 1916 - 1924, during the American (USA) occupation of the country. In the late 20th century, social protest became a major theme, notably in the short stories of the leftist politician Juan Bosch, who wrote largely from exile. Contemporary writers have focused on daily life in the Dominican Republic.

Social Life

Dominican people are amicable and warm-hearted. It is common for them to invite you into their home to share in a meal. They like to smile and laugh, and generally have a jovial spirit. You will often see groups having a lighthearted chat, slapping each other on the back, and generally enjoying life. You will frequently be greeted with a friendly 'Como Estas?', which translates to 'How are you?' One thing you will notice when you first arrive is the characteristic 'manana' attitude. 'Manana' means 'tomorrow' in Spanish, but is commonly used by people who don't want to put a specific time and date on it. People here have a very relaxed attitude. The thing to keep in mind is not to get annoyed too quickly. Openly showing your displeasure to a waiter or anyone else in the service industry is likely to get you a less-than-satisfactory service. You'll get a much better treatment if you smile, keep friendly, and use as much Spanish as you can.