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Notes:
Article written in the mid-nineties for possible inclusion in the Baha'i Encyclopedia, posted with permission at bahaihistorycaribbean.info. See also photos and history.

Dominica

by Patricia Paccassi

1995

    Area 752 square kilometres (290 square miles)
    Population 75 000 (1992)
The Commonwealth of Dominica in the eastern Caribbean Sea gained its independence from Britain in November 1978. The capital is Roseau. Dominica’s population today consists of Afro-Caribbeans, 90%, mixed race peoples 7%, and Carib Amerindians 2%. English is the official language, but a French patois is widely spoken. The people are predominantly Roman Catholic 90%. Bahá’ís constitute about 1% of the population and are the largest non-Christian religious minority.

Travel teaching  continued in the 1950’s 1960s, but the Bahá’í history may be said to have begun in 1966.  Under the Nine Year Plan (1964-1973, see Plans), the responsibility for the introduction of the Bahá’í Faith to Dominica was given to the United States. The first pioneers to Dominica, Mr. Ivor Ellard, a British resident of the United States, and Mr. William “Bill” Nedden, from the United States, arrived within two days of one another, on 17 April and 19 April 1966 respectively. They settled on opposite sides of the 15-mile wide island, and were not at first aware of each other’s existence.  Nedden arrived in Marigot on the eastern coast. He was unable to obtain a work visa, unable to support himself with the odd jobs he was doing, and so departed for the nearby island of Barbuda in the spring of 1967.

Ivor Ellard, a lithographer, settled in Goodwill and worked for a gentleman with several business interests. After one month, he left Dominica temporarily for the United Kingdom to marry. His new bride, Anna, who was Finnish, obtained a job in the shipping office of a company, which produced lime juice. The family had one son and adopted a Carib Amerindian girl. Ivor wrote a series of articles for the weekly newspaper, The Star. The first Bahá’í indigenous to Dominica was Louis Joseph of Roseau, who enrolled in July 1968, and was followed in the same year by Rosa Webb and Philip Winston. Winston migrated to Canada in January 1969. In May 1970, Hand of the Cause Ruhiyyih Khanum (q.v.) and Violette Nakhjavani made a visit to Dominica, during which they made a courtesy call on Governor Sir Louis Cools-Lartigue. In August 1970 the Ellard family left for the United Kingdom.

From 1973 there was a succession of pioneers, mainly from the United States, many of whom were only able to stay a short time because they were unable to obtain employment. In April 1973 there were seven local Bahá’ís. Mona George became a Bahá’í on 26 February 1975, she subsequently went to Jamaica where she married Kenneth Dill in 1982; they returned to live at Mardrell in Dominica in 1982. Mrs. Dill and her daughter, Mrs. Connie Astaphan, nee Didier, a Bahá’í since 3 September 1975, have both served on the National Spiritual Assembly. Astaphan also served as an Auxiliary Board Member.

American pioneers Patricia and Frank Paccassi and their daughter Judith arrived in Dominica, from their post in Barbados, during March 1976. Frank had obtained a teaching job at St. Mary’s College, a boy’s secondary catholic school, in Roseau. When the teaching job was no longer available they left Dominica for St. Lucia in October 1977.

American pioneers Mrs Edith Johnson and her brother Albert “Al” Segen, a retired engineer arrived on 10 November 1976 and has remained. Shortly after their arrival the first local Spiritual Assembly in Dominica, that of St. George, was elected in Roseau on 27 December 1976. By 1977 there were eighteen Bahá’ís in two localities, one of which had a local assembly. In June of that year a youth teaching team began a period of increased activity and large numbers of enrollments.  Teaching was carried out in many towns and villages, particularly in Grand Bay, Giraudel, St. Joseph and Pointe Michel and the tradition of having a display in the Roseau open-air market was established, which continues to the present.

It was also at this time that sustained teaching began among the Carib Indians. Earlier in May 1959, Don Corbin, a pioneer living elsewhere in Grenada, had visited the Chief of the Carib Indians in May 1959, and a Bahá’í book was presented to the then Carib chief, Mas Clem Frederick in 1975 (BW 16: 181). Mrs Katherine “Junie” Faily, an American pioneer in Dominica from March 1977 to September 1979, succeeded in enrolling the first Caribs when she began teaching on the Carib reserve in the northeastern part of the island. The first Carib to become a Bahá’í was Joe Rabess on 31 May 1977. On 4 March 1978 Christine Francis became the first woman of the Caribs to become a Bahá’í. Her family followed her into the Faith. On 3 June 1981 Christine Francis and Paul Von Elizee were married in the first Bahá’í marriage performed between two Carib people (BINS 116:1. Paul later served on the National Spiritual Assembly of the Windward Islands. In February-March 1980 Arthur Irwin from Canada lived on the Carib reserve where he resided at the home of Mas Clem Frederick, who by then was no longer chief. This resulted in the formation of the first all Carib local Spiritual Assembly on 17 March 1980.

By Ridvan 1978 local Spiritual Assemblies had been formed in Roseau, Canefield, St. Joseph, Pointe Michel and Portsmouth. Due to the destruction of homes and scattering of families caused by Hurricane David 29 August 1979, most of the pioneers were forced to leave and four local spiritual assemblies were lost. At Ridvan 1980, despite the gain of the Carib assembly, only four assemblies could be elected. There was, however, an influx of pioneers, mainly from the United States and the United Kingdom, over the next four years, and a renewed effort in order to achieve the formation of a National Spiritual Assembly. Among these pioneers were Dr. Mark Vacarro, a radiologist, and his wife Allison who had been living in Dominica since their arrival from the United States in July 1981. Dr. Philip Cooles and Mrs. Sandra Cooles who arrived in October 1982 from the United Kingdom and have remained ever since. Dr. Heshmat Ta’eed, who came with his wife Nosrat and his niece Maryam Ta’eed, stayed from 1980-84, and who received a letter from the Minister of Home Affairs in Dominica thanking him for his outstanding efforts “to uplift the quality of life of our people” (BINS 119:15). In 1981 a presentation of Bahá’í books was made to the Honourable Mary Eugenia Charles, the first woman prime minister in the Caribbean.

Over the course of the years Dominica was under the jurisdiction of a succession of National Spiritual Assemblies: the Greater Antilles, 1957; the United States, 1964; the Leeward, Windward and Virgin Islands, 1967; Windward Islands,  1974 renamed Barbados and the Windward Islands, 1975; and the Windward Islands, 1981. On 29 May 1983 Dominica formed its own National Spiritual Assembly. The first Auxiliary Board member resident in Dominica was Mrs. Allison Vacarro, 1982-86, The first Dominican to be appointed to this institution was Mr. Daniel Didier, 1986-89. By January 1985 there were 859 Bahá’ís living in 44 localities, with 18 local Spiritual Assemblies.

Early in 1979 the first local Spiritual Assembly of St. George (Roseau) was legally incorporated. By January 1985, a second the local Spiritual Assembly of St. Luke (Pointe Michel) had been incorporated. The National Spiritual Assembly was incorporated in 1985. By 26 June 1985 the Bahá’ís of Dominica had acquired a National Haziratu’l-Quds (q.v.) in Goodwill and a temple site at Pont Casse. A district

Haziratu’l-Quds in Newtown was dedicated on 16 June 1985.

A fifteen minute radio program is aired weekly and since 1987 there has been regular locally produced Bahá’í television program. A Patois/English Bahá’í prayer book and a Patois translation of the Arabic Hidden Words (q.v.) have been produced. The latter resulted in letters of appreciation from the President, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Community Development. In June 1991 there were 685 Bahá’ís in 47 localities with 19 local Spiritual Assemblies.

Sources

    Arise! (Bahá’í News); Bahá’í News of the Windward Islands, July 1977.

    BW vol XII & XIII. Edith Johnson, “Development of the Bahá’í Faith in the Commonwealth of Dominica”, 26 June 1985;

    National Bahá’í Archives, Barbados;

    National Bahá’í Archives, Grenada;

    National Bahá’í Archives, St. Vincent;

    National Bahá’í Archives, Wilmette, Illinois, USA;

    Paccassi family, personal archives.

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