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Hispaniola, the second-largest island in the Caribbean is home to two countries – Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Its history goes back a long way; before Christopher Columbus landed in the New World, Hispaniola was already home to the Taino people, amongst others. After 1492, the island continued to flourish as a Spanish colony, and is today a vibrant presence in the Caribbean. So named in honor of its Spanish colonialists, Hispaniola was in fact colonized by the French as well, at several points in time. As a result of this, today the official language of the Dominican Republic is Spanish, whereas French is prevalent in Haiti.
The story of Hispaniola began all the way in 15th century Europe. Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer from Genoa, made his way to the East Indies on the sponsorship of the Spanish court. However, instead of landing in Asia, he stumbled upon the New World, and the rest, they say, is history. While Hispaniola was not the first island that Columbus landed on (the island he named San Salvador has that honor), Hispaniola was in fact the site of the first Spanish settlement in the Americas.
Known by different names at various points in history, Santo Domingo was the first permanent European settlement in the Americas. Today, the ruins of this settlement remain well preserved, and are a popular destination for tourists to the Dominican Republic. It remains the oldest continuously-inhabited European settlement in the Americas, excluding Newfoundland and Greenland. The Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and houses some of the oldest examples of Spanish colonial architecture in the Americas.
While Santo Domingo was the first permanent settlement, the first actual colony established was in present-day Haiti. La Navidad was named this way because it was founded on Christmas Day. However, the settlement did not last long. The reason remains unclear still, but just a mere year later, Columbus returned to Hispaniola to find La Navidad completely destroyed. Soon after, another settlement, La Isabella, was established, and went on to become the colonial zone of present-day Santo Domingo.
How is Discovery Day celebrated?
It is natural then, that the people of Hispaniola would want to commemorate the momentous occasion of Columbus’s landing, considering how history would have gone down a different course otherwise. Discovery Day is celebrated in several American nations, but notably so in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The 5th of December, the day that Columbus landed on Hispaniola, is a national holiday in both countries on the island of Hispaniola. Lively performances and street festivals are held to commemorate the occasion, and special treats are eaten. Fried plantain fritters, or tostones, are a favorite on this day.
The legacy of Columbus
Today, monuments to Christopher Columbus abound in Latin American and Caribbean countries. In Santo Domingo, the Columbus Lighthouse, or the Faro a Colon, was erected to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the New World. Various places have been named after him, including but not limited to the District of Columbia in the United States.
Are you celebrating Discovery Day and do you have family back home celebrating too? Remember to make a money remittance to them and help them celebrate Discovery Day in style!
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