Black American descendants in the Caribbean island of the Dominican Republic have been trying to preserve their history through song.
According to the New York Times, a retired schoolteacher in the Dominican Republic, Martha Leticia Wilmore, has been attending weekly church service to help save her community—a community that many fear will become a thing of the past. She has been doing so as a way to preserve the history of early African-American settlers on the island, including songs and the English language.
Wilmore is a descendant of a group of over 300 African-Americans who traveled from Samana to Philadelphia on a boat in 1824. She currently lives in the port town which has a population of approximately 100,000 people off the northeastern edge of Hispaniola and has maintained the same Sunday routine for almost 90 years of her life. Her routine includes eating sweet bread, drinking a cup of ginger tea and getting dressed in a freshly ironed shirt to attend service at the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) church. The church, one of two places of worship in the community, branched off from St. Peter’s locally known as “La Churcha” a few years ago.
Wilmore attends church with 10 other community members ranging from ages 80 to 104. Together, they make an effort to keep the culture in Samana intact or, at least, keep its history alive. Activities include passing down church hymns as a way to teach schoolchildren about their rich and unique history. The children regularly attend St. Peter’s and sing the hymns in English to honor the church’s African-American legacy and founders.
According to colonial tours, Samana “is a northeastern peninsula in the Dominican Republic known for harboring the highest concentration of coconut palms per square meter in the world.”
It also has “Majestic landscapes of hills and great beaches of white sands and crystal clear waters.”
The Dominican Republic, as a whole, is home to many African descendants from West Africa.