Traveling & Research in Dominica: June 18-21, 2014

(Cross posted at on Peter Marina’s blog)

Dominica (dom-eh-NEE-ca) immediately impresses as a volcanic island that does justice to the word awe. The rolling hills and towering mountains, thick rainforest and hot sulfur springs, the stunning waterfalls and bubbling lakes, and perhaps best of all, a Caribbean culture yet to be tainted from tourism, make this island stunning and magical. The plane circles the high mountains of the island making even seasoned flight commuters squirm in their seats at the thought of their airship landing – or crashing – into the mountains. The plane descends unevenly into the mountains, somehow navigating in between them towards a tiny airstrip which looks like a thin piece of scotch tape.

Though the beauty of the island is flowing and flawless, ethnographically speaking, things fell apart immediately. The plane landed on June 18 in the mid-afternoon in the Northwest part of the island near Londonberry Bay between the villages of Wesley and Marigot. The taxi to Dominica’s capital Roseau takes about an hour from the airport. I jumped shotgun on the Dominica collective which is a private minivan that shuffles people from the airport to anywhere on the 290 square area island with a population of just over 70,000 people.

My main contact was Pastor Bill Daniel who is the President of the Dominica Association of Evangelical Churches and superintendent of PAWI in Dominica. He is the senior pastor of People’s Pentecostal Family Church located in the Goodwill neighborhood of Roseau about a ten or fifteen minute walk from the city center. I made various attempts to call his office at both his church and PAWI. No one provided much information except that he is currently unavailable. I called prior to leaving for Dominica from Barbados and called upon my immediate arrival to the island. Nothing. I had no good phone number to contact Daniels, no church address, no further contacts, and no one willing to provide information. I was ready to go knocking on churches to interview random pastors of Charismatic Christian churches – I got a job to do and it will get done.

My first step was to ask around if anybody knew Pastor (and Bishop) Bill Daniels and a nearby Pentecostal Church. People in the area directed me to the church. Once there, I walked into the secretary’s office and explained my reason for being in Dominica and gave her the names of my contacts in Antigua who had set me up with Bill Daniels.

As it turns out, Bill Daniels is currently struggling with colon cancer. After some convincing, the secretary provided some contacts to help move this research forward – Evangelist Peter Augustine and Pastor Cameron Robins. It was Cameron Robins who initially became my new primary contact. He is the acting Superintendent of PAWI in Dominica while Daniels is sick and he largely responsible for the affairs going on in Daniel’s Pentecostal Church in Goodwill. Although many things happened, Daniels and I did not meet until my last day in Dominica on June 21. He explained that we can meet in the Northwestern village of Portsmouth where a town meeting of religious leaders from both the Caribbean and the United States was to take place to bring unity to the divided church. (More on this later.)

I did not have much. A contact who pushed me until a later date and an Evangelist not easy to contact.

I walked into a local café to order sea moss, a local Caribbean drink that is supposed to make men, well make men more productive in satisfying even the hungriest woman. It is one of my favorite beverages in the world and has nothing to do with how it is branded as a love potion to satisfy woman. The local café offered internet services which prompted me to check my email. To my delight, my book editor informed me that my first book is doing well, well enough for a second printing in paperback. I immediately responded with a yesssssss, a victorious hand raising, and small dance of joy while sitting in my chair. Others around me took notice prompting their curiosity. Somewhat embarrassed but still smiling, I responded that good news befell me. They pressed on and inquired further. I explained the good news and continued to explain how the publication of this book lead to my sitting right here, right now in this chair to conduct research for this new book Chasing Religion in the Caribbean. As it so happened, a famous radio Deejay named Matt of Q95 in Dominica was sitting next to me. We talked about New Orleans, Dominica, and politics, especially on the relationship between religion and the state. This was a particularly salient topic in Dominica since a recent scandal broke out about the Catholic Church in Dominica excepting a large amount of money from the government. The prime minister of Dominica recently made a $500,000 EC donation to the Catholic Church to restore a cathedral in Roseau. After a few minutes of conversation, Deejay Matt of Q95 invited me on his talk show to discuss religion and politics. I explained that time was pressing but that I would agree to talk on his radio show if I returned this summer. He explained that he would like me on his talk show in July and offered a new contact to interview during my current stay on the island.

The contact was a full gospel (this ultimately means charismatic) Baptist pastor named Randy Rodney. While Matt sat next to me, I called Pastor Randy Rodney who agreed to meet with me that very same day. We interviewed for about an hour and a half about the various church denominations in Dominica, the conflicts and divisions in the Christian Church, Charismatic religion and politics, the Charismatic Church becoming increasingly institutionalized, how he deals with preventing the institutionalization of a large and growing church, exorcisms and demons, physical vs mental vs spiritual diseases (to compliment my conversation with Barbados Bishop Alleng), and his personal story. The interview was very much directly related to all my research interests and questions. In fact, this interview alone was so insightful that it was just about enough to justify my trip to Dominica.

To mention, Full Gospel Baptist Preacher Randy Rodney wants to organize the established, charismatic, and independent churches to reduce crime rate. According to Rodney, he is in the process of organizing it. He says that the Christian Churches come together and unite – despite its historical and ongoing division – when the church experiences external pressure and/or a common enemy. This supports the claims Alleng and (later) Pastor Jerry Comellas makes along with a few other pastors interviewed during this research. (Although I will later argue in another post and in the book (hint, hint of things to come to those interested in my research) that it is contradictorily the division in the Charismatic Christian church that simultaneously allows it to retain its charisma, among other things. Also of note in regards to Randy Rodney, he is also very much engaged with extensive religious – or what I call “charismatic networking” – in Dominica and abroad. He claims to be starting the “Pastors National Fellowship” and currently runs a primary school.

The next day I made another contact affiliated with PAWI. Bill Daniel’s brother named Griffin Daniels held office hours and counseling services at the PAWI district office in Dominica. The central office was in the upstairs of a small building and had a small front room with a secretary and small office for the head administrator. Griffin Daniels is a short and plump man who speaks awkwardly and – it seemed – nervously. I explained who I was, my contacts, and purposes of traveling to Dominica. I told him about Stephen Andrews in Antigua and the support that my research receives from other PAWI leaders. I also offered my best wishes for his brother. In fact, I spoke with Bill Daniels on the phone earlier to offer my best wishes for health. He offered his support for me to talk other PAWI and Pentecostal leaders in Dominica, including those he left in charge. Griffin, who is also the pastor of Grand Bay Pentecostal Church, arrived a bit late to his appointments. After my brief explanation and request to talk to him at his convenience, Griffin Daniels nervously explained that he is not a good person to speak with. He refused to talk at all and declined any further conversations.

I made contact with Evangelist Peter Augustine on Thursday and we agreed to meet on Friday morning at Voice of Life Radio in the small village of Loubiere just south of Roseau for prayer hour. For prayer hour, Evangelist Peter sits in a room, talks and prays. And takes prayer requests and reports (testimonies or results from past prayer requests) from listeners calling in to the radio show. He was understaffed and asked me to take prayer requests and reports in a room behind his. He put me to work. Initially, I worked with one other woman taking in callers. Later another man with a lad of about 10-years old and another woman joined us, taking requests and reports. As people called, I picked up the phone and filled out the appropriate form based on their purpose of calling – to offer a prayer request or report – and details. There was one form for a prayer request and another for a report. This lasted for about an hour.

Many pastors associated with the charismatic church possess charismatic traits, a charm that distinguishes them from others. This is not the case for Evangelist Peter who struck me as rather dull and orthodox. He agreed to talk with me while driving from the radio station to Roseau on the way to a live version of prayer hour held in a rented small auditorium space called WAWU near the PAWI office. After discussing my research interests, we talked about his experiences. I asked him questions that were similar to the ones asked of other pastors. The questions usually spark insightful responses, deep insight, intimate experiences, penetrating and personal stories, and layered conversations. Not with this evangelist. He responded to my pivoting questions with what seemed rehearsed and overstated Christian jargon, relied on gospel quotes, and lectured me on becoming born again. As an ethnographer, this is usually interpreted as a failed interview. But as my knowledge of Charismatic Pastors grows with each new experience, I began to realize that some pastors lack charisma – and worse – others seem nervous and apprehensive with any form of questioning. It seemed he relied on the usual thoughtless banter and jargon to avoid the questions. I got the strong feeling that he was hiding something. He gave me that feeling that he had nothing genuine to offer. As he lectures me gospel quotes and the importance of getting saved, my eyes could not help but glaze over.

The one-hour prayer hour at WaWu occurred during lunch hour. Its purpose was prayer and “deliverance” – a Charismatic Christian word for the answering of prayers which usually involves some sort of healing process. The place was jam packed full of songs, testimonies, shouting, singing, and – in the end – some laying of hands. Prior to the service, Evangelist Peter agreed for me to take pictures during the service but warned to be careful and said something about being sued offering further evidence of his skepticism. Out of the many dozens of religious leaders interviewed, he was by far the most hesitant and cautious – that is until Pastor Cameron Robins enters the scene.

At the end of the service, Augustine and a woman that heads Voice of Life Radio in Loubiere layed hands on people requesting prayer and deliverance, including a young woman obviously experiencing personal struggle made evident with loud howls of crying. Some brief fieldnotes on the service follows below:

Wawu, Dominica
Service Field Notes
Friday June 20, 2014 1PM
Prayer Hour

Purpose for prayer and deliverance

Wawu rented auditorium (hour of prayer) with Evangelist Peter Augustine

Starts with two people in the auditorium, one sound man and keyboard musician enters and plays.

One woman arrived about 30 minutes early. “Welcome Holy Spirit.” Taking empty auditorium space and making it sacred with presence of Holy Ghost.

“Demon possessed.” “Those that are demon possessed” gets a reaction from the makeshift temporary congregation.

Radio show woman takes over for some time.

After freestyle preaching from the woman who owns the radio station, they sing. A young woman is also the designated singer along with the musician on keyboard.

About 30 people in the makeshift temporary congregation.

All are women except for two older men here alone.

Now about 35 people, and they keep walking in.

About 40 people 1:26PM.

About 50 people → 4 single men and a couple of them with their women.

Welcoming of new visitors. I was a target. Got through it, been through this before.

Now call for testimonies.

Testimony 1 → woman
Testimony 2 → married man getting land → God is able and will provide “Divine Delay”

About one hour into take he preaches and says not even Obeah can get in the way of God’s will, there for your will.

After service, I thank Augustine, he blabs more about getting saved, says there is a reason God is telling me this right now and says to read Jeremiah 29 verse 1.

The next day I took a bus from Roseau up the west coast to the northern town of Portsmouth to meet Pastor Cameron Robins who, as stated above, in now the acting superintendent of PAWI in Dominica. He is a tall, bald man who dresses like a business man who has “arrived” sporting a long-sleeved yellow shirt, tie, slacks, and a small partial goatee. In a previous conversation, Robins agreed to meet instructing me to travel to Portsmouth from Roseau early in the morning. In the Portsmouth church headed by Pastor Jared (a white guy from Florida), we agree that I would observe the service and interview immediately after the service. After the service and interview, I was to head to the airport to take a flight to Chicago to give a talk at a seminar. Brief fieldnotes for this service follow below (as usual, all of this is also audio-taped to be transcribed):

Portsmouth, Dominica
Service Field Notes
God’s Family House of Worship
Saturday June 21, 2014

Pastor Berre or Belle → message: “You are not supposed to live your life dominated by Satan. Choose Grace over unrighteousness.”
[I met Cameron Robins prior to service briefly]

January 1969 drunken stupor going home in a car. Next morning begging to hear the word of God.

Sidenote: Pentecostalism and Subculture: Easy to preach in any country or continent if Pentecostal preacher. You don’t need to know much about politics, economics, education, etc.

Genesis 1 verse 24 & 26

Service mix of female/male
About 40-45 people

People take notes during the preaching like a college lecture.

This is called a “Crusade of Healing” among the religious leaders.

These religious leaders in attendance are from around the Caribbean and elsewhere including Miami, St. Lucia, Maryland (Ghana, West Africa originally).

Pastor Jared organized this event → he is the white guy. They thanked him for organizing this event and providing leadership. He pointed upward as the audience clapped.

Next preacher talks about the importance of unity. Simple to understand but difficult to do.

This “Crusade of Healing” will go on for 7 days, the next 7 days.
Unity is the central focus of the talk.

“Unity in the invisible world governs the physical world. Key to success.

When there is an internal agreement, there is an external happening → unity.

Importance of unity to accomplish missions and goals.

“When people unity to commit evil, they are a force to be reckoned with.”

“Shouts ‘REUNITED’ over and over again!”

Town meeting follows (transcribe question and answer session).

During the service portion that acted as a town meeting where congregation members could ask questions about the state of the church, I asked Robins if I could ask the church leaders a question along with the rest of the participants. He asked me what question I wanted to ask. I told how I wanted to inquire about how the Charismatic Church will deal with its growth and increasing pressures to both institutionalize and align with existing power structures. He dismissed my question saying that that was an easy answer and denied me permission to ask any questions to the religious leaders. Although the other participants freely asked question in an open form, Cameron Robins denied me the same freedom. Although this discrimination did not bode well, I still hoped he could provide some insight on the charismatic movement here in Dominica. After denying me the ability to ask question to the other religious leaders, he inquired about my purposes for being in Dominica. I explained that Stephen Andrews sent me here to meet with his friend Bishop Bill Daniels who is currently unavailable due to his sickness. I explained my deep interest in the charismatic movement here in the Caribbean. Cameron Robins seemed uneasy, nervous, skeptical, and unsure. He gave me the feeling that he did not want any external scrutiny. He seemed vulnerable to any questions. He asked me if I was saved or born-again. I told him the truth. He frowned. I told him that I was not concerned with the theology of the movement nor its truth clams but rather that magnificent spread of the movement throughout the Caribbean. Although I will write more about this in the book, he stated that I can’t write a book about the charismatic movement in the Caribbean. His reason, I am not saved and therefor the book cannot be God-inspired. I can’t – is that right? We will see Mr. Robins.

Between research, I decided to take a bus trip deep through the rural villages of Roseau Valley to Trafalgar Falls and the village of Wooten Waven. In Trafalgar Falls, I hiked a trail to the twin waterfalls (dubbed “momma” and “papa”) and climb through the rocks to the points underneath the waterfalls. Since the island is composed of volcano, the water is warm and even boiling at certain points. I took pictures and enjoyed the views and nature few people traveling to the Caribbean encounter. I walked to the village of Wotten Waven. The walk from Trafalgar Falls took about thirty minutes. During this walk I made a friend named “John” who lives in the village and works as a tour guide. He wants to open up a eco-tourism business on the island. We talked about tourism from a Marxist perspective, Marx, American Imperialism, the relationship of The U.S. and the Caribbean, Caribbean politics, and so on. This man is well read and intelligent. We clicked immediately. We walked together the bed and breakfast Le Petit Paradis where I talked to Ms. Joan. We limed together and drank fresh juice. We later walked down the hill to a little local village bar and drank special concoctions made of rum. We talked philosophy and life.

One story particularly sticks strong in my memory. Dominica is new to tourism. But the impact of tourism and the American dollar and Euro has been strong. He explained that a few years ago in his village, everyone offered their support to others in the community. If a family wanted to add an addition to their house. Others in the neighborhood would proudly showcase their skills to help. The carpenter would skillfully prove his craft to the family and prove his value inn the community, as would the bricklayer, plumber, and so on. My new friend explained that with the introduction of the dollar (made possible with the increasing tourist industry), this mentality of giving to the community and proudly expressing ones value to the village with democratic and communal support is dead – a mere remnant of the past. He explained that today in his beloved village, no man would lift a hand with getting paid, and paid well. This story broke my heart, but the evidence was undeniable.

Stay tuned for my next story on Dominica that includes a half naked indigenous man in the small village of Wooten Woven heaving stones at a man’s house leading to an incident with a machete. Future posts will be about my return travels to Antigua and trips to St. Kitts, St. Martin, Dominican Republic, and Haiti.

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