Roseau River in a calm mode

Dominica was once referred to as the “Land of Many Rivers” among the smaller Caribbean islands, boasting some 365 “rivers” – and many more during periods of extended, high-intensity rainfall. One of our best known permanent water courses is the Roseau River, one of the island’s longest, and the largest in the Nature Island’s south-western district.

Roseau River usually meanders peacefully and placidly, almost unassumingly, from the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, through the Roseau Valley and  down to the Caribbean Sea on the island’s South-West Coast.

However, from time to time all attention turns to that river which may have given some of us a scare, destroyed infrastructure or even claimed human lives, etc.

But what do we know, or remember, about the Roseau River?

Well, that’s the river that bears the same name as Dominica’s capital, Roseau, which was named by the French on account of the large amount of Roseau Reed, a.k.a. Wild Cane and “Wozo” (Gynerium sagitatta) that grew in association with the river.

That’s the same river that “connects” the villages/communities of Laudat, Trafalgar, Wotten Waven and Copt Hall to silver Lake, Bath Estate, Elmshall, Roseau and Pottersville?

That is the same Roseau River that provides habitat for a wide variety of freshwater fish such as freshwater eels or “zandji”, mullets, “lòsh”, “dòmé”, “koko”, and “mèy”, as well as crayfish, shrimp and crabs.

Yea, that’s the same Roseau River in which, during the “doukou season”, fishermen from Roseau and Pottersville would regularly catch “titiwi” to be used as bait to fish for “kawang”, “makiyo” and “kilouw” (jacks) from their “Bwa Flo” fishing rafts or “pwi-pwi”.

Young men setting bags to catch titiwi near mouth of Roseau River; catch to be used as fishing bait

It’s the same river whose estuary provides a foraging ground for local and migratory birds such as pelicans, magnificent frigate birds (“sizo”), royal terns, several sandpiper species, ruddy turnstone, egrets, herons (“kwabyé”) and the occasional wild duck (blue-winged teal), among other species.

Heron stalking its prey in Roseau River

That’s the same river which flows from our scenic Freshwater Lake, passing through the dramatic Ti-Tou Gorge, and on which you will find the very popular and touristic twin Trafalgar Falls.

Freshwater Lake, the “natural” source of the Roseau River; water from the lake is used for generating hydro-electricity

Is that the same Dominican river that is crossed over by so many bridges? Starting from Copt Hall we cross the Palm Grove Bridge at Copt Hall, the Elmshall Bridge (functional until 27th August 2015), the Bath Estate Bridge, the Bath Road or “Stadium” Bridge, the E.C. Loblack Bridge, the “New” West Bridge which was commissioned in May 2017, and the Dominica-China Friendship Bridge near the Roseau Market.

Roseau River is crossed by several bridges, including the Dominica-China Friendship Bridge. March 2013

There are other bridges over tributaries of the Roseau River at Wotten Waven, Trafalgar and Laudat. Note also that that river was once crossed by the longest suspension bridge (spring bridge) in the OECS; that bridge was located adjacent to the current Bath Estate Bridge.

That’s the same river that separates Roseau proper and Elmshall from Pottersville, Bath Estate, Savanne Park and Silver Lake.

That’s the same river that someone, many years ago, decided to call “Queen’s River”… Of all possible names? But who calls “Layvyè Wozo” Queen’s River? You?

Yea, that’s the same river that once provided water for crushing sugar cane harvested from plantations in the greater Roseau area (viz. site of the Botanic Gardens and Goodwill) and washing of L. Rose’s limes before crushing, and which today provides water for generating hydro-electricity at Laudat and Trafalgar.

Second entrance of tunnel through which water from the Roseau River was channelled from the “Sikwi” area down to a sugar mill at lower Goodwill

That’s the same river in which many mothers in the Roseau, Pottersville and even Newtown areas did the family laundry, and even “washed for people”. Many young men from those same communities also did their own laundry in that river.

That’s the same river that once had several popular, natural bathing pools and spots where youths spent hours frolicking, especially during school vacation time: Jèl Bouchouwi, Under Bridge, Anba Fanso, Basen Sikwi, Under Power, Champaign, Silver Lake and Palm Grove.

That’s the same river in which young children, while their mothers were doing the family laundry, collected “viyo”, which they cooked at home and ate as a snack.

That’s the same river that provided many “Jan Wozo” and “Jan Lòdbò” with water for their morning and evening baths, and young boys from Roseau and neighbouring communities with opportunities for river-tubing from Palm Grove down to near the river mouth.

That’s the same river that has given the city of Roseau its character as being the only city among the Caribbean islands with a usually clear, clean river flowing with moderate velocity right across town.

Yes, it’s the same river in which, before the arrival of flush toilets on the island, the “night soil” of the better-off residents of Roseau and environs would be disposed of, and in which the “pos” and pails of the less fortunate would be emptied and washed clean for the following night’s use.

About the Author:

ARLINGTON JAMES was raised in Roseau, Pottersville and Goodwill, and as such the Roseau river  became an essential part of his life. Arlington is a retired Forest Officer, and often carries around a camera in order to capture that rare photo-opportunity. Some of the subjects that he has photographed include the “dry” and empty Boiling Lake; a Kouwes snake nest; a boa constrictor swallowing an iguana; and the breaking of the Layou River Dam in 1997.
Arlington is the recipient of a national Services Medal of Honour Award, for his work in environmental education and research.