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Domino Effect in the Caribbean

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Sailing through the Caribbean, one quickly realizes the wide range of similarities between the islands. Their history overlaps starting with the Arawak and the Carib, then European colonization, and slavery. The food is always well-seasoned, often spicy, served with local vegetables, and exotic fruits. The scenery: white sandy beaches bathed by turquoise water – and the most fantastic sunsets. All islands have a common obsession, Dominoes. It is played passionately from Cuba to Trinidad and Tobago.

Fish Are On the Move

The oldest confirmed written mention of dominoes was in China in the 13th century. The gambling plaques or dominoes were called pupai. In the 18th century, dominoes made its way to Europe, more specifically to Italy through Chinese traders. The game suffered several changes as it transited from Chinese to European culture.

Dominoes were traditionally made of bone (ivory) or dark hardwood (ebony) with contrasting black or white inlaid or painted pips. Modern domino sets are usually made of synthetic materials. The most common domino set commercially available is called Double Six with 28 tiles, but there is also the Double Nine with 55 tiles, not as popular.

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The game was introduced to the West Indies by the colonizers and plantation owners, who brought the game from Europe. Considering the game’s simple rules, and easy to duplicate pieces, it quickly caught on. The slaves adopted the new game, and made their own tiles with a strip of wood cut in equal pieces and the pips were burned or perforated. The game went viral and it was soon being played by everyone and everywhere.

The Donkey

As you walk the streets of any of the islands, you will eventually hear the slapping-down of domino tiles onto the wooden table, and men leaping to their feet with a roar of excitement and laughter. You will find four men, four chairs, 28 tiles, and tables set up on the sidewalks, on street corners, under a sea-grape tree, or even a lamp post. The daily scene blossoms under the beat of a local rhythm and rounds of very cold beer or rum punches, as lines of tiles crisscross the tables into the night.

Dominoes is, without a doubt, a men’s game, and although you will rarely see women playing out on the street, they are fierce competitors. The game is deceptively simple, but it actually demands skill. The rules of the game vary slightly from one island to the next. It is normally played in pairs, two against two; the objective is to empty one’s hand while blocking the opponent. The score is determined by counting the pips in the losing players’ hands.

Bonaire Windriders

The game is more than a social event; it is a very competitive game at a club level. The World Conference of Domino Federation (WCDF) organizes yearly tournaments when men and women come from all over the Caribbean to compete.

The love for the game is taken by the Caribbean immigrants wherever they go, whether it is Europe or the USA. Do not be surprised if you are walking in Brooklyn, London or Birmingham and you hear the slamming of dominoes followed by jumps and excited voices claiming a win!


St. Martin Discover 2015
NYTimes 07.02.2001 – Domino Effect – by James Ferguson
Insight Guides 01.08.2013

Monica Pisani and Jonathan Morton live aboard Journey, a 42-foot Tatoosh. A two year cruise from Florida took them south to Grenada. They visited the Bahamas, Haiti, DR, Puerto Rico, the VIs, and Leeward and Windward Island. To learn more about their voyaging, visit: www.sailing-journey.com

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So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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