the Bahamas

the Bahamas

Bahamas, the, officially Commonwealth of the Bahamas, independent nation (2005 est. pop. 301,800), 4,403 sq mi (11,404 sq km), in the Atlantic Ocean, consisting of some 700 islands and islets and about 2,400 cays, beginning c.50 mi (80 km) off SE Florida and extending c.600 mi (970 km) SE almost to Haiti. The country does not include the Turks and Caicos Islands, to the southeast, which, although geographically part of the archipelago, have been separately administered by Great Britain since 1848. The capital and principal city is Nassau, on New Providence island. Other chief islands are known as "out islands" or "family islands."

Land and People

The islands, composed mainly of limestone and coral, rise from a vast submarine plateau. Most are generally low and flat, riverless, with many mangrove swamps, brackish lakes (connected with the ocean by underground passages), and coral reefs and shoals. Fresh water is obtained from rainfall and from desalinization. Navigation is hazardous, and many of the outer islands are uninhabited and undeveloped, although steps have been taken to improve transportation facilities. Hurricanes occasionally cause severe damage, but the climate is generally excellent. In addition to New Providence, other main islands are Grand Bahama, Great and Little Abaco (see Abaco and Cays), the Biminis, Andros, Eleuthera, Cat Island, San Salvador, Great and Little Exuma (Exuma and Cays), Long Island, Crooked Island, Acklins Island, Mayaguana, and Great and Little Inagua (see Inagua).

The population is primarily of African and mixed African and European descent; some 12% is of European heritage, with small minorities of Asian and Hispanic descent. More than three quarters of the people belong to one of several Protestant denominations and nearly 15% are Roman Catholic. English is the official language. The Bahamas have a relatively low illiteracy rate. The government provides free education through the secondary level; the College of the Bahamas was established in 1974, although most Bahamians who seek a higher education study in Jamaica or elsewhere.


The islands' vivid subtropical atmosphere—brilliant sky and sea, lush vegetation, flocks of bright-feathered birds, and submarine gardens where multicolored fish swim among white, rose, yellow, and purple coral—as well as rich local color and folklore, has made the Bahamas one of the most popular resorts in the hemisphere. The islands' many casinos are an additional attraction, and tourism is by far the country's most important industry, providing 60% of the gross domestic product and employing about half of the workforce. Financial services are the nation's other economic mainstay, although many international businesses left after new government regulations on the financial sector were imposed in late 2000. Salt, rum, aragonite, and pharmaceuticals are produced, and these, along with animal products and chemicals, are the chief exports. The Bahamas also possess facilities for the transshipment of petroleum. The country's main trading partners are the United States and Spain. Since the 1960s, the transport of illegal narcotic drugs has been a problem, as has the flow of illegal refugees from other islands.


The Bahamas are governed under the constitution of 1973 and have a parliamentary form of government. There is a bicameral legislature consisting of a 16-seat Senate and a 40-seat House of Assembly. The prime minister is the head of government, and the monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, represented by an appointed governor-general, is the titular head of state. The nation is divided into 21 administrative districts.


Before the arrival of Europeans, the Bahamas were inhabited by the Lucayos, a group of Arawaks. Christopher Columbus first set foot in the New World in the Bahamas (1492), presumably at San Salvador, and claimed the islands for Spain. Although the Lucayos were not hostile, they were soon exterminated by the Spanish, who did not in fact colonize the islands.

The first settlements were made in the mid-17th cent. by the English. In 1670 the islands were granted to the lords proprietors of Carolina, who did not relinquish their claim until 1787, although Woodes Rogers, the first royal governor, was appointed in 1717. Under Rogers the pirates and buccaneers, notably Blackbeard, who frequented the Bahama waters, were driven off. The Spanish attacked the islands several times, and an American force held Nassau for a short time in 1776. In 1781 the Spanish captured Nassau and took possession of the whole colony, but under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1783) the islands were ceded to Great Britain.

After the American Revolution many Loyalists settled in the Bahamas, bringing with them black slaves to labor on cotton plantations. Plantation life gradually died out after the emancipation of slaves in 1834. Blockade-running into Southern ports in the U.S. Civil War enriched some of the islanders, and during the prohibition era in the United States the Bahamas became a base for rum-running.

The United States leased areas for bases in the Bahamas in World War II and in 1950 signed an agreement with Great Britain for the establishment of a proving ground and a tracking station for guided missiles. In 1955 a free trade area was established at the town of Freeport. It proved enormously successful in stimulating tourism and has attracted offshore banking.

In the 1950s black Bahamians, through the Progressive Liberal party (PLP), began to oppose successfully the ruling white-controlled United Bahamian party; but it was not until the 1967 elections that they were able to win control of the government. The Bahamas were granted limited self-government as a British crown colony in 1964, broadened (1969) through the efforts of Prime Minister Lynden O. Pindling. The PLP, campaigning on a platform of immediate independence, won an overwhelming victory in the 1972 elections and negotiations with Britain were begun.

On July 10, 1973, the Bahamas became a sovereign state within the Commonwealth of Nations. In 1992, after 25 years as prime minister and facing recurrent charges of corruption and ties to drug traffickers, Pindling was defeated by Hubert Ingraham of the Free National Movement (FNM). A feeble economy, mostly due to a decrease in tourism and the poor management of state-owned industries, was Ingraham's main policy concern. Ingraham was returned to office in 1997 with an ironclad majority, but lost power in 2002 when the PLP triumphed at the polls and PLP leader Perry Christie replaced Ingraham as prime minister. Concern over the government's readiness to accommodate the tourist industry contributed to the PLP's losses in the 2007 elections, and Ingraham and the FNM regained power.


See H. P. Mitchell, Caribbean Patterns (2d ed. 1970); J. E. Moore, Pelican Guide to the Bahamas (1988).

The Bahamas, officially the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, is an independent, sovereign, English-speaking country consisting of two thousand cays and seven hundred islands that form an archipelago. It is located in the Atlantic Ocean southeast of the United States; north of Cuba, Hispaniola (Dominican Republic & Haiti) and the Caribbean Sea; and northwest of the Turks and Caicos Islands.


The seafaring Taino people moved into the uninhabited southern Bahamas from Hispaniola and Cuba around the 7th century AD. These people came to be known as the Lucayans. There were an estimated 30,000+ Lucayans at the time of Columbus' arrival in 1492.

Christopher Columbus's first landfall in the New World was on an island he named San Salvador (known to the Lucayans as Guanahani) which is generally accepted to be present-day San Salvador Island (also known as Watling Island) in the southeastern Bahamas. Here, Columbus made first contact with the Lucayans and exchanged goods with them.

The Spaniards who followed Columbus depopulated the islands and they were deserted until the arrival of the Eleutherian Adventurers from Bermuda in the mid 1600s. The Adventurers (who were English) established the first permanent European settlements on an island which they named Eleuthera - the name derives from the Greek word for freedom. They later discovered New Providence and named it Sayle's Island. To survive, the settlers salvaged goods from wrecks.

In 1670 King Charles II granted the islands to the Lords Proprietors of the Carolinas, who rented the islands from the king with rights of trading, tax, appointing governors, and administering the country.

During proprietary rule, the Bahamas became a haven for pirates, including the infamous Blackbeard. To restore orderly government, the Bahamas was made a British crown colony in 1718 under the royal governorship of Woodes Rogers, who cracked down on piracy.

During the American Revolutionary War, the islands were a target for American naval forces under the command of Commodore Ezekial Hopkins. The capital of Nassau on the island of New Providence was occupied by US Marines for a fortnight.

In 1782, after the British defeat at Yorktown, a Spanish fleet appeared off Nassau, which surrendered without a fight. But the 1783 Treaty of Versailles - which ended the global conflict between Britain, France and Spain - returned the Bahamas to British sovereignty.

After the American Revolution, some 8,000 loyalists and their slaves moved to the Bahamas from New York, Florida and the Carolinas. The Americans established plantations on several out islands and became a political force in the capital. The small population became mostly African from this point on.

The British abolished the slave trade in 1807, which led to the forced settlement on Bahamian islands of thousands of Africans liberated from slave ships by the Royal Navy. Slavery itself was finally abolished in the British Empire on August 1 1834.

Modern political development began after the Second World War. The first political parties were formed in the 1950s and the British made the islands internally self-governing in 1964, with Roland Symonette as of the United Bahamian Party as the first premier.

In 1967, Lynden Pindling of the Progressive Liberal Party became the first black premier of the colony, and in 1968 the title was changed to prime minister. In 1973, the Bahamas became fully independent, but retained membership in the Commonwealth of Nations. Sir Milo Butler was appointed the first black governor-general (the representative of Queen Elizabeth 11) upon independence.

Based on the twin pillars of tourism and offshore finance, the Bahamian economy has prospered since the 1950s. However, there remain significant challenges in areas such as education, health care, international narcotics trafficking and illegal immigration from Haiti.

The origin of the name "Bahamas" is unclear. It may derive from the Spanish baja mar, meaning "shallow seas"; or the Lucayan word for Grand Bahama Island, ba-ha-ma "large upper middle land".

Geography and Climate

The closest island to the United States is Bimini, which is also known as the gateway to the Bahamas. The island of Abaco is to the east of Grand Bahama. The southeasternmost island is Great Inagua. Other notable islands include the Bahamas' largest island, Andros Island, and Eleuthera, Cat Island, Long Island, San Salvador Island, Acklins, Crooked Island, Exuma and Mayaguana. Nassau, the Bahamas capital city, lies on the island of New Providence.

All the islands are low and flat, with ridges that usually rise no more than . The highest point in the country is Mount Alvernia, or Como Hill, which has an altitude of . To the southeast, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and three more extensive submarine features called Mouchoir Bank, Silver Bank, and Navidad Bank, are geographically a continuation of the Bahamas, but not part of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. .

The climate of the Bahamas is subtropical to tropical, and is moderated significantly by the waters of the Gulf Stream, particularly in winter. Conversely, this often proves very dangerous in the summer and autumn, when hurricanes pass near or through the islands. Hurricane Andrew hit the northern islands during the 1992 Atlantic hurricane season, and Hurricane Floyd hit most of the islands during the 1999 Atlantic hurricane season. Hurricane Frances hit in 2004; the Atlantic hurricane season of 2004 was expected to be the worst ever for the islands. Also in 2004, the northern Bahamas were hit by a less potent Hurricane Jeanne. In 2005 the northern islands were once again struck, this time by Hurricane Wilma. In Grand Bahama, tidal surges and high winds destroyed homes and schools, floated graves and made roughly 1,000 people homeless, most of whom lived on the west coast of the island.

While there has never been a freeze reported in the Bahamas, the temperature can fall as low as 2-3°C during Arctic outbreaks that affect nearby Florida. Snow has been reported to have mixed with rain in Freeport in January, 1977, the same time that it snowed in the Miami, FL area. The temperature was about 5°C at the time.


The districts of the Bahamas provide a system of local government everywhere in The Bahamas except New Providence, whose affairs are handled directly by the central government. The districts other than New Providence are:

Government and politics

The Bahamas is a sovereign independent nation. Political and legal traditions closely follow those of the United Kingdom and the Westminster system.

The Bahamas is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state (represented by a governor-general).

Legislative power is vested in a bicameral parliament, which consists of a 41-member House of Assembly (the lower house), with members elected from single-member districts, and a 16-member Senate, with members appointed by the governor-general, including nine on the advice of the prime minister, four on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and three on the advice of the prime minister after consultation with the leader of the opposition. The House of Assembly carries out all major legislative functions. As under the Westminster system, the prime minister may dissolve parliament and call a general election at any time within a five-year term.

The prime minister is the head of government and is the leader of the party with the most seats in the House of Assembly. Executive power is exercised by the cabinet, selected by the prime minister and drawn his supporters in the House of Assembly. The current governor-general is Arthur Dion Hanna and the current prime minister is Hubert Ingraham.

The Bahamas has a largely two-party system dominated by the centre-left Progressive Liberal Party and the centre-right Free National Movement. A handful of splinter parties have been unable to win election to parliament. These parties have included the Bahamas Democratic Movement, the Coalition for Democratic Reform and the Bahamian Nationalist Party.

Constitutional safeguards include freedom of speech, press, worship, movement, and association. Although the Bahamas is not geographically located in the Caribbean, it is a member of the Caribbean Community. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. Jurisprudence is based on English law.


Blacks 85%, Whites 12%, Asian and Hispanic 3% according to the last census completed about the races on the island, which was recorded in 1953. There are over 4,100 British residents in the Bahamas.
1953 census results by island
Region European % Mixed % African % Total
New Providence 14.80% 14.90% 70.30%
Andros and Berry Islands 97 1.30% 299 4.01% 94.69%
Grand Bahama and Bimini 450 8.30% 721 13.31% 78.39%
Abaco 33.63% 225 6.60% 59.77%
Harbour Island 861 56.42% 53 3.47% 612 40.10%
Eleuthera 662 10.93% 17.54% 71.53%
Cat Island 12 0.37% 86 2.69% 96.94%
Exuma 59 2.02% 61 2.09% 95.89%
San Salvador and Rum Cay 46 5.56% 51 6.17% 730 88.27% 827
Long Island and Ragged Island 564 13.84% 50.83% 35.33%
Crooked Islands, Acklins and Long Cay 7 0.32% 513 23.44% 76.24%
Mayaguana and Inagua 60 3.74% 95 5.93% 90.33%
Bahamas 12.71% 14.28% 73.01%
Source:Race & Politics in the Bahamas

Population: 300,529 (July 2002 est.)

Age structure: 0-14 years: 29% (male 43,964; female 43,250) 15-64 years: 64.7% (male 95,508; female 98,859) 65 years and over: 6.3% (male 7,948; female 11,000) (2002 est.)

Population growth rate: 0.86% (2002 est.)

Birth rate: 18.69 births/1,000 population (2002 est.)

Death rate: 7.49 deaths/1,000 population (2002 est.)

Net migration rate: -2.63 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2002 est.)

Sex ratio: at birth: 1.02 male(s)/female under 15 years: 1.02 male(s)/female 15-64 years: 0.97 male(s)/female 65 years and over: 0.72 male(s)/female total population: 0.96 male(s)/female (2002 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 17.08 deaths/1,000 live births (2002 est.)

Life expectancy at birth: total population: 69.87 years female: 73.49 years (2002 est.) male: 66.32 years

Total fertility rate: 2.28 children born/woman (2002 est.)

Nationality: noun: Bahamian(s)

adjective: Bahamian

Ethnic groups: black 85%, white 12%, Asian and Hispanic 3%

Religions: Baptist 32%, Anglican 20%, Roman Catholic 19%, Methodist 6%, Church of God 6%, other Protestant 12%, none or unknown 3%, other 2% The 'other' category includes Jews, Muslims, Baha'is, Hindus, Rastafarians, and practitioners of Obeah.

Languages: English, Creole (among Haitian immigrants)

Literacy (age 15+): total population: 98.2% male: 98.5% female: 98% (1995 est.)


In the less developed outer islands, handicrafts include basketry made from palm fronds. This material, commonly called "straw", is plaited into hats and bags that are popular tourist items.

Regattas are important social events in many family island settlements. They usually feature one or more days of sailing by old-fashioned work boats, as well as an onshore festival.

Some settlements have festivals associated with the traditional crop or food of that area, such as the "Pineapple Fest" in Gregory Town, Eleuthera or the "Crab Fest" on Andros. Other significant traditions include story telling.

Sailing and Track and field athletics are popular sports in the country. Football and rugby also have strong followings while American sports such as basketball, softball, baseball and American football are gaining in popularity.


The Bahamas competed in the Summer Olympic Games for the first time at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. In 1956, Sloan Farrington & Durward Knowles won a bronze medal in sailing. The first Olympic gold medal for the Bahamas was won in sailing (Sir Durwood Knowles and Cecile Cooke in 1964 in Tokyo, Japan). After a losing streak of 28 years at the olympics the Bahamas won bronze the men's triple jump through Frank Rutherford. As for track & field the Bahamas placed second in the women's 4 x 100m in 1996 with Eldece Clark-Lewis, Chandra Sturrup, Sevatheda Fynes & Pauline Davis-Thompson.

In the 2000 Sydney Olympics the "Golden Girls" were born, Pauline Davis-Thompson, Debbie Ferguson, Sevatheda Fynes, Chandra Sturrup & Eldece Clark-Lewis by winning gold in the women's 4 x 100m relay. Pauline Davis-Thompson also won silver in the women's 200m in Sydney. In 2004 Athens Tonique Williams-Darling won gold in the 400m finishing in 49.41(s) & Debbie Ferguson placed third in women's 200m 22.30(s). At the 2008 Beijing Olympics Andretti Bain, Michael Mathieu, Andrae Williams and Christopher Brown won the Silver medal in the 4 x 400m men's relay team. Leevan Sands aka "Superman" also won an Olympic medal for the Bahamas in the men's triple jump after placing third with 17.59/+0.9 (Distance (m)/Wind (m/s) setting a national record.

They are also very active in the world of karting; the current Bahamian one after the other champion is Genevieve Siddons.


The Bahamian dollar is pegged to the US dollar, and US notes and coins are used interchangeably with Bahamian currency for most practical purposes. However, government exchange controls still apply for the purchase of foreign currency.

The Bahamas is classified as an upper middle-income developing country and has the third highest per capita income in the western hemisphere (after the United States and Canada). Tourism is the primary economic activity, accounting for about two thirds of the gross domestic product (GDP). Offshore finance is the second largest industry, accounting for about 15 per cent of GDP.

The government continues to promote tourism and financial services while aiming for greater diversification through agriculture, fishing, manufacturing and e-commerce.

In the 1960s, the country enjoyed robust growth averaging 9 per cent annually as direct foreign investment spurred the development of tourism. A global economic downturn after the 1973 oil price shock coincided with Bahamian independence and led to a drop in foreign investment.

Toward the end of that decade economic performance improved, led by growth in tourism. Real GDP growth in the 1980-84 period averaged 3 per cent, but declined in the late 1980s. GDP growth was 0.3 per cent in 1995 and accelerated to 6 per cent in 1999. After 9/11 the economy slumped temporarily due to travel fears, but began growing again in 2002. Bahamas is now more commonly known as a popular destination amongst the rich & powerful business families of North America.

Historically, most development has occurred on New Providence and Grand Bahama, causing significant migration from the Family Islands to these two urban centers and straining their infrastructure. The government is also faced with the burden of duplicating facilities and services throughout the archipelago.

There is no income, corporate or capital gains tax. Government revenues are derived from import tariffs, excise taxes, property taxes, business licenses and fees.

See also


Further reading

General history

  • Cash Philip et al. (Don Maples, Alison Packer). The Making of the Bahamas: A History for Schools. London: Collins, 1978.
  • Albury, Paul. The Story of The Bahamas. London: MacMillan Caribbean, 1975.
  • Miller, Hubert W. The Colonization of the Bahamas, 1647–1670, The William and Mary Quarterly 2 no.1 (Jan 1945): 33–46.
  • Craton, Michael. A History of the Bahamas. London: Collins, 1962.
  • Craton, Michael and Saunders, Gail. Islanders in the Stream: A History of the Bahamian People. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992
  • McCartney, Donald M., "Bahamian Culture And Factors Which Impact Upon It". Pittsburgh, PA: Dorrance Publishing,:) 2004

Economic history

  • Johnson, Howard. The Bahamas in Slavery and Freedom. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishing, 1991.
  • Johnson, Howard. The Bahamas from Slavery to Servitude, 1783–1933. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1996.
  • Storr, Virgil H. Enterprising Slaves and Master Pirates: Understanding Economic Life in the Bahamaz. New York: Peter Lang, 2004.

Social history

  • Johnson, Wittington B. Race Relations in the Bahamas, 1784–1834: The Nonviolent Transformation from a Slave to a Free Society. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas, 2000.
  • Shirley, Paul. "Tek Force Wid Force", History Today 54, no. 41 (April 2004): 30–35.
  • Saunders, Gail. The Social Life in the Bahamas 1880s–1920s. Nassau: Media Publishing, 1996.
  • Saunders, Gail. Bahamas Society After Emancipation. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishing, 1990.
  • Curry, Jimmy. Filthy Rich Gangster/First Bahamian Movie. Movie Mogul Pictures: 1996.

External links

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