Virgin Islands

Virgin Islands

Virgin Islands, group of about 100 small islands, West Indies, E of Puerto Rico. The islands are divided politically between the United States and Great Britain. Although constituting the westernmost part of the Lesser Antilles, the Virgin Islands form a geological unit with Puerto Rico and the Greater Antilles; they are of volcanic origin overlaid with limestone. The islands are subject to sometimes severe hurricanes between August and October and suffer from light earthquakes. The water supply is almost completely dependent on rainfall and is preserved in cisterns; some water also comes from desalinization plants. The tropical climate, with its cooling northeast trade winds, and the picturesque quality of the islands, enhanced by their Old World architecture, have encouraged a large tourist trade. The population is predominantly of African descent and the main religion is Protestantism. English and some Spanish and Creole are spoken. The islands were first visited by Europeans when Columbus landed on St. Croix in 1493.

The Virgin Islands of the United States

The Virgin Islands of the United States (2005 est. pop. 108,700), 133 sq mi (344 sq km), are a U.S. territory. Although 68 islands comprise the group, only the three largest—St. Croix (80 sq mi/207 sq km), St. Thomas (32 sq mi/83 sq km), and St. John (20 sq mi/52 sq km)—are of importance. St. Thomas is mountainous and encloses many snug harbors and bays. Charlotte Amalie, the capital and the chief port, is on St. Thomas; it has one of the finest harbors in the Caribbean. Tourism, especially the cruise-ship trade, is the main source of income on St. Thomas. St. Croix, with less mountainous terrain, has an economy that depends in large part on tourism, but petroleum refining and manufacturing are also important. Food crops are raised; sugarcane is no longer grown, but rum is still distilled. The towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted are on St. Croix. The Virgin Islands National Park covers much of St. John. Cattle are raised on all three islands. The Univ. of the Virgin Islands has campuses on St. Thomas and St. Croix. Under a law passed in 1954, the islands are administered by the U.S. Dept. of the Interior. There is a 15-seat Senate, whose members are elected for two-year terms, and a governor, who is elected for a four-year term.

Settlement of St. Thomas was begun by the Danish West India Company in 1672; St. John was claimed by Denmark in 1683, and St. Croix was purchased from France in 1733. The islands became a Danish royal colony in 1754. In 1801, and again from 1807 to 1815, the islands were in British hands. They were purchased from Denmark in 1917 for $25 million because of their strategic position alongside the approach to the Panama Canal. Since 1927, residents have enjoyed U.S. citizenship, and since 1973 they have been represented in the U.S. House of Representatives by a nonvoting delegate. John deJongh was elected governor in 2006.

The British Virgin Islands

Immediately to the northeast of the U.S. Virgin Islands are the British Virgin Islands, a British dependency (2005 est. pop. 22,600), 59 sq mi (153 sq km). There are more than 30 islands; 16 are inhabited. The principal ones are Tortola, Anegada, and Virgin Gorda. Road Town, the capital, is on Tortola. Tourism, light industry, and offshore financial services are the most important economic activities. Britain acquired the islands from the Dutch in 1666. Granted autonomy in 1967, they are governed under the constitution of 2007. There is a unicameral House of Assembly whose 13 voting members are elected to four-year terms. The government is headed by a premier, and the monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, represented by a governor, is the head of state.

Bibliography

See H. W. Hannau, The Virgin Islands: St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John (1965); E. A. O'Neill, Rape of the American Virgins (1972); W. W. Boyer, America's Virgin Islands (1983); I. Dookhan, A History of the Virgin Islands of the United States (1974, repr. 1994).

British overseas territory (pop., 2005 est.: 27,200), West Indies. Part of the Virgin Islands chain, it consists of the islands of Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda, and Jost Van Dyke and 32 smaller, mostly uninhabited islands. The chief town and port is Road Town on Tortola. The majority of British Virgin Islanders are of African or African-European descent. English is the chief language. Religion: Christianity (predominantly Protestant). The islands are generally hilly, and many have lagoons with coral reefs and barrier beaches. Tourism is the mainstay of the economy. The Virgin Islands probably were originally settled by Arawak Indians but were inhabited by Caribs by the time Christopher Columbus visited in 1493. The islands were a haunt for pirates, and Tortola was held by Dutch buccaneers until it was taken by English planters in 1666; it was annexed by the British-administered Leeward Islands in 1672. The British sugar plantations declined after slavery was abolished in the 19th century. The islands were part of the Colony of the Leeward Islands from 1872 until 1956, when the British Virgin Islands became a separate colony. Its status was changed to an overseas territory in 2002.

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Conservation area, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. Covering 14,696 acres (5,947 hectares), it has steep mountains, white beaches, and coral reefs. Though most of the tree cover was removed for sugarcane cultivation in the 17th–18th century, the land has reverted to forest. Some 100 species of birds and the only native land mammal, the bat, can be found there. It has remains of Arawak Indian villages.

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The British Virgin Islands (BVI) is a British overseas territory, located in the Caribbean to the east of Puerto Rico. The islands make up part of the Virgin Islands archipelago, the remaining islands constituting the U.S. Virgin Islands. Technically the name of the Territory is simply the "Virgin Islands", but in practice since 1917 they have been almost universally referred to as the "British Virgin Islands" to distinguish the islands from the American Territory. To add to the regional confusion, the Puerto Rican islands of Culebra, Vieques and surrounding islands began referring to themselves as the "Spanish Virgin Islands" as part of a tourism drive in the early 2000s.

The British Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke, along with over fifty other smaller islands and cays. Approximately fifteen of the islands are inhabited. The largest island, Tortola, is approximately 20 km (approx. 12 mi) long and 5 km (approx. 3 mi) wide. The islands have a total population of about 22,000, of whom approximately 18,000 live on Tortola. Road Town, the capital, is situated on Tortola.

History

The Virgin Islands were first settled by the Arawak from South America around 100 BC (though there is some evidence of Amerindian presence on the islands as far back as 1500 BC). The Arawaks inhabited the islands until the fifteenth century when they were displaced by the more aggressive Caribs, a tribe from the Lesser Antilles islands, after whom the Caribbean Sea is named.

The first European sighting of the Virgin Islands was by Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his second voyage to the Americas. Columbus gave them the fanciful name Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Vírgenes (Saint Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins), shortened to Las Vírgenes (The Virgins), after the legend of Saint Ursula.

The Spanish Empire claimed the islands by discovery in the early sixteenth century, but never settled them, and subsequent years saw the English, Dutch, French, Spanish and Danish all jostling for control of the region, which became a notorious haunt for pirates. There is no record of any native Amerindian population in the British Virgin Islands during this period, although the native population on nearby St. Croix was decimated.

The Dutch established a permanent settlement on the island of Tortola by 1648. In 1672, the English captured Tortola from the Dutch, and the British annexation of Anegada and Virgin Gorda followed in 1680. Meanwhile, over the period 1672–1733, the Danish gained control of the nearby islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix.

The British islands were considered principally a strategic possession, but were planted when economic conditions were particularly favourable. The British introduced sugar cane which was to become the main crop and source of foreign trade, and slaves were brought from Africa to work on the sugar cane plantations. The islands prospered economically until the middle of the 1800s, when a combination of the abolition of slavery in the Territory, a series of disastrous hurricanes, and the growth in the sugar beet crop in Europe and the United States significantly reduced sugar cane production and led to a period of economic decline.

In 1917, the United States purchased St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix from Denmark for US$25 million, renaming them the United States Virgin Islands.

The British Virgin Islands were administered variously as part of the British Leeward Islands or with St. Kitts and Nevis, with an Administrator representing the British Government on the Islands. Separate colony status was gained for the Islands in 1960 and the Islands became autonomous in 1967. Since the 1960s, the Islands have diversified away from their traditionally agriculture-based economy towards tourism and financial services, becoming one of the richest areas in the Caribbean.

Geography

The British Virgin Islands comprise around sixty tropical Caribbean islands, ranging in size from the largest, Tortola 20 km (approx. 12 mi) long and 5 km (approx. 3 mi) wide, to tiny uninhabited islets. They are located in the Virgin Islands archipelago, a few miles east of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The North Atlantic Ocean lies to the north of the islands, and the Caribbean Sea lies to the south. Most of the islands are volcanic in origin and have a hilly, rugged terrain. Anegada is geologically distinct from the rest of the group and is a flat island composed of limestone and coral.

In addition to the four main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke, other islands include:

See also British Virgin Islands.

Climate

The British Virgin Islands enjoy a tropical climate, moderated by trade winds. Temperatures vary little throughout the year. In the capital, Road Town, typical daily maxima are around 32 °C (90 °F) in the summer and 29 °C (84 °F) in the winter. Typical daily minima are around 24 °C (75 °F) in the summer and 21 °C (70 °F) in the winter. Rainfall averages about 1150 mm (45 in) per year, higher in the hills and lower on the coast. Rainfall can be quite variable, but the wettest months on average are September to November and the driest months on average are February and March. Hurricanes occasionally hit the islands, with the hurricane season running from June to November.

Politics

Executive authority in British Virgin Islands is invested in The Queen and is exercised on her behalf by the Governor of the British Virgin Islands. The Governor is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the British Government. Defence and Foreign Affairs remain the responsibility of the United Kingdom.

A new constitution was adopted in 2007 (the Virgin Islands Constitution Order, 2007) and came into force when the Legislative Council was dissolved for the 2007 general election. The Head of Government under the new constitution is the Premier (prior to the new constitution the office was referred to as Chief Minister), who is elected in a general election along with the other members of the ruling government as well as the members of the opposition. An Executive Council is nominated by the Premier and appointed by the Governor. There is a unicameral Legislative Council made up of 13 seats.

The current Governor is David Pearey (since 2006). The current Premier is Ralph T. O'Neal (since 22 August 2007).

Subdivisions

Economy

The British Virgin Islands enjoys one of the more prosperous economies of the Caribbean region, with a per capita GDP of around $38,500 (2004 est.)

In the British Virgin Islands it has long been fashionable to talk about the "twin pillars" of the Territory's economy – tourism and financial services. Politically, tourism is the more important of the two, as it employs a greater number of people within the Territory, and a larger proportion of the businesses in the tourist industry are locally owned, as are a number of the highly tourism-dependent sole traders (e.g. taxi drivers and street vendors). Economically, however, financial services are by far the more important. Nearly 50% of the Government's revenue comes directly from licence fees for offshore companies, and considerable further sums are raised directly or indirectly from payroll taxes relating to salaries paid within the trust industry sector (which tend to be higher on average than those paid in the tourism sector).

Tourism accounts for 45% of national income. The islands are a popular destination for U.S. citizens, with around 350,000 tourists visiting annually (1997 figures). Tourists frequent the numerous white sand beaches, visit The Baths on Virgin Gorda, snorkel the coral reefs near Anegada, or experience the well-known bars of Jost Van Dyke. The BVI are known as one of the world's greatest sailing destinations, and charter sailboats are a very popular way to visit less accessible islands. A substantial number of the tourists who visit the BVI are cruise ship passengers, although they produce far lower revenue per head than charter boat tourists and hotel based tourists. They are nonetheless important to the substantial (and politically important) taxi driving community.

Substantial revenues are also generated by the registration of offshore companies. As of 2004, over 550,000 companies were so registered. In 2000 KPMG reported in its survey of offshore jurisdictions for the United Kingdom government that over 41% of the world's offshore companies were formed in the British Virgin Islands. Since 2001, financial services in the British Virgin Islands have been regulated by the independent Financial Services Commission.

Agriculture and industry account for only a small proportion of the islands' GDP. Agricultural produce includes fruit, vegetables, sugar cane, livestock and poultry, and industries include rum distillation, construction and boatbuilding.

Since 1959, the official currency of the British Virgin Islands has been the US dollar, also used by the United States Virgin Islands.

The British Virgin Islands are a major target for drug traffickers, who use the area as a gateway to the United States. According to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, drug trafficking is "potentially the most serious threat to stability in the BVI".

Demographics

The population of the Islands is around 21,730 in 2003. The majority of the population (83%) are Afro-Caribbean, descended from the slaves brought to the islands by the British. Other large ethnic groups include those of British and other European origin.

The 1999 census reports:

83.36% Black
7.28% White*
5.38% Mixed
3.14% East Indian
0.84% Others

The islands are predominantly Protestant Christian (86%). The largest individual Christian denominations are Methodist (33%), Anglican (17%), and the Catholic (10%).

Transport

There are of roads. The main airport (Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport, also known as Beef Island Airport) is located on Beef Island, which lies off the eastern tip of Tortola. Virgin Gorda and Anegada have their own smaller airports. The main harbour is in Road Town. There are also ferries that operate within the British Virgin Islands and to the neighbouring United States Virgin Islands. As in the UK, cars in the British Virgin Islands drive on the left side of the road.

Education

The British Virgin Islands operates several government schools as well as private schools. There is also a community college, Hamilton Lavity Stoutt Community College, that is located on the eastern end of Tortola. This college was named after the late Honourable Lavity Stoutt (Chief Minister).

Sport

Culture

Music

The traditional music of the British Virgin Islands is called fungi after the local cornmeal dish with the same name, often made with okra. The special sound of fungi is due to a unique local fusion between African and European music. It functions as a medium of local history and folklore and is therefore a cherished cultural form of expression that is part of the curriculum in BVI schools. The fungi bands, also called "scratch bands", use instruments ranging from calabash, washboard, bongos and ukulele, to more traditional western instruments like keyboard, banjo, guitar, bass, triangle and saxophone. Apart from being a form of festive dance music, fungi often contains humorous social commentaries, as well as BVI oral history.

See also

References

External links

Official sites and overviews

News and media

  • BVI Platinum News — First Daily Online News, Weather & More of the British Virgin Islands
  • BVI News — Daily News (Online) of the British Virgin Islands
  • The Island Sun — Weekly newspaper of the British Virgin Islands
  • The BVI Beacon — Weekly newspaper of the British Virgin Islands
  • BVI Standpoint — Weekly newspaper of the British Virgin Islands
  • BVI Web Directory Web Site Directory of the British Virgin Islands

Directories

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