The Bahamas

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Commonwealth of The Bahamas
Image:Flag of the Bahamas.svg Image:Bahamas coa.png
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: Forward Upward Onward Together
Anthem: March On, Bahamaland
Royal anthem: God Save the Queen
Capital
(and largest city)
Nassau
25°4′N 77°20′W
Official languages English
Government Commonwealth
 - Monarch Elizabeth II
 - Governor-General Arthur Dion Hanna
 - Prime Minister Perry Christie
Independence  
 - From Britain July 10, 1973 
Area
 - Total 13,878 km² (160th)
5,358 sq mi 
 - Water (%) 28%
Population
 - 2005 estimate 323,0001 (177th)
 - 1990 census 254,685
 - Density 23.27/km² (181st)
60/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2005 estimate
 - Total $6.524 billion (145th)
 - Per capita $20,076 (34th)
HDI  (2003) 0.832 (high) (50th)
Currency Dollar (BSD)
Time zone EST (UTC−5)
 - Summer (DST) EDT (UTC−4)
Internet TLD .bs
Calling code +1-242
1 Estimates for this country take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, lower population growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected.


The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is an independent English-speaking nation in the West Indies. An archipelago of 700 islands and cays, the Bahamas is located in the Atlantic Ocean, east of Florida and the United States, north of Cuba and the Caribbean, and northwest of the British dependency of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Contents

[edit] History

Although Paleo-Indians may have populated the area previously, Taino Indians from Hispaniola and Cuba moved into the southern Bahamas around the 7th century AD and became the Lucayans. There were an estimated 40,000 Lucayans at the time of Columbus' arrival.

Christopher Columbus' first landfall in the New World was on the island of San Salvador, also called Watling's Island, in the south part of Bahamas. Here, Columbus made contact with the Lucayans and exchanged goods with them.

The Bahamian Lucayans were taken to Hispaniola as slaves, and in two decades, many Lucayan societies ceased to exist, as the population endured considerable forced labour, warfare, disease, emigration and outmarriage.

After the Lucayan population was decimated, the Bahamian islands were virtually unoccupied until the English settlers came from Bermuda in 1650. The so-called Eleutherian Adventurers established settlements on the island Eleuthera.

The Bahamas became a British crown colony in 1718. Some 8,000 loyalists and their slaves moved to the Bahamas in the late 1700s from New York, Florida and the Carolinas.

The British made the islands internal self-government in 1964 and, in 1973, Bahamians got full independence while staying a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Since the 1950s, the Bahamian economy has prospered based on the twin pillars of tourism and financial services. Despite this however the country still faces significant challenges in areas such as education, healthcare, correctional facilities and violent crime and illegal immigration. The urban renewal project has been launched in recent years to help impoverished urban areas in social decline in the main islands. Today, the country enjoys the third highest per capita income in the western hemisphere.

Some say the name 'Bahamas' derives from the Spanish for "shallow sea", baja mar. Others trace it to the Lucayan word for Grand Bahama Island, ba-ha-ma ("large upper middle land").

[edit] Geography and climate

The island of Abaco is to its east. The most southeastern island is Inagua. Other notable islands include Eleuthera, Cat Island, San Salvador, Acklins, Crooked Island, Exuma and Mayaguana. Nassau is the capital and largest city, located on New Providence. The islands have a subtropical climate, moderated by the Gulf Stream.

In the southeast, the Caicos Islands and the Turks 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 in 1992, and Hurricane Floyd hit most of the islands in 1999. Hurricane Frances 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. Tidal surges and high winds destroyed homes, schools, floated graves and made roughly 1,000 people homeless. The homeless people were stuck without food, water and resources and were left to depend on the government.

[edit] Government and politics

Main articles on politics and government of the Bahamas can be found at the Politics and government of the Bahamas series.
Image:Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.jpg
Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of the Bahamas. (Photo: Richard Gifford)

The Bahamas is an independent country and member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Political and legal traditions closely follow those of the United Kingdom.

The Queen of the United Kingdom is the ceremonial head of state, represented by a Bahamian governor-general. Prime Minister is the head of government and is the leader of the party with the most seats in the elected House of Assembly. The upper house - or Senate - is appointed. Executive power is exercised by the cabinet. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament.

The party system is 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, despite a feeling among many Bahamians that both the FNM and the PLP are strikingly similar in their approach. These parties include 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. The Bahamas is a member of the Caribbean Community. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. Jurisprudence is based on English common law.

[edit] Economy

The Bahamas is a stable, developing nation with an economy heavily dependent on tourism and offshore banking. The Bahamas is generally reckoned to be one of the leading offshore financial centres.

Tourism alone accounts for more than 60% of GDP and directly or indirectly employs almost half of the labour force. Steady growth in tourism receipts and a boom in construction of new hotels, resorts, and residences have led to solid GDP growth in recent years.

Manufacturing and agriculture together contribute approximately a tenth of GDP and show little growth, despite government incentives aimed at those sectors. Overall growth prospects in the short run rest heavily on the fortunes of the tourism sector, which depends on growth in the United States, the source of the majority of tourist visitors.

The unemployment rate has fallen to 7.6% in 2006, from 10.2% in 2005 primarily due to the construction of several large resort developments throughout the country. In the two most populated islands in The Bahamas, unemployement fell from 10.9 percent to 6.6 percent in New Providence, and from 11 percent to 8.4 percent in Grand Bahama. The estimated poverty rate in 2004 was 9.3%.

In addition, the average household income has increased to $43,420 from $38,894 in 2005.

The Bahamian and United States dollars are both distributed on a 1:1 exchange.

[edit] Demographics of the Bahamas

The Bahamian population is from approximately 85% African descendency, followed by 12% Caucasian descendency. Other minorities include Asians and Hispanics at 3%. Many Bahamian Caucasians are concentrated on Abaco Island, Spanish Wells, Harbour Island, Long Island, and the Montagu Bay district of New Providence (just to the east of Nassau). There are also a significant number of non-citizen Caucasian expatriates from the United States and Europe.

The official language is English, spoken by nearly all inhabitants, though many speak a patois form of it Bahamian Creole Dialect not to be confused with Haitian Creole spoken by a considerable number of immigrants. Spanish and Portuguese are also spoken by immigrant groups.

A strongly religious country, there are more places of worship per person in the Bahamas than any other nation in the world. The islands are overwhelming Protestant Christian (over 80%). Baptists form the largest denomination (about one third), followed by the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches.

A few people, especially in the southern and eastern islands, practice Obeah, a spiritistic religion similar to Voodoo. While well-known throughout the Bahamas, Obeah is shunned by many people. Voodoo is practiced, but almost exclusively by the large number of immigrants from Haiti, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Jamaica.

[edit] Culture and sports

See also: Culture of the Bahamas

Bahamian culture is a hybrid of African and European influences. Perhaps its most famous expression is a rhythmic form of music called junkanoo. Aside from Junkanoo, other indigenous forms of music include rake and scrape, calypso, and a unique form of hymnal, known internationally through the music of the late Joseph Spence. Marching bands are also an important part of life, playing at funerals, weddings and other ceremonial events.

In the less developed out islands - more often called "family islands" - crafts include basketry made from palm fronds. This material, commonly called "straw", is also plaited into hats and bags that are popular tourist items today.

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 and the practice of Obeah.

There is no real national sport in the Bahamas. Although British sports like cricket, soccer and Rugby are still popular, American influences are stronger today as can be seen from the popularity of basketball, softball and American football. There are several world class Bahamian track and field athletes.

The Bahamas have won Olympic gold medals in sailing (Sir Durwood Knowles and Cecile Cooke - 1964), and track and field (Tonique Williams-Darling - 2004, and women's relay team - 2000).

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] 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

[edit] 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 Bahamas. New York: Peter Lang, 2004.

[edit] 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.

[edit] External links

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