Setting the scene Bahamas

With thanks to Wikipedia

The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is a North American, 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 Florida and the United States, north of Cuba, the island of Hispaniola and the Caribbean, and northwest of the British overseas territory of the Turks and Caicos Islands.


 

History of the Bahamas

Although the area may have been populated previously, the seafaring Taino people moved into the southern Bahamas around the 7th century from Hispaniola and Cuba. These people came to be known as the Lucayans. There were an estimated 40,000+ Lucayans at the time of Columbus' arrival in 1492.

Christopher Columbus' first landfall in the New World was on an island he named San Salvador (known to the Lucayans as Guanahahani) which may be Samana Cay or present-day San Salvador Island (also known as Watling's Island), in the central part of the Bahamas Archipelago. Here, Columbus made contact with the Lucayans and exchanged goods with them.

Parts of the Bahamas as seen from an airplane Bahamian Lucayans were later taken to Hispaniola as slaves; and within two decades, Lucayan societies ceased to exist due to forced labour, warfare, massacre, disease, emigration and intermarriage. After the Lucayan population was eliminated, the Bahamian islands were virtually unoccupied until English settlers led by William Sayle came from Bermuda seeking religious freedom in 1647. The Eleutheren Adventurers established settlements on the island of Eleuthera, which means Freedom. They later discovered New Providence and named it Sayle's Island. To survive, the settlers looted passing ships.

William Sayle asked King Charles II to appoint a group of Lord Proprietors to the islands. They rented the islands from the king with rights of trading, tax, appointing governors, and administering the country. November 1st, 1670 the islands were granted to William earl of Craven, John Lord Burkley, and Christopher Duke of Albermarle, St. George Carteret, Sir Peter Colleton and Anthony Lord Ashley. These Proprietors never visited the islands, but they appointed Governors to rule for them.

The Bahamas became a British crown colony in 1717. Some 8,000 American Loyalists and their slaves moved to the Bahamas after 1783 from New York, Florida and the Carolinas. Slavery was abolished in the British Empire on August 1, 1834. This led to many fugitive slaves from the US braving the perils of the Atlantic for the promise of a free life in the Bahamas.

On May 8, 1782, during the American Revolutionary War, Count Bernardo de Gálvez, the Spanish governor of Louisiana, captured the British naval base at New Providence in the Bahamas. The Bahamas were returned to Britain as part of the peace negotiations ending the American war.

The British made the islands internally self-governing in 1964. In 1973, the Bahamas became fully independent, but retained membership in the Commonwealth of Nations. In 1967, Lynden Pindling became the first black premier of the colony, and in 1968 became prime minister. Another black Bahamian, Sir Milo Butler, was appointed governor-general upon Independence. Based on the pillars of tourism and offshore financial services, the Bahamian economy has prospered since the 1950s. Today, the country enjoys the third highest per capita income in the hemisphere. Despite this, the country faces significant challenges in areas such as education, health care, international narcotics trafficking, correctional facilities and illegal immigration.


 

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 Bahamas, tidal surges and high winds destroyed homes and schools, floated graves and made roughly 1,000 people homeless, most of who lived on the west coast of the island. They could still be recovering to this day.

 Politics of the Bahamas

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

Queen Elizabeth II is the ceremonial head of state, represented by a Bahamian governor-general. The 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 current Governor General is Arthur Dion Hanna and the current Prime Minister is Hubert Alexander Ingraham. The upper house (the 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. 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. 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 common law.

Demographics of the Bahamas

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.

Culture of the Bahamas

Junkanoo celebration in the Bahamas. Bahamian culture is a hybrid of African and European influences. Perhaps its greatest 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. The country's first movie, Filthy Rich Gangster, was written and directed by a Bahamian named Jimmy Curry, who also wrote, produced and performed the regions first Hip Hop and Junkanoo Hip Hop records. Curry was also the first Bahamian signed to legendary American record label Sugar Hill Records. His firm is also re-releasing several of their movies including: Filthy Rich Gangster; Gun Lordz and others. In addition to movie and television productions, he has produced concerts, sporting events, and is the founder of the Bahamian American Arts Festival.

A strongly religious country, there are more places of worship per person in the Bahamas than many other nations in the world. The islands are overwhelmingly Anglican Christian (over 80%). Baptists form the largest denomination (about one third), followed by the Roman Catholic churches. As of 2006, one out of every 191 Bahamian citizens in the population was a Jehovah's Witness.

A few people, especially in the southern and eastern islands, practice Obeah, a spiritistic religion similar to Voodoo. Voodoo is also practiced by the large number of people from Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Officially, the national sport of the Bahamas is cricket. Though still the most popular, its popularity has declined. Sailing and Track and field athletics are also 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.

Bahamians have won Olympic gold medals in sailing (Sir Durwood Knowles and Cecile Cooke in 1964) and track and field (Tonique Williams-Darling in the 400 m in 2004 and the women's relay team in the 4×100m in 2000).

Economy of the Bahamas


 

Tourism plays an important part in the economy of the Bahamas. The Bahamas' currency is the Bahamian dollar, which is pegged to the US dollar. US notes and coins are used interchangeably with Bahamian notes and coins within the islands for most practical purposes; however, banks levy a small exchange rate for the purchase of US dollars with the Bahamian dollars. In the mid-1980s, the Bahamas was classified as an upper middle-income developing country and ranked among the wealthiest nations in the Caribbean region. In addition, the Bahamas is the third (3rd) wealthiest country in the western hemisphere. Tourism was the nation's primary economic activity. In 1986 the World Bank reported that tourism directly and indirectly accounted for approximately 50 percent of employment. Tourism's share of the gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at 70 percent by the United States Department of Commerce.

In order to lessen the economy's dependency on tourism, the government has followed a policy of diversification since the 1970s, emphasising development in the industrial and agricultural sectors. Success, however, has been limited. The nation experienced setbacks in the early 1980s with the closing of steel and cement plants and oil refineries. Because industries locating in the Bahamas tended to be capital intensive, the industrial sector's share of the labour force was estimated at just 6 percent in 1979. Industry's share of GDP was estimated at about 10 percent in the mid-1980s. The agricultural sector (including fishing) also employed only about 6 percent of the labour force in the early 1980s. Despite various programs to boost production, the World Bank estimated that agriculture in the Bahamas accounted for less than 5 percent of GDP in 1986. The nation's banking and finance sector experienced significant growth in the 1970s and 1980s. This sector contributed approximately 7 percent to GDP in the mid-1980s but employed only about 3,000 Bahamians.

The overall performance of the economy during the past several decades has been positive. In the 1960s, the country recorded robust economic growth; growth rates averaged 9 percent annually as direct foreign investment spurred the development of tourism. Economic performance in the 1970s was not as successful. The international economic recession caused a reduction in investment, especially after the 1973 and 1979 oil price shocks. Bahamian independence in 1973 also caused a certain amount of uncertainty, contributing further to reduced foreign investment. Toward the end of the decade, however, economic performance improved, led by growth in tourism; investment soon followed suit, resulting in a boom in the construction sector and an increase in employment levels.

The economy continued to perform well in the early and mid-1980s. Real GDP growth in the 1980-84 period averaged 3 percent. The only notable setback occurred in 1981, when recession in the United States resulted in a decline in stopover visitors (hotel occupants rather than cruise ship or day visitors) and the manufacturing sector was hurt by the closing of several plants; real GDP for that year fell by 9 percent. Tourism recovered quickly, however. In 1982 about 1.7 million foreign tourists visited the Bahamas, and by 1986 that figure had grown to 3 million. GDP was US$1.8 billion in 1985, and per capita GDP was estimated at US$7,822.

The nation was not without economic problems. Growth and development were not uniform throughout the country. Most development occurred in New Providence and Grand Bahamas, causing significant migration from the Family Islands to these two urban centres. This migration strained the infrastructure and social sectors of New Providence and Grand Bahamas. The government also was faced with the heavy burden of spreading facilities and services throughout the Family Islands. A second problem of the Bahamian economy was its dependence on a single sector, tourism; that sector's well-being was in turn affected by the economy in the United States, the source of most tourists. To reduce this dependency, the government actively pursued a policy of diversification. Finally, the country was afflicted with the problem of structural unemployment; in 1986 unemployment levels were estimated in the 17- to 22-percent range. Industrial development tended to be capital intensive because of a high wage structure and a scarcity of technically skilled labour.

RETURN