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Country of the Week: The Bahamas

In Countries by Continental StaffLeave a Comment

This week we’re in the wonderfully warm Bahamas. We’ll cover the island’s history from British colonization to independence while also exploring its unique culture.

  • Capital (and Largest City): Nassau
  • Population (2014): 321,834 (177th)
  • Total Area: 13,878 km² (160th)
  • Official Language: English
  • Currency: Bahamian dollar ($) (BSD)
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The beaches are one of the biggest draws of the Bahamas

History

Prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus, the native Lucayan inhabited the Bahamas. It remains unclear where exactly Columbus made landfall, however it is known that he traded with the local Lucayan. Much of the population was forced southwards to Hispaniola as labour where harsh conditions and disease proved decimating.

The exact dates of colonization when it comes to the Bahamas are still uncertain, though what is clear is that the English settled in both Eleuthera and New Providence during the mid-1600’s. In 1670, the Bahamas were officially granted to the Lord Proprietors of the Carolinas. Unfortunately, the Carolinas were a ways to the north, and the Bahamas soon became a renowned haven for pirates including none other than Blackbeard.

This de facto pirate republic thrived for many years until the British declared the Bahamas a crown colony in 1718 and succeeded in the admittedly difficult task of pacifying the pirates. Over the course of the 18th century, the islands were occupied by first the Americans (during the Revolutionary War) and later the Spanish. Following the British surrender, many loyalists fled from America to the Bahamas – bringing with them slaves to establish plantations. African-Americans soon began to outnumber the Europeans. This disparity increased once the slave trade was abolished in the early 19th century, and liberated slaves soon began to seek a safe home in the Bahamas. Revolts also took place amongst American slaves, who turned towards the islands in search of freedom.

As we jump forward into the 1940’s, the Bahamas welcomed the Duke of Windsor as the new Governor following his abdication of the British throne. He expressed disdain for the islands though he was credited with helping to alleviate poverty. After the end of World War II, the Bahamas (like many colonies around the world) began to move towards independence – finally achieving it in a 1973 vote by the British House of Lords. Since then, offshore industries and especially tourism have been important components of the island’s growth.

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A coastal tower in the Bahamas

Culture

Like many Caribbean nations, Bahamian culture developed from a combination of African, European, and other local influences. Music is a very important element of the country’s tradition, with ‘Junkanoo’ a type of street festival where much of the musical influences come from. Stories and folklore also play a large role within society, though this has declined with the advent of modern entertainment.

While English is the primary language of the country, much of the population speaks with a recognizable Bahamian dialect – with some regional differences amongst the islands.

Sports are also an important part of daily life in the Bahamas, with sloop sailing considered the national sport. While the country was a British colony for centuries, the most popular spectator sports are those imported from the United States – namely football, basketball, and baseball.

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A conch shell on the beach. Conch fritters are one of the most popular dishes in the country

Geography

The Bahamas consist of a large amount of cays and atolls (about 700 in fact) with around 30 to 40 home to permanent residents. While Andros Island is the largest, New Providence is the most famous (thanks to the history of piracy and location of the capital – Nassau) as well as the most populous. The vast majority are small and flat, with only minor hills present. Of course it wouldn’t be the Bahamas without mentioning the country’s famous beaches across the many miles of coastline.

The largest city, Nassau, has grown into a popular stopover for tourists – from cruises to luxury seekers. Another important city is Freeport, the country’s second largest, which sits at the heart of a free trade zone.

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The massive Atlantis resort on Paradise Island

Did you know?

  • The pink sands of the aptly named Pink Sands Beach come from microscopic animals known as foraminifera
  • The highest peak is Mount Alvernia – at 63 metres
  • Bahamas means baja mar, which translates to shallow water or sea
  • The Bahamas are known for conch – the most popular seafood on the islands
  • Great Inagua is famous for flamingos
  • The library in Nassau used to be a jail
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Lemon sharks in the shallows

Last Word

The Bahamas mix interesting history (you can’t beat the pirates of the Caribbean) with a revitalized economy and perfect weather.

Stay tuned to the Current for our Country of the Week. We’ll explore the familiar and the foreign, plus uncover some hidden gems (see them all HERE). 

Stay informed. Stay Current.