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The Bahamas ( ), officially the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, is an English-speaking country consisting of 29 islands, 661 caysmarker, and 2,387 islets (rocks). It is located in the Atlantic Oceanmarker north of Cubamarker, Hispaniolamarker (Dominican Republicmarker and Haitimarker) and the Caribbean Seamarker, northwest of the Turks and Caicos Islands, and southeast of the United States of Americamarker. Its size is almost 14 000 km² with an estimated population of 330,000. Its capital is Nassaumarker. It is a Commonwealth realm.


Map of the Bahamas

Taino people moved into the uninhabited southern Bahamas from Hispaniolamarker and Cubamarker 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's arrival in 1492. Christopher Columbus's first landfall in the New World was on an island named San Salvador (known to the Lucayans as Guanahani), which is generally accepted to be present-day San Salvador Islandmarker, (also known as Watling's Island) in the southeastern Bahamas. An alternative theory is that Columbus landed to the southeast on Samana Caymarker, according to calculations made in 1986 by National Geographicmarker writer and editor Joseph Judge based on Columbus's log; this remains inconclusive. On the island, Columbus made first contact with the Lucayans and exchanged goods with them.

The Spaniards who followed Columbus depopulated the islands, carrying most of the indigenous people off into slavery. The Lucayans throughout the Bahamas were wiped out by exposure to diseases to which they had no immunity. The smallpox that ravaged the Taino Indians after Columbus's arrival wiped out half of the population in what is now the Bahamas. It is generally assumed that the islands were uninhabited until the mid-17th century. However, recent research suggests that there may have been attempts to settle the islands by groups from Spain, France, and Britain, as well as by other Amerindians. In 1648, the Eleutherian Adventurers migrated from Bermudamarker. These English Puritans established the first permanent European settlement on an island which they named Eleutheramarker—the name derives from the Greek word for freedom. They later settled New Providencemarker, naming it Sayle's Island after one of their leaders. To survive, the settlers resorted to 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 governor, and administering the country.

During proprietary rule, the Bahamas became a haven for pirate, including the infamous Blackbeard. To restore orderly government, the Bahamas were made a British crown colony in 1718 under the royal governorship of Woodes Rogers, who, after a difficult struggle, succeeded in suppressing 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 the coast of Nassau, which surrendered without 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 7,300 loyalists and their slaves moved to the Bahamas from New York, Florida and the Carolinas. These Americans established plantations on several 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 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 II) shortly after 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 Biminimarker, which is also known as the gateway to the Bahamas. The island of Abacomarker is to the east of Grand Bahamamarker, also known as the "Big Island". The southeasternmost island is Great Inaguamarker. Other notable islands include the Bahamas' largest island, Andros Islandmarker, and Eleutheramarker, Cat Islandmarker, Long Islandmarker, San Salvador Islandmarker, Acklinsmarker, Crooked Islandmarker, Exumamarker and Mayaguanamarker. Nassaumarker, the Bahamas capital city, lies on the island of New Providencemarker.

All the islands are low and flat, with ridges that usually rise no more than . The highest point in the country is Mount Alvernia, formerly called Como Hill, which has an altitude of on Cat Island.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, storm 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 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 Providencemarker, 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 from 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.


Population: 309,156 (July 2009 est.)

Age structure: 0–14 years: 25.9% (male 40,085; female 38,959)15–64 years: 67.2% (male 102,154; female 105,482)65 years and over: 6.9% (male 8,772; female 12,704) (2009 est.)

Population growth rate: 0.536% (2009 est.)

Birth rate: 16.81 births/1,000 population (2009 est.)

Death rate: 9.32 deaths/1,000 population (July 2009 est.)

Net migration rate: -2.13 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2009 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 23.17 deaths/1,000 live births (2009 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: 85% Black, 12% White, 3% Asian

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 (official), Bahamian Dialect,

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. Another use is for so-called "Voodoo dolls," even though such dolls are the result of the American imagination and not based on historic fact.

Obeah, a religion of folk magic, sorcery, and religious practices derived from Central and West African origins, is practiced in some of the Family Islands (out-islands) of the Bahamas.

Junkanoo is a street parade of music, dance, and art held in many cities of the Bahamas every Boxing Day, New Year's Day and also held for other holidays such as Fox Hill Day.

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, Eleutheramarker or the "Crab Fest" on Andros. Other significant traditions include story telling.

See also

Member of:


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 (January 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

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.
  • Alan A. Block. Masters of Paradise, New Brunswick and London, Transaction Publishers, 1998.
  • 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 Arkansasmarker, 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.
  • Curry, Jimmy. To The Rescue/First Bahamian Rap/Hip Hop Song. Royal Crown Records, 1985.
  • Morrelo, Ryan. "

External links

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