Antigua and Barbuda Celebrates 31 Years of Independence on November 1, 2012

The streets of St. John’s will spring alive with an imaginative and colourful spectacle of national pride. The occasion is the National Dress Day Parade, which was introduced this year, as one of the new additions to the activities marking the annual celebrations of Antigua and Barbuda’s Independence.

Since Heather Doram made use of the Madras to create Antigua and Barbuda’s national dress, persons have not only worn it with pride but creatively designed new and tasteful ways to portray the colours.

The organizing committee is hoping that citizens and residents will take part in the occasion, which also falls on National Dress Day, which traditionally sees persons of all walks of life turn out to their workplaces wearing the national dress.  Chairperson of the sub-committee responsible for the activity, Gilbert Laudat, said the parade is an extension to the tradition so that persons can have the opportunity to come together in their national dress in a proud celebration of another unique aspect of Antigua and Barbuda’s Independence celebrations.

Historical and Geographical Overview

Antigua and Barbuda (Spanish for "ancient" and "bearded") is a twin-island nation lying between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It consists of two major inhabited islands, Antigua and Barbuda, and a number of smaller islands including Great Bird, Green, Guinea, Long, Maiden, York Islands, and Redonda.

Antigua (pronounced locally, an-tee-ga) is an Eastern Caribbean island in the West Indies.  It is the main island of the country of Antigua and Barbuda. Antigua was named by Christopher Columbus after an icon in Seville Cathedral, Santa Maria de la Antigua (St. Mary the Ancient).  It is also known as Wadadli, from the original Amerindian inhabitants, and means approximately “our own".

It sits in the middle of the Leeward Islands, roughly 17 degrees north of the equator. Antigua is 108 square miles while its sister island Barbuda is 62 square miles. The total population is approximately 85,000 (2010 data) and the capital is St. John's, on Antigua. The capital, St. John's, is situated in the north-west, near to VC Bird International Airport, and has a deep harbour which is able to accommodate large cruise ships.

The Early Antiguans

Antigua's history, rich in intrigue, is well-known among maritime buffs and English scholars. Prior to European colonialism, however, the first residents were the Ciboney Indians, who inhabited the island for several thousand years before mysteriously departing. Pastoral Arawak Indians settled here before being replaced by the Caribs, the last group to inhabit the island before it was taken over by Europeans.

That occurred in 1493, when Christopher Columbus spotted Antigua on his second voyage. Life did not change dramatically for nearly 150 years after, as the Caribs resisted any European efforts to colonize.

The Arawaks were the first well-documented group of Antiguans. This group paddled to the island by canoe (piragua) from Venezuela, ejected by the Caribs (another people indigenous to the area.)

Arawaks introduced agriculture to Antigua and Barbuda, raising, among other crops, the famous Antiguan "Black" pineapple. They also cultivated various other foods including:  Corn, Sweet potatoes, Chilis, Guava, Tobacco, Cotton, and Mango. Some of the vegetables listed, such as corn and sweet potatoes, still play an important role in Antiguan cuisine. For example, a popular Antiguan dish, dukuna, is a sweet, steamed dumpling made from grated sweet potatoes, flour and spices. One of the Antiguan staple foods, fungi is a cooked paste made of cornmeal and water.

The bulk of the Arawaks left Antigua about A.D. 1100. Those who remained were subsequently raided by the Caribs. According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, the Caribs' superior weapons and seafaring prowess allowed them to defeat most Arawak nations in the West Indies. They enslaved some and cannibalized others. The Catholic Encyclopedia does note that the European invaders had difficulty identifying and differentiating between the various native peoples they encountered. As a result, the number and types of ethnic/tribal/national groups at the time may have been more varied and numerous than the two mentioned in this article.

The indigenous West Indians made excellent sea vessels which they used to sail the Atlantic and Caribbean. As a result, Caribs and Arawaks populated much of South American and the Caribbean Islands. Relatives of the Antiguan Arawaks and Caribs still live in various countries in South America, notably Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia. The smaller remaining native populations in the West Indies maintain a pride in their heritage.

In 1967, with Barbuda and the tiny island of Redonda as dependencies, Antigua became an associated state of the Commonwealth, and in 1981 it was disassociated from Britain. The country was then led by what many describe as an elected family dynasty, with Vere C. Bird, the first prime minister, having been succeeded in 1993 by Lester B. Bird, his son, who retained the post until 2004.

The island had warm, steady winds, a complex coastline of safe harbors, and a protective, nearly unbroken wall of coral reef. It would make a perfect place to hide a fleet. And so in 1784 the legendary Admiral Horatio Nelson sailed to Antigua and established Great Britain's most important Caribbean base. Little did he know that over 200 years later the same unique characteristics that attracted the Royal Navy would transform Antigua and Barbuda into one of the Caribbean's premier tourist destinations.

The signs are still there, they just point to different things. The Trade Winds that once blew British men-of-war safely into English Harbour now fuel one of the world's foremost maritime events, Sailing Week. The expansive, winding coastline that made Antigua difficult for outsiders to navigate is where today's trekkers encounter a tremendous wealth of secluded, powdery soft beaches.

The coral reefs, once the bane of marauding enemy ships, now attract snorkelers and scuba divers from all over the world. And the fascinating little island of Barbuda — once a scavenger's paradise because so many ships wrecked on its reefs — is now home to one of the region's most significant bird sanctuaries.

Government and Political System

Antigua and Barbuda achieved political Independence from Britain in 1981. As head of state, Queen Elizabeth II is represented in Antigua and Barbuda by a governor general who acts on the advice of the prime minister and the cabinet.

Antigua and Barbuda has a bicameral legislature: a 17-member Senate appointed by the governor general – mainly on the advice of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition – and a 17-member popularly elected House of Representatives. The prime minister is the leader of the majority party in the House and conducts affairs of state with the cabinet.

The prime minister and the cabinet are responsible to the Parliament. Elections must be held at least every 5 years but may be called by the prime minister at any time. Antigua and Barbuda has a multiparty political system with a long history of hard-fought elections, three of which have resulted in peaceful changes of government.

Constitutional safeguards include freedom of speech, press, worship, movement, and association. Antigua and Barbuda is a member of the eastern Caribbean court system. Jurisprudence is based on English common law.


Antigua's economy is reliant upon tourism, and it markets itself as a luxury Caribbean escape. Antigua is also supported by the growing medical school and its students. Many hotels and resorts are located around the coastline, and the island's single airport is serviced by several major airlines. The only regular service to Barbuda flies from VC Bird Airport. The United States Air Force maintains a small base near the airport as part of its Eastern Range, used for space missions and communications.

Cultural Overview

What language is spoken?

The official language is English. There is also an Antiguan dialect, which has elements of both the country’s African and British influences. While Antigua is predominantly black or Afro Caribbean – a legacy of its hundreds of years of slavery, a period during which enslaved Africans were brought by the shipload to work the sugar plantations owned by British colonizers – its migrant population includes people of East Indian descent, largely from Guyana; the Spanish speaking people of the Dominican Republic; the French Creole speaking people of Dominica; Chinese; and a sizable Lebanese and Syrian population.

The National Dish (link to Recipe)

The national dish is Fungee (pronounced foongee) and Pepperpot. Fungi is made of cornmeal and okra and can be served with fish or other sea food, meat or chicken.  Pepperpot is a thick soup of greens and various meats. They can be served separately or together, and are filling either way.

One sure sign of the summer time is seeing an abundance of mangoes. Mangoes are almost overflowing into the roadways. It’s the one thing everyone has to offer you when you visit their homes now. And if you are like any typical Antiguan you can easily eat a bowl of mangoes without stopping to breathe.

Notable Nationals

Antiguans have excelled in many areas on the international scene.  Bert Williams, one of the top performers on the U.S. vaudeville scene, as one half of the popular Williams and Walker pairing, was later part of the Ziegfeld Follies, as well as a Broadway and film pioneer.

Both Shermain Jeremy and Kai Davis have distinguished themselves in international pageantry – the former as the Most Talented Ms. World contender of 2004 and the latter as Ms. Congeniality in the 2003 Ms. Universe Pageant.

Sir Vivian Richards, Andy Roberts, Curtley Ambrose, and other Antiguans have risen above the competition on the cricket field with bat and with ball. In fact, in 2000, Richards was selected as one of Wisden’s top five cricketers of the century. Another sporting notable is former world junior middleweight boxing champion Maurice Hope.

Andy Roberts was the first Antiguan to play Test cricket for the West Indies. He was a member of the West Indies teams that won the 1975 and 1979 World Cups Curtly Ambrose, legendary West-Indian cricketer Richie Richardson former West-Indies cricket team captain.

In the literary arts, Jamaica Kincaid has been the most prolific and most internationally acclaimed among Antigua’s still emerging crop of novelists. She is the author of Annie John and other award winning works.

Beaches of Antigua and Barbuda

There are approximately 365 beaches on Antigua, one for each day of the year. All are open to the public, and visitors have a wide variety to choose from.

Beach and resort activities include beachcombing, fishing, hunting, golf, tennis, snorkeling, and diving. Points of interest include the Frigate Bird Sanctuary, the pink and white sand beaches, shipwrecks, and beautiful reefs.

Barbuda's Frigate Bird Sanctuary

Barbuda is one of those very few islands in the Caribbean where the population largely consists of the graceful Fregata magnificens, or frigate bird. Barbuda's Frigate Bird Sanctuary is located in the island's northwestern lagoon and is accessible only by boat.

The sanctuary contains over 170 species of birds and is home to over 5,000 frigate birds. Fregata magnificens, the most aerial of water birds, have the largest wingspan (four to five feet) in proportion to its body size of any bird in the world. It is also known as the man o' war bird, and is compared to warships because of its superior size and flight capabilities.

The frigate bird steals the catches of pelicans, egrets, and cormorants. The male frigate is marked by its red throat pouch, which is inflated during courtship of female frigates. Mating occurs in the fall, and eggs are hatched later in the year.



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