The Bahamas celebrate 39 years of Independence on July 10, 2012

HISTORICAL AND GEOGRAPHICAL OVERVIEW

The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is an archipelago of over 700 islands stretching over 100,000 square miles in the Western Atlantic Ocean. The Bahama Islands became the free and sovereign Commonwealth of The Bahamas on 10th July 1973 ending 325 years of British rule — though it still remains part of the Commonwealth, with its head of state being the Governor General.

Its land area is 13,939 km2 (5,382 sq mi) and its population is approximately 354,000 people. The capital is Nassau. The main islands are the beautiful Grand Bahama Island (Freeport/Lucaya) and bustling New Providence (Nassau and Paradise Island). 

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Bahamas Family Islands

also known as Out Islands

  • Abaco
  • Andros
  • Acklins
  • Crooked
  • Biminis
  • Berry Isl.
  • Cat Island
  • Eleuthera
  • Exumas
  • Inaguas
  • Mayaguana
  • San Salvador

There's a collection of islands, less than 100 miles off the coast of Florida, called the Out Islands best known for their beautiful beaches and the warm crystal-clear water.  The most inhabited Out Islands are:Abaco, Andros, Acklins and Crooked Island, Biminis, Berry Islands, Cat Island, Eleuthera, Exumas, Inaguas,Mayaguana, and San Salvador.

The closest island to the United States is Bimini, which is also known as the gateway to The Bahamas. The largest island is Andros Island. All the islands are low and flat, with ridges that usually rise no more than 15 to 20 m (49 to 66 ft). The highest point in the country is Mount Alvernia, (formerly Como Hill) on Cat Island. It has an altitude of 63 metres (207 ft).


Historical Overview

Originally inhabited by the Lucayans, a branch of the Arawakan-speaking Taino people, the Bahamas were the site of Columbus' first landfall in the New World in 1492. The Spanish never colonized the Bahamas, however, they shipped the native Lucayans to slavery in Hispaniola. The islands were mostly deserted from 1513 to 1648, when English colonists from Bermuda settled on the island of Eleuthera.

The Bahamas became a Crown Colony in 1718 when the British clamped down on piracy. After the American War of Independence, thousands of American Loyalists and enslaved Africans moved to the Bahamas and set up a plantation economy. The slave trade was abolished in the British Empire in 1807 and many Africans liberated from slave ships by the Royal Navy were settled in the Bahamas during the 19th century. Slavery itself was abolished in 1834 and the descendants form the majority of the Bahamas's population today.

History states that pirates and criminals such as Henry Jennings and Edward Teach (Blackbeard) were the most notorious pirates. Teach terrorized his victims by wearing flaming fuses in his matted beard and hair. He captured New Providence and defiled it by turning it into  a haven for other criminals like himself. During this era beginning in 1666 New Providence was littered with brothels and bar where he and his fellow felons roamed freely.

The British monarchy finally took control of the Islands in 1718. The new motto then became Expulsis Piratis – Restituta Commercia (Pirates Expelled – Commerce Restored).

Following the American Revolution (1775-1789), rich loyalist refugees arrived with new entrepreneurial ideas. They became landowners and had slaves until the British Empire abolished the slave trade in 1807. During the American Civil War the islands were an exchange center for blockade runners transferring munitions and supplies for Southern cotton.

While Nassauvians illegally supplied liquor to the US during Prohibition, Yankees flocked to Nassau and her new casino.  Nassau was also a hub for gamblers when Fidel Castro took control of Cuba in 1961. The subsequent US embargo against Cuba also forced revelers to seek their pleasures elsewhere and Nassau was still the hot spot. Tourism and finance bloomed together and the government promoted the nascent banking industry, encouraging British investors escaping onerous taxes.

This upturn in fortunes coincided with the evolution of party politics and festering ethnic tensions, as the white elite and a growing black middle class reaped profits from the boom. Middle-class blacks’ aspirations for representation coalesced with the pent-up frustrations of their impoverished brothers, leading to the victory of the black-led Progressive Liberal party and leader Sir Linden Pindling in 1967. On July 10, 1973, the Bahamas officially became a new nation; the Independent Commonwealth of the Bahamas, ending 325 years of British rule.

Devastating hurricanes ravaged various islands between 1999 and 2007, wreaking havoc on tourism. Despite these storms, the tourism juggernaut continues and massive resorts on New Providence, Grand Bahama and several Out Islands are chugging toward completion.

Ethnic groups

Afro-Bahamians

Afro-Bahamians or Bahamians of African descent are Bahamians whose ancestry lies within the continent of Africa, most notably West Africa. The first Africans to arrive to The Bahamas came from Bermuda with the Eleutheran Adventurers as freed slaves looking for a new life. Currently, Afro-Bahamians are the largest ethnic group in The Bahamas, accounting for some 85% of the country's population.

Europeans

European Bahamians, or Bahamians of European descent, numbering about 38,000, are mainly the descendants of the British Puritans and American Loyalists who arrived in 1649 and 1783 respectively. They form the largest minority group in The Bahamas, making up some 12% of the population. Many Southern Loyalists went to Abaco, which is about 50% white.

A small portion of the European Bahamian population is descended from Greek labourers who came to help develop the sponging industry in the 1900s. Although making up less than 1% of the nation's population, they have been able to preserve their distinct Greek Bahamian culture.

CULTURAL OVERVIEW

The National Anthem of The Bahamas

Official Name: Independent Commonwealth of The Bahamas

People : Bahamians

Money: Bahamian dollar (BS$); BS$1= US$1 = €0.64 = UK£0.5.1 The Bahamian dollar (BS$) is linked one-to-one with the US dollar, so you can use US currency everywhere in the Bahamas.

Religion: About 90 % Christian. Obeah is practiced in some Family Islands (Out-Islands) of The Bahamas due to Haitian migration. However, the practice is illegal and punishable by law. 

Languages: English (official), Bahamian Creole

Higher Education: The College of The Bahamas is the national higher education/tertiary system. Offering baccalaureate, masters and associate degrees, COB has three campuses and teaching and research centres throughout The Bahamas. The College is in the process of becoming The University of the Bahamas. 

Junkanoo celebration in Nassau

Junkanoo is a traditional African street parade of music, dance, and art held in Nassau (and a few other settlements) every Boxing Day, New Year's Day. Junkanoo is also used to celebrate other holidays and events such as Emancipation 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, Eleuthera or the "Crab Fest" on Andros. Other significant traditions include story telling.

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. 

National Flag of The Bahamas

The colors embodied in the design of the Bahamian flag symbolise the image and aspirations of the people of The Bahamas; the design reflects aspects of the natural environment (sun, sand, and sea) and the economic and social development. 

ECONOMY

One of the most prosperous countries in the Caribbean region, The Bahamas relies on tourism to generate most of its economic activity. The Tourism industry accounts for over 60 percent of the GDP and hires more that 50% of the workforce.

The Bahamas welcomed the new millennium with a travel and tourism renaissance. A change in government in 1992, an adjustment in marketing strategy and a $2.0 billion investment in the island's infrastructure has helped re-invent the destination for leisure and business travelers.

Financial services (mainly banking)  provides15% of the GDP. The Bahamas is one of the financial centres of the Caribbean, with over 400 banks from thirty-six different countries, including the United Kingdom, Switzerland, France, the United States, Canada, and Japan, are currently licensed to conduct business within or from the Bahamas. The government seeks to attract foreign banks, and the financial sector is extremely open to foreigners. 

The asset base of the Bahamas' banking center is in excess of $200 billion, positioning it among the top ten countries in the world, behind the USA, the UK, Japan, and Switzerland, with Capital-asset ratios average 11%.

The economy has a very competitive tax regime. The government derives its revenue from import tariffs, license fees, property and stamp taxes, but there is no income tax, corporate tax, capital gains tax, value-added tax (VAT), or wealth tax. Payroll taxes fund social insurance benefits and amount to 3.9% paid by the employee and 5.9% paid by the employer.

By the terms of GDP per capita, the Bahamas is one of the richest countries in the Americas. In terms of GDP per capita, the Bahamas is one of the richest countries in the Western Hemisphere (following the United States and Canada).

Beaches of Bahamas

With seven hundred islands, each one surrounded by clear blue water, The Bahamas has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The Out Islands’ best beaches rival any that you can find anywhere in the Caribbean—and even better, each comes with the added Out Island attraction of being further from the crowds and closer to nature.

The range of beautiful beaches in The Bahamas Out Islands are dazzling and complemented with some of the finest beach resorts. You will also find beaches secluded in the far distance to add privacy to your vacation.

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, Hurricane Floyd hit most of the islands in 1999 and Hurricane Irene traversed the entire length of the archipelago as a major hurricane in 2011.

National flower

The Yellow Elder – The National Flower of the Bahamas

This flower blooms on a tree that may grow as high as twenty (20) feet. The evergreen stands out because of its clusters of brilliant yellow, bell-shaped blossoms. They are about an inch across and two inches long, with red stripes lightly etched in the corolla. The little bells are held in a five (5) – point calyx, and there are nine (9) to thirteen (13) leaflets composing the odd pinnate leaf. Just before the blooms flare open, bag-like buds pop noisily if squeezed. The yellow elder was chosen as the national flower of The Bahamas because it is native to the Bahama Islands, and it blooms throughout the year.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

The Bahamian Parliament, located in downtown Nassau. The Bahamas is a sovereign, independent, nation. Political and legal traditions closely follow those of the United Kingdom and the Westminster system. The government of the Bahamas is a parliamentary democracy with two main parties, the Free National Movement and the Progressive Liberal Party.

The Bahamas is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, and a Commonwealth realm 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 Sir Arthur Foulkes and the current Prime Minister is Perry Christie.

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.

Administrative divisions

Districts of The Bahamas

Local government in the Bahamas

The districts of The Bahamas provide a system of local government everywhere except New Providence, whose affairs are handled directly by the central government. In 1996, the Bahamian Parliament passed "The Local Government Act" to facilitate the establishment of Family Island Administrators, Local Government Districts, Local District Councillors, and Local Town Committees for the various island communities. The overall goal of this act is to allow the various elected leaders to govern and oversee the affairs of their respective districts without the interference of Central Government. In total, there are 38 districts, with elections being held every five years. There are also one hundred and ten Councillors and two hundred and eighty-one Town Committee members to correspond with the various districts.

Each Councillor or Town Committee member is responsible for the proper use of public funds for the maintenance and development of their constituency.

Notable Nationals (2)

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? Sidney Poitier

One of the best known is actor Sidney Poitier. Sidney Poitier is more than the sum of his parts as he became, in spite of himself, a symbol of the movement for the liberation of black people in America.

He is best known for his role in the movie ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’ (1967). This was a significant film that helped to break down social barriers between blacks and whites in the racially divisive times of the 1960’s. The story of a young white woman bringing her fiancé home to visit her liberal parents shows how they are put to the test when meeting him – because he’s black.

He is also highly recognized as "Mr. Tibbs" In the academy awarding winning film "In the Heat of the Night". 

Sidney Poitier endured great hardships before he finally found fame and he went on to be appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1974. He is the  diplomatic ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan.

Rick Fox - NBA Professional (former)

Rick Fox, a glamorous LA Lakers player was born in Canada to a Bahamian father and an Italian Canadian mother. The family relocated to the Bahamas when he was three and he later attended high school in Nassau.

Fox has retained strong links with Bahamas, getting married there in 1999. He began his basketball career at high school in Nassau and then in school in Indiana. His professional career began when he was selected to play for the Boston Celtics and he then went on, after six years with Boston, to play for the Los Angeles Lakers until 2004. Since then, Fox has had a new career as an actor, casted as himself in the sitcom 'The Game' and in the eleventh season of the hugely successful ‘Dancing With The Stars’.

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Sir Sidney Poitier a famous son of The Bahamas

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