Early History of the Bahamas
While the history books may remember Christopher Columbus as the “discoverer” of the Bahamas, the truth is that our islands were discovered a full millennium before European arrival.
As early as 300 AD, the inhabitants of now-Cuba crossed the sea to live on and fish the Bahamian islands. Then, from the period of 900 to 1500 AD, the Lucayans settled here, bringing with them peace and well developed social, political and religious systems.
In 1492, Columbus “discovered” the New World when he made landfall on San Salvador, an island today part of the Bahamas. At the time, there were around 40,000 Lucayans living on our islands; unfortunately, disease, slavery, and other hardships decimated their populations by the early 1500s.
Early European Settlement
Around 1670, the port of Nassau was established but, as a then-hub for lawless seafarers and pirates, it wasn’t a place you would have wanted to visit! Over the years, Nassau would be destroyed and rebuilt twice, until a Royal Governor, Woodes Rogers, restored strict law and order.
By the mid-1700s, the Bahamas were welcoming British and American colonists (loyal to Mother England). With them, they brought slavery; today, approximately 85% of the Bahamian population descends from these 18th century slaves.
The Bahamas flourished between 1861 and 1865 – a side-effect of the U.S. Civil War, when British ships couldn’t trade cotton in U.S. Southern ports, and therefore did their business in the Bahamas.
We again benefited from U.S. sanctions from 1919 through 1934 – the period of Prohibition, during which time the port of Nassau was expanded to accommodate an influx in alcohol trading. The end of Prohibition coincided with the collapse of the sponge-harvesting industry, sparking a severe downturn in the Bahamian economy.
During this period – starting with the Hotel and Steam Ship Service Act of 1898 – the British-owned Bahamas received government support for hotels and steamship service. Tourism grew and, eventually, evolved into the flourishing industry we know today.
For more than three centuries, British rule had been peaceful. Nevertheless, on July 10, 1973, the Bahamas became a sovereign nation. We remain members of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Bahamian culture is rich and multi-textured – a true pleasure to experience!
Junkanoo is the main Bahamian Festival, beginning in the early morning hours of December 26th and lasting throughout the day. Reminiscent of Mardi Gras and Carnival, during Junkanoo thousands of participants dance through the streets in elaborate costumes. The festivity’s roots can be traced back to the 16th or 17th century, but today Junkanoo is a raucous celebration of freedom.
Most Bahamians (about 85%) are of African descent. The remaining, mostly Caucasian population is directly descended from sailors, Loyalists and adventurers. Some families have been Bahamian for over two hundred years. English is the primary language. A love of music and religion are daily aspects of Bahamian living.
The Bahamas is independent from the United Kingdom but it is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. As a member, The Bahamas still pays allegiance to the British Crown. Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State and the Governor-General of Bahamas. The Bahamas Cabinet acts as the Executive Branch and has control over the Government. This Cabinet is comprised of at least nine Ministers, including the Prime Minister and the Attorney General.