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  • The History, Culture and Geography of the Bahamas

    by Lisa Banks


    The Bahamas is a country consisting of more than 3,000 islands, cays and islets in the Atlantic Ocean. Bahamas is located north of Cuba and Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic and Haiti), to the northwest of Turks and Caicos, the southeast of the US state of Florida, and the east of the Florida Keys. Its capital, located on the island of New Providence, is Nassau.

    The Bahamas territory encompasses 180,000 square miles of ocean space from the Cay Sal Bank and Cay Lobos (just off of the coast of Cuba) in the west to San Salvador. Its landmass is quite expansive and frequently underestimated.

    The island getaway as initially inhabited by the Lucayans, a branch of the Arawakan-speaking Taino people. The Bahamas was also the place that Columbus first sighted and reached in the New World, in 1492. It became a British Crown colony in 1718 when the British clamped down on piracy.

    To further add to its early population, following the American War of Independence, numerous American die-hard supporters as well as enslaved Africans moved to the Bahamas and set up a plantation economy. When the slave trade was abolished in the British Empire in 1807, many Africans were disengaged from slave ships by the Royal Navy and settled in the Bahamas during the 19th century. Furthermore, as slavery itself was abolished in 1834, the descendants of slaves later constituted the majority of the Bahamas' population, which remains the case today.

    In the less-developed outer islands of the Bahamas, one can find handicrafts including basketry made from palm fronds. This material, commonly called "straw", is plaited into hats and bags which are popular tourist items. Another cultural use is for so-called "Voodoo dolls," even though such dolls are the result of foreigners’ imagination and not based on historic fact.

    The festival Junkanoo is a traditional Bahamian street parade of music, dance, and art. It is held in Nassau (and a few other areas) and is celebrated every Boxing Day, New Year's Day as well as other holidays and events such as Emancipation Day. Traditionally, there is a form of folk magic (obeah) practiced by some Bahamians but mostly among the Haitian-Bahamian community. However, the practice of obeah is illegal in the Bahamas and punishable by law.

    Some other neighborhoods organize 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. Some similar traditions include story telling. For more information about Events and Things to Do in The Bahamas, visit our dedicated country page.

    Regattas, one or more days of sailing by old-fashioned work boats, are significant social events in many family island settlements and usually include onshore festivals. If you want more information on how to get to The Bahamas, visit the Travel Information page on our website.

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