Robert Antoni, born in The Bahamas in 1958, was winner of the
Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best First Book award with his novel, Divina
Trace, in 1992.
The country is a coral archipelago of about 700 islands and more than
2,000 cays and rocks.
Joined Commonwealth: 1973
Population: 377,000 (2013)
GDP: –0.3% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: world ranking 51
Official language: English
Timezone: GMT minus 5hr
Currency: Bahamian dollar (B$)
Area: 13,939 sq km
Capital city: Nassau
Population density (per sq. km): 27
The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is a coral archipelago of around 700
islands and more than 2,000 rocks and cays in the West Atlantic
south-east of the coast of Florida, USA, and northeast of Cuba. It
straddles the Tropic of Cancer and stretches 970 km.
Nassau (capital, pop. 241,200 in 2010) on New Providence; Freeport
(44,300), West End (13,100) and High Rock (3,900) on Grand Bahama;
Cooper’s Town (9,300) and Marsh Harbour (5,800) on Abaco; Freetown
(4,300) and Spanish Wells (1,800) on Eleuthera; Andros Town (2,300) on
Andros; and Clarence Town (1,700) on Long Island.
The total road system extends to some 2,700 km, about 60 per cent of it
paved. There are almost 1,000 km of roads on New Providence (some of
which are privately owned), 209 km of roads on Eleuthera, 156 km on
Grand Bahama, and more than 885 km on the Out Islands.
Main ports are Nassau (New Providence), Freeport (Grand Bahama) and
Matthew Town (Inagua). The Out Islands are served by a mail boat that
leaves Nassau several times a week.
The principal airports are Lynden Pindling International (16 km west of
Nasau) and Freeport International (5 km from Freeport), and some 50
airports or airstrips in all.
The Bahamas is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of
States, Association of Caribbean States, Caribbean Community (though not
the CARICOM Single Market and Economy), Non-Aligned Movement,
Organization of American States and United Nations.
About 30 islands are inhabited, the most important of which are New
Providence, in the middle of the group, where the capital Nassau is
situated, and Grand Bahama, the northernmost, with the city of Freeport.
The other islands are known collectively as the Family Islands or Out
Islands. The islands lie on a submarine shelf which rises steeply from
deep waters in the east; to the west lie the shallow waters of the Great
Bahama Bank. The islands, built of coralline limestone to an undersea
depth of about 1,500 metres, are low-lying. The highest, Cat Island,
rises to 62 metres at Mount Alvernia; Grand Bahama barely reaches 12
metres. The limestone rock of the islands is permeable and there are no
streams. The water supply is taken from wells or collected from
The climate is cooler than other countries in the Caribbean region but
still pleasantly mild in winter. Winter temperatures average 21°C,
summer temperatures 30°C. Most of the rain (averaging 1,100 mm p.a.)
falls in May–June and September–October and there are frequent
thunderstorms in summer. The Bahamas islands are subject to hurricanes
The most significant environmental issues are coral reef decay and solid
The soil is thin, and generally infertile, but cultivation has produced
exotic flowers (as well as subtropical fruit and vegetables) on the more
developed islands. Some islands have large areas of pine forests. Forest
covers 51 per cent of the land area and there was no significant loss of
forest cover during 1990–2011.
Animal life is restricted to small species, such as agouti, frogs,
iguana and bats. The Inagua National Park on Great Inagua Island is the
home of more than 50,000 flamingos, the largest flock in the world and
The Bahamas’ national bird.
The Bahamas was one of the few areas in the region in which the Arawak
people were not displaced by the more warlike Caribs. When, in 1492,
Christopher Columbus made his first landing in the New World in The
Bahamas, the people who met him were Arawaks who, he wrote, ‘have opened
their hearts to us. We have become great friends.’ Columbus is believed
to have landed at Watling’s Island (Amerindian: Guanahani; Columbus’s
designation: San Salvador). But within some 20 years, the Spaniards had
enslaved or transported the Arawaks; some 40,000 were transported to
Hispaniola where they died working in mines. British pirates also used
the islands, and in 1629 the islands were given their first constitution
as part of the Carolinas (USA). The first British settlers were refugees
from religious persecution under Charles I, in Cigatoo in 1648. The
island was renamed Eleuthera, meaning freedom. The settlers introduced
the plantation economy and African slave labour.
An early form of democratic government, with a bicameral parliament and
elected lower house, developed but was abolished in 1717, when the Crown
resumed government. Although the other colonial powers did not formally
dispute possession, the settlers were at times harassed by the French
and Spanish as well as by pirates. Fortunes fluctuated. The population
soared in the late 18th century with the arrival from America of
Loyalist families and their slaves after the American Revolution. In
1783–84 the population was 4,058; by 1789, it was more than 11,000, with
the white settlers forming a significant minority. The abolition of
slavery in 1834 caused major economic changes as the islands had been
used as a centre of slave-trading.
In 1861–65 the islands enjoyed prosperity as a depot for ships running
the blockade against the Confederate States during the American Civil
War. Decline followed, however, compounded by a severe hurricane in
Prosperity returned in the 20th century, when the islands became an
entrepot for the American bootlegging trade during prohibition. More
conventional industries also developed, supplying sisal, conch shells
for cameo brooch-making, pineapples and sponges. The sponge industry
reached a peak in 1901 during generally lean years but collapsed in 1939
as a result of fungal diseases. In the early 1950s the islands again
prospered; the success of tourism, and later offshore banking, produced
phenomenal growth. In 1953, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) was
founded to represent black interests in a system till then still
dominated by whites.
In 1964, a new constitution set up a ministerial system of government,
and the legislature was reformed to represent majority interests. After
the subsequent general election in 1967, the United Bahamian Party (the
so-called ‘Bay Street Boys’) was forced into opposition for the first
time in the assembly’s history. Lynden Pindling, leader of the PLP,
formed a government with the support of the Labour Party. The PLP won
the next two general elections outright, and Pindling led The Bahamas to
independence under a new constitution on 10 July 1973.
Pindling and the PLP continued in power until 1992, when they were
ousted by the Free National Movement (FNM), led by Hubert Ingraham, a
former PLP minister, the FNM winning 32 seats to the PLP’s 17.
Subsequent investigations gave the FNM another seat, taking their total
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