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Facts and information about Bahamas
Bahamas The Bahamas is a country to be seen and experienced. Its geographical position has allowed it to play a significant role in world history, as a stopping place for pirates, a resting place for slave ships, a haven for gun runners, a hideout for German submarines during the two world wars, and later a port of exchange for drugs. But the aim of the Bahamas is not to take into consideration only these things of which they are fully aware. It is instead to find comfort and security in their families and in the rich heritage which is theirs, and using all this continue to develop powerful institutions which seem to grow stronger as time passes. Like most of its Caribbean counterparts, the Bahamas possess a dazzling array of tropical flowers, all of which add their own varied splashes of colour. Around the 700 islands, tiny caps, and nameless rocks, the sea of many shades seems to ebb and flow like a quilt in the wind. On Inagua the flamingoes pose and preen. The streets of Freeport bring one close to what could be called middle America, and the unexpected colours of the poincianna tree seem to haunt the eye and tantalize the senses with fragance. Although there are not great distances between the islands, each in its own way is unique, from the mud flats of the Andros Islands to the fish-laden waters of the Berry Islands. EARLY DAYS “There is no better people in the world” wrote Columbus of the Lucayans who welcomed him when he landed on October 12th 1492. The Lucayans inhabited most of what we now call the Bahamas and had done so for over 500 years. A peaceful, graceful, and docile people. They used to sleep on a net stretched out between two stakes which they called “hamac” and which Columbus thought was so comfortable that he got his crew to make use of it, and so introduced the hamnock to the western world. They lived primarily off the sea and were skilful fishermen, and were able to paddle expertly over the long and dangerous distance between islands in long ocean – going canoes. Though the Lucayans possessed spears, bows and arrows. They were not warriors and very often came off worse during the deadly attacks of the cannabalistic Caribs; however, the attacks were a mere trifle compared with what was to come after that fateful October. As Columbus reported, “They are ingenious and generous with all they have, they invite you to share it and show that their hearts are full of love.” Then the Spaniards, in their eager search for gold on the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and Dominican Republic), took the Lucayans along with them as indispensable labour, and within 25 years the Lucayans – once some 40,000 strong – had all disappeared and the Bahamas was left depopulated by its cruel and casual conquerors. SPANISH DAYS SETTLEMENT After the Spaniards had deprived the native tribe of their islands, they found no reason to go there other than as a port of call for the galleons laden with treasures on their way back to Spain; one exception was Ponce de Leon who sailed around the islands in search of the legendary “fountain of youth”. He did not find the fountain, but, by way of compensation he discovered Florida. Strange as it may be, the islands did not belong to anyone, and seafarers of different nationalities (Spanish, British, French and Dutch) sailed around them until the British suddenly realised how important the Bahamas were, and so in 1629 Charles I granted the islands to his Attorney General. A NEW COLONY At the same time as the Puritan adventurers were fighting their battles against unyielding elements, Charles III, now restored to the British throne, was again granting proprietary rights to the Bahamas, this time to several powerful lords. These lords appointed a governor to run the settlement that was growing into Nassau. New Providence continued to grow throughout the 17th century, paying host to such colourful characters as the pirate Blackbeard and Ann Bonney and giving rise to the legalization of piracy, then called Privateering, which was authorized by the government; all of this led to the Spaniards sacking Nassau, and on four occasions, burning it to the ground. In spite of this Nassau, like a phoenix, rose again after each attack, attracting once again its fair share of criminals and solid citizens; but the lord proprietors felt the need for a new direction and sent Woodes Rogers as the Royal Governor of a colony, now under the direct control of the Crown. He had strict instructions to restore law and order. THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY Woodes arrived in New Providence and immediately set about his task using both skill and wisdom. He offered pardons to pirates while at the same time carrying out public hangings of those who failed to accept his authority. His description of his tenure became the motto of the nation: “Expulsis Piratis - Restituta Commercia” (He expelled the pirates and restored commerce). In 1729, Woodes Rogers called together an assembly of the Bahamas. Thereafter it rarely missed a session making it one of the longest lasting assemblies in the New World. While the assembly lasted, it selfishly represented its own narrow interests, opposing governor after governor (taking a firm position against many Crown reforms and the influence and power of the 20th-century liberals). The thirteen colonies that at that time existed declared a rebellion against Britain in the 1770s, which resulted in 1776 in the American invasion of Nassau, which lasted only two weeks. This was again repeated in 1778, but it was the Spaniards who conquered Nassau in 1782 bringing the Bahamas under a foreign flag for almost a year; this was the only real interruption by a foreign country in the islands’ long allegiance to Britain. The British recovered the Bahamas at the treaty of Versailles in 1783 when the thirteen colonies gained their freedom. Britain had traded Florida for the Bahamas. American loyalists arrived during the next ten years introducing slavery and the growth of cotton, which subsequently failed. A NEW CENTURY The concept of the tourist is an old one in the Western hemisphere but it didn’t acquire true meaning in the Bahamas until the end of the 19th century. Wealthy people’s custom to leave cold climates for warmer ones was becoming fast established, and so the boom of the tourist industry in Florida was followed also in the Bahamas, when Henry Flager built a new hotel in Nassau, where before they had only catered for the established old style luxury hotels such as the Royal Victoria. However, it took Sir Stafford Sands, a man of rare ability to see the real potential, when in the 1950’s he set up a development Board (now known as the Ministry of Tourism) to promote holidays in the Bahamas for North Americans. After this it became a primary vacation spot, and modern banking laws were made creating a tax haven in the Bahamas. This created huge numbers of jobs, and a professional middle class. At the peak of this success the end was nearing for what was known as the Bay Street Boys, the affluent, mostly white power brokers who had run the Bahamas for most of the 20th century. In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s public scrutiny gave rise to modern day party politics resulting in the formation of the Progressive Liberal Party (P.L.P.) and the blacks had a say in the matter for the first time, as before this they had little or no say in the affairs of government. It was now clear to everyone except the Bay Street Boys, who forrned the United Bahamian Party (U.B.P.), that a big change was taking place in the Bahamas. The taxi strike that accompanied the opening of the new International Airport was the catalyst which soon spread to other industries and showed the strength of black labour, in alliance with the P.L.P. rather than the U.B.P. Following this, a new constitution was drawn up in 1963 in London and it dissolved and weakened white assembly power and turned the Legislature into a more representative body of both blacks and whites. The U.B.P., led by Roland Symonette, beat back the P.L.P. in nationwide elections, which led to the P.L.P. boycott of the proceedings in Parliament where Lynden Pindling led a practised form of disobedience in the assembly, refusing to obey the Speaker’s dictates. The next elections in 1967 saw the election of two independent candidates who subsequently threw in their seats with the P.L.P. and Lynden Pindling’s party triumphed over the U.B.P. and came to power. A new constitution was again established and Britain gave all the signs that it was out of the colonial arena and the Bahamas could have its independence whenever it desired; so in 1972, when new elections took place, the P.L.P. overthrew the F.N.M. which had come to replace the old U.B.P. The F.N.M. gracefully accepted the inevitable and joined the negotiating team in creating the First Independent Constitution. A NEW NATION After ruling for 19 years, the P.L.P. lost the 1991 General Elections to the restored F.N.M. led by Hubert Ingraham, the now Prime Minister and a former protégé of Lynden Pindling. Tainted by an air of corruption and drug-associated rumors, the early years of the new F.N.M. Government saw the investigation of the past P.L.P. administration and much exposure of an administration that apparently had been overcome with too much power. The F.N.M. Government, having restored the stability of the country, was returned to Government in 1996 and immediately focused its attention on stemming the economic decline, especially in tourism, the mainstay of the economy. The Government invited in major developers from Jamaica and strangely enough South Africa. The C.E.O.s of these Jamaican companies (namely, Gordon “Butch” Stewart of Sandals, John Issa of Superclubs, and Chris Blackwell of Island Records fame) saw to the expanded development of the Cable Beach-Compass Point area and Sol Krezner of Sun International bought Paradise Island to develop the 800 million dollar Atlantis resort of 2400 rooms, the largest in the Caribbean. The Government also built a new and additional access bridge allowing traffic to flow in and out of “Paradise”. As the new millennium approaches, the future for this chain of 700 islands seems firmly rooted in its tried and proven democracy, and the Family Islands of Abaco, Eleuthera, Exumas, Bimini, and San Salvador will increasingly attract the eye of the investor. Although the road ahead is challenging, one has to leave the Island fully confident that the Bahamas will make it. That the Bahamas will increasingly make its mark in sports on the world stage will be self evident in the achievement of its athletes, while its citizens stridently shout its motto “Forward, Upward, Onward Together.”
Country and People
Slavery as an institution was doomed in the British Empire, so in 1772 its practice was considered against the law in the home country and in 1807 the slave trade was prohibited throughout all British possessions. By 1834 all Blacks had been emancipated. The beginning of the 19th century marked the end of the romantic period and by the middle of this century, especially in the period 1861-1865, the Bahamas enjoyed a boom that would not be equalled for some sixty years. The American civil war led to unparalleled growth, it gave rise to a building boom of warehouses, piers, houses, and stores in the streets along the harbour. Out islanders crowded into Nassau. When the American civil war came to an end at Appomatox in 1865, the effect was quickly felt in the Bahamas where it left a country with a great deal of manpower controlled by a powerful few. As the century wore on, many Bahamians became immigrant labourers by moving to the United States. When the First World War broke out in 1914, the Bahamians volunteered for both the Canadian and the British West Indies forces thus strengthening even further their ties with the British.
The Bahamas then came under the proprietary rights of Sir Robert Heath; but to claim the 600 mile wide island group as one’s own was one thing, to prove it was another; and so 4 years later France gathered several of the already granted islands in a grant to King Charles I’s favourite, who was caught in a Puritan revolt and lost his head. As a result of this dispute the Bahamas gained its first permanent settlement at Eleuthera when a ship called “The William” struck a reef off the north coast of the island; this group of Puritans were led by William Sayle, a former Governor of Bermuda. This attempt at settlement at first made little progress, as life on Eleuthera was very hard, and despite the support of other Puritans, by 1657 Sayle himself had returned to Bermuda. The colony kept growing nevertheless, attracting new Puritans and freed slaves. It was during this period that Sayle, on one of his tireless voyages on behalf of the colony, sought refuge from a fierce storm in a particularly fine harbour. The island which residents named in his honour is today known as New Providence. Its main city is of course Nassau, the economical and political capital of the Bahamas.