Fascinating history and culture of the Bahamas
The word Bahamas is of Spanish origin and means “Shallow Water”.
Arawak Indians inhabited the islands when Christopher Columbus first set foot in the New World on San Salvador Island in 1492. British settlement of the islands began in 1647; the islands became a colony in 1783. Since attaining independence from the UK in 1973, The Bahamas have prospered through tourism and international banking and investment management. Because of its geography, the country is a major transshipment point for illegal drugs, particularly shipments to the US, and its territory is used for smuggling illegal migrants into the US.
The official language spoken in the Bahamas is English. The populace is predictably friendly and more religious than one might expect: the Bahamas have one of the highest ratios of churches per capita in the world, with Baptists being the largest single group. Local newspapers will reveal religious references by elected officials in a manner that exceeds what would be found in the United States. This devotion does nothing to prohibit the activities of visitors nor is it intended to. There is a very “libertarian” attitude about personal morals.
The biggest event in the Bahamian calendar is Junkanoo, a street carnival held on Boxing Day (December 26) and New Year’s Day (January 1). Junkanoo groups “rush” through the streets of towns, especially Nassau, wearing spectacular yet disposable costumes of crepe paper and playing distinctive Junkanoo music, which combines African rhythms with loud brass and cowbells, fusing them together in a medley that veers on cacophony but is exceedingly dancable. The costumes, made from scratch every year, are disposed of on the streets as the party ends and make a great free souvenir to bring home!
There are many types of music known in the Bahamian culture but the four most prevalent forms of music are Calypso, Soca, Junkanoo and Rake and scrape. The music of the Bahamas is associated primarily with junkanoo, a celebration which occurs on Boxing Day and again on New Year’s Day. Parades and other celebrations mark the ceremony. Groups like The Baha Men, Ronnie Butler and Kirkland Bodie have gained massive popularity in Japan, the United States and elsewhere.
Calypso is a style of Afro-Caribbean music that originated in Trinidad and Tobago during the early to mid 20th century. This form of music has spread through many parts of the Caribbean, mainly the Bahamas.
Soca is a form of music which involves dance and originated from calypso music. Originally it combined the melodic rhythmic sound of calypso with firm percussion and local chutney music. Soca music has grown in the last 20 years primarily by musicians from various Anglophone Caribbean countries including Trinidad, Guyana, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, United States Virgin Islands, The Bahamas, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Jamaica and Belize.
Rake & Scrape
Rake and scrape music comes from the musical traditions of the Turks and Caicos Islands, and is characterized by the use of a saw as the primary instrument. It was brought by immigrants from those islands from the 1920s to about the 1940s, who settled on Cat Island, and elsewhere. Rake and Scrape is traditionally used to accompany the Bahamian Quadrille and the heel-toe polka all relics of the initial mixture of Africa and Europe 1.Many of these Turks and Caicos Islanders became some of the most famous musicians in the Bahamas. Many eventually moved back to their homelands, bringing with them junkanoo. Turks and Caicos are now the second home for junkanoo.
Where did Columbus land?
When Christopher Columbus first arrived in the West Indies in 1492, he landed on a Bahamian island he named San Salvador. The island now presently known as San Salvador (formerly called Watling Island) has long been thought to be the island where Columbus landed. But in truth, historians do not agree on the exact site of the landing. The possibility narrows between two islands: San Salvador itself and Samana Cay, about 80 miles southeast.
Tropical marine; moderated by warm waters of Gulf Stream. Hurricanes and other tropical storms cause extensive flood and wind damage. Can be cool if trade winds shift. During summer months, temperature in the Bahamas rarely goes above 90°F (32°C). The normal climate during winter is mild with temperatures around 60°F (16°C). The Northern and Western islands, Grand Bahama Island, Great Abaco, Andros and Eleuthera are somewhat cooler than the southern islands. The Bahamas hurricane season runs between June and November and rain storms are expected during this period.
The Bahamas archipelago are in fact the tops of banks that were formed some time between 90,000 and 120 years ago from coral reef formation. The well known pink sand beaches of the Bahamas get their vibrant appearance from the fractured pieces of seashell combined with the sand. The highest point in the Bahamas is Mount Alvernia on Cat Island, which is 63 meters (over 200 feet) high.
Wildlife in Bahamas contains various species. Many different breed of crabs can be found on the beaches. Hermit and Cardisoma guanhumi are two of the land crabs to be noted frequently in the island. The wild horses of Abaco are famous in The Bahamas. During a tour of the Bahamas, tourists can come across various other species including the Bahamas Hutia, numerous frogs, rocky raccoon, snails such as Cerion, cicada, blind cave fish, ants and reptiles.
Bahamas Wildlife features a wide range of amazing birds. Parrots and pigeons are two of the most common and popular birds found in The Bahamas. The Bahamas is also home to numerous aquatic life. Sharks, manatees, dolphins, frogfish, angelfish, starfish and turtles can be viewed in the waters surrounding The Bahamas. Apart from numerous species of fish, tourists can spot several types of worms also.
Long, flat coral formations with some low rounded hills. The highest point is Mount Alvernia (63 m), on Cat Island. Grand Bahama Island features breathtaking white sandy beaches, beautifully clear turquoise blue waters and plenty of lush, tropical foliage.
Officially 120V 60Hz, which is identical to the U.S. and Canadian standard. Outlets are North American grounded outlets, identical to standard U.S. and Canadian wall outlets. Occasionally non-grounded outlets may be found, which do not accept the third, round pin present on grounded plugs, and require an adapter. Older North American outlets may not be polarized (with one slot wider than the other). Otherwise, adapters are available which accept a polarized plug and adapt it for use with a non-polarized outlet.
The Bahamas is listed as an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The political and legal traditions of Bahamas closely follow the British ones, owing to their commonwealth membership.
The country has a parliamentary form of democracy and regular elections are held. The Bahamian senate consists of 16 members, who are appointed by the Governor-General. The Governor-General also appoints the Chief Justice on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Privy Council of the United Kingdom serves as the highest appellate court.
The local government districts in Bahamas elect local councils for town planning, business licenses, traffic issues and maintenance of government buildings. Lower level town councils are also accorded minor responsibilities in some large districts.
Content and photos by Annie at The Travel Valet.