The Bahamas (/bəˈhɑːməz/ (About this soundlisten)), known officially as the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, is a country within the Lucayan Archipelago of the West Indies in the Atlantic. It takes up 97% of the Lucayan Archipelago’s land area and is home to 88% of the archipelago’s population. The archipelagic state consists of more than 700 islands, cays, and islets in the Atlantic Ocean, and is located north of Cuba and Hispaniola Island (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), northwest of the Turks and Caicos Islands, southeast of the US state of Florida, and east of the Florida Keys. The capital is Nassau on the island of New Providence. The Royal Bahamas Defence Force describes The Bahamas’ territory as encompassing 470,000 km2 (180,000 sq mi) of ocean space.

The Bahamas were inhabited by the Lucayans, a branch of the Arawakan-speaking Taíno people, for many centuries. Columbus was the first European to see the islands, making his first landfall in the ‘New World’ in 1492. Later, the Spanish shipped the native Lucayans to slavery on Hispaniola, after which the Bahama islands were mostly deserted from 1513 until 1648, when English colonists from Bermuda settled on the island of Eleuthera.

The Bahamas became a British crown colony in 1718, when the British clamped down on piracy. After the American Revolutionary War, the Crown resettled thousands of American Loyalists to The Bahamas; they took their slaves with them and established plantations on land grants. African slaves and their descendants constituted the majority of the population from this period on. The slave trade was abolished by the British in 1807; slavery in The Bahamas was abolished in 1834. Subsequently, The Bahamas became a haven for freed African slaves. Africans liberated from illegal slave ships were resettled on the islands by the Royal Navy, while some North American slaves and Seminoles escaped to The Bahamas from Florida. Bahamians were even known to recognise the freedom of slaves carried by the ships of other nations which reached The Bahamas. Today Afro-Bahamians make up 90% of the population of 332,634.

The country gained governmental independence in 1973 led by Sir Lynden O. Pindling, with Elizabeth II as its queen. In terms of gross domestic product per capita, The Bahamas is one of the richest countries in the Americas (following the United States and Canada), with an economy based on tourism and offshore finance.

Etymology

The name Bahamas is most likely derived from either the Taíno ba ha ma (“big upper middle land”), which was a term for the region used by the indigenous people,[15] or possibly from the Spanish baja mar (“shallow water or sea” or “low tide”) reflecting the shallow waters of the area. Alternatively, it may originate from Guanahani, a local name of unclear meaning.[16][better source needed]

The word The constitutes an integral part of the short form of the name and is, therefore, capitalised. The Constitution of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, the country’s fundamental law, capitalises the “T” in “The Bahamas”.

History

The earliest arrival of humans in the islands now known as The Bahamas was in the first millennium AD. The first inhabitants of the islands were the Lucayans, an Arawakan-speaking Taino people, who arrived between about 500 and 800 AD from other islands of the Caribbean. Their ancestors came from mainland South America, where Arawakan-language peoples were present in most territories, and especially along the northeastern coast. Bahamian descendents were mostly from North and South Africa.

Recorded history began on 12 October 1492, when Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Guanahani, which he renamed San Salvador Island on his first voyage to the New World. The earliest permanent European settlement was in 1648 on Eleuthera. During the 18th century slave trade, many Africans were brought to the Bahamas as slaves to work for free. Their descendants now constitute 85% of the Bahamian population. The Bahamas gained independence from the United Kingdom on July 10th, 1973.

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