The Commonwealth of the Bahamas
There are 700 Islands of Bahamas sprinkled over 100,000 square miles of ocean starting just 50 miles off the coast of Florida. The archipelago is an ecological oasis featuring 2,000 breathtaking islands and cays and boasts the clearest water on the planet—with a visibility of over 200 feet. You can see your toes as easily as you can the world’s third largest barrier reef.
We invite you to explore all of our islands. One step and you’ll realize the beauty of each island extends far beyond our extraordinary natural wonders. It’s the smiles on the faces of the Bahamian people. The unique sounds of our rich culture. The warm hospitality of our heritage and our colorful history.
We are a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, all former British colonies, and recognize Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as our Head of State. Her Majesty’s representative is the Governor-General. Our Cabinet constitutes the executive branch and has control over our Government. The Cabinet is comprised of at least nine Ministers inclusive of the Prime Minister and Attorney General.
Parliament constitutes our Legislative Branch, which is made up of a Senate and a House of Assembly. Subject to the provision of our Constitution, Parliament may make laws for peace, order and good government.
As early as 300 to 400 AD, people who came from what is now Cuba (there was no country named Cuba at that time) lived on The Islands Of The Bahamas and relied on the ocean for food. From around 900—1500 AD the Lucayan people settled here. They enjoyed a peaceful way of life and had developed viable political, social and religious systems.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus made landfall in the New World on the island of San Salvador. Inspired by the surrounding shallow sea, he described them as islands of the “baja mar” (shallow sea), which has become The Islands of The Bahamas. When he arrived, there were about 40,000 Lucayans. Their peaceful nature made the Lucayans easy targets for enslavement however, and within 25 years, all of the Lucayans were wiped out due to the diseases, hardships and slavery they endured.
English Puritans known as “Eleutheran Adventurers” arrived here in 1649 in search of religious freedom. Instead, they found food shortages. Captain William Sayles sailed to the American colonies for help and received supplies from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Upon his return, the settlers thanked them by shipping them brasileto wood. The proceeds helped purchase land for what later became Harvard University.
Age of Piracy
During the late 1600s to early 1700s, many privateers and pirates came here. The most famous ones being Blackbeard and Calico Jack. There were also female pirates like Anne Bonny and Mary Read disguised as men.
Our shallow waters and 700 islands made great hiding places for treasure. And our close proximity to well-traveled shipping lanes made for the perfect spot to steal from merchant ships. There are rumors of hidden treasure that still exist today. It is believed that British pirate William Catt buried loot on Cat Island and Sir Henry Morgan, a wealthy privateer, buried treasure throughout our islands.
Established around 1670 as a commercial port, Nassau was overrun by lawless, seafaring men. Years later, Nassau was destroyed twice—once by Spanish troops, the other time by French and Spanish navies.
Soon after, pirates began looting the heavily laden cargo ships. By 1718, the King of England appointed Woodes Rogers to serve as the Royal Governor. His job was to restore order. And he did. He offered amnesty to those who surrendered. Those who resisted would be hanged. 300 pirates surrendered and the rest, including Blackbeard, fled.
More than a century later, American colonists loyal to Britain arrived in Eleuthera. Many brought their slaves as well as their building skills and agriculture and shipbuilding expertise. These greatly influenced Eleutheran life. In 1783, they solidified their independence and forced the retreat of the Spanish forces from the region without firing a shot.
Civil War and Prohibition
From 1861 to1865, The Islands Of The Bahamas benefited greatly from the U.S. Civil War. Britain’s textile industry depended on Southern cotton; however, the Union blockaded British ships from reaching Southern ports. So blockade runners from Charleston met British ships here and traded cotton for British goods. Upon their return, they sold their shipment for huge profits. The end of the Civil War marked the end of prosperity.
In 1919, the United States passed the 14th amendment prohibiting alcohol. The colonial government expanded Prince George Wharf in Nassau to accommodate the flow of alcohol. When Prohibition ended in 1934 so did the enormous revenues. Combined with the collapse of the sponge harvesting industry, it economically devastated The Bahamas.
Tourism and Independence
The Hotel and Steam Ship Service Act of 1898 opened our doors to the world. This act provided the government support needed for the construction of hotels and subsidized steamship service.
Since then, everything from Prohibition bringing well-to-do Americans to the closure of Cuba to Americans has impacted tourism in our country.
On July 10, 1973, The Bahamas became a free and sovereign country, ending 325 years of peaceful British rule. However, The Bahamas is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and we celebrate July 10th as Bahamian Independence Day.
The following Public Holidays are celebrated in The Islands of The Bahamas:
New Year’s Day (January 1st): Junkanoo Parades take place in most islands.
Good Friday (Friday before Easter Sunday): This Religious Holiday marks the end of the Lenten Season and is the first day of a long holiday weekend which includes the following Monday after Easter Sunday. On this holy day most Bahamians attend church services and serve fish as their main meal of the day.
Easter Monday (Monday after Easter Sunday): This Holiday marks the beginning of the Beach Picnicking season for Bahamians. There are also many cookouts in Public Parks on the Nassau waterfront; homecomings and regattas are held in some Out Islands.
Whit Monday (Seventh Monday after Easter): This Holiday marks the beginning of public witness of the Christian Church and is the Monday after Whit Sunday, The Feast of Pentecost, which comes 50 days after Easter.
Labor Day (First Friday in June): On this Holiday, members of the Labour Unions from different organizations as well as Political Parties march in a large parade through the streets of Downtown Nassau, usually in colourful uniforms, beginning around 10:00 a.m. Local bands and a few junkanooers lead the parades, providing lively music for the marchers and spectators. The parade ends at the Southern Recreation Grounds, where Union Leaders and local politicians deliver speeches. Most Bahamians spend the afternoon relaxing or visiting beaches.
Bahamas Independence Day (July 10th)
Emancipation Day/August Monday (First Monday in August): This holiday celebrates the emancipation of slaves in the British Colonies in 1834. The holiday is celebrated with a Junkanoo Rush-out, a day of beaching, sailing, and regattas in New Providence and the Out Islands. In New Providence old slave villages such as Gambier in the west and Fox Hill in the east have their own special celebrations.
Discovery/Columbus Day (October 12th): Recently there has been a drive to change the name of this Holiday from Columbus Day to Hero’s Day in honour of Bahamian National Heroes. To this end a small ceremony is held in Rawson Square, downtown Nassau, in honour of Bahamian National Heroes.
Christmas Day (December 25th)
Boxing Day (December 26th): (Junkanoo Parades take place in some islands.) This holiday was granted to the slaves the day after Christmas when they were given the boxes left over from their master’s gifts. These boxes usually were sent from England and were well crafted from fine wood. Hence the Holiday is known as Boxing Day.
-Holidays falling on a Saturday or Sunday are usually celebrated on the following Monday.
-Holidays falling on Tuesday are usually celebrated on the previous Monday.
-Holidays falling on Wednesday or Thursday are celebrated on the following Friday (with the exception of Independence Day, Christmas Day and Boxing Day).
-Banks/businesses and many shops) are closed on public holidays.
Self-expression. It is at the core of every Bahamian. Whether through our colorful art, lively music or soulful dancing, it is a part of each of us. And it reflects the beauty of our islands. The pride we have for our home and in each other.
Music plays a big part in Bahamian culture. Throughout our islands, you’ll hear traces of African rhythms, Caribbean Calypso, English folk songs and our unique Bahamian Goombay traditional music, which combines African musical traditions with European colonial influences. Goombay can be traced back to slavery and is storytelling and dancing performed to a fast-tempoed “goom-bahhh” beat on a goatskin drum.
African slaves had very few resources to create instruments. Rake and scrape bands had drums made out of a pork barrel and goatskin, a carpenter’s saw that was scraped with a metal file, maracas, rhythm sticks, and a bass violin made from a washtub and string. Today, rake and scrape bands use modern instruments mixed with saws and goatskin drums.
Being an international destination, you can rest assured that you can find any type of food here. But while you’re here, give your taste buds a chance to discover Bahamian cuisine. It’s spicy and uniquely flavored.
Seafood is the staple of our diet. Fresh conch scored with a knife and sprinkled with lime juice and spices is delicious. Other delicacies you’ll enjoy are land crabs and the Bahamian “rock lobster.” We also love fresh fish, especially boiled fish served with grits. Many dishes here are served with pigeon peas and rice mixed with spices, tomatoes and onions.
Wash down our cuisine with a cold beverage like a Kalik or Sands, beers of The Islands Of The Bahamas, a Bahama Mama, or Goombay Smash. There’s also a Bahamian favorite that we call “Sky Juice,” coconut water blended with sweet milk and gin. And don’t forget to try Switcher, a refreshing drink made from native limes.
Bush medicine is using indigenous plants for medicinal purposes. It’s a tradition African slaves brought with them when they came here. There are almost 100 plants found here that can be used for medical treatment. Examples include aloe vera, crab bush, fig leaf, sailors’ flowers and white sage.
Junkanoo is uniquely Bahamian and exists nowhere else. It’s an incredibly energetic, colorful parade made up of brightly costumed Bahamians dancing and “rushin” to the music of cowbells, drums, horns and whistles. It is widely believed that Junkanoo was created by John Canoe, an African tribal chief who demanded the right to celebrate with his people even after he was brought to the West Indies as a slave.
Celebrated since the 16th or 17th century, today Junkanoo has grown into an organized event with groups of up to 1,000 persons competing for cash prizes for best music, best costume, dancer, banner and best overall group presentation. Traditionally held on New Year’s Day, Boxing Day and Independence Day, parades are also held during the annual “Junkanoo Summer Festival” and the “Just Rush” competition. In addition, many hotels offer Junkanoo shows for their guests throughout the year.
Religion is important in the lives of the Bahamian people. Even small communities have several churches. Our religious devotion is evidence of the Eleutheran Adventurers and their Puritan influences.
Explore one of our straw markets and bring home a piece of Bahamian culture. You’ll find handmade hats, mats, baskets, woodcarvings and guava jellies. Test your bargaining skills and get a good deal on a great piece.
English is our official language. Although, you might hear Bahamian English. It’s a mixture of Queen’s diction, African influence and island dialect. The “h” is often dropped, so it sounds like “ouse” for “house” or “t’anks” for “thanks.”
Our dialect and idioms were influenced by African slaves, English Puritans and other settlers. Because of this combination, you will hear a unique language found only on The Islands Of The Bahamas. For instance, if you hear “day clean” they mean “daybreak” and “first fowl crow” means the first cry a rooster makes in the morning. These idioms are typical of Bahamian English.
The majority of Bahamians live on New Providence Island, home of our capital city, Nassau. Here, you will find most are of West African descent whose ancestors were enslaved and brought here to work on cotton plantations. The majority of our other residents are descendants of English settlers. Some are even related to Loyalists who fled the southern U.S. during the American Revolution.
When Britain abolished slavery in 1834, life here on our islands changed dramatically. Plantation life ended and locals tried their hand at sponging, fishing or farming. Our lack of fertile cropland led our people to become a nation of seafarers.
For centuries, our close proximity has attracted all kinds of people: Native Americans. Puritans. Explorers. Even pirates. Now it’s your turn. Come discover all of our 700 islands and the hospitality of the Bahamian people. Paradise is just a short plane ride from Miami International Airport, South Florida. And many airlines now offer direct flights to Nassau/Paradise Island, Grand Bahama Island or The Out Islands. You can also sail into one of our 32 ports of entry. Once you arrive, go island-hopping. Explore underwater. Or do nothing but relax on one of our pristine beaches.
Bimini: Cast away on this Bahamian island known for its big-game fishing; distance from Miami - 50 miles
Grand Bahama Island: Discover Freeport (the second largest city in The Bahamas) as well as the island’s many ecological wonders; distance - 55 miles from the Florida coast
Nassau/Paradise Island: Relax in the tropical ease of our capital city and largest city; distance from Miami - 179 miles from the Florida coast (45-minute airplane ride from Miami)
Hurricane season is from June to November. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit our islands during that time. Inaccurate hurricane reports often cause U.S. travelers to cancel their trips. It’s unfortunate, because many Bahamas hotels offer a Hurricane Cancellation Policy. This allows visitors who cancel their vacation during a hurricane to receive an immediate refund with absolutely no penalties. And should you get caught in a hurricane here, hotels will continue to be courteous and extend the lowest possible rate.
Even paradise needs to cool off with a little rain every now and then. On The Islands Of The Bahamas, there is rain year-round. However, heavy squalls and thundershowers pass through quickly. So the rain never ruins your day. May and June are the rainy months. And our northern islands typically receive twice the amount of rain as our southern islands.