The Bahamas Let the Good Times Keep Rolling. (Diaspora)

Article excerpt

The Islands of the Bahamas celebrate 30 years of independence on 10th July. The 700 islands that make up the country have had its shady characters of yesteryear (Christopher Columbus and the lot), but if three decades of independence can produce athletes of such quality as Debbie Ferguson, that's good enough. "Let's drink to the next 30 years", writes Clayton Goodwin.

Christopher Columbus, "Black-beard" (Edward Teach, the Pirate), the Duke of Windsor, James Bond, Sidney Poitier, Yama Bahama...The Islands of Bahamas, which celebrate their 30th anniversary of independence in July, have certainly had a colourful and varied history.

Yet this Commonwealth of over 700 islands and 2,500 cays is about as tranquil a place as can be found on earth. There are no reports of the political and social tension which affects other countries in the region ... Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti or almost anywhere else in what was once the Spanish Main where privateers and pirates marauded unhindered. The Bahamas hardly disturb the international headlines. Can you name a well-known Bahamian? Well--any Bahamian? Apart, that is, from their outstanding athletes who dominated the Manchester Commonwealth Games.

Even so, the placid present is not all that different from the turbulent past. The Bahamas are noted now as a haven for tourism, such would tempt a new Columbus to leave his home and sail the seas to view the excellent coral reefs and wildlife; as a centre of off-shore banking as to induce a contemporary "Black-beard" to open an account rather than trust to a buried chest in the sand; for the casino-gambling of which James Bond, himself, would approve; and, in spire of its proximity and association with the USA, for its British constitutional ties, including the regular changing of the guard at Government House, as would befit a former King of England.

The name "Bahamas" comes from the Spanish "bajar mar" (meaning "shallow seas"). Columbus landed on the Guanahani island, now San Salvador, on 12 October 1492. As we have all been told, he "discovered" the New World--not that the Lucayans could understand that. They had been on the islands for some time--a thousand years or so--and were part of the Arawak peoples who lived throughout the region.

These gentle folk, caught between the acquisitive Europeans and the rather fearsome Caribs, did not have much of a chance of surviving the diseases, transportation for hard labour in the mines and slavery which "civilisation" brought to them, and they died out within little more than a generation.

By the mid-l7th century, the Bahamas had been settled by English puritans and Bermudian religious refugees on the island of Eleuthera, and, conversely if not quite in contradiction, played host to some of the most rapacious pirates. King George I must have appreciated the irony when in 1718 he appointed Captain Woodes Rogers, a former pirate, as the first Royal Governor of The Bahamas.

True to the tradition of the poacher turned game-keeper, the Governor cracked down on his former profession with an almost religious fervour--so much so that the national motto is "Pirates Expelled--Commerce Restored".

The population was swelled by the many African slaves brought into the islands to replace the Lucayans and by British and British-sympathisers who left the USA on the latter's attainment of independence. Later privateers, such as the Confederate blockade-runners in the American Civil War and rum-runners from Prohibition contributed to the country's dubious, yet romantic, development.

By 1964, however, the Bahamas, which had already enjoyed some two centuries of democracy, acquired self-government and nine years later achieved full independence under Prime Minister (later Sir) Lynden O. Pindling who retained office until 1992 when his Progressive Liberal Parry (PLP) lost power to the Free National Movement led by Hubert Ingraham.

During Ingraham's administration, the Bahamas were opened to further foreign industry and investment. …