Geography played a crucial role in Bahamian history. In 1492, Christopher Columbus made his first landfall in the New World on the island of San Salvador in the eastern Bahamas. After observing the shallow sea around the islands, he said "baja mar" (shallow water or sea), and effectively named the area The Bahamas, or The Islands of the Shallow Sea.
Since it was located close to Florida and well-travelled shipping channels, The Islands Of The Bahamas caught the attention of explorers, settlers, invaders and traders. These people shaped the colourful history of The Bahamas and made the country what it is today.
From tribal Indians to pirates, from explorers to slave traders, the Bahamas are steeped in centuries of rich and fascinating history. In fact, a stromatolite limestone reef on the eastern shore of Exuma is considered the oldest evidence of life on earth!
The Siboney Indians, the first known residents of the Bahamas, survived here about 7,000 years ago on conch and fishing. Sometime after the Siboneys disappeared, the Arawak Indians, also called Lucayans, migrated to the islands from the Amazon region of South America. The Lucayans were prosperous and plentiful, with an estimated population of around 40,000 by the late 15th century. Most historians believe they developed an advanced political and social structure and lived in well-organized cities. But shortly after Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492, they were rapidly exterminated by the Spanish, and as a result, little is known about them.
The people who live in The Bahamas are predominantly of West African descent who were captured and forced into slavery on the cotton plantations in the Americas. Most white residents of the Bahamas are descendants of the first English settlers (English Puritans ), who emigrated to Bermuda in 1647 to gain religious freedom and settled on the island of Eleuthera. The culture is a melting pot of many native customs ranging from the indigenous "Indian" people who populated the Bahamas, including West African, English and other cultures who over the past three or four centuries, arrived in the Bahamas. People from many diverse backgrounds, such as British Loyalists (accompanied by slaves) fleeing America after the War of Independence, Bermudan slaves, people from other Caribbean islands, and many other nationalities. Bahamian culture today has been shaped by their experiences, beliefs and lifestyles.
Most Bahamians are of African descent about 85 percent. The remaining white population is directly descended from Loyalists, Eleutheran adventurers and sailors. Some families have been Bahamian for over two centuries. Bahamians are a dynamic, independent and friendly people who love music. Religion is an important part of their lives and churches are plentiful. English is spoken throughout the Bahamas islands.
Many Bahamians have an artistic side, which they express through their colourful art, infectious music or exuberant dancing. When you visit The Bahamas, take time to view the local artwork. Not surprisingly, you'll see brightly coloured art that reflects the beauty of the people and their Bahamas islands.
Some artists like Amos Ferguson, Maxwell Taylor and Stan Burnside have attained international acclaim. Ferguson's works are on permanent display at the Pompey Museum in Nassau.