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The Bahamas



Commonwealth of the Bahamas


FLAG: Three horizontal stripes of blue, gold, and blue, with a black triangle at the hoist.

ANTHEM: March on Bahamaland.

MONETARY UNIT: The Bahamas dollar (b$) of 100 cents has been in use since May 1966. As of June 1972, the Bahamas dollar ceased to be part of the sterling area and was set on a par with the US dollar. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 15, 25, and 50 cents, and 1, 2, and 5 dollars, and notes of 50 cents and 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 dollars. b$1.00000 (or us$1=b$1; as of 2004).

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: Imperial weights and measures are in use.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Labor Day, first Friday in June; Independence Day, 10 July; Emancipation Day, first Monday in August; Discovery Day, 12 October; Christmas Day, 25 December; Boxing Day, 26 December. Movable religious holidays include Good Friday, Easter Monday, and Whitmonday.

TIME: 7 am = noon GMT.


The Commonwealth of the Bahamas occupies a 13,940 sq km (5,382 sq mi) archipelago which extends 950 km (590 mi) se-nw and 298 km (185 mi) nesw between southeast Florida and northern Hispaniola. Comparatively, the area occupied by the Bahamas is slightly smaller than the state of Connecticut. There are nearly 700 islands, of which about 30 are inhabited. New Providence, 207 sq km (80 sq mi), although not the largest, is by far the most populous and most densely populated island. The total coastline is 3,542 km (2,201 mi).

The Bahamas occupy a strategic location adjacent to the United States and Cuba.

The Bahamas' capital city, Nassau, is located on New Providence Island in the center of the island group.


The Bahamas were formed as surface outcroppings of two oceanic banks, the Grand Bahama Bank and the Little Bahama Bank. The islands are for the most part low and flat, rising to a peak elevation of about 63 m (206 ft), which is Mt. Alvernia on Cat Island. The terrain is broken by lakes and mangrove swamps, and the shorelines are marked by coral reefs.


The climate is pleasantly subtropical, with an average winter temperature of 23°c (73°f) and an average summer temperature of 27°c (81°f). Rainfall averages 127 cm (50 in) and there are occasional hurricanes.


Because of a favorable combination of soil and climate conditions, the islands abound in such tropical flora as bougainvillea, jasmine, oleander, orchid, and yellow elder. Native trees include the black olive, casuarina, cascarilla, cork tree, manchineel, pimento, and seven species of palm. There are 218 species and subspecies of birds, including flamingos, hummingbirds, and other small birds and waterfowl.


Among the government's priorities in environmental protection are monitoring industrial operations, providing potable water and regular garbage collection throughout the country, maintenance and beautification of public parks and beaches, and the removal of abandoned vehicles. Other significant environmental issues are the impact of tourism on the environment, coral reef decay, waste disposal, and water pollution. The principal environmental agency is the Department of Environmental Health Services. A rookery on Great Inagua affords protection to some 30,000 flamingos as well as to the roseate spoonbill. Land clearing for agricultural purposes is a significant environmental problem because it threatens the habitats of the nation's wildlife. Inagua National Park is a Ramsar international wetland site.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the number of threatened species included 5 types of mammals, 10 species of birds, 6 types of reptiles, 15 species of fish, and 5 species of plants. Endangered species included Kirtland's warbler, Bachman's warbler, the green sea turtle, hawksbill turtle, Allen Cays rock iguana, and Watling Island ground iguana. The Caribbean monk seal and American crocodile are extinct.


The population of Bahamas in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 319,000, which placed it at number 167 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 5% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 30% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 95 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 20052010 was expected to be 1.2%; while the government is satisfied with this rate, it is concerned about high adolescent fertility. The projected population for the year 2025 was 398,000. The population density was 23 per sq km (60 per sq mi).

Only 30 to 40 of the islands are inhabited, and some two-thirds of the population reside on the island of New Providence, the site of Nassau, the capital and largest city with a population of 222,000 in 2005. The UN estimated that 89% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 1.17%. The population of Freeport on Grand Bahama Island grew from a few hundred in 1960 to an estimated 24,423 in the 1990s.

The first census was conducted in 1838, and in 1980 a law was passed requiring one to be conducted every ten years.


Emigration to the United Kingdom, considerable in the past, has fallen off since the mid-1960s. Some Bahamians migrate to the United States in search of employment. There is also inter-island migration, chiefly to New Providence and Grand Bahama islands.

Located between the United States and other Caribbean islands, the country's position has made it a transit point for migrants, including asylum seekers, trying to reach the United States. An estimated 100 Cuban nationals seek asylum in the Bahamas each month. The estimated net migration rate of the Bahamas was -2.18 migrants per 1,000 population in 2005. As of 2000 there were 30,000 migrants living in the Bahamas, including 100 refugees. There has also been an increasing number of asylum seekers from Europe, Asia, and Africa.

In 2004, the government spent us$521, 000 repatriating 3,034 illegal immigrants, including 2,500 Haitians. An estimated us$678,000 was spent on repatriation in 2003. Besides Haitians, there are increasing numbers of other nationalitiessuch as Cubans, Jamaicans, and Chineseillegally landing in the Bahamas.


About 85% of the population are descendants of slaves brought to the Western Hemisphere from Africa. About 12% of the total is white, largely of British origin, and 3% are Asian and Hispanic.


English is the official language of the Bahamas. Haitian immigrants speak French or a Creole patois.


As of 2000, at least 90% of the population claimed religious affiliation, and most accounts indicated that these were generally active participants. The population was overwhelmingly Christian, with Baptists comprising about 35%. About 15% of the population were Anglicans and about 24% belonged to other Protestants groups such as Pentecostals (8%), the Church of God (5%), the Methodists (4%), the Presbyterians, Seventh-Day Adventists, and members of the Salvation Army. About 13.5% of the population were Roman Catholics. There is also a strong Greek Orthodox community. Smaller groups include Jews, Baha'is, Muslims, Hindus, and Rastafarians.

The constitution provides for the freedom of religion and this right is generally respected in practice. Religion, with a focus on Christianity, is considered an academic subject in government schools. Although students may freely choose not to participate in religious instruction or observance outside of their own faith, the topic is included in mandatory standardized tests.


The larger islands have modern road networks. In 2002 there were about 2,693 km (1,673 mi) of highways, of which 1,546 km (961 mi) were paved. There were 83,500 passenger cars and 27,000 commercial vehicles in 2003. About 60% of all vehicles are on New Providence. There are no railways.

The Bahamas established a shipping register in 1976. In 2005, this archipelago nation had a merchant fleet of 1,119 ships of 1,000 GRT or over. Nassau is a major port of call for cruise ships, which visit Freeport as well. Airports in 2004 totaled an estimated 63. Of that number in 2005, a total of 30 had paved runways and there was also a single heliport. There are international airports at Nassau and Freeport, with frequent connections to the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. In 2001, a total of 1,625,700 passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international airline flights. Bahamas Air, a state-owned enterprise, is the national airline.


Christopher Columbus is believed to have made his first landfall on the island now called San Salvador (formerly Watlings Island) on 12 October 1492, but the Spanish made no permanent settlement there. Spanish traders captured the native Lucayan Indians and sold them as slaves. The Eleutherian Adventurers, a group of religious refugees, established the first permanent European settlement in 1647. They and subsequent settlers imported blacks as slaves during the 17th century. The islands were also used as bases for pirates, including the notorious Blackbeard.

The British established a crown colony to govern the islands in 1717. The first royal governor, Captain Woodes Rogers, himself an ex-pirate, drove away the privateers, leaving the slave trade as the main economic enterprise on the islands.

After the end of slavery in 1838, the Bahamas served only as a source of sponges and occasionally as a strategic location. During the US Civil War, Confederate blockade runners operated from the islands. After World War I, prohibition rum-runners used the islands as a base. During World War II, the United States used the islands for naval bases.

Like other former British colonies, the Bahamas achieved independence in stages. After self-government was established in 1964, full independence was granted on 10 July 1973. The country's first prime minister was Lynden O. Pindling, leader of the Progressive Liberal Party. Pindling ruled for nearly 20 years, during which the Bahamas benefited from tourism and foreign investment. By the early 1980s, the islands had also become a major center for the drug trade, with 90% of all the cocaine entering the United States reportedly passing through the Bahamas. Diplomatic relations were established with Cuba in 1974. A decade later, as increased Cuban immigration to the islands strained the Bahamas' resources, Cuba refused to sign a letter of repatriation.

In August 1992, the Bahamas had its first transfer of political power, when Hubert Ingraham became prime minister. Ingraham was reelected in March 1997 for another four-year term. The principal focus of his administration was economic development and job creation. Under Ingraham's watch, a number of government enterprises were privatized. In September 1999, Hurricane Floyd did extensive damage in the Abacos and Eleuthra, causing a significant dip in tourism revenues. Tourism operations in other parts of the Bahamas were able to resume normal operations days after the Category-4 storm. Also during Ingraham's administration, a stock exchange, Bahamas International Securities Exchange, officially opened (15 December 1999); trading in local companies was initiated in May 2000 and in mutual funds in April 2001.

In the May 2002 election, the PLP came back to power and its leader Perry Christie became the new prime minister. Christie promised to bring about more economic development to the tourism-dependent economy. He also vowed to further develop the country's fast-growing financial industry. Christie actively broadened the Bahamian political sphere by establishing diplomatic relations with Singapore (December 2004), Pakistan (February 2005), Sri Lanka (July 2005), and the Czech Republic (July 2005), as well as, opening the door for Sino-Bahamas bilateral ties with a visit to China. On 4 February 2005, the Bahamas signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) banning any nuclear weapon test explosion in any environment. The total number of signatories was then 175 worldwide, with 28 in the Latin America and the Caribbean Region.

In September 2004, Hurricane Frances swept through the Bahamas, leaving widespread damage in its wake. Just three weeks later, Hurricane Jeanne flattened the islands. Jeanne uprooted trees, blew out windows, and sent seawater flooding through neighborhoods on the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama. Receding floodwaters left boats tossed on roads and homes battered.

On 3 May 2005 Christie suffered a stroke. Although rest was indicated, within weeks he returned to a reduced schedule of official duties. General elections were scheduled for no later than 2 May 2007, but in September 2005 Christie hinted that the next elections were "not too far down the 'political highway'."


Under the constitution of 10 July 1973, the Bahamas adheres to a republican form of government, formally headed by the British sovereign, who is represented by a governor-general. In 2001, at age 71, Dame Ivy Dumont became the Bahama's first woman governor-general. Executive authority is vested in a prime minister and a cabinet. The bicameral legislature consists of a 16-member Senate, appointed by the governor-general (9 on the advice of the prime minister, 4 on the advice of the opposition leader, and 3 at the governor's discretion), and an elected 40-member House of Assembly. The prime minister is the leader of the majority party in the House. The normal span of the elected legislature is five years, but, as in the United Kingdom, elections can be called at any time. Suffrage is universal at age 18.


The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), a leader in the pro-independence movement, emerged as the Bahamas' majority party in the early 1970s. The Free Progressive Liberal Party, a splinter group formed in 1970, merged with another opposition group, the United Bahamian Party, to form the Free National Movement (FNM). After years of loyal opposition, the FNM took power in 1992, winning 32 seats to 17 for the PLP. In the 1997 elections, the FNM increased its majority to 34 seats and another seat was added in a by-election later the same year. Meanwhile PLP representation in the House dwindled to six seats and Lynden Pindling resigned as party leader. In 2002, under the leadership of Perry Christie, the PLP won 50.8% of the vote and 29 seats in the 40-member legislature, enough to command majority control.


There are 21 administrative districts, consisting of various islands and groups of islands. A commissioner responsible to the national minister of local government heads each.


British common law forms the basis of the Bahamas' judicial system. The highest court is the Court of Appeal, consisting of three judges. The Supreme Court is composed of a chief justice, two senior justices, and six justices. The governor-general makes High Court appointments. Ultimate appeals go to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. In 2003 the Bahamas was not among the eight Caribbean nations that ratified a treaty to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice to handle some cases formerly heard by the Privy Council. Lower courts include three magistrates' courts on New Providence and one on Freeport. For other islands, commissioners decide minor criminal and civil cases.

The judiciary is independent. The executive branch with the advice of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission appoints judges.

Long pretrial detentions are not uncommon in cases involving narcotics. In 1993, new magistrate's courts were established in order to work toward a reduction of backlogs requiring long pretrial detentions. A new Supreme Court was established in Freeport in addition to the Supreme Court in Nassau.

The lowest level courts are magistrate's courts, which handle crimes with a maximum sentence of five years. The Supreme Court handles most major cases as the trial court. Jury trial is only available for the Supreme Court cases.

Criminal defendants have the right to an attorney, but government appointed counsel is provided only in capital cases. There is also a right to be brought before a magistrate within 48 hours, a right to bail, a presumption of innocence, and a right to appeal.

The constitution prohibits torture and other cruel punishment. However, in 1991, corporal punishment was reinstated after having been abolished for seven years. Capital punishment is still used despite protests from the United Kingdom, which has requested its former colonies to eliminate the death penalty.


The Royal Bahamian Defence Force in 2005 consisted of 860 active personnel including 70 women. They operate 7 patrol/coastal vessels 7 logistics/support ships, and 4 transport aircraft. The defense budget totaled $32 million in 2005.


The Bahamas joined the UN on 18 September 1973 and belongs to ECLAC and several nonregional specialized agencies. The Bahamas is an observer in the WTO (2001). It is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the ACP Group, CARICOM, G-77, LAES, and OAS. It is also a part of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), and the Inter-American Development Bank. The Bahamas is a member the Nonaligned Movement and of the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin American and the Caribbean (OPANAL). The country is a signatory of the 1947 Río Treaty. In environmental cooperation, the Bahamas are part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.


Tourism and financial services drive the Bahamas economy. Tourism, the mainstay of the economy, directly or indirectly involves about half of the population and accounts for about 40% of GDP, with an additional 10% coming from tourism-related construction. More than five million tourists visited the Bahamas in 2004, 87% from the United States.

The reliance on tourism, particularly from the United States, makes the Bahamas vulnerable not only to worldwide economic shocks such as the decline in travel that followed the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States but also to cyclical slowdowns that occur in the US economy.

The absence of direct taxation makes the Bahamas a financial haven for banking and trust companies, mutual funds, investment firms, and offshore sales and insurance companies. The financial services sector made up about 15% of GDP in 2004, constituting the second most important activity in the Bahamas economy. According to the US State Department, the Bahamas government had 262 banks and trust companies as of 2005. However, legislative measures passed since 2000 to better regulate money laundering have led to the closure of some offshore banks and international business companies since 2002. The government is considering new legislation that would keep the financial sector competitive while continuing to comply with international standards.

Besides tourism, tourism-related construction, and financial services, other contributors to GDP include government spending (20%), manufacturing (8%), and agriculture and fisheries (3%). Local companies produce a small array of exports, including salt, aragonite, cement, timber, pharmaceuticals, petroleum products, and rum. Agricultural and fisheries productswhich include fruits, vegetables, lobster and fishare produced mainly for domestic consumption.

After a decade of slow growth, the economy began to pick up in the mid-1990s due to increased private investment in tourism, shipping, construction and the expansion of financial services. Renewed economic buoyancy followed privatization of major hotels in 1994 and completion of major renovations by the new owners since, as well as increased marketing and an improved foreign investment regime. Real GDP growth, at 33.5% in 1997 and 1998, increased to 6% and 5% in 1999 and 2000. The global economic slowdown in 2001 and particularly, in tourism, after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, reduced growth to 3.5% in 2001. However, since 2002, the government has attempted to stabilize its tourism services base through an encouragement of large-scale private sector investments. Still, GDP growth has not kept up with its 1999 pace, and was reported at 3% in 2004 and 2005. The US State Department predicted that plans to develop tourism on the Family Islands, expand ship-repair facilities, and encourage film production would help stabilize the Bahamas economy for the long-term.

Steady economic growth has brought a steady decline in unemployment: from 11.5% in 1996 to an estimated 6.9% in 2001. Unemployment has climbed in recent years, however, and was 10.2% in 2004. Inflation remained low, averaging 1.27% from 1996 to 2001. Inflation was 1.2% as of September 2004.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 The Bahamas' gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $5.7 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $18,800. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 3%. The average inflation rate in 2004 was 1.2%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 3% of GDP, industry 7%, and services 90%.

Approximately 32% of household consumption was spent on food, 5% on fuel, 3% on health care, and 8% on education.


The total number of workers was put at 156,000 in 1999 (the latest year for which data was available). Of that total in that same year, an estimated 50% were employed in tourism-related activities, with another 40% in other service industries. The remaining 10% of workers were equally distributed between industrial and agricultural employment. In 2004, the unemployment rate in the Bahamas was estimated at 10.2%.

Labor unions operate with constitutional protection, and approximately 25% of the workforce belongs to a union. In the important hotel industry, 80% of the workers are union members. The three leading union federations are the Trade Union Congress, the National Workers Council of Trade Unions and Associations, and the National Congress of Trade Unions. Members of the police force, defense force, fire brigade, and prison guards are not permitted to unionize. All labor unions have the right to affiliate with international trade organizations.

In 2000 (the latest year for which data was available), the government set a minimum wage for all hourly and temporary workers in the public sector at us$4.45 per hour, and in 2002 (the latest year for which data was available), a minimum wage for private sector employees was set at us$4.00 per hour. The law limits the regular workweek to 40 hours, requires time-and-a-half overtime pay over that limit, and a standard 24-hour rest period The Ministry of Labor promulgates minimum health and safety standards. It enforces these standards with routine inspections, and the standards are generally respected by employers. Children under the age of 14 are not permitted to work in industry or during school hours. Children under the age of 16 are not permitted to work at night.


Agriculture is carried out on small plots throughout most of the islands. Only about 1% of the land area is cultivated. The nature of the terrain limits the scope of farming, which is mainly a household industry. The main crops are vegetables: onions, okra, and tomatoes, the last two raised mainly for export. Inadequate production has necessitated the import of some 80% of the islands' food supply. Among steps the government has taken to expand and improve agriculture is the reserving of 182,000 hectares (450,000 acres) exclusively for farming, 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres) of which were converted to fruit farming. Export-oriented orange, grapefruit, and cucumber production occurs on Abaco. Agricultural products in 2004 included 55,500 tons of sugar cane, 13,000 tons of grapefruit, 8,700 tons of lemons and limes, 5,000 tons of tomatoes, and 880 tons of sweet potatoes.


Except for poultry and egg production, the livestock industry is relatively insignificant. In 2004, the livestock population included 750 head of cattle, 6,500 sheep, 14,500 goats, 15,000 hogs, and 3,000,000 poultry. About 700 tons of cow's milk, 1,050 tons of goat's milk, and 900 tons of eggs were produced in 2004. Poultry production in 2004 (8,050 tons) accounted for almost all domestic meat production. In December 1991, the government banned foreign chicken, in order to protect local poultry producers from cheaper imports, mainly from the United States.


The 2003 catch amounted to 12,736 tons, over 81% of which was spiny lobsters (crayfish). Crayfish and conch exports are commercially important. There is excellent sport fishing for wahoo, dolphin fish, and tuna in Bahamian waters. In 2003, fisheries exports totaled $93.8 million. Since the Bahamas imports 80% of its food, the government is interested in expanding the role of domestic commercial fishing. Aquaculture and mariculture development are planned to grow into a $150 million annual business by the government, with the anticipation of 15,000 new jobs created. In 2003, fishery exports accounted for 25% of agricultural exports.


Caribbean pine and cascarilla bark are the major forestry products, but there is no commercial forestry industry. About 32% of the total land area consists of forests and woodlands. Roundwood production in 2003 totaled 17,000 cu m (600,000 cu ft). That year, the Bahamas imported $21.3 million in wood and forest products.


The mineral sector played a minor role in the economy of the Bahamas. Salt and aragonite stone, a component in glass manufacture, were the two most commercially important mineral products. Estimated 2003 production had figures of 900,000 metric tons for salt and 1.2 million metric tons for aragonite, figures which have remained unchanged since 1999. The major salt producer on the Islands was Morton Bahamas Salt Company, the only major industry and the largest employer on the island of Inagua, where the second-largest solar saline operation in North America was located. Limestone sand was produced by Freeport Aggregate Ltd. for the local construction industry.


Most electricity is produced at thermal plants owned by the Bahamas Electricity Corp. Production totaled 1.716 billion kWh in 2002 with capacity for that year at 401,000 kW. Fossil fuel accounts for all power production. Electricity consumption in 2002 was 1.596 billion kWh. In 1991, a 28,000 kW upgrade was initiated at the Clifton Power Plant on the west end of New Providence Island. Gas turbines were added to the Blue Hill Power Station and were operational in late 2002 and early 2003.


A few Bahamas-owned industrial companies dominate this sector: the BORCO oil facility, based in Freeport; the Commonwealth Brewery in Nassau, which produces Heineken, Guinness, and Kalik beers; and Bacardi Corp., which distills rum in Nassau for shipment to US and European markets. In addition, a formerly US-owned pharmaceuticals company now operates in Freeport as PFC Bahamas and is owned by the Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche. In addition to these companies, sun-dried sea salt and aragonite (a form of limestone) are produced. Cruise ship repairs are carried out at a wet dock facility in Freeport.

Large-scale oil refining began in 1967 with the installation of a large refinery on Grand Bahama with a daily capacity of 500,000 barrels, but by 2000 no oil was being refined. The BORCO facility now services primarily as a resource for regional oil transshipments.

A duty-free zone and nearly industrial park in Freeport have been established to encourage foreign industrial investment. Through these efforts, Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa opened a container port. The Bahamian Parliament approved legislation in 1993 that extended most Freeport tax and duty exemptions through 2054.


Agricultural research facilities include the Bahamas Agricultural Research Center, Central Agricultural Station, and the Food Technology Complex.


Lack of a strong production infrastructure means that most of what residents of the Bahamas consume comes from outside the country, mainly from the United States. Shopping hours are from 9 am to 5 pm, except Sunday. Banks are open from 9:30 am to 3 pm, MondayThursday, and from 9:30 am to 5 pm on Friday.


The United States is the Bahamas' major trading partner and takes 77.5% of its exports. Other trading partners include EU (17.6%), Canada (1.6%) and Mexico (0.4%). Trade agreements that the Bahamas participates in the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), the Caribbean-Canada Agreement (CAIBCAN), and the Lomé Convention.

Exports include pharmaceuticals, cement, rum, crawfish, and aragonite.

Foods, manufactured goods, hotel, restaurant, and medical supplies; and computers and electronics are all imported. In 2004, 83.3% of the imports came from the United States, with small amounts coming from Venezuela (5.5%), the Netherlands Antilles (2.6%), the EU (2.1%) and Japan (1.2%). Nassau is the principal distribution and import center.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2005 the GDP of the Bahamas was $5.685 billion. Exports totaled $1.507 billion in 2004, while imports totaled $5.804 billion, resulting in a significant trade deficit. Although the Bahamas remains an import-oriented economy, income from tourism and financial services is a vital offsetting factor in the country's balance-of-payments position. The CIA described the Bahamas economy as "stable" and "developing."

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) statement on the Bahamas in 2005 reported an increase in the country's net international reserves, which strengthened the Bahamas' position on balance of payments. Net international reserves rose through early 2005, which also helped increase the size of excess bank reserves.


Banking started in the Bahamas in 1837, when the first commercial bank opened in New Providence. The Central Bank of the Bahamas, established in 1973, is the central issuing and regulatory

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 375.9 1,927.3 -1,551.4
United States 291.5 1,605.5 -1,314.0
France-Monaco 21.5 10.9 10.6
Germany 14.5 6.1 8.4
Spain 12.5 3.5 9.0
United Kingdom 12.0 9.9 2.1
Canada 5.9 19.9 -14.0
Italy-San Marino-Holy See 5.4 4.2 1.2
Mexico 1.7 7.3 -5.6
Australia 0.9 0.9
Japan 0.9 22.6 -21.7
() data not available or not significant.
Current Account -429.8
   Balance on goods -1,204.7
     Imports -1,629.5
     Exports 424.8
   Balance on services 900.4
   Balance on income -163.1
   Current transfers 37.6
Capital Account -37.4
Financial Account 259.7
   Direct investment abroad
   Direct investment in The Bahamas 145.0
   Portfolio investment assets
   Portfolio investment liabilities
   Financial derivatives
   Other investment assets 46,576.8
   Other investment liabilities -46,462.1
Net Errors and Omissions 317.5
Reserves and Related Items -110.0
() data not available or not significant.

authority. Funds for local development are made available through the Bahamas Development Bank.

Low taxation and lenient regulations have encouraged the establishment of about 420 financial institutions in the country in 2000, half of which operate offshore banks, dealing exclusively with nonresidents. The banking sector accounts for more than 20% of GDP. Many of the loans of domestic banks are denominated in foreign currency. Major Bahamian banking institutions include Bank of the Bahamas Limited, Barclay's Bank, British-American Bank, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), Citibank, Commonwealth Bank, and the Royal Bank of Canada. Anti-money laundering acts have provided for the security of the banking sector.

The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $767.0 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $3.6 billion. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 5.75%.

The Bahamas International Securities Exchange (BISX) opened in 2000. It opened in two phases; domestic stocks (from about 20 companies listing an estimated $30 billion in shares) followed by international offerings. In April 2001 the BISX launched a mutual fund listing facility. In 2003 there were 17 public companies listed on the exchange.


The establishment of a large number of insurance firms in the Bahamas has been encouraged by a 1970 law that permits companies to conduct part or all of their business out of the country while still benefiting from local tax advantages. The government is encouraging the formation of "captive" insurance companies created to insure or reinsure the risks of offshore companies. In 1997, there were approximately 30 captive insurers in the Bahamas. Supervisory jurisdiction is provided by the Ministry of Finance, Registrar of Insurance Companies. In 2003, the value of direct premiums written totaled $405 million, with life accounting for the largest portion at $223 million. Royal & SunAlliance was the country's top nonlife insurer with gross nonlife written premiums totaling $84.8 million.


The Bahamian government budget receives revenues primarily from import duties (65%), but Hemispheric Free Trade scheduled for 2005 was expected to greatly reduce revenues. The government has looked for other sources of funds, including a restructuring of the banking system. Tourism remains about 60% of GDP.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in FY03/04 the Bahamas's central government took in revenues of approximately us$1 billion and had expenditures of us$1 billion. Total external debt was us$308.5 million.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2003, the most recent year for which it had data, budgetary central government revenues were b$901.1 million and expenditures were b$1,067.7 million. The value of revenues in US dollars was us$736 million and expenditures us$872 million, based on a principal exchange rate for 2003 of us$1 = b$1.2250 as reported by the IMF.

Revenue and Grants 901.1 100.0%
   Tax revenue 823.9 91.4%
   Social contributions
   Other revenue 77.2 8.6%
Expenditures 1,067.7 100.0%
   General public services 295.9 27.7%
   Defense 30.9 2.9%
   Public order and safety 129.3 12.1%
   Economic affairs 166.1 15.6%
   Environmental protection
   Housing and community amenities 12.3 1.2%
   Health 173.3 16.2%
   Recreational, culture, and religion
   Education 199.5 18.7%
   Social protection 60.4 5.7%
() data not available or not significant.

Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 27.7%; defense, 2.9%; public order and safety, 12.1%; economic affairs, 15.6%; housing and community amenities, 1.2%; health, 16.2%; education, 18.7%; and social protection, 5.7%.


The absence of direct taxation has enabled the Bahamas to attract a substantial number of financial enterprises in search of tax-shelter advantages. The country has no income taxes, capital gains taxes, or profit taxes, and residents are free from succession, inheritance, gift, or estate taxes. The only indirect taxation is a real property tax, ranging from 12% based on appraised value, owner's nationality, location and development status.


Import duties make up approximately 60% of government revenues. As of 2005, import levies range from 1260% and average 35%, but are subject to change quite frequently. Most duties are applied ad valorem. Preferential rates apply to imports from Commonwealth countries. Exemptions are available for many basic commodities. Luxury goods are taxed at separate tariff rates, for example: cigarettes are taxed at 210% with a stamp tax of 7%, pool tables at 100%, bottled water at 70%, automobiles from 4575%, and air conditioners at 35%.


The absence of corporate and personal income taxes, as well as any form of sales, estate or inheritance taxes, acts as a direct inducement to foreign capital. In addition, specific investment incentives are included through the following: the Industries Encouragement Act, providing total exception from import duties and taxes for development of approved industries; the Hawksbill Act, which provides for tax-free development of the Freeport area; the newer Bahamas Free Trade Zone Act; the Export Manufacturing Industries Encouragement Act; the Spirits and Beer Manufacturing Act, which allows duty-free importation of construction materials and raw material; the Hotels Encouragement Act, which, as amended, exempts large new hotels from all taxes for up to 20 years with reductions for the next 10 years; the Agricultural Manufacturers Act, which allows machinery and raw materials for an agricultural factory to be imported duty-free; and recent amendments to the Tariffs Act, which allow duty exemptions for construction on some of the outer "Family Islands." Investment proposals are processed by the Bahamas Investment Authority, established under the Foreign Investment Law in 1993 to be a one-stop shop.

In 2000, in response to multilateral organizations' concerns, the government enacted stronger measures to regulate the financial sector and prevent money laundering in the country's banking sector. The measures included establishment of a Financial Intelligence Unit and enforcement of "know-your-customer" rules. By 2004, all banks without a meaningful presence in the country were to be shut down. These rules had the effect of reducing the number of offshore banks registered in the Bahamas (50) and prompted half of the international business companies to close shop. Though painful, the IMF has praised the effort as increasing the efficiency of the financial services sector and reducing the number of nonperforming loans.

Net international reserves have climbed from $484 million in 2003 to $668 million in 2004, and were project to end 2005 at $642 million.

The government actively seeks foreign investment in every sector of the economy, but reserves many businesses exclusively for Bahamians, including wholesale and retail operations, commission agencies in import/export trade; real estate; domestic newspaper and magazine publication; domestic advertising; local night clubs and restaurants; security services; construction; beauty parlors and barber shops; shallow water scalefish, crustacean, mollusk, and sponge fishing operations; auto and appliance service; and public transportation.

The Bahamas has the world's third-largest registry of ships, administered by the Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA) headquartered in London. The registry has been famous for cruise ships, but with the development of the Freeport deep-water container facility and transshipment, larger vessels can be accommodated.

Foreign investment remains mainly in the tourism-related sector and the banking and related services sector. Since the enactment of a revised foreign landholding act in 1993, investment in the second-home sector has been growing. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development estimates the inflow of foreign direct investment (FDI) for 2004 at $206 million, compared with $147 million in 2003. FDI stocks accounted for $2.20 billion in 2004, or about 39.9% of the Bahamas GDP. Despite the declines in FDI in 2001 and 2002 that resulted from a global economic slowdown and worldwide declines in foreign investment and tourism after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the US World Trade Center, FDI continued to remain a significant source of revenue for the Bahamas.

The Bahamas' only stock exchange is the Bahamas International Stock Exchange (BISX) started as a private venture with a $5 million investment in 2000. It has not developed into an efficient channel for foreign portfolio investment. By 2003, the BISX had lost an estimated $2 to $3 million and was being sustained by government subsidies of $50,000 a month. In March 2003, 14 companies were listed with a market capitalization value of $1.4 billion. In 2001, US investors held $1.16 billion in equity in Bahamian companies.


The promotion of tourism and financial activity by foreign firms continued as a basic tenet of the Bahamas government. Since the late 1960s, increased emphasis has been focused on development of local industry, with the liberal tax structure remaining the key incentive. In 1976, the government began a series of measures to foster greater participation by Bahamians in the economy. The new ruling included increased work-permit fees for foreigners and sharp rises in property-transfer taxes and business licensing for non-Bahamians. Since late 1979, government permission has been required for the sale of land to non-Bahamians. The Bahamas Development Bank helps provide financing for non-Bahamian entrepreneurs. In 1996, the government implemented an income tax on foreign workers. The government is attempting to diversify the economy and attract new industry, as well as to conserve and develop the country's 324,000 hectares (800,000 acres) of forest.

Economic challenges facing the Bahamas included meeting continued employment demands, encouraging privatization and keeping a rising level of government debt in check. Bahamas's residents do not pay income or sales taxes. Most government revenue comes from tariffs and import fees. This situation may change when the Free Trade Area of the Americas incorporates the Bahamas. Because trade barriers will be reduced, the country is likely to require some form of taxation.

Other future hopes for economic growth lie in continued tourism investment. Two major hotel projects were in the works in late 2004: the Atlantis Resort and Casino on Paradise Island and a $1.2 billion hotel resort development project in the Cable Beach area of Nassau. In addition, the Baha Mar Company was to purchase three major hotels and a development site, including the last assets of the state-owned Hotel Corporation. As part of the deal, the government was to expand the Nassau International Airport. In 2004 and 2005, the government also began to expand its outreach to foreign investors, making trips to Asia, Europe, Latin America, and Canada to promote the islands. Special attention was paid to China, with the Bahamas government making multiple trips there to encourage tourism and investment.


Old age, disability, and survivorship benefits are available to all employees, self-employed individuals, and those who are voluntarily insured. Contributions are shared between employers and employees, but there are no governmental contributions. There is a maternity grant for each live birth, and a 13-week maternity benefit of 60% of the average weekly earnings. Funeral benefits are provided in a lump sum.

Bahamian women are well represented in business, the professions, and government. However, the constitution and the law have continued to discriminate against women. For example, inheritance laws mandate that in the absence of a will, a deceased person's estate be passed on to the oldest son or nearest male relative. Violence against women increased in 2004. The government was taking measures to combat the widespread problem of domestic abuse. Economic difficulties prevent the government from improving standards for child welfare. Child labor laws are in effect.

Human rights are generally respected by the government, although there are occasional reports of arbitrary arrest and detention. Illegal immigrants, mainly Haitians and Cubans, are detained until arrangements are made to either leave the country or remain legally.


The government operates the 436-bed Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau and two other hospitals, the Sandilands Rehabilitation Center and the 82-bed Rand Memorial Hospital. In addition, 57 clinics and 54 satellite clinics are maintained throughout the islands, with emergency air links to Nassau. Health expenditures totaled us$132,492,992, or 14.8% of the national budget.

In 2004, there were 105 physicians, 447 nurses, and 7 dentists per 100,000 people. In 2005, the infant mortality rate was 25.21 per 1,000 live births. In 2000, low birth weight babies accounted for an estimated 10.4% of all births. In 1999, the birth rate was 20 per 1,000 people, and the general mortality rate was 5.4 per 1,000. Average life expectancy in 2005 was 65.54 years. Approximately 28% of all deaths were attributable to diseases of the circulatory system, 20% to communicable diseases, 14% to cancer, and the remainder to other causes.

Approximately 88% of one-year-old children were immunized against measles and 91% were immunized against diphtheria. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 3.00 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 5,600 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 200 deaths from AIDS in 2003.


Frequent severe hurricanes in the past decade have caused damage and destruction to thousands of homes. Overcrowding is a problem in some areas and adequate low-cost housing is in short supply. An estimated 70% of housing units were detached houses, nearly 15% were apartments, and more than 10% were single attached dwellings. Over 50% of all homes were stone, concrete and/or brick, and over 30% were wood. The Bahamas Housing Authority was established by the government in 1983, with a mandate to develop housing for low-income people.

To encourage construction of new homes in remote areas the government has waived customs duties on building materials to less developed islands. As of 2001, the government had also launched a "new birth" program to renovate dwellings in traditional communities and to create new housing in urban centers, particularly for low or middle-class residents. Churches, businesses, and other organizations have been called on to find ways to provide shelter for low-income families, women, and children. The government has also sponsored housing projects for senior citizens and the disabled.


Primary education begins at age five and lasts for six years. Secondary education lasts for five years and is divided into a three-year junior high school course and a two-year senior high school course. Education is compulsory for children between the ages of 5 and 16.

In 2001, about 30% of all children between ages three and five attended some form of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 86% of age-eligible students; 85% for boys and 88% for girls. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 76%; 74% for boys and 77% for girls. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 17:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 15:1.

Postsecondary training is provided by the government primarily through the College of the Bahamas. The College of Bahamas (founded in 1974) provides a two-year/three-year program that leads to an associate degree. It also offers a Bachelor of Arts degree in education. Other schools of continuing education offering academic and vocational courses include the Bahamas Hotel Training College, the Catholic Continuing Education College of St. Benedicts, and the Industrial Training College. In addition, the Bahamas has been affiliated with the University of the West Indies since 1960.

Education is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education and Culture and is free in all government-maintained schools. English is the official language. As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 3.7% of GDP. An IDB-funded program for the Improvement of Primary and Secondary Education is under way. The adult literacy rate in 2003 was estimated at about 95.6%; 94.7% for men and 96.5% for women.


The Nassau Public Library is the largest of four public libraries on New Providence, with some 80,000 volumes. The Ranfurly Out Island Library, a private institution, distributes free book packages to school libraries throughout the country. The Haynes Library is a public library on Eleuthera. The library of the College of the Bahamas in Nassau maintains a collection of 75,000 volumes. There is a Bahamas Library Association and a Bahamas Association of Law Libraries.

Most museums in the Bahamas are archaeological and historical. In Hope Town is the Wyannie Malone Historical Museum, which features the history of the town and its early American loyalist settlers. In Nassau there is the Bahamia Museum (1973), featuring ethnology and folklore; the Bahamas Historical Society Museum (1959), a public affairs museum with a Marine Salvage collection; the Nassau Public Library and Museum; the Pompey Museum of Slavery and Emancipation (1992), a historical, ethnological, and folklore museum; and Angelo Roker's Art Centre and Museum.


All telephone, telegraph, and teletype service is provided by the Bahamas Telecommunications Corp. In 2003, 131,700 mainline telephones were in service, with automatic equipment in use on the major islands. A submarine cable connects New Providence with Florida, and direct dialing to the United States has been available since 1971. In 2002, there were about 121,800 mobile phones in use.

In 2004, there was one government-run radio station (ZNS Bahamas) and five privately owned radio broadcasters. The country has two television stations, one operated by the state-owned Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas, and a privately owned station. In 1997 there were 215,000 radios and 67,000 television sets in use nationwide. In 2003, there were about 84,000 Internet users.

Three daily newspapers are published in the country. The Nassau Daily Tribune had a circulation of 12,000 in 2002 while The Nassau Guardian had a circulation of 14,100. The daily Freeport News has a circulation of 4,000. All three papers are privately owned. There are also several weekly papers.

The government is said to respect the constitution's provisions for freedom of speech and press.


Commercial associations include the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce (with locations on Nassau and Grand Bahama) and the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC). Employers' groups include the Bahamas Employers' Confederation and the Bahamas Union of Teachers.

International amateur sports activities are coordinated by the Bahamas Olympic Association and the Bahamas Amateur Athletic Association (BAAA).

There is a Bahamas Historical Society promoting education and preservation of native culture. The Medical Association of the Bahamas promotes high standards of medical care and serves as an alliance for specialized medical professional associations.

There are about 15 prominent youth organizations throughout the country, including some which are affiliated with political parties. Other groups include the Girl Guides and the Scout Association of the Bahamas, Progressive Young Liberals, Torchbearers Youth Association, and the YMCA and YWCA. Sports associations represent a number of particular pastimes and include the Bahamas Association of Athletic Associations (track and field), the Bahamas Baseball Federation, Bahamas Lawn Tennis Association, and the Bahamas Olympic Association.

There are branches of the Red Cross, the Red Cross Youth Society, and Amnesty International. Other service groups include Kiwanis International, Rotary, and Lions Clubs.


Tourism in the Bahamas makes up almost 40% of the economy. Visitors are attracted to the excellent climate, beaches, flora, fauna, and recreational and resort facilities. Water sports (including excellent deep-sea fishing) are the favorite pastimes. Gambling is legal for non-Bahamians. Major hotels are being renovated and built to accommodate for the growing tourism industry in the Bahamas.

Passports are not required for tourists from the United States and Canada for stays of less than three weeks. Passports but not visas are required of most visitors from Western Europe, Commonwealth countries, and Latin America. All visitors who enter the Bahamas must possess proof of funds to support the visit and either a return or onward ticket. In 2003, approximately 1,500,000 tourists visited the islands, spending a total of us$1.8 billion. There were 15,393 hotel rooms and 30,786 beds with a 59% occupancy rate. The average length of stay was 4.5 nights.

According to 2004 US Department of State estimates, the cost of staying in the Bahamas varied between seasons and location. Averages were as low as us$25 per day for a stay on Andros Island to us$350 per day on Nassau (from November to June).


Lynden Oscar Pindling (19302000), a lawyer and leader of the PLP, was the Bahamas' first prime minister following independence in 1973 until he was succeeded by Hubert Ingraham (b.1947) in 1992. Actor Sidney Poitier (b.USA, 1924) was appointed Bahamian ambassador to Japan in 1997.


The Bahamas has no territories or colonies.


Calvert, Peter. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Latin America. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2004.

Craton, Michael. Islanders in the Stream: A History of the Bahamian People. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992.

Health in the Americas, 2002 edition. Washington, D.C.: Pan American Health Organization, Pan American Sanitary Bureau, Regional Office of the World Health Organization, 2002.

Jenkins, Olga Culmer. Bahamian Memories: Island Voices of the Twentieth Century. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000.

Johnson, Howard. The Bahamas: From Slavery to Servitude. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996.

Johnson, Whittington Bernard. Race Relations in the Bahamas, 17841834: The Nonviolent Transformation from a Slave to a Free Society. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000.

Keegan, William F. The People Who Discovered Columbus: The Prehistory of the Bahamas. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1992.

Lewis, James A. The Final Campaign of the American Revolution: Rise and Fall of the Spanish Bahamas. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1991.

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The Bahamas


Commonwealth of the Bahamas

Major Cities:
Nassau, Freeport


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated September 1994. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


The Commonwealth of the BAHAMAS is a chain of islands, cays, and reefs that sweep in a broad arc from 50 miles off the Florida coast, southward to the northern limits of the Caribbean. Blue skies and sparkling waters have lured generations of winter visitors to this subtropical archipelago, which was British colonial territory as recently as 14 years ago. The islands now comprise a fully independent state within the community of the British Commonwealth, having achieved autonomy in July 1973.

Close historical, social, cultural, and economic ties with the United States have left their imprint here. American investments and tourism in this island nation continue to make the Bahamas substantially more important to the U.S. than its small size and population would indicate. However, it retains its own distinctive character, and the society and institutions which lie behind its facade defy easy classification. Bahamian culture is a blend of the islands' African, English, and American origins, combined with the influence of the sun, the sea, and the tourists.



Nassau, capital of the Bahamas and its major port and city, is nearly 300 years old. Time and the elementshurricanes, decay, fires, and termiteshave destroyed many of the old buildings. The downtown area has a distinctive architecture accented by columns, verandas, jalousies, and pastel colors. More Victorian than anything else, Nassau's narrow walks, streets, and prolific flowering bougainvillea and hibiscus have helped preserve its charm. Nassau's population in 2000 was estimated at 195,000.

Nassau is located on the island of New Providence21 miles long and 7 miles wideone of the smallest and most central of the Bahamas chain. Nassau and its suburbs, which range east and west along and behind Bay Street, occupy mostly the northern half of the island. Miami is 210 miles to the northwest and New York is 1,080 miles almost due north.


Proprietary governors of Carolina and other North American colonies administered the Bahamas as trading markets with little pretense of civil administration. By 1700, the islands were well established as pirate camps for such immortals as Blackbeard and Calico Jack. In 1718, the First Governor, Captain Woodes Rodgers (an ex-privateer), gave the Bahamian pirates the choice of either confronting the small army he brought with him, or accepting a Royal Amnesty. Most took the latter, but eventually drifted off to other islands to resume their profession.

During the American Revolution, the Bahamas served as a supply point. Afterwards, the islands saw their biggest change, as some 8,000 British loyalists and their slaves fled the U.S. These settlers brought the plantation system to some of the smaller islands, but poor soil, over-cultivation, and the boll weevil exhausted the chances of large-scale cotton crops in less than 10 years.

With the agricultural exhaustion of lands, poverty became more serious. However, the American Civil War brought prosperity as Nassau became the center for Confederate blockade running and the Royal Victoria Hotel (a once grand, now largely demolished) old building in the center of downtown Nassau became the haunt for both spies and gunrunners. In 1866, depression returned and for the next 50 years a succession of attempts to create wealth from conch (pronounced "conk") shells, tobacco, fruits, vegetables, sponges, and shipbuilding failed. The Florida land boom from the early 1900s and again in 1920 drew many Bahamian immigrants to the U.S.

With the Prohibition Act of 1920, the Bahamas reemerged as a major base for blockade running, this time for bootleggers. World War II and the establishment of U.S. bases and facilities in the Bahamas brought back the prosperity of the 1920s.


The selection and quality of food found in Bahamian food stores in Nassau is comparable to those of an average American supermarket with some exceptions. Certain popular brands may not be available, and specialty items such as delicatessen and ethnic food selections are usually meager. Produce is not comparable to an American supermarket, but a broad selection does exist and fresh vegetables can be found through careful shopping. Prepared food items often cost twice as much as the same products in southern Florida.


Local tastes and standards are similar to those of southern Florida. Summer clothing is worn year round, but with somewhat heavier material during the Bahamian "winter." Fabrics comfortable for the season range from lightweight washables to heavier fabrics and knits. Winter can be quite cool and clothes tend to be more formal. Wardrobes should include sweaters and possibly lightweight woolens. Heavy clothing is not necessary unless winter trips abroad are contemplated. Sportswear is available locally at reasonable prices.

Bahamian women often dress elegantly when attending church services and other special occasions.

Children's clothing is dictated by the time of year. All schools require uniforms which are available locally, so children probably need little more than play clothes. Children's clothing is available, but expensive. Parents may wish to purchase additional children's clothing before arrival.

All students wear uniforms for school and casual clothes at other times. Attractive casual clothes, including a sport jacket or suit for boys and appropriate dresses for girls are necessary, as young people are often included in social functions. Clothing for girls is readily available, but student sizes for boys are difficult to find.

Supplies and Services

Nassau drugstores, supermarkets, and speciality shops stock a variety of brand name toiletries, cosmetics, feminine personal supplies, home medicines, and common household needs. Prices are higher than in the U.S., and stores do not always maintain adequate supplies.

There are at least five custom tailor shops and six dressmakers in Nassau, and 23 custom drapery shops. The quality of the tailoring and dressmaking shops is spotty; only a few are recommended. Custom-made drapes and reupholstery in Nassau are expensive and believed to be on a par with the more expensive shops in large U.S. cities.

Dry-cleaning and laundry outlets are conveniently located. The quality of dry-cleaning service is poor. Some individuals have experienced difficulty with delicate fabrics and specialty cleaning, such as removing difficult stains from linens or silks.

Most skilled appliance and automotive service personnel are employed by major appliance stores and automobile dealers. Preference is given to customers who have purchased the appliance or automobile from the dealer. Warranties on items imported from the U.S. are not valid. Several independent automotive and appliance repair shops exist. Service varies greatly. Some independent repair shops take on projects for which they lack proper tools, equipment, training, or knowledge and can create more service/repair-related problems than they solve.

All the major hotels have qualified beauticians and barbers who meet U.S. standards of sanitation, styling, and beauty care services.

Shoe repair is limited but heels and soles can be repaired while you wait. Only two watch repair shops are located in Nassau but the quality of service is good. Some small, independent jewelers also do limited watch repairs and produce high quality custom-made jewelry. U.S. companies, such as IBM, Xerox, and Wang, provide reliable service on electric typewriters and personal computers.

Religious Activities

Full freedom of religion exists in the Bahamas, which has no favored or official State religion. The Bahamas is a predominately Christian country, and over ninety churches on New Providence represent Protestant, Roman Catholic, and interdenominational religions. Most of these churches are members of the Bahamas Christian Council, a national association which coordinates church activities and represents church services. Church services are conducted in English, but one church conducts services in Creole for Haitian residents. New Providence has no Jewish synagogues or Islamic Mosques.


The Bahamian school system, including most private schools, offers curricula based on the British system. All the Catholic schools are based on the American system. However, parents should be prepared to supplement their children's education with studies of American history and literature, especially for students in grade 7 and above. Overall, the resource centers, libraries, and curricula are inadequate by comparison. On the other hand, most private schools in Nassau have smaller class sizes and less disciplinary problems than many public schools in the U.S. No American International School exists in Nassau. The school systems follow the British in terms of grade levels.

A major concern is that teachers in many schools are not required to fit their study programs into a planned, step by step overall program, resulting in some gaps in subject coverage. Elementary Schools in Nassau range from thoroughly inadequate (Bahamian public schools) to very good. The upper grades (9-ll), however, offer neither breadth nor depth in their study programs. Many college-bound high school students go to boarding schools in the U.S., Canada, or Britain. However, there are some good high schools in the Bahamas.

People with school-age children should complete and forward school applications to the CLO upon learning of their assignment to the Bahamas. Many schools have waiting lists.

A short description of the highest rated schools follows: Lyford Cay School, located on the extreme western end of New Providence, occupies a six-acre wooded site within the boundaries of Lyford Cay. The school is able to take advantage of a 24-hour private security system. The children have access to two superb beaches and a 20-meter swimming pool at the Lyford Cay Club.

The school receives children from all over the island and accommodates up to 175 children ages 3-11. The pupils come from many different backgrounds and nationalities.

The school curriculum is based on the British system and is geared to the resources of the Bahamian environment. The children are tested annually by the Bahamian government and the Educational Research Bureau. Tuition for the 1993-94 school year ranged from $3105 to $3500.

St. Andrew's School is interdenominational, and coeducational. The children come from families in the middle and upper income brackets. Approximately 75% are Bahamian and the teaching staff is mostly British, with 3-year teaching certificates. The campus is large, the buildings are in good condition, and the student-teacher ratio is approximately 20 to 1. The school offers many extracurricular activities and has excellent sports facilities, including an outdoor swimming pool.

Structured on the British system, the school offers programs for approximately 750 students as young as 3 in a preschool program, and ranging to the late teens for children in the l2th grade. Tuition for the 1993-94 school year ranged from $4,755 to $5,790 per year depending on grade level. Even though the school is structured on the British system of eleven grades, the twelfth year was added to help students compete with other l8 year olds in the U.S. system.

St. Augustine's College (high school, grades 7-12) St. Augustine's is Roman Catholic, and coeducational. The students are 90% Bahamian, from middle and upper socioeconomic bracket families. All the teaching staff is Bahamian, most with teaching certificates.

The buildings are well kept, on a large and beautiful campus. Religious education and regular church attendance are mandatory. The school has excellent sports facilities, including an outdoor swimming pool.

The curriculum is equivalent to British Comprehensive schools, incorporating elements of American junior and senior prep school along with computer science. In addition, the S.A.T. is taken in the final year for admission to American colleges and universities. The library is inadequate and most books date from l967 or before. The physical education program is good, and a few extracurricular programs are offered. Tuition for the 1993-94 school year was $2,040.

Tambearly School is an independent, recently established school with a curriculum for children age 4 (Reception) through eighth grade. It has a well planned study program using a combination of textbooks and workbooks (rare for Bahamian schools), combined with frequent field trips. Its goal is to prepare students for integration into schools abroad. All students utilize the computer and take French and Spanish.

Tambearly has a student enrollment of approximately 130, and is located at Sandyport, West Bay Street. The school accommodates up to l5 students per class, and has a staff of 12 full-time teachers and four part-time. Tuition for the 1993-94 school year was $4,050.

Special Educational Opportunities

The College of The Bahamas offers programs leading to the Bachelors Degree, the Associate Degree, Advanced Level G.C.E. (London), College Diplomas, and Certificates in Business Administration, Education, Humanities, Natural Sciences, Nursing and Health Sciences, Social Sciences, and Technology. The College's first Bachelor's Degree program, a B.B.A. in Banking and Finance, was introduced in September 1991. The College operates on a semester systemtwo semesters, and one summer session. Tuition fees are about $25 per credit hour per semester for Bahamians and $50 for non-Bahamians.

The Bahamas Hotel Training College and the University of the West Indies (degree program) offer courses in tourism and hotel management.

The University of Miami, Barry University, and Nova University, conduct a 2-year program in Nassau leading to an MBA. Courses are held on weekends and are designed for business executives and managers. American family members who have enrolled have found it challenging and worthwhile. Additional information on the University of Miami program is available by telephoning the University at (305) 284-2510, or contacting the CLO or USIS Education Advisor.

Several business schools offer courses in secretarial skills, business, word processing, and computer programming. The Industrial Training Center offers one-year courses in the technical/vocational curricula.


The emerald and turquoise waters of the Bahamas set the backdrop for sports in the country. Swimming, fishing, boating, sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling, and water skiing are excellent year round. Instruction is available for all sports, but may entail club memberships.

Golf and tennis are also popular. Nassau has four l8-hole golf courses, but green fees are expensive. Paradise Island's seaside course offers a view as well as a challenge. Divi Beach Golf Course is the newest course. Like Paradise Island, it can be crowded and expensive. Electric carts are required at all courses. The course at Lyford Cay has a limited membership and is very expensive. Many hotels have tennis courts. Several private tennis clubs are available, as well as athletic clubs, gyms, and spas. The world-class "Gold's Gym" opened in October 1993.

New Providence Island has in-season pigeon and duck shooting. The Family Islands also have seasonal pigeon, duck, and wild boar shooting. Horseback riding is offered by stables in the Coral Harbour area as well as on Paradise Island and Nassau East.

Spectator sports include boxing, baseball, cricket, softball, soccer, rugby, basketball, American football, and volleyball. Some events are free; others charge a small admission fee.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Literally all of New Providence can be explored in less than a week's time. The Family Islands, including Eleuthera, the Exumas, Bimini, and Abaco, are most popular with Americans. The terrain is flat as in New Providence. The islands can be reached by air, charter boat, or mail-boat. Tours can be taken by taxi, bicycle, and surrey, or by glass-bottomed boat trips, sailing cruises or even an air-conditioned submarine which dives 80 feet below the surface.


The major importance of the tourist industry to the Bahamian economy has determined to a large extent the type of entertainment facilities here, which mirror those of a popular American resort city.

Luxury hotels on Paradise Island and on the north shore of New Providence offer a wide variety of specialty restaurants, cocktail lounges, cabarets, and discos. Two large casinos exist in Nassau, one on Paradise Island at the Brittania Towers Hotel and the other at the Crystal Palace Casino. Both the Crystal Palace Hotel and the Brittania Towers Hotel produce a Las Vegas-style extravaganza or floor show. Several other night clubs located in hotels and separate from hotels offer Bahamian and American-style shows and dancing.

Apart from the luxury-class restaurants, many good restaurants featuring Bahamian, American, Italian, and Greek food are patronized by nontourists.

Many choirs exist in Nassau and the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts produces numerous well-known musicals and plays throughout the year. In addition, it also produces folk ballets and dramas written by Bahamians. Several of the larger hotels offer aerobic and other dance classes.

Two movie theaters operate in Nassau. They features popular American films.

Social Activities

An American Men's Club and an American Women's Club, the latter affiliated with the Federation of Women's Clubs of America, coordinate philanthropic and community activities among resident Americans. Outstanding among these are the annual Fourth of July picnic and the annual Christmas season wine and cheese tasting and dinner dance

An Hispanic Women's Club, including many U.S. members, is also active in the community.

Some organized activities exist for children, ages 7 to 15 years, including Boy and Girl Scouts, and extracurricular school events. Two swimming clubs for children offer competitive swimming. A riding school exists for those interested in horses. Some children also participate in operetta society productions, gymnastics, tennis, and Little League baseball.

You may contribute your time and skills through churches, the American Women's Club, the Hispanic Women's Club, the Bahamas National Trust, the Yellowbirds (Princess Margaret Hospital volunteers), the Bahamas Humane Society, Animals Require Kindness, the Red Cross Society, Ranfurly Home, the Women's Crisis Center, and assorted clinics. The Historical Society and the National Trust offer lectures on the Bahamas.

Special Information

The primary hazard facing anyone living in or visiting Nassau comes from residential and street crime, primarily burglary, robbery, and larceny. Residents and visitors should exercise caution and common sense. Doors and windows should be kept locked at all times, and deserted beaches, back streets, and poorly lighted areas should be avoided.

As the Bahamas remains a transit area for drugs designated for the United States, narcotics are easily obtainable. Parents should take extra precaution to educate their children on the dangers of illegal drug use. Parents should also become involved in their children's outside activities and closely monitor the company they keep. Drug offenses are dealt with very seriously in the Bahamas.

Temporary duty visitors to The Bahamas and newcomers should exercise extreme care while driving. The accident rate in Nassau is high due to the driving habits of Bahamians, poor enforcement of speed limits, and adverse road conditions. Accident rates among visitors who rent motorbikes and motorscooters are particularly high.

Freeport, Grand Bahama Island

Freeport is a modern community located on the southwestern shore of Grand Bahama Island, 120 miles northwest of Nassau. In 2000, Freeport's population was approximately 41,000. The island is 530 square miles in area, and the highest point of elevation is 68 feet. Although cooler than Nassau and with a higher rainfall, effects of the climate are similar to those in Nassau.

Freeport boasts a 450-seat Regency Theater in which the Freeport Players Guild presents several plays throughout the year. In addition, the Grand Bahama Players also present plays by Bahamian playwrights. The Freeport Friends of the Arts are active in bringing music and dance performers to Freeport. In the past, the group has brought in the Billy Taylor Jazz trio, the Alvin Ailey Dance Repertoire Ensemble, the English Chamber Orchestra, Russian concert pianist Boris Block, and singer Harry Belafonte.

Tourism is an important factor on Grand Bahama Island, and more than 5,000 resort hotel rooms are available for tourists. Planned less than 30 years ago, Freeport is still hopeful of attracting more investors. Major industries in Freeport include an oil transshipment company, several pharmaceutical plants, a perfume factory, a liquor blending company, three shipping companies, and a cancer immunology research center.

Taxis are readily available. No public transportation system exists, but jitneys are sometimes available. Roads are excellent and better designed than in Nassau. Most major highways are divided expressways.


Telephone service in Freeport is reliable, but callers to the U.S. find that the circuits are often busy. Direct dialing to long distance numbers is possible. Listings for Freeport and Grand Bahama are contained in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas Telephone Directory published by the BATELCO.

The Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas operates radio station ZNS-3 out of Freeport to service Grand Bahama, Abaco, and Bimini with local as well as national programming originating in Nassau. AM reception of Florida stations is fair to good depending on atmospheric conditions, but FM reception from Miami requires special antennae. A Miami-based company operates a CATV positive cable system which provides good reception to seven television stations from southern Florida. In addition, viewers can tune into Bahamian Channel l3, ZNS. Satellite dishes are popular, but expensive.

Three Bahamian newspapers, the Guardian, the Tribune, and the Freeport News, are available as are the Miami Herald and the New York Times.


Medical facilities in Freeport are adequate for routine medical care, but are more limited than those in Nassau. The government-owned Rand Memorial Hospital has 50 beds and includes departments of surgery, general medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, radiography, and an emergency room. The Antoni Clinic is privately owned, and in addition to the services provided at Rand Memorial, this clinic includes plastic surgery, dentistry, and orthodontics, as well as oral and maxillo-facial surgery. The Lucayan Medical Center is limited to family medicine, internal medicine, and obstetrics.

Community health conditions in Freeport are comparable to those in Nassau, but Freeport does not have a large Haitian expatriate population.


The same concerns that affect choice of education in Nassau hold true for Freeport. Numerous private schools, mostly church affiliated, offer programs for preschool age (3-5) children through high school. School years are divided into three terms. Brief descriptions of major schools follow.

Freeport Nursery School and Play GroupCalvary Academy This kindergarten offers three terms during the period September-June for children ages 3-5. Classes are from 9 am to 2:30 pm. In addition, the day care center operates from 8 am to 5:30 pm for children between the ages of 3 months and 5 years. Tuition varies from about $300 per term.

Sunland Lutheran School Sponsored by Our Savior Lutheran Church, this coeducational school accepts children ranging from nursery school through grade 10. Fees range from $508 per term for nursery school children, and are graduated for older children up to $650 per term. Enrollment is approximately 500, with 35 faculty members.

Mary, Star of the Sea School This Roman Catholic school offers coeducational training from nursery school through 8th grade, and is staffed by two Franciscan sisters and about 40 lay teachers. Enrollment is approximately 850, and at times applicants are put on a waiting list. Term fees range to about $440.

St. Paul's Methodist College This coeducational school accepts children ages 3-16 and is administered by the same Board of Trustees as Queens College in Nassau. Term fees range from $435 to $554. The faculty consists of 40 teachers and maximum enrollment is 800.

Freeport High School This coeducational high school (grades 7-12) is administered by the Anglican Diocese of the Bahamas. Normal term fees are $550. A special college preparatory program is also available for an additional fee. Enrollment is about 400, with 25 teachers.

Grand Bahama Catholic High School This coeducational high school schedules its instruction in two semesters and offers a 4-year program to prepare students to take the American College Board examinations based on the British System. Tuition is approximately $1680 per year. Enrollment is 340 and the faculty consists of 18 lay teachers.

Recreation and Social Life

Grand Bahama offers an unusual activity for underwater explorers that is unavailable in Nassau. Due to the unique "sponge-like" structure of the Grand Bahama land mass, many ocean holes or small underground lakes connect to the sea. These underground, water-filled caverns are popular with scuba divers who enjoy exploring. One of the larger underground caverns, the Lucayan Cavern, contains over 33,000 feet of exploration line. Due to abuse by some souvenir hunters, the Bahamas National Trust closed this cavern to the public for an indefinite period.


Geography and Climate

The Bahama Islands lie between 20 and 27 °N. latitude and 72 and 79 °W. longitude. Separated from the North American Continent by the Florida Channel and cooled in the summer by the northeast trade winds, the Bahamas enjoys a moderate climate. During the summer, temperatures rarely rise above 90°F, while the lowest winter temperatures vary between 40° and 50°F Rainfall ranges 40-60 inches a year.

The Bahamas extends over 100,000 square miles of sea, with slightly less than half lying in the Tropics. The Tropic of Cancer crosses the lower part of Long Island.

The Bahamas covers a distance of some 760 miles from northwest to southeast and include 29 inhabited islands, 661 cays, and about 2,387 exposed reefs. The total land area is approximately 5,380 square miles, about the size of Wales or two-thirds the size of Massachusetts. The largest island is Andros, with an area of 2,300 square miles, and the smallest is Spanish Wells, with an area of one-half mile. Some of the most beautiful beaches and lagoons in the world are located in the Bahamas.

Over 50 varieties of trees can be found here, including such exotic species as the African tulip, the casuarina (hardy Australian pine), the cork tree, several varieties of palm trees, and about 40 varieties of fruit trees. In addition, large varieties of shrubs, climbers, vines, vegetables, and herbs are found here.

Significant seasonal changes requiring winter clothing or central heating do not occur here. The rainy season is from May to October, and the hurricane season extends from May to November. In the winter, temperatures rarely fall below 60°F, and usually reach 77°F by midafternoon. During the summer, temperatures fluctuate between 90°F in the daytime and 75°F or less in the evening.

Although humidity can reach above 80% (relative humidity for September is 82%), prevailing easterly winds lessen personal discomfort. Temperatures vary from a low of 76.7°F in January to a high of 89.1°F in August. Humidity causes mildew on leather and textile products, but homes equipped with central air-conditioning or dehumidifiers neutralize the harmful effects.

Rainfall often occurs in the form of fairly intense showers, frequently accompanied by strong, gusty winds. These storms are usually short and are followed by clear skies. Weather conditions can change rapidly. Statistically, a hurricane can be expected to occur in some part of the Bahamas every nine years. The last hurricane (Andrew) struck in August 1992.


In 2000, the approximate total resident population of the Bahamas was 287,550. The statistics show that New Providence (where Nassau is located), has 171,542 persons accounting for 67.35% of the population, representing a 2.7% increase compared to the 1980 census. Grand Bahama, with the second largest population, has 41,035 persons representing 16.11% of the population, an increase of 31% over 1980. Abaco follows with a population of 10,061 or 3.95% of the population, Andros with 8,155, and Eleuthera with 8,017 accounting for 3.20% and 3.15%, respectively. Exuma had 3,539 persons and 1.39% of the total population, while Long Island with 3,107 persons had 1.22% of the population.

The Lucayan Indians, a branch of the Arawaks, discovered the islands in the ninth century. Some 600 years later, on October l2, l492, Christopher Columbus made his first landfall in the New World on San Salvador Island. Some studies by historians have disputed the San Salvador theory, however, and suggest that the landfall may have occurred at Samana Cay instead. Spanish adventurers followed Columbus to the Bahamas and soon shipped the remaining Lucayan population as slaves to mines in Cuba and Santo Domingo, where the race was extinguished.

The islands were the setting for several attempts at establishing colonies of religious refugees, including the Eleutherian Adventurers. Although they all ultimately failed, many family names in the Bahamas derive from seventeenth century English settlers.

Most Bahamians are of mixed African and European descent. Of the European portion of the population, 90% are descendants of early British and American settlers, most notably loyalists from New York, Virginia, and the Carolinas. The Bahamas also has a considerable Greek community. Most are second and third generation Bahamians, whose descendants came to the islands as sponge fishermen.

English is universally spoken as is Bahamian, a variant of Caribbean English. A wide variety of religious denominations and interfaith and evangelical churches are found in the Bahamas.

Public Institutions

The Bahamas is a constitutional, parliamentary democracy. As a fully independent member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, the nominal Head of State is Queen Elizabeth II, represented in the Bahamas by an appointed Governor General. The Head of Government is the Prime Minister. The l973 Bahamian Constitution was enacted by a Parliament composed of the Senate and the House of Assembly.

The House of Assembly consists of 49 members, elected by constituency every 5 years on the basis of universal adult suffrage. The Senate consists of 16 members appointed by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. The Parliament performs all major legislative functions. The leader of the majority party serves as Prime Minister. The Cabinet, which answers to the House of Assembly, consists of the Prime Minister, a Deputy Prime Minister, an Attorney General, and other Ministers of executive departments.

The judiciary consists of a Supreme Court, a Court of Appeals, and various Magistrates' Courts, with the right to appeal to Her Majesty's Privy Council in the United Kingdom. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

In January 1993, the government instituted a form of local government for the Family Islands (Bahamian islands beyond New Providence) by appointing individuals to local licensing boards. Commissioners, who formerly served as administrators for the Family Islands, now serve as secretaries to these boards in addition to their duties as local magistrates.

Arts, Science, and Education

The historic Bahamian cultural experience is essentially British (English), but American cultural values have had an increasingly important impact on Bahamian society due to modern media, the large number of Bahamians who visit Florida, and the increased number of American tourists who visit the Bahamas

Education is free and compulsory between ages 5 and 14. The Ministry of Education has responsibility for all Bahamian educational institutions. Ninety-six primary schools, 29 secondary schools, and 46 all-age schools receive government funding. In addition, 6 special schools, and 45 independent schools operate in the Bahamas.

Courses lead to the Bahamas Junior Certificate (B.J.C.) taken in grade 9. In 1993, a new Bahamian National Examination (administered in grade 12 as an exit examination), the Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE), was instituted in both private and government schools.

The College of The Bahamas (COB) is the only tertiary level institution in the country. Founded in 1974, it currently enrolls some 2,500 full and part-time students. Essentially a 2-year institution offering Associate of Arts degrees in liberal arts and sciences, the COB recently instituted a Bachelors Degree program in banking and is working on plans to add additional 4-year degree programs. It also administers a School of Nursing. In conjunction with the University of the West Indies (UWI), it offers a Bachelors Degree in Education. UWI operates a Center for Hotel and Tourism Management, also a degree program, which draws students from throughout the Caribbean.

Success Training College offers certificates, diplomas, some associate degrees in business, computer science, and electrical technology. Several U.S. universities (St. Benedict's/St. John's, Nova University, Barry University, and the University of Miami) offer in-country programs to be followed by courses on the parent campus which lead to Bachelors or Masters degrees.

A large number of Bahamians complete university studies in the United States; fewer further their education at schools in Great Britain, Canada, and at UWI.

The Dundas Center For the Performing Arts, located in Nassau, presents two repertoire seasons each year including performing artists in drama, dance, and song. The Bahamas National Dance Theatre and the National Youth Choir were founded in 1992 as part of the country's activities in commemoration of the Quincentennial Celebrations of Christopher Columbus's discovery of the islands and the New World. Other active cultural groups include the Nassau Music Society, The Renaissance Singers, The Nassau Players, and the Freeport Player's Guild, located in Freeport, Grand Bahama.

Two of the most spectacular folk cultural events in the Bahamas each year are the Junkanoo Parades held on December 26 (Boxing Day) and New Year's Day. The parades begin at 2:00 am and continue until 9:00 am. Participants prepare costumes, rehearse months in advance, and compete for various individual and group prizes. The Junkanoo is an integral part of the traditional culture of the Bahamas, dating back to the days of slavery when slaves were given three days off during the Christmas holidays.

Music is provided by goatskin drums, cowbells, whistles, conch shells, and bicycle horns. Junkanoo music can also be heard whenever Bahamians feel in a festive mood or wish to celebrate.

Commerce and Industry

Since World War II, the Bahamas has become a tourist and financial center. These two industries remain the mainstays of the Bahamian economy.

The Bahamas was a vacation destination for over 4.2 million visitors in 2000. Realizing the importance of tourism for the economy, more than more than $1.5 billion has been spent on hotel construction and refurbishment in The Bahamas over the past five years. Tourism and related services now account for up to 60% of GDP and employ nearly two-thirds of the labor force.

About 80% of the tourists who come each year are from the U.S. The luxury hotels and casinos are clustered in Nassau, Paradise Island, and Freeport. New directions in tourism include a growing interest in the smaller, sometimes very luxurious, resort hotels of the Family Islands. About half the tourists visiting The Bahamas arrive by cruise ship, and port facilities in Nassau and the Family Islands have been upgraded to accommodate this growing market. In October 1995, The Casino Taxation Act was amended to allow for the establishment of small-scale casinos and the Lotteries and Gaming Acts allowed for sports betting.

Financial services, the second major sector of the Bahamian economy, consists primarily of banking, trust administration, insurance and mutual funds. The 400 banks and trust companies engage primarily in the business of managing assets of wealthy individuals. Strict banking secrecy laws are enforced. The Bahamas are widely known as a tax haven for non-Bahamians seeking to avoid income tax payments. As a result of new anti-money laundering laws passed in response to an initiative with the G-7's Financial Action Task Force (FATF), government revenues from International Business Companies (IBCs) declined from $2.5 million in the first four months of 2000 to $908,701 for the corresponding period in 2001.

The Bahamian Government recognizes the need for diversification, new industry development, exploration, and exploitation of agriculture and fisheries resources. The Bahamas imports over $250 million in agricultural goods per year, representing about 80% of its food consumption.

The agriculture and fisheries sectors together only account for about 5% of GDP and employ about 5% percent of the work force full time. A larger portion of the workforce is employed on a temporary basis during the opening weeks of lobster (crawfish) season. In an attempt to meet more of its own food needs, the government is working with local farmers to introduce new varieties of crops. However, foreign investment will be needed for this project.

The U.S. is the Bahamas' most important trading partner. Principal Bahamian exports to the U.S. are pharmaceuticals, lobster, salt, and hormones. Most food and other consumer goods are imported from the U.S. Brand name products are readily available, although transport and considerable import duties add some 50% or more to comparable U.S. consumer prices.

Freeport, the industrial center of the country, is a planned community built by foreign investors. A subsidiary of a major U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturing company has a sizeable facility there and there are several smaller export-oriented pharmaceutical and chemical plants. Solar salt and aragonite, two of the Bahamas' otherwise scanty natural resources, are exported from other points in the island chain.

The Bahamas have several labor unions, the largest and strongest of which is the Hotel Workers' Union.



Most areas of New Providence are serviced by small mini buses called jitneys. The jitneys operate from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., although service to some residential areas is infrequent and hours of operation more limited than in the downtown area. The fare is about 75¢. No inexpensive limousine or bus connections serve Nassau International Airport. Taxis are metered and rates are controlled by the government. Cabs can also be hired for about $25-$30 per hour. Limousines cost $50 per hour.

Several automobile rental agencies are in Nassau and Freeport, including subsidiaries of some well-known American agencies. Rental fees vary with the size and type of vehicle and the duration of the rental period, but are much higher than in the U.S. Several agencies also rent motorbikes, but they should be avoided because of the vehicles' very high accident rates.


Traffic moves on the left side of the road in the Bahamas. Road conditions vary greatly from four-lane highways to narrow streets with sharp curves. Some road surfaces are very poor with potholes and badly eroded shoulders that could damage a vehicle. Surface drainage is poor and large areas of standing water can be found on the roads after a heavy rainstorm. Posted highway speeds vary from 25 to 45 miles per hour. Cars, taxis, and buses often stop unexpectedly in the middle of the road to pick up or discharge passengers.

Regional travel throughout the Bahamas is principally by commercial, charter, and private aircraft. Fares on car ferries serving Eleuthera, Andros, and Abaco from Nassau are $200 for a car and two passengers, or $59 for foot passengers. Some travelers use the services of interisland mailboats. More than 20 mailboats depart Nassau for the Family Islands each week; one way fares range from $20 to $45.

Several direct flights connect Nassau with major American airports daily. American Eagle provides hourly service to Miami. Bahamasair, Delta, U.S. Air, Carnival Airlines, Paradise Island Airlines, and others provide direct service to Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, New York, Orlando, and West Palm Beach. Air Canada has flights to Toronto on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday only. Schedules change frequently.


Telephone and Telegraph

New Providence (Nassau) has a 24-hour telephone and telegraph service provided by the Bahamas Telecommunications Corporation (BATELCO). BATELCO has in the past few years completed systems upgrades, modernization, and increased features for its customers. For instance, direct dialing service is now available to 120 countries around the world, including the U.S., except Alaska. Direct dial calls are considerably less than for operator-assisted calls. For example, a 3 minute night call to Virginia costs $1.05, whereas the same operator assisted call costs $6. In some overseas areas the savings are more dramatic; a 3 minute call to Switzerland is $4 if dialed directly, whereas an operator assisted call costs $l5. New digital exchanges have enabled BATELCO to offer several new features in addition to the standard services. Two speed calling services are now available. The eight most frequently called numbers can be reached by dialing only one digit. The other allows calls to 30 most frequently dialed numbers by dialing just two digits. Both services include long distance direct dial numbers. Other services available include call-forwarding and three-person conference calls. These new features and services are not yet available to all subscribers, although some 90 to 95% of the population is currently covered.

While BATELCO has made dramatic strides in modernizing its equipment and in expanding its range of services, it is still plagued by chronic problems associated with growth and older equipment. In some areas of Nassau, customers have waited months and even years for a telephone line. In other areas, frequent malfunctions occur and telephones can be out of order for weeks. The quality of calls to the U.S. is excellent. BATELCO maintains an over-the-horizon link with Florida City and a submarine cable links Nassau, Grand Bahama Island, and West Palm Beach, Florida. The quality of calls to other overseas locations is comparable to calls placed from U.S. telephones.

The monthly rental charge for one basic telephone instrument is $9.50, with additional costs for added features and extensions.

Telegrams may be telephoned to the telegraph office and charged on the regular telephone bill. Full rate telegrams to the U.S. cost $.24 per word and night letters cost $.l2 per word (minimum 22 words).

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

While at times strained by the volume of cases, adequate medical facilities and sufficiently trained physicians in Nassau provide reliable medical care for most routine needs. The principal hospital is the government-operated Princess Margaret Hospital offering 24-hour emergency medical service and has 484 beds. Doctors Hospital is privately owned and operated, and has 72 beds and offers 24-hour emergency medical services. Rooms are considerably more expensive than those in Princess Margaret. Both are located in downtown Nassau. On the western end of New Providence in Lyford Cay, the Western Medical Clinic has a l4-bed care facility with a four-bed intensive care unit. It specializes in plastic and reconstructive surgery. The hospital houses the cardiac diagnostic center providing such services as doppler echocardiography, 24-hour electrocardiograms, exercise electrocardiograms, and facilities for pacemaker implantations and evaluations. The Sandilands Rehabilitation Center, with 344 beds, is a psychiatric hospital and a 133-bed geriatrics facility, including a maximum security unit, a child and family guidance center, and a combined substance abuse facility for drug and alcoholic patients.

Nassau has over 111 physicians including specialists in pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, dermatology, cardiology, gastroenterology, nephrology, neurosurgery, ophthalmology, orthopedics, anesthetics, pathology, radiology, and internal medicine. Among the 42 dentists in Nassau, two are oral surgeons.

Most doctors and dentists attended medical or dental schools either in the U.S., Canada, or the United Kingdom. The ophthalmological service at Princess Margaret Hospital is partially staffed by Yale Medical School ophthalmology residents who rotate every three months.

Community Health

Nassau has no major medical hazards. The water, however, tends to be brackish, and at times is not potable. Some visitors have experienced gastroenteritis, vomiting, and diarrhea after drinking tap water. These symptoms usually run 24-72 hours and subside without medication. Tuberculosis, hepatitis, and malaria have been reported among Haitian refugees living in close quarters, but no major outbreaks have occurred.

Newcomers should be aware that at certain times of the year, some large predatory fish which feed from reef environment food chains contain a neurotoxin (ciguatera) that can produce diarrhea, vomiting, muscle aches, dysesthesia (abnormal sensations), paresthesia (numbness and tingling) of the mouth and extremities, itching, and severe headaches. Neurological symptoms can last a few days, several months, or years. No known specific treatment for ciguatera exists. Barracuda and certain species of jack and grouper have been known to cause ciguatera. Deep ocean fish such as shark, marlin, salmon, and tuna do not feed on the reef and therefore are usually safe. Lobster, shrimp, and other shellfish are not affected. Occasionally, food poisoning associated with raw or "scorched" conch occurs, usually from improper handling by street vendors.

Preventive Measures

No serious, prevalent, endemic diseases exist in Nassau. Sanitary standards for food handlers, barbers, and beauticians are high. Food is imported from the U.S., Europe, and New Zealand and subject to inspection by the country of origin. Locally produced dairy foods meet U.S. health and sanitary standards. No special preparation of fruit and vegetables is required. Sewage is adequate but, in some low areas where drainage is poor, septic tanks and drainage pits require frequent waste water removal.

Although New Providence has no poisonous snakes, it does have poisonous insects, such as black widow spiders and scorpions. Certain types of coral formations can cause severe skin irritation and spiny sea urchins can cause severe foot infections if stepped on. No known cases of rabid animals have been reported on New Providence Island.


Passage, Customs and Duties

Ample flights are available on American air carriers and should be used. Bahamasair, which flies the Miami-Nassau route, is a Bahamian carrier.

For the traveler who may have forgotten that airplanes were once powered only by propellers, Paradise Island Airlines, an American carrier, offers flights from downtown Miami and Fort Lauderdale International Airport in an amphibious, propeller-driven aircraft. The flights land in Nassau Harbor.

U.S. citizens must present original proof of U.S. citizenship (a valid or expired passport, a certified U.S. birth certificate or a Certificate of Naturalization), photo identification, and an onward/return ticket for entry into The Bahamas. Voter registration cards, driver's licenses, affidavits and other similar documents are not acceptable as proof of U.S. citizenship. Visas are not required for U.S. citizens for stays up to eight months. There is an airport departure tax of $15 for travelers age six years and older. For further information, U.S. citizens may contact the Embassy of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, 2220 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 319-2660, or the Bahamian consulates in Miami or New York. Additional information is available on The Bahamas Tourist Board web site at or telephone 1-800-422-4262, and on the official web site of the Government of the Bahamas at

The Bahamas Dangerous Drug Act makes it an offense for an unauthorized person to import, export, or be in possession of marijuana, morphine, opium, or lysergic acid (LSD) in the Bahamas. The provisions of this Act are strictly enforced.

Firearms & Ammunition

It is illegal to import firearms or ammunition into The Bahamas or to possess a firearm in the country without appropriate permission. Tourists who arrive by private boat are required to declare firearms to Bahamian Customs and leave firearms on the boat while in The Bahamas. Penalties for illegal possession of a firearm or ammunition are strict and can involve heavy fines, lengthy prison terms, or both. For further information on firearms in The Bahamas, please contact the Embassy of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas in Washington, D.C., or the Bahamian consulates in Miami or New York

Americans living in or visiting The Bahamas are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Nassau and obtain updated information on travel and security within The Bahamas. The U.S. Embassy is located next to McDonald's restaurant on Queen Street in downtown Nassau; telephone (242) 322-1181, after hours: (242) 328-2206. The Consular Section hours are 8:00 a.m.-12 noon, Monday-Friday, except local and U.S. holidays. The U.S. Embassy is also responsible for consular services in the Turks and Caicos Islands, an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. The Consular Information Sheet for the British West Indies provides additional information on the Turks and Caicos Islands.


Boaters should be aware that long-line fishing in Bahamian waters is illegal. All long-line fishing gear must be stowed below deck while transiting through Bahamian waters. Fishermen should note that stiff penalties are imposed for catching crawfish (lobster) or other marine life out of season or in protected areas.

U.S. citizens should exercise caution when considering time-share investments and be aware of the aggressive tactics used by some time-share sales representatives. Bahamian law allows time-share purchasers five days to cancel the contract for full reimbursement. Disputes that arise after that period can be very time-consuming and expensive to resolve through the local legal system.


There are no known cases of rabid animals in the Bahamas. No pit bulls and no dogs under six months of age are permitted to enter the Bahamas.

An Import Permit is required from the Bahamian Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries for all animals brought to the Bahamas. Applications for such permits should be made several weeks in advance to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, P.O. Box N-3028, Nassau, Bahamas. The telephone number is (809) 322-1277.

Dogs and cats over the age of 6 months, imported from the U.S. or Canada, must be accompanied by a Veterinary Health Certificate issued within 24 hours of embarkation and a certificate of Rabies Vaccination issued not less than 10 days or more than 9 months before.

Pets under 6 months do not require a Rabies Vaccination Certificate, but must have a Veterinary Health Certificate. Dogs under six months are not permitted to enter.

Dogs and cats traveling to the U.S. from the Bahamas need a Health Certificate issued within 24 hours of departure. If you intend to ship pets to the U.S., check with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Inspector at Nassau International Airport well in advance of planned travel to confirm this policy.

Disaster Preparedness

The Bahamas, like all countries in the Caribbean basin, is subject to the threat of hurricanes. Hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to November 30, although hurricanes have been known to occur outside that time period. Visitors to The Bahamas during hurricane season are advised to monitor weather reports in order to be prepared for any potential threats. General information about disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures

Virtually all stores, restaurants, hotels, and other commercial facilities accept American currency, which is on par with the Bahamian dollar. Major credit cards and travelers checks are also widely accepted. No restriction is placed on the amount of currency brought into or taken out of the Bahamas.

American currency, usually exchanged on a one-to-one basis with Bahamian dollars, can be used throughout the Bahamas. Most major stores, hotels, and restaurants will accept major credit cards and travelers checks, but will not accept a personal check without a check cashing card (Chekard).

Standard U.S. weights and measures are used in the Bahamas.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Mar/Apr. Good Friday*

Mar/Apr. Easter Monday*

Mar/Apr. Easter Monday*



June (first Friday) Labour Day

July 10 Independence Day

Aug. 3Emancipation Day

Oct. 12 Discovery Day

Dec. 25 Christmas Day

Dec. 26 Boxing Day



These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country.

The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Ajlouny, Joe. The Bahamas: A Colorful & Concise History. Oak Park, MI: JSA Publications, 1989.

Blount, S. Diving and Snorkeling Guide to the Bahamas. Houston, TX: Pisces Books, 1991.

Christmas, R.J. Fielding's Bermuda and the Bahamas. New York: Fielding Travel Books, 1990.

Collinwood, Dean W. The Bahamas Between Worlds. Decatur, IL: White Sound Press, 1989.

Dalleo, Peter T. The New Bahamian History: Africa's Image Revisited. Decatur, IL: White Sound Press, 1988.

Dupuch, Jr., Etienne, BahamasHandbook and Businessman's Annual. Nassau.

Fodor's Bahamas 1992. New York:McKay, 1992.

Fox, L. Romantic Island Getaways. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1991.

Greenfield, Eloise. Under the Sunday Tree. New York: Harper Collins Children's Books, 1988.

Johnson, Dr. Doris, The Quiet Revolution. Nassau.

Lloyd, H. Isles of Eden. Akron, OH:Benjamin Publishing, 1991.

McCulla, Patricia E. Bahamas. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

Marshall, Dawn I., The Haitian Problem, Illegal Migration to the Bahamas. Kingston, Jamaica.

Saunders, Dr. Gail, Islanders In The Stream. University of Georgia, 1992.

Stone, William T., and Anne M. Hays. A Cruising Guide to the Caribbean: Including the North Coast of South America, Central, & Yucatan. New York: Putnam Publishing Group, 1991.

White, Virginia. The Outermost Island: An Oral History of San Salvador, the Bahamas. Port Charlotte, FL: Bahamian Field Station, 1987.

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The Bahamas


Commonwealth of the Bahamas



The Bahamas is a chain of 700 islands and about 2,000 cays (low islands or reefs of sand or coral). However, only 29 of the islands are inhabited. The Bahamas is in the North Atlantic Ocean on the eastern edge of the Caribbean, just 72 kilometers (45 miles) southeast of Florida. It has an area of 13,939 square kilometers (5,382 square miles) and is a bit smaller than Connecticut. The islands have a total coastline of 3,542 square kilometers (1,368 square miles). The largest city in the nation is Nassau, the capital, and the second largest is Freeport.


The population of the Bahamas was estimated to be 294,982 in July 2000. The nation has a high birth rate with 19.54 births per 1,000 people compared with 6.81 deaths per 1,000. The fertility rate is 2.33 children born per woman. Because of the increase in AIDS, the infant mortality rate is high, with 16.99 deaths per 1,000 inhabitants. The population is young, with 30 percent under the age of 15 and only 6 percent over 65. Life expectancy is 68.25 years for men and 73.94 years for women. The rate of people moving out of the country is high at 2.67 per 1,000 people. These combined facts give the nation an overall growth rate of 1.01 percent. By 2015, the islands are expected to have a population of 330,000.

Bahamians are primarily of African descent (85 percent). People of European ancestry make up 12 percent of the population and the remaining 3 percent is of Asian or Hispanic origin. English is the official language, and religious worship is largely Christian. The Baptist church has the biggest following (32 percent), with the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Protestant churches well represented. The literacy rate is high, almost 100 percent.

Most Bahamians reside in urban areas, with two-thirds of the population living on New Providence Island where Nassau is located. Many others live in or near Freeport on Grand Bahama Island. There are small settlements throughout the outer islands, called the "Family Islands".


Tourism and financial services dominate the economy of the Bahamas. Tourism is the main economic sector, accounting for 60 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and employing almost half of the population. The government has undertaken extensive marketing to attract visitors and bring foreign investment to the tourist vacation industry. The importance of tourism to the Bahamas makes the nation reliant on the economic fortunes of vacation-oriented nations, particularly the United States from where most of its visitors come.

The country has benefited from its status as a tax haven and international banking center. To exploit this advantage, the Bahamian government has passed laws aimed at encouraging foreign companies to incorporate themselves there, and has created free trade areas where goods can be trans-shipped without being taxed. Many shipping firms use the Bahamas to register their vessels.

The mild climate of the islands and their proximity to the United States make the Bahamas an ideal tourist destination for Americans. It is also ideally situated for American companies to relocate to avoid U.S. corporate taxes. The nation is also aided by its history of political stability and the sound infrastructure of the main islands. However, the geographical position of the archipelago makes it vulnerable to natural disasters such as hurricanes and tropical storms.

A negative effect of the Bahamas' proximity to the United States is that international criminals often use the country as a base for their activities. The main criminal activities involve smuggling of illicit drugs, illegal immigrants, and money laundering . The government cooperates closely with the United States, which provides substantial aid in anti-narcotic initiatives, in attempting to counter these problems.

The nation has a small fisheries industry and exports limited quantities of lobster and other fish. The main manufacturing company is PFC Bahamas, which makes pharmaceutical products. BORCO maintains an oil refinery in the islands and several breweries in the islands produce rum and assorted beers for export to the United States and Western Europe. Freeport has repair facilities for cruise ships.

The Bahamian government has tied its currency to the U.S. dollar, which has helped maintain economic stability. The country has been the recipient of generous foreign aid that includes bilateral assistance from nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom, and multilateral aid from organizations such as the European Union (EU).


A British colony from 1717, the Bahamas was granted self-government by the British in 1964 and full independence in 1973. A parliamentary democracy and a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, the country's traditions and its legal system closely resemble those of Great Britain. The British monarch is the chief of state and is represented in the islands by an appointed governor general. The head of the government is an elected prime minister, who presides over a bicameral (2-chamber) legislature consisting of the House of Assembly and the Senate. The House has 40 elected members who serve 5-year terms and the Senate consists of 16 members, also serving for 5 years, appointed by the governor general after consultation with the prime minister and the leader of the opposition.

There are 2 main political parties in the Bahamas: the Free National Movement (FNM) and the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). The FNM has controlled the government since 1992. Its main priority has been economic development and the diversification of the economy. A related priority has been job creation, including worker retraining. As part of this effort, the government has engaged in privatization initiatives since 1992, which included the selling of all but one of the formerly state-owned hotels. The government-owned telecommunications company, Batelco, is being privatized and there are proposals for the sale of its national airline, Bahamasair, as well as the Bahamas Electric Company. Nonetheless, with a total work-force of 22,000, the state remains the largest employer in the islands.

As part of efforts to diversify the economy are programs to develop the fishing industry in particular, the government has opened 2 shrimp hatcheries. Government infrastructure programs also contribute to the economies of the Family Islands by providing jobs. In 1990, the government enacted the International Business Companies Act to reduce the cost to foreign companies of incorporating in the Bahamas. This is a clear success: on top of the presence of 415 banks, by 2000 84,000 companies had incorporated themselves in the Bahamas.

The Bahamas has one of the lowest levels of taxation in the world. Bahamians do not pay income or sales taxes, and there are no corporate taxes. Government revenue comes from import duties , business license fees, stamp duties, and departure tax. The government's budget for 2001 was US$998 million, with most funds earmarked for social services, including US$178.64 million for education and US$142.36 million for health care. US$103.86 million was given to law enforcement, most of it to be spent on measures to combat the drug trade.

The government supports efforts to reduce trade barriers in the hemisphere. It has entered into negotiations for a Free Trade Area of the Americas. However, since the majority of state revenue comes from trade tariffs , the government needs to develop new sources of revenue and taxation. Nonetheless, it adamantly refuses to consider any form of income tax .

The judiciary is independent and the legal system is based on British common law. Since independence, the Bahamian government has adopted business legislation from American models of commercial law. The legal system is fair and impartial, though many foreign companies have charged that the system is slow and often favors Bahamian companies over their competitors. Partly in response to these complaints, the government began reforms in 1993 to overhaul the system. Much of the reform effort has been funded by aid from the United States.


The Bahamas has a good infrastructure for a developing nation and the government is engaged in a long-term program to improve roads and communications. Major road construction has been completed in Nassau and on the Family Islands, which have also benefited from improvements in their electricity systems and airports. Traffic congestion has been alleviated in Nassau and a second bridge built between Nassau and Paradise Island. The islands have 2,693 kilometers (1,673 miles) of roads, of which 1,546 kilometers (960 miles) are paved. The water systems in Nassau and the Family Islands have been upgraded.

The islands have 62 airports, but only 33 are paved and only 2 have more than 3,047 meters (9,998 feet) of paved runways, and there is 1 heliport. The 3 main seaports are in Freeport, Matthew Town, and Nassau. Regular air and sea service is available between the inhabited islands, and between the United States and the Bahamas. Since the government allows foreign ships to register themselves under the Bahamian flag, there is a large merchant marine of 1,075 ships, which includes vessels from 49 separate nations. The largest number of ships belong to Norway (177), Greece (141), and the United Kingdom (113). Turmoil in Liberia, where many companies had their vessels registered, has caused several to switch registration to the Bahamas (21 in 2000).

Telecommunication service is widely available but installation and maintenance of equipment is slow by North American standards. There are 4 Internet providers in Nassau and the Cable Bahamas company has been granted a license to establish a center to provide web hosting sites for foreign companies. The company has also announced plans to build a US$15 million fiber-optic system to create a high-speed communication system between the Bahamas and the United States.

The country is self-sufficient in electricity, which is supplied by fossil fuel. Electricity production amounted to 1.34 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 1998, while consumption was 1.246 billion kWh.

Country Telephones a Telephones, Mobile/Cellular a Radio Stations b Radios a TV Stations a Televisions a Internet Service Providers c Internet Users c
Bahamas 96,000 6,152 AM 3;FM 4; shortwave 0 215,000 1 67,000 19 15,000
United States 194 M 69.209 M (1998) AM 4,762; FM 5,542; shortwave 18 575 M 1,500 219 M 7,800 148 M
Jamaica 353,000 (1996) 54,640 (1996) AM 10; FM 13; shortwave 0 1.215 M 7 460,000 21 60,000
St. Lucia 37,000 1,600 AM 2; FM 7; shortwave 0 111,000 3 32,000 15 5,000
aData is for 1997 unless otherwise noted.
bData is for 1998 unless otherwise noted.
cData is for 2000 unless otherwise noted.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online].


Most of the Bahamas' GDP comes from tourism and financial services, and there is little industry. There is, however, some production of minerals, consisting of cement, salt, sand, and gravel. One of the main labor-intensive industries is construction, which continues to expand because of the building of new housing, even as commercial construction has declined over the past few years.

Tourism is the economic backbone of the Bahamas. It provides the biggest percentage of the nation's GDP and employs more people than any other economic sector. Financial services form the second chief component of the economy, encompassing banking, insurance, stocks and bonds, and mutual funds.

There is about 1 percent of arable land throughout the islands but plenty of fresh water. With 32 percent of the land comprised of forest, timber is a plentiful natural resource. Most agricultural production is on Grand Bahama Island and the outer islands. While the cultivation of several crops, notably ornamental plants and citrus fruits, has expanded, the farming of poultry and livestock has declined. The government has aggressively looked for foreign investment to improve crop quality and output, while its support for fisheries has improved output and profits.


The Bahamas is a net importer of foodstuffs, buying 80 percent of its consumables. Agriculture and fisheries make up about 5 percent of GDP and about 5 percent of employment. Also, temporary jobs become available during the harvest season and during specific fishing seasons, such as the lobster harvest. Companies have requested that they be allowed to use foreign workers during harvests but the government usually refuses such requests.

The islands' primary crops are bananas, corn, and, by far the most important, sugar cane. In 1998 sugar cane provided 45,000 metric tons of the total crop production of 46,200 metric tons. In addition, beef and veal, chicken, and pork are raised. There are 240,000 acres of land used for agriculture, mostly on the outer islands. Most farms are small and most products are for domestic consumption. Because of the 1999 hurricane season, crop output fell 16.5 percent or US$8.8 million, and poultry and meat production declined by US$6.4 million. However, the output of ornamental plants increased by 11.2 percent. Citrus production has also increased in the past few years.

There have been continued increases in fish output. Total harvests in 1999 were 6.3 million pounds with a value of US$74.1 million (a 4.3 percent increase from the previous year). Lobster or crawfish make up 88 percent of total output and rose by 23 percent in 2000. Fish production will continue to expand and diversify as the government establishes new fish farms and funds efforts to broaden harvests to new species.


In 1999, the small industrial sector of the Bahamas only made up about 5 percent of the nation's GDP and 5 percent of employment. Government infrastructure projects and private construction provide the main industrial activity. The 1 shipyard in the Bahamas is at Freeport and it specializes in the repair of passenger or cruise ships. There is limited production of minerals. Sand is dredged off the Bahamas Bank and used for limestone and the production of commercial sand, which supply the local construction industry. There is also limited production of salt for export to the United States.

The pharmaceutical company, PFC Bahamas, produces a small quantity of products for export and the oil company, BORCO, has a refinery in the islands, but these are individual enterprises and do not represent any large industrial presence. There is a substantial brewing industry. Companies such as Bacardi, Inc., distill rum and other spirits in the islands, while other international breweries such as Commonwealth Brewery, produce different beers including the Heineken, Guinness, and Kalik brands.

The construction industry seemed to peak in 1998 with the completion of several new resorts. By 1999, new construction projects had fallen by 15.9 percent, with 817 continuing commercial projects valued at US$123 million. However, private housing completions were up by 18.3 percent with a value of US$112.1 million. This reflects an increasing demand for more upscale housing in the nation.


Tourism dominates the Bahamian economy. In 1999, 3.65 million people visited the islands, with 2.2 million of them arriving by cruise ship. Revenue from tourism made up 60 percent of the nation's GDP. The average tourist spent US$958 while vacationing in the Bahamas, and tourist spending overall amounted to US$1.5 billion. In 2000, there were about 81,700 people employed in the tourist industry. Most visitors are from the United States (83 percent in 1999). However, in recent years the number of European tourists has increased by 9 percent.

The largest resort in the island is the 2,340 room mega-resort Atlantis, which is owned by Sun International. It employs 5,500 people and is the second largest employer in the nation after the government. Other major resorts in the islands include Club Med (popular with the French), Sandals (attracting the British), and Holiday Inn. The Grand Bahama Development Company plans to spend US$50 million upgrading airport and cruise ship facilities to accommodate an additional 555,000 visitors per year.

Although the majority of the tourist industry in the Bahamas has been driven by private enterprise, the Bahamian government did own 20 percent of the hotel accommodations in 1992. Privatization programs since that time have reduced the government holdings to 5 percent.

All major cruise lines operate services to the Bahamas. To extend the stay of passengers, the government has enacted legislation that allows ships to open their casinos and stores only if they remain in port for more than 18 hours.

Thanks to the tourist trade, retail companies prosper in the Bahamas. There is a strong preference for recognizable name-brand products, and major American brands do well in the islands. However, the government requires that retail and wholesale businesses be Bahamian-owned.

In 1995, the government changed laws to allow betting on sporting events. Gambling is permitted on events both in the Bahamas and elsewhere in the world. The same law also lowered the taxes on winnings in casinos that are smaller than 10,000 square feet, which has resulted in the proliferation of sports bars and small casinos.

The financial services sector is the second chief component of the Bahamian economy. In 1998, this sector added US$300 million to the economy and employed 4,000 people, accounting for some 15 percent of the GDP. Government legislation has also encouraged the formation of international companies known as shell corporations, which are established to hide or protect their assets from national taxes at home by incorporating themselves in a foreign nation. As a result there are over 100,000 such corporations. Although many of these firms employ Bahamians, they add little to the nation's economy since they essentially act as conduits for transferring money.


The Bahamian economy is dependent on trade with the United States. Most of the tourists that visit the nation are from the United States, and there are 110 American-owned businesses in the islands. In addition, 55 percent of Bahamian imports come from the United States, and American distributors also handle many of the nation's other imports. Other than the United States, which supplies 27.3 percent of Bahamians imports, the Bahamas' other main import partners are Italy with 26.5 percent, Japan with 10 percent, and Denmark with 4.2 percent. The country's main export partners are the United States at 22.3 percent, Switzerland at 15.6 percent, the United Kingdom at 15 percent, and Denmark at 7.4 percent. In 1998, the Bahamas had exports of US$300 million and imports of US$1.87 billion.

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Bahamas
Exports Imports
1975 2.508 2.697
1980 5.009 7.546
1985 2.707 3.078
1990 .241 1.112
1995 .176 1.243
1998 .300 1.872
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.
Exchange rates: Bahamas
Bahamian dollar (B$) per US$1
2001 1.000
2000 1.000
1999 1.000
1998 1.000
1997 1.000
1996 1.000
Note: Fixed rate pegged to the US dollar.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

The government supports efforts to set up a free trade area that would end tariffs and other taxes on goods imported from or exported to members of the agreement in the Caribbean region. However, since most of the Bahamas' revenue comes from tariffs and duties on imported goods, the government would have to dramatically change its tax system.


The Bahamian dollar is fixed to the U.S. dollar on a one-to-one exchange ratio. As such, the Bahamian currency is dependent on the strength or weakness of the U.S. dollar.

There are over 400 banks in the Bahamas, but only 9 are regular, full-service commercial institutions. The others specialize in international banking and investment. In 1998, the government established the Bahamas Financial Services Board to promote the nation as a major financial center and to coordinate financial services. In 2000 the Bahamas International Securities Exchange was launched as the nation's first stock market.


Although the Bahamas suffers from extremes of wealth and poverty, the standard of living is high and the

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Bahamas 8,030 12,727 13,835 13,919 N/A
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Jamaica 1,819 1,458 1,353 1,651 1,559
St. Lucia N/A 2,076 2,150 3,542 3,907
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.

average per capita income in 1998 was US$14,492. On many outer islands, where the people exist as subsistence farmers and fishermen, modern amenities, including sanitation, are badly lacking. Meanwhile, the standard of living in Nassau and Freeport is the same as many highly developed nations. The poverty rate in the Bahamas has declined from about 9 percent in 1993 to about 5 percent, which is low by international standards and points to an improved economy.

The United Nations Human Development Report 2000 ranks the Bahamas high in human development, placing it at number 33 in the world. This ranking is based on a combination of per capita income, standard of living, and access to health care, education, and so forth.


In 1999, the labor force was estimated at 156,000. The unemployment rate was 9 percent by 1998 estimates. Except for members of the police, military, and fire departments, under the constitution of the Bahamas all workers have the right to join unions. About 25 percent of the workforce are unionized, but for workers in the hotel industry the rate is closer to 50 percent. Children under the age of 14 are not allowed to work during school hours or in industrial jobs, and those under the age of 16 may not work at night. There is no national minimum wage, but government employees earn a minimum of

Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Bahamas 32 4 5 3 8 9 41
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Jamaica 24 7 3 1 9 8 48
St. Lucia 40 5 11 4 17 11 11
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
a Excludes energy used for transport.
b Includes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

US$4.12 per hour. The working week is limited to 48 hours and there is mandatory overtime pay for hours that exceed this limit.


1492. Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus lands in the Bahamas.

1500s. The Spanish conduct raids in the islands and enslave the Lucian Indians, who are sent to work the gold and silver mines in Central and South America. Over a 25-year period, the native tribes of the Bahamas are wiped out.

1647. British religious refugees settle on Eleuthera Island.

1717. The Bahamas becomes a British Crown Colony.

1718. Woodes Rogers, the first governor of the colony, drives out pirates who were based in the islands.

1700s. Sugar cane production becomes the main source of revenue in the colony.

1861-65. The Bahamas becomes a center for Confederate blockade raiders during the American Civil War.

1917-33. The Bahamas again becomes a center for American smugglers, this time for those transporting illegal alcohol into the United States during the Prohibition period.

1939-45. The Allies use the Bahamas as a base for air and naval operations during World War II.

1964. The nation is granted self-government.

1973. The Bahamas gains full independence.

1992. After 25 years of rule, the United Bahamian Party loses power to the FNM.


The economy of the Bahamas remains dependent on tourists, especially from the United States, and is therefore vulnerable to downturns in the prosperity of Americans. The government has started efforts to diversify the economy and the success of these initiatives will determine how badly the islands may suffer from future problems with the U.S. economy. The nation's dependency on tourism makes it vulnerable to competition from other destinations. The development and expansion of the tourist trade elsewhere in the Caribbean stands to have a negative effect on tourism in the Bahamas. The islands are also subject to disruption from hurricanes and other weather-related disasters.

Efforts to develop a free trade area in the region will require a dramatic restructuring of the Bahamian economy since most of the government's revenue come from tariffs and duties on imported goods. Yet, the establishment of a free trade area could well attract more foreign businesses to the islands, since they would be able to use the Bahamas as a strategic base for economic interaction with the United States. The Bahamas would also be able to expand its international financial services sector as other islands in the Caribbean have done.


The Bahamas has no territories or colonies.


Eneas, William J. Godfrey. Agriculture in the Bahamas: Historical Development, 1492-1992. New York: Media Publishing, 1998.

Sealey, Neal E. The Bahamas Today: An Introduction to the Human and Economic Geography of the Bahamas. London: Macmillan Caribbean, 1993.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2000. <>. Accessed August 2001.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2001. <>. Accessed September 2001.

U.S. Department of State. Background Notes: The Bahamas. 1999. <>. Accessed August 2001.

. 1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: The Bahamas. 2000. <>. Accessed August 2001.

. FY 2001 Country Commercial Guide: The Bahamas. <>. Accessed August 2001.

Tom Lansford




Bahamian dollar (B$). One Bahamian dollar equals 100 cents. The Bahamas issues bank notes of B$0.50, 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 15, 25, and 50 cents.


Pharmaceuticals, cement, rum, crawfish, refined petroleum products.


Foodstuffs, manufactured goods, crude oil, vehicles, electronics.


US$4.5 billion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).


Exports: US$376.8 million (2000 est.). Imports: US$1.73 billion (2000 est.).

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Identification. The name "Bahamas" derives from baja mar (Spanish: shallow water). The best-known islands in the Bahamas island chain, from northwest to southeast, are Grand Bahama, the Abacos, the Biminis, New Providence, Eleuthera, Andros, Cat, San Salvador, the Exumas, Long, Crooked, Acklins, Mayaguana, and Inagua. Turks and Caicos, at the southeast end of the island chain, are a British crown colony; the two islands were separated from the Bahamas in 1848.

Location. The Bahama Islands, a chain of islands, reefs, and cays lying southeast off the Florida coast of North America, extend over 942 kilometers from 20°56 to 27°56 N and between 72°40 and 79°20 W. Depending upon the count, there are twenty-nine islands and 661 cays. The total land area is approximately 14,000 square kilometers. (These measurements and figures do not include the Turks and Caicos.) The largest islands in the group are rimmed with sandy beaches and coconut groves. Low-lying hills, seldom exceeding a height of 30 meters, run the length of these islands. Pine forests grow on many of the ridges. The Bahamas have a subtropical climate, with an annual mean daily temperature of 25° C; the mean for the coldest month, February, is 22° C, and for the warmest, August, 28° C. Rainfall, concentrated in the late-summer months, averages about 125 centimeters per year.

Demography. The population was estimated at 268,726 in July 1993. The official census of 1980 placed the population at 209,505. Of the thirty inhabited islands and cays, the most densely populated is New Providence, with 171,502 residents (almost 70 percent of the total population) in an area of only 208 square kilometers. Andros, the largest island, with an area of 5,980 square kilometers, had a population of 8,155. Approximately 85 percent of the population is of African origin. Of the Whites, some 25,000 are native Bahamians; the rest are largely British, American, and Canadian expatriates. Most White Bahamians live on New Providence, the Abacos, and Grand Bahama.

Linguistic Affiliation. Standard English is the official language of the Bahamas. Creolized English, termed "Bahamian dialect" is the language of working-class Bahamians. Many White Bahamians and middle-class Bahamians of African ancestry speak varieties of English that fall between Standard and creolized English. All Bahamians understand standard English, and many can converse in several dialects.

History and Cultural Relations

The Bahamas were discovered by Europeans in 1492, when Columbus made his first landing in the West Indies on San Salvador, or Watlings Island. The Spaniards transported the aboriginal population of Lucayan Indians to Hispaniola and Cuba to work in mines, and within twentyfive years of Columbus's arrival the islands were depopulated. During the latter half of the seventeenth century the islands were colonized by English settlers, who brought along their slaves. By 1773 the population, which totaled approximately 4,000, had an equal number of Europeans and people of African origin. Between 1783 and 1785 many Loyalists who had been expelled from the American colonies immigrated to the islands with their slaves. These slaves, or their parents, had originally been transported to the New World from West Africa during the eighteenth century to work on cotton plantations. This influx to the Bahamas increased the number of Whites to approximately 3,000 and the number of slaves of African ancestry to approximately 6,000. Most of the slave plantations established by the Loyalists in the Bahamas were on the "Cotton Islands"Cat Island, the Exumas, Long Island, Crooked Island, San Salvador, and Rum Cay. At first they were successful economic enterprises; after 1800, however, the production of cotton declined because the slash-and-burn technique used to prepare the fields for planting depleted the soil. Following the emancipation of slaves in the British Empire in 1838, some departing plantation owners gave their land to their former slaves, and many of these freed slaves adopted the names of their former owners in gratitude. At the time of Emancipation the English captured a number of Spanish ships transporting slaves taken in the Congo, the primary site of slave-trade activity after 1800, and brought their human cargo to special village settlements on New Providence and some of the other islands, including Long Island. The newly freed Congo slaves who went to the Exumas and Long Island intermarried with former slaves who were tilling the soil of the abandoned plantations. With the increased number of occupants on already depleted land, many were forced to migrate and Long Island and the Exumas experienced a decline in population after 1861. From the middle of the nineteenth century onward, Bahamians sought ways to bring prosperity to the islands. During the U.S. Civil War they engaged in blockade-running and gunrunning from New Providence to the southern states. Later attempts at large-scale export of agricultural products, such as pineapple and sisal, failed as more successful growers emerged elsewhere. Sponge gathering flourished early in the twentieth century but suffered a severe setback with the advent of a widespread sponge disease in the 1930s. Rum-running to the United States, a lucrative enterprise, ended with the repeal of Prohibition. World War II created a demand for migrant agricultural laborers to fill jobs abandoned by Americans newly recruited into industry and the military, and Bahamians seized the opportunity to "go on the contract" on the U.S. mainland. The most enduring prosperity for the Bahamas has come from tourism; New Providence has evolved from a wintering place for the very wealthy, as it was in the nineteenth century, to the center of a massive tourist industry that it is today.


A rimless, many-spoked wheel superimposed upon the islands depicts the relationship of New Providence, where the capital, Nassau, is located, to the other islands (out islands, or the Family Islands, as the government prefers to call them) ; it also depicts the isolation of the individual islands. Nassau is a magnet for people from the out islands who seek both residence and employment. The second-largest city is Freeport, on the island of Grand Bahama (population: 41,035); like Nassau, it is a tourist center. The third-largest settlement is Marsh Harbor on Abaco Island. Most settlements are villages of scattered houses located near the shore (e.g., the settlement of Long Bay Cays consists of villages spread out over a distance of 11 kilometers). Nucleated villages are found on offshore cays such as Green Turtle Cay and Abaco. Mail boats, which also carry supplies and passengers, link the settlements to Nassau but not directly to one another.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Bahamian economy is based mostly on tourism and offshore banking. The commercial-agriculture and industrial sectors are comparatively small. From 1981 to 1990, tourist arrivals increased an average 8.5 percent per year, owing to an almost threefold increase in the number of cruise-ship visitors. In 1990, 3,628,372 tourists visited the islands; half of them arrived by sea and 1,561,600 stayed twenty-four hours or more. U.S. citizens comprise 85 percent of the tourist population. Expenditures by tourists totaled $369.1 million in 1981 and $1.26 billion in 1990. (The Bahamian dollar is kept equivalent to the U.S. dollar.) The government is promoting agricultural development to fill the gaps left by exploitive foreign companies that have pulled out of the Bahamas. Subsistence farming has been carried on in the out islands since the first settlements. Two important crops are Indian maize, used for grits, and pigeon peas, which are added to imported rice to make the national dish, peas and rice. Some men in the out islands fish for their families and sell extra fish to neighbors.

Industrial Arts. Industry is scarcely developed. Two major exports are the spiny lobster and crude salt. Beer and rum are produced for local consumption and for export.

Trade. Nearly everything that Bahamians need is imported, from automobiles to food. Indeed, over half of the government's revenue is derived from general import taxes. Total revenues exceed $600 million.

Division of Labor. The government is the number-one provider of employment. Hotels and resorts, as a group, are a major employer, and banks are primarily operated by Bahamians. In the out islands, men and women perform many of the same jobs. Most men are farmers and fishermen; their wives, housekeepers and farmers. To earn the cash needed to purchase groceries, clothes, and household furnishings, men and women must perform wage labor. Since there are few paying jobs in the out islands, most Bahamians go off to seek jobs in Nassau and Freeport, often leaving their children in the care of grandparents.


Kin Groups and Descent. A person's kindred includes all known consanguineal relatives. In most areas of the Bahamas, a man will not marry a female member of his kindred. A person's descendants form an unrestricted descent group or a descending kindred. Land held in common by the descent group is called "generation property." Unilineal descent groups are absent.

Kinship Terminology. Bahamian kinship terminology is of the Eskimo type, the same as that in use in England and the United States.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Unlike many of the peoples of the Caribbean, Bahamians have a mating system characterized by marriage and extraresidential unions but not consensual unions. A double standard of sexual morality regulates the behavior of men and women. A man is expected to have both premarital and extramarital affairs; a woman is not. Seldom do an unmarried man and woman live together. One-third of the children born in the 1960s were "outside," that is, illegitimate, and the percentage of illegitimate births has risen steadily.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear-family household is the ideal norm. With the migration of adults to Nassau and Freeport, households headed by one or both grandparents are common in the out islands. Single-parent and single-person households are also found.

Inheritance. Bahamians frequently follow the rule of primogeniture, a legacy of British colonialism. For most people, their home is the only item of value. On the death of the husband, the home becomes his wife's, to be used by her until her death, at which time it is inherited by the oldest son. Property may also be received by will.

Socialization. The primary caretaker for most children is either the mother or grandmother. The caretaker not only provides for immediate needs but also acts as the chief disciplinarian. Women who fear the supernatural are more likely to use corporal punishment than those who view the supernatural as benevolent. The punishment itself does not seem to prevent the establishment of strong bonds of loyalty. Adult children frequently give gifts (often money) to their mothers, sometimes to help the older women raise their grandchildren. In the past, children in the out islands attended local schools for eight years, then went to Nassau for secondary education. Since independence, secondary schools, drawing from several settlements, have been introduced in many out islands where there had been only primary schools. These schools are staffed by teachers from other parts of the British Commonwealth as well as Bahamians.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Social organization is based primarily on kinship. The members of one's kindred provide both emotional and material support. The unrestricted descent group may even provide a building lot for a man. Growing up in the same settlement is likely to lead to lifelong friendships, but school attendance fosters friendships among children from different settlements. The social-class system of the Bahamas prior to about 1960 can be characterized as a three-tiered pyramid, with Bahamians of African ancestry at the base, Bahamian Whites (known as "Conchs" or pejoratively as "Conchy Joes") in the middle, and the British official class, including wealthy expatriates, at the top. Many Bahamian Whites, particularly those residing in Nassau, have some African ancestry. Today the British are gone, many members of the business class are of African ancestry, and the Progressive Liberal party (PLP), the ruling party from 1968 to 1982, largely draws its membership from among Bahamians of African ancestry. The former opposition political party, the Free National Movement (FNM), draws its membership from both the White community and that of African ancestry.

Political Organization. The Bahamas has a parliamentary government inherited from the British. From independence (10 July 1973) until August 19, 1992, the PLP controlled the forty-nine-seat House of Assembly. Sir Lynden Pindling, leader of the PLP, was the prime minister for this entire period. The FNM defeated the PLP on 19 August 1992 by obtaining thirty-two seats in the House of Assembly. Hubert Alexander Ingraham, leader of the FNM, became prime minister and Orville Alton Turnquest the deputy prime minister. In addition to the leadership, there are thirteen cabinet ministers. The Senate has sixteen members, with nine appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the prime minister, four on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and three on the advice of the prime minister after consultation with the leader of the opposition. The governor-general represents the British monarch, who is the titular head of government.

Social Control. A well-developed legal structure was inherited from the British; English common law and much of English statute law were adopted almost word for word. The basic structure is entrenched in the constitution of the Bahamas. Three main functions are generally distributed under the authority of the law of the constitution: the executive function is entrusted to the prime minister and his cabinet, the legislative function is entrusted to parliament, and the judicial function is entrusted to the courts. The independent judiciary includes magistrates courts, the Supreme Court with a chief justice and five other justices, and a three-judge Court of Appeal; the constitution grants the right to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England. In the out islands commissioners can act as magistrates. The administration of justice properly includes law enforcement (i.e., police functions) and lawful prosecutions (the sphere of the attorney general's office). Informal social control, particularly in the out islands, is based on fear of developing a bad reputation and fear of obeah, the practice of harmful magic.

Conflict. Except for the very early years (before 1718) when Nassau was a center for pirates, the Bahamas was a peaceful country for much of its history; there were no slave uprisings. The riots of 1942 were sparked by wage inequities. Verbal public confrontations, although common, seldom escalated into violence, and homicides were rare. In recent times, however, drug trafficking has brought crime and violence to the country.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Three realms of the supernatural can be identified. Most Bahamians belong to a Christian church and frequently attend their own church as well as others. Most people believe God helps the faithful and punishes the wicked. The spirit of a person who dies "in Christ" goes to rest and can help the living; if an ungodly person dies, the spirit wanders about frightening and hurting people. Obeah is practiced to harm rivals, to protect one's property and person, and to raise the spirits of the dead.

Religious Practitioners. Ministers and priests head the Christian churches. In the out islands local men, and sometimes women, serve part-time as preachers. Specialists in the practice of obeah are called obeah men; although never common, obeah practitioners are becoming even less numerous as young people turn away from old practices and embrace the modern world.

Ceremonies. Junkanoo, once widespread in the Caribbean, is a cultural event similar to New Orleans's Mardi Gras. Its roots lie in pre-Emancipation days, when slaves were allowed a special Christmas holiday. The culmination of Junkanoo is a costumed parade with floats and bands, which takes place along Nassau's Bay Street on Boxing Day (26 December) and New Year's Day.

Arts. Goombay is the calypso-style music of the Bahamas. In the out islands, local bands using guitars, goatskin-headed drums, and saws entertain at dances and weddings. The major decorative art is straw work. Women in the out islands plait "straw" from palm fronds into long strips, which are then sewn together to form hats, baskets, and purses. Raffia paper and seashells are typically sewn to the straw work in decorative patterns.

Medicine. Modern medicine is provided at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau. In 1992 the out islands were served by 107 clinics; the seriously ill are flown to Princess Margaret Hospital. Many Bahamians, particularly those in the out islands, often rely on "bush" medicine; parts of selected plants are commonly boiled in liquid, and the resulting "bush tea" is then drunk. Love-vine (Cuscuta americana ), for example, is said to produce a tea that gives a man "courage."


Collingwood, Dean W. (1989). The Bahamas between Worlds. Decatur, Ill.: White Sound Press.

Collingwood, Dean W., and Steve Dodge, eds. (1989). Modern Bahamian Society. Parkesburg, Iowa: Caribbean Books.

Craton, Michael (1986). A History of the Bahamas. 3rd ed. Waterloo, Ont.: San Salvador Press.

Craton, Michael, and Gail Saunders (1992). Islanders in the Stream: A History of the Bahamian People. Vol. 1, From Aboriginal Times to the End of Slavery. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Dupuch, S. P., editorial director (1991). Bahamas Handbook and Businessman's Annual, 1992. Nassau: Etienne Dupuch, Jr. Publications.

Holm, John A., with Alison Watt Shilling (1982). Dictionary of Bahamian English. Cold Spring, N.Y.: Lexik House Publishers.

Hughes, Colin A. (1981). Race and Politics in the Bahamas. New York: St. Martin's Press.

LaFlamme, Alan G. (1985). Green Turtle Cay: An Island in the Bahamas. Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press.

Otterbein, Charlotte Swanson, and Keith F. Otterbein (1973). "Believers and Beaters: A Case Study of Supernatural Beliefs and Child Rearing in the Bahama Islands." American Anthropologist 75:1670-1681.

Otterbein, Keith F. (1966). The Andros Islanders: A Study of Family Organization in the Bahamas. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press.

Otterbein, Keith F. (1978). "Transportation and Settlement Pattern: A Longitudinal Study of South Andros." Anthropology 2(2): 35-45.


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LANGUAGE: English; Bahamian dialect

RELIGION: Christianity


The Bahamas were the first islands to be sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Instead of settling the islands, the Spanish forced the native population there into slavery on neighboring islands. Within a quarter of a century, the Bahamas had been stripped of all their inhabitants. However, in the seventeenth century, British colonists began to arrive and settle there, bringing African slaves with them. By the end of the eighteenth century, there were twice as many Africans as Europeans on the islands.

The Bahamas remained economically backward throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. With the growth of commercial aviation, however, the islands' tourism industry began. By the late 1940s, tourism had become the main source of income. Today the country welcomes over three million tourists a year, most of them from the United States. In the 1960s, the Bahamas began to develop as a center for international banking as well.

The Bahamas attained full national independence in 1973.


The Bahamas are located in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida's southeastern coast. They form an archipelago (a group or chain of islands) consisting of approximately 700 islands, of which about thirty are inhabited. Their total land area is 5,380 square miles (13,934 square kilometers). This is slightly more than the combined areas of New Jersey and Connecticut.

The two main islands of the Bahamas are New Providence, where the capital city of Nassau is located, and Grand Bahama. The remaining islands are generally called either the "Family Islands" or the "out islands."

The Bahamas has an estimated population of about 272,000 people.


Standard English is the official language of the Bahamas. However, most of the population speaks an English-based dialect. An example of the Bahamian dialect can be found in the following verse from the poem "Islan' Life" by poet and playwright Susan J. Wallace:

Islan' life ain' no fun less ya treat errybody
like ya brudder, ya sister, or ya frien'
Love ya neighbour, play ya part, jes'
remember das de art,
For when ocean fen' ya in, all is kin.


The Bahamas are rich in myths and legends. There are two different legends about a woman named Pretty Molly Bay, who is said to haunt Little Exuma Island. In one, she is a drowned slave who roams the beaches at night; in the other, she is a young white woman turned into a mermaid. There are stories about creatures called "chickcharnies." These are three-toed sprites with red eyes. It is said that they hang upside down from trees on the island of Andros and can turn a person's head around to face backward.


Most Bahamians are Christian. Baptists account for about 33 percent of the population, and Roman Catholics and Anglicans account for about 20 percent each. It is not unusual for Bahamians to attend services at their own church and other churches also. On some of the islands, Christian beliefs are combined with ancient African superstitions.


Public holidays in the Bahamas include the major holy days of the Christian calendar. Secular holidays include Labor Day (the first Friday in June), Independence Day (July 10), Emancipation Day (the first Monday in August), and Discovery Day (October 12).

The best-known celebration on the islands is Junkanoo, held on both Christmas and New Year's. It is similar to the Carnival festivities in countries like Trinidad and Tobago. Crowds of merrymakers parade through the streets to the sounds of whistles and goatskin drums called goombays. Costumed groups compete for prizes.


Christian ceremonies such as baptism and confirmation mark the major passages from one stage of life to another.


Race relations in the Bahamas have changed since the 1950s and 1960s. Until then, economic opportunities for blacks were severely limited. Black Bahamians were barred from many theaters, hotels, shops, and other public places. Since then, government policies have improved educational and job opportunities. The situation of black Bahamians has improved, and a new, black middle class has been created on New Providence and Grand Bahama.


Urban living conditions on the main islands of New Providence and Grand Bahama differ from those on the smaller Family Islands. Inhabitants of the Family Islands have little contact with tourists and live a simple, traditional life. Most live in villages near the shore. Their houses are simple wooden structures, some without plumbing or electricity. Two out of three households in the Family Islands did not have running water in 1986.

Migration to the cities for better jobs has produced an urban housing shortage, especially in low-income areas.


Adult migration to the cities of Nassau and Freeport has left many families in the Family Islands headed by grandparents. There are also households headed by single parents. A child's primary caretaker is also the person in charge of discipline in the family. Adult children often give their mothers gifts or financial assistance. It is unusual for unmarried couples to live together.


Bahamians wear modern Western-style clothing. Colorful costumes of all kinds can be seen at the annual Junkanoo festivals in Nassau and other locations.


Seafood is the most important part of the Bahamian diet. The conch shellfish is a national favorite used in many dishes. Peas with rice, a dietary staple, consists of dried pigeon peas and rice prepared with thyme and other spices. Souses (dishes containing lightly pickled meats) also figure prominently in Bahamian cuisine. Served with cooked grits and johnny cake (a type of bread), they are a popular breakfast food.


The educational system of the Bahamas is modeled on that of Great Britain. Grade levels in secondary education are called "forms," and exams are required in order to attend college. Students must also take exams at the end of every school year in order to pass to the next grade. Education is mandatory between the ages of five and fourteen. However, most students continue their schooling until at least the age of sixteen.


Chicken Souse


  • 2 chickens
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 10 allspice berries
  • 4 potatoes, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 Scotch Bonnet peppers
  • ½ cup lime juice


  1. Put both chickens in a large pot with enough water to cover, and bring the water to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes.
  2. Carefully drain off the boiling water. Add fresh water to cover the chickens, return to stove and bring the water to boiling.
  3. Add the vegetables and all other remaining ingredients except the lime juice.
  4. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the lime juice and simmer for 10 more minutes.
  6. Skim the fat from the pot with a spoon.
  7. Remove the chicken and vegetables and serve. (May also be served cold after refrigeration.)

The government-run College of the Bahamas opened in 1974. The Bahamas have also been home to a branch of the University of the West Indies since the 1960s.


Susan Wallace is the nation's best-known poet. She has also edited Back Home, an anthology of Bahamian literature. Playwright Winston Saunders is the director of the Dundas Theatre, which stages plays by Bahamian and other authors.

Well-known artist Alton Lowe captures many aspects of Bahamian life in his realistic paintings.

The Royal Bahamas Police Force Band performs at all major public events. Folk dance in the Bahamas ranges from European dances to the African-derived jump dance and the West Indian limbo.


Tourism and related fields provide jobs for 50 percent or more of the labor force. Agriculture and industry are much smaller contributors to the nation's economy and employ far fewer people. Farming and fishing are the traditional occupations on the Family Islands. Their residents also earn money producing crafts or through seasonal employment in resort areas. There is a shortage of salaried jobs in these areas, and many residents move to Nassau or Freeport to seek employment.


Softball is the most popular sport in the Bahamas. Other favorite sports include basketball, volleyball, and track and field. Water sports, including sailing, windsurfing, and fishing, are popular with Bahamians and tourists alike. Many islanders race in the Family Islands regatta, held every April.


In addition to the native Bahamian goombay (goatskin drum) music, calypso, soca, and reggae are also popular. Gospel music is performed in concert halls and on outdoor stages as well as in churches.

There is approximately one television for every four persons in the Bahamas. Programming includes American situation comedies, professional sports, and educational broadcasting.


Crafts include woodcarving, quilting, basketry, and shellwork. The straw handicrafts produced on the Family Islands are especially distinctive. Using palm fronds braided into long strips that are then sewn together, the island women make hats, baskets, purses, and other items, often decorating them with raffia paper and seashells.


The Bahamas have not traditionally had a violent society. In the past, serious crimes such as homicide were rare. However, in the 1990s, drug trafficking caused a major increase in crime. In New Providence the use of crack cocaine has led to frequent armed robberies.


Boultbee, Paul G. The Bahamas. Santa Barbara, CA: Clio Press, 1989.

Craton, Michael, and Gail Saunders. Islanders in the Stream: A History of the Bahamian People. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1992.

McCulla, Patricia. Bahamas. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.


Bahamas On-Line. The Bahamas. [Online] Available, 1997.

Islands of the Bahamas. [Online] Available, 1997.

World Travel Guide, Bahamas. [Online] Available, 1998.

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Bahamas, the

the Bahamas (bəhä´məz), officially Commonwealth of the Bahamas, independent nation (2005 est. pop. 301,800), 4,403 sq mi (11,404 sq km), in the Atlantic Ocean, consisting of some 700 islands and islets and about 2,400 cays, beginning c.50 mi (80 km) off SE Florida and extending c.600 mi (970 km) SE almost to Haiti. The country does not include the Turks and Caicos Islands, to the southeast, which, although geographically part of the archipelago, have been separately administered by Great Britain since 1848. The capital and principal city is Nassau, on New Providence island. Other chief islands are known as "out islands" or "family islands."

Land and People

The islands, composed mainly of limestone and coral, rise from a vast submarine plateau. Most are generally low and flat, riverless, with many mangrove swamps, brackish lakes (connected with the ocean by underground passages), and coral reefs and shoals. Fresh water is obtained from rainfall and from desalinization. Navigation is hazardous, and many of the outer islands are uninhabited and undeveloped, although steps have been taken to improve transportation facilities. Hurricanes occasionally cause severe damage, but the climate is generally excellent. In addition to New Providence, other main islands are Grand Bahama, Great and Little Abaco (see Abaco and Cays), the Biminis, Andros, Eleuthera, Cat Island, San Salvador, Great and Little Exuma (Exuma and Cays), Long Island, Crooked Island, Acklins Island, Mayaguana, and Great and Little Inagua (see Inagua).

The population is primarily of African and mixed African and European descent; some 12% is of European heritage, with small minorities of Asian and Hispanic descent. More than three quarters of the people belong to one of several Protestant denominations and nearly 15% are Roman Catholic. English is the official language. The Bahamas have a relatively low illiteracy rate. The government provides free education through the secondary level; the College of the Bahamas was established in 1974, although most Bahamians who seek a higher education study in Jamaica or elsewhere.


The islands' vivid subtropical atmosphere—brilliant sky and sea, lush vegetation, flocks of bright-feathered birds, and submarine gardens where multicolored fish swim among white, rose, yellow, and purple coral—as well as rich local color and folklore, has made the Bahamas one of the most popular resorts in the hemisphere. The islands' many casinos are an additional attraction, and tourism is by far the country's most important industry, providing 60% of the gross domestic product and employing about half of the workforce. Financial services are the nation's other economic mainstay, although many international businesses left after new government regulations on the financial sector were imposed in late 2000. Salt, rum, aragonite, and pharmaceuticals are produced, and these, along with animal products and chemicals, are the chief exports. The Bahamas also possess facilities for the transshipment of petroleum. The country's main trading partners are the United States and Spain. Since the 1960s, the transport of illegal narcotic drugs has been a problem, as has the flow of illegal refugees from other islands.


The Bahamas are governed under the constitution of 1973 and have a parliamentary form of government. There is a bicameral legislature consisting of a 16-seat Senate and a 40-seat House of Assembly. The prime minister is the head of government, and the monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, represented by an appointed governor-general, is the titular head of state. The nation is divided into 21 administrative districts.


Before the arrival of Europeans, the Bahamas were inhabited by the Lucayos, a group of Arawaks. Christopher Columbus first set foot in the New World in the Bahamas (1492), presumably at San Salvador, and claimed the islands for Spain. Although the Lucayos were not hostile, they were soon exterminated by the Spanish, who did not in fact colonize the islands.

The first settlements were made in the mid-17th cent. by the English. In 1670 the islands were granted to the lords proprietors of Carolina, who did not relinquish their claim until 1787, although Woodes Rogers, the first royal governor, was appointed in 1717. Under Rogers the pirates and buccaneers, notably Blackbeard, who frequented the Bahama waters, were driven off. The Spanish attacked the islands several times, and an American force held Nassau for a short time in 1776. In 1781 the Spanish captured Nassau and took possession of the whole colony, but under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1783) the islands were ceded to Great Britain.

After the American Revolution many Loyalists settled in the Bahamas, bringing with them black slaves to labor on cotton plantations. Plantation life gradually died out after the emancipation of slaves in 1834. Blockade-running into Southern ports in the U.S. Civil War enriched some of the islanders, and during the prohibition era in the United States the Bahamas became a base for rum-running.

The United States leased areas for bases in the Bahamas in World War II and in 1950 signed an agreement with Great Britain for the establishment of a proving ground and a tracking station for guided missiles. In 1955 a free trade area was established at the town of Freeport. It proved enormously successful in stimulating tourism and has attracted offshore banking.

In the 1950s black Bahamians, through the Progressive Liberal party (PLP), began to oppose successfully the ruling white-controlled United Bahamian party; but it was not until the 1967 elections that they were able to win control of the government. The Bahamas were granted limited self-government as a British crown colony in 1964, broadened (1969) through the efforts of Prime Minister Lynden O. Pindling. The PLP, campaigning on a platform of immediate independence, won an overwhelming victory in the 1972 elections and negotiations with Britain were begun.

On July 10, 1973, the Bahamas became a sovereign state within the Commonwealth of Nations. In 1992, after 25 years as prime minister and facing recurrent charges of corruption and ties to drug traffickers, Pindling was defeated by Hubert Ingraham of the Free National Movement (FNM). A feeble economy, mostly due to a decrease in tourism and the poor management of state-owned industries, was Ingraham's main policy concern. Ingraham was returned to office in 1997 with an ironclad majority, but lost power in 2002 when the PLP triumphed at the polls and PLP leader Perry Christie replaced Ingraham as prime minister. Concern over the government's readiness to accommodate the tourist industry contributed to the PLP's losses in the 2007 elections, and Ingraham and the FNM regained power. In the 2012 elections the FNM lost in a landslide to the PLP, primarily due to economic concerns, and Christie again became prime minister.


See H. P. Mitchell, Caribbean Patterns (2d ed. 1970); J. E. Moore, Pelican Guide to the Bahamas (1988).

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The Bahamas

The Bahamas

Official name: Commonwealth of the Bahamas

Area: 13,940 square kilometers (5,382 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Alvernia, Cat Island (63 meters/206 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Western

Time zone: 7 a.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 950 kilometers (590 miles) from southeast to northwest; 298 kilometers (185 miles) from northeast to southwest

Land boundaries: Bahamas is made up of islands.

Coastline: 3,542 kilometers (2,201 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


The Commonwealth of the Bahamas occupies an archipelago that straddles the Tropic of Cancer at the northwestern end of the West Indies (islands lying between southeastern North America and northern South America), about 80 kilometers (50 miles) off the southeast coast of Florida. The Bahamas have a land area of 13,940 square kilometers (5,382 square miles), spread out over approximately 233,000 square kilometers (90,000 square miles) of water in the southwestern portion of the North Atlantic Ocean.


The Bahamas claims no territories or dependencies.


The Bahamas have a subtropical marine climate moderated by warm breezes from the Gulf Stream (a warm current flowing north from the Gulf of Mexico along eastern North America) and the Atlantic Ocean. Rainfall averages 127 centimeters (50 inches) annually, with some variation among the different islands. Occasional hurricanes occur between mid-July and mid-November. Hurricanes can cause major damage from winds and flooding.

Season Months Average temperature: °Celsius (°Fahrenheit)
Summer MayNovember 27°C (81°F)
Winter DecemberApril 23°C (73°F)


The Bahamas encompass roughly seven hundred islands, as well as some two thousand rock formations, islets, and cays (pronounced keys, or low-lying islands). Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is located on New Providence Island, which occupies a central position in the archipelago (island chain) and is the most densely populated. Collectively, the rest of the inhabited Bahamas islands are known as the Family Islands. Most of these land masses are long, narrow, and fringed by coral reefs.


The Bahamas are spread over approximately 233,000 square kilometers (90,000 square miles) of water in the southwestern portion of the North Atlantic Ocean, between the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea.

Seacoast and Undersea Features

The numerous coral reefs on the shorelines of the Bahamas combine with iron compounds to produce rare and beautiful colors in the shallow seas surrounding the islands. The Pelican Cay National Park, an underwater nature preserve, is found on Abaco Island.

Sea Inlets and Straits

Numerous inlets and straits separate the islands of the Bahamas from each other and from neighboring islands and archipelagos. Sea passages that lie between islands of the Bahamas include the Northeast and Northwest Providence Channels, Exuma Sound (which lies roughly at the center of the Bahamas), Crooked Island Passage, and Mayaguana Passage. The Caicos Passage separates the Bahamas from the Turks and Caicos islands to the southeast, and the Old Bahama Channel separates Great Bahamas Bank from Cuba to the south. To the west, the Straits of Florida lie between the Bahamas and Florida.

Islands and Archipelagos

The most important island is New Providence, home to the capital city of Nassau. It has an area of 13,939 square kilometers (5,382 square miles). Andros, at 10,688 square kilometers (4,160 square miles) is the largest island; other inhabited islands include Great Abaco, Eleuthera, Grand Bahama, Cat Island, San Salvador, Long Island, Great Exuma, Crooked Island, Acklin Island, Mayaguana, Bimini (just 77 kilometers/48 miles from Florida), and Great Inagua. On Great Inagua, reptiles, wild boar, and other wildlife roam freely.

Coastal Features

The eastern shore is generally the lowest point on the islands. Some of the islands (especially the long narrow ones in the middle section of the archipelago) have smooth coastlines, while others have numerous indentations, including peninsulas and lagoons. Coastal wetlands and mangrove swamps are common throughout the archipelago.


There are a few small lakes and ponds on the islands of the Bahamas.


None of the islands of the Bahamas is large enough to support significant rivers or lakes, although there are many small streams.


The Bahamas has no desert areas.


The terrain of the Bahamas is mostly flat and low, rising only a few feet above sea level in most places.


There are no true mountains in the archipelago, and only a few hills. The tallest point is the limestone-cliff-sided Mount Alvernia on Cat Island (63 meters /206 feet), which once hosted a monastery on its summit.


There are a number of caves on the islands, some of which were used as refuges for earlier settlers. On Eleuthera, there is a cave that extends for more than 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) and contains impressive stalagmites and stalactites.


The Bahamas has no plateaus.


There are a number of bridges connecting the islands of the Bahamas. Paradise Island Bridge connects New Providence Island (Nassau) to Paradise Island. A bridge joins the Eleuthera mainland to Windemere Island. The Dam Bridge connects Alexander, Exuma, Brigantine Cay, and Barreterra.



Dulles, Wink, and Marael Johnson. Fielding's Bahamas. Redondo Beach, CA: Fielding Worldwide, 1997.

Lloyd, Harvey. Isles of Eden: Life in the Southern Family Islands of the Bahamas. Akron, OH: Benjamin Publishing, 1991.

Permenter, Paris, and John Bigley. The Bahamas: A Taste of the Islands. Edison, NJ: Hunter, 2000.

Web Sites

Geographia Tourist Guide to the Bahamas. (accessed February 7, 2003).

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Commonwealth of the Bahamas
Region: North & Central America
Population: 294,982
Language(s): English, Creole
Literacy Rate: 98.2%

The independent Commonwealth of the Bahamas, a group of about 700 islands totaling 3,400 square miles, is headed by the Prime Minister; the British monarchy, represented by a local governor-general, is the honorary head of state. Literacy in the Bahamas is estimated as ranging from as low as 85 percent (functional literacy, as defined by the National Literacy Project) to as high as 98 percent.

Educational direction and oversight is centralized in the Bahamas under the Ministry of Education, as defined by the Education Act of 1962. This appointed minister directly controls all publicly funded education and supervises private education at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Education, the largest single appropriation in the national budget, is compulsory from age 5 through 16 (attendance is 95 percent). In 2000 more than 64,000 students attended the 210 primary (ages 5 to 11) and secondary (ages 11 to 16) schoolsthree-fourths (158 schools) were public and free and one-fourth (52 schools) were private. Where the distance from home to school is burdensomefor example, in the Family Islandsstudents attend all-age schools.

The Bahamian school system is based on the British model. In the primary (the first six) grades, students advance depending on their performance on examinations administered at the end of each academic year. In the secondary grades, they take their first major external examination, the National Junior Certificate Examination. To graduate, they must pass the Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE).

In the mid-1980s, teacher shortages, substandard equipment and supplies, deteriorating school buildings, and deficient results on national tests led to dramatic educational reform in the 1990s. In 1993 a governmentappointed National Task Force evaluated the entire educational system and formulated, in 1994, a Five-Year Plan that established interrelated goals for preschool, primary, secondary, and higher education. Curricula at all levels have undergone development with special reference to the focus of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) for emphasizing language arts and mathematics. In the Bahamas, social and academic education are inextricably intertwinedmulticultural values and attitudes are taught across the curriculum.

The standards for high school graduation, normally verified externally by nationwide testing, changed in the 1990s. Before 1993 high school students had graduated with a General Certificate of Education (GCE) from the University of London. After 1993 they received a Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE), which reflected their standing on a seven-point scale of grades ranging from A to G. Educational reform has been controversial. Critics claimed that the new certificate watered down the higher standards of the GCE; supporters applauded the modifications for recognizing that students have a wider range of abilities than had been tested by the GCE. The Ministry of Education also focused on educational outreach by creating the National Literacy Project "Let's Read Bahamas" to improve functional literacy within the entire population. And, as part of a continuing effort to reduce widespread unemployment among the young, education at all levels includes vocational training.

Higher education is offered by the College of The Bahamas (formerly a two-year but now a four-year institution), the regional University of The West Indies, the Bahamas Hotel Training College, and the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (formerly Industrial Training Centre). In addition students can take classes in the Bahamas offered by the University of Miami, Nova Southeastern University, and other universities in the United States.


Bahamas Two Thousand, Co. Ltd. "," 1998. Available from

International Bureau of Education, UNESCO. "Analysis of the Questionnaire of May 1999 on Curriculum Developments Needs at Primary and Secondary Education Levels in Caribbean Member States and Associate Member States of UNESCO," September 2000. Available from

Lonergan, Patricia. "Other Side of Paradise: Patricia Lonergan Describes Life in a Bahamian Classroom." The London Times Educational Supplement, 19 (September 1986): 18.

Miller, Errol. "The Last Word: UWI Professor Applauds Bahamas Education." Jamaica Daily Gleaner, 8 April 1999.

McCulla, Patricia E. Places and People of the World: Bahamas. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

U.S. Department of State. Background Notes: The Bahamas. Washington, DC: Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, 2000. Available from

Stephen Curley

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The Bahamas

The Bahamas

Basic Data

Official Country Name: Commonwealth of the Bahamas
Region (Map name): North & Central America
Population: 294,982
Language(s): English, Creole
Literacy rate: 98.2%

Seven hundred islands make up the Bahamas, located just south of Florida in the Caribbean Sea. Although the country was granted independence from Great Britain in 1973, important ties remain between the two countries. The Bahamas is still a member of the British Commonwealth, and the British monarch serves as its titular head of government. The real leader of the country, however, is the Prime Minister, who presides over a Senate, which is appointed, and a House of Assembly, which is elected. English is the official and most common language spoken, though Creole is spoken by the country's immigrant Haitian population. The estimated population is 300,000 with a 98-percent literacy rate. Tourism is the largest segment of the economy, but offshore banking also produces a significant amount of revenue.

Bahamians enjoy freedom of press and speech. There are two independent, national newspapers that publish from the capital, Nassau. The Nassau Guardian, which has been publishing continually since 1844, is the leading daily with an estimated circulation of 15,000 and an online presence. Close behind with an approximate circulation of 13,000 is The Tribune, which publishes every day but Sunday. The Bahama Journal, also published from Nassau, is a weekly newspaper that reaches 4,000 to 6,000 readers and is also available online.

The Nassau Guardian publishes local editions for Freeport (Freeport News ), Andros Town (Andros Chronicles), George Town (Exuma Sentinel ), Governor's Harbor (Eleuthere Advocate ), and Turnbull (Long IslandMail). The Abaco Journal, established in 1987, publishes monthly from Marsh Harbour. A government publication, the Official Gazette, publishes weekly. Total circulation for daily newspapers in 1996 was 99 per one thousand population.

There are six radio stations, three AM and three FM, and one television station, which is owned by the government. Bahamians own approximately 215,000 radios and 67,000 television sets. There are 19 Internet service providers.


The Bahama Journal, 2002 Home Page. Available from

"The Bahamas," CIA World Fact Book, 2001-2002. Available from

The Nassau Guardian, 2002 Home Page. Available from

New York: 2000, United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Statistical Division, Statistical Yearbook, 44th issue, 1997.

Jenny B. Davis

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Bahamas Small independent state in the West Indies, in the w Atlantic, se of Florida. It consists of c.700 islands, 2000 cays and numerous coral reefs. The largest island is Grand Bahama and the capital is Nassau (on New Providence). The islands consist mainly of limestone and coral, and the rocky terrain provides little chance for agricultural development. Most of the islands are low, flat, and riverless with mangrove swamps. The climate is subtropical with temperatures averaging 21–32°C (70–90°F). The population is 90% African or African-European, and the majority live on New Providence. Anglicanism is the predominant religion, and English the official language. Before the arrival of the Europeans, the islands were inhabited by the Lucayos, later exterminated by the Spanish. San Salvador island is traditionally believed to have been the first stop of Christopher Columbus in his quest of the New World (1492). The islands were partially settled by England's Eleutherian Adventurers (1648). Charles II granted the islands to six lord proprietors of Carolina in 1670, but development was continually hindered by pirates. Britain assumed direct control by 1729, expelling militants and restoring civil order. Held briefly by Spain (1782) during the American Revolution, the islands were given back to England by the Treaty of Versailles (1783) in exchange for e Florida. In 1834, slavery was abolished. During World War II, the Bahamas were used by US and British forces for training and air bases. In 1963 a new constitution provided for parliamentary government. In 1973 the Bahamas became an independent nation. Industries: tourism, commercial fishing, salt, rum, handicrafts. Area: 13,860sq km (5350sq mi). Pop. (2000 est.) 295,000. See West Indies map;

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Bahamas. These islands lie off the coast of Florida and form an independent state within the Commonwealth. The larger islands include Grand Bahama and Andros: the capital, Nassau, is situated on New Providence Island. Their strategic position covering the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico gave them more than local importance. The economy depends greatly on tourism and on the large mercantile fleet flying the Bahamian flag. The queen is head of state and appoints the governor-general. Originally sighted by Columbus, they were first claimed by Spain and then, in the 17th cent., colonized by English settlers, some of them from Bermuda. For decades they remained bases for pirates. Some of the islands changed hands during the American War of Independence but were restored to Britain in 1783. The duke of Windsor was governor during the Second World War.

J. A. Cannon

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Bahama Islands

Bahama Islands

Culture Name



Identification. The name Bahamas derives from the Spanish baja ("shallow") and mar ("sea"). Within the country, a distinction is made between the capital of Nassau on New Providence Island and the out islands of the archipelago. Bahamians recognize their distinctive national culture but emphasize minor differences in speech and customs among the islands. Foreign-born residents from the United Kingdom, the United States, Haiti, Canada, and other countries are referred to by their original nationalities regardless of citizenship or assimilation.

Location and Geography. The Bahamas lie in the Atlantic off the eastern coast of Florida and extend for over seven-hundred miles, roughly parallel to Cuba. The archipelago consists of approximately seven hundred islands and cays, plus nearly 2,400 reefs and rock formations. The land area is 5,382 square miles (13,940 square kilometers). There are fourteen island groupings. The climate is subtropical, with a hurricane season from June through November. Flooding is a problem because the islands are low outcrops of limestone, with most settlements barely above sea level. Farming has been practiced since preColumbian times, but the soil is thin, sandy, and not fertile. Few of the islands have ground water. The islands are ringed by sandy beaches and surrounded by shallow seas.

Demography. Population estimates range from 275,000 to 325,000, with tens of thousands of illegal economic refugees from Haiti who account for 20 to 25 percent of the population. About 85 percent of Bahamians are of African ancestry, and most of the remainder are of European descent. People of Asian ancestry constitute a very small segment of the population. Some racial mixing has occurred. Approximately 60 percent of the population is urban, a proportion that is growing rapidly as young adults migrate from out-island settlements to the urban areas of Nassau and Freeport.

Linguistic Affiliation. English is the primary and official language. Regional and class-related dialects vary from "Standard English" among the urban elite to "Bahamian English" among the poorer people. There are finely nuanced differences in vocabulary and pronunciation from island to island. "French Creole" is spoken by immigrants from Haiti. Those immigrants often are able to converse in heavily accented English, but few have been formally educated in the language.

Symbolism. Residents sometimes use the term "family islands" to symbolize the desired unity of the scattered population and the image of small, cohesive out-island communities. One of the most familiar symbols is the national flag, which was introduced in 1973. The left side consists of a black triangle with a horizontal yellow stripe flanked by two bright blue stripes. Yellow symbolizes the sunny climate, and blue symbolizes the sea. Many people assert that black symbolizes the African heritage of the people. "Junkanoo" is a Mardi Gras-like celebration that is held on several secular holidays. Both the term and form of the celebration probably come from West Africa. The celebrations combine music, costume, dance, revelry, pride in the African cultural heritage, recognition of slave resistance to authority, and the unity of the people. Junkanoo "gangs" compete for prestige and cash prizes. Tourism officials have transformed these ceremonies into events that draw thousands of visitors. Organizers, scholars, and participants refer to Junkanoo as a social institution that binds the people to each other and to their past.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The first residents were the Lukku-Cairis, or Lucayans, a subdivision of the Taino Arawak Indians. Christopher Columbus made his first hemispheric landfall in the Bahamas and claimed them for Spain. Many Lucayans were taken to Hispaniola and Cuba as slaves, and the rest died of newly imported diseases. The Spanish never settled the Bahamas, and the region became a haven for pirates. The British claimed the islands in 1629 and started a community on Eleuthera in 1648. The British residents were augmented by loyalists fleeing North America during and after the American Revolution and an influx of enslaved Africans. Blacks have outnumbered whites since the eighteenth century. When the cotton plantations failed, many slaves were freed and given land to farm. During the 1830s emancipation was legally mandated.

National Identity. National culture was forged through the interactions of British and African traditions. Britons contributed the English language, Protestantism, a market economy, and European technology. Various West African peoples contributed musical instruments and styles, forms of dance, religious concepts, folktales, family patterns, and linguistic influences. New beliefs and behaviors emerged within the Bahamian context as well. Plantations, slave revolts, colonial governance, the insular existence, the sea, hurricanes, and many other elements contributed to the cultural synthesis. The islands remained a British colony until independence was peacefully attained in 1973.

Ethnic Relations. Many Bahamians perceive Haitians in terms of negative stereotypes and consider them scapegoats. Haitians often are portrayed as violent, uncivilized, and inclined toward criminality. Because of their poverty, they often do work Bahamians see as undesirable, and thus they are blamed for taking away jobs. Because they speak French Creole and practice voodoo, they are deemed secretive and dangerous. They also are seen as clannish and as a criminal menace. It often is stated that AIDS arrived with the refugees. Americans, whether in the Bahamas as tourists or on business, are seen in a more ambivalent way. Their money is desired, but their influence is not appreciated. Tourism-sector jobs are essential but are perceived as colonialism in modern dress. American investors and businesspeople are portrayed as arrogant, brash, and overly concerned with dominating Bahamians.

Urbanism, Architecture and the Use of Space

The population is over 60 percent urban, with over half the people living in the capital city, Nassau. The only other city is the tourism-oriented Freeport. The rest of the population is scattered among dozens of smaller settlements ranging from small villages to regionally important towns. Nassau has neighborhoods that range from exclusive enclaves for the extremely wealthy to slums inhabited by the chronically unemployed and underemployed. Construction materials are roughly evenly divided between limestone and wood. Because of hurricanes, tall buildings are rarely constructed. Where feasible, buildings have porches and many windows. Old colonial structures, from forts to public buildings to houses, are revered. Termites and heavy winds have destroyed many structures, and cement block buildings have become commonplace. Public places such as narrow streets, beaches, and parks encourage human interaction.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Typical meals for urban residents consist of fruits and vegetables, meat or fish, bread, and rice. Out islanders tend to eat more fresh fruit, vegetables, and fish. The two national dishes are conch, an easily collected sea snail, rice, and peas. Poor people eat these foods because they are inexpensive and readily available; the more affluent enjoy them as "heritage foods."

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Holiday meals tend to center on local fish or conch, rice and peas, baked goods, and fresh fruit. Bahamian rum, local and imported beer, soft drinks, tea, and coffee are regularly consumed.

Basic Economy. Most consumer goods are imported. Farming is unimportant except for a small amount of subsistence gardening in out-island settlements. Tourism accounts for about half the gross domestic product and nearly half of all jobs. The annual per capita income is approximately $10,000, there is little taxation, inflation ranges between 5 and 10 percent, and the unemployment rate is 15 to 20 percent. The national currency is known as the Bahamian dollar

Commercial Activities. Commercial farming of cotton, pineapples, and sisal has had little success. Commercial fishing is moderately important, with most of the catch frozen and exported. Sponge fishing is nearly defunct. Cottage industries that produce straw, shells, and wooden items cater to local residents and tourists. Hotels, casinos, restaurants, and sport fishing businesses are common.

Major Industries. Manufacturing is unimportant except for a few oil refineries and small factories. Offshore banking and finance are important because favorable tax and corporate laws have been established and widely promoted.

Trade. Most consumer goods are imported. Goods such as pharmaceuticals, rum, crawfish and cement are exported. The major trading partners are the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

Division of Labor. The government is the largest employer. Out-island children work with their parents or grandparents when they are not in school or at play. In towns and cities, children from poorer families may work as street vendors or do odd jobs. Some occupations are unionized, and unions are an important force. Skilled trades such as fishing, carpentry, and masonry work tend to be family specializations. Small businesses pass from generation to generation within families.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. The upper class consists of wealthy business owners, corporate managers, professionals, high-ranking government officials, and some foreign citizens. Historically, this class was composed of Britons, white Bahamians, light-skinned Bahamians of mixed race, and a few Americans and Canadians. Most were self-consciously British in speech and behavior. The upper class today includes many more residents of African ancestry. Emulation of the old colonial elite is less common. The middle class consists of small business owners, some professionals, civil servants, and lower-level corporate managers. Most members of this class are of African ancestry, but some are of European and Asian ancestry. Degrees from Bahamian and American colleges are increasingly common. The lower class is the nation's largest and includes roughly equal numbers of urban and out island residents. Almost all the members of this class are of African ancestry. Lower-class Bahamians include fishermen, farmers, laborers, skilled tradespeople, and others who do low-status physical work. Some have high school diplomas, but many have lower levels of educational attainment and are perceived as poor but respectable. The lowest stratum is an underclass that consists of the chronically unemployed and Haitian refugees. Most members of the underclass live in the least desirable and "respectable" sections of the Nassau metropolitan area. They are found in smaller numbers in some out-island communities. Few have a high school diploma.

Symbols of Social Stratification. The distinction between old money and new money is not critically important. University degrees, especially from private institutions in Britain and the United States, are common. Most upper-class residents are in the exclusive neighborhoods of Nassau, although some have additional homes in the out islands or abroad. Middle-class people live in "respectable" Nassau neighborhoods or out-island settlements. Many regularly fly to Florida for shopping and entertainment.

Political Life

Government. The Commonwealth is a constitutional, parliamentary democracy with universal suffrage for citizens age eighteen and older. The British monarch is recognized as the head of state and is represented by the governor-general, but executive power is vested in the prime minister. Primary legislative authority resides with an elected House of Assembly and an appointed Senate. The judicial system includes magistrates' courts, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeals. Local government is an extension of the federal government with administration in the hands of appointed district commissioners.

Leadership and Political Officials. There are two major political parties: the Free National Movement (FNM) and the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). Ideologically, both parties are centrist, with the PLP somewhat to the left of the FNM on most social issues. The personalities of politicians and their relationships with constituents are more important than political philosophy. Most people elected to the House of Assembly since independence have been middle-aged men of African ancestry with university degrees and successful careers in law and/or business. House members need not reside in their districts but normally visit frequently. Political officials are expected to be accessible to their constituents through office visits and the mail.

Social Control and Problems. Bahamian law is based on English common law and statute law. The law is enforced via the paramilitary Royal Bahamas Police Force and federally appointed constables. Legal prosecution is carried out by the attorney general's office. Informal social control occurs through peer pressure, gossip, and fear of harmful magic known as obeah. The archipelago is the final staging area for thousands of annual shipments of illegal drugs from South America and the Caribbean to North America. Although illegal and viewed as a social problem by many people, the drug trade is tolerated because it provides income. Money laundering and related international crimes are widely viewed as beneficial and are not criminalized. Crimes such as assault, robbery, and homicide are dealt with routinely. Vigilante groups exist but are not an important aspect of social control.

Military Activity. No military exists and Bahamians rely on the protection of the United Kingdom.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

The government has a program of moderate social welfare and change initiatives. The 1990s witnessed education reforms stressing vocational and technical training to combat unemployment and reliance on foreign workers. The low level of taxation and the cultural value attached to independence preclude more elaborate programs.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Nongovernmental organizations such as churches and labor unions have modest programs of local reform ranging from refugee relief to antidrug initiatives. Regional ad hoc committees lobby for government projects and environmental protection.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Legally, women have equal status under the law, but men tend to dominate the higher-income and higher status positions in the public and private sectors. Men dominate fishing and other maritime endeavors, the building trades, and the transportation industry.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Urban women have many career opportunities and are not discriminated against in obvious ways. Women dominate fields such as nursing, elementary school teaching, and office work. Out-island women tend to be farmers, shopkeepers, craft specialists, and domestics when they are employed. Many self-identify as "housekeepers."

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Marriages are monogamous. In many out-island settlements, the options are marriage and extraresidential unions. In larger towns and cities, consensual unions exist. People are free to select their spouses. Church weddings follow brief engagements. In principle, one should not marry a blood relative, but in small communities marriages between kin more distantly related than first cousins are common. In white-dominated out-island settlements, interracial marriages are stigmatized. Both partners are expected to contribute financially to a marriage. Divorces are available, although many couples simply drift apart and never legally terminate the union. There is no stigma attached to remarriage. A sexual double standard exists in which women are supposed to be chaste until marriage and faithful during marriage whereas men are expected to have premarital and extramarital affairs. Men are widely seen as inherently promiscuous.

Domestic Unit. The ideal is the nuclear family household. In cases of extramarital unions, consensual unions, divorce, death, and abandonment, matrifocal households are common. In poorer out-island settlements, parents may move to urban areas to work, leaving their children in the care of grandparents. In nuclear family households, authority tends to be evenly divided between the husband and the wife.

Inheritance. Sons and daughters inherit from both parents. Inherited property includes land, houses, boats, and household goods. Wills may favor one heir over another, but this is uncommon, especially in the out islands.

Kin Groups. No formal kin groups larger than the family exist. Adult siblings tend to look after each other's interests and frequently operate shops or fishing vessels together.


Infant Care. Infants are cared for by their mothers. Both bottle feeding and breast-feeding are accepted. Infants sleep in the parents' bedroom except among the more affluent, where a separate room is available. Infants are carried in the arms, and baby carriages are used. Caregivers try to calm crying or otherwise agitated infants.

Child Rearing and Education. Children are socialized in traditional adult roles. Girls care for younger siblings, play with dolls, and help with shopping and household chores. Boys may work with their fathers but are often free to play. Boys are taught to be fun-loving and independent, while girls are expected to be responsible and to remain under close family scrutiny. Corporal punishment and threats are common. The literacy rate is about 90 percent, and public education is available through local elementary schools and regional secondary schools. Private schools in Nassau are available to wealthier families. In public schools, rote learning is common.

Higher Education. Since independence, higher education has been stressed. The College of the Bahamas in Nassau and numerous technical schools provide higher education, although foreign universities are popular among the more affluent.


Religious Beliefs. Most residents are churchgoing Christians. About 80 percent are Protestant, and 20 percent are Roman Catholic. The largest Protestant denominations are Baptist and Anglican. Obeah is an African system of belief in spirits that often is superimposed on Christianity.

Religious Practitioners. Large congregations are led by ordained ministers and priests, while small congregations are led by unordained preachers. Obeah men are part-time specialists whose activities include placing and removing curses, communicating with spirits, and giving spiritual advice.

Rituals and Holy Places. Most rituals are Christian services and are held in churches. Immersion baptisms and revival meetings are held outdoors. Some Christian services include glossolalia, spirit possession, and faith healing. Obeah rituals tend to be small and private.

Death and the Afterlife. The dead are placed in simple pine coffins, and wakes are held at home. The wealthy buy more expensive coffins and use funeral parlors. Funerals are held in churches, and burials are in churchyards or public cemeteries. It is believed that souls go to heaven or hell, but some believe that ghosts wander before reaching their ultimate destination.

Medicine and Health Care

There is one large hospital in Nassau, and over a hundred government clinics are scattered elsewhere. An air ambulance service transports out islanders to the hospital in emergencies. There are about twelve-hundred people per physician, but nurses and paramedics often serve as primary care professionals, especially in remote settlements. "Bush medicine" (herbal treatments) is still found, but its popularity is declining.

Secular Celebrations

Ten public holidays are recognized: New Year's Day, Good Friday, Easter, Whit Monday (seven weeks after Easter), Labor Day (first Friday in June), Independence Day (10 July), Emancipation Day (first Monday in August), Discovery Day (12 October), Christmas Day, and Boxing Day (26 December). Secular holidays tend to be celebrated with parades, speeches, and concerts.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Artists tend to be self-supporting, although government grants occasionally are given for works of special public significance.

Literature. Oral literature, the telling of "old stories," is a revered art form. Written works include historical novels and poetry.

Graphic Arts. Graphic arts, especially painting, tend toward landscapes and seascapes and historical events. There are many private gallaries in Nassau.

Performance Arts. Plays are performed for tourists and residents at amateur and professional theaters in Nassau and Freeport. Concerts range from youth-oriented popular music (reggae, rock, rap) to more adult-oriented forms (blues, jazz, gospel) to classical music. The largest events are held in Nassau and Freeport, but smaller concerts are held in most out-island communities.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Faculty members from the College of the Bahamas conduct a limited amount of scientific research. More is conducted by foreign researchers, especially marine biologists. Social science research tends to be in applied fields such as economic development, finance, social work, and public health. Medicine and engineering are not well developed.


Collinwood, Dean W. The Bahamas Between Worlds, 1989.

, and Steve Dodge, eds. Modern Bahamian Society, 1989.

Craton, Michael. A History of the Bahamas. 3rd ed., 1986.

, and Gail Saunders. Islanders in the Stream: A History of the Bahamian People, vol. 1, 1992.

Crowley, Daniel. I Could Talk Old Story Good: Creativity in Bahamian Folklore, 1966.

Dupuch, S. P., editorial director. Bahamas Handbook and Businessman's Annual, 1998.

Holm, John A. and Alison Watt Shilling. Dictionary of Bahamian English, 1982.

Hughes, C. A. Race and Politics in the Bahamas, 1981.

Johnson, Doris. The Quiet Revolution in the Bahamas, 1971.

LaFlamme, Alan G. Green Turtle Cay: An Island in the Bahamas, 1985.

Otterbein, Keith F. The Andros Islanders, 1966.

Alan Laflamme

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The people of Bahamas are called Bahamians. Descendants of slaves brought to the Western Hemisphere from Africa make up about 86 percent of the population. About 8 percent of the population is of mixed origin. The remainder is white, mostly of British descent.

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