The History of Antigua and Barbuda
Antigua and Barbuda is a twin island nation situated between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. There are two major islands, Antigua and Barbuda, as well as several other smaller islands. The island nation has often been called the Land of 365 Beaches due to the many incredible beaches surrounding the islands.
It is generally believed that Antigua was the first island to be settled, most probably by the Amerindians known more commonly as the Archaic People. The earliest evidence dates back to 2900BC and shows evidence of a pre-ceramic Cuban people. Later artifacts illustrate the Saladoid people who emigrated from the Venezuelan island chain. These people were later replaced by the Arawakan speakers who were the first to introduce agriculture to Antigua. In 1200AD the Antiguans were growing the now famous ‘Black’ pineapple, corn (maize), chiles, guava, tobacco, cotton and a form of white sweet potato. Many of these foods still play a major role in the cuisine offered in Antigua hotels. Ducuna, for example, is a sweet steamed dumpling made from grated sweet potatoes, flour, and spices.
Many invasions of Antigua took place over its history, the first carried out by the Caribs, the Spanish and the British. However it wasn’t until 1493 that Christopher Columbus successfully landed and named the island Santa Maria de la Antigua. Attempts to colonize the island were unsuccessful due to the excellent defenses of the inhabitants. Finally, in 1632 England succeeded and Mr. Thomas Warner declared himself the first governor. Cash crops such as sugarcane, indigo and ginger were established and natives to the island were enslaved.
Barbuda has much the same early history as Antigua. The differences begin in 1685 when the island was leased to Christopher and John Codrington who established a massive sugarcane plantation. The brothers established the only town on the island, Codrington, and enslaved thousands of West Africans. There were many slave uprisings over the history of the plantations, and at one time Barbuda was used as a slave nursery for plantations on other Caribbean islands. The use of slaves left a bitter legacy on the islands as so-called freedom was instilled in 1834 without any apprenticeship or transition period. As a slave, workers on the islands had no possessions or income. Therefore former slaves were instantly impoverished and had no choice but to continue working on the plantations even after emancipation. Conditions and low wages kept the people dependent on their former masters and unable to demand any improvement in treatment. In August a national carnival is held commemorating the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies.
During the 18th century the British Royal Navy used Antigua as their headquarters for the Caribbean fleet. Lord Horatio Nelson commanded the fleet and was very unpopular with local residents, both native and European, for his installation of the Navigation Act. The act stated that only British ships could trade with British colonies, specifically excluding the newly formed United States.
Finally in 1981 Antigua and Barbuda achieved independence from the United Kingdom. They still remain part of the Commonwealth of Nations and a constitutional monarchy, much like Canada.
Until theimprovement of tourism in the last 50 years, the people of Antigua and Barbuda were impoverished. Now, the main source of economy for the twin island nation is tourism. In the community of Bolans on the south-western end of Antigua is the famous Jolly Beach Resort. The culture on Antigua and Barbuda is heavily influenced by the British. The architecture, the food, the national sport is even cricket. Religion and family play an important role in Antiguan lives, with large celebrations for birthdays, anniversaries and weddings.
The history of Antigua and Barbuda is volatile and dramatic, but its resilient people have grown from their hardship and found a way to celebrate their beautiful islands. Visit the twin island and experience the incredible landscape and multitude of beaches.