The Lucayans (derived from 'lukka-caire' meaning island people) were the first known inhabitants
of the Exumas, having settled here in the Ninth Century AD. They set up egalitarian communities in
coves, built thatched shelters, and lived off the land and from the sea. Columbus, perhaps the first
tourist, arrived in San Salvador in 1492, thinking he had found India. Spanish explorers followed in
Colombus's trail and within 25 years the entire indigenous population was virtually gone. The Spanish
bestowed on the islands the name "Baja Mar" - meaning shallow seas - and ever since the islands have
been called the Bahamas.
The location and geography of the islands attracted many well-known pirates who dominated the Bahamas for the next hundred years. The waters are still believed to be rich with treasure
from ships lured into the shallow waters. This 'Golden Age of Piracy' did not end until the early 1700s,
when Britain claimed the islands and recognised them as a colony.
Following Britain's defeat in the American Revolution, southern loyalists brought slaves to the islands and
grew cotton under the crown's protection. After the American Civil War and Prohibition, the Bahamas was
transformed into a base for 'rum-running'. Great Britain granted the islands self-government in 1964 and
their status was changed from colony to Commonwealth in 1969. In 1973 the Commonwealth of The Bahamas was
finally returned to its independent state.
The Exuma Cays are part of a mountainous plateau formed of oolitic limestone, a reef-shelf of solid-sea
fossil 20,000 feet thick and rising sheer-sided from the Atlantic seabed. The islands began to take their
present form 500,000 years ago as tiny marine organisms grew atop the stone and added their skeletal
remains. A reddish soil formed during glacial periods, and today the majority of the islands are green and
plentiful, surrounded by coral reefs and sandbanks. The tradewinds play a major role in spawning the flora's
diversity throughout the islands. A combined habitat of Coastal Beach, Dry Grassland and Tropical Deciduous
Forest, along with year-round sunshine and a temperate climate, today make the
Exumas obliging hosts for a great many of these strange and wonderful species.
people and culture
The 275,000 people who live in the Bahamas are predominantly of West African descent, having been
first brought to the islands as slaves to work on cotton plantations. Following the British abolition
of slavery, scores of West Africans fled the USA and landed on the islands as free people. Most white
residents are descendants of the first English settlers, who emigrated from Bermuda in search of religious
freedom. Very few traces remain of the indigenous Lucayan culture; traditional culture is mostly of
African heritage, recognisable in the local music, dance, folktales and more generally in the attitude
toward life. Today the majority of the population is of mixed race and Bahamians enjoy harmonious race
relations. 80% of the population is urban, living in Nassau or Freeport. The rest of the people live
scattered throughout smaller townships on the Family islands (of which the Exumas are a part) where
cultural ways differ and communities are mostly self-sufficient. Generally speaking, the people of the
Bahamas are friendly and hospitable, and take great pride in their beautiful land.
The Bahamas is a stable, developing nation with an economy heavily dependent on tourism and
offshore banking. Per capita income is over US$11,000, one of the highest in the region.
Its economy continues to flourish due to its stable political climate, liberal laws designed to
attract investment, and its proximity to North America. Tourism accounts for more than 60% of the
GDP and directly employs 40% of the local labour force. Shipping accounts for 20% while agriculture
and fishing contribute to less than 10%. The country's GDP is growing at a rate of 4% per year.
The Bahamian dollar is the basic currency and is traded at parity with the US dollar.