Anguilla in the Past and in the Present

Anguilla's past has impacted in the island's present economy and culture

Photo credit: © tiarescott

The history of Anguilla strays away from the beaten path of other islands in the Caribbean, though it does share some similarities with its neighbors. The roots of Anguilla's heritage begin with the Amerindians who came to the island long before Europeans claimed the land in the name of their home countries.


English settlers came to Anguilla around 1650 and began establishing colonies on the island.  At about 35 square miles, Anguilla is approximately half the size of Washington D.C. with flat, low-lying land.  All though British explorers attempted to cultivate cash crops and large plantations to gain money and power from the land, Anguilla did not turn out to be as profitable a settlement as the explorers had hoped. Due to the island's thin soil, arid climate, and unpredictable rainfall, growing large amounts of major cash crops was very difficult. This made establishing the massive plantations that were so popular in the rest of the Caribbean virtually impossible. African slaves were brought to the island, but since there were no plantations to be farmed, many of the English settlers left in search of more profitable ventures elsewhere in the region.   Even today, agriculture is not a profitable one, with major natural resources being lobster, fish, and salt. 

...preserve their heritage and history.


After Europeans abandoned Anguilla in search of more profitable land, the black slaves were left on the island, and some bought land from their former masters. Thus, some blacks enjoyed the freedom of making a living for themselves even before the British officially emancipated them. The mixture of African and European heritage on Anguilla has created a unique and rich culture.


The culture on Anguilla is filled with interesting facets, including the islanders' past and present religious practices, their holidays and celebrations, and their efforts to preserve their heritage and history. Years of trying to communicate with plantation owners caused many Africans to lose their native tongue, and to this day English remains the official language of Anguilla.  One way slaves had of preserving their heritage was to incorporate their traditional cuisine with those food sources available on the island.  This helped to create the unique style of Caribbean food, which includes mixtures of African, Creole, and European dishes, as well as some that are wholly unique to the islands.  With over 70 restaurants in Anguilla, visitors can easily find and sample many of these dishes.  


Today, Anguilla is an island of peace and tranquility, but it has not always been so. The political structure of Anguilla has weathered various conflicts.  Today Anguilla's government is based around a parliamentary representative democratic dependency.  This means that the head of government is the Chief Minister (similar to a Prime Minister), and decisions are made by a multi-party parliament.


The island's economy began with independent islanders taking up seafaring jobs to provide for themselves, and moved to an economy that relies on revenue from the tourism industry.  The past decade has seen the number of tourists visiting the island increase significantly each year. However, visitors stopping in for day trips from other islands or on excursions off cruise ships has not increased much. This is because many large cruise ships pass up Anguilla for other islands that are better known for larger ports and duty-free shopping.  Those who do visit the island tend to stay for the tranquility afforded by Anguilla's 33 beaches, rather than shopping opportunities or attractions.  These visitors also typically stay for anywhere between three to eight days.  

Whether you choose to visit Anguilla for a day or stay for a week, you are sure to discover that past events have shaped the island's present, creating the perfect culture for vacationers to enjoy.


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