Cultures in the Caribbean are like unique, homemade stews cooked from a mixture of influences. People from far-flung parts of the world who have endured hundreds of years of migration, slavery, exploration, and colonization now happily call the Caribbean home. Many such experiences have guided the history and culture of the people of the Bahamas, creating a friendly and celebratory group of people who are proud of their cultural heritage.
The majority of the 305,000 residents of the Bahamas live on the island of New Providence. While English Puritans would come to the island for religious freedom, and English Loyalists would come to the Bahamas after the American Revolution, the overwhelming cultural influence on the islands is West African. Slaves were originally brought to the Bahamas from West Africa to work the islands' cotton plantations. In 1834, when slavery was abolished by the English, most former slaves stayed on the islands to begin trades such as fishing and shipbuilding. Bush medicine, which uses indigenous plants to heal the sick, also became an important skill brought by the slaves.
The names on the islands reflect the diversity of people who have called the Bahamas home. Scottish, Irish, and Eleutheran names are still represented today. English is the primary language spoken in the region, though cultural influences have created a unique and pleasant dialect. Patois, traditional English, and African words, pronunciations, and idioms have all been assimilated into the unique brand of English found in the Bahamas. Listeners will note, for example, the Cockney-like dropping of the letter "H" from the beginning of words. The people in the Bahamas are simultaneously proud and jovial. Common interactions are expected and include courtesies such as "how are you?" and "good afternoon." Business meetings and church attendance are both important aspects of daily life in the Bahamas, and the dress code for both is typically more formal than many vacationers may expect.
...deeply religious Bahamians...
The deeply religious Bahamians find time to celebrate every occasion, from a wedding to a death. The prevalence of religion on the islands can be easily traced back to the Puritan Eleutheran adventurers who escaped to the Bahamas to flee a religiously oppressive atmosphere in England. Churches saturate the landscape, and locals don their most stunning attire for regular church service. West African slaves also brought religion, medicine, and music, all of which would have an impact on the Bahamas over the years.
Festivals and celebration play an important role in Bahamian culture, and events such as the Fox Hill Festival and the All Andros Crabfest include food and lively music. The most unique and vibrant of all of the Bahamian festivals is the well-known Junkanoo. The festival, much like Carnival held in other parts of the Caribbean, is characterized by parades, costumes, dance, and food. The tradition grew out of the break that slaves used to receive around Christmas time during the plantation era on the islands. Crepe paper is used to meticulously fashion intricate and colorful costumes that provide the perfect visual accompaniment to the energetic music. Parades are held for the event on Dec. 26 and Jan. 1.
Colorful local artwork has found a staid place in the Bahamas. With the vistas of sparkling crystalline waters and luminous beaches, it is not hard to understand why art is important to the people of these islands. Music is also intensely important in the Bahamas, and a number of styles have found permanent homes. Goombay is the official music of the Bahamas. This rhythmic music played during Junkanoo is often referred to as rake and scrape music, and makes use of the goombay drum. The guitar and saxophone are other instruments that help create this lively and entertaining music. If fine arts are of interest to you, consider staying at, or just stopping by Baha Mar. This luxury resort property announced in 2013 that they were making an effort to make local artwork a part of the overall guest experience. The end goal is for their on-site art gallery to hold the largest collection of local artwork in the country.
The true test of a culture is its resilience to change and disappearance. With Junkanoo and a strong sense of religion and heritage, the proud culture of the Bahamas has continued to survive and strengthen, no matter how many tourists call upon these beautiful islands.
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