B. SHORT DESCRIPTION OF THE BAHAMAS The Bahamas is an archipelagic state comprising 29 islands, 661 cays and 2,387 islets (rocks) located in the Atlantic Ocean 50 miles south of Florida and north of Cuba and Hispaniola. This multi-island State has a total land area of 13,939 km sq (5,382 sq miles) and is home to an estimated 330,000 persons of several races.
The recorded history of the Bahamas dates back roughly to about the 11th century AD, when a small group of Taino people (who were later known as the Lucayans) inhabited the southern Bahamas. At the time of the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the island in 1492, there were over 30,000 Lucayans. With the arrival of the Spaniards, who followed Columbus and rapidly depopulated the Bahamas by capturing many Lucayans and carrying them off as slaves, the tranquillity quickly ended. The rest of the population was wiped out by infectious diseases such as smallpox which was brought by the Europeans.
Attempts in the later years by Spain, France and Britain to settle on the islands failed until the Eleutherian Adventurers, a group of English Puritans, originally from Bermuda, established the first permanent settlement. In 1670, when King Charles II granted the islands to the Lords Proprietors of the Carolinas, the Bahamas became very disorderly. Pirates had made it a retreat and to restore order, the Bahamas was made a British Crown Colony.
When the Americans finally won their independence from Britain, in 1763, 7,300 Loyalists and their slaves moved to the Bahamas from New York, Florida and the Carolinas. These Americans established plantations on several islands and became a political force in the capital. From that point on the rest of the population was mostly African.
When the British abolished the slave trade in 1807, it led to the forced settlement on Bahamian islands of thousands of Africans liberated from slave ships by the Royal Navy. Afro-Bahamians are now the largest ethnic group in the Bahamas; they account for 85% of the country's population. Other ethnic groups such as Europeans (12%), Asians & Hispanic (3%) inhabit the Bahamas. Of special interest is the sizeable number of Haitians reported to be residing there now.
Modern political development began in the 20th century. The first political parties were formed in the 1950s and the British made the islands internally self-governing in 1964. Since then, the Bahamas has had relatively steady increase in economic development. Over the years however, there remain, like in every other Caribbean territory, significant challenges in areas such as education, health care and international narcotics trafficking.