The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is an independent English-speaking nation in the West Indies. An archipelago of 700 islands and cays (or keys), the Bahamas is located in the Atlantic Ocean, east of Florida in the United States, north of Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean, and west of the British dependency of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Christopher Columbus' first landfall in the New World in 1492 is believed to have been on the island of San Salvador (also called Watling's Island), located in the southern Bahamas. He encountered friendly Arawak (also known as Lucayan) Amerindians and exchanged gifts with them.
From the late 1400s until the 1600s, Spain controlled the Bahamas. In the 18th century, British Loyalists who had left New England due to increasing anti-British sentiments moved to the islands. Due to the large number of British settlers across the islands, custody of the chain was transferred from Spain to Britain, and the Bahama Islands were named a British colony in 1783.
In 1973, Bahamians voted for and received independence from Britain while remaining a part of the Commonwealth of Nations. Since attaining independence, the Bahamas has prospered through tourism, international banking, and investment management.
Queen Elizabeth II, is the head of state and the Queen of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, which has remained a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. She is represented in the Bahamas by a Governor General of the Bahamas, appointed by the monarch herself. Head of government is the prime minister, usually the leader of the winning party of the elections for the parliament. The Bahamian parliament consists of two chambers, the Senate (with 16 members) and the House of Assembly (40). Elections are held every 5 years.
The largest island of the Bahamas is Andros, in the west. The island of New Providence, east of Andros, is the site of the capital city Nassau and home to about two-thirds of the total population. Other important islands are Grand Bahama in the north and Inagua in the south.
Most of the islands - coral formations - are relatively flat, with some low rounded hills, the highest of which is Mount Alvernia, on Cat Island, at 63 m. The local climate is tropical, moderated by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, with frequent hurricanes and tropical storms from May until October.
The Bahamas is a stable, developing nation with an economy heavily dependent on tourism and offshore banking. Tourism alone accounts for more than 60% of GDP and directly or indirectly employs almost half of the archipelago's labour force. Steady growth in tourism receipts and a boom in construction of new hotels, resorts, and residences have led to solid GDP growth in recent years.
Manufacturing and agriculture together contribute approximately a tenth of GDP and show little growth, despite government incentives aimed at those sectors. Overall growth prospects in the short run rest heavily on the fortunes of the tourism sector, which depends on growth in the United States, the source of the majority of tourist visitors.
Most of the Bahamian population is black (85%); about 12% is white. The official language is English, spoken by virtually all inhabitants, though many speak a Creole form of it.
A heavily religious country, there are more places of worship per person in the Bahamas than any other nation in the world. Christianity is the main religion on the islands, with Baptists forming the largest denomination (about one third), followed by the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches.
Many people, especially in the southern and eastern islands, practice obeah, a spiritistic religion similar to voodoo. It is common for Christians to involve elements of obeah in their own religions and daily lives. While popular throughout the Bahamas, obeah is shunned by many whites and people living in urban areas.
Bahamanian culture is a hybrid of African, European and indigenous forms. Perhaps its most famous export is a rhythmic form of music called junkanoo.
The climate of the Bahamas is subtropical to tropical, and is moderated significantly by the waters of the Gulf Stream, particularly in winter. Conversely, this often proves very dangerous in the summer and autumn, when hurricanes pass near or through the islands. Hurricane Andrew hit the northern islands in 1992, and Hurricane Floyd hit most of the islands in 1999. Hurricane Frances of 2004 is expected to be the worst ever for the islands.
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