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ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA - Short History of the Holiday Isles

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Officially known as the State of Antigua and Barbuda it is an independent group of three islands in the Leeward Group of the Lesser Antilles, which is in the eastern Caribbean Sea. The third island in the group is Redonda, which is uninhabited. The State of Antigua Barbuda covers an area of some 171 square miles. The capital of the State is St. Johns on Antigua and the overall population is just over 80,000, the majority of who are of African descent, with a small percentage (around 4%) being of British descent, a legacy of colonial rule. Being a tropical island the year round temperatures vary from about 24º C in January to 27ºC in August and September.

The islands are strategically placed within the Caribbean, and owe much of their history and development to the fact that at one time Antigua was known as "the gateway to the Caribbean". Ships sailing from Europe were forced to transit through the Leeward Islands and Antigua became an important strategic control point as well a commercial hub for European trade with the whole of the West Indies.
First populated by the successive waves of Amerindian peoples settlement on the islands was mainly from the peoples of South America in particular the Arawaks who came by canoe from Venezuela. They introduced farming to the islands and a legacy of their farming is still found today in Dukuna a dumpling made from Sweet Potato.
Despite Columbus landing on and naming the island Santa Maria de la Antigua, European settlement was slow in coming. However by 1632 England had colonised the islands and by 1674 the first big sugar plantations were in production, owned by Sir Christopher Codrington, Barbuda's main town is named after him. The sugar plantations required workers and thousands of slaves were brought from Africa.
During the 18th Century Antigua became the Headquarters of the Royal Navy in the Caribbean and Admiral Nelson commanded the British Fleet, a substantial dockyard was established at English Harbour, the dockyard closed in 1889, but today the restored dockyard provides the only example of a Georgian Dockyard in the world. With the abolition of the slave trade in 1834 change was heralded however the former slave population were still very much tied to working the old plantations and it wasn't until the 1940's that Trade Unions and political reform improved the situation.
Today Antigua and Barbuda are independent members of the Commonwealth of Nations, with Queen Elizabeth II as the constitutional monarch, independence was granted in 1981. The main income generator for the islands today are tourism, with water sports a prominent feature. The pleasant climate, low rainfall and low humidity all add to the attractions and the history is still very visible.


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