On the 1 November 1981, a paradise star in the Caribbean was born. The nation of Antigua and Barbuda became a sovereign and independent country, eventually taking its place among its peers in the United Nations, the Commonwealth and many other global institutions.
Antigua and Barbuda is a twin-island state around the centre of an archipelago almost stretching from Florida to South America. Though we speak of a twin-island state, current-day Antigua and Barbuda has three main inhabited islands: Antigua, Barbuda and Long Island (which is locally also known as Jumby Bay) as well as several smaller islands – Green Island, Guinea Island, Bird Island, Maiden Island, York Island and Redonda.
Antigua was first settled by the Amerindians, followed by the Arawaks, who introduced agriculture, such as Antigua’s famous black pineapple, corn, sweet potatoes, guava, tobacco and cotton. The Caribs later defeated the Arawaks and dominated the island until the arrival of the Europeans, with Christopher Columbus who first sighted the island in 1493, naming it ‘Santa Maria La Antigua’ after a church in Seville, Spain.
The English settlers arrived in 1632, while Sir Christopher Codrington settled in Barbuda, establishing the first large-scale sugar estate, Betty’s Hope, in Antigua in 1674. The English settlers established sugar plantations, many of which carried their names (Vernon, Gunthropes, Duers, Parry, Cochran and Winthorpe), and later Africans were brought to provide slave labour to work on these estates. In 1728 there was a small uprising and in 1736, a major slave rebellion was claimed to be uncovered. The three ring leaders – Court, Tomboy and Hercules – were ‘broken’ on the wheel and some 80 others were brutally executed.
Slavery was abolished in Antigua on the 1 August 1834, but the freed slaves continued to provide cheap labour for the owners of the sugar estates well into the twentieth century. Many villages were established when the freed slaves moved away from their former masters’ estates, including Freetown and Liberta (or liberty village).
In 1846, the Assembly voted to import Portuguese workers from Madeira and the Cape Verde Islands, and around 2,000 arrived as replacement labour over the next nine years. Just after the start of the next century, several traders from Lebanon arrived on the islands and settled there.
In early 1918, the planters attempted to exploit the workers by changing the method of paying for cane at the factory, resulting in the 9 March 1918 riot. Many people were killed and injured during the disturbances, forcing the planters to reverse their decision on cane payment.
In the 1940s the arrival of the Trade Union generated a desire for more involvement in the governance of the island, and membership of the Assembly was eventually opened to national representatives of the population. In 1962, the attempts at forming a West Indies Federation failed. The larger territories in the region negotiated independence from the colonial masters and became sovereign nations and members of the Commonwealth of Nations. The smaller islands, including Antigua and Barbuda, were left as colonies of Great Britain.
The island was granted self-governance in 1967 (also referred to as Independence in Association with Great Britain) under which Britain was responsible for external affairs and defence, while the locally-elected government held responsibility for internal matters.
On the 1 November 1981, the flag of the new nation of Antigua and Barbuda was raised for the first time as the country became a fully sovereign and independent state with The Queen as Head of State. The first Prime Minister was the late Sir Vere Cornwall Bird Senior and the first Governor-General (or Queen’s Representative on the island) was the late Sir Wilfred Jacob. The current Governor-General is Dame Louise Lake-Tack and the current Prime Minister is the Hon Dr Baldwin Spencer, who has been in office since 2004.
Executive power is exercised by the elected government while the legislative power is vested in a bicameral parliament consisting of a House of Representatives and a Senate, each with 17 members. Mrs Hazelyn Francis is the current President of the Senate.
Antigua and Barbuda has a population of around 90,000 which is mostly made up of people of African-Caribbean descent. Ethnic distribution consists of 91 per cent black, 4.4 per cent mixed race, 1.7 per cent white and 2.9 per cent of other ethnicities (primarily East Indian and Asian).
Around 80 per cent of Antiguans and Barbudans are Christians with this group consisting of Anglicans (Church of England), Methodists, Moravians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists and Catholics. Non-Christian religions practiced on the islands include the Rastafarian Movement, Islam, Judaism and the Baha’i Faith.
Designed by Gordon Christopher, the national coat of arms depicts our famous pineapple, red Hibiscus flowers, and a golden sun setting into blue and white wavy banks representing the sun, sea and white sand beaches. The sugar mills and cane depict the production of sugar and the deer depicts Antigua and Barbuda’s wildlife of years gone by.
Designed by Sir Reginald Samuel, the national flag shows a setting sun to symbolise the dawn of a new era and the ‘v’ shape indicates the victory of our people. In terms of colour, the red represents the dynamism of our people; the blue hope; the black the soil and the nation’s African heritage; and the gold, blue and white the country’s natural tourist attractions of the sun, sea and sand. The Nation’s moto is ‘Each Endeavouring, All Achieving.’
Sports in Antigua and Barbuda have developed as a mixture of British and Spanish influences, with cricket being the national sport. A world renowned cricketing venue, Antigua and Barbuda has produced several world acclaimed cricketers, including Anderson Montgomery Roberts, Richard ‘Richie’ Richardson, Curtly Ambrose, Ridley Jacobs and Sir Vivian Richards. Sir Vivian Richards scored the fastest century, and Brian Lara surpassed Sir Garfield Sobers’ long standing test record to create a new record of 400 runs at the Antigua Recreation Grounds.
Antigua and Barbuda’s other sporting activities include horse and drag racing, and with so many beautiful beaches, it is no wonder that the sea provides another area for sporting activities such as sailing, surfing and parasailing, to name but a few. The world famous Antigua Sailing Week takes place around April each year, attracting sailing enthusiasts from all over the world.
In terms of culture, music has historically played an important role in Antiguan and Barbudan society. It is home to the first steelband that was commercially recorded, The Brute Force Steelband, and the first ‘all girls’ steelband.
The oldest steelband in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States is the Hellsgate Steel Orchestra of Antigua and Barbuda. We also have a number of pan soloists, including the renowned Lacu Samuel. Calypso is also a popular musical art-form, and Antigua and Barbuda has produced numerous calypsonians.
I hope these facts will entice you to visit Antigua and Barbuda, to enjoy the warmth of our people and the beauty of the islands.