Bahamians - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Social organization is based primarily on kinship. The members of one's kindred provide both emotional and material support. The unrestricted descent group may even provide a building lot for a man. Growing up in the same settlement is likely to lead to lifelong friendships, but school attendance fosters friendships among children from different settlements. The social-class system of the Bahamas prior to about 1960 can be characterized as a three-tiered pyramid, with Bahamians of African ancestry at the base, Bahamian Whites (known as "Conchs" or pejoratively as "Conchy Joes") in the middle, and the British official class, including wealthy expatriates, at the top. Many Bahamian Whites, particularly those residing in Nassau, have some African ancestry. Today the British are gone, many members of the business class are of African ancestry, and the Progressive Liberal party (PLP), the ruling party from 1968 to 1982, largely draws its membership from among Bahamians of African ancestry. The former opposition political party, the Free National Movement (FNM), draws its membership from both the White community and that of African ancestry.

Political Organization. The Bahamas has a parliamentary government inherited from the British. From independence (10 July 1973) until August 19, 1992, the PLP controlled the forty-nine-seat House of Assembly. Sir Lynden Pindling, leader of the PLP, was the prime minister for this entire period. The FNM defeated the PLP on 19 August 1992 by obtaining thirty-two seats in the House of Assembly. Hubert Alexander Ingraham, leader of the FNM, became prime minister and Orville Alton Turnquest the deputy prime minister. In addition to the leadership, there are thirteen cabinet ministers. The Senate has sixteen members, with nine appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the prime minister, four on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and three on the advice of the prime minister after consultation with the leader of the opposition. The governor-general represents the British monarch, who is the titular head of government.

Social Control. A well-developed legal structure was inherited from the British; English common law and much of English statute law were adopted almost word for word. The basic structure is entrenched in the constitution of the Bahamas. Three main functions are generally distributed under the authority of the law of the constitution: the executive function is entrusted to the prime minister and his cabinet, the legislative function is entrusted to parliament, and the judicial function is entrusted to the courts. The independent judiciary includes magistrates courts, the Supreme Court with a chief justice and five other justices, and a three-judge Court of Appeal; the constitution grants the right to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England. In the out islands commissioners can act as magistrates. The administration of justice properly includes law enforcement (i.e., police functions) and lawful prosecutions (the sphere of the attorney general's office). Informal social control, particularly in the out islands, is based on fear of developing a bad reputation and fear of obeah, the practice of harmful magic.

Conflict. Except for the very early years (before 1718) when Nassau was a center for pirates, the Bahamas was a peaceful country for much of its history; there were no slave uprisings. The riots of 1942 were sparked by wage inequities. Verbal public confrontations, although common, seldom escalated into violence, and homicides were rare. In recent times, however, drug trafficking has brought crime and violence to the country.


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