Bermuda is a self-governing British dependency located in the southern North Atlantic Ocean at 32°18′ N, 64°47′ W. It is an archipelago of approximately 150 islands, which have a total land area of 53 square kilometers. Geologically, it is a limestone formation that lies above an extinct volcano. The ground is very porous, and so the people must depend upon rainwater collected from their roofs.
The majority (61 percent) of the 58,337 (1990) Bermudians are Black, 38 percent are White (English, Portuguese, Canadian, and other European), and the remaining 1 percent are Chinese and East Indian. The people speak English. The most popular religion is Anglicanism (37 percent), followed by Catholicism (14 percent), African Methodist Episcopalianism (10 percent), Methodism (6 percent), and Seventh Day Adventistism (5 percent); the remaining 28 percent are of other faiths.
The history of Bermuda is unusual. There were no aboriginal inhabitants for the Spanish explorers to discover in the early sixteenth century. The Spanish did not colonize it, but the British did after some English colonists bound for Virginia plantations were shipwrecked there in 1609. An enterprise called the "Bermuda Company" sent colonists to begin a plantation; however, the soil was so thin and poor that the crops failed; even today less than 1 percent of the land is arable. The colonists responded by turning to the sea, and in ships made of Bermudian cedar they transported goods and traded all up and down the eastern seaboard of the United States and as far south as Barbados. They also collected salt, fished, and whaled. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many of the colonists profited as privateers and pirates. A few slaves were imported, but there was little need for them. Most of the colony's Black population originated from immigration from the West Indies. Despite the poor soil, the colonists persisted in trying to farm, even importing Portuguese laborers for that purpose in the nineteenth century, at about the time that steamships were undermining the Bermudian maritime industry.
Racial relations have long been contentious. The small White population controls most of the economy and government, a situation that led to racial riots in 1972, 1973, and 1977.
The Bermudians established a constitution in 1968. Their government consists of a governor appointed in London, a cabinet appointed by the governor, and a bicameral legislature comprised of an appointed Senate and an elected House of Assembly. There is also a Bermudian court system with a supreme court. Political patronage is a central feature of the government. Moneys and favors circulate within the large extended families of the colony. Whites often keep Blacks politically and economically indebted to them, and Blacks repay their debts by buying from their benefactors and by voting for them in elections. Anger caused by this system manifests itself infrequently because the leaders make sure that all Bermudians have food and housing. Nevertheless, the benefactors can fire Blacks from their jobs, raise their rents, deny them credit or promotions, or cancel their mortgages, making most Blacks very dependent on the White elite.
The Bermudian economy is strong, with virtually no unemployment. The mainstay of the economy is tourist dollars, most of which come from the United States. Another bright point in the economic picture is the offshore industries, of which there are more than 6,200, including many insurance corporations. Many of the offshore corporations are in Bermuda to escape the political uncertainties found in Hong Kong and Panama.
Despite the full employment and growing economy, there are economic problems in Bermuda. The shortage of land has created a shortage of housing, which has led to very high prices. The prices of nearly all consumer goods are also extremely high owing to the fact that they must all be imported. Farming, never very productive in the first place, has declined as more attention has been devoted to tourism. Fishing is now mostly for sport, and manufacturing never was important. The colony has strong right-towork laws, which have greatly weakened whatever power the unions have been able to create; wages have therefore remained low. The government has paid scant attention to the social needs of the poor.
Critchley, David (1989). Shackles of the Past. Bermuda: Engravers.
Manning, Frank E. (1973). Black Clubs in Bermuda: Ethnography of a Play World. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Manning, Frank E. (1978). Bermudian Politics in Transition: Race, Voting, and Public Opinion. Hamilton, Bermuda: Island Press.