ETHNONYMS: People of Saint Kitts, People of Nevis, Kittitians
The Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis is an independent nation formed by two islands in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles; its population was 40,923 in 1991. Saint Kitts (originally, Saint Christopher's island) is located at 17°17′ N and 62°43′ W; Nevis is at 17°8′ N and 62°37′ W. The two islands, separated by a stretch of water only 3.2 kilometers wide, have a total area of 269 square kilometers. Their geologic origin is volcanic. The climate is tropical, with temperatures varying between 18°C and 32°C, and precipitation ranging from 100 to 300 centimeters yearly. There is no rainy season, but there is a hurricane season from July to September. There is an abundance of water, to a degree that irrigation is unnecessary; however, erosion, caused by poor agricultural practices and the overgrazing of livestock, has damaged the naturally fertile soils in parts of Saint Kitts and in wide areas of Nevis.
All but 10 percent of the population is Black, descendants of African slaves. The small number of Whites have a disproportionately large influence on the economy by virtue of their great influence in trading and banking. There are also some people with ancestry in both races. Most people are Anglicans, with the rest adhering to the Catholic, Church of God, Methodist, and Baptist faiths.
These islands were inhabited by the Carib Indians. After landing in 1493, Christopher Columbus named Saint Kitts after his patron saint Saint Christopher, the name eventually being shortened to the English nickname "Kitt." In 1623 the British settled a portion of Saint Kitts, and the French settled the rest of the island in 1624. In 1628 some of the British on Saint Kitts settled Nevis. Together, the French and British eliminated the Carib presence. The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 gave Saint Kitts to the British, but the French later made several attempts to gain control there. The Treaty of Paris restated British dominion in 1783. The British subsequently established sugarcane plantations worked by African slaves. Soil erosion on Nevis caused the plantation owners there to leave, relinquishing the land to peasant farmers.
Saint Kitts and Nevis adopted their constitution and gained independence from Britain on 19 September 1983, although the British monarch still stands as their head of state. The country is officially a constitutional monarchy within the British Commonwealth, and the Crown is represented by a governor general. The legislature has eleven popularly elected members, eight from Saint Kitts and three from Nevis. There is also a cabinet and a prime minister. Further, there is a Nevis Island Legislature and Nevis Island Assembly with a premier.
The economy remains heavily dependent on the government-owned sugar industry, which—given declining world prices and intermittent hurricane damage—often runs at a loss. Because this industry pays such low wages, most citizens of the country will not work in it; laborers must be imported from Saint Vincent and Guyana. Nevis depends primarily on Sea Island cotton raised on small farms. In the late twentieth century the tourism industry has been strong, and owing to a government policy encouraging foreign investment, there are also some small manufacturers of clothing and electronics components. The United States is the nation's most important trading partner, followed by the United Kingdom.
Aronoff, Joel (1967). The Inter-Relationship of Psychological and Cultural Systems: A Case Study of a Rural West Indian Village. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms.
Aronoff, Marilyn (1973). Community in Industrial Society: A Study of a West Indian Labor Movement. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms.
Richardson, Bonham C. (1983). Caribbean Migrants: Environment and Human Survival on St. Kitts and Nevis. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.