PRONUNCIATION: an-TEE-gahns and bar-BYEW-dahns
LOCATION: Antigua and Barbuda
LANGUAGE: English; Creole dialect
RELIGION: Anglican; other Protestant Christian groups; Roman Catholicism
The nation of Antigua and Barbuda consists of two islands located in the Caribbean Sea. Christopher Columbus sighted Antigua in 1493 and gave it its original name, Santa María de la Antigua. Spanish, French, British, and Dutch colonizers avoided Antigua and Barbuda. However, in 1632 a group of British settlers sailed from the nearby island of St. Kitts and established tobacco and ginger plantations.n-Except for a brief period of French rule in 1666, Antigua and neighboring Barbuda remained under British control for over 300 years. The islands became major producers of sugar, with the work done mostly by slaves brought to the islands from Africa.
The slaves were emancipated (freed) in 1834 but their living conditions were little better than they had been under slavery, since they had no way to get food and shelter. Antigua and Barbuda won the right to self-govern, with no control by the British, in 1967. Full independence followed in 1981. Some residents of Barbuda wanted to separate from Antigua. They were convinced to remain united with Antigua with the promise that Barbuda could control its own affairs. Barbudans continue to feel they have been ignored by both the British (before independence) and the majority on Antigua (after independence). A Barbudan proverb expresses this feeling: "Barbuda is behind God's back."
Antigua and Barbuda—close to the midpoint of the island chain known as the Lesser Antilles—is located at the outer curve of the Leeward Islands, between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Antigua is 404 miles (650 kilometers) southeast of Cuba. With an area of 108 square miles (281 square kilometers), it is the second-largest of the Leeward Islands and about two-thirds the size of New York City. Barbuda lies about 31 miles (50 kilometers) northeast of Antigua and is about half its size.
Barbuda has sandy beaches and a large lagoon and mangrove swamp on its western side. The island was leased to a single British family for nearly 200 years and has only one village, Codrington.
The population of Antigua and Barbuda is just under 75,000, of whom 1,200 live on Barbuda. St. John's, the country's capital and economic center, has an estimated population of 35,000 to 40,000 people.
English is the official language of Antigua and Barbuda, but most inhabitants speak a dialect that is based on standard English combined with African expressions and local slang. Standard English pronunciation and grammar are also modified.
One of the most noticeable differences is in the form of pronouns used as the subject of a sentence, as in "Her my friend." Antiguans and Barbudans also omit the helping verb "to be." The standard English version of the previous sentence is, "She is my friend."
Obeah, a collection of beliefs and practices from Africa, has followers in Antigua and Barbuda, even though it has been declared illegal. Believers say it can heal the sick, harm one's enemies, and even be used for such common purposes as "fixing" a court case. Its features include a belief in spirits (of which the best-known are jumbies ) and the use of herbal potions.
A number of proverbs are shared among Antiguans and Barbudans to reflect on aspects of daily life. Examples are:
Better man belly bus' than good food waste.
Every dog is lion in he own backyard.
Mout' open, story jump out.
Stone under water na know when sun hot.
No fisherman ever say he fish stink.
De worse o' livin' better than de bes' o' dead.
About 45 percent of the population belongs to the Anglican Church, also known as the Church of England. The Anglican Cathedral overlooking the capital city of St. John's is one of Antigua's oldest landmarks. Other Christian groups account for about 42 percent of the population, and about 8 percent are Roman Catholic.
Public holidays in Antigua and Barbuda include New Year's Day (January 1), Labor Day (first Monday in May), CARICOM Day (July 3), Independence Day (November 1), Christmas (December 25), and Boxing Day (December 26). The Christian holidays of Good Friday, Easter Monday, and Whit Monday are celebrated, and occur on different dates each year. (CARICOM Day commemorates the founding in 1973 of the Caribbean Community and Common Market.)
The nation of Antigua and Barbuda is particularly known for its Carnival celebration, held in late July through the first Tuesday in August. Most of the festivities take place in the capital city of St. John's, including street parades led by revelers wearing elaborate glittering costumes, calypso and steel drum music, street dancing ("jump-up"), and contests. The climax of the festival is J'Ouvert on the first Monday in August. Then, thousands of celebrants pour into the streets at 4:00 AM in a frenzy of dancing accompanied by steel drum and brass bands. The island of Barbuda holds its own, more modest, Carnival celebration, Caribana, in June.
Most young men and women go through the Christian ceremony of religious confirmation, performed around age thirteen. Other major life transitions, such as birth, marriage, and death, are also marked by Christian ceremonies.
"Aunty" and "Uncle" are sometimes used as terms of respect in addressing anyone older than the person speaking. A woman may be addressed with "Mistress" before her last name. A handshake is a customary greeting among business associates.
Most Antiguans and Barbudans live in houses constructed of concrete and wood, with at least two bedrooms, a living/dining room, a kitchen, and a bathroom. Most homes on both islands now have indoor plumbing and electricity.
Couples in Antigua and Barbuda follow customs similar to those on other English-speaking islands in the Caribbean. They may be legally married or may live together without being married. Another arrangement is called a "visiting union." This is where a man and woman consider themselves a couple, but live apart. In this arrangement, the woman raises the children. Many children are raised by relatives other than their parents. Some children grow up in a succession of different households. Where a child lives depends on the family situation, including the parents' financial situation and employment, and whether there are grandparents to care for.
This is an Antiguan and Barbudan recipe. It is served with fungi (cornmeal pudding) or dumplings, but cornbread can be used instead.
Couples may have children whether they are legally married or not. A 1987 law made it illegal to discriminate against children born out of wedlock. Children inherit from their parents, whether or not the mother and father were married.
Antigua and Barbuda is a popular tourist destination, and many women work in the tourist industry. The lack of child care can make it complicated for Antiguan mothers and fathers to raise their children.
The people of Antigua and Barbuda wear modern Western-style clothing. Colorful costumes are worn by many during the Carnival celebration in August.
In 1992, a competition to select a national costume was held as a part of the islands' eleventh anniversary of independence. The winning design was submitted by native Antiguan Heather Doram. The costume has versions for men and women, and is worn by many Antiguans and Barbudans on Heritage Day, the last business day before Independence Day, November 1. The costume features madras fabric, introduced from India after Antigua won independence.
The Creole food of Antigua and Barbuda is similar to that of other West Indian nations and includes such basics as rice and peas, pumpkin soup, and pepperpot soup. Fish and shellfish are an important part of the diet. The regional species of spiny lobster is especially popular, as are crabs and conch. Fungi, a sort of cornmeal pudding made with boiled okra, is another staple on the islands. It is usually served with salt fish.
Breadfruit (originally introduced to the region from the East Indies) is another staple. Meat-filled pastries ("pasties") are sold by street vendors. The country's most distinctive fruit is the Antigua black pineapple, which is exceptionally sweet.
Primary and secondary education is mandatory between the ages of five and sixteen. Pre-primary schooling is available from the age of three. The educational system in Antigua and Barbuda is based on the British system, which has grade levels called "forms." There are forty-five primary schools and twelve secondary schools on the islands. Although the nation has a literacy rate of 90 percent, there are serious problems in the educational system. These include a shortage of qualified teachers and inadequate facilities and supplies.
The music of the Fife Band is an important part of the islands' musical heritage. The band is made up of a stringed guitar, drum, and fife (or flute).
Internationally famous author Jamaica Kincaid was born and grew up on the island of Antigua and now lives in the United States. Her novels, short stories, and essays provide a vivid portrait of the Antiguan people and way of life. Kincaid has been a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine since the 1970s, and her 1988 book-length essay, A Small Place, harshly criticizes British colonialism, the tourist industry, and government corruption and neglect in Antigua.
Antiguan playwright Dorbrene "Fats" Omarde is known for dramas that address the social and political issues confronting his country.
The majority of people in Antigua and Barbuda are employed by the government. About 11 percent of the people work in agriculture; industry employs the remaining 7 percent. Since tourism-related jobs are seasonal, it is a common practice to have ore than one source of income. This may require people to take on such part-time agricultural pursuits as keeping livestock or selling produce from backyard farming. Fishing is an important source of income on Barbuda, as are government employment and tourism.
Cricket, a left-over from the British rule, is the national sport of Antigua and Barbuda. The country has produced some of the world's best players. Antiguans play on the West Indies cricket team, which has been one of the world's best since the 1970s. Soccer is another popular sport.
The Caribbean's most popular male pastime of dominoes is enjoyed in Antigua and Barbuda. A game called warri, a mancala -type game brought from Africa, is also popular. Cricket, soccer, and basketball are all played for recreation.
Favorite types of music include calypso, reggae, and religious hymns. Benna is a type of calypso music that comes from the song-dance of African slaves. It was sung by "Quarkoo," who were Antiguan street vendors and entertainers. The Quarkoo were somewhat like street rappers in America. They made up Benna songs on the spot, using repeating lyrics and "call and response" with the audience. Their lyrics were often satirical or controversial, sometimes landing a Quarkoo in jail.
Antiguan artisans are known for the exceptional quality of their handthrown pottery. Striking items, both decorative and functional, are also crafted from handwoven sea cotton adorned with dyes and embroidery. Other handicrafts include woodcarving and basketry.
Antigua and Barbuda has serious environmental problems. Since there is no central sewage system, contamination by raw sewage and other forms of household waste poses a serious threat to the water supply. This is especially dangerous because the country does not have permanent natural lakes or year-round rivers. Also, the removal of sand for construction purposes threatens the nation's beaches, which are the basis of its tourist industry.
Problems in the educational system have contributed to a shortage of skilled workers, and the tourist industry, while using a large number of workers, creates work that is in most cases unskilled and low-paid. The government's abolition of personal income taxes and its reliance on foreign borrowing have left the country with a massive foreign debt.
Cameron, Sarah, and Ben Box, eds. Caribbean Islands Handbook. Chicago: Passport Books, 1995.
Luntta, Karl. Caribbean Handbook. Chico, Calif.: Moon Publications, 1995.
Schwab, David, ed. Insight Guides. Caribbean: The Lesser Antilles. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.
Walton, Chelle Koster. Caribbean Ways: A Cultural Guide. Westwood, Mass.: Riverdale, 1993.
Antigua and Barbuda Department of Tourism. [Online] Available http://www.interknowledge.com/antigua-barbuda/ , 1998.