The tropical islands of Antigua and Barbuda are located in the heart of the Caribbean about a thousand miles to the east of Jamaica and half that distance from Trinidad on the coast of South America. We are at 17- N latitude, about the same as the Cape Verde Islands and Bombay and 61- W longitude.
The island of Antigua was born out of the sea by a volcano about 30 million years ago. A young island in geologic time. On the northern flank of this volcano, reefs were formed, hence the greater part of Antigua is low lying and is composed of limestone rock.
The highest point of Antigua is 1,319 ft in the south-west and is called Boggy Peak, but the limestone Highlands of Barbuda rise to only 125 ft. The area of Antigua is 108 square miles, while Barbuda is 62 square miles. The population of the former is approaching 80,000, but the latter is relatively unpopulated at 1,300. Days and nights are refreshingly cooled by the gentle trade winds. Antigua boasts the largest expanse of freshwater in the whole of the Caribbean with a lake nearly two miles long by a mile wide.
Barbuda became separated from Antigua by about 28 miles, when the sea-levels of the world rose considerably at about 10,000 BC. Today parts of Barbuda are geologically flooded to form interesting lagoons. Here may be seen the largest breeding and nesting colony of the Magnificent Frigate Bird in the world. Barbuda supports a tremendous diversity of native habitats, as yet unthreatened by development. Reef-fringed Barbuda may be one of the best kept ecological secrets in the West Indies. Her rugged scenery, beautiful beaches, (one at least 12 miles long), lagoons and abundant wildlife may be a resource as valuable as its fisheries.
A History Of Antigua And Barbuda
by Edward T. Henry
Antigua and Barbuda was colonized specifically as a mercantile resource for the production of sugar. No serious attempts at colonization took place until 1632 when a party of Englishmen under the leadership of Edward Warner set out from nearby St. Kitts, landed on the southern side of Antigua and claimed it for the English Crown. They established a tenuous settlement. They lived in a state of perpetual crisis. They were under attack from the Caribs and were caught up in the wars between the English, French and Dutch as well as in the feuds of the Restoration.
The early settlers cultivated cash crops such as tobacco, indigo, cotton and ginger for export and subsistence crops for themselves. In succeeding years sugar came into prominence, its production shaped Antigua’s landscape, and its rain forest vegetation that prevailed before European entry, disappeared. During the seventeenth century Antigua was one of the most heavily wooded islands in the Eastern Caribbean. It supplied seamen with timbers and spars for their ships. Lignum Vitae and other useful plants, now all but extinct, then flourished. The island boasted two small rivers, one at Carlisle and the other at Blubber Valley.
In 1674, a dramatic change in the island’s economy took place when the first large scale sugar plantation was established by Sir Christopher Codrington who came up from Barbados. His success encouraged others to turn to sugar production. Over 150 sugar mills dotted the countryside, many of which are still standing today. The early planters christened many of their large estates with names that are familiar in Antigua today: Byam, Duers, Gunthorpes, Lucas, Parry, Vernon, Cochran, Winthrop, and others.
In 1710 Governor Park was killed in a stand off between his own militia and the planters of the day. In 1728, there was a minor slave uprising and in 1736, a major slave rebellion was alleged to have been uncovered. The three ring leaders, Court, Tomboy, and Hercules were broken on the wheel and some eighty others brutally executed.
In Antigua/Barbuda slavery was abolished in 1834 but it did not “free” the slaves as we understand freedom today, Antiguans continued to be scarred from the colonial experience. Emancipation perpetrated further the hierarchy of colour and race that the British had established at the start of the colonial period. Stringent Acts were passed to ensure that the planters had a constant labour supply.
The Assembly voted in June 1846 to import Portuguese workers from Madeira and the Cape Verde Islands. About 2000 arrived between 1847 and 1856, mostly from Madeira. They were brought here to relieve the shortage of workers occasioned by the departure of labourers from the Estates who sought recruitment in the West India army. In the early 1900’s ethnic diversity increased with the arrival of itinerant traders or peddlers who came from Lebanon. When in early 1918, the planters decided to change the method by which cane was paid for at the factory, the result was the riot of 9th March 1918. Fifteen persons were injured and several killed. The planters’ decision on cane payment was reversed
During the first elections held in 1937, only 1,048 persons or 3.2% of the population voted.
The founding of the Antigua Trades and Labour Union on the instigation of Sir Walter Citrine, a member of the Moyne Commission, that visited the West Indies in 1938/9, marked a significant step in the development of labour relations between the planters of the day and the labourers, most of whom lost no time in becoming members of the Trade Union. For the first time in over one hundred years workers could be assured that their rights were protected. Among other things, the Antigua Trades and Labour Union with its President Reginald Stevens, initiated bargaining processes with the planters and under the dynamic leadership of Vere Cornwall Bird who succeeded him made even greater strides in having the rights of the workers respected. The struggle for the recognition of the rights of the workers was a long and bitter one.
The opening of U.S. Bases in 1941, placed the United States at the centre of Antigua economic and social life but Sugar remained dominant although the declining sector of the economy throughout the 1940’s and 50’s. The Factory was decommissioned in 1980.
The Antigua Labour Party with its trade union base fought and won all subsequent elections, save one when the PLM, an opposing party won in 1971. But the ALP was again returned to power in 1976. Under the Bird administration, Antigua achieved independence in association with Great Britain in 1967, and full independence in 1981. In March 2004, the Antigua Labour Party was defeated at the polls for the second time in its career. The United Progressive Party (UPP) under the leadership of Baldwin Spencer won the elections and formed the Government.
Barbuda is a very flat island of limestone formation lying approximately thirty miles north of Antigua. Its highest elevation is about 128 feet in an area known as the Highlands. Barbuda boasts the finest beaches in the Caribbean one of which is located at Coco Point. Its population numbers around 1400 souls. It has had a long history of dependence, first as a private leasehold of the Codrington family (1685-1870), later as a Crown colony and then as a dependency of Antigua. For many years the political relationship between Antigua and Barbuda has been an uneasy one but with the recent success of the United Progressive Party at the polls, bold steps have been taken to improve this situation and a member of the Barbuda Council (which was formed in 1977) now sits as a member of the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda.
When Barbuda became a part of the new state of Antigua and Barbuda in 1981, its natural endowments were disrupted. It was clear that its small scale productive economy that relied in an earlier century on the salvage of ship wrecks, fishing, hunting and farming, and still does to some extent, could not continue to support the needs of a growing population. Thus many emigrated but kept in touch with the homeland, making remittances to their families from time to time. There are now plans for the development of additional projects similar to the one at Coco Point.
Over the past three decades, its natural resources, particularly its beaches, have become vulnerable to commercial exploitation. Sadly, Barbuda has benefited fractionally from the vast revenues drawn from the sand mining industry over the years and its environment is now in danger of being seriously impaired. Its many coral reefs that surround the island make it dangerous for shipping but at the same time provide a haven for fishing and scuba diving. It is virtually a hunter’s paradise where wild boar, deer, guinea fowl, pigeons and ducks are in abundance.
Development On Historic Sites
What land was good for ancient Amerindian people to build on, is good for Antiguan developers as well today. Take for example. Jolly Beach, where the earliest known archaic people of our land lived nearly 4,000 years ago. Then there is Mamora Bay, Mill Reef, Curtain Bluff, all where the later Arawakan speaking Amerindians lived about 2,000 years ago. Why did they live in these and other similar places? They used the natural resources of the coastal environment, just as we, in a sense, do today.
The Historical and Archaeological Society of Antigua and Barbuda and your Museum has taken two important steps to preserve undeveloped historical sites by informing developers of the historical importance of their land and how these resources could become a valuable asset to their development. Suggested has been:-
- An Amerindian motif for the development;
- Historical motifs for interior decoration
- Use of Amerindian architectural styles for beach houses, bars, craft centres, and other buildings on the grounds;
- A small on-site museum or exhibit to interpret the locality;
- Open to visitors on-going excavations for the information and interest of guests and tenants;
- Set up a summer archaeological school for their students, thus using rooms in the off season.
It is hoped development companies and land use planners would thus become enthusiastic over the prospect of exploiting historical resources. The Historical and Archaeological Society has, on occasion, been asked to peg out scientifically important areas where bush should be cleared by hand rather than by bulldozer. A company once decided to use motifs and names that recalled the history and culture of the ancient developers of the same site. Let’s hope others will follow!