Bahamian cuisine is never, ever bland. One could characterize it as spicy, subtle and uniquely flavoured. Although many ethnicities have shaped the local dishes, the strongest influence would be South American.
Seafood and fresh fish are the staples of the Bahamian diet. The Conch is a large type of ocean mollusc that has firm, white meat and is best enjoyed uncooked with lime juice and spices. Favourites also include the Bahamian Rock Lobster (a spiny variety without claws) and land crabs. A popular brunch is boiled fish served with grits. Fish stew is another local specialty and most dishes are accompanied by peas and rice. The traditional Souse soup is made of water, onions, lime juice, celery, peppers and meat (usually chicken, sheep's tongue, oxtail or pigs' feet). The Bahamian Johnny Cake resembles cornbread.
A rich and varied culture has emerged from the diverse ethnic backgrounds found on the Bahamas. The people continuously explore their artistic side in very colourful ways. Paintings, carvings and other artworks are displayed in local galleries and Straw Markets.
The traditional music of the Bahamas is Goombay. This music style reflects the musical influences of the African slaves during colonial times. Rake and scrape bands had a drum fashioned out of a pork barrel and goatskin (called Goombay), and other farming or household instruments. Today these bands have adopted the modern musical instruments, such as saxophones and electric guitars.
Bahamians love to dance as well. A popular dance is the Jump-In-Dance which is led by one person dancing in the middle of a circle of people; After a few minutes, the centre dancer chooses a replacement from the crowd and so it goes on.
They are a very religious people with attended churches in every small town. This serves as evidence of their Puritan heritage dating back to the Eleutheran adventurers. Religious hymns resemble the American gospel style and are accompanied by hand clapping, rhythmic possession and spiritual dancing.
This archipelago, nestled in the Atlantic Ocean, is located 18 km southeast of Florida and counts about 700 islands covering an area of over 259,000 km2. Several geographical factors make the Bahamas unique. For one, the Bahamas has the world's third longest barrier reef with 5% of the world's coral. Other interesting facts are that there are no rivers in the Bahamas but is has the clearest waters in the world with a visibility of over 61 meters.
Of course not all the islands are inhabited. The majority of the population is spread over 14 main islands: New Providence, Grand Bahama, the Abacos, Andros, Bimini and the Berry Islands, Cat Island, Crooked and Acklins Islands, Eleuthrea, the Exumas, the Inaguas, Long Island and San Salvador.
Found artefacts have confirmed that the Bahamas have been inhabited as early as 300 to 400 AD but their origin remains unconfirmed. The peaceful Lucayan Indians, part of the Arawak tribe, settled in the Bahamas sometime in the 900s in an attempt to flee the fierce Carib Indians of the Lesser Antilles. Christopher Columbus discovered the islands in 1492 and the settlers soon forced the Lucayans into slavery. Within 25 years the entire tribe was wiped out.
In search of religious freedom, the English Eleutheran Adventurers group arrived here in 1648 but they were soon faced with food shortages and proper supplies. Internal conflicts ensued and separate communities were formed. Life was not easy as and constant threats from pirates and Spanish privateers made thing worse. Finally in 1783 the former Loyalists, assisted by the South Carolina militia, took up arms and forced the retreat of Spanish forces.
The U.S. Civil War was very profitable for the island's economy. The British textile industry, depended on southern cotton, favoured the South. The ports of the Bahamas were utilized since the American ports were blockaded by the Union. When the Civil War ended hard economic times fell on the Bahamas until the American alcohol Prohibition when smuggling once again became a popular activity. Once again, with the end of the Prohibition in 1934, financial hardship devastated the islands.
Of course these moments in history slowly saw the birth of the tourism industry with the construction of hotels, steamship service and a higher demand for food and supplies, all of which built a strong banking industry. The Bahamas legally became a nation on July 10, 1973.
The Lucayan National Park on Grand Bahama Island is the site of the world's longest known underwater cave and cavern system. Also the Bahamas are recognized to have the world's clearest waters and contains 5% of the world's coral reefs. A number of salt water and fresh water turtles also live in the islands.
On land, a wide array of plant life thrives here, such as orchids, hibiscus, aloe vera, palms, mahogany and the national tree called lignum vitae. Many endemic species have become extinct, while others are quite endangered.
Indigenous animals include bats, reptiles, insects and the Hutia (an endangered rodent-like creature), but several animals were introduced by settlers like dogs, cats, donkeys, horses and common farm animals. Hundreds of bird species live in or migrate to the islands. Quite a few are very rare and therefore protected by laws. Bahamian woodstar hummingbirds, great blue herons, barn owls, peregrine falcons and frigate birds count among the sightings. The Abaco National Park is a shelter for the rare Bahamian Parrot and the Inagua National Park has the largest natural reserves for the West Indian flamingos.
The clear warm waters are ideal for water sports with exceptional diving, fishing, sailing, jet skiing and many more. Land lovers can play tennis, walk in the many parks and gardens, go bird watching or bicycling. Golfers will find eight 18-holes and one 9-hole golf courses spread throughout the islands but the most popular are Cable Beach Golf Club, Ocean Club Golf Course and South Ocean Golf Club.
With the world's third longest barrier reef and the clearest waters in the world, scuba diving in the Bahamas is an experience not to be missed. Diving operations are plentiful and tours usually include a picnic lunch cooked over an open fire on a private island beach. Favourite dive sites include: Lost Blue Hole, Fish Hotel, Coral Gardens and Lyford Cay Drop-Off.
Local sports include rugby, cricket and baseball. Several world-class athletes have come out of the Bahamas in sports like baseball, basketball, tennis and Olympic runners.