Antigua is one of the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean region and the larger of the two islands of Antigua and Barbuda. An island in the Caribbean West Indies, also known as “Wadadli” by the native population. The British Commonwealth of Nations declared the islands independent on 1st November 1981.
Antigua means “ancient” in Spanish. The name “Wadadli” comes from the indigenous inhabitant’s language and means “our own”.
The island’s population in 2011 was 80,161. However, the economy relies almost entirely on tourism. Additionally, the agriculture sector serves the domestic market.
A deep harbour
More than 32,000 people live in the capital city of St. John’s, in the north-west of the island. Tourism is the lifeblood of Antigua. Fortunately, there is a very deep harbour able to accommodate large cruise ships. Yacht Charter and sailing are very popular pastimes here. The island has many well-organised Yacht Charter companies and yachts available.
English Harbour on the Antigua south-eastern coast offers excellent protection from the violent storms that can come along at certain times of the year. English Harbour is also the site of a restored British colonial naval station called “Nelson’s Dockyard”, thus named Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson’s honour.
The names of the bays and marine locations are a constant reminder of the colonials and times gone by. Near English Harbour is Falmouth. Further round the coast is a bay called Carlisle. However, as a visiting English person, the names given evoke a warm, familiar sound that reminds people of history and takes you back to the days of tall ships.
Today English Harbour and the village of Falmouth are well-known as yacht provisioning centres. During Antigua Sailing Week, in late April/early May, the annual regatta attracts a considerable amount of yachts to the island.
Some months of the year are best avoided if you’re into sailing due to hurricanes. On 6th September 2017, a Category 5 Hurricane Irma destroyed 90% of the buildings on the island of Barbuda, next door to Antigua.
The Arawak were the first documented group of indigenous people to settle in Antigua. They made it to the island by canoe (piragua) from the island of South America. The Arawak introduced farming to Antigua and Barbuda. Among the crops cultivated was the Antiguan “Black” pineapple.
Many Arawak left Antigua about A.D. 1100. Another tribe, the Carib people, who also came from Venezuela, raided those who remained.
The Caribs’ were superior fighters with developed weapons, which helped them defeat most Arawak nations in the West Indies. They enslaved some Arawak and cannibalised others. It’s hard to imagine living in a time when one’s future might include being eaten or, if lucky, enslaved, but this was the way things were at the time. Tribal differences were evident to the island people. However, European invaders had great difficulty in differentiating between the various natives they encountered.
The West Indies indigenous people all made excellent sea vessels, which they used in the Atlantic and Caribbean. As a result, the Arawak and Carib travelled much of South American and the Caribbean islands. Their descendants still live throughout South America, notably in Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia.
The British arrival
In 1632, English colonists left St. Kitts, intending to make a life on Antigua. Consequently, the Englishman Sir Christopher Codrington introduced the first permanent British settlement. Henceforth, Antiguan history took a dramatic turn for the better.
Codrington guided cultural and business development on the island by turning it into a profitable sugar colony. The island was Britain’s “Gateway to the Caribbean”. Being located within significant sailing routes for trade, it was also amongst the region’s resource-rich territories. Nelson, a considerable figure in Antigua history, arrived in the late 18th-century to preserve its commercial shipping status.