His­tory of Antigua and Barbuda

The his­tory of Antigua and Bar­buda can be sep­a­rated into three dis­tinct eras. In the first, the islands were inhab­ited by three suc­ces­sive Amerindian soci­eties. The islands were neglected by the first wave of Euro­pean coloni­sa­tion, but were set­tled by Eng­land in 1632. Under British con­trol, the islands wit­nessed an influx of both Britons and African slaves. In 1981, the islands were granted inde­pen­dence as the mod­ern state of Antigua and Barbuda.

Antigua was first set­tled by pre-​agricultural Amerindi­ans known as “Archaic Peo­ple”, (although they are com­monly, but erro­neously known in Antigua as Siboney, a pre­ce­ramic Cuban peo­ple). The ear­li­est set­tle­ments on the island date to 2900 BC. They were suc­ceeded by ceramic-​using agri­cul­tur­al­ist Sal­adoid peo­ple who migrated up the island chain from Venezuela. They were later replaced by Arawakan speak­ers, and around 1500 by Island Caribs.

The Arawaks were the first well-​documented group of Antiguans. They pad­dled to the island by canoe (piragua) from Venezuela, ejected by the Caribs — another peo­ple indige­nous to the area. Arawaks intro­duced agri­cul­ture to Antigua and Bar­buda, rais­ing, among other crops, the famous Antiguan “Black” pineap­ple. They also cul­ti­vated var­i­ous other foods includ­ing corn, sweet pota­toes (White with firmer flesh than the bright orange “sweet potato” used in the United States.), chilies, guava, tobacco and cotton.

Some of the veg­eta­bles listed, such as corn and sweet pota­toes, still play an impor­tant role in Antiguan cui­sine. For exam­ple, a pop­u­lar Antiguan dish, Dukuna (DOO-​koo-​NAH) is a sweet, steamed dumpling made from grated sweet pota­toes, flour and spices. In addi­tion, one of the Antiguan sta­ple foods, fungi (FOON-​ji), is a cooked paste made of corn­meal and water.

The bulk of the Arawaks left Antigua about 1100 A.D. Those who remained were sub­se­quently raided by the Caribs. Accord­ing to the Catholic Ency­clo­pe­dia, the Carib’s supe­rior weapons and sea­far­ing prowess allowed them to defeat most Arawak nations in the West Indies — enslav­ing some, and can­ni­bal­iz­ing others.

The Catholic Ency­clo­pe­dia does make it clear that the Euro­pean invaders had some dif­fi­culty iden­ti­fy­ing and dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing between the var­i­ous native peo­ples they encountered.

Accord­ing to A Brief His­tory of the Caribbean (Jan Rogozin­ski, Pen­guin Put­nam, Inc Sep­tem­ber 2000), Euro­pean and African dis­eases, mal­nu­tri­tion and slav­ery even­tu­ally destroyed the vast major­ity of the Caribbean’s native pop­u­la­tion. No researcher has con­clu­sively proven any of these causes as the real rea­son for the destruc­tion of West Indian natives. In fact, some his­to­ri­ans believe that the psy­cho­log­i­cal stress of slav­ery may also have played a part in the mas­sive num­ber of native deaths while in servi­tude. Oth­ers believe that the report­edly abun­dant, but starchy, low-​protein diet may have con­tributed to severe mal­nu­tri­tion of the “Indi­ans” who were used to a diet for­ti­fied with pro­tein from sea-​life.

The Indige­nous West Indi­ans made excel­lent sea ves­sels that they used to sail the Atlantic and Caribbean. As a result, Caribs and Arawaks pop­u­lated much of South Amer­i­can and the Caribbean Islands. Rel­a­tives of the Antiguan Arawaks and Caribs still live in var­i­ous coun­tries in South Amer­ica, notably Brazil, Venezuela and Colom­bia. The smaller remain­ing native pop­u­la­tions in the West Indies main­tain a pride in their her­itage.

Christo­pher Colum­busChristo­pher Colum­bus landed on the islands in 1493, nam­ing the larger one Santa Maria de la Antigua. How­ever, early attempts by Euro­peans to set­tle on the islands failed, due to the Caribs’ excel­lent defenses. Eng­land suc­ceeded in colonis­ing the islands in 1632, with Thomas Warner as the first gov­er­nor. Set­tlers raised tobacco, indigo, gin­ger, and sug­ar­cane as cash crops. Sir Christo­pher Codring­ton estab­lished the first large sugar estate in Antigua in 1674, and leased Bar­buda to raise pro­vi­sions for his plan­ta­tions. Barbuda’s only town is named after him. In the fifty years after Codring­ton estab­lished his ini­tial plan­ta­tion, the sugar indus­try became so prof­itable that many farm­ers replaced other crops with sugar, mak­ing it the eco­nomic back­bone of the islands. Codring­ton and oth­ers brought slaves from Africa’s west coast to work the plan­ta­tions under bru­tal conditions.

By 1736, so many slaves had been brought in from Africa that their con­di­tions were crowded and open to unrest. A slave called “Prince Klaas” (whose real name was Count) planned an upris­ing in which the whites would be mas­sa­cred, but the plot was dis­cov­ered and put down.

The whites caught Prince Klaas and four other accom­plices and “broke” them “on the wheel”. Accord­ing to www​.tor​ture​-museum​.com, “break­ing on the wheel” was actu­ally a com­mon and pop­u­lar form of pun­ish­ment in Europe at the time. Accord­ing to the site: The vic­tim, naked, was stretched out supine on the ground or on the exe­cu­tion dock, with his or her limbs spread, and tied to stakes or iron rings. Stout wooden cross­pieces were placed under the wrists, elbows, ankles, knees and hips. The exe­cu­tioner then smashed limb after limb and joint after joint, includ­ing the shoul­ders and hips, with the iron-​tyred edge of the wheel, but avoid­ing fatal blows.

The vic­tim was trans­formed, accord­ing to the obser­va­tions of a seventeenth-​century Ger­man chron­i­cler, “into a sort of huge scream­ing pup­pet writhing in rivulets of blood, a pup­pet with four ten­ta­cles, like a sea mon­ster, of raw, slimy and shape­less flesh… mixed up with splin­ters of smashed bones.”

There­after the shat­tered limbs were “braided” into the spokes of the large wheel, and the vic­tim hoisted up hor­i­zon­tally to the top of a pole, where the crows ripped away bits of flesh and pecked out [the] eyes.

Iron­i­cally, the loca­tion of this tor­ture and exe­cu­tion is now the Antiguan Recre­ation Ground. As an aside, this type of Euro­pean prac­tice prob­a­bly strongly influ­enced the clause in the Amer­i­can legal code pro­tect­ing cit­i­zens from “cruel and unusual punishment”.

The slave-​holders caught six other slaves and put them “out to dry”, another form of tor­ture, which involves hang­ing the vic­tims in chains and starv­ing them to death. The slave-​holders also burned fifty-​eight other slaves at the stake.

Dur­ing the 18th cen­tury, Antigua was used as the head­quar­ters of the British Royal Navy Caribbean fleet. Eng­lish Dock­yard, as it came to be called, a shel­tered and well-​protected deep­wa­ter port, was the main base and facil­i­ties there were greatly expanded dur­ing the later 18th cen­tury. Admi­ral Lord Hor­a­tio Nel­son com­manded the British fleet for much of this time, and made him­self unpop­u­lar with local mer­chants by enforc­ing the Nav­i­ga­tion Act, a British rul­ing that only British-​registered ships could trade with British colonies. As the United States were no longer British colonies, the act posed a prob­lem for mer­chants, who depended on trade with the fledg­ling coun­try.

With all oth­ers in the British Empire, Antiguan slaves were eman­ci­pated in 1834, but remained eco­nom­i­cally depen­dent upon the plan­ta­tion own­ers. Eco­nomic oppor­tu­ni­ties for the new freed­men were lim­ited by a lack of sur­plus farm­ing land, no access to credit, and an econ­omy built on agri­cul­ture rather than man­u­fac­tur­ing. Poor labour con­di­tions per­sisted until 1939 when a mem­ber of a royal com­mis­sion urged the for­ma­tion of a trade union movement.

The Antigua Trades and Labour Union, formed shortly after­ward, became the polit­i­cal vehi­cle for Vere Corn­wall Bird who became the union’s pres­i­dent in 1943. The Antigua Labour Party (ALP), formed by Bird and other trade union­ists, first ran can­di­dates in the 1946 elec­tions and became the major­ity party in 1951 begin­ning a long his­tory of elec­toral vic­to­ries. Voted out of office in the 1971 gen­eral elec­tions that swept the pro­gres­sive labour move­ment into power, Bird and the ALP returned to office in 1976.

Antigua & Bar­bu­daThe islands achieved inde­pen­dence from the United King­dom in Novem­ber 1981, becom­ing the nation of Antigua and Bar­buda. It remains part of the Com­mon­wealth of Nations, and remains a con­sti­tu­tional monar­chy, with Queen Eliz­a­beth II as Queen of Antigua and Barbuda.

The ALP won renewed man­dates in the gen­eral elec­tions in 1984 and 1989. In the 1989 elec­tions, the rul­ing ALP won all but two of the 17 seats. Dur­ing elec­tions in March 1994, power passed from Vere Bird to his son, Lester Bird, but remained within the ALP which won 11 of the 17 par­lia­men­tary seats. The United Pro­gres­sive Party won the 2004 elec­tions and Bald­win Spencer became Prime Min­is­ter, remov­ing from power the longest-​serving elected gov­ern­ment in the Caribbean.

Prior to col­o­niza­tion, sev­eral Amerindian groups inhab­ited Antigua and Bar­buda, all of which relied on a sub­sis­tence lifestyle. British colonists estab­lished set­tle­ments in the islands in 1632. After fight­ing off the Caribs, Dutch, and French to sta­bi­lize their colonies, set­tlers grew tobacco, indigo, cot­ton, and gin­ger as cash crops. As on many other Caribbean islands, sugar cul­ti­va­tion became the most prof­itable enter­prise, quickly sur­pass­ing other crops in eco­nomic impor­tance. Due to the vast tracts of land needed for large-​scale sugar pro­duc­tion, rain­forests on the islands were dec­i­mated. Tim­ber from the rain­forests was used in ship­build­ing and repair.

With the shift to a plan­ta­tion econ­omy, slaves were imported from Africa. Even after the abo­li­tion of slav­ery in 1834, for­mer slaves con­tin­ued work­ing in servi­tude due to laws designed to keep pro­vid­ing plan­ta­tions with cheap labor. As the sugar indus­try began to wane, the plan­ta­tion econ­omy came to an end.