anguilla history and culture

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Around four thousand years ago, the history of our island began. It was then that Amerindian peoples first arrived from South America. Living off the sea and the land, they established farms and villages on Anguilla.

Over the following three thousand years, a succession of tribes and cultures called our island home. One such group was the Arawak people whose deep religious beliefs were based on the sun, moon and two sacred caverns, from where all mankind originated. The caves, Big Springs at Island Harbour, and The Fountain at Shoal Bay, remain to this day. The Fountain cavern is the Eastern Caribbean’s most intact ceremonial site from this period and features petrogylphs, offering bowls, and a stalagmite carved in the likeness of Jocahu, the Supreme Deity of the Arawak people.

In 1650, English settlers arrived and colonized Anguilla. They established plantations where corn and tobacco were grown. The settlement survived for six years until Indians from a neighboring island came and destroyed it.

In 1666, the French temporarily took over the island for a brief period of time.  However, it was returned to Britain the following year under the Treaty of Breda.

By the 1800s Anguilla was thriving as a plantation economy like most of the Caribbean. Rum, sugar, cotton, indigo, fustic and mahogany were its chief exports. Eroding soil and unreliable rainfall made conditions for farming unfavorable. As a result, the size and strength of these plantations dwindled, and fewer people were employed. Eventually, these people established their independence through private proprietorships or by becoming fishermen or sailors.

By 1958, St. Kitts, Nevis, and Anguilla became part of the Federation of the West Indies. This Federation collapsed in 1962 and as a result most of the islands developed individual constitutions. St. Kitts, Nevis, and Anguilla together were made an associated statehood — a political decision that sparked the Anguilla Revolution because Anguilla desired its independence from the state.

May 30, 1967 is celebrated annually as Anguilla Day, commemorating the repulsion of the Royal St. Kitts Police Force from the island. Britain intervened and a peacekeeping committee was established. Debates over Anguilla’s secession continued to be negotiated for over a decade, and on December 19, 1980, Anguilla became a separate Dependent Territory with some measure of autonomy in government.*

Anguillians today celebrate their independence and their heritage of strength, survival, and determination with Church services, uniformed parades, cultural performances and, of course, the traditional round-the-island boat race.

*Adapted from the works of Colville Petty O.B.E and Nik Douglas.

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Limestone Bay, Anguilla, AI-2640