Antigua and Barbuda is an independent Commonwealth country since November 1, 1981 when the archipelago gained independence from the United Kingdom. It is located between Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saba, St. Martin and St. Barts to the west (south to north) and Guadeloupe. The island of Antigua is the largest of the archipelago and also the most populated. The island of Barbuda, further north, has less than 2,000 inhabitants.
The total area of the island is 442 square kilometers (171 sq. mi) with a population of approximately 99,565 inhabitants in 2022. The population is concentrated mainly in the cities, especially the capital, St. John's. The largest city of Barbuda is Codrington.
The island of Antigua is divided into 6 parishes (St. George, St. John, St. Mary, St. Paul, St. Peter and St. Philip).
Antigua was once called by the Arawaks "Wadadli" which means "ours" and this name continues to be used locally. Barbuda, on the other hand, was called "Wa'omoni" by the Caribs, which means "the island of herons". Christopher Columbus saw Antigua in 1493, he would have named it Antigua in reference to an icon of the Spanish cathedral of Seville known as Santa Maria la Antigua. Concerning Barbuda, the doubt persists. Some sources mention a link between the word "bearded" and the male inhabitants of the island who would have been bearded or the bearded fig trees that are present. What is certain is that on the map of the Caribbean made by the geographer Diego Ribeiro in 1529, Barbuda is referenced on the name "La Barbuda" for the first time.
The relief is not very high. The highest point is Boggy Peak at 402 meters (1,318.9 ft).
The GDP per capita was $14,692.42/capita in December 2021 and the currency is the Eastern Caribbean dollar.
The capital Saint John's is located in Antigua.
The earliest evidence of human life on the island of Antigua dates back to about 2900 B.C. These inhabitants were the Ciboneys (an Arawak word meaning "those who live in caves"). They were Amerindians of the West Indies and lived in the archipelago of Antigua and Barbuda as well as in Cuba and on the island of Santo Domingo. Later on, the Arawaks (1200 BC) and then the Caribs (1500 AD) arrived.
Christopher Columbus landed there in 1493 during his second voyage and named the largest island Santa Maria de la Antigua. The first attempts to colonize the island were unsuccessful, as the Caribbean people put up a fierce resistance.
In 1632, the island was colonized by the English and remained a British island until 1666 when the French attacked it. The English had introduced tobacco, indigo and ginger plantations but by the 17th century, sugar was at its peak and appeared to be more profitable. This is how Sir Christopher Codrington, then British governor in the colonies, introduced sugar cane to the island in 1674. The sugar trade flourished and the island had more than 150 windmills for processing sugar cane in the middle of the 18th century.
English settlers had brought slaves from Africa to work on the sugar cane plantations. By the end of the 18th century, Antigua had become a strategic port for its luxurious position which offered control over all the sea routes to and from the Caribbean islands.
As for Barbuda, it was colonized in 1678, the Crown guaranteed the island to the Codrington family in 1685, and they owned it for 185 years, until 1870. Like Antigua, the island of Barbuda brought slaves from Africa to do various jobs on the island. Barbuda was also a hub for the supply of slaves to other English colonies.
The only colony established on the island was named after the Codrington family, a name that persists for the largest city on the island. Codrington was dominated by a castle, used as a stronghold and security point against Native American and French assaults.
In 1745, the slaves of Barbuda rebelled and killed a manager, McNish, after he mutilated several slaves for stealing sheep and cattle. The slaves then occupied the castle and took possession of weapons and ammunition. Soldiers arrived from Antigua to put down the rebellion. Two slaves were burned alive in front of the main door of the castle.
There is no trace of the Barbuda castle today. It would have been severely damaged by the earthquake that struck the island in 1843.
Horatio Nelson arrived in 1784 as head of the Leeward Islands Squadron to develop the British naval facilities at English Harbour and to enforce the strict laws of commercial navigation. It was under his direction that the Nelson's Dockyard, one of Antigua's finest assets today, was established. It was also during this period that Clarence House was established for the future King William IV. During the reign of King William IV, slavery was abolished in 1834 without any period of apprenticeship as in the other British Islands.
In Barbuda, slaves were freed by their owners at the same time, abolition in the English islands did not affect Barbuda.
The emancipation of slaves improved the economy of the island although the sugar industry in the British Isles had already begun to decline. The island subsequently struggled to find a driving sector to carry the economy before turning to tourism.
In 1940, a strong labor movement under the leadership of Vere Cornwall Bird (1910-1999) will gradually lead to a change of status in the island. In 1967, the island became an associated state of the Commonwealth with Barbuda and the small island of Redonda as dependencies.
In 1981, it gained full independence from the United Kingdom and Vere Cornwall Bird was elected Prime Minister of the island. He held this position for thirteen years. However, the island retained its links with the British monarchy by becoming a constitutional monarchy with the King continuing to reign and the presence of a Governor-General who represents him in the archipelago.
In 1995, the category 4 hurricane Luis destroyed the island of Barbuda. Most of the houses were damaged or destroyed. Water and electricity supplies were interrupted. There will be 3 victims, 300 homeless people who will live in shelters for months. The cost of repairs will be between 100 and 350 million.
22 years later, in 2017, Barbuda was again hit hard by an even more powerful hurricane, the category 5 hurricane Irma. 95% of the buildings and houses as well as vehicles were destroyed. 60% of the island's population was left homeless. All means of communication between Barbuda and Antigua were interrupted.
The population was then called to leave the island of Barbuda to live in Antigua. For several months, the island of Barbuda was completely empty of people. It will take two years before the majority of the island's inhabitants return to live there. The European Union and China helped finance the repairs on the island. Some buildings that were too damaged were not restored. There is still a project to build an airport to boost tourism, a choice that remains controversial by some who denounce a project that will benefit mainly international airlines to the detriment of the population and impose mass tourism to the island.
Once dominated by agriculture, services now account for two-thirds of the island's employment, with tourism being the main sector, accounting for half of the national GDP. Agricultural production, which is mainly used for the local market, is experiencing a shortage of workers, who are opting for jobs in tourism or construction because of the low wages in the agricultural jobs.
Barbuda has never known sugar cane plantations, its inhabitants have always been fishermen and subsistence farmers.
Industry plays a tiny role in the economy, most involving only the processing of agricultural products and the design of clothing, other textiles and cement manufacturing.
Antigua and Barbuda is one of the flags of convenience (lax tax controls and financial advantages for merchant ships).