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Culture & Identity
Way of Life
Unlike the stereotypical Bahamas, which is white sand beaches and paradise every
moment of every day, most Bahamians life in a city. Although nearly 85% of the people
live in cities in the Bahamas, life still moves at a leisurely pace and the people
seem to be on island time.
A Bahamian city is like many other world cities, but the rush of people trying to
get to work or home is a bit tamer and punctuality is not as important as it is
elsewhere. However, it is still the cities that dictate the way of life for most
Bahamians since most Bahamians live in the cities. However, due to huge tourism
numbers, almost the entire economy is based on services, including tourism, which
accounts for roughly half the country's jobs.
For most services jobs, both in tourism and otherwise, work tends to follow a fairly
set schedule. For many people this means work begins at about 9:00 am and ends at
about 5:00 pm. However, with a heavy dependence on tourism, jobs have various hours
as many people work evenings, nights or weekends regularly. For others the work
week runs from Monday to Friday and some jobs also require work on Saturday.
However, the reliance on tourism and life on many of the less populated islands
means for many people a daily or weekly routine is nonexistent. Work is done when
it's needed and this may change regularly with cruise boat schedules or on some
islands simply when a person is needed.
No matter the setting, the Bahamians tend to take life slowly, perhaps slowed by
the intense heat. The people are relaxed and time is not meant to be rushed. While
work is important, people are much more important in the Bahamas and people are
not to be rushed. Family, friends, and even a conversation with the local shop clerk
take time and there seems to be no rush to get from one to the next. This social
aspect is what the Bahamian way of life is all about and with that comes an incredible
sense of friendliness.
Most of the Bahamas' population is of
African descent, although there's a decent number of ethnic
Europeans, making up nearly 15% of the population. There is also a small,
but distinct "mestizo" or Hispanic population on the islands. The ethnic
Africans in the Bahamas are not necessarily a single ethnic group as most of the
people on the islands today are descended from slaves so their ancestors come from
all parts of Africa. Most of these slaves arrived to the Bahamas from Bermuda and
the United States (after the American Revolutionary War, British supporters moved
themselves and their slaves to the Bahamas) so their actual origin is unknown, but
most likely the people today are primarily of West African descent. Today these
people share a culture, but their ethnic make-up may be very different from individual
English is the only official language in the Bahamas
although Haitian Creole is the native language of numerous Haitian
immigrants and second generation immigrants. Haitian Creole is similar to English,
but with various language introductions and a heavy dialect. English is the language
of communication between linguistic groups though and is the most common native
language in the islands by a significant margin.
Just over two thirds of the Bahamas' population is
Protestant with Baptists making up a third of the total population. Another 14%
is Roman Catholic and another 15% adhere to other forms of Christianity.
Protestantism is a general term referring to nearly every Christian religion that
is not Catholic or Orthodox. Like all Christian faiths, Protestants believe there
is one God and that His son, Jesus is the savior and forgiver of sins. Protestants
also believe that the Bible, which includes the Old and New Testaments, is the only
true word of God. Due to this reliance on the Bible, nearly every protestant faith,
and even individual, may interpret the Bible differently, which has led to a huge
number of Protestant churches.
The clothing in the Bahamas is generally light, loose-fitting, and brightly colored
and this hasn't changed much over time. As an island chain that has a relatively
short history, there is little in the way of traditional or historical clothing.
What is seen today is similar to what has been worn for much of the past century
or two. For women this generally means sun dresses made from lightweight materials
and every bright color one can think of in multiple patterns and styles. For men
simple loose-fitting shirts and pants or shorts are the norm, which can also be
colorful, but tend to be toned down a bit from the clothing of the women.
As a visitor to the Bahamas there is little expectation that you dress up. Many
visitors only go to the Bahamas for the country's many beaches and hot weather
so dressing in little clothing is common. However, swimwear should remain on the
beaches; even if you are just dining at a restaurant on the beach or shopping at
stands within sight of the beach it is best to put on a shirt, shorts, and shoes.
Of course in most places this is as formal as it gets, but in business settings
and in churches long pants and shirts should be worn.
The Bahamians are conservative in most aspects of their lives and this is best seen
in their behaviors, dress, and dining etiquette. They tend to dress and act conservatively,
much of which is based on their deeply rooted Christian faith. However, there is
also great variety in the way the Bahamians behave as the country is quite diverse
As a visitor to the Bahamas try to follow the lead of
the locals by dressing conservatively (see above for details), dining in the local
etiquette (see our Bahamas Dining & Food Page),
and avoid sensitive conversation topics, such as politics, finances, and business
unless initiated by your local counterpart. Also try to avoid being loud, rude,
showing off wealth, or getting noticeably drunk in public.
The people of the Bahamas identify in numerous ways,
especially since there is a significant immigrant population on the islands, including
people from North America and
Europe. These recent immigrants, many of whom moved to the islands for the
weather and lifestyle, tend to remain tied to their traditional identities, whether
that is "American" or "English."
For the local population who was born and raised in the Bahamas, they tend to identify
as being Bahamian and this identity is strongly tied to the history and culture
of the island. As an ethnically diverse country, this identity is almost wholly
cultural defined and is strongly emphasized, especially with rising immigration
numbers from other countries, who tend to act as an antithesis of the local people.
This Bahamian identity is tied to the food, sports, music, and even linguistic accent.
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