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The Bahamas

Culture & Identity

Way of Life

Bahamian Culture - Fruit market
Fruit market

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.

Bahamian Culture - School group
School group

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.

Bahamian Culture - Lunch
Lunch

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.

Ethnicity

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 to individual.

Language

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.

Religion

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.

Dress

Bahamian Culture - Street art
Street art

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.

Behavior

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 ethnically.

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.

Identity

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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This page was last updated: December, 2013