If you pulled out your atlas and had a look at Antigua and Barbuda on a map, you’d find a twin-island country straddling the great divide between the Atlantic Ocean and Europe’s old-world powers, and the vibrant lifestyle and laid-back approach of the Caribbean. There are few places in the world that embody the identity of creole culture as much as these two islands. Everything from its sports and cuisine to its language and history is a combination of various cultures that have melded together to create something distinctly creole.
The nation of Antigua and Barbuda consists of the two main islands, plus a number of smaller outlying islands. Separated by less than 10 nautical miles and sitting along the eastern edge of the Leeward Islands in the Lesser Antilles, Antigua and Barbuda share a history dominated by cultural upheaval and a clash of differing ideals.
The islands were originally settled in 3100 BC by Amerindians known as the Ciboney. These people were eventually succeeded by the Arawaks, who were in turn pushed off the islands starting around 1100 AD by the Caribs. It wasn’t until the 17th century that the Caribs began losing control as the British began to conquer numerous islands in the region.
Today, Antigua and Barbuda’s culture is primarily the result of a mixture between the former British Empire and the slaves from West Africa brought to the islands during the 17th and 18 th centuries. Although most of the Carib culture was lost due to death and disease, a distinctly creole culture formed over the centuries through a combination of European and West African influences.
Languages in Use
Governance, language, and culture in Antigua and Barbuda are all heavily impacted by the nation’s long connection with the British Empire. Although English is the official language of the country, Antiguan Creole is spoken locally, but its use has a tumultuous past on the islands. Prior to independence from direct British control in 1981, Antiguan Creole was shunned in favor of Standard British English. Even the upper and middle class locals shunned the creole dialect in favor of English.
Antigua and Barbuda’s educational system, both prior to and after independence, dissuades the use of Antiguan Creole. All instruction is provided in English. However, in recent years the local population beyond the lower class has turned back to Antiguan Creole, looking to the language as a respectable aspect of their culture. Much of Antiguan Creole is derived from British and West African dialects, and the physical separation of the islands of Antigua and Barbuda has given rise to a distinct Barbudan accent to the local creole.
The, “Visit Antigua and Barbuda”, tourism board uses the slogan, “Where the beach is just beginning,” to promote travel to the country. The Caribbean is well known for its endless, beautiful beaches, and this country is no exception. The country is even known by the nickname, “Land of 365 Beaches.” As beautiful as those beaches can be, Carnival is an important part of both the island’s culture and its economy.
Carnival is a 10-day celebration that occurs annually in July in Antigua and Barbuda. The festivities center on a celebration of emancipation for the islands, but in a broader sense it is a celebration of all things creole. The carnival festivities includes beauty pageants and talent shows, as well as great music and parades with colorful costumes.
On a local level, the major events of Carnival are supported by a number of smaller festivities taking place throughout the country. These comprise local concerts with home-grown talent performing Calypso, Soca, and reggae. Calypso is the oldest of the musical creole art forms in Antigua, and its history is rooted in slavery on the island. Forbidden by British masters to speak to one another in the fields, slaves developed Calypso as a way to communicate through song.
Places to Visit
It would be a shame to travel all the way to Antigua and Barbuda from the United Kingdom, or anywhere else for that matter, and not visit the beaches. Low Bay on Antigua offers 8 miles of isolated beach that boasts a stunning pink sand. The pink hue to the sand is the result of crushed coral embedded within the sand. Jolly Harbour is a quiet town in Antigua on the southwest of the island, close to Bolans along the coast. Here you’ll find shops, restaurants, villas, a golf course, and marina, as well as beautiful sandy beaches.
Barbuda offers a decidedly different experience for travelers. The island is one of the few in the Caribbean that remains largely undeveloped. Aside from a few local resorts, Barbuda is home to mysterious abandoned forts and Neolithic caves on land, and a wealth of ancient shipwrecks just off shore. Barbuda’s appearance has changed little since the days of Christopher Columbus.
Getting to Antigua and Barbuda
The only way into the twin islands is through VC Bird International Airport, located on the northeast corner of the island of Antigua. Despite their small size, the islands are served by a variety of international airlines. North American travelers can fly on Air Canada, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, and Delta. The trip averages between 3 and 4 hours depending upon departure city.
Residents of the UK can make the 8 hour flight to VC Bird International via British Airways, which offers a daily service, or Virgin Atlantic, which offers twice-weekly service. Once you’re there, the Barbuda Express offers a 90-minute high-speed boat ride over to Barbuda from the airport. If your plans have you staying in Antigua, taxis are readily available and there is modest local bus service as well. Most major rental car companies operate on the island if you prefer to drive yourself. British citizens will feel right at home doing so, as driving in Antigua is on the left!
Once you step foot on Antigua and Barbuda, you’ll notice what many travelers to the Caribbean see when they visit the region. Although English is spoken with regularity by the local population, the beating heart of Creole is just below the surface. Everything from the celebrations and festivities such as Carnival to the splendid local cuisine (cornmeal and sweet potatoes are used in most meals) speaks to the combination of cultures that helped create that distinctly Antiguan Creole experience.