The Bahamas - Population

The Bahamas - Population

According to the 1980 census, the Bahamas had a population of 209,505. Unofficial estimates in mid-1986 placed the population at 235,000. Census data indicated that 64.6 percent of the population lived on the main island of New Providence and another 15.8 percent on Grand Bahama. The remaining inhabitants were spread out among the numerous outlying islands known as the Family Islands or Outer Islands. Between 1973 and 1983, the average annual population growth rate in the Bahamas was 2.1 percent; however, this rate masked wide variations across the islands. New Providence and Grand Bahama showed major increases of 32.8 percent and 27.6 percent, respectively; modest increases were also experienced in Great Abaco Island (12.6 percent) and in Eleuthera, Harbour Island, and Spanish Wells as a group (11.6 percent).

Nevertheless, a majority of the islands actually experienced a decline in their populations. Prominent losses were recorded in Acklins Island (34.2 percent), Ragged Island (29.8 percent), and Crooked Island (25 percent). Census figures confirmed not only a sizable interisland migration pattern to New Providence and Grand Bahama but also an intraisland migration from the older city areas to the suburban areas. The latter trend was particularly evident in New Providence.

Ethnically, some 85 percent of the population was black. Most were descendants of slaves imported directly from North Africa or brought by British loyalists who escaped from the North American colonies at the conclusion of the American Revolution. Approximately 15 percent of the population was white, mainly originating from early British and North American settlers, especially from the Carolinas, New York, and Virginia. Included in the 15 percent was a small Greek community, the descendants of Greeks who came to the Bahamas as sponge fishermen.

A growing number of illegal Haitian immigrants were also found in the Bahamas; according to the United States Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1985, this number was estimated at 20,000 to 40,000. The Haitians primarily filled employment vacancies at the bottom of the Bahamian economy; many were gardeners, domestics, and farm laborers. Although English was the official language of the country, some creole was spoken among these Haitian immigrants. A September 1985 treaty signed between the Bahamas and Haiti legalized the status of undocumented Haitians who had arrived prior to 1981; others were to be repatriated in an orderly and humane manner. In 1986 more than 2,000 were repatriated under the treaty, but the legalization process of Haitians eligible for citizenship had not yet begun.

The Bahamas was predominantly a Christian country. In the late 1980s, the principal denominations were Anglican, Baptist, and Roman Catholic. In addition to the Anglican and Baptist churches, the Protestant presence included Christian Scientist, Church of God, Lutheran, Methodist, Plymouth Brethren, Presbyterian, SeventhDay Adventist, and Jehovah's Witnesses congregations; many of the smaller sects adhered to an evangelical perspective. Small Greek Orthodox and Jewish communities also were present in the Bahamas. Many of the country's independent schools were affiliated with churches and included Anglican, Methodist, and Roman Catholic institutions.

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