Arawak Indians inhabited the islands when Christopher Columbus first set foot in the New World on San Salvador Island in 1492. British settlement of the islands began in 1647; the islands became a colony in 1783. Since attaining independence from the UK in 1973, the Bahamas have prospered through tourism and international banking and investment management. Because of its geography, the country is a major transshipment point for illegal drugs, particularly shipments to the US, and its territory is used for smuggling illegal migrants into the US.
The official language spoken in the Bahamas is English, however the dialect and slang is difficult for most Westerners and Europeans to understand, especially on the "out islands."
The locals speak very fast and use indigenous phrases. In general, the vast majority of Bahamiams are friendly, polite, and helpful to tourists. With the exception of Nassau, violent crimes are rare in the Bahamas.
The populace is predictably friendly and more religious than one might expect: the Bahamas have one of the highest ratios of churches per capita in the world, with Baptists being the largest single group. Local newspapers will reveal religious references by elected officials in a manner that exceeds what would be found in the United States. This devotion does nothing to prohibit the activities of visitors nor is it intended to. There is a very "libertarian" attitude about personal morals.
The biggest event in the Bahamian calendar is 'Junkanoo', a street parade held on Boxing Day (26 December) and New Year's Day (1 January). Junkanoo groups "rush" through the streets of towns, especially Nassau, wearing spectacular yet disposable costumes of crepe paper and playing distinctive Junkanoo music, which combines African rhythms with loud brass and cowbells, fusing them together in a medley that veers on cacophony but is exceedingly danceable. The costumes, made from scratch every year, are disposed of on the streets as the party ends and make a great free souvenir to bring home!
There are many types of music known in the Bahamian culture but the four most prevalent forms of music are Calypso, Soca, Junkanoo and Rake and scrape. The music of the Bahamas is associated primarily with junkanoo, a celebration which occurs on Boxing Day and again on New Year's Day. Parades and other celebrations mark the ceremony. Groups like The Baha Men, Ronnie Butler and Kirkland Bodie have gained massive popularity in Japan, the United States and elsewhere.