An island chain country in the Atlantic Ocean, the Bahamas has a culture formed from a fusion of diverse African and European traditions. Although in many ways Bahamian traditions and values are similar to those in other western countries, a complex oral tradition and unique festivals help make Bahamian culture distinct.
According to the CIA World Factbook, over 96 percent of Bahamian people identify as Christians. Christianity is so important to Bahamian culture that the preamble of the country's constitution declares an "abiding respect for Christian values and the Rule of Law." The prevalence of Christianity in Bahamian culture can be seen in local schools, where classes on religion generally have a Christian-oriented curriculum. It can also be seen in the country's government, which works with religious officials to discuss social and political issues. In addition to Christmas, an extremely significant holiday in the Bahamas, holidays such as Good Friday and Easter Monday are nationally recognized and celebrated by most Bahamians.
Although the vast majority of Bahamian people are Christians, minority religions in the islands are extremely diverse and include Obeah, a belief system unique to the Bahamas and closely related to voodoo. Obeah is illegal, but it is still practiced, particularly on the Family Islands; among its practices are the casting of spells, the summoning of spirits and healing. Practitioners are known as Obeah men; they believe that they have inherited special powers. Obeah was outlawed during the 18th century by slaveholders who felt threatened by African religions. As a result, modern practices are not standardized.
Junkanoo is a national Bahamian festival with West African roots. It takes place twice each year: once the day after Christmas and once on New Year's Day. The Junkanoo festival involves elaborate costumes, parades with large floats and traditional music. Participants compete for individual and group prizes in the categories of music, costume and dance. Junkanoo is extremely important to the Bahamian people, who regard it as the soul of their culture and the only aspect of their society that is truly unique to the Bahamas.
Bahamian culture includes a strong oral tradition that derives its myths and legends from a mix of African and European folklore. Popular legends include the lusca, a part-octopus, part-shark and part-squid creature that attacks swimmers near the Andros Islands; and chickcharnies, owl-like creatures with red eyes that bring good luck. Other popular traditions say that the Fountain of Youth and the Lost City of Atlantis are located in the Bahamas.
Gender roles in the Bahamas are complex. Women and men are given equal opportunity to occupy powerful positions in society; however, both are expected to conform to specific gender norms. In Bahamian culture, masculinity is more restrictive than femininity and is associated with aggression, sexual conquest and cultivating a close-knit male peer group. Academic success, high social status and marriage are seen as feminine, giving women access to more social options than young men in Bahamian society.
- U.S. Department of State: Bahamas
- The Government of the Bahamas: What is Junkanoo?
- Engendering the Bahamas: A Gendered Examination of Bahamian Nation Making, or National Identity and Gender in the Bahamian Context; Nicolette Bethel
- University of South Florida: Multicultural Education Through Miniatures - Wild Boar and Lusca
- Bahamas Gateway: Bahamian Legends
- University of Miami: Bimini Biological Field Station
- Virginia Commonwealth University: Obeah and Myal
- Georgetown University: Political Database of the Americas - The Bahamas 1973 Constitution
- Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images