Today, Sunday 1 November marks 39 years since Antigua and Barbuda gained independence. On this day in 1981 – now the National Day of Antigua and Barbuda ‑ the twin-island state gained its independence from the United Kingdom.
The modern history of the islands began in 1493 when Christopher Columbus sighted them during his second voyage to the New World. Subsequent Spanish settlers heading for the Americas gave the islands a miss due to the lack of fresh water and the understandable hostility of the Caribs, who were already in residence.
Antigua, the name given by Christopher Columbus, is Spanish for “Ancient” and honours the virgin of La Antigua in Seville Cathedral. Barbuda is Spanish for “Bearded”, which refers either to the island’s bearded fig trees or to its male inhabitants.
In many islands control passed regularly between England/Britain, Spain and France as the European powers snatched and lost each other’s Caribbean possessions, but this was not the case here. English administration began in 1632 and, apart from a brief period of French occupation in 1666, they remained under English and (from 1707) British control for the next 349 years. This was partly because Antigua housed the Royal Navy’s main dockyard in the Caribbean, so it was an important and well-defended strategic asset.
The islands became an independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations on 1 November 1981, with Elizabeth II as the first Queen of Antigua and Barbuda. Vere C Bird became the first Prime Minister.
Independence Day is a popular holiday on the islands. The weeks leading up to it are filled with events such as food fairs, sports competitions, dance festivals, and art and craft exhibitions.
The day itself is marked by an Independence Ceremonial Day Parade and National Awards in addition to a Virtual Fil Festival. Barbuda Day activities take place on 2 November, when visitors are invited to don the national colours and join Antiguans and Barbudans for amazing display of national pride and heritage.