Officially Commonwealth of the Bahamas, independent nation (1995 est. pop. 256,000), 4,403 sq mi (11,404 sq km), in the Atlantic Ocean, consisting of some 700 islands and islets and about 2,400 cays, beginning c.50 mi (80 km) off SE Florida and extending c.600 mi (970 km) SE almost to Haiti. The capital and principal city is Nassau , on New Providence island. Other chief islands are known as “out islands” or “family islands.”
The population is primarily of African and mixed African and European descent; some 15% is of European descent. About three quarters of the people belong to one of several Protestant denominations and nearly 20% are Roman Catholic. English is the official language. The Bahamas have a relatively low illiteracy rate. The government provides free education through the secondary level; the College of the Bahamas was established in 1974, although most Bahamians study in Jamaica or elsewhere.
The islands' vivid subtropical atmospherebrilliant sky and sea, lush vegetation, flocks of bright-feathered birds, and submarine gardens where multicolored fish swim among white, rose, yellow, and purple coralas well as rich local color and folklore, has made the Bahamas one of the most popular resorts in the hemisphere. The islands' many casinos are an additional attraction. Tourism, which has grown rapidly since the end of World War II, is by far the country's most important industry.
The Bahamas are governed under the constitution of 1973 and have a parliamentary form of government. There is a bicameral legislature consisting of a 16-seat Senate and a 49-seat House of Assembly. The prime minister is the head of government, and the monarch of the United Kingdom, represented by an appointed governor-general, is the titular head of state. The nation is divided into 21 administrative districts.
*Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, Copyright (c) 2003