Welcome to St. Kitts & Nevis
My plane approaches two small islands, and the beauty of this Caribbean paradise immediately strikes me. St. Kitts & Nevis are two islands of volcanic origin in the West Indies. From the air, I can already smell the lush, tropical rainforest, feel the sand in my toes, and imagine myself hiking up the island’s peaks.
Like many countries in the Caribbean, the history of St. Kitts & Nevis its influenced by it’s Pre-Columbian period, European settlement, and West African roots created by slavery.
The first Pre-Columbian settlers to reach the islands were hunter-gatherers who migrated from present-day Florida. The next wave of migrants came to the islands from Venezuela. Unlike their predecessors; these people utilized agriculture and created their own ceramic tools. The Igneri people, also from Venezuela, eventually replaced these settlers around 800 CE. The Igneri built the island up to a population of approximately 5,000 people. Finally, the Kalinago, or Carib people, arrived. Unlike the Igneri, the Caribs were war-like and aggressive, and they quickly ridded the island of its previous occupants.
Europeans reached St. Kitts & Nevis in 1493 in an expedition led by Christopher Columbus. By the early 1600s, the English and French were the primary occupants of St. Kitts and the island would switch hands several times during the 17th century. The two nations continued to fight for control of more islands in the eastern Caribbean, using St. Kitts as an important base. In 1783, Britain gained full control of St. Kitts.
Nevis’ history was slightly less tumultuous. It is only separated from St. Kitts by two miles of water, but the islands were governed as separate states until the 19th century.
While under control of the British Empire various industries ruled the island’s economy, but sugar cane reigned supreme. Plantations dedicated to its production were scattered throughout both islands. Sugar cane is extremely labor intensive to produce, which led to the heavy import of African slaves.
The number of slaves forcibly sent to the Caribbean was so large that today many islands in the area are predominantly occupied by people of African descent. St Kitts and Nevis is no exception, and its arts, culture, and cuisine reflects that heritage.
St. Kitts & Nevis achieved independence from Britain in 1983, and today, the two islands are governed as one nation.