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Living like a Rock Star

Life in the Bahamas moves a little slower. The rum tastes better. The sand is softer, and the vibe is Caribbean chill crossed with a colonial edge. There are over-the-top luxury resorts and tiny towns where everyone has known each other for decades. There’s incredible turquoise water and, on the other side of the coin, a bank- ing industry known for its discretion. But while the commonwealth is now one of the wealthiest countries in the Caribbean, the islands have a complicated and storied past.

Originally inhabited by the Lucayans people, the islands were inexorably changed when Christopher Columbus landed there in 1492. Many of the native peoples were enslaved and shipped off to Hispaniola as laborers, as most of the inhabitants of that Caribbean island had been sold into the slave trade. In the mid-I600s, British colonists from Bermuda arrived-along with pirates drawn by the hideout potential of the area’s shallow waters and hundreds of islands. Britain made the

Bahamas a crown colony in 1717, using it as a base to fight piracy. More than a half-century later, after the Revolutionary War, British loyalists came to the Bahamas with land grants given to them by England. Today, many of the islands’ residents (those who aren’t immigrants from Haiti and elsewhere) are descended from slaves brought to the islands by the loyalists to work on their plantations, or from African slaves who were granted their freedom by the British Navy when the slave trade was abolished in 1807.

The colony prospered during the Civil War as a base for Confederate blockade-runners and during Prohibition as a base for rumrunners. An Allied airfield built during World War II (when the Duke of Wind- sor was governor) became Nassau International Airport; it was the first step in the colony’s development as a tourism destination. The Baha- mas were granted self-governance in 1964 and full independence as a parliamentary democracy in the Commonwealth of Nations in 1973.

Tourism in the Bahamas started to thrive in the 19505 and ’60s, when it drew a rarified crowd of movie stars, millionaires and aristo- crats, thanks to the weather and the closure of Havana to U.S. tourists. The islands’ biggest challenges today are hurricanes and the impact of the recession on tourism, which now makes up 60 percent of the country’s GOP. And while Bahamians don’t pay any income or sales taxes, they do face high tariffs and import fees.