The remains of the first inhabitants, the Siboneys (or Ciboneys, called “the stone people”), were discovered at Jolly Beach, Deep Bay, and North Sound. Their shell and stone tools have been excavated as well. These hunter-gatherer-fishers settled on these islands about 2400 B.C.E. About the time the Siboneys disappeared, the Tainos, migrating north from South America (35–1100 C.E.) arrived and named the island Wadadli, a name still popularly used. Finally the Calinago arrived, also migrants from South America.
Tainos and Calinagos inhabited the islands when Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) happened upon them in 1493. He named the country after Santa Maria de la Antigua, the patron saint of Seville, Spain. The Spanish conquerors called the Calinagos Caribs, from whom the Caribbean Sea got its name. The Caribs were a disciplined and highly independent people, far from the “savages” described by the conquistadores, and they fiercely resisted the European invaders. Spanish and French settlements did not fare well because of the resistance of the Caribs and the lack of fresh water, still a problem on the islands in the 21st century. In 1632 English settlers arrived from St. Kitts to settle in Antigua. Other English arrivals established a settlement in Barbuda in 1666. There was a short-lived French annexation of the islands in 1667. In 1684 Sir Christopher Codrington (d. 1710) landed in Antigua and was the first to cultivate sugarcane there. Sir Christopher and his brother had leased land in Barbuda from Britain from 1685 to 1870 and paid a rent of “one fat pig” a year. They set about growing agricultural produce using enslaved natives. Sugarcane proved a lucrative product, and by the mid-18th century there were numerous large sugar plantations, each with its own cane-processing windmill. A total of 150 windmills dotted the island.
By the end of the 18th century Antigua had become an important strategic port as well as a valuable commercial colony. Known as the “gateway to the Caribbean,” its location offered control over the major sailing routes to and from the region’s rich island colonies. Slaves were brought in from Africa as well as other Caribbean islands to work on the sugar plantations in Antigua. When Great Britain’s Emancipation Act of 1834 abolished slavery, Antigua and Barbuda was the only country exempted from the apprenticeship clause that, in other countries, bound the freed slaves to their former masters for four additional years before they were truly emancipated.
The trade union movement of the 1940s, led by V. C. Bird (d. 1999), proved an important step toward independence. In 1967 Antigua became an Associated State of the Commonwealth, with Barbuda and Redonda as dependencies. Antigua achieved independence on November 1, 1981, again with the two smaller islands as dependencies of Antigua. There was opposition in Barbuda, however, to this status.

The country of Antigua and Barbuda consists of three islands, bounded on the west by the Caribbean Sea and on the east by the North Atlantic Ocean. St. John’s, the capital, is on Antigua, the largest and the most populated of the three. Barbuda, the other main island, is located 25 miles north of Antigua. Lying southwest of Antigua is the uninhabited, tiny island of Redonda. Redonda is a dependency of Antigua and Barbuda, but it is also a micronation called the Kingdom of Redonda.
Antigua and Barbuda is part of the Leeward Islands in the Lesser Antilles archipelago and has a tropical climate with relatively constant temperatures and sunshine throughout the year. The land is primarily low-lying limestone and coral islands, with some higher volcanic areas. Antigua has an uneven shoreline that provides many natural harbors and beaches. Barbuda has a large harbor on its western (Caribbean) coast. The natural beauty of the islands makes this a popular tourist destination, but the country is also prone to drought. Antigua and Barbuda, because of its location, is also vulnerable to hurricanes between July and October.

Tourism is Antigua and Barbuda’s major industry. Both islands are known for their pink and white sands, palm trees, and coral reefs. Antigua has 365 beaches or, as Antiguans like to say it, one beach for each day of the year. One hundred sugarcane-processing windmill towers remain in Antigua, and visitors throng Betty’s Hope, Antigua’s first sugar plantation, for its completely restored sugar mill. The waters around Barbuda boast the remains of interesting shipwrecks, and the island’s fauna, particularly the beautiful fallow deer and a large population of frigate birds (Fregata magnificens) draw naturalists from around the world. The Bird Sanctuary is home to more than 170 species, and tourists can visit numerous historical landmarks.

Most Antiguans are descendants of slaves, and they retain many West Indian traditions, including a love of calypso and reggae music. This permeates not just the celebrations but also everyday life. Festivals and religious holidays (both Protestant and Catholic) are known for their exuberance. These celebrations, which sometimes continue for weeks or even a full month, include beauty pageants, masquerades (parades of people in masks and costumes) and dancing in the streets to calypso, as well as cricket and other sports competitions.
Antiguans are also passionate cricket fans. Cricket season lasts from January to July, and the country has given the West Indies team four of its greatest players: Andy Roberts, the bowler, (b. 1951); Ritchie Richardson, batsman (b. 1962); Curtley Ambrose, bowler (b. 1963); and Vivian Richards, batsman (b. 1952).

The cooking of Antigua and Barbuda reflects its diverse history. Seafood of all kinds is readily available, always fresh, and figures prominently in many local dishes, such as conch fritters. A variety of fresh fruits, including bananas, coconut, pineapple, papaya, and mango, are also very popular as snacks or refreshing juice drinks. In addition to being eaten raw at any time of the day, fruits are versatile and turn up in such dishes as papaya pie. The national dish of Antigua and Barbuda is called fungi and pepper pot, a thick stew made with squash, okra, aubergine (eggplant), spinach, and pumpkin, served with salted meats and cornmeal dumplings. Fungi (pronounced “funjee”), an African dish, is a cornmeal and okra preparation. The hot sauces, lobster and pumpkin soup, and fish varieties that include porgy, parrotfish, and snapper are typical Caribbean fare. Rum is the local drink of choice. It can be drunk neat (straight, or unmixed) although it is perhaps more refreshing served with fruit in cocktails and punches.

A traditional Antiguan wedding is marked with several parties held before and after the wedding ceremony. Customarily once the groom chooses his bride-to-be, he writes a letter to her parents declaring his love and seeking their permission for the marriage. Once parental consent has been received from both sets of parents, the engagement begins. This is the official courtship period and typically lasts four to six months. During this time both families prepare for the wedding.
As a part of the wedding ceremony several animals, such as pigs, sheep, and chickens are slaughtered as offerings to God. The Ground Wetting ceremony is performed—wine or wine and water is poured on the ground as a thanksgiving gesture to God and as an invitation to dead ancestors. This rite is accompanied by prayers prior to the slaughtering of the animals. Once the wedding ceremony is solemnized at the church, a reception party is held at the bride’s residence, where the food to be served at the wedding feast is usually cooked. The reception is followed by a big drum dance. A party known as “return thanks” is held two weeks later for close relatives and friends who attended the wedding.

Family and community members hold a wake after a death. Funeral observances continue for several days, often with hundreds of visitors. Several prayer nights or prayer meetings are observed for the deceased on the third, ninth, and 40th nights following the death. The big drum dance is performed on either the ninth or the 40th night after death.
The first death anniversary for Catholics is marked by a Mass in the morning, followed by refreshments and snacks. In the evening a table is set—it is laid before 6 P.M. and cleared before 6 A.M. —covered with linen and filled with a variety of foods for the ancestors. Neighborhood children are invited to partake of this meal.