Portrait of an island

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As a gorgeous new book explores Antigua and Barbuda, we celebrate the people and unique personalities of this natural paradise

It is true. Antigua and Barbuda has some of the most stunning beaches in the world; it is a photographer’s paradise. This in itself sets the country apart and effortlessly supplies enough material to create a pictorial book. The reality, however, is that there are so many more layers to peel away – an infinity of learning, experience and inspiration.

The island’s breathtaking surrounds have almost taken a back seat during the creation of Simply Antigua Barbuda, the new coffee-table book from award-winning publishers Leeward Consultants. Antigua and Barbuda is a hub of activity, progressing, producing and claiming what belongs to it: a rich history, deep cultural heritage and a prospering economy. This book is an homage to the many fascinating people that call this country home. “We wanted it to instil national pride and raise the profile of the country,” says co-author and art director Janie Conley-Johnson.

“Antigua and Barbuda is very picturesque, with extremely talented, diverse young photographers and artists who capture the country from their point of view,” adds Conley-Johnson. “We hope from the collaborative nature of the book that the exposure these artists receive will positively impact their practice.”

The book is designed to reveal both the obvious beauty of Antigua and Barbuda and also its little-known facts, historical quirks and rich culture. “Although the book touches on the islands’ famous attractions, it also uncovers alternative cultural stories,” says Conley-Johnson. “It is designed to surprise the reader.” We think it succeeds to the full.

We are artists
Antigua is a hotbed of artistic talent. Take Chavel, a 22-year-old self-taught conceptual photographer. His camera is his passion. “I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty and I try to work with people who have the same passion and creativity. I want to inspire people to be themselves, no matter how ‘weird’ they think they might be.”
That Kid Paint Series by Chavel ‘DotKid’ Thomas

We are foodies
Antigua and Barbuda is a natural paradise. The land and sea are bounteous, providing everything from sublime seafood to  herbal remedies – local experts know to use French thyme for asthma, bay leaves for high fever and moringa beans as nature’s Viagra!

And Antiguans enjoy their food. In the streets of downtown St John’s and on almost every country road, vendors sell fresh fruit and veg, roast corn on the cob over charcoal and chop open coconuts for their nutritious, sweet water. There’s also a revival of ole time delicacies: bambula, cha cha dumplings, pepperpot, cassava pudding; curried conch, hand-churned ice cream and guava cheese. If you can’t fit in any more, take some home for later. As they say: “Better man belly bus’ dan good things spoil!”

Antigua’s rum history dates back to the 1700s. By the middle of the 18th century, about half its arable land was planted with cane. The Antigua Distillery Limited was founded in 1932, though its initial request for land in the St John area was denied as the colonial government did not want a ‘smelly’ distillery in the town. They were instead given land on Rat Island, next to a former leper colony.

ADL is still making rum, using one of only two remaining copper stills in continuous operation in the Caribbean. Its rums are award-winning, and in 2016 a new limited edition range of English Harbour cask-aged rums was launched. These new blends maintain, says ADL’s Anthony Bento, “that true Antigua rum backbone with notes of vanilla, slight pepper spice and toasty smoke – interesting and approachable.” Much like the Antiguans themselves.

We are performers
A&B has an extremely rich and diverse musical history, and is recognised for producing some of the Caribbean’s biggest stars in a variety of genres. Claudette ‘CP’ Peters, Antigua’s beautiful soca diva, has had a hit every year since 1994. She is a tour de force on the soca scene and has received virtually every accolade going, including the title of Order of the Most Princely Heritage awarded by Antigua’s Governor General.

We embrace our roots
Antigua and Barbuda has an incredibly rich history, which can be traced back approximately 3,000 years. There is a wealth of material, in astoundingly good condition, to be discovered in the National Archives, in the Rappaport Centre on the outskirts of St John’s. The archive has always had a fairly low profile, but Acting Director Joseph Prosper is keen to engage public interest in the materials that lie ‘hidden’ behind these walls. Most astonishing are the six volumes of slave registers, dating from 1817 when a law was passed that all British colonies had to provide an official Triennial Return of Slaves – they are some of the best-preserved records in the Caribbean. The registry records in some detail any alterations in the number of slaves belonging to an owner. The mode of acquisition or loss is noted – be it birth, purchase, onward sale, death or desertion. Individuals are recorded by name, sex, colour, age and ownership. It makes for harrowing reading – though what is truly alarming is the fact that only 16 years of official slave registers were produced over a 200 year period. The last entry was made in 1833 – the year before emancipation was granted.

Want to know more?
Simply Antigua Barbuda is a beautiful book created by award-winning Antiguan publishing company Leeward Consultants. For more information, or to buy a copy, go to simplyantiguabarbuda.com. Or why not explore the destination yourself? LIAT flies direct to Antigua from Barbados, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico,  St Kitts, St Lucia and St Martin, with onward connections to other islands.

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