Originally named “Malliouhana,” meaning arrow-shaped sea serpent, the island was renamed Anguilla by the Europeans, for its long eel shape.
Around 4,000 years ago, the history of the island began. It was then that Amerindian peoples first arrived from South America. They sustained themselves by living off the sea and the land, and established farms and villages.
Over the following three thousand years, a succession of tribes and cultures called the island home. Many were deeply religious, including the Arawak people whose belief was based on the sun and moon and two sacred caverns, from where they believed all mankind originated. These caves — Big Springs at Island Harbour and The Fountain at Shoal Bay — remain to this day. The Fountain is the Eastern Caribbean’s most intact ceremonial site of this period. It features petrogylphs, offering bowls and a stalagmite carved in the likeness of Jocahu, their Supreme Deity.
In 1650, English settlers arrived and colonized Anguilla. They established plantations where corn and tobacco were grown. For six years they were alone on the island until Indians from a neighboring island came and destroyed their settlement.
The French temporarily overtook the island in 1666; however, it was returned to Britain the following year under the Treaty of Breda.
By the 1800s Anguilla was thriving as a plantation economy like most of the Caribbean. Rum, sugar, cotton, indigo, fustic and mahogany were its chief exports. Eroding soil and unreliable rainfall made conditions for farming unfavorable. As a result, the size and strength of these plantations dwindled, and fewer people were employed. Eventually these people established their independence through private proprietorships, or by becoming fisherman or sailors.
In 1958, St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla became part of the Federation of the West Indies. The Federation’s collapse in 1962 resulted in individual constitutions for most islands. St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla were made an associated statehood — a political decision that sparked the Anguilla Revolution, as Anguilla desired its independence from the state.
May 30, 1967 is celebrated today as Anguilla Day, which commemorates the repulsion of the Royal St. Kitts Police Force from the island. Britain intervened and a peacekeeping committee was established. Debates over Anguilla’s succession continued to be negotiated for another decade until December 19, 1980, when Anguilla became a separate Dependent Territory with some measure of autonomy in government.
*Adapted from the works of Colville Petty O.B.E and Nik Douglas.