Daniel Elfrith, the renown seventeenth century adventurer, was among the first Europeans to set foot on previously occupied islands, and called them Providence and Henrietta. In 1629, accompanied by a group of English Puritan colonists and their African slaves, Elfrith took possession of the islands in the name of “The Company of Adventurers of the City of Westminster for the Plantation of the Islands of Providence or Catalina, Henrietta or Andrea, and the Adjacent Islands Lying Upon the Coast of America.”
Toward the mid-seventeenth century the island’s economy collapsed, and the British crown allowed the Puritans to establish a base for corsairs. From then on the islands became known as “The Den of Thieves.” Spain invaded and reclaimed the islands, then promptly forgot and abandoned them for more than a century. These islands, now known as San Andres and Providence, eventually became pawns in a territorial game played by distant, old world nations. Today, these islands are part of The Republic of Colombia.
Among their distinguishing characteristics are their language – a Creole English increasingly influenced by Spanish – and their population, the descendants of those forgotten slaves.
Islanders have resolute trust and respect for foreigners and wariness of Colombians from the mainland who have settled there. Regardless of trust, the beauty of submarine life appeals to all – foreigner, islander, and Colombian interloper.
Change is inevitable, however, and given the insecurity that comes with migration from the mainland, a visit now to the island realms of San Andres and Providencia will reveal how culture at many levels influences the islands.
- Hazel Robinson, author
Old Providence, as it is sometimes called, is a small island in the Caribbean Sea, belonging to the Republic of Colombia, but closer to the Nicaraguan coast. The island, with its five comfortable beaches, has a perimeter of eighteen kilometers.
Long ago Providence was a pirate refuge. Henry Morgan used it as base leading up to his attack on Panama City. Legend has it that he buried his treasure here. As a result the area known as Morgan’s Head attracts treasure hunters even today, often carrying metal detectors.
When the tide permits, horseracing takes place at Southwest Beach. Catboat racing, popular among local and tourist alike, likewise takes place on Providence. The island’s barrier reef – third largest in the world – allows for scuba diving and ecological tourism in general. Softball is also popular.
The language on Providence is Caribbean English, known as Creole, even though everybody speaks Spanish and conventional English. The traditional food is the "rundown," a typical plate of the English-speaking Caribbean. A full plate will include fish, Caribbean queen conchs, potato, cassava, plantain, breadfruit, and pigtail, as well as many spices. Catching crab and conch is prohibited during their reproductive seasons. As for drink, we have a locally distilled "Bush rum.”
About five thousand people live on Providence; they have no jail, but close to twenty churches. The influx of tourists comes in June for the annual Folkloric, Cultural, and Sports Festival, as well as from the day after Christmas to mid-January.
-John Taylor, author