Montserrat Island, which is a British Overseas Territory or The British Dependent Territory, is a volcanic island in the Caribbean Sea, between Nevis and Guadeloupe and in southeast of Puerto Rico. The island contains seven active volcanoes and located in the Leeward Islands, part of the chain of islands known as the Lesser Antilles, in the West Indies. Montserrat Island measures approximately 16 km (9.9 mi) long and 11 km (6.8 mi) wide, with approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) of coastline. Montserrat has two islets, Little Redonda and Virgin, and Statue Rock. And the people of Montserrat are known as Montserratians.
Montserrat kids celebrating their national cultural festival
The Island which has over 92.4% of its inhabitants being people of black African ancestry from West Africa was originally inhabited by aboriginal Taino (Arawaks) and later indigenous Kalinago (Carib) people. The Carib people provided the first recorded name for Montserrat, they named the island “Alliouagana”, which is believed to mean “the land of the prickly bush”. In November 1493 Christopher Columbus passed Montserrat in his second voyage, after being told that the island was unoccupied due to raids by the Caribs. Columbus named the island Santa María de Montserrat, after the Monastery of Montserrat in the Crown of Aragon (today Catalonia, Spain). Today, Montserrat with its pear-shape is nicknamed "The Emerald Isle of the West (Caribbean)" both for its resemblance to coastal Ireland and for the Irish ancestry of some of its inhabitants. Montserrat is quite unique in that it is one of the few islands in the World where man co-exists with an active volcano.
Montserrat was first settled in 1632 by a British contingent from the mother colony of Saint Kitts. Although the original colonists were English and Irish, Montserrat quickly became a haven for Irish Catholics escaping from religious persecution. The Irish first came as indentured servants and later as slaves to work in the plantation system.
Later, Catholic refugees from Virginia came to escape from religious persecution. By 1648, there were one thousand Irish families on the island. The French occupied the country between 1644 and 1782 but ceded it to Britain in 1783. In 1649, Cromwell sent political prisoners to Montserrat, increasing the population and helping to preserve its Irish character.
Montserrat women wearing their African heritage dress
Montserrat has for some time been considering independence from Great Britain. It has a unique blend of Anglo-Irish and African cultures and thus is an example of a fairly successful blend of two very different cultures and races. Until recently, national self-image was a hot topic as a result of extensive out-migration. After Hurricane Hugo in 1989, the population dropped from 11,500 to slightly less than 10,000 people and later increased to 13, 000 in 1995. An estimated 8,000 refugees left the island (primarily to the UK) following the resumption of volcanic activity in July 1995; the population was 13,000 in 1994. After 1995, volcanic eruptions halved that number.
Montserrat people dancing at Carnival, Salem, Montserrat
Montserrat’s plantation system declined after slavery was abolished in 1834 and the price of sugar fell on world markets. The Montserrat Company, formed in 1857 under the direction of Joseph Sturge, bought abandoned estates, encouraged the cultivation of limes, and sold plots of land to settlers. Because of those efforts, smallholdings still cover much of the island. A series of devastating earthquakes and hurricanes occurred between 1890 and 1936.
Between 1871 and 1956 Montserrat was part of the (British) Federal Colony of the Leeward Islands, which included the British Virgin Islands, Saint Kitts–Nevis–Anguilla, and Dominica. In 1951 universal suffrage was declared, and the following year Montserratian women voted for the first time. The federation was abolished on July 1, 1956, when Montserrat became a colony in its own right. During 1958–62 Montserrat was part of the short-lived Federation of the West Indies. Montserratians, unlike their counterparts in most other British Caribbean colonies, did not seek associated statehood, which would have been a step toward independence.
In the general election of November 1978, the People’s Liberation Movement (PLM) won all seven seats to the Legislative Council. The party retained its control in 1983, but the opposition gained strength in the 1987 election. The PLM leadership favoured eventual independence after first achieving greater economic self-sufficiency. However, many merchants and other Montserratians opposed independence because they saw greater benefits in maintaining ties with Britain. Indeed, after Hurricane Hugo devastated the island in 1989, the British helped construct a new legislative building, a new wing to the hospital in Plymouth, housing, and roads.
In 1979, The Beatles producer George Martin’s AIR Studios Montserrat opened. The island attracted world-famous musicians, who came to record in the peaceful and lush tropical surroundings of Montserrat. The last decade of the twentieth century, however, brought two events which devastated the island
The newly formed National Progressive Party took over the government in 1991, but in 1996, in the midst of the volcano crisis, it won only one legislative seat. A weak coalition was then formed, headed by an independent member, Bertrand Osborne, as chief minister. Osborne resigned in 1997 amid criticism of his handling of the volcano crisis, and he was replaced by David Brandt. The British government was also widely criticized for its handling of the crisis, although it helped evacuate and relocate the population and repair the transportation infrastructure. After the PLM decisively won the elections of April 2001, John Osborne became chief minister. Volcanic activity continued into the early 21st century.
The Honourable Premier Reuben Meade gets a bow from veteran masqueraders during the Slave Feast in Salem, which is a part of the annual St. Patrick’s Week Festival.
Villages and towns that are within the safe zone are shown in boldface. The settlements that are known to be within the exclusion zone are shown in italics, since they cannot be accessed and are no longer habitable. See also List of settlements abandoned after the 1997 Soufrière Hills eruption
The economy of Montserrat is small, very open and is very heavily dependent on imports of merchandise goods.
Agriculture has not supported the population. To foster tourism, the government decided to avoid high-rise hotels and noisy nightclubs; instead, Montserrat was to be a model of "the way. Prior to 1995 tourism
(and in particular residential tourism) and its related services was the mainstay of the economy, contributing on average about 40% of GDP. Presently Tourism only contributes 15% to GDP.
Montserrat had a thriving tourism industry prior to 1995, earnings from tourism represented approximately 25% of the Island’s gross domestic product. The volcanic emergency decimated the industry with 1996 seeing a dramatic decline in tourist arrivals by 46%.
The stabilization of the volcano in 1998 exhibited a 52% increase in tourist arrivals when compared with 1997. Confidence has been restored in this sector in 1999 when tourist arrival figures were 12,909 when compared to 9,427 persons in 1998. The main objective of the Montserrat Tourist Board is the diversification of the tourism product in order to appeal to a wider market and seek to revitalize tourism as a significant contributor to the economy. The redevelopment of this industry in Montserrat is a major priority of the Government of Montserrat.
Agricultural production was greatly affected by the onset of volcanic activity in 1995. Between 1995 and 1997 all the major agricultural producing areas were either destroyed or deemed unsafe for habitation and by extension for crop farming and livestock rearing. One major result of volcanic activity therefore, has been a decrease in agriculture’s contribution to GDP from 5.4% in 1994 to approximately 1.1% in 1998, 0.7%
was contributed by agricultural sector and 0.4% was contributed by the fisheries sector. The number of persons employed in agriculture also decreased from approximately 300 crop and livestock farmers and 160 full and part time fishers before 1995 to 150 and 60 farmers and fishers respectively in 2000.
The Government of Montserrat has directed its policy towards achieving self sufficiency in certain foods and meat products in an effort to reduce the island’s dependency on imports and the outflow of foreign currency. Emphasis is being placed on intensifying the rearing of small ruminants and pigs and facilitating poultry production for meat and eggs. Emphasis has also been placed on encouraging agro-processing ventures utilizing local raw materials.
Fishing is another area of possible growth. The species groups traditionally exploited are the Shall Shelf and Reef Fish and the Coastal Pelagics. Both species are moderately too heavily exploited and are unlikely to support increased exploitation. The Deep Slope and Bank Fish are under exploited and the status of the Large Pelagics is mostly unknown but thought to be adequate to support further exploitation; these groups therefore offer great potential for increased exploitation.
The economy is based mainly on agriculture, real estate, building construction, tourism, and assembling industries. There is little manufacturing activity. There was, until the volcanic eruptions, an expanding tourist trade; and the island was beginning to build an integrated cotton industry (sea island cotton), although the island lacks the technology to handle large volumes of cotton. The off-shore medical school had to move to another island after the recent natural disaster.
Montserrat is accessible to the rest of the world via Antigua and Barbuda. The ferry service which operates twice or daily except Sundays, takes 1 hour to reach Antigua, from which connecting flights to all parts of the world can be accessed.
By air there is helicopter service which takes 15 minutes to Antigua’s V.C.Bird International Airport. Providing connections to the world. The Port is located 1 and one half miles from Brades, and the Geralds heliport 2 miles from Brades. Brades part of the commercial district.
Montserrat is favorably located in proximity to the markets of North and South America. The settlement of the North has resulted in construction of new roads in order to facilitate development of this area.
There is currently a road expansion programme, the need for new roads in the North to meet increasing demand.
Telephone communications to and from all parts of the world are excellent. Cable and Wireless (W.I.) Ltd., provides telecommunications Services in Montserrat. The national Network with a wired capacity in excess of 2600 lines and in addition to the regular telephone services offers enhanced features such as Voice-Mail, Caller ID, Call-waiting and Pre-paid call services. Installation of lines for private or commercial use, is done within six working days or less.
The island’s newspaper is the Montserrat Reporter. Presently there is only one radio station (FM Frequency), Radio Montserrat, Government owned and operating broadcasting on the Island. Licenses have been issued for at least two other radio Stations (private) which will come into operations in the coming months. There is one television station, Cable TV of Montserrat (private) operating locally.
A highly reliable supply of electricity is available: 110/220 volts, AC 60 cycles single phase for domestic use and 400/440 volts, Ac60 cycles for commercial usage. Water is available for both domestic and commercial use.
The government had plans of reviving farming, creating a tourist industry, and supporting a real estate-and-home-construction scheme; but Montserrat has been for many years marginal in relation to overseas markets, compounded by a series of natural disasters to the island.
Classes and Castes. The pattern of social stratification that emerged after the slavery period remains relatively unaltered. Lower classes predominate in this society.
The upper class includes resident owners and managers of the larger estates, expatriate colonial officials, professionals, religious leaders, bank managers, and larger merchants. Most are white or light-skinned. There are no poor whites. The upper classes generally live and work in the capital city of Plymouth, speak English, and adhere to legal forms of marriage and a nuclear form of the family. They belong to the Anglican, Methodist, and Roman Catholic denominations.
The middle class consists of salaried employees or civil servants who work for the post office, hospitals, courts, or the police department. This is the class that aims for secondary schooling. With increased educational opportunities, there is a growing middle class, which tends to use "standard" English in formal contexts, and creole English in others. Many of these households employ at least one domestic servant. Mostly Anglican, Methodist, or Roman Catholic, this is the class most anxious about appropriate behavior. There is an emerging professional class.
The lower classes are primarily black and are characterized by sporadic employment, with many people dependent on remittances. Virtually all live outside Plymouth. Migration was predominantly a lower-class phenomenon before the 1995 evacuations. Most of the members of this class follow Pentecostal faiths. Relationship patterns perhaps represent the greatest institutional variation between classes.
Government. Representative government was introduced in 1936; Montserrat got a new constitution in 1952, and Britain introduced a bicameral system of government in 1960. Virtually all effective political power has been in the hands of the few who control production (the monopoly of the wealthy). Montserrat has elected to remain a colony, although some have argued for a discontinuation of colonial status. There is almost total dependence on Great Britain.
Leadership and Political Officials. Montserrat has a representative government with a ministerial system, practicing parliamentary democracy rooted in the Westminster model. The head of state is represented by a governor, who exercises executive authority. Britain is still responsible for the island's external affairs, defense, and law and order, although Montserrat has a fairly autonomous local government. The chief minister is John Osborne, who has always favored independence for the country. The recent natural disasters effectively put this question to rest for now.
Social Problems and Control. A nation of emigration, with severe loss of population, Montserrat has choking conditions of underdevelopment, poverty, unemployment, declining productivity of abused space, unavailable markets, land problems, and insecure subsistence production, as well as fear, suspicion, and mistrust, especially since the natural disasters of Hugo and the volcanic eruptions. It is a nation suffering from a colonial past, a Caribbean laboratory with "infinitely limited alternatives." There have been various schemes proposed to eliminate some of the social problems, but to date all have failed, e.g., the geothermal project that did not take into account popular superstition about disturbing the dormant volcanoes. The present socioeconomic crises cannot be separated from the recent natural disasters. Great Britain has had to bail out the Montserratians once more.