Long before Christopher Columbus first set foot on the capital island of Grand Turk during his discovery voyage of the new world in 1492, the Islands of the Turks & Caicos were inhabited by Taino and Lucayan Indians. These original settlers left a rich heritage of seafaring, salt raking and farming, which still lingers on today. Words such as “canoe”, Caribbean and “caicos” are derived from the Arawak language. Even the name of the country comes from these earliest inhabitants. Turks is a reference to the indigenous Turk’s head cactus and Caicos is from the Lucayan term “caya hico” meaning string of Islands.
Another peculiarity that has been passed down through generations is a love of shellfish, particularly conch – which is actually still available to this day, thanks to the work of the Caicos Conch Farm on Providenciales, the only commercial conch farm in the world.
For almost 700 years, the Taino and Lucayan Indians were the sole residents of the Islands, settling mainly in Middle Caicos and Grand Turk. They lived peacefully and were skilled in farming, fishing and gardening. They cultivated almost 50 types of plants, some of which can still be found on undeveloped sections of the Islands.
Shortly after Columbus arrived in 1492, the Lucayan civilization disappeared and the Islands remained sparsely populated for about 30 years. During this time, the salt making industry was born. Bermudians came to the Turks Islands to rake the salt and take it back to Bermuda. Salt was a precious commodity back then as it was used not only for flavoring food but for preserving it as well. The shallow waters surrounding the islands were ideal for salt raking but treacherous for nautical navigation and more than 1000 ships were wrecked during the journey to and from Bermuda.
In 1706, the French and the Spanish briefly captured the TCI from the Bermudians. Four years later the British reclaimed the Islands for Bermuda but in subsequent years the place became primarily a haven for pirates and British Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution. Ultimately, Britain retained the Islands as part of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1766, after being controlled by the Spanish, French and British, Turks & Caicos became part of the Bahamas colony and was placed under the Bahamian Government. Attempts to integrate the two distinct communities failed and in 1874 after “the Great Bahamas Hurricane” devastated much of the chain of Islands, the Turks & Caicos Islands became dependencies to the British Crown Colony of Jamaica. When Jamaica won their independence from Britain in 1962, the TCI became a British Crown Colony.
It was not until the early 1980s when Club Med Turkoise Resort opened that Providenciales – and Turks & Caicos in general – started to become a viable tourist destination. Since then, increasingly more development has taken shape, and the small, salt raking island country of TCI has grown into what is quickly becoming recognized as one of the world’s premier beach destinations.
Though the days when the Lucayans fished and sailed the turquoise waters of TCI have given way to live-aboard dive boat operators, commercial fishing and off-shore financial services, their gentle temperament and love of nature can still be felt today, after almost 1200 years. The TCI has quickly become a leading international investment center for the offshore investor and for the luxury seeking traveler.
Today, the TCI stands on the threshold of an exciting future boasting the fastest growing economy in the Caribbean coupled with strictly controlled development to protect the islands heritage as a pristine sanctuary for both local residents and tourists to enjoy for the next thousand years.