The Cayman Islands are a British Overseas Territory in the western Caribbean Sea. The territory comprises the three islands of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, south of Cuba and northwest of Jamaica.
The Cayman Islands are considered to be part of the geographic Western Caribbean Zone as well as the Greater Antilles. The territory is a major world offshore financial centre.
Flag of the Cayman Islands
The Flag of the Cayman Islands was adopted on 14 May 1958 after the colony was officially granted a coat-of-arms. Prior to that, the Islands had used the British flag for all official occasions. In 1999, the white disc was removed and the arms were more than doubled in size, although the pre-1999 flag remains popular and is still used on some official occasions, and the Cayman Islands Government website describes the flag as a “British blue ensign with the arms on a white disc in the fly.”
During the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, and during the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics, the Cayman Islands team marched in under the flag as described on the government website.
Common with most British overseas territories, the Governor’s flag is a Union Flag defaced with the coat-of-arms. The governor’s flag was also changed in 1999, the arms were made bigger and a golden ring was added.
Coat of arms of the Cayman Islands
The Cayman Islands’ coat of arms consists of a shield, a crested helm and the motto.
Three green stars, representing each of the three inhabited Islands (Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac), are set in the lower two-thirds of the shield.
The stars rest on blue and white wavy bands representing the sea. In the top third of the shield, against a red background, is a gold lion passant guardant (walking with the further forepaw raised and the body seen from the side), representing Britain.
Above the shield is a green turtle on a coil of rope. Behind the turtle is a gold pineapple. The turtle represents the Caymans’ seafaring history; the rope, its traditional thatch-rope industry; and the pineapple, its ties with Jamaica.
The islands’ motto, “He hath founded it upon the seas”, is printed at the bottom of the shield. This line, a verse from Psalm 24 Verse 2, acknowledges the Caymans’ Christian heritage, as well as its ties to the sea.
The proposal for a coat of arms was approved by the Legislative Assembly in 1957, and public input was sought on its design. The Royal Warrant assigning “Armorial Ensigns for the Cayman Islands” was approved by Her Majesty’s command on 14 May 1958.
The Cayman Islands remained largely uninhabited until the 17th century. While there is no archaeological evidence for an indigenous people on the islands, a variety of settlers from various backgrounds made their home on the islands, including pirates, refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, shipwrecked sailors, and deserters from Oliver Cromwell’s army in Jamaica.
The first recorded permanent inhabitant of the Cayman Islands, Isaac Bodden, was born on Grand Cayman around 1661. He was the grandson of the original settler named Bodden who was probably one of Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers at the taking of Jamaica in 1655.
England took formal control of the Cayman Islands, along with Jamaica, as a result of the Treaty of Madrid of 1670. Following several unsuccessful attempts at settlement, a permanent English-speaking population in the islands dates from the 1730s. With settlement, after the first royal land grant by the Governor of Jamaica in 1734, came the perceived need for slaves. Many were brought to the islands from Africa; this is evident today with the majority of native Caymanians being of African and English descent. The results of the first census taken in the islands in 1802 showed the population on Grand Cayman to be 933 with 545 of those inhabitants being slaves. Slavery was abolished in the Cayman Islands in 1833. At the time of abolition, there were over 950 black slaves of African ancestry owned by 116 white families of English ancestry.
The islands continued to be governed as part of the Colony of Jamaica until 1962, when they became a separate Crown colony while Jamaica became an independent Commonwealth realm.
The Cayman Islands historically have been a tax-exempt destination. On 8 February 1794, the Caymanians rescued the crews of a group of ten merchant ships, including HMS Convert, an incident that has since become known as the Wreck of the Ten Sail. The ships had struck a reef and run aground during rough seas. Legend has it that King George III rewarded the island with a promise never to introduce taxes as compensation for their generosity, as one of the ships carried a member of the King’s own family. While this remains a popular legend, the story is not true.
However, whatever the history, in practice the government of the Cayman Islands has always relied on indirect and not direct taxes. The islands have never levied income tax, capital gains tax, or any wealth tax, making them a popular tax haven.
On 11–12 September 2004 the island of Grand Cayman, which lies largely unprotected at sea level, was hit by Hurricane Ivan, creating an 8-ft storm surge which flooded many areas of Grand Cayman. An estimated 83% of the dwellings on the island were damaged including 4% requiring complete reconstruction. A reported 70% of all dwellings suffered severe damage from flooding or wind. Another 26% sustained minor damage from partial roof removal, low levels of flooding, or impact with floating or wind driven hurricane debris. Power, water and communications were disrupted for months in some areas, as Ivan was the worst hurricane to hit the islands in 86 years. Grand Cayman began a major rebuilding process and within two years, its infrastructure was nearly returned to pre-hurricane status. Due to the tropical location of the islands, more hurricane or tropical systems have affected the Cayman Islands than any other region in the Atlantic basin; it has been brushed or directly hit, on average, every 2.23 years.
The Cayman Islands are in the western Caribbean Sea and are the peaks of a massive underwater ridge, known as the Cayman Ridge (or Cayman Rise). This ridge flanks the Cayman Trough, 6,000 m (20,000 ft) deep which lies 6 km (3.7 mi) to the south. The islands lie in the northwest of the Caribbean Sea, east of Quintana Roo, Mexico and the Yucatan Mexico, south of Cuba and west of Jamaica. They are situated about 700 km (430 mi) south of Miami, 366 km (227 mi) south of Cuba, and about 500 km (310 mi) northwest of Jamaica. Grand Cayman is by far the biggest, with an area of 197 km2 (76 sq mi). Grand Cayman’s two “Sister Islands”, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, are about 120 km (75 mi) east north-east of Grand Cayman and have areas of 38 and 28.5 km2 (14.7 and 11.0 sq mi) respectively.
All three islands were formed by large coral heads covering submerged ice age peaks of western extensions of the Cuban Sierra Maestra range and are mostly flat. One notable exception to this is The Bluff on Cayman Brac’s eastern part, which rises to 43 m (141 ft) above sea level, the highest point on the islands. Terrain is mostly a low-lying limestone base surrounded by coral reefs.
The mammalian species in the islands include the introduced Central American agouti and eight species of bats. At least three now extinct native rodent species were present up until the discovery of the islands by Europeans. A number of cetaceans are found in offshore waters.
Cayman avian fauna includes two endemic subspecies of Amazona parrots: Amazona leucocephala hesterna, or Cayman Brac parrot, native only to Cayman Brac, and Amazona leucocephala caymanensis or Grand Cayman parrot, which is native to the Cayman Islands, forested areas of Cuba, and the Isla de la Juventud. Little Cayman and Cayman Brac are also home to Red-footed and Brown Booby birds.
Among other notable fauna is the endangered blue iguana, which is endemic to Grand Cayman.
The Cayman Islands have a tropical marine climate, with a wet season of warm, rainy summers (May to October) and a dry season of relatively cool winters (November to April).
A major natural hazard is the tropical cyclones that form during the Atlantic hurricane season from June to November.
On 11 and 12 September 2004, Hurricane Ivan struck the Cayman Islands. The storm resulted in two deaths, and caused great damage to the infrastructure on the islands. The total economic impact of the storms was estimated to be $3.4 billion.
The population of the Cayman Islands reflects its status as a British overseas territory, its history as a former dependency of Jamaica, and its present financial partnerships with the United States and other countries.
With its success in the tourism and financial service industries, the Cayman Islands have attracted many international businesses and citizens to relocate. The largest numbers of expatriates living in the Cayman Islands (as of the government’s 1999 Census Report) hail from Jamaica (8,320), the United Kingdom (2,392), the United States (2,040), Canada (1,562), and Honduras (873). Approximately 3,300 more residents are citizens of various other countries. While the government doesn’t restrict foreign land ownership, it does strongly enforce its immigration laws. Businesses are required to grant access to job openings to Caymanian citizens first; if none of them are suitable, the business may then seek employees from other countries. In order to work in the Cayman Islands, foreigners must have a job offer before immigrating.
The vast majority of its residents live on the island of Grand Cayman.
The estimated resident population is 54,878 people, broken down as follows:
- George Town: 27,70
- West Bay: 11,269
- Bodden Town: 10,341
- North Side: 1,437
- East End: 1,369
- Cayman Brac and Little Cayman: 2,277
Although many Caribbean islands were initially populated by Amerindian groups such as the Taíno and Caribs, no evidence of this has been found in the Cayman Islands. Therefore, native Caymanians do not have any Amerindian heritage from their own islands; however, a significant number of Jamaicans have settled in the Cayman Islands over the years, so they and their descendants may have some Amerindian blood via Jamaica.
Slavery was less common on the Cayman Islands than in many other parts of the Caribbean, resulting in a more even division of African and European ancestry. Those of mixed race make up 40% of the population, with blacks and whites following at 20% each. The remaining 20% belong to various immigrant ethnic groups.
The official language of the Cayman Islands is English. Islanders’ accents retain elements passed down from English, Scottish, and Welsh settlers (among others) in a language variety known as Cayman Creole. Caymanians of Jamaican origin speak in their own vernacular (see Jamaican Creole and Jamaican English). It is also quite commonplace to hear some residents converse in Spanish as many citizens have relocated from Latin America to work and live on Grand Cayman. The Latin American nations with greatest representation are Honduras, Cuba, Colombia, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic. Spanish speakers comprise approximately between 10-12% of the population and is predominantly of Central American dialect. Filipino or Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines, is spoken by about 5% of inhabitants most of whom are residents on work permits.
The predominant religion on the Cayman Islands is Christianity. Denominations practiced include United Church, Church of God, Anglican Church, Baptist Church, Roman Catholic Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church, and Pentecostal Church. Many citizens are deeply religious, regularly going to church. Ports are closed on Sundays and Christian holidays. There are also places of worship in George Town for Jehovah’s Witnesses, and followers of Bahá’í Faith. The Cayman Islands also hosts a small Jewish community.