In the 16th and 17th centuries, the islands were home to more than 5000 pirates and buccaneers, and this resulted in English being the predominant language on the islands. European pirates like Henry Morgan, Coxen, Morris and Van Horn used the island as a base for raiding Spanish ships beginning in the 1600s. They took refuge in the many hidden ports on Roatan, spending time hunting and fishing and lazing about in the tropical sun.
After the Spanish eventually depopulated the islands, the Bay Islands were re-settled first by the Garifuna, who settled in Punta Gorda on Roatan, and later by British-descended settlers from the Cayman Islands, who set up colonies in Utila, Roatan and Guanaja.
The Garifuna story began to unfold a thousand years ago when the Arawak, A South American tribe of hunters and gatherers, moved up the Orinoco River, through Honduras and into the Caribbean Sea, where they traded with the Caribs. The mixture of Carib and Arawak created a new people who came to be known as 'Island Caribs'.
In the 1500s, Europeans brought African slaves to the islands. The Island Caribs defended their islands but lost much of their territory. In 1635, two Spanish ships bringing slaves to the West Indies were shipwrecked near St. Vincent. The slaves on board escaped and took refuge with the Island Caribs. The Africans adopted the language and culture of their hosts, and intermarriages brought a new culture; the Garifuna.
In 1797, Britain (the ruling power at the time) exiled the Garifuna to the island of Roatan and although some dispersed along the mainland coast from Belize to Nicaragua, many stayed behind to live on the beautiful island of Roatan.
Today, Islanders speak predominantly English with a strong island accent, and part of the attraction of the Bay Islands is their authentic island culture that still manifests itself in its people, their language and the architecture of their towns.
The Garifuna people exist today as they did back then. They will welcome you warmly into their community, speak to you in their native tongue and delight you with their music and dance - it is in their music and dance that you will find evidence of their African heritage.
All these cultures have brought their own mix of art and culture to the islands.