The British Virgin Islands is comprised of over 40 Caribbean islands, 16 of which are occupied. The islands are part of the Virgin Islands archipelago which also includes the neighbouring US Virgin Islands. The main islands of the BVI are Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke. With a population of about 27,000, the capital Road Town is based on Tortola, where over three-quarters of the population live, and is the largest of the inhabited islands.
The first settlers on the islands were the Arawak, an indigenous West Indian tribe who are believed to have inhabited the islands as early as 100 B.C.E, and later the Amerindian tribe of the Caribs in the 15th century. The explorer Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to discover the islands on his trip to the Americas in 1493, and he gave them the name ‘Saint Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins’ after Saint Ursula. Originally claimed by the Spanish, the territory of the British Virgin Islands has been fought over by various nations, with Danish, Dutch, French, Spanish and English forces fighting for control. The Islands were occupied by the Dutch privateer Joost Van Dyke in 1615 to farm and trade cotton and tobacco, establishing the first permanent European settlement on the islands. However, the islands soon became a British colony, after Tortola was captured by the British in the Anglo-Dutch war of 1672, and the economy of the island prospered with the onset of slavery and sugarcane production, although this prosperity was stalled by the abolition of slavery in 1834. From 1872 to 1956 the British Virgin Islands fell under the administration of the Leeward Islands Federation. Experiencing greater political and economic autonomy, the BVI became a British dependant territory in 1957, and the economy has continued to flourish with an influx of migrant workers.
The islands have tried to maintain a distinctive culture from their US counterparts. One of the most popular musical forms on the BVI is Fungi or Scratch music, a vibrant grassroots fusion of African and European folk styles that combines a rhythmic percussive sound with the oral storytelling of African tradition. The Lonely Planet Guide to the US & British Virgin Islands is an indispensible resource to discover the rich traditions of the BVI.