Whether it’s the remnants of colonial rule, the spoils of war, or just plain old acquisition, many European nations and the U.S. still have some type of rule over a hot island, stashed away in the Caribbean Sea or the South Pacific. Here’s a quick rundown of some trophy islands, and how they came to be.
Together, the Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten form the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Since 1636, Aruba has been under Dutch administration, and though the island nation was granted autonomy from the Netherlands in 1986, Aruba remains a Dutch constituent country with a governor appointed by the Dutch monarch and whose citizens carry Dutch passports.
During the 19th century, German, U.S., British and French naval forces all separately engaged in violent rivalries with native Samoans over the valued refueling station of Pago Pago Harbor. The U.S. eventually laid claim to the eastern portion of Samoa, and the Germans took the west. After the Second World War, the U.S. attempted to incorporate American Samoa, but the bill was defeated in Congress, mainly due to the efforts of native Samoan chiefs. These chiefs formed a de facto government, though to this day, the U.S. Territory of American Samoa is on the UN list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.
French Polynesia (pictured)
French Polynesia is a chain of 130 islands — Tahiti being the most prominent — and is a part of the French Republic. Ferdinand Magellan was the first European explorer to interact with native Polynesians in 1521, and Dutch, British and French explorers soon followed. French Catholic missionaries required military gunboat protection in Tahiti in 1838, and France quickly declared the island a French protectorate. In 1946, Polynesians were granted French citizenship and the islands’ status was changed to an overseas territory. French Polynesia’s status was then changed once again in 2004 to an overseas collectivity.
British Virgin Islands
Christopher Columbus came across the Virgin Islands on his second voyage to the Americas in 1493, and gave them the name Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Vírgenes (Saint Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins), after the legend of Saint Ursula. The prefix of “British” is to distinguish the islands from the neighbouring Virgin Islands of the United States (formerly the Danish West Indies). After claiming ownership of the islands in the early 16th century, the Spanish left the Virgin Islands uninhabited, which lead to tons of pirates and Dutch, Danish, British, and French forces all jostling for control of the area. The British captured the island settlement of Tortola from the Dutch in 1672 and the 54 islands and cays remain under the executive authority of the Queen — including U.K. billionaire Richard Branson’s private Mosquito Island.
Turks and Caicos (the one that got away?)
As far back as 1917, Canadian politicians have been championing various efforts to annex the Caribbean islands of Turks and Caicos (currently a British Territory) with Canada. A large number of the tourists who visit the islands are Canadian and in the 1990s support from the islands’ native inhabitants was around 90 per cent to make Turks and Caicos Canada’s 11th province. For the islands to become a province would require an amendment to the Canadian constitution, so it would likely be easier to make the thinly populated islands a Canadian territory (similar to the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut). Nova Scotia voted in 2004 to invite Turks and Caicos to become part of the province, should the island nation ever join Canada. Our warm relationship with the islands continues, and in March 2011, Canadians were appointed to the two most senior policing roles in Turks and Caicos to assist in quelling the soaring crime rate on the islands.
Image courtesy of Javier Sánchez