THE WEST INDIES 377. The name.—When Columbus dis covered one of the Bahama Islands, in 1492, he thought he had reached the East Indies, so he called the people Indians. The name Indian still clings to them. All the islands near are called the West Indies.
378. Formation.—The West Indies are really the tops of a high and rugged chain of mountains that rises up three miles from the bottom of the sea before the tops can appear as islands. In some places the sea near them is more than three miles deep. The four big islands are called the Greater Antilles. Where are the Lesser Antilles? (Fig. 299.) 379. Climate.—The trade wind blows over all the West Indies. To which part of these islands does it bring the most rain? (Figs. 144, 641 and Sec. 364.) Which side is there fore green with thick forests, and on which side would you expect to find scattered trees and thinner forests, such as grow in dry places? The weather is always warm in the West Indies. A grass house is all that the people really need to keep off the rain and sunshine (Fig. 302), but stone houses are quite common.
Sometimes terrible storms, called hurri canes, visit the islands. These storms are much like the cyclones that cross the United States, except that the wind blows harder; so hard that sometimes it beats down the banana trees and does much other damage.
380. Settlement and people.—The Euro peans who first explored America wanted sugar and molasses. These are made from sugar cane, which did not grow in Europe. Also they wanted rum that is made from molasses. For this reason, long before the United States was settled, the West Indies were settled by colonists from most of the countries of Europe. Even now there are French, Dutch, and English colonies there, as well as many Spanish people, and sugar cane is still the chief crop.
The early planters not only made slaves of the Indians, but brought negro slaves from Africa to work their sugar plantations. The Indians either died or ran away, but the negroes stayed and throve. Now nearly all the people on many of the islands are black. Only in Cuba and Porto Rico is the population chiefly white. In Trinidad and Jamaica, two of the British islands. there are many thousands of dark-skinned people who were recently brought there from India to work by con tract in the sugar planta tions. When their work
contracts were finished, instead of going home to India, they remained in the West Indies.
381. Government.—There are many kinds of government in the West Indian islands.
Most of the European colonies have gov ernors from Europe, and councils, each com posed of a few resident men, who help rule an island or a group of islands.
Cuba was once a Spanish colony, but is now a republic. The United States has a treaty with Cuba which provides that, in case of civil war in Cuba, we will send a governor to rule until peace comes again. Not long ago there was civil war, and we sent a governor there who ruled for three years.
The governor of Porto Rico is sent from Washington. The members of Congress are chosen by the people, but their Congress cannot pass laws of which our Congress at Washington disapproves.
Haiti is about the size of West Virginia and has twice as many people, ' almost all of whom are the descendants of negro slaves. ' There are two ,)untries on this island: Haiti, whose people speak the French language, because that part of the island once was a French colony; and the Dominican Republic, where, for a similar reason, Spanish is spoken. The government of these countries is run partly by the natives and partly by the United States.
These countries are almost colonies of the United States.
382. Agriculture. —Sugar cane, coconuts, bananas, oranges, and other tropic fruits thrive in the trade wind islands. Many things grow in these warm lands that can not be produced successfully in most parts of the United States, be cause frost injures or kills them. Especially does sugar cane thrive, and sugar is the chief export from the West Indies. In Louisiana, where there is frost, sugar cane must be planted every year or two; but in the West Indies and some other tropic countries, the roots live from seven to twelve years, and send up a crop of the sweet canes each season. Cuba, which is about the size of Louisiana, but which has more people, is the greatest sugar island in the world. When you reach for the sugar bowl or a glass of soda-water, you can think of Cuba and Porto Rico.