Cayman Islands (kāˈmən) [key], British dependency (2005 est. pop. 44,300), 100 sq mi (259 sq km), comprising three low-lying islands in the West Indies. George Town, the capital and chief port, is on Grand Cayman; the other islands are Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. The British monarch is the head of state, and is represented by a governor. There is an 18-seat Legislative Assembly; the government is headed by the premier. The Cayman Islands are divided into eight administrative districts.
The largely Christian, English-speaking population is about 40% mixed European and African ancestry, 20% white, and 20% black. Finance and luxury tourism are the economic mainstays of the islands, which are an international center for offshore banks, insurance companies, and mutual funds. Almost all goods are imported, primarily from the United States.
The islands were sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1503, but were colonized by the British beginning in the 1800s. Administered from Jamaica after 1863, they became a separate British crown colony when Jamaica became independent in 1962. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan brought widespread destruction to the islands.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.