Turks & Caicos Islands: Etymology

The etymology (study of the origin of words) provides an interesting context for many postage stamp issues. A trawl through a catalogue or album of stamp issues from the Turks & Caicos Islands will reveal repeated images of a distinctive looking cactus – the Turk’s Cap – and it this this genus of cactus that gives its name to the Turks Islands.

The Turks & Caicos Islands are a British Overseas Territory consisting of the notably larger Caicos Islands and smaller Turks Islands located in the Caribbean. The Turks Islands are separated from the Caicos Islands by a deep water channel known as the Turks Island Passage.

Turks & Caicos Islands 1909 Edward VII definitive stamp featuring Turk's Cap cactus
Turks & Caicos Islands 1909 Edward VII definitive featuring Turk’s Cap cactus

For many years the Turks and Caicos Islands were governed indirectly through Bermuda, the Bahamas and Jamaica. The first adhesive postage stamps were issued for the Turks Islands in 1867 but it was not until 1900 that stamps were issued with reference to both Turks & Caicos Islands. The name Caicos is derived from caya hico meaning ‘string of islands’ in the Lucayan language; the language of the indigenous inhabitants of many Caribbean islands prior to European conquest.

Turks & Caicos Islands 1967 Elizabeth II definitive stamp featuring Turk's Cap cactus
Turks & Caicos Islands 1967 Elizabeth II definitive featuring Turk’s Cap cactus

The Turks Islands are named after the Turk’s Cap cactus, Melocactus intortus, whose red cap resembles the fez hat worn by Turkish men in the late Ottoman Empire. The Turk’s Cap cactus is native to the Caribbean although can also be found in large parts of South America. The distinctive cap (cephalium) forms on mature plants and contains a mass of areoles from which small flowers grow, these maturing into edible fruits on some varieties.

Turks & Caicos Islands 1969 Elizabeth II definitive stamp featuring Turk's Cap cactus on coat of arms
Turks & Caicos Islands 1969 Elizabeth II definitive featuring Turk’s Cap cactus on coat of arms

Not surprisingly, the Turk’s Cap cactus features in many the Turks & Caicos Islands stamp issues including somewhat discretely in the first 1900 issue. The cactus appears prominently on the coat of arms and still appears occasionally on stamp issues to this day.

To view postal issues of the Turks & Caicos Islands, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

Published by nigelmandsphilatelycom

Nigel Matthews has been a philatelist for more than 30 years. He has a particular interest in the postal history of the Caribbean including associated British Commonwealth countries (incl. Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Leeward Islands, Monserrat, St Lucia, St Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos) as well as Cuba, Danish West Indies, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Martinique, Netherlands Antilles and Puerto Rico.

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