Fun fact: Rihanna is from Barbados!
Barbados is an eastern Caribbean island and an independent British Commonwealth nation. Bridgetown, the capital, is a cruise-ship port full of colonial buildings and the Nidhe Israel, a synagogue founded in 1654.
All Around the island are fabulous beaches, botanical gardens, cave formations and amazing 17th-century plantation houses like St. Nicholas Abbey.
Most Barbados traditions are drawn from West African and British cultures and this is what has shaped the island. The majority of the islanders are of African descent, however, it was a British Empire Colony for over 300 years which is why the English influence is very strong.
Music and theatre plays a large role in the traditions, which include the Tuk Band and the Barbados Landship. The tuk band is a collection of brightly attired musicians playing a bass drum, kettle drum and pennywhistle. Their infectious rhythm is a call to get up and dance, or at least tap your feet, and this is generally accompanied by costumed figures such as the “Shaggy Bear”, “Mother Sally” and “Green Monkey”, and by the very talented stiltmen. The Barbados Landship is a truly unique part of our culture, whose origin can be traced back to the 1800’s. Although the organization was based on the British Navy, its dances are performed to an African rhythm, often accompanied by a tuk band, once again reflecting the merged cultures of Barbados.
Other local traditions include afternoon tea and cricket (the national sport), pottery, and island festivals. Oh, we can’t forget about the food!
Barbados is the eastern-most Caribbean island and is less that one million years old. This island was created by the collision of the Atlantic crustal and Caribbean plates, which makes it geologically unique, because it is actually two land masses that have merged together over the years.
The first indigenous people were Amerindians who arrived in Barbados from Venezuela. Paddling long dugout canoes that crossed the oceans. On the north end of Venezuela, there is a narrow sea channel called the Dragon’s mouth that acts as a funnel to the Caribbean sea and the nearest Island of Trinidad.
The Portuguese then came to Barbados en route to Brazil. It was at this time that the island was named Los Barbados (bearded-ones) by the Portuguese explorer Pedro a Campos. It was so named, presumably, after the island’s fig trees, which have a beard-like appearance.
It was May of 1625 that The first English ship touched the island under the command of Captain John Powell, and the island was then claimed on behalf of King James I.
In February of 1627, Captain Henry Powell landed with a party of 80 settlers and 10 slaves to occupy and settle the island. This expedition landed in Holetown, formerly known as Jamestown and the colonists established a House of Assembly in 1639. People with good financial backgrounds and social connections with England were allocated land and within a few years much of the land had been deforested to make way for tobacco and cotton plantations.
During the 1630s, sugar cane was introduced to the agriculture. The production of sugar, tobacco and cotton was heavily reliant on the indenture of servants. White civilians who wanted to emigrate overseas could do so by signing an agreement to serve a planter in Barbados for a period of 5 or 7 years. To meet the labor demands, servants were also derived from kidnapping, and convicted criminals were shipped to Barbados. Descendants of the white slaves and indentured labor (referred to as Red Legs) still live in Barbados any live amongst the black population in St. Martin’s River and other east coast regions. At one time they lived in caves in this region.
A potential market formed for slaves and sugar-making machinery by the Dutch Merchants who were to supply Barbados with their requirements of forced labor from West Africa. The slaves came from Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon. Many slaves did not survive the journey from Africa, but many thousands still reached their destination.
The Barbadians dominated the Caribbean Sugar Industry in these early years, with the sugar plantation owners being powerful and successful businessmen who had arrived in Barbados in the early years. Many natural disasters occurred in the late 1600s, such as the locust plague of 1663, the Bridgetown fire and a major hurricane in 1667. Drought in 1668 ruined some planters and excessive rain in 1669 added to their financial problems. However, investment continued in sugar and slaves and by 1720 Barbadians were no longer a dominant force within the sugar industry. They had been surpassed by the Leeward Islands and Jamaica.
After slavery was abolished in 1834, many of the new citizens of Barbados took advantage of the superb education available on the island. After the citizens had been educated, they wanted something more than working in the cane fields. Some of them gained prominent offices in Barbados, while others worked in common jobs, and a few stayed in the cane fields.
Many people were drawn to Barbados because of the climate and slow pace of life. The island was thought of as a cure for “the vapours”. Even Major George Washington visited the island with his tuberculosis-stricken half brother in hope of ameliorating his illness. After the abolishment of slavery, there was a 4-year apprenticeship period during which free men continued to work a 45-hour week without pay in exchange for living in the tiny huts provided by the plantation owners. Freedom from slavery was celebrated in 1838 at the end of the apprenticeship period with over 70,000 Barbadians of African descent taking to the streets singing a Barbados folk songs.
Barbados was first occupied by the British in 1627 and remained a British colony until internal autonomy was granted in 1961. The Island gained full independence in 1966, and maintains ties to the Britain monarch represented in Barbados by the Governor General and is a member of the Commonwealth.
Barbados is a place full of history and tradition, that has been transformed. The views are magnificent and the luxury that fills the island is captivating.
If you missed last week’s, Have you Been?, you can read all about Andorra here.
Have you been to Barbados?
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