Barbados: Culture & History
Barbados is the most easterly piece of land in the Caribbean Sea. Its geographical location allows the northeasterly trade winds to envelope the island and keeping it cool yearlong. This delightful climate, the big blue sea and the brilliant white sandy beaches cause tourists to visit repeatedly. The island has a number of historic sites; gently rolling landscape and dramatic scenery in hidden caves and gullies.
The capital city is Bridgetown, which is in the south-western part of the island. There are a number of plantation houses there dating back to colonial times, places like St. Nicholas Abbey and Francia.
There are many Barbadians who have contributed to the island's cultural heritage. Writers such as George Lamming and Gladstone Holder, cricketers like Sir Garfield Sobers who has been acknowledged as the greatest all-rounder in the world. Other great cricketers like the three W's, Worrell, Walcott and Weekes, fast bowlers like Wesley Hall and Charles Griffith. The literacy rate there is comparable to any of the best in the world.
Barbados is also well known for producing some of the finest rum and Banks Beer has gotten high European awards as one of the best in the world. Barbadians or Bajans they are affectionately called, have some exotic and excellent dishes of cou-cou, cassava, pumpkin, sweet potato to, yams and eddoes. There are some excellent fishermen who catch many varieties of fish such as flying fish, red snapper, bonito, King Fish, groupers and lots of other species and varieties.
Tourism plays a major part in the island since the waning of sugar cane. There has been oil found there also. Tourists are impressed with the infrastructure of the island, which has excellent roads, schools and public transportation. The sea-water there is sparkling blue or bluish-green and you are able to see the bottom of the sea floor for up to one hundred feet deep.
Artifacts that have recently unearthed at the site of Port St. Charles suggest that Barbados was first settled around 1623 B.C. The first indigenous people were Amerindians who came from the northern tip of South America, around the Orinoco basin. These people paddled long dugout canoes, made from trees, traversed the Gulf of Paria, and came with their families to Barbados. They lived along the coast and evidence of their existence can be found in fragments of their tools made of shell. Utensils, refuse and burial places help convey their existence.
The Arawaks were the first Amerindians and were short, olive-skinned people who bound their foreheads during infancy to slope into a point. They also were black and white paintings, which there considered to be attractive. The Calques (chiefs) and influential members of the tribe wore nose plugs and/or rings made of copper and gold alloys. The Arawaks were farmers and grew cotton, cassava, corn, guavas, papaw and peanuts. The Arawaks wore the cotton to make armbands and hammocks. They used the cassava to make a seasoning for cooking. They also used harpoons, nets and hooks, to fish for food.
The Caribs conquered the Arawaks in 1200. The Caribs were taller, stronger and much more warlike than the Arawaks. They were incredibly accurate bowmen and used a powerful poison to paralyze and defeat their enemies.
The Portuguese explorer Pedro a Campos was on his way to Brazil in South America, when he spotted Barbados and the fig tree on the land. He gave it the name "Los Barbados" which means "Bearded Fig Tree". Despite the Caribs' ruthless warlike abilities, a more brutish people, the Spanish in 1492, captured them. The Spanish along with their contagious small pox and tuberculosis ended the Caribs' existence in Barbados. Spain was interested in gold so it did not pay any interest in Barbados. They English filled that void in 1625 when Captain John Powell claimed it for King James of England. Captain Powell returned to Barbados in 1627 with a party of settlers and slaves and landed at Holetown, in the parish of St. James, which he called Jamestown. Barbados had the third ever Parliamentary Democracy in the world. The people who had social connections with England and with good financial background were allocated land. These lands were used for growing tobacco and cotton plantations.
Sugar cane was added to the agriculture industry and these crops, which needed intense labour, necessitated the need for slaves. White civilians who were usually convicts were shipped to Barbados along with slaves from Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon. A number of these slaves died on their way to the island.
Barbados dominated the Caribbean Sugar Industry in these early days but a number of disasters in the 1660s changed that dominance. The locust plague of 1668, the Bridgetown fire and a major hurricane in 1667,a drought in 1668 followed by excessive rains in 1668 helped to ruin the sugar industry. Jamaica and the Leeward Islands became the dominant sugar producers by 1720.
Slavery was abolished in 1834 and the new citizens of the Barbados sought to obtain an education. This allowed them to obtain better jobs in offices. The abolition of slavery was followed by a four-year apprenticeship period during which time free men continued to work for the opportunity of living in huts on the plantation owners' property. Freedom from slavery was celebrated in 1838 after the apprenticeship period was finished.
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" (Barbados History). President George Washington made his one visit overseas to Barbados to visit his half-brother who was tuberculosis who was there in hope of ameliorating his illness.
Barbados remained a British colony from 1627 until it was granted internal autonomy in 1961. Barbados obtained is independence on November 30, 1966 and maintains ties to the British monarch represented by the Governor General. It is a member of the British Commonwealth. Barbados became an independent country under the leadership of Right Honourable Errol Walton Barrow.