Barbados is an island country in the Lesser Antilles of the West Indies, in the Caribbean region of North America. It is 21 miles in length and up to 14 miles in width, covering an area of 167 square miles. It is situated in the western area of the North Atlantic and 62 miles east of the Windward Islands and the Caribbean Sea. It is about 104 miles east of both the countries of Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and 110 miles south-east of Martinique and 250 miles north-east of Trinidad and Tobago. Barbados is outside the principal Atlantic hurricane belt. Its capital and largest city is Bridgetown.
Inhabited by Kalinago people since the 13th century, and prior to that by other Amerindians, Barbados was visited by Spanish navigators in the late 15th century and claimed for the Spanish Crown. It first appeared in a Spanish map in 1511. The Portuguese claimed the island in 1536, but later abandoned it, with their only remnants being an introduction of wild hogs for a good supply of meat whenever the island was visited. An English ship, the Olive Blossom, arrived in Barbados in 1625; its men took possession of it in the name of King James I. In 1627, the first permanent settlers arrived from England, and it became an English and later British colony. As a wealthy sugar colony, it became an English center of the African slave trade until that trade was outlawed in 1807, with final emancipation of slaves in Barbados occurring over a period of years from 1833.
On 30 November 1966, Barbados became an independent state and Commonwealth realm with Elizabeth II as its queen. It has a population of 287,010 people, predominantly of African descent. Despite being classified as an Atlantic island, Barbados is considered to be a part of the Caribbean, where it is ranked as a leading tourist destination. Forty percent of the tourists come from the UK, with the US and Canada making up the next large groups of visitors to the island.
The name “Barbados” is from either the Portuguese term Os Barbados or the Spanish equivalent, Los Barbados, both meaning “the bearded ones”. It is unclear whether “bearded” refers to the long, hanging roots of the bearded fig-tree (Ficus citrifolia), indigenous to the island, or to the allegedly bearded Caribs who once inhabited the island, or, more fancifully, to a visual impression of a beard formed by the sea foam that sprays over the outlying reefs. In 1519, a map produced by the Genoese mapmaker Visconte Maggiolo showed and named Barbados in its correct position. Furthermore, the island of Barbuda in the Leewards is very similar in name and was once named “Las Barbudas” by the Spanish.
The original name for Barbados in the Pre-Columbian era was Ichirouganaim, according to accounts by descendants of the indigenous Arawakan-speaking tribes in other regional areas, with possible translations including “Red land with white teeth” or “Redstone island with teeth outside (reefs)” or simply “Teeth”.
Colloquially, Barbadians refer to their home island as “Bim” or other nicknames associated with Barbados, including “Bimshire”. The origin is uncertain, but several theories exist. The National Cultural Foundation of Barbados says that “Bim” was a word commonly used by slaves, and that it derives from the Igbo term bém from bé mụ́ meaning ‘my home, kindred, kind’, the Igbo phoneme [e] in the Igbo orthography is very close to /ɪ/. The name could have arisen due to the relatively large percentage of enslaved Igbo people from modern-day southeastern Nigeria arriving in Barbados in the 18th century.
Some evidence suggests that Barbados may have been settled in the second millennium BC, but this is limited to fragments of conch lip adzes found in association with shells that have been radiocarbon-dated to about 1630 BC. Fully documented Amerindian settlement dates to between about 350 and 650 AD. The arrivals were a group known as the Saladoid-Barrancoid from mainland South America. A second wave of settlers appeared around the year 800 (the Spanish referred to these as “Arawaks“) and a third in the mid-13th century (called “Caribs” by the Spanish). This last group was politically more organised and came to rule over the others.
Frequent slave-raiding missions by the Spanish Empire in the early 16th century led to a massive decline in the Amerindian population, so that by 1541 a Spanish writer claimed they were uninhabited. The Amerindians were either captured for use as slaves by the Spanish or fled to other, more easily defensible mountainous islands nearby.
From about 1600 the English, French, and Dutch began to found colonies in the North American mainland and the smaller islands of the West Indies. Although Spanish and Portuguese sailors had visited Barbados, the first English ship touched the island on 14 May 1625, and England was the first European nation to establish a lasting settlement there from 1627. England is commonly said to have made its initial claim to Barbados in 1625, although reportedly an earlier claim may have been made in 1620. Nonetheless, Barbados was claimed from 1625 in the name of King James I of England. There were earlier English settlements in The Americas (1607: Jamestown, 1609: Bermuda, and 1620: Plymouth Colony), and several islands in the Leeward Islands were claimed by the English at about the same time as Barbados (1623: St Kitts, 1628: Nevis, 1632: Montserrat, 1632: Antigua). Nevertheless, Barbados quickly grew to become the third major English settlement in the Americas due to its prime eastern location.
Early English Settlement:
The settlement was established as a proprietary colony and funded by Sir William Courten, a City of London merchant who acquired the title to Barbados and several other islands. So the first colonists were actually tenants and much of the profits of their labor returned to Courten and his company.
The first English ship, which had arrived on 14 May 1625, was captained by John Powell. The first settlement began on 17 February 1627, near what is now Holetown (formerly Jamestown), by a group led by John Powell’s younger brother, Henry, consisting of 80 settlers and 10 English laborers. The latter were young indentured laborers who according to some sources had been abducted, effectively making them slaves.
Courten’s title was transferred to James Hay, 1st Earl of Carlisle, in what was called the “Great Barbados Robbery.” Carlisle then chose as governor Henry Hawley, who established the House of Assembly in 1639, in an effort to appease the planters, who might otherwise have opposed his controversial appointment.
England’s Civil War:
Around the same time, fighting during the War of the Three Kingdoms and the Interregnum spilled over into Barbados and Barbadian territorial waters. The island was not involved in the war until after the execution of Charles I, when the island’s government fell under the control of Royalists. To try to bring the recalcitrant colony to heel, the Commonwealth Parliament passed an act on 3 October 1650 prohibiting trade between England and Barbados, and because the island also traded with the Netherlands, further navigation acts were passed prohibiting any but English vessels trading with Dutch colonies. These acts were a precursor to the First Anglo-Dutch War. The Commonwealth of England sent an invasion force under the command of Sir George Ayscue, which arrived in October 1651. After some skirmishing, the Royalists in the House of Assembly led by Lord Willoughby surrendered. The conditions of the surrender were incorporated into the Charter of Barbados (Treaty of Oistins), which was signed at the Mermaid’s Inn, Oistins, on 17 January 1652.
Sugar Cane and Slavery:
Sugarcane cultivation in Barbados began in the 1640s, after its introduction in 1637 by Pieter Blower. Initially, rum was produced but by 1642, sugar was the focus of the industry. As it developed into the main commercial enterprise, Barbados was divided into large plantation estates which replaced the small holdings of the early English settlers as the wealthy planters pushed out the poorer.
Some of the displaced farmers relocated to the English colonies in North America, most notably South Carolina. To work the plantations, black Africans – primarily from West Africa – were imported as slaves in such numbers that there were three for every one planter. Increasingly after 1750 the plantations were owned by absentee landlords living in Britain and operated by hired managers. The slave trade ceased in 1807 and slaves were emancipated in 1834. Persecuted Catholics from Ireland also worked the plantations. Life expectancy of slaves was short and replacements were purchased annually.
The British abolished the slave trade in 1807, but not the institution itself. In 1816, slaves rose up in the largest major slave rebellion in the island’s history, of 20,000 slaves from over 70 plantations. They drove whites off the plantations, but widespread killings did not take place. This was later termed “Bussa’s Rebellion” after the slave ranger, Bussa, who with his assistants hated slavery, found the treatment of slaves on Barbados to be “intolerable”, and believed the political climate in Britain made the time ripe to peacefully negotiate with planters for freedom. Bussa’s Rebellion failed. One hundred and twenty slaves died in combat or were immediately executed, and another 144 were brought to trial and executed. The remaining rebels were shipped off the island.
Slavery was finally abolished in the British Empire 18 years later, in 1834. In Barbados and the rest of the British West Indian colonies, full emancipation from slavery was preceded by an apprenticeship period that lasted four years.
In 1952, the Barbados Advocate newspaper polled several prominent Barbadian politicians, lawyers, businessmen, the Speaker of the Barbados House of Assembly and later as first President of the Senate, Sir Theodore Branker, Q.C. and found them to be in favor of immediate federation of Barbados along with the rest of the British Caribbean with complete Dominion Status within five years from the date of inauguration of the West Indies Federation with Canada.
However, plantation owners and merchants of British descent still dominated local politics, owing to the high income qualification required for voting. More than 70 percent of the population, many of them disenfranchised women, were excluded from the democratic process. It was not until the 1930s that the descendants of emancipated slaves began a movement for political rights. One of the leaders of this, Sir Grantley Adams, founded the Barbados Progressive League in 1938, which later became known as the Barbados Labour Party.
Adams and his party demanded more rights for the poor and for the people, and staunchly supported the monarchy. Progress toward a more democratic government in Barbados was made in 1942, when the exclusive income qualification was lowered and women were given the right to vote. By 1949, governmental control was wrested from the planters, and in 1958 Adams became Premier of Barbados.
From 1958 to 1962, Barbados was one of the ten members of the West Indies Federation, an organisation doomed to failure by a number of factors, including what were often petty nationalistic prejudices and limited legislative power. Indeed, Adams’s position as “Prime Minister” was a misnomer, as all of the Federation members were still colonies of Britain. Adams, once a political visionary and now a man whose policies seemed to some blind to the needs of his country, not only held fast to his notion of defending the monarchy but also made additional attempts to form other Federation-like entities after that union’s demise. When the Federation was terminated, Barbados reverted to its former status as a self-governing colony, but efforts were made by Adams to form another federation composed of Barbados and the Leeward and Windward Islands.
With the Federation dissolved, Barbados reverted to its former status, that of a self-governing colony. The island negotiated its own independence at a constitutional conference with Britain in June 1966. After years of peaceful and democratic progress, Barbados finally became an independent state on 30 November 1966, with Errol Barrow its first Prime Minister, although Queen Elizabeth II remained the monarch. Upon independence Barbados maintained historical linkages with Britain by becoming a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. A year later, Barbados’ international linkages were expanded by obtaining membership of both the United Nations and the Organization of American States.
Barbados is a continental island in the North Atlantic Ocean. To the west most of Barbados’ maritime boundaries consist of median lines with neighbors. These neighbors include: Martinique, and Saint Lucia to the northwest, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the west, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela to the southwest, and Guyana to the southeast.
The physical characteristics of Barbados are its lowlands or gently sloping, terraced plains, separated by rolling hills that generally parallel the coasts. Elevations in the interior range from 180 to 240 meters above sea level. Mount Hillaby is the highest point at 340 meters above sea level. Farther south, at Christ Church Ridge, elevations range from sixty to ninety meters. Eighty-five percent of the island’s surface consists of coralline limestone twenty-four to thirty meters thick; Scotland District contains outcroppings of oceanic formations at the surface, however. Sugarcane is planted on almost 80 percent of the island’s limestone surface. The soils vary in fertility; erosion is a problem, with crop loss resulting from landslides, washouts, and falling rocks. Most of the small streams are in Scotland District. The rest of the island has few surface streams; nevertheless, rainwater saturates the soil to produce underground channels such as the famous Coles Cave. Also notable in the island is the rocky cape known as Pico Teneriffe or Pico de Tenerife, which is named after the fact that the island of Tenerife in Spain is the first land east of Barbados according to the belief of the locals.
Barbados is the 53rd richest country in the world in terms of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita, has a well-developed mixed economy, and a moderately high standard of living. According to the World Bank, Barbados is classified as being in its 66 top high income economies of the world.
A 2012 self-study in conjunction with the Caribbean Development Bank revealed 20% of Barbadians live in poverty, and nearly 10% cannot meet their basic daily food needs.
Historically, the economy of Barbados had been dependent on sugarcane cultivation and related activities, but since the late 1970s and early 1980s it has diversified into the manufacturing and tourism sectors. Offshore finance and information services have become important foreign exchange earners, and there is a healthy light manufacturing sector. Since the 1990s the Barbados Government has been seen as business-friendly and economically sound. The island saw a construction boom, with the development and redevelopment of hotels, office complexes, and homes. This slowed during the 2008 to 2011 world economic crisis and the recession.
Although Barbados is about 21 miles across at its widest point, a car journey from Six Cross Roads in St. Philip (south-east) to North Point in St. Lucy (north-central) can take one and a half hours or longer due to road conditions. Barbados has half as many registered cars as citizens.
Transport on the island is relatively convenient with “route taxis” called “ZRs” (pronounced “Zed-Rs”) travelling to most points on the island. These small buses can at times be crowded, as passengers are generally never turned down regardless of the number. They will usually take the more scenic routes to destinations. They generally depart from the capital Bridgetown or from Speightstown in the northern part of the island.
Including the ZRs, there are three bus systems running seven days a week (though less frequently on Sundays). There are ZRs, the yellow minibuses and the blue Transport Board buses. A ride on any of them costs Bds$ 3.5. The smaller buses from the two privately owned systems (“ZRs” and “minibuses”) can give change; the larger blue buses from the government-operated Barbados Transport Board system cannot, but do give receipts. The Barbados Transport Board buses travel in regular bus routes and scheduled timetables across Barbados. Schoolchildren in school uniform including some Secondary schools ride for free on the government buses and for Bds$ 2.5 on the ZRs. Most routes require a connection in Bridgetown.
Some hotels also provide visitors with shuttles to points of interest on the island from outside the hotel lobby. There are several locally owned and operated vehicle rental agencies in Barbados but there are no multi-national companies.
The island’s lone airport is the Grantley Adams International Airport. It receives daily flights by several major airlines from points around the globe, as well as several smaller regional commercial airlines and charters. The airport serves as the main air-transportation hub for the eastern Caribbean. In the first decade of the 21st century it underwent a US$100 million upgrade and expansion in February 2003 until completion in August 2005.
Flag of Barbados:
The national flag of Barbados was officially adopted on 30 November 1966, the island’s first Independence Day, when it was raised for the first time by Lieutenant Hartley Dottin of the Barbados Regiment.
It consists of a triband of two bands of ultramarine, which are said to stand for the ocean surrounding the country and the sky, separated by a golden middle band, which represents the sand. A black trident head, commonly called the broken trident, is centred in the golden band, and the fact that the staff is missing is significant. The trident symbol was taken from Barbados’ colonial badge, where the trident of Poseidon is shown with Britannia holding it. The broken lower part symbolises a symbolic break from its status as a colony. The three points of the trident represent the three principles of democracy: 1) government of the people, 2) government for the people, and 3) government by the people.
The design of the flag was created by Grantley W. Prescod and was chosen from an open competition arranged by the Barbados government. Over a thousand entries were received.