Barbados - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Barbados
Formation 1966 / 1966
Population 300,000 / 1807 people per sq mile (698 people per sq km)
Total area 166 sq. miles (430 sq. km)
Languages Bajan (Barbadian English), English*
Religions Anglican 40%, Other 24%, Nonreligious 17%, Pentecostal 8%, Methodist 7%, Roman Catholic 4%
Ethnic mix Black African 92%, Other 3%, White 3%, Mixed race 2%
Government Parliamentary system
Currency Barbados dollar = 100 cents
Literacy rate 99%
Calorie consumption 3055 kilocalories
Several Amerindian tribes originally inhabited the island of Barbados. An archaeological site at Port St. Charles has produced fragments of tools made of shells, utensils, refuse, and burial sites left behind by Amerindians from Venezuela. The artifacts indicate that they arrived around 1623 B.C.E. in long dugout canoes. These early people were replaced by another group thought to have been Arawaks, a short people with olive skin. The chiefs of the Arawaks (caïques) and other important members of the group wore nose plugs and/or rings made of copper and gold alloys. They were farmers and grew cotton, cassava (manioc), peanuts, guavas, corn, and papayas (or papaws). The cotton was used to make hammocks and armbands, while the cassava was ground and used in cooking.
Seafood was also an important ingredient in their diet.
In 1200 C.E. the Caribs, said to have been warlike and fiercer than the Arawaks, arrived and replaced them. They were very skilled in the use of bows and arrows and manufactured a strong poison that they used to paralyze their prey.
Some histories claim that the Caribs were cannibals who barbecued their enemies and washed them down with cassava beer, but this may be misunderstanding or hyperbole.
The Portuguese visited Barbados on their way to Brazil, and in 1536 Pedro a Campos named the island Os Barbados (“the bearded ones”), allegedly because the aerial roots of the fig trees growing on the island resembled beards. (Although it is widely reported that Campos named the island los Barbados, los is not the definite article in Portuguese; it would have to have been os.) Although the Spanish found the island in 1492 and took the island from the Caribs, they eventually moved on to more lucrative Caribbean islands. Not, however, before eradicating the Caribs with the superior weapons of slavery and fatal diseases.
An English captain John Powell claimed the now uninhabited island for England in 1625, and his brother Captain Henry Powell arrived two years later with 80 settlers and 10 slaves. From the arrival of the first British settlers between 1627 and 1628 until its independence in 1966, Barbados remained under uninterrupted British control.
The fairly prosperous colony, which made its wealth in sugar production, using the labor of enslaved Africans, was drastically affected by the 18th-century war between France and England and also by the American Revolution. Slavery was abolished in 1834. A British government proposal to form a confederation of Barbados and the Windward Islands in 1876 was met with stiff opposition, leading to violence and bloodshed. In the following decades, the African and mixed-race majority came to political power, eventually outnumbering the white landholders in the legislature.
Yet another serious disturbance, arising from poor economic conditions, erupted in 1937, and a British Royal Commission was sent to the island.
Social and political reforms were gradually introduced and, in 1950, universal adult suffrage was achieved. Barbados joined the West Indies Federation formed between 1958 and 1962, which also included Trinidad and Tobago.
The country achieved complete internal selfgovernment in 1961, and Barbados became an independent state in the British Commonwealth of Nations on November 30, 1966. The country is a member of the United Nations (UN) and of the Organization of American States (OAS). In 1973 Barbados helped to form the Community and Common Market (CARICOM), which promotes social and political cooperation and economic integration.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Less than one million years old Barbados is the easternmost island in the Caribbean island chain. A volcanic eruption, in addition to the collision between the Atlantic and Caribbean crustal plates, created it. Later coral began to form, eventually accumulating to around 300 feet in depth. This pear-shaped island is geologically unique, because it is actually two land masses that have merged over the years. Densely populated, with nearly 280,000 people inhabiting an area of only 166 square miles, it is one of the few coral-capped islands in the region. Although it is relatively flat compared to its volcanic neighbors, its mixture of bustling towns and gentle, laid-back countryside surroundings amply compensate for it. The average annual temperature is about 80ºF.
Most of Barbados’s economy is based on manufacturing, tourism, and agriculture. While many people farm or work on sugar plantations, increasing numbers work in tourism-related businesses. The Barbadian economy is becoming increasingly dependent on tourism as its chief industry.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
Since Barbados remained under British rule from 1627 to 1966, there is a strong British cultural undercurrent that often combines with the more colorful African influences. The national sport of Barbados is, not surprisingly, cricket, and Barbados boasts more world-class cricket players per capita than any other country. Barbados native Garfield Sobers (b. 1936), widely considered one of cricket’s best players, was knighted in 1975, and Sir Frank Worrell (1924–67), another island cricket hero, is on the face of Barbados’s five-dollar bill.
The merging of African and British cultures is most evident in the daily lives of the Barbadians.
The family life, food, music, architecture, and street names are all fusions of British and African cultures.
Theater, church choirs, and dances are important elements in religious and cultural festivals. The identity and political protest songs of the Mighty Gabby, such as “Massa Day Done,” a local calypso artist, speak for emergent black pride throughout the Caribbean.
Barbadians are known as a quick-witted, funloving people, and their gift for innuendo (words and phrases with double meanings) is especially apparent in calypso music and indigenous literature.
Flying fish with cou-cou (a mixture of cornmeal and okra with onions, peppers, and spicy sauce) is the national dish of Barbados. To make cou-cou (or fungi, pronounced “foon-gee”), cornmeal is brought to a stiff consistency and then is turned over onto a plate.
The dish can also be made from breadfruit or green bananas. A variation of this dish is called “sweet fungi,” because sugar is emphasized rather than salt.
Of the 17 species of sea urchin in the waters around Barbados, the white “sea egg,” with its spiney shell and tasty golden roe, is considered a delicacy. The sea eggs are collected by divers from about 20 feet of water, mostly on the southern coast of the island. Once brought ashore, the shells are broken, the roe is removed, washed, and then repacked into whole shells.
After being steamed, the shells are taken to market and sold by hawkers. Fried stuffed plantains (similar to bananas), garlic shrimp, and deep-fried fish cakes, spiced with hot peppers, are also popular.
Due to long years of British rule most Barbadians belong to the Church of England (C.O.E.), so all religious ceremonies connected with the birth of a child are governed by C.O.E. traditions. A newborn baby is welcomed into Barbadian society by means of prayers and ceremonial blessings. At the christening of the child, friends and relatives come together for the church ceremony, which is followed by joyous parties. Generally the family name is passed from the father to the children. Sometimes, however, the family name is inherited from the mother, when she comes from a more prestigious and prosperous family than the father.
A marriage in Barbados is an alliance between the two families involved. The bride and groom handle the wedding arrangements themselves. Everyone in the village lines the streets to see the bride and groom on their way to the church. If they do not look their best, they are publicly criticized.
The bride’s father (and sometimes both parents) escorts the bride down the church aisle. The bridal gown and bridesmaids’ dresses are handmade by local seamstresses. The seamstress usually carries the bride’s train as she walks down the aisle. After the ceremony the couple goes to the church office to sign the wedding register. Later there is a wedding feast, and family and friends enjoy food, drink, music, and dancing, often until the following morning.
The highlight is the serving of the traditional wedding cake, called black cake.
Funerals encompass a range of customs, which are commonly tailored to the wishes of the deceased and his or her family. Services are meant to comfort the family and guests and to celebrate the deceased’s life.
The funeral usually takes place within three days after the death. It is a common practice for the friends and relatives of the bereaved family to visit them and offer condolences. The funeral service usually includes readings from the Bible and singing hymns. A close friend or family member offers a eulogy for the deceased.