Barbados is an island country in the Lesser Antilles of the West Indies, in the Caribbean region of North America. It is 34 kilometres (21 miles) in length and up to 23 km (14 mi) in width, covering an area of 432 km2 (167 sq mi). It is situated in the western area of the North Atlantic and 100 km (62 mi) east of the Windward Islands and the Caribbean Sea; therein, Barbados is east of the Windwards, part of the Lesser Antilles, roughly at 13°N of the equator. It is about 168 km (104 mi) east of both the countries of Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and 400 km (250 mi) 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 centre 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.
Barbados is situated in the Atlantic Ocean, east of the other West Indies Islands. Barbados is the easternmost island in the Lesser Antilles. It is flat in comparison to its island neighbours to the west, the Windward Islands. The island rises gently to the central highland region, with the high point of the nation being Mount Hillaby in the geological Scotland District 340 m (1,120 ft) above sea level.
In the parish of Saint Michael lies Barbados’s capital and main city, Bridgetown. Other major towns scattered across the island include Holetown, in the parish of Saint James; Oistins, in the parish of Christ Church; and Speightstown, in the parish of Saint Peter.
Barbados lies on the boundary of the South American and the Caribbean Plates. The subduction of the South American plate beneath the Caribbean plate scrapes sediment from the South American plate and deposits it above the subduction zone forming an accretionary prism. The rate of this depositing of material allows Barbados to rise at a rate of about 25 mm (1 in) per 1,000 years. This subduction means geologically the island is composed of coral roughly 90 m (300 ft) thick, where reefs formed above the sediment. The land slopes in a series of “terraces” in the west and goes into an incline in the east. A large proportion of the island is circled by coral reefs.
The erosion of limestone in the northeast of the island, in the Scotland District, has resulted in the formation of various caves and gullies. On the Atlantic east coast of the island coastal landforms, including stacks, have been created due to the limestone composition of the area. 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 host to four species of nesting turtles (green turtles, loggerheads, hawksbill turtles, and leatherbacks) and has the second-largest hawksbill turtle breeding population in the Caribbean. The driving of vehicles on beaches can crush nests buried in the sand and such activity should be avoided in nesting areas.
Barbados is also the host to the green monkey. The green monkey is found in West Africa from Senegal to the Volta River. It has been introduced to the Cape Verde islands off north-western Africa, and the West Indian islands of Saint Kitts, Nevis, Saint Martin, and Barbados. It was introduced to the West Indies in the late 17th century when slave trade ships travelled to the Caribbean from West Africa.
Close to 90% of all Barbadians (also known colloquially as “Bajan”) are of Afro-Caribbean descent (“Afro-Bajans”) and mixed-descent. The remainder of the population includes groups of Europeans (“Anglo-Bajans” / “Euro-Bajans”) mainly from the United Kingdom and Ireland, along with Asians, predominantly Chinese and Indians (both Hindu and Muslim). Other groups in Barbados include people from the United Kingdom, United States and Canada. Barbadians who return after years of residence in the United States and children born in America to Bajan parents are called “Bajan Yankees”, a term considered derogatory by some. Generally, Bajans recognise and accept all “children of the island”.
The 2010 national census conducted by the Barbados Statistical Service reported a resident population of 277,821, of which 133,018 were male and 144,803 were female.
The life expectancy for Barbados residents as of 2011 is 74 years. The average life expectancy is 72 years for males and 77 years for females (2005). Barbados and Japan have the highest per capita occurrences of centenarians in the world.
The crude birth rate is 12.23 births per 1,000 people, and the crude death rate is 8.39 deaths per 1,000 people. The infant mortality rate is 11.63 infant deaths per 1,000 live births.
English is the official language of Barbados, and is used for communications, administration, and public services all over the island. In its capacity as the official language of the country, the standard of English tends to conform to the vocabulary, pronunciations, spellings, and conventions akin to, but not exactly the same as, those of British English.
An English-based creole language, referred to locally as Bajan, is spoken by most Barbadians in everyday life, especially in informal settings. In its full-fledged form, Bajan sounds markedly different from the Standard English heard on the island. The degree of intelligibility between Bajan and general English, for the general English speaker, depends on the level of creolised vocabulary and idioms. A Bajan speaker may be completely unintelligible to an English speaker from another country.
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.
It is uncertain which European nation arrived first in Barbados. One lesser-known source points to earlier revealed works predating contemporary sources indicating it could have been the Spanish. Many if not most believe the Portuguese, en route to Brazil, were the first Europeans to come upon the island.
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.
The words ‘Bim’ and ‘Bimshire’ are recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary and Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionaries. Another possible source for ‘Bim’ is reported to be in the Agricultural Reporter of 25 April 1868, where the Rev. N. Greenidge (father of one of the island’s most famous scholars, Abel Hendy Jones Greenidge) suggested the listing of Bimshire as a county of England. Expressly named were “Wiltshire, Hampshire, Berkshire and Bimshire”. Lastly, in the Daily Argosy (of Demerara, i.e. Guyana) of 1652, there is a reference to Bim as a possible corruption of ‘Byam’, the name of a Royalist leader against the Parliamentarians. That source suggested the followers of Byam became known as ‘Bims’ and that this became a word for all Barbadians.
Amerindian settlement of Barbados dates to about the 4th to 7th centuries AD, by a group known as the Saladoid-Barrancoid. The Arawaks from South America became dominant around 800 AD, and maintained that status until around 1200. In the 13th century, the Kalinago (Island Caribs) arrived from South America.
The Spanish and Portuguese briefly claimed Barbados from the late 16th to the 17th centuries. The Arawaks are believed to have fled to neighbouring islands. Apart from possibly displacing the Caribs, the Spanish and Portuguese made little impact and left the island uninhabited. Some Arawaks migrated from British Guiana (modern-day Guyana) in the 19th century and continue to live in Barbados.
In the very early years (1620–1640s) the majority of the labour was provided by European indentured servants, mainly English, Irish and Scottish, with enslaved Africans and enslaved Amerindian providing little of the workforce. During the Cromwellian era (1650s) this included a large number of prisoners-of-war, vagrants and people who were illicitly kidnapped, who were forcibly transported to the island and sold as servants. These last two groups were predominately Irish, as several thousand were infamously rounded up by English merchants and sold into servitude in Barbados and other Caribbean islands during this period. Cultivation of tobacco, cotton, ginger and indigo was thus handled primarily by European indentured labour until the start of the sugar cane industry in the 1640s and the growing reliance and importation of enslaved Africans. Persecuted persons of Jewish faith during the inquisition also settled to Barbados. From its English settlement and as Barbados’s economy grew, Barbados maintained a relatively large measure of local autonomy first as a proprietary colony and later a crown colony. The House of Assembly began meeting in 1639. Among the island’s earliest leading figures was the Anglo-Dutch Sir William Courten.
The 1780 hurricane killed over 4,000 people on Barbados. In 1854, a cholera epidemic killed over 20,000 inhabitants. At emancipation in 1833, the size of the slave population was approximately 83,000. Between 1946 and 1980, Barbados’s rate of population growth was diminished by one-third because of emigration to Britain.
1627–1639 – 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 labour 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 labourers. The latter were young indentured labourers 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.
In the period 1640–60, the West Indies attracted over two-thirds of the total number of English emigrants to the Americas. By 1650 there were 44,000 settlers in the West Indies, as compared to 12,000 on the Chesapeake and 23,000 in New England. Most English arrivals were indentured. After five years of labour, they were given “freedom dues” of about ₤10, usually in goods. (Before the mid-1630s, they also received 5 to 10 acres (2 to 4 hectares) of land, but after that time the island filled and there was no more free land.) Around the time of Cromwell a number of rebels and criminals were also transported there. Timothy Meads of Warwickshire was one of the rebels sent to Barbados at that time, before he received compensation for servitude of 1000 acres of land in North Carolina in 1666. Parish registers from the 1650s show, for the white population, four times as many deaths as marriages. The death rate was very high.
Before this, the mainstay of the infant colony’s economy was the growth export of tobacco, but tobacco prices eventually fell in the 1630s, as Chesapeake production expanded.
1640–1790 – England’s civil war
Main articles: English Revolution in the Colonies and Restoration (Colonies)
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 (ironically the Governor, Philip Bell, remaining loyal to Parliament while the Barbadian House of Assembly, under the influence of Humphrey Walrond, supported Charles II). 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.
The introduction of sugar cane from Dutch Brazil in 1640 completely transformed society and the economy. Barbados eventually had one of the world’s biggest sugar industries. One group instrumental in ensuring the early success of the industry were the Sephardic Jews, who had originally been expelled from the Iberian peninsula, to end up in Dutch Brazil. As the effects of the new crop increased, so did the shift in the ethnic composition of Barbados and surrounding islands. The workable sugar plantation required a large investment and a great deal of heavy labour. At first, Dutch traders supplied the equipment, financing, and enslaved Africans, in addition to transporting most of the sugar to Europe. In 1644 the population of Barbados was estimated at 30,000, of which about 800 were of African descent, with the remainder mainly of English descent. These English smallholders were eventually bought out and the island filled up with large sugar plantations worked by enslaved Africans. By 1660 there was near parity with 27,000 blacks and 26,000 whites. By 1666 at least 12,000 white smallholders had been bought out, died, or left the island. Many of the remaining whites were increasingly poor. By 1680 there were 17 slaves for every indentured servant. By 1700, there were 15,000 free whites and 50,000 enslaved Africans.
Due to the increased implementation of slave codes, which created differential treatment between Africans and the white workers and ruling planter class, the island became increasingly unattractive to poor whites. Black or slave codes were implemented in 1661, 1676, 1682, and 1688. In response to these codes, several slave rebellions were attempted or planned during this time, but none succeeded. Nevertheless, poor whites who had or acquired the means to emigrate often did so. Planters expanded their importation of enslaved Africans to cultivate sugar cane. One early advocate of slave rights in Barbados was the visiting Quaker preacher Alice Curwen in 1677: “For I am perswaded, that if they whom thou call’st thy Slaves, be Upright-hearted to God, the Lord God Almighty will set them Free in a way that thou knowest not; for there is none set free but in Christ Jesus, for all other Freedom will prove but a Bondage.”
Like many other Caribbean islands, Barbados is famed for its white-sand beaches and turquoise, crystalline waters. Popular destinations include:
Harrison’s cave- Opened in 1981, Harrison cave is noted for its extremely pure water.
Flowers Forest Park- in the village of Saint Joseph of Bloomsbury.
Hillaby mountain- Hillaby, at approximately 340 meters above sea level is the highest point of the East Caribbean mountains.
With a passport in hand, tourists can enjoy tax-free shopping at a variety of stores on the island.
The culture of Barbados is a blend of West African, Portuguese, Creole, Indian and British cultures present in Barbados. Citizens are officially called Barbadians. The term “Bajan” (pronounced BAY-jun) may have come from a localised pronunciation of the word Barbadian, which at times can sound more like “Bar-bajan”; or, more likely, from English bay (“bayling”), Portuguese baiano.
The largest carnival-like cultural event that takes place on the island is the Crop Over festival, which was established in 1974. As in many other Caribbean and Latin American countries, Crop Over is an important event for many people on the island, as well as the thousands of tourists that flock to there to participate in the annual events. The festival includes musical competitions and other traditional activities, and features the majority of the island’s homegrown calypso and soca music for the year. The male and female Barbadians who harvested the most sugarcane are crowned as the King and Queen of the crop. Crop Over gets under way at the beginning of July and ends with the costumed parade on Kadooment Day, held on the first Monday of August. New calypso/soca music Is usually released and played more frequently from the beginning of may to start the feeling of the festival.
In music, nine-time Grammy Award winner Rihanna (born in Saint Michael) is one of Barbados’s best-known artists and one of the best selling music artists of all time, selling over 200 million records worldwide. In 2009 she was appointed as an Honorary Ambassador of Youth and Culture for Barbados by the late Prime Minister, David Thompson.
Singer-songwriters Rayvon and Shontelle, the band Cover Drive, musician Rupee and Mark Morrison, singer of Top 10 hit “Return of the Mack” also originate from Barbados. Grandmaster Flash (born Joseph Saddler in Bridgetown in 1958) is a hugely influential musician of Barbadian origin, pioneering hip-hop DJing, cutting, and mixing in 1970s New York. The Merrymen are a well known Calypso band based in Barbados, performing from the 1960s into the 2010s.
1 January – New Year’s Day
21 January – Errol Barrow Day – A day of recognition for Errol Barrow the Father of the Nation since 21 January 1989.
March or April – Good Friday – Friday, date varies
March or April – Easter Monday – Monday, date varies
28 April National Heroes’ Day – A day of recognition for Barbados’s national heroes since 28 April 1998.
1–7 May Labour Day – 1st Monday in May, date varies
May or June – Whit Monday Monday, date varies
1 August – Emancipation Day The date on which slavery was abolished on the island since 1 August 1997.
1–7 August – Kadooment Day – 1st Monday in August, date varies
30 November – Independence Day – The anniversary of Barbadian national independence, from the United Kingdom on 30 November 1966.
25 December – Christmas Day
26 December – Boxing Day
Bajan cuisine is a mixture of African, Indian, Irish, Creole and British influences. A typical meal consists of a main dish of meat or fish, normally marinated with a mixture of herbs and spices, hot side dishes, and one or more salads. The meal is usually served with one or more sauces. The national dish of Barbados is Cou-Cou & Flying Fish with spicy gravy. Another traditional meal is “Pudding and Souse” a dish of pickled pork with spiced sweet potatoes. A wide variety of seafood and meats are also available.
The Mount Gay Rum visitors centre in Barbados claims to be the world’s oldest remaining rum company, with earliest confirmed deed from 1703. Cockspur Rum and Malibu are also from the island. Barbados is home to the Banks Barbados Brewery, which brews Banks Beer, a pale lager, as well as Banks Amber Ale. Banks also brews Tiger Malt, a non-alcoholic malted beverage. 10 Saints beer is brewed in Speightstown, St. Peter in Barbados and aged for 90 days in Mount Gay ‘Special Reserve’ Rum casks. It was first brewed in 2009 and is available in certain Caricom nations.
Although Barbados is about 34 km (21 mi) 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$ 2. 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 on the ZRs. Most routes require a connection in Bridgetown. Barbados Transport Board’s headquarters are located at Kay’s House, Roebuck Street, St. Michael, and the bus depots and terminals are located in the Fairchild Street Bus Terminal in Fairchild Street and the Princess Alice Bus Terminal (which was formerly the Lower Green Bus Terminal in Jubilee Gardens, Bridgetown, St. Michael) in Princess Alice Highway, Bridgetown, St. Michael; the Speightstown Bus Terminal in Speightstown, St. Peter; the Oistins Bus Depot in Oistins, Christ Church; and the Mangrove Bus Depot in Mangrove, St. Philip.
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.
There was also a helicopter shuttle service, which offered air taxi services to a number of sites around the island, mainly on the West Coast tourist belt. Air and maritime traffic was regulated by the Barbados Port Authority. Private Luxury Helicopter Tours were located in Spencers, Christ Church next to the Barbados Concorde Experience when it was opened in September 2007 and closed in April 2010. Bajan Helicopters were opened in April 1989 and closed in late December 2009 because of the economic crisis and recession facing Barbados.