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Country of the Week: Barbados

In Countries by Continental StaffLeave a Comment

This week we’ve arrived in the Caribbean island and former British colony of Barbados. With a unique culture that remains in touch with its heritage, there’s a lot here to discover!

  • Capital (and Largest City): Bridgetown
  • Population of Barbados (2013): 285,000 (176th)
  • Total Area: 439 km² (200th)
  • Recognized Languages: English, Barbadian
  • Currency: Barbadian dollar ($) (BBD)
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Bottom Bay on the southeast coast of Barbados

History of Barbados

Pre-Columbian civilization in Barbados dates back all the way to the 4th century, when native tribes first began to arrive on the island. The first Europeans to sail to Barbados were the Spanish and the Portuguese – the former of which decimated the native population by taking many as slaves. Despite these early inroads, it wouldn’t be the Iberian countries that made the main impact on Barbados.

English and British Barbados

Instead it was the English who claimed the island in 1625 and settled it a couple years later, making it one of the earlier English colonies in the New World. For centuries, Barbados was beholden to England (later the ‘British’) and, as such, became embroiled in its politics. For example, in the English Civil War, the governor supported Parliament while the House supported the crown. In addition, many Irish were sent to the island as slaves – especially in the early days.

As the centuries wore on, Barbados grew into one of the more prosperous English colonies. Trade, first in tobacco and later in sugar, brought wealth to the empire over the years. Eventually, the slave trade was abolished, though it would take until 1833 for full emancipation.

Despite this, plantation owners and the British in general remained the power brokers on the island. The 20th century saw the local government attempting to take back political control from the British. Finally in 1966, when global decolonization was in full swing, Barbados negotiated for full independence.

Independent Barbados

Today, Barbados is a fully independent country that is itself a member of the United Nations. It remains tied to its past with membership in the Commonwealth, but the population has long since been granted to right to determine their own destiny.

lighthouse barbados south point old

South Point Lighthouse – the oldest in the country

Barbadian Culture

Like most Caribbean countries, Barbados exhibits a culture that is a mix of West African and European (in this case, British). This can also be seen in the languages of Barbados, with English the most widely spoken, but the local languages (Barbadian (Bajan) English and Bajan Creole) are important cultural elements.

Music in Barbados

Music and festivities are also a major part of Barbadian culture. The Crop Over festival each year demonstrates this with a carnival atmosphere and showcase of calypso and soca music (two of the most important homegrown styles).

Sport in Barbados

In keeping with the theme of British influence, cricket has long been the most popular sport on the island. The country does not have its own national team, but is instead a prominent contributor to the West Indies cricket team – which is considered one of the best in the world.

cricket stadium barbados west indies statue

Kensington Oval cricket pitch in Bridgetown – the local ‘mecca’ of the sport

Famous Barbadians

The most famous Barbadian today without a doubt is the singer Rihanna. People from Barbados have made many contributions to the music industry including rapper and beatboxer Doug E. Fresh and hip hop artist and DJ Grandmaster Flash. Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. is of Barbadian descent, though he never lived there.

landscape barbados hills countryside caribbean

A view over the countryside of Barbados

Geography of Barbados

Located in the eastern part of the West Indies and the eastern Lesser Antilles (take a second to get that situated in your mind), Barbados consists of a single island. It is relatively flat, though it is home to some highlands in the centre including a 340-metre ‘peak’. The seasons are generally divided into ‘wet’ (June to November) and ‘dry’ (December to May). Despite the difference in rainfall, temperatures are pretty constant the whole year, sitting around 20 to 30 Celsius.

The largest and most important city on the island is Bridgetown, the capital. It is usually referred to as either simply ‘The City’ or ‘Town’. It has been an important port for centuries, and today continues in that vein – also welcoming many cruise ships.

barbados bridgetown national heroes square night

National Heroes Square in Bridgetown

Facts about Barbados

  • Barbados has the 3rd oldest democratic parliament in the world
  • The colloquial way to describe someone from Barbados is ‘Bajan’
  • Rum is one of the country’s chief exports – $57 million each year
  • The Lord Nelson statue in Bridgetown is older than the one in London
  • The name of the country comes from bearded fig trees found on the island
  • The first English settlement on the island was named Holetown (originally Jamestown) – due to a very smelly channel nearby
  • Barbados is considered the third most developed country in North America
  • It is known for flying fish
  • Pork is favoured throughout the island, with many dishes utilizing the meat
  • The country is very densely populated and has a high ratio of cars to road
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A beautiful sunrise at the water’s edge

Last Word

Stay tuned for more this week as we set sail for Barbados to discover the island’s best destinations and learn more about its currency and economy.

Stay tuned to the Current for our Country of the Week. We’ll explore the familiar and the foreign, plus uncover some hidden gems (see them all HERE).

Stay informed. Stay Current.