(All the historical information and country statistics in this article were gathered from the websites listed at the bottom of the page.)
There are very few reasons not to go to Barbados – so there is no need to convince you to visit this island paradise. You might be surprised to learn, however, that the history of Barbados plays a big role in why tourists love this island. There are a lot of islands in the Caribbean with beautiful beaches, but it is the history of Barbados that makes it extra special.
Traveling to Barbados may not be the travel adventure that Roberto and I normally take, but these destinations still serve a purpose: pure relaxation and spoiling. This brings up a new question though; in these paradises of lazy hot days, how much do we really know about the place where we are soaking up the sun? We sometimes get caught up in where we are staying, what activities we are doing and what a place has to offer us as tourists, that even I forget to look into the history and culture of a location. I can go on and on about what we experienced in Barbados, but it feels more important to take a step back and try to understand what makes this place amazing.
The name inspires thoughts of beautiful beaches, warm water, wealth, and rum. The price of splendor on the island, and especially ocean front splendor, is out of reach for many in the world. You will find the celebrities renting out mansions or rooms in elite hotels, and most of the people who own the mansions on the beach are well seasoned millionaires.
Don’t be discouraged, visiting Barbados is within everyones reach. The price of the island is still very accessible to tourists. Tourism is the island’s greatest source of income, and the whole island reflects that, with a large amounts of activities, shopping, resturants, hotels, and nightlife. When looking at Barbados as a vacation destination, there is not much more you can ask for. What place could be better than the tropical island known for sugar and rum? There is the beautiful city of Bridgetown where you can walk among history, and rainforests, monkeys, and coral reefs that take your breath away. Any tourism site will get you on your way with any budget, any time of the year, and offer a wide range of activities.
A Little History and the Shaping of a Country.
The history of Barbados is one of many different peoples and cultures. This little history does not capture the depth of the older civilizations, the intricacies of government or trade, and does not scratch the surface of slavery on the island. To get to the Barbados that we know today, this article would quickly become a book. Because I am not a historian and don’t feel like writing a book, this is going to be an introducing the history of the island and encourage us to look at the history of all the places we visit.
There are current discoveries pointing to civilization on the island around 1623 B.C. but not much is currently known about that civilization yet.
The name Barbados came from the Portuguese, meaning Bearded-One.
Early settlements include the indigenous people from Venezuela, the Amerindians. The Amerindian people called the Arawaks were agricultural people until 1200 when they were conquered by the Caribs. The Carib moved out when the Europeans started moving into the area but the Carib culture can still be found around the Caribbean today. The island got its name from the Portuguese word meaning “Bearded One” by the explorer Pedro a Campos. It is speculated that the name came from the appearance of the fig trees.
Current culture and development of the island that we see today came with the British. Along with the British in 1625 came settlers clearing much of the island for agriculture. Barbados was a desirable location, even back in the 1600’s. People with good finances and good connections could get an allocation of land in Barbados. The massive plantings of tobacco, cotton and sugar cane created a need for a large workforce. The need for labor brought indentured servants from Europe first and then later African slaves, to the island.
In the beginning business men and plantation owners became increasingly wealthy as Barbados grew with the agricultureal industry. In those early years the fields were worked by European indentured servents. As the sugar industry grew, the plantation owners started turning to the slave trade for a quick increase in labor. The plantation owners favored the African slaves because of their size and strength compared to Europeans. The preference for slaves created an exodus of white citizens during this period. The island was then left to the wealthy business owners and the slaves.
The slave population on the island grew from approximately 5,600 in the 1600’s to aproximatly 385,000 in the 1700’s. Due to the high mortality rate of slaves (a result of poor conditions and overwork) Barbados became one of the leading European colonies in the African slave trade while they tried to maintain their work force. In the 1800’s, plantation owners looking for ways to cut costs, encouraged their slaves to reproduce, making them less dependent on new shipments of slaves from Africa. Barbados became the only island not reliant on the slave trade any longer.
“By the beginning of the 1800’s the majority of blacks in Barbados were born locally, with a high percentage of Creole born blacks, as opposed to Africans.”funbarbados.com
With the British business men came excellent education, infrastructure development, a stable government and a place that the wealthy could visit to improve their health (which over time created an excellent healthcare focus on the island). The slower pace of life also made Barbados an attractive location to those who wanted to emigrate from England.
The newly freed slaves took advantage of the free British-based education system.
When slavery was abolished in 1838, the next really interesting thing happened. Many newly freed men and women took advantage of the free British-based education system on the island. Newly educated, the free citizens decided to take active roles in business and government. Others remained in the fields, some buying their own land and starting their own farms.
Finally, in 1966 Barbados gained its independence from the British.
Barbados: The Island We See Today
There is much history that is not discussed above, which is inadequate to explain the oppression, abuse, and revolts of the slaves, farming practices, and international trade of goods that all influenced the island we get to experience today, but I encourage you to read more about the island’s history elsewhere.
The early actions by the citizens of Barbados has had a significant impact on the culture of the island. Today, the island is still one of the best educated in the Caribbean. The black population makes up over 92% of the island, evidence of the exodus of white citizens in the 1700’s. There are still government ties to Great Britain and Barbados is heavily visited by British citizens. Literacy rates are high and healthcare is taken very seriously. Barbados is not exempt from today’s issues, but is still considered very safe, and for us New Yorkers it is comparatively amazing.
When you visit Barbados, you will immediately experience the kindness of the people. They are helpful, fun, and very friendly.
“Visitors highlight the friendliness of Barbadians as the island’s greatest and most pleasing asset. This is reflected in the highest repeat visitor factor in the region of 39%.”Barbados.org
Barbados has recently been experiencing an increase in population and development, but you can still find fields of sugar cane blowing in the North-East trade winds. I really enjoyed how the United States Central Intelligence Agency described the Barbados economy on their website, so I have placed their description below. Their website is full of current facts and information on Barbados and I encourage you to explore the site further.
“Barbados is the wealthiest and one of the most developed countries in the Eastern Caribbean and enjoys one of the highest per capita incomes in the region. Historically, the Barbadian economy was dependent on sugarcane cultivation and related activities. However, in recent years the economy has diversified into light industry and tourism. Offshore finance and information services are important foreign exchange earners, boosted by being in the same time zone as eastern US financial centers and by a relatively highly educated workforce. Following the 2008-09 recession, the economy has grown due to increases in tourist arrivals, construction, financial services and exports. However, Barbados’ high public debt to GDP ratio and falling international reserves remain areas of concern. Growth prospects are limited because of a weak economic outlook.”
Tourism in Barbados is continuing to grow with the addition of new resorts and housing developments. Over the past 10 years, we have been able to see new buildings going up and large shopping centers move in. This past trip we went to go to the small supermarket down the street to find that it had been transformed into a huge supermarket like the ones we would see in the States. Keep your eye out for new resorts and hotels coming soon.
Why Should You Visit?
The island is still a Caribbean paradise. The range of activities on the island are astounding and can fill your days no matter how long you are there. Or, you can spend your entire vacation lounging on the beach. Nothing is better than spending your vacation however you want.
When you go to Barbados, keep in mind the history that has brough about such a beatiful place that you can now hop in a plane and visit. Enjoy a rum punch and a nap on the beach, go zip lining in the rainforest, and know a little more about where you are taking your vacation.
A Couple of Facts:
Barbados is the most densely populated country in the eastern Caribbean.
Ethnic Groups: 92.4% black, 2.7% white, 3.1% mixed, 1.3% East Indian 0.2 % other.
The dominant religion is Protestant.
LEARN MORE ABOUT BARBADOS
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