Travel Tales

Barbados, An Island Alone

I only visited Barbados once when I was on a cruise ship. I wandered around Bridgetown shopping for the typical souvenirs then stopped in a bank to do some banking. I got distracted talking to the clerk, asking her for directions to their largest store, as I wanted to buy an English china teapot to add to my collection of teapots. When I arrived about an hour later at the store, I indecisively hovered over an array of French perfumes, trying to decide on a lighter fragrance in a gold flacon. As I sniffed at the sample of the Bergamot, tuberose, and frankincense, deep in thought at the price, a police officer came up to me and said my name out loud. I jumped, stunned that somebody knew me in Barbados. What had I done? He smiled and told me that the bank had called ahead to say that they still had my passport, and would I retrieve it prior to boarding the ship. Of course I would! I was very impressed with their service and kindness. Needless to say, I came away with a very good impression of the tiny island.

Barbados is the most eastern Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela. It was created by the collision of the Atlantic crustal and Caribbean plates, along with a volcanic eruption. Later coral formed, accumulating about 300 feet of the island. New evidence points to settlements as early as 1623 B.C. The first indigenous people there were the Amerindians from Venezuela, who got there on their canoes. The Arawaks, part of the Amerindian civilization, were an agricultural people who grew cotton, cassava, corn, peanuts, guavas and papayas. In 1200 the Arawaks were conquered by the Caribs, who were cannibals. It is reported they once ate an entire French crew in 1596, barbecued them and washed them down with cassava beer.

Barbadps map

The Portuguese arrived in Barbados en route to Brazil. It was then that the lonely island was named Barbados (bearded-ones) after the island fig trees which have a beard-like appearance.

In 1492 the Spanish stopped by, and imposed slavery on the Caribs, but decided to overlook the island for the larger Caribbean ones. This left the island open to anybody else who wanted to colonize it.

The English claimed it for King James I, in 1625. The colonists established a House of Assembly in 1639. It was the 3rd only Parliamentary Democracy in the world at the time. Englishmen with good financial and social backgrounds were allocated land by the Crown to grow tobacco and cotton. During the 1630s sugar cane was introduced, and in 1644 it became a potential market formed by slaves and the sugar-making machinery of the Dutch merchants who were supplying Barbados with their requirements of forced labor from West Africa. These sugar plantation owners were powerful and successful businessmen. But by 1720 Barbadians were no longer a dominant force in the sugar industry, as they had been surpassed by Jamaica.

After slavery was abolished in 1834, many of the new citizens of Barbados took advantage of the superb English education made available on the island. Some of them, decided to leave the sugar cane fields and gained prominent offices in Barbados. Freedom from slavery was celebrated in 1838 with over 70,000 Barbadians of African descent from Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone, singing in the streets: "Lick an lock-up done wid, hurray fuh Jin-Jin (Queen Victoria) de queen come from England to set we free. Now lick and lock-up done wid, hurray fuh Jin-Jin."

Barbados remained a British colony until autonomy was granted in 1961, but still retains ties to the British monarch. Tourism recently surpassed the sugar industry. Queen Elizabeth is Chief of State, represented by Governor General Sir Clifford Husbands. There are no elections as the monarchy is hereditary. The Bicameral Parliament consists of the Senate and the House of Assembly, whose members are elected by popular vote to serve five years.

Unfortunately, it is one of the many Caribbean transshipment points for narcotics bound for Europe and USA. Overall, it is safe, the weather is fantastic, and I would not hesitate to return for another visit.


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