Location and Geography.
Barbados is a coral limestone outcropping of the South American continental shelf that lies in the western Atlantic Ocean, one hundred miles (160 kilometers) east of the island of Saint Lucia and two hundred miles (320 kilometers) north of Trinidad and the northern coast of South America. Barbados has low, rolling hills, and microclimate variations from rain forest to semidesert.
Barbadians speak a dialect of English with tonal qualities that reflect the West African heritage of the vast majority of its population. Barbadians also speak an English-West African pidgin called Bajan. The number of native Bajan speakers has declined in recent decades. Both languages have dialect differences that correspond with parish districts.
Emergence of the Nation.
Barbados was colonized by the English early in the seventeenth century. The English found the island uninhabited when they landed in 1625, although archaeological findings have documented prior habitation by Carib and Arawak Native Americans. By 1650, Barbados was transformed by the plantation system and slavery into the first major monocropping sugar producer in the emerging British Empire, and its fortunes were tied to sugar and to England for the next three hundred and ten years. In 1651, Barbados won a measure of independence, and established what was to become the oldest continuing parliamentary democracy in the world outside England. This autonomy encouraged planters to remain on the island rather than returning to Europe when they made their fortunes.
About 80% of all Barbadians are the descendants of former African slaves. Barbados also has a high proportion of citizens with a largely European ancestry. Barbados is generally free from ethnic tension.
Food in Daily Life.
Coocoo (a creamy blend of cornmeal and okra) and flying fish is the national dish. Breaded and fried flying fish is a popular snack or meal. Bajan meals emphasize fish, chicken, pork, and other foods common in West Africa, such as rice, okra, and Scotch bonnet peppers. Popular fruits include papaya, mangos, guava, bananas, oranges, and pineapples. Meal components such as cornmeal, salt fish, and salt beef were supplied to the original plantation labor forces. A common meal served in rural areas called privilege blends rice, okra, hot pepper, pig tail or salt beef, garlic, salt fish, and onions. Mount Gay distillery has been producing rum since 1703. Mauby, brewed from bark, sugar, and spices, is a popular drink.
The economy is fueled by the skills of a diverse population that is one of the world’s most educated, with a literacy rate close to 100 percent. The currency is the Barbados dollar, which is linked to the United States dollar. Excellent public and private bus and taxi services take advantage of nearly 1,205 miles (1,650 kilometers) of roads and make it possible to move relatively cheaply around the island. The year 1960 brought a structural change in the economy marked by a decline in sugar production and the growth of industrial manufacturing and tourism. Barbados served as a tourist destination as early as the 1600s. Small numbers of tourists come from South America and other islands in the Caribbean. A significant stream comes from northwestern Europe, primarily the United Kingdom. Most tourists, however, come from the United States and Canada. In an island long known in the Caribbean as “Little England,” many Barbadians now claim that its increasingly important ties to the United States have transformed the nation into “Little America.”
Barbadians are known for their politeness and civility, a legacy both of British influence and of the island’s high population density—living in close proximity to others imposes pressure to avoid censure and unpleasant confrontations. Describing his homeland, well-known Barbadian author John Wickham wrote, “The inability of people to remove themselves from one another has led to concern for public order, a compassion for others, and a compelling sense of a neighbor’s rights and integrity.”