ALTERNATE NAMES: Bajans
LANGUAGE: English with West African dialect influences
RELIGION: Christianity: Anglican church (majority); Roman Catholicism; Methodism; Rastafarianism; also Jehovah's Witness, Hinduism, Islam, Baha'ism, Judaism; Apostolic Spiritual Baptist is the island's only indigenous religion
Barbados is the only Caribbean island that was governed by only one colonial power, Great Britain. Its influence has given the country the nickname "Little England." The Barbadians' name for themselves is "Bajans" (BAY-juns). It comes from "Barbajians," the way the British pronounced "Barbadians."
The British first landed on Barbados in 1625. They soon began growing sugar cane and brought in African slaves to work on plantations. Even after slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1834, things changed very little. The black workers stayed on the plantations while a small group of white landowners held on to economic and political power.
The Barbados Progressive League was founded in 1937. It promoted social, economic, and political reform. Citizens won the right to vote (known as universal suffrage) in 1950. In 1966, Barbados became an independent nation within the British Commonwealth.
Barbados belongs to the group of islands known as the Lesser Antilles. Barbados is the easternmost Caribbean island. Its total area is 166 square miles (430 square kilometers). The pear-shaped island consists of lowlands and terraced limestone plains. Its total population was estimated at 264,400 in 1995. With this many people on an island about the size of San Antonio, Texas, Barbados is one of the world's most densely populated countries. It has five times the population density of India.
English is the official language of Barbados. The Barbadian dialect (variation on the language) has strong West African influences. Many words, such as duppy, meaning "ghost," come from African languages. Another African feature is duplicate words (sow-pig, bull-cows, gate-doors).
Some expressions in Barbadian English and their American English equivalents are:
|BARBADIAN ENGLISH||STANDARD ENGLISH|
|nyam (or yam)||eat|
|break fives||shake hands|
The folklore of Barbados goes back to the people's African roots. Many folk beliefs involve methods for keeping ghosts, or duppies, from returning to haunt living people. These folk methods include sprinkling rum on the ground, walking into the house backward, and hanging herbs from the windows and doorways. Another figure from Barbadian folklore is the heartman, who kills children and offers their hearts to the devil. The baccoo is a tiny man who lives in a bottle and can decide a person's destiny.
Some examples of Barbadian proverbs are:
"One-smart dead at two-smart door."
(No matter how smart you are, there's always someone who can outwit you.)
"Coconut don' grow upon pumpkin vine."
(Children turn out like their parents.)
The main religion is Christianity. The Anglican, or Episcopal, Church has the most members. Other Christian denominations include the Roman Catholic Church, Methodist Church, and the Jehovah's Witnesses. Altogether, there are more than 140 different sects and denominations. Other religious groups include the Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and Baha'is.
Religion is important in the lives of Barbadians. The school day usually begins with a prayer. A popular Sunday afternoon television program, Time to Sing, presents a different church choir every week. There are many religious programs on the radio.
The Apostolic Spiritual Baptists (also known as "Tie-heads") belong to a religion founded on Barbados in 1957. They combine Christian and African religious practices. Tie-heads, both men and women, wear turbans on their heads and colorful gowns. The colors symbolize specific qualities.
Barbadians celebrate the major holidays of the Christian calendar. Other holidays include New Year's Day (January 1), May Day (May 1), CARICOM Day (first Monday in August), Independence Day (November 30), and United Nations Day (first Monday in October. CARICOM day commemorates the founding in 1973 of the Caribbean Community and Common Market.
The island's biggest celebration is the Crop Over festival. It is held in July and early August, and is similar to Thanksgiving in the United States. Crop Over began as a festival celebrating the sugar cane harvest. Events include the presentation of the Last Canes. The climax of the festival is the judging of costumed groups (called bands) on Kadooment Day (August 1).
Most Barbadians mark major life events (birth, puberty, marriage, death) within the Christian tradition.
Barbadians are known for their politeness. This has been linked to the influence of the British. It may also reflect the island's high population density; living so close to others makes it important to prevent conflict.
The standard of living on Barbados is one of the highest in the Caribbean. Nearly all Barbadian households have running water. Almost all have refrigerators and televisions, and most have telephones.
The traditional Barbadian wooden house, or chattel house, is still common on the island. A chattel house has one story and is built from a single layer of wooden planks. It has a unique feature: it can be taken apart easily and moved to another location. The shape of the house is usually symmetrical, with a door in the center and windows on either side. Traditionally, the roof was made of wooden shingles. As of the late 1990s, it is usually galvanized iron, which makes the inside uncomfortably warm.
The most popular type of house is the suburban wall house. It is built of cement blocks and stucco and has a small cement wall around it. It is often built in stages.
Many families can afford only a very small house at first. Later, they often add to it, one room at a time.
Many Barbadian households consist of couples who are not legally married. This may reflect the island's history of slavery, which often separated men from women and from their children. There is also a shortage of men on the island because many have left for other places.
A woman's economic survival is closely connected to her children. When the children are young, the woman receives child support from their father. As the children grow older, they begin to help out with chores and begin to earn money. Children are a woman's main source of support when she is old. Grandmothers are important in raising the children. Often they take care of the children so that mothers can work.
Barbadians wear modern Western-style clothing. Colorful, inventive costumes can be seen at festivals, especially the Crop Over celebration. Members of the Apostolic Spiritual Baptist Church are known for their turbans and their colorful gowns.
Barbadian cooking draws on West African, English, Spanish, French, and other traditions. Cou-cou is one of the most popular dishes. It is a cornmeal and okra pudding. Usually it is served with gravy and salt cod. Salt cod is codfish preserved with salt. It is a staple, or important part, of the Barbadian diet.
Rice served with peas (including green, blackeye, cow, and gunga) is another staple. Pork is used in many different ways by Barbarians. They joke that the only part of a pig they can't use for food is its hair. A favorite dessert is coconut bread. If you would like to make coconut bread see the recipe above.
Barbados has a literacy rate (the percentage of people who can read and write) of 95 to 100 percent. This is the highest in the Caribbean. Children five to sixteen years of age are required to attend school. All education is free, including college.
To emphasize Barbadians' African heritage, children learn about African folklore and music in school.
The most famous Barbadian writer is poet and playwright Derek Walcott. He won the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature. Other well-known writers include essayist John Wickham, novelist George Lamming, and poet Edward Kamau Braithwaite.
Barbados has an active community of artists. They produce paintings, murals, sculptures, and crafts. Many of their works reflect strong African influences.
About 40 percent of employment on Barbados is in service jobs. This includes about 20 percent in the government. The other main areas are business, manufacturing, and construction, making up 9 percent. Equal numbers of men and women work outside the home.
Cricket is the most popular sport on Barbados. Some people say it is like a national religion. Other popular sports include horse racing, soccer, hockey, rugby, volleyball, and softball. The local game of road tennis is a cross between ping-pong and lawn tennis. It is played with a homemade wooden paddle, and the "net" is a long piece of wood.
Barbadian men traditionally spend their leisure time in the rum shop. It combines the functions of grocery store, bar, and domino parlor. The island has one rum shop for every 150 adults. Women tend to prefer the local church as a social center. Dance, music, and theater are popular. As of the late 1990s, about 80 percent of Barbadian households had television sets.
The Barbadian tuk band provides the music for all major celebrations on the island. With its pennywhistles, snare drums, and bass drums, it is like a British military band, but with an African flair. The calypso, reggae, and steel band music of Trinidad and Jamaica are also very popular.
Barbadian crafts include pottery, mahogany carvings, and jewelry.
The great number of tourists has contributed to water pollution. The island's coral reefs have also been damaged. Some people blame the growth of tourism for problems such as crime, drug use, and prostitution.
Beckles, Hilary. A History of Barbados: From Amerindian Settlement to Nation-State. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Broberg, Merle. Barbados. New York: Chelsea House, 1989.
Meditz, Sandra W., and Dennis M. Hanratty. Islands of the Caribbean Commonwealth: A Regional Study. Washington, DC: US Government, 1989.
Pariser, Harry S. The Adventure Guide to Barbados. New York: Hunter, 1990.
Potter, Robert B. Barbados. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Clio Press, 1987.