Barbadians - History and Cultural Relations

Barbados was colonized by the English early in the seventeenth century. The English found the island uninhabited when they landed in 1625, although archeological findings document prior habitation by both Carib and Arawak Native Americans. By 1650, Barbados was transformed by the plantation system and slavery into the first major monocropping sugar producer of the emerging British Empire, and its fortunes were tied to sugar and to England for the next 310 years. In 1651, Barbados won from England most of the freedoms the United States gained only by revolution 100 years later, and established what was to become the oldest continuing parliamentary democracy in the world outside England. This significant degree of autonomy encouraged Barbadian planters to remain on the island rather than, as was typical elsewhere in the English and French West Indies, to return to Europe when their fortunes improved. Barbados continues to be distinguished in the West Indies by an unusually high proportion of population with a largely European ancestry. When West Indian sugar plantations disappeared elsewhere over the course of the 1800s, Barbadian plantations remained competitive. The improvement in living standards that had marked the nineteenth century was brought to an end by the creation of a merchant-planter oligopoly in the early twentieth century. The Great Depression precipitated massive labor disturbances. Subsequent investigations of living conditions, particularly the Moyne Commission Report, established grounds for fundamental political change. The franchise, which until the late nineteenth century had been restricted to propertied, White males, was made universal in 1943. By the 1950s, the descendants of former African slaves controlled the Barbadian Assembly and set in motion a series of actions that fundamentally transformed the island. Barbados opted for full independence in 1966, but it remains a member of the British Commonwealth.

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