Barbadians - Orientation

Identification. Barbadians are people born on the island of Barbados and people born elsewhere who have at least one Barbadian parent who maintains cultural ties to this island nation. Barbadian communities in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Guyana maintain active ties with their kin and friends in the West Indies.

Location. Barbados, a coral limestone outcropping of the South American continental shelf, is located at 13° 10′ N, 59° 33′ W. Barbados thus lies in the western Atlantic Ocean, 150 kilometers east of the island of Saint Vincent and the geological fault line along which most of the Caribbean islands have emerged, and 275 kilometers north of Trinidad and the northern coast of South America. The island's shape resembles a leg of lamb 40 kilometers long. The north (shank) of the island exhibits a width of about 10 kilometers, the south a width of about 25 kilometers. In contrast with most West Indian islands of volcanic origin, which rise dramatically from the sea to elevations of more than 1,000 meters within a kilometer or so of the shore, Barbados has low, rolling hills that rise no higher than 300 meters, and, in the north and south portions of the island, extensive areas of relatively level ground. Nonetheless, like nearly all West Indian islands, Barbados exhibits significant microclimate variation. Rainfall averages more than 125 centimeters annually across the central portion of the island, but levels are higher on the windward (eastern) coast and the hilly interior, and lower on the leeward (western) coast. The northeast corner of the island, however, exhibits a semidesert biome. The southern portions of the island, characterized by little topographic variation, receive little rainfall, although more than the northeast corner. Barbados averages more than 3,000 hours of sunlight annually. Northeast trade winds blow year-round and significantly moderate a mean daytime temperature of around 27° C, which fluctuates little over the course of the year. Sugarcane and tourism have brought prosperity to Barbados, even in the face of occasional droughts, hurricanes, and world recessions.

Demography. More than 260,000 people now live on this small island of some 443 square kilometers. Only Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bangladesh surpass Barbados's national population density of 586 persons per square kilometer. As early as 1680, the island was home to 70,000 people. Barbadians who couldn't find land on the island emigrated to other New World locations, including South Carolina, Antigua, and Jamaica. Whereas other island populations dwindled or grew slowly during the 1800s, Barbados sent more than 50,000 of its citizens elsewhere (especially to Guyana and Trinidad) and still experienced an extraordinary annual growth rate of about 1.2 percent between Emancipation in 1806 and the first years of the twentieth century.

Until 1960, high birth and death rates prevailed. The island's population consisted mostly of young people; Barbadians emigrated in large numbers to the United Kingdom and in smaller numbers to the United States and, later, to Canada. Barbados began demographic transition about 1960, reached replacement-level fertility in 1980, and fell to below-replacement levels quickly thereafter. Aided by continuing emigration of the young and a new stream of elderly immigrants, the population of Barbados aged rapidly in the succeeding decade. The population of elderly (aged 60 and over) grew 15 percent during the 1980s and comprised 15.3 percent of the total population by 1990. Barbadian projections suggest that, by the year 2050, the proportion of the population aged 65 and over will range between 25 and 33 percent of the total population.

Linguistic Affiliation. Barbadians speak a dialect of English with tonal qualities that reflect the West African heritage of the vast majority of its people, and an English-West African pidgin called Bajan. The number of native Bajan speakers has declined precipitously since 1950.

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