The Culture of Barbados

British and African cultures mix in Barbados to create a friendly, vibrant island atmosphere

Photo credit: © Richard Goldberg | Dreamstime.com

Barbados' Culture
 

While the Amerindians, Spanish, and Portuguese all made it to Barbados before the British, it was the English who firmly established themselves on the island. The introduction of West African slaves to the sugar plantations also had an indelible influence on the culture of Barbados.

British Influence

Captain John Powell claimed the island of Barbados for King James I in 1625. Two years later, Captain Henry Powell led an expedition of 80 settlers and 10 slaves to colonize the island. Although Barbados gained full independence from England in 1966, the island remains within the British Commonwealth. With nearly 400 years of association with England, it's no wonder that the Queen's English is the official language of Barbados.

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The British exerted an early cultural influence on the settlement in Barbados by establishing the world's third parliamentary democracy in 1639. While the Legislative Assembly went through tough periods caused by the burning of the assembly building and pressure from London, the colony maintained its legislative powers on the island.

Traditional architecture on the island also exhibits an unmistakable British influence. Many of the older establishments and houses are built in Georgian, Victorian, or Jacobean styles.

The long standing British presence in Barbados also resulted in a population that is deeply religious and overwhelmingly Anglican. Other denominations represented on the island include Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptists, and others. Gospelfest is among the many festivals celebrated on the island, a clear indication of the influence of religion upon the culture. In addition to the large Christian population, there are also small Jewish, Hindu, and Muslim populations.

The sport of cricket is another uniquely British stamp on island culture. The sport, largely alien to those living in North America, has thrived in Barbados with unparalleled popularity. The Barbados team has won many regional competitions and frequently sends players to the competitive West Indies team. Sir Garfield Sobers, largely accepted as the greatest cricket player to ever play the game, is Barbadian.

African Influence

Sugar has played a dominant role in forging the unique culture of Barbados in more than one way. While sugarcane crops have acted as the economic backbone of the island, the West African slaves who were transported across the Atlantic to work the sugar plantations also had a profound effect on the culture and history of Barbados. Slaves, around 70,000 of them, were freed in 1838, and soon began to contribute to life in Barbados. The first non-white Legislative Assembly member was elected just 5 years later, in 1843.

...colorful arts, crafts, and music...

 

African slaves helped to build the foundation of the country by working the sugar plantations and erecting buildings of stone, wood, and coral. Early West African slaves built the island's first chattel houses to easily move from plantation to plantation. Their lasting effect on the culture is most notably seen in such things as the colorful arts, crafts, and music of Barbados.

Cropover Festival is the largest cultural celebration in Barbados and celebrates the traditional harvesting of the sugarcane crops. The festival runs for three weeks in July and August, and includes fairs, parades, and contests.

Calypso music is an important part of the festival and yet another product of West African culture. Often coupled with social commentary, the beats of this music quickly intrigues and captures any listener. Other African-inspired music includes reggae, soca, and tuk.

Barbados is known for having the finest cuisine in all of the British Caribbean. Additionally, the traditional West Indies cuisine of Creole, which blends European, African, and Caribbean influences, is readily found on the island.

The melding of African and British cultures in Barbados has created a proud, friendly, and energetic culture with fine cuisine, music, art, and history.

 

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