Barbados is an island country in the Lesser Antilles. It is 34 kilometres (21 mi) in length and as much as 23 kilometres (14 mi) in width, amounting to 431 square kilometres (166 sq mi). It is situated in the western area of the North Atlantic and 100 kilometres (62 mi) east of the Windward Islands and the Caribbean Sea; therein, it is about 168 kilometres (104 mi) east of the islands of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and 400 kilometres (250 mi) north-east of Trinidad and Tobago. Barbados is outside of the principal Atlantic hurricane belt. Barbados was visited by the Portuguese in 1536. They did not want to settle in Barbados and did not claim it for their country, but thought it would be a good place to visit now and again and they let loose a number of wild hogs to make sure that whenever they returned here they would have a good supply of meat. The first English ship, the "Olive Blossom", arrived in Barbados in 1625. They took possession of it in the name of 'James, King of England'. It became an English and later British colony. The island has an estimated population of 284,589 people, with around 80,000 living in or around Bridgetown, the largest city and the country's capital. In 1966, Barbados became an independent state and Commonwealth realm, retaining Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State. Barbados is one of the Caribbean's leading tourist destinations and is the most developed island in the region, with an HDI number of 0.788.
According to accounts by descendants of the indigenous Arawakan-speaking tribes in other regional areas, the original name for Barbados was Ichirouganaim, with possible translations including "Red Land with White Teeth", "Redstone island with teeth outside (reefs)" or simply "Teeth".
The reason for the later name Barbados is controversial. The Portuguese, en route to Brazil were the first Europeans to come upon the island, and they named it Barbados. The word Barbados means "bearded ones", but it is a matter of conjecture whether "bearded" refers to the long, hanging roots of the bearded fig-tree (Ficus citrifolia), indigenous to the island; to allegedly bearded Caribs once inhabiting the island; or to the foam spraying over the outlying reefs giving the impression of a beard. In 1519, a map produced by the Genoese mapmaker Visconte Maggiolo showed and named Barbados in its correct position.
Other names or nicknames associated with Barbados include "Bim", "Bimshire" and "da Rock". The origin is uncertain but several theories exist. The National Cultural Foundation of Barbados says that "Bim" was a word commonly used by slaves and that it derives from the phrase "bi mu" or either ("bem", "Ndi bem", "Nwanyi ibem" or "Nwoke ibem") from an Igbo phrase meaning "my people". In colloquial or literary contexts, "Bim" can also take a more deific tone, referring to the "goddess" Barbados.
The word Bim and Bimshire are recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary and the Chamber's Twentieth Century Dictionaries. Another possible source for "Bim" is reported to be in the Agricultural Reporter of 25 April 1868, The Rev. N Greenidge (father of one of the island's most famous scholars, Abel Hendy Jones Greenidge) suggested the listing of Bimshire as a county of England. Expressly named were "Wiltshire, Hampshire, Berkshire and Bimshire". Lastly in the Daily Argosy (of Demerara i.e. Guyana) of 1652 it referred to Bim as a possible corruption of the word "Byam", who was a Royalist leader against the Parliamentarians. That source suggested the followers of Byam became known as Bims and became a word for all Barbadians.
Amerindian settlement of Barbados dates to about the 4th to 7th century AD, by a group known as the Saladoid-Barrancoid. In the 13th century, the Caribs arrived from South America.
The Portuguese briefly claimed Barbados from the mid-16th to the 17th centuries, and may have seized the Arawaks on Barbados and used them as slave labour. Other Arawaks are believed to have fled to neighbouring islands. Apart from possibly displacing the Caribs, the Portuguese left little impact and by the 1610s left for South America, leaving the island uninhabited. Some Arawaks arrived from Guyana in the 1800s and continue to live in Barbados.
From about 1600 the English, French and Dutch began to found colonies in North America and the smaller Caribbean islands. Barbados was the third major English settlement in the Americas (1607: Jamestown, 1620:Plymouth Colony, 1627: Barbados. The British Leeward Islands were occupied at about the same time as Barbados: 1623: St Kitts, 1628: Nevis, 1632: Montserrat, 1632: Antigua.) In the period 1640–60 the West Indies attracted over two thirds of English emigrants to the New World. By 1650 there were 44,000 English in the Caribbean, 12,000 on the Chesapeake and 23,000 in New England. The population of Barbados was estimated at 30,000. Most emigrants arrived as indentured servants. After five years of labor they were given 'freedom dues' of about £10, usually in goods. Before the mid-1630s they also received 5 to 10 acres of land but after that time the island filled up and there was no more free land. Around the time of Cromwell a number of rebels and criminals were also transported. The death rate was very high (Parish registers from the 1650s show, for the white population, four times as many deaths as marriages.) The main export was tobacco, but tobacco prices fell in the 1630s as Chesapeake production expanded.
From the 1640s the introduction of sugar from Dutch Brazil completely transformed society and the economy. A workable sugar plantation required a large investment and a great deal of heavy labor. White smallholders were bought out and the island was filled up with large slave-worked sugar plantations. At first, Dutch traders supplied the equipment, finance and slaves and carried most of the sugar to Europe. In 1644 there were about 800 slaves on the island. By 1660 there were 27,000 blacks and 26,000 whites. By 1666 at least 12,000 white smallholders had been bought out, died or left the island. Many of the remaining whites were increasingly poor. By 1680 there were seventeen slaves for every indentured servant. By 1700 there were 15,000 free whites and 50,000 enslaved blacks. In 1680 over half the arable land was held by 175 large planters who held at least 60 slaves. The great planters had connections with the English aristocracy and great influence on Parliament. (In 1668 the West Indian sugar crop sold for £180,000 after customs of £18,000. Chesapeake tobacco earned £50,000 after customs of £75,000). So much land was devoted to sugar that most food had to be imported from New England. The poorer whites that were squeezed off the island went to the British Leeward Islands or, especially, Jamaica. In 1670 South Carolina was founded from Barbados.
By 1660 Barbados generated more trade than all the other English colonies combined. It was surpassed by Jamaica in 1713. Bridgetown, the capital, was one of the three largest cities in British America (the other two were Boston, Massachusetts and Port Royal, Jamaica.) By 1700 the English West Indies produced 25,000 tons of sugar, compared to 20,000 for Brazil, 10,000 for the French islands and 4,000 for the Dutch islands.
English sailors who landed on Barbados in 1625 arrived at the site of present-day Holetown. The English then took possession of Barbados in the name of James I. From the arrival of the first English settlers in 1627–1628 until independence in 1966, Barbados was under uninterrupted British governance (and was the only Caribbean island that did not change hands during the colonial period). Nevertheless, Barbados always enjoyed a large measure of local autonomy. Its House of Assembly began meeting in 1639. Among the initial important figures was Anglo-Dutchman Sir William Courten.
Fighting during the War of the Three Kingdoms and the Interregnum spilled over into Barbados and Barbadian territorial waters. The island was not involved in the war until after the execution of Charles I, when the island's government fell under the control of Royalists (ironically the Governor, Philip Bell, remained loyal to Parliament while the Barbadian House of Assembly, under the influence of Humphrey Walrond, supported Charles II). To try to bring the recalcitrant colony to heel, the Commonwealth Parliament passed an act on 3 October 1650 which prohibited trade between England and the island, and because the island also traded with the Netherlands, further navigation acts were passed prohibiting any but English vessels trading with Dutch colonies. These acts were a precursor to the First Anglo-Dutch War. The Commonwealth of England sent an invasion force under the command of Sir George Ayscue which arrived in October 1651. After some skirmishing, the Royalists supporters in the Barbados House of Assembly led by Lord Willoughby surrendered. The conditions of surrender were incorporated into the Charter of Barbados (Treaty of Oistins), which was signed in the Mermaid's Inn, Oistins, on 17 January 1652.
With the increased implementation of slave codes, which created differential treatment between Africans and the white workers and planters, the island became increasingly unattractive to poor whites. Black or slave codes were implemented in 1661, 1676, 1682, and 1688. In response to these codes, several slave rebellions were attempted or planned during this time, but none succeeded. Nevertheless, poor whites who had or acquired the means to emigrate often did so. Planters expanded their importation of African slaves to cultivate sugar cane.
Barbados eventually had one of the world's biggest sugar industries after starting sugar cane cultivation in 1640. One group which was instrumental for ensuring the early success of the sugar cane industry were the Sephardic Jews, who originally been expelled from the Iberian peninsula to end up in Dutch Brazil. This quickly replaced tobacco plantations on the islands which were previously the main export. As the sugar industry developed into its main commercial enterprise, Barbados was divided into large plantation estates that replaced the smallholdings of the early English settlers. Some of the displaced farmers moved to other English colonies in the Americas, most notably North and South Carolina, and British Guiana, as well as Panama. To work the plantations, planters imported enslaved West Africans to Barbados and other Caribbean islands.
The British abolished the slave trade in 1807 but not the institution itself. In 1816, slaves rose up in the largest major slave rebellion in the island's history. Twenty thousand slaves from over 70 plantations rebelled. They drove whites off the plantations, but widespread killings did not take place. This was later termed “Bussa's Rebellion” after the slave ranger, Bussa, who with his assistants hated slavery, found the treatment of slaves on Barbados to be “intolerable”, and believed the political climate in the UK made the time ripe to peacefully negotiate with planters for freedom (Davis, p. 211; Northrup, p. 191). Bussa's Rebellion failed. One hundred and twenty slaves died in combat or were immediately executed; another 144 were brought to trial and executed; remaining rebels were shipped off the island (Davis, pp. 212–213).
Slavery was finally abolished in the British Empire 18 years later in 1834. In Barbados and the rest of the British West Indian colonies, full emancipation from slavery was preceded by an apprenticeship period that lasted four years.
Statue of Lord Nelson in National Heroes Square which predates the more famous Nelson's Column by some 27 years.
In 1884, the Barbados Agricultural Society sent a letter to Sir Francis Hincks requesting his private and public views on whether the Dominion of Canada would favourably entertain having the then colony of Barbados admitted as a member of the Canadian Confederation. Asked of Canada were the terms of the Canadian side to initiate discussions, and whether or not the island of Barbados could depend on the full influence of Canada in getting the change agreed to by the United Kingdom. Then in 1952 the Barbados Advocate newspaper polled several prominent Barbadian politicians, lawyers, businessmen, the Speaker of the Barbados House of Assembly and later as first President of the Senate, Sir Theodore Branker, Q.C. and found them to be in favour of immediate federation of Barbados along with the rest of the British Caribbean with complete Dominion Status within five years from the date of inauguration of the West Indies Federation with Canada.
However, plantation owners and merchants of British descent still dominated local politics, owing to the high-income qualification required for voting. More than 70% of the population, many of them disenfranchised women, were excluded from the democratic process. It was not until the 1930s that the descendants of emancipated slaves began a movement for political rights. One of the leaders of this movement, Sir Grantley Adams, founded the Barbados Labour Party in 1938, then known as the Barbados Progressive League.
Adams and his party demanded more rights for the poor and for the people, and staunchly supported the monarchy. Progress toward a more democratic government in Barbados was made in 1942, when the exclusive income qualification was lowered and women were given the right to vote. By 1949 governmental control was wrested from the planters and, in 1958, Adams became Premier of Barbados.
From 1958 to 1962, Barbados was one of the ten members of the West Indies Federation, an organisation doomed by nationalistic attitudes and by the fact that its members, as British colonies, held limited legislative power. Adams served as its first and only "Premier", but his leadership failed in attempts to form similar unions, and his continued defence of the monarchy was used by his opponents as evidence that he was no longer in touch with the needs of his country. Errol Walton Barrow, a fervent reformer, became the new people's advocate. Barrow had left the BLP and formed the Democratic Labour Party as a liberal alternative to Adams' conservative government. Barrow instituted many progressive social programmes, such as free education for all Barbadians and the school meals system. By 1961, Barrow had replaced Adams as Premier and the DLP controlled the government.
With the Federation dissolved, Barbados reverted to its former status, that of a self-governing colony. The island negotiated its own independence at a constitutional conference with Britain in June 1966. After years of peaceful and democratic progress, Barbados finally became an independent state on 30 November 1966, with Errol Barrow its first Prime Minister, although Queen Elizabeth II remained the monarch. Upon independence Barbados maintained historical linkages with Britain by establishing membership to the Commonwealth of Nations grouping. A year later Barbados' international linkages were expanded by obtaining membership to the United Nations and the Organization of American States.
Barbados has been an independent country since 30 November 1966. It functions as a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, modelled on the British Westminster system, with Elizabeth II, Queen of Barbados, as head of state represented locally by the Governor-General, Clifford Husbands and the Prime Minister as the head of the government. The number of representatives within the House of Assembly has gradually increased from 24 at independence, to its present composition of thirty seats.
Barbados functions as a two-party system, the two dominant parties being the ruling Democratic Labour Party and the opposition, Barbados Labour Party. The Barbados Labour Party (BLP) had been in government for 15 years, since 1993 until the 2008 general election. Under this administration, the former Prime Minister, The Right Honourable Owen S. Arthur acted as the Regional Leader of the CSM (Caribbean Single Market).
The Honourable David Thompson, who was elected Prime Minister of Barbados in 2008, died of pancreatic cancer on 23 October 2010. He was succeeded by Deputy Prime Minister Freundel Stewart, who was sworn in the same day.
Barbados has had several third parties over a period of time since independence: The People's Pressure Movement formed in the early 1970s and contested the 1976 elections; The National Democratic Party, which contested the 1994 elections; and the People's Democratic Congress, which contested the 2008 elections. Apart from these there were several independents who contested the elections, but independents are yet to win a seat in Parliament.
The Constitution of Barbados is the supreme law of the nation. The Attorney General heads the independent judiciary. Historically, Barbadian law was based entirely on English common law with a few local adaptations. At the time of independence, the British Parliament ceased having the ability to change local legislation at its own discretion. British law and various legal statutes within British law at this time, and other prior measures adopted by the Barbadian parliament became the basis of the modern-day law system.
More recently, however, local Barbadian legislation may be shaped or influenced by such organisations as the United Nations, the Organization of American States, or other international fora to which Barbados has obligatory commitments by treaty. Additionally, through international cooperation, other institutions may supply the Barbados Parliament with key sample legislation to be adapted to meet local circumstances before crafting it as local law.
Laws are passed by the Barbadian Parliament, whereby upon their passage, are given official vice-regal assent by the Governor-General to become law.
In Barbados, camouflage clothing is reserved for military use and forbidden for civilians to wear.
As of October 2010, it is illegal for persons to smoke in public areas.
The local court system of Barbados is made-up of:
Magistrates' Courts: Covering Criminal, Civil, Domestic, Domestic Violence, and Juvenile matters. But can also take up matters dealing with Corornor's Inquests, Liquor Licences, and civil marriages. Further, the Magistrates' Courts deal with Contract and Tort law where claims do not exceed $10,000.00
The Supreme Court: is made up of High Court and Court of Appeals. High Court: Consisting of Civil, Criminal, and Family law divisions.
Court of Appeal: Handles appeals from the High Court and Magistrates' Court. It hears appeals in both the civil, and criminal law jurisdictions. It may consist of a single Justice of Appeal sitting in Chambers; or may sit as a Full Court of three Justices of Appeals.
The Caribbean Court of Justice , (based in Port Of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago), is the court of last resort (final jurisdiction) over Barbadian law. It replaced the London-based Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC). The may resolve othe