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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.

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.


Bridgetown, founded early in the seventeenth century on the southern leeward (western) coast, is the island's capital and only city. Small towns exist at Holetown, 5 kilometers north of Bridgetown; Speightstown, 6 kilometers north of Holetown; and Oistens, 10 kilometers south of Bridgetown. Holetown, Speightstown, and Oistens, along with numerous other small communities along the leeward coast, now form one long megalopolis containing about 70 percent of the island's population. About 50 percent of the island's residents live in or south of Bridgetown. The southeastern region, formerly planted in cane, now has another 10 percent of the island's population and may be best described as a dispersed bedroom community for Bridgetown. The remaining 20 percent of the population lives amongst plantations and small farms in settlements that vary from dispersed homes to small, nucleated villages.


The Barbadian economy stems from a diverse population, which is one of the world's most highly educated, with a literacy rate very close to 100 percent. The currency is the Barbados dollar, which is linked to the U.S. dollar at a rate of BDS$2.00 to U.S.$1.00. Excellent public and private bus and taxi services take advantage of nearly 1,300 kilometers of roads and make it possible to move easily and quickly, and relatively cheaply, from any spot on the island to any other. Barbados supports one of the three campuses of the University of the West Indies (the others are in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago). The local campus (Cave Hill) offers degrees in the physical, biological, and social sciences, in the humanities, and in law and medicine. Barbados Community College was modeled along lines originally established by the California community-college system; it offers a wide variety of courses in technical fields and the liberal arts. Advanced education is also available through a teacher-training college, a polytechnic college, the Extra Mural Centre of the University of the West Indies (which has branch campuses on all eastern Caribbean islands), and a hotel school. A large number of private and public primary and secondary schools offer educational programs modeled on those in the United Kingdom.

The year 1960 initiated a structural change in the Barbadian economy marked by decline in sugar production and the growth of industrial manufacturing and tourism. By 1980, the sugar industry contributed only about 6 percent of domestic output and accounted for less than 10 percent of employment and 10 percent of foreign-exchange earnings. At the same time, manufacturing and tourism contributed respectively about 11 percent and 12 percent of domestic output and about 18 percent and 41 percent of foreign-exchange earnings. These proportions remained about the same a decade later. Sugar plantations were turned into manufacturing sites, subdivided for new housing sites or small agricultural plots, or converted to the production of vegetables for a growing domestic market for food. Manufactured goods include garments, furniture, ceramics, pharmaceuticals, phonograph records and tapes, processed wood, paints, structural components for construction, industrial gases, refined petroleum, paper products, and solar-energy units. Data processing and assembly of electronics components also figure in the ecconomic array. Barbados served as a tourist destination as early as the 1600s; it advertises that George Washington was one of its more illustrious early visitors. The growth of tourism on Barbados, however, as throughout the world, depended on the rise of cheap, global transportation and rising proportions of discretionary income. Small numbers of tourists come from South America and other islands in the Caribbean. A significant stream of tourists come from northwestern Europe, primarily the U.K. Most tourists, however, come from the United States and Canada, which send many flights to the island daily, and, during the height of the tourist season, cruise ships call almost daily. Long known in the Caribbean as "Little England," many Barbadians now claim that the island's increasingly important ties to the United States have transformed it into "Little America."


Barbadians trace descent and inheritance through both their father and their mother. They recognize no organized, corporate groups of kin. Barbadians use the Eskimo cousin terminology common to the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. Biological fathers and mothers are sharply distinguished from other adults who may serve various caregiving and economic-support functions for children.

Marriage and Family

A Barbadian household may consist of a single man or woman or of a mixed-gender group of as many as fifteen people. Barbadians idealize a household that consists of a married couple and their children, which characterizes about 45 percent of all households on the island. Around 35 percent of Barbadian households are organized around a mother and her children. These households occasionally encompass three generations of women; they may include brothers, uncles, sons, and the sexual partners of members of the core family unit.

Historically, in Barbados as elsewhere in the West Indies, sexual activity usually began at an early age. Women traded sex for economic support and children (called "visiting" or "keeper" relationships). Visiting unions gave way to common-law unions that, when a couple was older, a church ceremony might legitimate. Young people, however, were not the only ones who had visiting relationships. Historically, West Indian islands have been job-poor. Men left the islands in large numbers to look for work, which left significantly more women than men at nearly all ages. As a result, many women could not legally marry. Lower-class men might never marry. Moreover, no relationship implied men's sexual fidelity. Lower-class men commonly drifted from one temporary sexual partner to another. Married men in the middle and upper classes commonly engaged in a series of visiting relationships with "outside" women. Barbadian fathers, consequently, often were not husbands; even those who were frequently did not live with the mother and her children. When they did, they might contribute little to domestic life. Men often were not home. They spent time instead with girlfriends or other men, often in rum shops, which remain popular among older men. What they contributed, other than a house and money, all too often was violence directed at the mother and children.

Women, for their part, usually drilled into the children not only how much they sacrificed and how hard they had to work to raise them properly, but also that their labors were that much more arduous because they had no companion to help them. It was easy to explain family hardships. Men were irresponsible and abusive. Understandably, fathers could expect domestic help from their sons and daughters only incidentally, and the weak filial obligations that existed applied only to biological fathers. By contrast, childbearing was an investment activity for Barbadian women. In a woman's youth, children legitimated her claims on income from men, although establishing those claims required her subservience. As she moved toward middle age, daughters took over nearly all household chores, and sons provided financial support that could make her independent of spousal support and reduce or eliminate her subservience to an autocratic male. In her old age, financial and domestic support from children meant the difference between abject poverty and a moderate, or even comfortable, level of living. Indeed, these phases often transformed gender relations. Because men could expect support from their children only if they had maintained a relationship with their children's mother, the women dependent on men in their youth found men dependent on them by late middle age. Gender power relationships thus were contingent on historical conditions that made women dependent on men in their youth, and on their male children during and after middle age.

Since 1960, however, Barbadian kin relations have undergone a revolution that reflects global leveling processes that were set into motion by the Industrial Revolution in England 200 years ago. Growth in the world economy, spurred by the Industrial Revolution, was marked by increasing numbers of resource-access channels. Large numbers of resource-access channels imply high levels of competition. High levels of both international and regional competition offer selective advantages to technical skills and competencies and reduce power differentials both between nations and within societies. Gender and skin color have become less important determinants of social position.

Barbadian women experienced a conjunction of good job opportunities and increased educational levels that ushered in a revolution in the relations between generations and between genders. The West Indian marriage pattern of visiting, common-law, and legal unions persists, but empowered women enjoy more domestic help, emotional support, and affectionate behavior than women who are not empowered, and they experience little or no family violence. Women freed from dependency on childbearing have fewer children. Women freed from dependency on men have markedly better relationships with their partners. The incidence of family violence on Barbados fell dramatically in just one generation.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Prior to 1960, Barbadian society was characterized by a small merchant-planter elite of largely European ancestry; a slightly larger class of accountants, lawyers, medical personnel, journalists, and teachers of diverse ancestry; and a huge lower class of field laborers and domestic servants with a largely African ancestry. The elite remains about the same size but has grown much more diverse in heritage. The lower class has all but disappeared. In its place, there now exists a huge middle class that encompasses skilled blue-collar workers employed in manufacturing firms and hotels, and a wide range of white-collar, professional, and managerial occupational groups employed directly or, in the case of public employees, indirectly in the manufacturing and tourist sectors of the economy.

Political Organization. Barbados is organized as an independent parliamentary democracy within the British Commonwealth. For administrative purposes, the island is divided into the city of Bridgetown and eleven parishes: Saint Lucy, Saint Peter, Saint Andrew, Saint James, Saint Joseph, Saint Thomas, Saint John, Saint Philip, Saint George, Saint Michael, and Christ Church. The monarch of England is recognized as the head of state, and the highest court of appeals is the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. The monarch appoints a governor-general, selected from among nominees put forth by the majority and minority political parties. Two principal political parties, the Barbados Labour party and the Democratic Labour party, compete for seats in the House of Assembly; members of the Senate are appointed by the governor-general. The leader of the majority party in the Assembly serves as prime minister. A cabinet appointed from among majority-party members of the Assembly assists the prime minister in carrying out executive functions of government. The judiciary consists of a national police force and three tiers of courts. Magistrates oversee Lower Courts, which adjudicate minor cases and hear preliminary evidence for major ones. Judges who sit in the Assizes hear cases involving allegations of major crimes. Barbados's chief justice heads a group of three judges who hear cases in the Court of Appeals. The last court of appeals is the Privy Council in England.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. More than 80 percent of the population claims adherence to one or another Christian denomination or sect. More than half of these belong to the Church of England and attend appropriate parish churches; Methodists, Roman Catholics, and Seventh Day Adventists constitute most of the remainder. A small East Indian community includes some Hindus, and a small number of people of diverse backgrounds practice Islam. A growing, albeit still small, number of people embrace Rastafarianism. A small Jewish community with Sephardic roots attends services in a synagogue originally built in AD. 1640.

Medicine. Barbadians use two bodies of knowledge to prevent and treat illness. They rely heavily on a biomedical system organized on a Western model. The health-care system consists of physicians and other staff who practice in public, government-run hospitals, clinics, halfway houses, and long-term care facilities of various kinds, and physicians and other health-care workers who practice in a private system of hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and private offices. Individual health-care providers frequently participate in both formal systems.

Barbadians also rely heavily on an indigenous ethnomedical system that makes use of "bush" teas and "home remedies." Around 70 percent of the population uses home remedies at rates that vary from daily to once or twice a year. Most of those who use this indigenous medicine regard it as an alternative to biomedical care; the remainder use indigenous medicine to supplement care available through the biomedical system.

When Barbadian economic development began in the 1950s, the island's health-care needs arose from high rates of acute infectious disease. Accordingly, the government of Barbados built an outstanding health-care delivery system directed at these problems. The medical school at the University of the West Indies is located at a 600-bed facility for acute care, Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Separate geriatric and psychiatric hospitals provide specialized care for the elderly and mentally ill. Smaller facilities are available for younger mentally and physically handicapped patients. Public clinics, located in nearly every parish, and private clinics, concentrated in the heavily populated parishes of Saint Michael and Christ Church, serve primary healthcare needs. The accomplishments of this system included a reduction in infant-mortality rates from more than 150 per 1,000 in the early 1950s to around 15 per 1,000 in the early 1990s, and control over other infectious diseases, rivaling the developed regions of Europe, North America, and Asia.

Today, however, large numbers of Barbadians suffer from arthritis, hypertension, adult-onset diabetes and its complications, cancer, and heart disease. Often, these diseases remain untreated even after diagnosis. Disabilities grow more common and more serious with aging; the vast majority of disabilities can be traced to arthritis and to diabetes and its complications. Significant proportions of disabled Barbadians experience unmet needs for physical aids that bear on the most fundamental human needsseeing, eating, and walking.

Barbadians tend to equate mental illness with being "crazy" and, therefore, deny they experience emotional disorders even in the presence of significant symptoms. Almost no one who displays symptoms of depression and anxiety seeks treatment. By creating intense emotional pain, family violence in particular leads to high-risk sexual behavior and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS. Although the incidence of family violence has declined, much interpersonal violence still is within families. Still more violence comes from outside the family. The island suffers from an increasing use of crack cocaine and its accompanying patterns of violence.


Brathwaite, Farley, ed. (1986). The Elderly in Barbados. Bridgetown: Carib Research and Publications.

Dann, Graham (1984). The Quality of Life in Barbados. London: Macmillan.

Greenfield, Sidney (1966). English Rustics in Black Skin. New Haven: College and Universities Press.

Handler, Jerome S. (1974). The Unappropriated People: Freedmen in the Slave Society of Barbados. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Handwerker, W. Penn (1989). Women's Power and Social Revolution. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Handwerker, W. Penn (1993). "Gender Power Differences between Parents and High-Risk Sexual Behavior by Their Children." Journal of Women's Health 2:301-306.

Karch, Cecilia A. (1979). The Transformation and Consolidation of the Corporate Plantation Economy in Barbados: 1860-1977. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms.

Massiah, Joycelin (1984). Employed Women in Barbados. Institute of Social and Economie Research (Eastern Caribbean) Occasional Paper no. 8. Cave Hill, Barbados: University of the West Indies.

Richardson, Bonham C. (1985). Panama Money in Barbados, 1900-1920. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

Worrell, DeLisle, ed. (1982). The Economy of Barbados, 1946-1980. Bridgetown: Central Bank of Barbados.


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LOCATION: Barbados
POPULATION: 281,968 (2008)
LANGUAGE: English with West African dialect influences
RELIGION: Christianity: Anglican church (majority); Roman Catholicism; Methodism; Rastafarianism; other groups include Jehovah's Witnesses, Hindus, Muslims, Baha'is, Jews; Apostolic Spiritual Baptist is the island's only indigenous religion


Barbados is unique among the islands of the Caribbean in having been governed by only one colonial power, the British, and the resulting influence has given the country its nickname of "Little England." The Barbadians' name for themselves (Bajans—pronounced BAY-juns) is derived from "Barbajians," which is the way the British commonly pronounced Barbadians. Although previously settled by the Arawak and Carib Indians, the island was uninhabited when the British first landed there in 1625. Sugar-growing was introduced by the Dutch from Brazil shortly afterward and African slaves were imported to work on the great sugar plantations. After the abolition of slavery in 1834, Black workers stayed on the plantations and life on the island changed very little. Economic and political power was maintained by a small minority of White landowners, and the fortunes of the territory were dictated by the alternating booms and slumps of the sugar trade.

Following an outbreak of rioting in 1937, the Barbados Progressive League, antecedent of today's Barbados Labor Party (BLP), was founded to promote social, economic, and political reform. Sir Grantley Adams emerged as its leader. A series of political reforms culminated in universal suffrage in 1950 and Grantley Adams became premier of a self-governing Barbados in 1953. Errol Barrow broke away from the Barbados Labor Party in 1954 to found the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) and led Barbados into independence in 1966. In 1976 Errol Barrow was defeated by Tom Adams, the son of Sir Grantley Adams. In 1974 Barbados participated in the founding of CARICOM (the Caribbean Community and Common Market) and in 1994 the island was the site of the United Nations Global Conference on Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States. The BLP led the government for fifteen years, from 1993 until the 2008 general election, when the DLP led by David Thompson came to power.


Belonging to the Lesser Antilles, Barbados is the easternmost Caribbean island, with a total area of 430 sq km (166 sq mi). The terrain of the pear-shaped island consists of lowlands and terraced limestone plains separated by rolling hills that run parallel to the coasts. With a 2008 estimated population of 281,968 persons on an island about the size of San Antonio, Texas, Barbados is one of the world's most densely populated countries (about 625 people per sq km or 1,620 people per sq mi in 2002). However, in recent decades its population has been controlled by an effective family planning program. The annual population growth rate in 2008 was 0.3%.

About 90% of the population is of African descent, descended from West Africans brought to the island to work as slaves on sugar plantations. About 4% are white, descendants of both wealthy plantation families and indentured servants from Scotland, Ireland, and Wales (called "redlegs" because many wore kilts that allowed their legs to become sunburned). Most people in Barbados have some admixture of European blood. The remaining 6% of Barbados' population are of Asian or mixed race. Some of the most recent immigrants are from south Asia and the Middle East.


English is the official language of Barbados, but it is universally spoken in a dialect strongly influenced by the languages of West Africa. Many words, such as duppy, the term for ghost, are derived from African terms and the African practice of duplicate words ("sow-pig," "bull-cows," "gate-doors") has also been imported into the language. Doubling is used for emphasis ("fast fast" instead of "very fast"), another typical African practice. The present tense of verbs is used to express actions in the past ("She cook dinner last night"). Actions in the present are expressed by the present participle ("He dancing to the music"), while the simple present tense (accompanied by "does") is reserved for habitual actions ("He does dance on Tuesdays").

Common words and expressions in Barbadian and their standard English equivalents are:

all twoboth
black leadpencil
cool outrelax
duppy umbrellamushroom
jump updance
nyam or yameat
sand sidebeach
break fivesshake hands
tie-goatmarried person


Barbados has a rich body of folklore that harkens back to the African roots of most of its population. A number of folk beliefs center on ways to keep the ghost of a departed person— known as a duppy—from returning to haunt the living. These include sprinkling rum on the ground, walking into the house backwards, and hanging certain herbs from the windows and doorway. Other figures from Barbadian folklore include the Conrad, an avenging spirit thought to possess people, making them do and say strange things; the heartmen, who kill children and offer their hearts to the devil; and the baccoo, a tiny man who lives in bottles and can decide one's destiny.

Some examples of Barbadian proverbs are:

"One-smart dead at two-smart door" (No matter how smart you seem to be, there's always someone who can outwit you).

"Coconut don' grow upon pumpkin vine" (Children inherit their parents' characteristics—equivalent of U.S. proverb, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree").

"Coo-coo never done til de pot turn down" (equivalent to U.S. proverb, "It's never over until it's over" or "It's not over until the fat lady sings").


Religion plays an important role in the lives of Barbadians. The school day usually begins with a prayer, small revivalist churches abound throughout the island, and there is a one-year waiting list for church choirs who want to perform on the popular Sunday afternoon television program, Time to Sing, which features a different group every week. Priests exert some influence over public policy and cultural life (one reason for the absence of casinos from the island), and a substantial amount of radio air time is devoted to religious programming.

The main religion of the Bajans is Christianity with the most members belonging to the Anglican Church, a legacy from the days of British rule. In 2007 there were about 70,000 members of the Anglican Church, with about 67% considered to be active members. Seventh-day Adventists made up the next largest group with about 16,000 members, 64% of whom were active members. Of the 11,000 Roman Catholics in 2007, about 20% were active. Other Christian groups include Pentecostals, Methodists, and Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as small numbers of Baptists, Moravians, and Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

Other religious groups, including Hindus, Muslims, and Baha'is, are generally made up of immigrants. A small Jewish community descended from Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain worships at a synagogue that dates back to 1640. The Jewish synagogue, destroyed in the hurricane of 1830 and rebuilt in 1834, fell into disuse in the early 1900s and was only recently restored with the help of public and government donations. Rastafarianism, which originated in Jamaica, was introduced to Barbados in 1975. After a rocky period when it was associated with rebellious youths and criminals attracted by its cocky image and dreadlocks, it has been accepted by Bajan society and includes among its ranks such well-known figures as actor Winston Farrell and calypso artist Ras Iley.

The Apostolic Spiritual Baptists (popularly known as "Tie-heads") occupy a special place in Barbados' religious spectrum, as the island's only indigenous religion. Fashioned after other West Indian revivalist religions, the sect, founded in 1957 by Bishop Granville Williams, combines Christian observance with the foot stomping, hand clapping, and dancing characteristic of African religious practices. Converts are baptized and then sequestered for 7 to 10 days in the "Mourning Ground," a special area of the church. Tieheads, so-called because of the cloth turbans worn by both men and women, sport colorful gowns in colors symbolic of particular qualities.


The Christian holidays of Good Friday, Easter, Easter Monday, Whit Monday (Pentecost Monday), and Christmas are all national holidays. Other Barbadian 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). The island's major celebration is the Crop Over festival, which takes place in July and early August. This three-week festival was derived from the traditional festival that marked the end of the sugar-cane harvest. Events include the ritual presentation of the Last Canes and the judging of costumed groups (called "bands") on Kadooment Day, the climax and final day of the festival. The festivities include calypso music and abundant food.


Couples often engage in "visiting" relationships, in which the man visits the woman at her home, or common-law marriages, recognized after five years of cohabitation, both of which are similar in their rights and conditions to legal marriages. Major life events (birth, puberty, marriage, death, etc.) are marked by the religious ceremonies particular to each Bahamian's faith community.


Barbadians are known for their politeness and civility, a legacy both of British influence and of the island's high population density—living in close proximity with others imposes pressure to avoid censure and unpleasant confrontations. Describing his homeland, well-known Barbadian author John Wickham wrote, "The inability of people to remove themselves from one another has led to concern for public order, a compassion for others, and a compelling sense of a neighbor's rights and integrity."


The standard of living on Barbados is among the highest in the Caribbean. The United Nations' 2007 Human Development Report rated the quality of life on Barbados—based on such factors as health, education, and earning power—first among 108 developing nations considered.

About 76% of Barbadians own their own homes. Nearly the entire population has access to safe drinking water. The traditional Barbadian wooden house, which can still be seen throughout the island, is called a "chattel" house. A single-story structure built from a single layer of planks, it boasts a unique feature—portability. It can be taken apart and moved to another location, traditionally when its owner is evicted by the landlord or saves enough money to buy his or her own plot of land elsewhere. The house is usually symmetrical, with a door in the center and windows to either side. The traditional roof of wooden shingles has given way to sheets of galvanized iron that create uncomfortably hot conditions within.

The newer type of house and the one favored by Barbadians today is the suburban "wall" house built of cement blocks and stucco, so-called because it is usually surrounded by a small cement wall. By economic necessity, the wall house, like its wooden predecessor, is often built in stages. Just as second and even third structures were often added to the chattel house ("two-roof house and shed"), the wall house may consist of cement block additions added to a wooden home, one room at a time.

The excellent health care system developed on Barbados in the postwar period has reduced the incidence of infectious disease and improved the overall health of the population significantly. Average life expectancy is 71.2 years for males and 75.2 for females (2008 est.). The infant mortality rate was estimated at about 11 deaths per 1,000 births in 2008. In addition to modern medicine, many Barbadians still rely on folk medicine and use home remedies either as a supplement or as an alternative to conventional treatment.

Barbados' small size and flat terrain have facilitated travel, and it is possible to get to any point on the island quickly and easily, a fact that has enabled many rural dwellers to commute to urban jobs. However, the traffic congestion accompanying Barbados' growing prosperity has strained the narrow, winding roads of Bridgetown, a city founded in 1628.


Many Barbadian households are based on arrangements other than that of a legally married couple living together with their children—this is a legacy of slavery, which often separated men from women and from their children, as well as the traditional shortage of males on the island due to emigration. As such, there are many single-parent families with the mother as head of household. Other relatives, particularly grandmothers and aunts, play an important role in child-rearing, often taking care of the children so that the mother can work. Older children may be expected to take on many household chores, including care of younger siblings.

Common-law marriages are legally recognized after five years and each partner is entitled to half the joint property.


Barbadians wear modern Western-style clothing in casual, business, and formal situations. Colorful and inventive costumes may be seen at festivals, especially the Crop Over celebration in July and August. Members of the Apostolic Spiritual Baptist sect (popularly known as "Tieheads") are known for their turbans—worn by both men and women—and their colorful gowns.


Generations of Barbadian cooks have triumphed over the island's limited selection of produce—as well as the Barbadian's traditionally limited budget—to create a rich culinary tradition that draws on West African, English, Spanish, French, and other types of cuisine. Cou-cou, one of the most popular national dishes, is a cornmeal and okra pudding related to the African foo-foo. It is typically served with gravy and salt cod, another dietary staple. Another favorite food is flying fish, a locally abundant species. These fish are served fried, steamed, or baked using a special Barbadian seasoning that combines onion, garlic, pepper, thyme, paprika, lime juice, and other flavors.

Rice served with any of a variety of peas (including green, blackeye, cow, and gunga) is another dietary staple. The variety of ways pork is used to supplement the islanders' diet has inspired the claim that the only part of a pig Barbadians can't use for some dish is its hair. The most famous pork dish is pudding and souse. A black pudding made from sweet potatoes and pig's blood, stuffed into cleaned pig's intestines and boiled, is sliced and served with "souse," made from cooked pig meat pickled in lime juice and hot peppers and served with onions, cucumbers, and peppers.

Popular beverages include coconut water, lemonade with fresh limes, and drinks made from such fruits as mangoes, guavas, gooseberries, tamarinds, and passion fruit. Mauby is a beverage made from the bark of a tree. Falernum is an indigenous liqueur made from lime juice, sugar, rum, and water, flavored with almond extract. A favorite dessert is coconut bread, which may be prepared using the following recipe:

Coconut Bread

6 oz brown sugar
2 tsp almond extract
6 oz shortening
¼ lb raisins or mixed fruit
1 large egg
1 cup milk
3 cups grated coconut
1¼ lbs flour
1 tsp powdered cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1 tsp powdered nutmeg
3 tsp baking powder

Combine shortening and sugar. After beating the egg, add it in and mix thoroughly. Next, mix in the spices, almond extract, fruit or raisins, grated coconut, and milk. After sifting, mix in the dry ingredients and pour the dough into two greased loaf pans—a 1-lb pan and a 2-lb pan. Preheat oven to 350°F and bake loaves for one hour, or until browned. Cool on racks before serving.


Educational opportunities on Barbados have expanded greatly since World War II and the country boasts a literacy rate of between 95% and 100%, the highest in the Caribbean. One of the strongest values typically imparted by the Barbadian family is the importance of academic achievement. In 2003 primary school enrollment was estimated at 100% while secondary school enrollment was listed as about 90% of age-eligible students. Attendance is legally required between the ages of 5 and 16, and all education is free, including college.

Students are tracked into classes based on standardized test scores, so many travel great distances to schools located far from their homes. Thousands of children can be seen at bus terminals throughout the country every day on their way to or from school. However, new zoning was introduced in the 1990s to ameliorate the situation.

Thanks to movements aimed at giving recognition to the Barbadians' African heritage, children are now exposed to African folklore and music in the schools. A branch of the University of the West Indies was opened on Barbados in 1963, and other institutions of higher learning include Barbados Community College, the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic, the Codrington College Seminary, Barbados Institute of Management and Productivity, and Erdiston Teachers Training College. Students may also receive scholarships for college studies in the United Kingdom and other Caribbean institutions.


Although Barbados has a long oral storytelling tradition, written literature by Barbadians received its first real debut in the 1940s and 1950s in a Barbadian literary magazine called Bim, which was the first showcase of works by a number of Caribbean writers destined for future fame, including Derek Wolcott, the 1992 Nobel laureate in literature, who was born in St. Lucia but has spent a large portion of his time in Trinidad. Well-known Barbadian writers include essayist John Wick-ham, novelist George Lamming (best known for In the Castle of My Skin), and poet Edward Kamau Braithwaite, winner of the 1994 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and a professor of Comparative Literature at New York University.

Barbados has a flourishing community of artists producing paintings, murals, sculptures, and crafts, many of which reflect strong African influences. The arts in Barbados have been supported since the mid-1950s by the Barbados National Arts Council, and tourism has provided many local artists, especially musicians, with patrons.


Most Barbadians belong to a large middle class that includes both skilled blue-collar workers and white-collar professional and managerial employees. The labor force contains an equal number of men and women. About 75% of employment on Barbados is in service-sector jobs, while industry accounts for about 15% and agriculture at 3.5%. The unemployment rate in 2003 was estimated at 10.7%. Many Barbadians work abroad and send money back home. In 2003 the World Bank estimated the total value of remittances to be about us$97 million, or about us$385 per capita, accounting for approximately 3.7% of the gross domestic product (GDP). In 2007 about 25% to 30% of the workforce was unionized.


Cricket is by far the most popular sport on Barbados—some have called it a "national religion." When the nation gained its independence in 1966, it immediately challenged the rest of the world to a cricket match. Most of Barbados' national heroes are cricket stars, such as Sir Everton Weekes, Sir Clyde Walcott, Sir Frank Worrell, and Sir Garfield Sobers, recognized as the greatest all-around cricketeer of all time. The effigy of Sir Frank Worrell adorns the island's five-dollar currency note. Other popular sports include horse-racing, soccer, hockey, rugby, volleyball, and softball. The local game of road tennis, played with a homemade wooden paddle and a long piece of wood for a "net," is a cross between ping-pong and lawn tennis.


The traditional locale where Barbadian men spend their leisure time is the rum shop, which combines the functions of grocery store, bar, and domino parlor. The island has one rum shop for every 150 adults. Women have traditionally gravitated toward the local church as a social center. Dance, music, and theater are all popular pursuits, and about 80% of Barbadian households now have television sets.


In additional to the popular calypso, reggae, and steel band music that reflects the influence of neighboring Trinidad and Jamaica, Barbados has its own indigenous musical tradition, the tuk band, which provides the backbeat for all major celebrations on the island. Composed of pennywhistles, snare drums, and bass drums, it is reminiscent of a British military band, but with a distinctly African flair.

Barbadian crafts include pottery, mahogany items, and jewelry. The Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) supports the preservation of the island's handicrafts by operating numerous shops where local craftspeople sell their wares, as well as offering workshops for beginners and experts alike.


Some observers have seen a connection between the growth of tourism on Barbados and the rise of such problems as crime, drug use, and prostitution. In addition, tourism has contributed to water pollution and damage to the island's coral reefs, as well as overly rapid development of the coastline. A more traditional indigenous problem is family violence, which however has been decreasing as women have become empowered by increased educational and employment opportunities. There are no laws to prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities or to compel private businesses to be handicap-accessible. As a result, some disabled persons have faced difficulties in both work and social endeavors. While new public buildings are generally equipped with such features as ramps, reserved parking, and sanitary facilities for the disabled, private establishments and businesses housed in older buildings have not always followed this example. The government has a National Disabilities Unit that offers such programs as call-aride, but there are some fees associated with the use of services and some users, particularly parents of disabled children, have complained about the cost.


Having gained increased power since the 1960s due to better educational and job opportunities, women have been freed from some of their traditional roles as bearers of children and homemakers, and have become more empowered in their domestic relationships with men. Some problems still exist however. There are no specific laws dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace and many women choose not to report harassment for fear of losing their jobs. While there are laws against domestic violence, such abuse still remains a problem, often because many cases go unreported. Women do have the right to vote and to hold public office; however, female candidates often find it difficult to gain financial support for their campaigns. This may be due to the fact that women are still often regarded as the primary domestic caretakers for husbands, children, and the elderly. Taking time away from these duties to participate in politics may prove to be difficult, both financially and emotionally.

Homosexual relations are illegal and there are no laws to prohibit discrimination against any person on the basis of sexual orientation. While the government has made attempts to discourage discrimination against those infected with HIV/AIDS, social discrimination against homosexuals has been reported.


Beckles, Hilary. A History of Barbados: From Amerindian Settlement to Nation-State. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Brathwaite, Farley, ed. The Elderly in Barbados. Bridgetown: Carib Research and Publications, 1986.

Carrington, Sean. A–Z of Barbados Heritage. Oxford: Macmillan Caribbean, 2003.

Dann, Graham. The Quality of Life in Barbados. London: Macmillan, 1984.

Gmelch, George. Double Passage: The Live of Caribbean Migrants Abroad and Back Home. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992.

Gragg, Larry Dale. Englishmen Transplanted: the English Colonization of Barbados, 1627–1660. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Handwerker, W. Penn. "Barbadians." In Encyclopedia of World

Cultures (Middle America and the Caribbean). Boston: G. K. Hall, 1992.Meditz, Sandra W., and Dennis M. Hanratty. Islands of the Caribbean Commonwealth: A Regional Study. Washington, DC: U.S. Government, 1989.

Pariser, Harry S. Adventure Guide to Barbados. Edison, NJ: Hunter Publishing, 1995.

Potter, Robert B. Barbados. Santa Barbara, CA: Clio Press, 1987.

Shepherd, Verene A. Slavery without Sugar: Diversity in Caribbean Economy and Society since the 17th Century. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2002.

Walton, Chelle Koster. Caribbean Ways: A Cultural Guide. Westwood, MA: Riverdale, 1993.

Wilder, Rachel, ed. Insight Guides: Barbados. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995.

—revised by K. Ellicott

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LOCATION: Barbados


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:

again now
all two both
black lead pencil
cool out relax
duppy umbrella mushroom
fingersmith thief
jump up dance
nyam (or yam) eat
sand side beach
t'ink think
yuh you
break fives shake hands
tie-goat married person
hag bother


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.


Coconut Bread


  • 6 ounces brown sugar
  • 6 ounces shortening
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 3 cups grated coconut
  • 1 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon powdered nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • ¼ pound raisins or mixed fruit
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1¼ pounds flour, sifted
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder


  1. Preheat oven to 350°f.
  2. Combine shortening and sugar.
  3. Add the beaten egg, and mix thoroughly.
  4. Mix in the spices, almond extract, fruit or raisins, grated coconut, and milk.
  5. Add flour, salt, and baking powder and mix thoroughly.
  6. Pour the batter into two greased loaf pansa one-pound pan and a two-pound pan.
  7. Bake loaves for one hour, or until browned. Cool on racks before serving.

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.


Barbados Tourism Authority. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide, Barbados. [Online] Available, 1998.

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