Barbados - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

Read about Barbados: language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate ...



Barbados, an island country in the West Indies. It is the easternmost of the Caribbean islands, bordered on the east by the Atlantic Ocean. Barbados was a British colony for more than 300 years, until it gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1966. Signs of the British heritage are everywhere, from the island’s Anglican churches to the national sport of cricket. Today, most of the country’s inhabitants are descended from Africans brought to Barbados to work on sugar plantations. The capital, major city, and chief port is Bridgetown, located on the southwestern coast of Barbados.

Barbados is known for its white sand beaches and for the coral reefs that fringe the island on three sides. Sugarcane dominated the economy of Barbados for years, but tourism surpassed sugar in economic importance during the 1970s. Tourism has grown steadily in importance, and the island now ranks as one of the most popular destinations in the West Indies. The island’s government has also promoted Barbados as a site for offshore banking and information technology.


The island of Barbados is 34 km (21 mi) long and 23 km (14 mi) wide at its widest part and has a total area of 430 sq km (166 sq mi). The nearest island, Saint Vincent, is about 160 km (100 mi) to the west.

Barbados is generally flat along the coast and hilly in the interior. Mount Hillaby, the highest point, rises to 340 m (1,115 ft). Quiet beaches lie along the western and southern coasts, while the east coast facing the Atlantic is rugged and rocky. Barbados is largely surrounded by coral reefs.

Geologically, Barbados differs from its neighbors in the Windward Islands, which were formed by volcanoes. Coral deposits and limestone form the surface of Barbados and are underlain by sedimentary rock. Water runs through the coral and limestone, rather than collecting on the surface, and so the island has hardly any rivers and little other surface water. Deep gullies in the limestone channel most rainwater down to the coast, and there are underground reserves of fresh water. Other limestone features are the island’s caves with stalactites and stalagmites.

Resources in Barbados

Barbados lacks mineral resources, but small quantities of petroleum and natural gas have been found. Petroleum production began in 1973. The petroleum and natural gas produced are used locally. The island has good clays and stone for making bricks and building blocks.

Climate in Barbados

The climate of Barbados is tropical, tempered by sea breezes. The average annual temperature is about 26°C (about 79°F), and daily temperatures range from about 24°C to 30°C (about 76°F to 86°F). Rainfall is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year, but becomes somewhat heavier from June to November. The average annual rainfall ranges from 1,000 mm (about 40 in) on the coast to 2,300 mm (about 90 in) on the central ridge. Hurricanes occasionally strike the island.

Plants and Animals in Barbados

The island was named Os Barbados (“the bearded ones”) by Portuguese explorers, after the bearded fig trees they found on the beaches, some of which can still be seen. Nearly all the original vegetation on Barbados has been cleared for cultivation. But today many flowering trees grow on the island, and orchids, hibiscus, and other flowering plants abound in gardens and parks.

Wildlife is limited and includes hares, monkeys, mongooses, tree frogs, and various species of birds. The Barbados Wildlife Reserve is home to two unusual species: green monkeys and large, red-footed land tortoises. The monkeys were originally brought from West Africa several hundred years ago. The reserve also has deer, otters, agoutis, iguanas, and caimans. The tropical birds on the island include toucans, hummingbirds, and parrots. Marine life is abundant in the coastal waters.

Environmental Issues in Barbados

The natural beauty and biodiversity of Barbados attract large numbers of tourists, but the growth in popularity has brought about several problems. Although local revenue has increased, water pollution from waste disposal by ships and damage to surrounding reefs have become major environmental concerns. A 240-hectare (590-acre) marine reserve was established in 1980 to protect the coastline and reefs of Barbados.


The population of Barbados (2008 estimate) is 281,968. Barbados is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with an average population density of 654 persons per sq km (1,694 per sq mi). This density is notable considering the rural agricultural character of the island. Nearly half the people live in Bridgetown, the capital and only seaport, with a population (2003 estimate) of 140,000.

The population growth rate in the 1950s and 1960s approached 3 percent a year, largely because of faster declines in the death and infant mortality rates than in the birth rate. Family planning reduced the birth rate during the last decades of the 20th century, and emigration also brought down the growth rate to below 1 percent. By the beginning of the 21st century, the population of Barbados had stabilized.

About 90 percent of the Barbadian population is black and descended from Africans who worked as slaves on the island’s sugar plantations. The remaining portion is composed of whites and people of mixed racial descent. The European population on the island is mainly British in background. English is the official language. Almost 30 percent of the people are Anglicans; other important church communities include Methodists and Pentecostals.

Education in Barbados

Education in Barbados is of a high standard, and the adult literacy rate of 99.7 percent is the highest in the Western Hemisphere. Education is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 5 and 15. In the 2000 school year 24,225 pupils were enrolled in primary schools. Entrance to secondary schools is by competitive examination. A campus of the University of the West Indies opened at Bridgetown in 1963. Barbados Community College was founded in 1968.

The Barbados Museum and Historical Society, established in 1933 in Bridgetown, has collections on the island’s natural history, marine life, history, and decorative art. Barbados is served by a public library system centered in Bridgetown.

Culture of Barbados

The culture of Barbados combines English institutions, which evolved through more than three centuries of English rule, with a folk culture of African origin. Because of its English traditions, Barbados is sometimes called “Little England.” Cricket has traditionally been the national game, and the island has produced some of the sport’s greatest players. Water sports including surfing, swimming, snorkeling, and sailing are also popular.

The music and dances of Barbados reflect more purely the African heritage and feature African rhythms and musical instruments. The island also has shared in the emergence of West Indian art forms, particularly music, and there are a number of steel bands. Many of the older churches, sugar plantation houses, and buildings in Bridgetown are of historical and architectural interest.

The island’s main festival, Crop Over, celebrates the end of the sugar harvest. This summer festival features parades and calypso competitions and the ceremonious delivery of the last sugarcanes on a brightly colored cart pulled by mules. There is a toast to the sugar workers and the king and queen of the crop are crowned. In February, the Holetown Festival commemorates the landing of the island’s first settlers in 1627. The Oistins Fish Festival, held at Easter, is a street fair that celebrates the fishing town of Oistins and the fishing industry.

Two Barbadian writers have greatly influenced other writers in the Caribbean: novelist and essayist George Lamming and poet, historian, and essayist Kamau Brathwaite. Lamming’s novels, beginning with the semi-autobiographical In the Castle of My Skin (1953), deal with the problems of defining one’s own values within a system and ideology imposed from outside. This issue of how to deal with the legacy of colonialism has since concerned many Caribbean writers. Brathwaite, a founding member of the Caribbean Artists Movement, pursues this dilemma within the context of the region’s African heritage, seeking a definition of the Caribbean people, their faiths, language, and ancestry through works such as his trilogy The Arrivants (1973), and the collections Mother Poem (1977), Sun Poem (1982), and X/Self (1987); he has spent time in Ghana seeking to clarify his ideas. See also Caribbean Literature.


The economy of Barbados traditionally relied on growing sugarcane; processing it into refined sugar, molasses, and rum; and exporting these sugarcane-derived products. However, by the 1970s tourism had become far more important to the economy. In the 1980s and 1990s the government sought to further diversify the economy by encouraging foreign financial institutions to establish operations in Barbados and by creating a favorable environment for the establishment of new manufacturing industries. The gross domestic product (GDP) for Barbados was $3.43 billion in 2006, or $11,711 per person, one of the highest per capita GDPs in Latin America. GDP is a measure of the value of all goods and services a country produces.

Agriculture of Barbados

The agricultural sector, historically the backbone of the economy, is today small, contributing along with forestry and fishing 3.6 percent of GDP and employing about 3 percent of the labor force. Sugarcane remains the leading crop of Barbados, although annual production has steadily declined since the 1960s due largely to low prices and production inefficiencies. Many growers have sold their land for housing or tourism developments. The sugarcane harvest in 2006 totaled 410,000 metric tons. Other crops include vegetables and fruit grown primarily for local use. Fishing has increased in importance.

Manufacturing in Barbados

In addition to processing sugarcane and other locally grown farm products, manufacturing plants in Barbados produce paper products, furniture, chemicals, clothing, and household appliances. Computer components and building materials are also manufactured, and an oil refinery in Bridgetown processes petroleum.

Services and Tourism of Barbados

Service industries, including tourism, are the most important sector of the economy of Barbados. They account for nearly three-fourths of the GDP and employ more than half of the workforce. Many international companies have registered in Barbados, and their operations contribute revenue to the local economy. Many North American firms, most notably insurance companies and airlines, employ well-educated Barbadians to enter data into computerized records.

Tourism is a major contributor to GDP and a major employer on Barbados. Most tourists stay on the southern and western coasts. A large number of visitors come from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. In addition, cruise ships dock at a terminal in Bridgetown.

Currency and Trade in Barbados

In 1972 a central bank was established and a new unit of currency adopted, the Barbados dollar (2 Barbados dollars equal U.S.$1; 2006 average). The bank of issue is the Central Bank of Barbados, founded in 1972.

Barbados imports more goods than it exports, yet in most years its foreign earnings from services in tourism, finance, and data entry enable it to achieve a surplus in its account balance. Budget revenues in fiscal year 2004 totaled $966 million; expenditures were $1,234 million. Barbados is a member of two free-trade organizations, the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) and the Association of Caribbean States (ACS). The establishment of these organizations created a wider market for Barbadian goods.

Transportation and Communications in Barbados

Barbados is well served by roads but has no railway system. Nearly all of its 1,600 km (1,000 mi) of roads are paved. An international airport is located at Seawell in the southeast, and scheduled flights connect the island with Europe, North America, and South America. The coast of Barbados lacks natural shelter for ships, but an artificial deepwater harbor at Bridgetown was opened in 1961. The island is served by passenger and cargo services to Britain, other West Indian islands, and the United States and Canada.

Barbados has 2 daily newspapers. The government-run Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation provides radio and television programming, and a number of commercial radio stations also operate.


Barbados has a parliamentary system of government patterned on that of Britain. Under the constitution of 1966, legislative power is vested in a parliament consisting of an upper house, the Senate, and a lower house, the House of Assembly. The Senate has 21 government-appointed members; the 28 members of the House of Assembly are elected by universal suffrage (all citizens over the age of 18). The House of Assembly dates back to 1639.

Barbados is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. It recognizes the British monarch as its own monarch and head of state. The monarch is represented by a governor-general who presides over a privy council appointed after consultation with the prime minister. A cabinet, composed of the prime minister and other ministers responsible to the parliament, directs and controls the government.

History in Barbados

Archaeological evidence indicates that there was a permanent settlement on Barbados as early as 1600 BC. Native American occupation of the island began about AD 300, and there were later settlements by Arawak and Carib Indians. By the 16th century, when Portuguese and Spanish navigators reached the island, it was uninhabited, and it remained so until English colonists established a settlement in 1627. Barbados remained under British control until independence, although the Dutch made an unsuccessful attempt to invade the island in the 17th century.

A British Colony in Barbados

England’s King Charles I granted the Earl of Carlisle permission to colonize the island by 1629. Immigration from Britain was substantial, and within a few years there were 40,000 settlers, mostly small farmers. In 1639 the House of Assembly was formed, and Barbados had representative government, although a property and income requirement limited the number of voters. In 1652 the island received The Charter of Barbados, by which the island was guaranteed government by a governor, council, and freely elected assembly, and freedom from taxation without the consent of the islanders.

Tobacco was the first major cash crop grown in Barbados, but after 1645 sugar became the main export. The introduction of sugar necessitated an increase in the size of both landholdings and the labor force. Smallholders were squeezed out by members of the so-called plantocracy, who established large estates and imported Africans to work their new plantations. Most whites, except for the small group of estate owners, left the island. Sugar remained “king” even after the abolition of slavery in 1834, and the island’s prosperity fluctuated in line with the fortunes of the industry.

During the colonial era several unpopular and unsuccessful attempts were made to federate (join in a federal government) the eastern Caribbean islands. Severe riots, resulting in bloodshed and loss of property, occurred in 1876, when the British government proposed a confederation of Barbados and the Windward Islands, about 160 km (about 100 mi) to the west. In the following decades the right to vote was gradually extended to people of African and mixed ancestry, and this majority slowly rose to political power.

In 1937 poor economic conditions caused serious unrest, and a British Royal Commission was sent to Barbados. As a result, social and political reforms were gradually introduced, and in 1951 universal adult suffrage was achieved. Previously the right to vote had been limited to males and based on income and property qualifications. In 1958 Barbados joined the Federation of the West Indies, which also included Trinidad and Tobago. Grantley Adams, leader of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and the Barbadian prime minister from 1954 to 1958, served as prime minister of the federation. After the collapse of the federation in 1962 and failure to reach agreement with neighboring islands on an East Caribbean federation, Barbados decided in 1965 to seek independence on its own.

Independence of Barbados

Barbados became an independent state in the Commonwealth of Nations on November 30, 1966, the fourth British Caribbean dependency to gain independence. Led by Errol Barrow of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), prime minister from 1961 to 1976, Barbados took a leading role in establishing the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), an organization that promotes social and political cooperation and economic integration. The country also is a member of the United Nations and of the Organization of American States. In 1983 Barbados took part in the U.S.-led invasion of Grenada.

Barbados has enjoyed a stable democratic government since independence, and both major political parties have held office for lengthy terms. When Barrow died in 1987, Erskine Sandiford, Barrow’s ally in the DLP, took over as prime minister. Sandiford led the party to an electoral victory in 1991. Sandiford faced a declining economy, however, and lost popular support after his government adopted policies of fiscal austerity as a condition for assistance from the International Monetary Fund. In 1994, following a no-confidence vote in the assembly, Sandiford resigned and was replaced by the finance minister, David Thompson. Thompson was unable to restore the party’s popularity in time for the elections, which were won by the BLP.

Recent Developments in Barbados

Economist Owen Arthur of the BLP became prime minister in 1995. Arthur aimed to boost economic growth and reduce high levels of unemployment. His government succeeded in attracting new investment from abroad, reforming Barbados’s large public sector, and introducing a value-added tax. In 1995 Barbados joined the ACS. This association, made up of members of CARICOM and representatives from 12 other Caribbean nations, seeks to reduce tariffs between member nations. In 1996 Barbados and the United States signed an agreement to work together to combat the illegal drug trade in the region. Arthur’s BLP was reelected in landslide victories in 1999 and 2003.

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