Barbados is an island towards the east of the Caribbean Sea
and in the west of the Atlantic Ocean, part of the eastern
islands of the Lesser Antilles, with the nations of Saint
Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines being its closest
neighbors. The island is 430 km2 (166 square miles), and is
primarily low-lying, with some higher areas in the island's
interior. It is located 13º north of the Equator and
59º west of the Prime Meridian, about 434.5 km (270 miles)
northeast of Venezuela.
Barbados is predominantly composed of coral
and limestone. It is tropical with constant tradewinds and
contains of some marshes and mangrove swamps. Some parts of
the island's interior are also dotted with large sugarcane
estates and wide pastures with many good views to the sea.
Barbados has one of the highest standards of living and literacy
rates in the world and is currently according to the UN's
UNDP, the #1 developing country in the world. The island is
a major tourist destination.
The earliest inhabitants of Barbados were Amerindian nomads.
Three waves of migrants moved north toward North America.
The first wave was of the Saladoid-Barrancoid group, who were
farmers, fishermen, and ceramists that arrived by canoe from
South America (Venezuela's Orinoco Valley) around 350 CE.
The Arawak people were the second wave of migrants, arriving
from South America around 800 CE. Arawak settlements on the
island include Stroud Point, Chandler Bay, Saint Luke's Gully,
and Mapp's Cave. According to accounts by descendants of the
aboriginal Arawak tribes on other local islands, the original
name for Barbados was Ichirouganaim. In the 13th century,
the Caribs arrived from South America in the third wave, displacing
both the Arawak and the Salodoid-Barrancoid. For the next
few centuries, the Caribslike the Arawak and the Salodoid-Barrancoidlived
in isolation on the island.
The name "Barbados" comes from a Portuguese explorer
named Pedro Campos in 1536, who originally called the island
Os Barbados ("The Bearded Ones"), upon seeing the
appearance of the island's fig trees, whose long hanging aerial
roots he thought resembled beards. Between Campos' sighting
in 1536 and 1550, Spanish conquistadors seized many Caribs
on Barbados and used them as slave labor on plantations. Other
Caribs fled the island, moving elsewhere.
British sailors who landed on Barbados in the 1620s at the
site of present-day Holetown on the Caribbean coast found
the island uninhabited. From the arrival of the first British
settlers in 16271628 until independence in 1966, Barbados
was under uninterrupted British control. Nevertheless, Barbados
always enjoyed a large measure of local autonomy. Its House
of Assembly began meeting in 1639. Among the initial important
British figures was Sir William Courten.
Large numbers of Celtic people, mainly from Ireland and Scotland,
were sold into slavery in Barbados as the British Empire consolidated
its control of all three nations and used mass transportation
of populations in rebellion as a way to undermine local nationalist
movements. The earliest of these mass transportations occurred
in 1649 at the conclusion of Oliver Cromwell's successful
invasion of Ireland and included an estimated 1/3 of the indigenous
Celtic population of Ulster. Over the next several centuries
the Celtic population was used as a buffer between the Anglo-Saxon
plantation owners and the larger African population, variously
serving as members of the Colonial militia and playing a strong
role as allies of the larger African slave population in a
long string of colonial rebellions. The modern descendants
of this original slave population are sometimes derisively
referred to as Red Legs and are some of the poorest inhabitants
of modern Barbados. There has also been large scale intermarriage
between the African and Celtic populations on the islands.
As the sugar industry developed into the main commercial
enterprise, Barbados was divided into large plantation estates
that replaced the small holdings of the early British settlers.
Some of the displaced farmers relocated to British colonies
in North America, most notably South Carolina. To work the
plantations, West Africans were transported and enslaved on
Barbados and other Caribbean islands. The slave trade ceased
in 1804. Thirty years later slavery was abolished in the British
Empire 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 six years.
Plantation owners and merchants of British descent dominated
local politics. 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.
Progress toward more democratic government for Barbados was
made in 1951, when universal adult suffrage was introduced,
followed by steps toward increased self-government, and in
1961, Barbados achieved internal autonomy.
From 1958 to 1962, Barbados was one of 10 members of the
West Indies Federation, and Sir Grantley Adams served as its
first and only prime minister. When the federation was terminated,
Barbados reverted to its former status as a self-governing
colony. Following several attempts to form another federation
composed of Barbados and the Leeward and Windward Islands,
Barbados negotiated its own independence at a constitutional
conference with the United Kingdom in June 1966. After years
of peaceful and democratic progress, Barbados became an independent
state within the Commonwealth of Nations on November 30, 1966.