Barbados Past, Present, and Future

[ 0 ] April 3, 2017 |


Eric Magliacane


I have had the privilege of knowing and befriending many local Bajans who have taught me so much about the island customs, traditions, and history.   In typical Bajan fashion they opened up their arms and homes to me, allowing me the opportunity to experience a local’s life in Barbados.

Barbados is the Eastern most Caribbean Island and is considered part of the West Indies, although locals will tell you that they do not belong to the Caribbean because the island sits so far outside of the chain so usually associated with the Caribbean.   Barbados lies just over one hundred miles to the East/Northeast of Venezuela and it is a coral reef rock island.   Barbados is one of the only functioning and habitable pure coral reef islands in the world, it was not formed from volcanic activity or tectonic plates pushing mountain peaks up and out of the ocean.

The island is very small, only about thirty miles tall and fifteen miles wide.   You would not realize the size though if you visited the country because it is packed with things to do, businesses, and roads that can have you driving around the island for days.   This tiny country is made up of eleven parishes (Christ Church, St. Andrew, St. George, St. James, St. John, St. Joseph, St. Lucy, St. Michael, St. Peter, St. Philip, and St. Thomas) and one capital city named Bridgetown.   Bridgetown has the most history and the most industry.   The capital was once the main port for early settlers and English colonial rule.   Today Bridgetown is the main port for cruise ships and cargo ships; it also is home to the majority of international business headquarters and market places.

The flag of Barbados is comprised of three vertical bands, two blue bands on the outsides and a gold band in the middle.   The gold band represents the beautiful sand of the island’s beaches, and the two blue bands represent the sky and the ocean.   There is a trident symbol in the center of the gold band that is the tool of the mythical God of the sea Neptune.   The shaft of the trident is broken to symbolize Barbados’ break from British rule which happened on November 30th, 1966.

The Coat of Arms was presented to Barbados by Her Majesty the Queen to the president of the senate on February 14th, 1966 on her royal visit to the island.   Prior to this coat of arms the only other heraldic device was the seal of the colony which represented the British sovereign in a shell chariot being drawn by two sea horses on curling waves.   The Golden Shield of the present coat of arms carries two Pride of Barbados flowers which are the national flower, and a bearded fig tree which was common on the island at the time of its settlement.   On either side of the shield are a dolphin and a pelican.   The dolphin is symbolic of the fishing industry and the pelican for an island that once existed off the coast known as Pelican Island.   Above the shield is a helmet and mantling, and on a wreath is the arm and hand of a Barbadian holding two crossed pieces of sugarcane to pay respect to the sugar industry which thrived for a couple centuries.   The cross in the coat of arms is a saltier cross upon which St. Andrew was crucified.   Independence Day on November 30th is also St. Andrew’s Day.   The coat of arms carries the motto, “Pride and Industry” and was designed by Neville C. Connell.

Barbados is a history buffs heaven.   From the old Jacobian style “Great Houses” and architecture to the churchyards of the 1600’s.   The island is considered a historical treasure.   In 1627, a group of English settlers landed near Holetown on the West coast and claimed the uninhabited island for the British Empire.   It is believed that prior to this Portugal had colonized the island but left after thinking the island was worthless to them.   Unlike many of England’s other territories, Barbados remained safely in the hands of the British until the island’s independence in 1966.   The 350 year period of English rule forms the most well known and documented history of the island, but long before 1627 other settlers had passed through, establishing settlements on each coast.

Barbados is not just a historian’s paradise but an archeologist’s as well.   Recent excavations have changed the pre-history of the island.   Barbados was once home to the Amerindians, also known as the Arawaks.   The Arawks later came to be known as the Caribs in this region of the Caribbean.   The Arawaks settled on the island from circa 300 AD to about 1200 AD but by the early 1500’s all signs of the Arawaks/Caribs had vanished.   It is believed that the disappearance may be associated with the Portuguese and their conquest of South/Central America.   An amazing discovery from excavation work on the Northwest side of the island now shows that Barbados was a permanent settlement from as early as 1630 BC!   This predates the Arawaks by 2,000 years.   Clearly ancient man also had an appreciation for perfect weather, white sand beaches and eighty degree water.   Pots and early well systems were the primary evidence.   The wells are said to be the oldest in the Caribbean.

Getting back to modern history, Barbados became a gold mine of sorts for the British as the sugar industry prospered.   Hundreds and then thousands of British settlers flocked to the island trying to make their fortune off of the sugar trade, similar to the gold rush of the western U.S. or the older spice trade of Asia/India.   The settler’s lifestyles were lavish and are still evident in the remaining great houses which are scattered around the island.

The slave trade peaked in the early 1700’s and continued until 1834 when the Emancipation Act launched and apprenticeship system which eventually led to freedom.   In 1838 slavery was abolished for good.   Up until about 1936 the working conditions were very poor for locals, this led to the locals rioting in 1937 which kicked off a period of great growth and within that year the first labor union was launched.   In 1954 the leader of the movement Sir Grantley Adams became the first Premier and in 1961 Errol Barrow was elected to lead the country.   Barrow is considered the “Father of Independence” by Barbadians.   Barrow led the nation to independence from England in 1966.

Tourism, which is the most important source of income today for Barbados, really began to grow in leaps and bounds after the country gained independence but tourism dates back to the 1700’s when of all people, our founding father George Washington began frequenting the island.   Originally the tourists were very wealthy or noble families from England and the West coast of the island still has the same feel it did back then, with large mansions and elaborate hotels rich in history.   The West coast is where you will find some of the top rated resorts in the world along with one of the top golf courses in the world, the famed Sandy Lane Resort and Golf Club.   Famous celebrities from around the world frequent this side of the island and include Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, Tiger Woods, and the William’s sisters.

As far as the government goes, the politics function within a framework of constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary government with strong democratic traditions.   Constitutional safeguards for the people include freedom of speech, press, worship, movement, and association.   The political system is dominated by two parties, the Democratic Labour Party and the Barbados Labour Party.   The country’s legal system is English Common Law and accepts compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction, with reservations.   Any citizen 18 and older can vote, only two adult citizens in Barbados cannot vote and they are the Chief Electoral Officer and the Deputy Chief Electoral Officer.   The Governor-General is eligible to vote, but abstains due to constitutional convention.   Many of the country’s legislative practices derive from the conventions of the United Kingdom’s Westminster Parliament.   The Head of State is still Queen Elizabeth.   The Viceroy is Sir Clifford Husbands who has been Governor-General of Barbados since 1996.   The Head of Government is Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and has been only since October 23rd 2010.   The Prime Minister is the head of government and is appointed by the Governor-General who advises the Queen on who he/she believes is most fit for the job.   By the constitution, any Barbadian adult is eligible for the job of Prime Minister, similar to the United States presidential elections.   Fair and free elections are an essential part of the government and citizens determine how they want their country to be governed.

The Bajan currency is roughly two dollars to one U.S. dollar.   The population as of July 2010 was 285,653 people.   Barbados has active participation in 43 international organizations such as the UN, Interpol, The Commonwealth of Nations, CSME, CCJ, ACS, ICCt, ACP, Intelsat, IOC, and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) which is an organization of fifteen Caribbean nations and dependencies.   Its main purpose is to promote economic integration and cooperation among its members.   Its major activities involve coordinating economic policies and development planning; devising and instituting special projects for the less-developed countries within its jurisdiction; operating as a regional single market for many of its members (Caricom Single Market); and handling regional trade disputes.

Barbados is 93% black and these citizens are direct descendants of the forced mass migration from West Africa during the slave trade era.   White, mixed, and East Indian represent the other percentage of the population.   Religion is very important to the island.   Barbados has more churches per capita than any other country in the world, it also has the most rum shops per capita but that is another topic.   Protestants make up 63% of all religious people on the island.   Mostly every child attends elementary school which is evident in the 99.7% literacy statistic.   Regardless of class, locals can tell you every bit of history and are very educated on politics and government.   It is estimated that there are currently 2200 illegal immigrants living on the island, this is also the same number of people living with HIV/AIDS.   STD prevention is a priority in Barbados and education on pregnancy and STD prevention has gained momentum in recent years.   Barbados is committed to environmental protection and clean drinking water.   Current issues regarding the environment include pollution of coastal waters from waste disposal by ships, soil erosion, and illegal solid waste disposal.

Barbados does have a military, The Royal Defense Force.   The military’s primary objective is to protect the coast and combat illegal drug trafficking.   Barbados is one of the Caribbean’s transshipment points for narcotics bound for the United States and Europe.   The drugs are easily delivered from Venezuela and Colombia due to how close Barbados is to South America.   From Barbados the drugs trickle up the Caribbean and disperse into Miami.   0.8% of GDP is spent on the military; many joint operations are conducted with the U.S. Coast Guard.

When it comes to the economy, Barbados used to be known for sugar and cotton but it has come to be known for its tourism and services.   80% of exports are attributed to services.   Offshore finance and information services are important foreign exchange earners and thrive from having the same time zone as East Coast US financial services.   Many financial headquarters and accounting offices reside in Barbados.   UBS investment bank, Ernst & Young, McKinney and Rogers, Towner Management Group and Marcus Evans Group are just a few international companies inside Barbados.   Recently, Swiss Re has established a headquarters on the island.   Swiss Re is the world’s second largest reinsurer after acquiring GE Insurance Solutions.

GDP as of 2009 was $5.051 billion.   By sector, Agriculture makes up just 6%, industry is at 16%, and services is at 75%, although this adds up to more than 100%, the percentages are available online.   Import partners include the US, China, and the UK.   Barbados imports 4.76% of its goods from China.   There is currently an unemployment rate of 10%.

Many people associate Barbados with Mount Gay Rum or Professional Surfing, but I hope that this paper has given more insight into the rich history of the island.   Barbados is the most crucial member of the Caribbean moving forward into an ever expanding world.   Globalization has reached every corner of the Earth and the future of Barbados rests in the hands of the people and their choice of whether or not to fully embrace it.   With not much going on in the natural resources sector, Bajans must find a way to stay relevant in this modern world.   No longer is sugar or cotton a hot commodity, in order to be successful Barbados should entice more large corporations to conduct business on its soil as well as figure out a way to host more large summits and also increase tourism.   As optimistic as the people of Barbados are, I believe that the future is safe!

Coat Of Arms

Coat Of Arms


Legendary South Point Lighthouse

Legendary South Point Lighthouse


Tradition and History

Tradition and History


Old Rum Bottles

Old Rum Bottles


The Fish of Barbados, Flying Fish

The Fish of Barbados, Flying Fish







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Category: Island Lifestyle

About the Author ()

I have forged strong relationships with many wonderful local Barbadians. The experiences I have had in Barbados have helped to shape me into the man I am today and I will take them with me forever. Barbados has had such a positive impact on my life, and now I would like to help other people experience The Real Barbados. Contact us at

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