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Coconut Vendor in BridgetownBarbados shares many common features with other Caribbean islands. Barbados shares in a rich Caribbean musical heritage ... especially Reggae and Calypso rhythms. Barbados also shares the distinctly Caribbean style of fine dining with blends of Creole, Indian curry, and European often centered around local fishes, fruits and vegetables. The semi tropical climate of Barbados and the cooling trade breezes blowing into the Caribbean from the Atlantic are also common to Barbados as well as to her neighbors. Barbados also shares in the dark history of slavery in the Caribbean which results in a local population that is mostly black but which also has significant white and mulatto minorities as well as Jewish, East Indian, South American, and other minorities which unite to create a people that is distinctively "Bajan."

On the other hand, Barbados is at the same time unique and distinct from her Caribbean neighbors. Her uniqueness may be explained by her unique geology which in turn helps to explain her unique geography which in turn helps to explain her unique history which in turn helps to explain her unique social and economic conditions that exist at the present time.


The geology of Barbados is unique within the Caribbean.

Atlantic OceanFirst, a perspective on time is helpful. The island was formed around 1 million years ago, but this is just an instant when compared with the age of earth itself. On a comparative basis, earth is around 4,000 times older than the island of Barbados. Similarly, the age of the dinosaurs is 65 times older than the island of Barbados. That is, Barbados is around 1 million years old, but the last dinosaur lived around 65 million years ago! So, on a relative, comparative basis, Barbados is a mere infant.

The formation of Barbados has to do with the enormous plates that form earth's outer layer. These plates sit on semi liquid, molten rock and thus float and move about. We are talking minuscule movements but which over millions of years can have earth forming consequences. Barbados is located at the junction of two monstrous plates ... the Caribbean plate and the Atlantic plate which are each part of the sea bed. As these two plates came together over time, the Atlantic plate was pushed under the Caribbean plate which was pushed up and over the Atlantic plate. In other words, the sea bed was pushed up and up until it became exposed, and the island of Barbados was formed.

At the same time, the pressure of the two plates grinding together created cracks and faults in the Caribbean plate along a line around 100 miles to the west of Barbados (toward the Caribbean), and this resulted in a series of volcanic eruptions along this fault line which produced the neighboring islands of Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, etc.. So, these neighboring islands are borne from the same processes as Barbados, but it is Barbados alone which is an island of sea bed pushed to the surface while the others are volcanic in origin. This explains why Barbados is relatively flat and hilly while her neighbors consist mostly of rugged mountains. And, this also accounts for the mostly arable and tillable land of Barbados which allowed her to be an agricultural leader in the region especially during the heady days when Caribbean sugar was king.

Road Carved into the LimestoneAs the sea bed rose toward the surface but before becoming exposed, it first became a coral reef attracting marine life. Over the immense time this process was underway, the marine life (carbon based as are all living plants and animals on earth) moved naturally through the cycle of life and death so that the sea bed became covered with the remains of dying plants and animals. When the process finally pushed the sea bed to the surface, the exposed sea bed consisted of various types of limestone which is carbonate rock. This limestone appears everywhere in Barbados and is known locally as coral rock. You will see limestone boulders everywhere, and where roads are cut through the hills, the exposed sidewalls are limestone. The locals have used this coral rock to form building blocks for homes and other buildings, crushed it for road construction, and use it as raw material for manufactured products such as cement. The process of dying marine life falling to the sea bed also has resulted in marine fossils being present everywhere in this coral rock, so walking along rocky cliffs will reveal marine fossils in every other rock. It is also this same process of dying life being embedded in sediment that produces crude oil, and there are quite a number of oil wells on the island although the production is not significant.

The semi porous nature of the limestone coral rocks has allowed rain water to seep into the soil rather than to run off. This results in an available fresh water source reachable by wells and has also produced rain erosion manifested in many gullies and caves. Many of the caves are available for tourist inspections and tours.

Of course, the entire island did not surface at once, and the first part of the island to be exposed is the eastern part of the island known as the Scotland district. Quite understandably, this is now the highest and hilliest part of the island. Although the primeval rain forest jungle has largely been cleared on Barbados, the eastern hills still contain swatches of jungle. The eastern coastline also shows the effects of another force of nature over time, and that is the exposure to the constant easterly trade winds with the constant pounding of surf. This has produced sea erosion along the eastern coastline as the sea has carved into the exposed limestone producing cliffs and sea stacks which are oddly shaped rocks jutting up from the sea along the coastline. The sense of nature's powerful forces is very evident along the east coast which many would claim is the most beautiful part of the island but also the harshest environment and thus the least habitable part of the island.

Hilltop View to the AtlanticClearly, Barbados' geology is one aspect of her uniqueness and which also contributes to her unique geography, history, economy and culture.


Barbados is a medium sized island that is 21 miles long by 14 miles wide located in the far southeastern corner of the Caribbean. It is the easternmost of the Caribbean islands lying about 100 miles east of the Windward Islands chain. It is semi tropical with an average temperature of 80 degrees farenheit with only nominal seasonal variations. September is the warmest month while January is the coolest but the average temperature variation is less than 10 degrees farenheit! Except for somewhat more frequent rain showers during the green season (July - November), the weather in the winter will not be significantly different than during the summer. Because of its position in the extreme SE corner of the Caribbean, it is off the normal path of hurricanes which are possible but rare ... the last major hurricane to strike the island was in 1955.

Barbados is also cooled by the constant trade winds blowing from the ENE across the Atlantic toward the Caribbean. The direction of these winds is remarkably constant which made Barbados easily reached by sailboat from Europe (downwind) but very difficult to reach from the other Caribbean islands (always lying upwind). This helps to explain why Barbados alone was not subject to repeated conflict between the Caribbean colonial powers and once colonized for England remained English until her recent independence.


The history of Barbados is fascinating, and many historical places and buildings are popular tourist attractions. The first important facet of her history is that Barbados has always been English since the first English settlement at Holetown in 1627. Not that the English were the first European visitors as others visited the island on numerous occasions after Columbus first discovered the new world in 1492. In fact, her name is actually derived from the Portuguese word Los Barbudos which appears in a document issued by King Ferdinand of Spain in 1511. The term means 'the bearded ones' which most believe to be a reference to the many bearded fig trees on the island. And, the Europeans were not the first visitors or even the first settlers as Amerindians from South America arrived by dugout canoe around 2000 years ago and are commonly referred to as Arawak Indians (correctly identified as 'Tainos'). These gentle farm and fisher folk may have been subject to occasional pillaging by the more aggressive Carib Indians (correctly identified as 'Kalinagos') also arriving by dugout canoe from time to time from the Windward Islands to the west, but the legend that the Caribs were cannibals is probably mere Spanish propaganda to justify Spanish enslavement of this tribe. Even after the English arrived, these Carib visits continued for awhile and were documented by contemporary observers.

The first English settlers were funded by a London merchant who claimed the profits from the tobacco, cotton, ginger and indigo crops. Most of the work was done by indentured servants from Europe working for tenant farmers in exchange for promises of payment at the end of their servitude. When the payments were not forthcoming, many left the island for the new colonies in Georgia and the Carolinas so many of the pioneer settlers in those American colonies first spent time in Barbados.

SugarmillA generation later in the 1640's sugar had become king, and Barbados became known as 'the brightest jewel in the English crown'. For the next several generations, Barbados enjoyed unprecedented prosperity but at the expense of full blown slavery as part of the sugar plantation system.

In 1645 the number of slaves on the island was under 6,000 but this number increased ten fold in the next 40 years with black slaves outnumbering the white population 3 to 1. Harsh and repressive measures kept the slaves mostly in control but with slave uprisings occurring every 5-10 years at the end of the 17th century ... none of which was especially successful. With the tide of world opinion turning against the institution of slavery at the beginning of the 19th century, the last rebellion occurring in 1816 led to reforms and ultimately emancipation in 1834. But, the plight of the black population did not immediately improve as apprentices rather than slaves with some reforms during the latter 19th century. But it was not until the mid 20th century when full democratization and labor laws were enacted under the leadership of Grantley Adams. Earlier human rights champions had been the slave, Bussa, who led the 1816 rebellion; Samuel Jackman Prescod who was the first non white member of Parliament in over 200 years and was the 'tribune of the people' until his death in 1871; Dr. Duncan O'Neal who founded the Democratic League in 1924; Clement Payne who provided the spark behind 1937 riots that opened the door to the political leadership of the aforementioned Grantley Adams. Adams was the acknowledged leader in the House of Assembly for a generation. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1957.

Boys by a Sugar Cane FieldIn 1966 Barbados was granted independence from England while remaining part of the British commonwealth. But, even before independence, Barbados has always enjoyed a unique degree of autonomy within the British colonies dating back to an agreement with the Cromwell government in the Charter of Barbados of 1652. Barbados boasts the third oldest Parliamentary system in the world with an uninterrupted Parliamentary government now stretching to 360 years! Political stability has allowed the development of a strong economy and modern technological infrastructure. At the end of the 20th century, the UN ranked Barbados as the most prosperous small state in the Caribbean and one of the top ten developing countries in the world. Also, the UN has ranked Barbados as having the third highest quality of life among 160 developing nations (behind Hong Kong and Cyprus but ahead of European countries such as Spain, Ireland and Italy).

Tourism has replaced sugar as the principal income producing enterprise with over half a million visitors a year. Indeed, Barbados was actually a tourist spot for wealthy Brits and Americans long before the jet plane made travel available to the masses. Examples include the Crane Hotel opened in 1887, and Villa Nova which was actually the private villa / mansion of Sir Anthony Eden the British Prime Minister in the 1950's.

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