Afro-Barbadians also known as Afro-Bajan or Afro-Barbadiano are Barbadians of African descent. It is a fact that close to 90% of all Barbadians (also known colloquially as "Bajan") are of Afro-Caribbean descent ("Afro-Bajans") and mixed-descent. Afro-Barbadians speak a dialect of English with tonal qualities that reflect the West African heritage of the vast majority of its population. Barbadians also speak an English-West African pidgin called Bajan.
                            Afro-Barbadians doing their traditional ancestral African Dance

The History of Slavery in Barbados

Between 300AD and 1200AD Barbados' inhabitants were the Arawak Indians. They were driven off the island by invading Carib Indians from Venezuela, who then left Barbados around the time the first Europeans sailed into the region. By the early 1500s all signs of Amerindian life had vanished.
In 1536 Portuguese explorer Pedro a Campos stopped over in Barbados en route to Brazil and named the island 'Los Barbados' - the bearded ones, presumably after the island's fig trees, with there long hanging aerial roots. (A beard-like resemblance)
          Afro-Barbadian model wearing young Afro-Barbadian designer Alexis Campbell`s dress

Although known to the Portuguese and Spanish, the British were the first settlers in 1625. Captain John Powell landed on Barbados with his crew and claimed the uninhabited island for England. Two years later, his brother Captain Henry Powell landed with a party of 80 settlers and 10 African slaves. The group established the island's first European settlement, Jamestown, on the western coast at what is now Holetown. They were welcomed only by a herd of Portuguese Hogs thought to be left there by Campos whose intention was to use them as food on return voyages.

When Slavery Began

The Slave History of Barbados started after Captain Powell brought the 10 slaves in 1627. The slave population in 1629 was still diminutive with not more than 50 Amerindian and African slaves working the land, in construction and in homes. This low slave population was due to few persons being able to buy slaves at that time.
Slaves brought into Barbados came from various tribes out of the forest region of West Africa, during village raids. Some of the African tribes were Eboes, Paw-paws and Igbo. They came via slave trade forts on the African west coast, set up by Europeans. Such forts were the Axim and El Mina. After being traded for trinkets, the slaves were sent to the Caribbean and sold to Plantation owners. 
In 1636, officials passed a law declaring all slaves brought into Barbados, whether African or Amerindian were to be enslaved for life. It was later extended to include their off springs. At this time there were only 22 free coloured persons on the island.

During the 1700s, the main source of labour for cotton and tobacco was indentured servants from Europe, while Amerindians from the Guianas were imported to teach agriculture. As the cotton and tobacco industry started to fail because of the lack of labour, due to terrible conditions for indentured servants, the sugar industry emerged. Sugar in Barbados at that time was used only for feedstock, as fuel and in the production of rum.

Why Slaves From Africa?

Due to the demand for a strong labour force after the Sugar Revolution took place, Africa became the obvious choice for slaves, because they were strong and Africa was closer than Europe to the Caribbean. Slave ships also travelled faster because they were assisted by the Tradewinds blowing towards the west.
The Triangle Trade

This included the slave trade and was the link between Europe, West Africa and the Americas. The ships left Western Europe filled with guns and manufactured goods towards West Africa to be exchanged for slaves who were taken to Barbados and other Caribbean islands to be sold for sugar (called the Middle Passage), which was shipped to Europe.

                       Rihana,native of Barbados
In 1642, Barbados planters found a new source of revenue when the Dutch introduced them to sugar cane farming. By mid 1600's sugar cane plantations were producing and exporting sugar, attracting wealthy landowners with political affiliations. Enhancing the islands plantocracy, this new emergence of elite planters excluded poor whites and non-whites from Barbados' political infrastructure. The island soon gained the largest white population of any of the English colonies in the Americas, becoming the springboard for English colonisation in the Americas.
As the cost of white labour rose in England, more slaves were imported from West Africa, especially the Gold Coast and by extension more black slaves were brought to Barbados. The main groups of slaves imported were from Ibibio, Yoruba, Lgbo and Efik, as well as Asante, Fante, Ga and Fon. By mid 1600's there was over 5600 black African slaves in Barbados and by early 1800,s over 385,000. The constant importation of slaves was caused by the high mortality rate, due to bad conditions and overwork. By the 1700's, Barbados was one of the leaders in the slave trade from the European colonies.

During the 1800's, the elite were building elaborate estates like Drax Hall and St. Nicholas Abbey, which still exist, while controlling the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council. They encouraged slave reproduction to avoid more importations of slaves, becoming the only island in the British Caribbean no longer dependent on slave imports.

The Colour Shift
During the 1700's to 1800's, Barbados shifted from a majority white population to majority black. This caused tension on the island as white indentured servants became unsure of their place, and plantation owners were afraid of slave rebellion, eventually causing most of them to leave. By the beginning of the 1800's the majority of blacks in Barbados were born locally, with a high percentage of Creole born blacks, as opposed to Africans. This enabled the black population to reproduce itself, rather than rely on new imports from Africa to maintain population levels.

Regulating the Slaves
Due to the unrest, the laws regulating the slaves were strongly enforced. By the 1800's, there were laws prohibiting slaves from leaving their plantations without permission and stopping them from beating drums or any other instruments used by slaves to communicate with each other. There were also laws requiring the return of runaway slaves and leniency for those killing slaves.

The Slave Rebellions

During the 1600's, there were (3) unsuccessful rebellions in Barbados; 1649, 1675 and 1692.
The First Slave Rebellion (1649)
This included two plantations, and the trigger was insufficient food. It was quickly subdued with not much damage.

The Second Slave Rebellion (1675)
This one was island-wide and took over three years to plan but was uncovered when a one of the slaves named Fortuna leaked the information out. Over 100 slaves were arrested and tortured, while over 40 were executed after being found guilty of rebellion. Some committed suicide before being executed, while others were beheaded or burnt alive.

The Third Slave Rebellion (1692)
This was also island-wide with over 200 slaves arrested and over 90 executed after being found guilty of rebellion.

Rebellions simmered in Barbados until 1816 due to an increase in free blacks and slaves born on the island (called Creole Slaves), there were also more frequent visits to the island by British Military Ships for supplies and a colonial militia which was becoming more powerful during the 1800's.

Creole Slaves were believed to be more submissive than African born slave and therefore were placed over the Africans.

The Bussa Rebellion (The Easter Rebellion - Sun 14th April 1816)
During the 1816 rebellion more than 800 slaves were killed while fighting and over 100 executed. This was the first rebellion of this size in Barbados and the Caribbean, and took part for (3) days on the southern part of the island. This rebellion caused reform to ease the hardships of slavery.

In 1825 the 'Amelioration Policy' was changed to 'the Consolidated Slave Law' legislation (The Emancipation Act) which consist of (3) Rights for Slaves; The right to own property / The right to testify in all court cases / Reduction of fees charged for Manumission (a fee charged to slaveowners for emancipating their slaves).

Emancipation - Slave Freedom

During the eighteenth century, although quite small, there were some freed slaves most of whom worked as tradesmen but could not vote. Because of racial discrimination many freed slaves tended to gravitate towards the British culture and its white supremacy to fit in, separating themselves from other slaves.
In 1807 the International Slave Trade was abolished giving slaves in Barbados hope of freedom, but abolitionist missionaries and antislavery debates seemed to hinder the process, ultimately causing the 1816 Revolt by Bussa of Bayley's Plantation. Bussa is now one of Barbados' National heroes with the Emancipation Statue being erected in his memory. 

By 1834 slavery was abolished in all the territories of British rule. This was mainly due to the Consolidated Slave Law (The Emancipation Act) and (3) major uprisings; Bussa Rebellion (Barbados - 1816) / Demerara Revolt (now Guyana - 1823) / Jamaica Revolt (1832). Because of the instability within the Caribbean, the British Parliament was forced to emancipate over 80,000 slaves at this time.

Apprenticeships for freed slaves were then introduced under labour contracts as indentured servants. In Barbados Indentured Servants could not join the islands educational systems, and labour contracts were for (12) years, making it the longest in the Caribbean, as well as being paid the lowest wages in the region. Some worked (45) hour weeks without pay in exchange for accommodations in tiny huts.

In 1838 the Masters and Servant Act (Contract Law) made discrimination against persons of colour in Barbados illegal.

Afro-Barbadian Culture
More flamboyant African sway pervades local life and the blend with other Island culture makes for an unmatched cultural disposition. This fusion ripples through all facets of daily living, from the foods and music to the house styles and street names.

African influence is readily seen in the art, craft and literary works produced on the island, as well as many of the foods and figures of speech. Bajans are a quick-witted, fun-loving people and their gift for the double entendre or turn of phrase is most visible through calypso and literature. Local festivals, particularly the island's biggest national festival, Crop Over, reflect specific elements of Bajan life. The primary driving force of the economy and lifestyle was the sugar crop. It was the island's largest income-earner from the late 1600s until the late 1980s, and remains a powerful influence in both the lifestyle and the economy. Crop Over is a celebration of this agricultural mainstay. The other prime economic influence is, of course, the fishing industry and festivals hailing this trade are also held.

Calypso is yet another Trinidadian invention. But contrary to what many people believe, true calypso or "purist" calypso is not just about jump-up carnival dancing.
Instead it is first a serious social commentary about issues of the day. Calypso is the musician's form of political satire. Listening to the words you will hear attacks on virtually any and every thing.

Nothing is sacred in calypso and since Bajans virtually stole the calypso show in 1995, all the region's eyes are on Barbados in the calypso/soca realm. Not only has Barbados come into its own with lively beats, clever lyrics and scathing social commentary, but Barbadian kaiso men have come up with new rhythms to the calypso tempo. Beats such as 'Ring Bang', which came directly from 'Tuk', and 'Ragga soca', an invention of long-standing calypso legend, Red Plastic Bag, helped set Barbados apart from the formula calypso of other islands.

Soca, the more upbeat version to calypso, is truly in Barbados' domain, particularly with the advent of the new rhythms, which other islands now imitate and merge into their own local rhythms.

One reason the island now stands out as a beacon of high standards in this genre is the many bands and lead singers now dominating the local music scene. Many of the bands write their own music and enjoy tremendous popularity both regionally and further afield.

Although Barbados did not think this one up-credit has to go to Trinidad for that-steel pan is growing in popularity in Barbados and both the sound and quality of the music is ever-improving.

Steel pan is another oddity instrument made out of necessity. Using old oil drums, pan men in Trinidad 'beat out' the shape of the oil drum head to create slopes and slants on it that made notes?it is a fine art to 'beat' and 'tune' a steel pan and Trinidadians are perhaps the best in the world.

However, Barbados now has its own steel bands and some schools have added steel pan bands to their curriculum. Local music also reflects the pan sound more, and it can be heard in all music forms here from the calypso, for which steel pan was originally made, to folk.

The sound of a full steel band is unlike any other musical experience. The bands range in size from 10 to 20 members to upwards of 30 in the larger competitive bands in Trinidad. This is primarily and outdoor instrument, with a resonating sound that is bound to steal your heart.

Barbados is not just jump-up calypso and soca. There are other popular musical forms and one that is indigenous to Barbados is the sight and sound of the roving 'Tuk' band.

This small assembly of spirited roving minstrels plays a trio of rhythms using a kettle drum, bass drum and penny whistle. Playing quaint yet captivating rhythms that are unique in both format and cadence, the sequence begins with a slow waltz, then glisses into a march rhythm and concludes in a frenetic African beat.

'Tuk' represents the queer amalgamation of British military and African village rhythms and instruments. 'Tuk' first began to evolve when the only drums allowed were those of the British military. African descendents used these drums, and with the British military style, fused their own instruments and rhythms to create what we now call 'Tuk'.

Often dressed in hilarious attire and accompanied by local folk characters, 'Tuk' bands are usually seen during festivals, dancing and wending their way through the crowds, especially at Crop Over time. Traditionally, 'Tuk' bands also rove neighbourhoods around Christmas and New Year'Crops Day, delighting holiday-makers with their music and antics.

Scenes of Crop Over
Click for Grantley Adams, Barbados Forecast
he Crop Over Festival in Barbados which ends with the spectacular Carnival/Kadooment Parade, is the season used to celebrate the ending of the local Sugar Cane harvest, and is distinctly unique from the Carnival festivities in other Caribbean countries.
Many "old time" elements like the local cultural characters mix with modern additions to give this festival a character unlike any other in the Caribbean. Celebrations are not only vibrantly colourful and full of music, but also reveal all aspects of Barbadian culture, a mixture of African survival heritage and Western modern culture through exhibitions of art, craft, music, and dance. Barbados' Crop Over Festival Activities and Events are many and varied with plenty of things to do for everyone's taste.
The Fun Barbados Crop Over Guide has compiled all the information on Crop Over Activities & Events, you will need to have the best Carnival in Barbados.
DURATION - Crop Over in Barbados spreads over period of approximately (12) weeks from the month of May through to August.
Although not the official start of the festival, the popular Fantastic Four Cavalcades, a cultural talent showcase, were designed to create hype for the festival in each of the parishes of Barbados. Dates & Details...

Pre Crop Over Parties/Events, 
Kadooment Band Fetes, Costume Launches, Crop Over Fetes, Calypso Tents, Mini Carnivals and After-work Limes, also play a significant role in creating hype for the Crop Over Season in Barbados. Many of these events are themed and sometimes last from dust 'til dawn. Dates & Details...

National Cultural Foundation (NCF) - Agency responsible for the festival
The Thanksgiving Service followed by the "Crop Over Opening Gala & the Ceremonial Delivery of the last Canes" which is preceded by a Parade, is the official start of the Barbados Crop Over Festival Season and the end of the Sugar Cane Crop harvesting Season. Date & Details...
Kadooment Day MasqueradersARTS - The Crop Over "Visual Arts Festival" & its exhibitions play an important part in the Photography and Arts & Craft community, by annually exhibiting the skills of talented bajans of all ages, both amateurs and professionals. The annual "Read In" features local and international artistes and takes on a multi-media format where artistes use music, dance and visual aids to embellish their spoken word performances. Workshops usually surround these events to assist Literary Arts in Barbados. Dates & Details...

HERITAGE & FOLK - For those who want learn more about Barbados' Heritage, there are a number of events educating and showcasing just that. Some of these events are the "Historic Bridgetown by Night Heritage Tour", the "Heritage Lecture & Tour" and the Crop Over "Heritage Feast", as well as a Folk ConcertDates & Details...

STEEL PAN - Thanks to the NCF, the Steel Pan community in recent years has become more involved in the festival through Steel Pan competitions and Pan Concerts such as "Pan Fusion", "Pan In De City", and "Pan Pun De Sand", just to name some of them. Dates & Details...

CALYPSO COMPETITIONS - Calypso music and calypso competitions are a huge part of the Crop Over Festival. Calypsonians, comedians and local entertainment can be seen in action in a variety of adult and junior Calypso Tents scattered all over the island. The airwaves are filled with lots of quality calypso music from artists in every part of Barbados. Every performer is judged on their social commentary or party songs for the Pic-O-De-Crop and Party Monarch competitions in Barbados.

The first competition which features social commentary is the Pic-O-De-Crop Semi-Finals., The finalists will then meet on the last Friday night before the end of the festival at thePic-O-De-Crop Finals where the Calypso Monarch is crowned. Dates & Details...
Ceremonial Delivery of the Last CanesAmong the most popular events of the season is the Soca Royale, which is not to be missed. This is where the most popular party songs from the tents and airwaves are judged in competition for the title of Party Monarch and Sweet Soca MonarchDate & Details...

The last lap weekend is the climax of the festival and every minute is accounted for. Friday night sees the start of the finals of the Pic-O-De-Crop Competition; here you will hear mainly social commentary. Eight finalists compete at a tension filled Kensington Stadium for the title of Calypso Monarch.

FOR THE KIDS - Children also play a part in the Crop over celebrations in Barbados. The Junior Kadooment sees the young revellers on the streets parading in costume to the National Stadium as well as the Junior Calypso Monarch, a competition celebrating the young talent our island has to offer and the voices of tomorrow's calypsonians.

Friday Night, after the Pic-O-De-Crop Finals, there is the Foreday Morning Jump Up held in the early hours of Saturday morning, which is a much cooler option to the heat of Kadooment Day. After the Foreday Morning Jam you can hit the beach and create your own sunrise beach party.

Saturday, if you still have energy left, you may want to stay on for Bridgetown Market, a (3) Day event and the biggest cultural street fair in the Caribbean.

Sunday night is the Crop Over Cohobblopot in Barbados, one of the biggest and most exciting events of the season.�Date & Details...

Monday is Grand Kadooment Day in Barbados, the culmination of the Crop Over Festival. This is a spectacular daytime street carnival & parade, and where the Tune-Of-The-Crop or Road March Song is judged.
For all that is happening during the Kadooment Weekend Click here...


Trevor G. Marshall October-2003

Holocaust  Holocaust
How can I turn from Africa and liveHolocaust
HolocaustDerek Walcott, Poet

Welcome to Barbados - 21 miles long and a smile wide. Alfred has stolen one hundredth of my thunder by stating that Barbados has a unique history in the Caribbean in that the history of the Caribbean people is usually that there were Amerindian people (and we call them by the old terminology which North Americans now have ceased to use "Amer" meaning American and "Indian", utilising the mistake of Christopher Columbus in seeing these people and calling them "Los Indios", the "dark-skinned people" and thinking that he was in India).
Buy now Motherland
So Amerindians inhabited these Caribbean territories, then came the Spaniards and Portuguese and there was a point in contact after which Africans were introduced and that occupied at least 50 years, in some cases 100 years, in some cases more.

So the African in the Caribbean has come to this region as the third layer of post-Columbian immigrants, but in the case of Barbados, the African arrived here with the Englishmen and as Alfred said at the beginning, we don't know how it happened (the jury are still out) but the story which historians have accepted is that in 1627 when the "William and John" was traveling to Barbados with a colonising party of 80 Englishmen, they happened upon a Spanish galleon. At that time (according to Carl and Roberta Bridenbaugh) there was the concept of "No peace beyond the line", meaning that there was continual warfare between England and Spain and, no matter what the situation was in Europe, whenever Spanish or English fleets met each other on the high seas past an imaginary line crossing the Azores, wherever they met beyond that west and south, there was hostility.
Miss Barbados

Our story goes that this English vessel under the captaincy of John Powell stopped the Spanish galleon and demanded whatever they had that was "merchantable", to use the term of the day, on board. Of course they took stores, guns, jewellery etc and ten Africans who had been brought by Portuguese to Spanish territories, because Africans were here in the Caribbean from about 1522 as bond servants, as slaves, and the Spaniards were prevented from themselves trading in Africa for human cargo but the Portuguese could, therefore the Portuguese bought Africans to Spanish territories in the Caribbean.
Barbadoe Mulatto girl

Barbados traditional dress
The English took ten of them and landed 100 metres from here at Holetown, the Hole. I think that this lady's book (Ann Watson Yates "Bygone Barbados") does indicate where the Hole is and what it looks like. That little inlet is where the Englishmen landed of course it's silted up much more now than it was 372 years ago. That's where the English came ashore in Barbados, which reminds me to congratulate Alfred, Keith Simmons and others for conceptualising the Holetown Festival in 1977 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the landing and now it's 22 years later, the 372nd anniversary.
So the Africans, some ten of them, came to Barbados with the Englishmen in 1627. Thereafter they became enslaved. Immediately they were made into slaves, not by reason of any judge made law, but by the simple situation of having been captured and forced into bond servant work in perpetuity. That was 1627. The society was not intended to be for Africans but it was supposed to be a racially homogeneous one. Therefore one finds that these bond servants coming into Barbados, the drawers of water, cutters of tobacco and cotton, and the planters of the initial crops in and around this area were working-class Englishmen - the "dregs of society" as one contemporary writer claims - and that went on for about ten years until 1637 when there was a problem in England. The main crop coming from these "plantations" as they were called, tobacco, reached glut proportions because Virginia exported a superior quality and quantity of tobacco, and all of England's Caribbean territories also produced and exported tobacco to England. There was not only a glut and a fall in prices, but these fledgling colonies then faced extinction. Then it happened, the event which changed forever not only the history of Barbados but the history of the entire Western hemisphere. I suppose we have forgotten about cane sugar a crop indigenous to New Guinea, which was known in India and in Europe. This extremely expensive delicacy, which apparently had been brought to the Caribbean by Columbus, now became exploited on a major commercial scale in this territory, Barbados. Sugar had been in Polynesia. Today Barbadians of all ethnic groups can be proud of the fact that the 'sugar revolution' as it was called, started here and that from 1637 onwards Barbadians experimented with the growing of a crop here and by 1645 they were exporting that crop to England. The experiment was conducted by a Dutch Jew resident in Brazil, Pieter Brewer who was brought over here to test the soil to see if the sugar cane would grow. These experiments were successful and from 1640 onwards one finds that the sugar cane plant is grown in Barbados on a large scale. Between 1640 and 1690, a period of 50 years Barbados became the single most valuable piece of real estate in the entire Atlantic world, bar none.
You must understand why I say that and how this happened. Sugar 360, 350, 340 years ago was as much in demand as today as (and if you will pardon me if I say so) marijuana and cocaine, except that sugar was legal but the demand for these crops which were exotic, stimulating, sweet to taste etc, was fantastic and the demand was higher than productivity. The entirety of Barbados' original forest was cut down, deforested to establish plantations, large commercial farms cultivating the sugar cane and exporting it to England. Out of that economic activity also came the rum industry and Barbados can also claim to have patented the production and export of rum from 1703. Certainly over a period of 50 years Barbados became extremely valuable because it was the first to produce sugar on a large-scale commercial basis and to export it to Europe. You will remember at that time England, under James 1 and Charles 1 and his successors, had become accustomed to the practice of taking tea, which is now a cultural signature of the English people and it follows therefore that the natural sweetener, sugar, should be available and when it became available the source of that sweetener was doubly valuable. This was Barbados and Barbados had a jump of 20 years on other sugar producers. Barbados started producing sugar and exporting it in 1640 - 1645. Martinique, Guadeloupe and other territories did not begin until after 1660. Persons seeking to discover the present-day prosperity of Barbados need seek no further. This country became the pristine, the quintessential, the archetypical sugar-producing territory and remained so up to just 40 years ago, when we underwent our second major revolution - the"Tourism revolution"

Key to this therefore was the presence of the African. In 1640 the population of Barbados was about 10,000, of which there were no more than 1,000 Africans. As I indicated it, was not expected that the African would become a permanent feature in this society and the initial work force was the young and landless from the English cities who served the bold and the wealthy. And then the brawny African became a feature when sugar became important. The African had been known Europeans from the time of Greeks, from the time of the Romans. The African, after all, was both slave and conqueror. The African was in Germany, the African was in France and more particularly in Spain and Portugal where Moors had conquered and colonised Spain for 900 years. He was therefore eminently qualified, according to the Europeans, for working in the fields and working in the tropical climate of Barbados, hence the large scale hemorrhaging, as people say, of Africa, where its young and able bodied persons as well as its weak, its old, its children were transported across the Caribbean to serve the interest of 'King Sugar'. And that basically is the reason for the large presence of Africans in this society. By 1640, as I said, there were only 1,000 Africans in this society, a society of 10,000. Society increased eightfold and by 1690 Barbados was over-populated. It had 80,000 persons and whereas it had a ratio of 9 to 1 in 1640 in favour of Europeans - Englishmen, Scotsmen, by 1690 that ratio was overturned. Barbados now had 60,000 Africans and 20,000 more or less whites - Euro-Barbadian, British, English-Barbadians (as you know England does not become Britain until 1702 in the time of Queen Anne) and the number of Barbadian Blacks or Africans in Barbados continued to increase as the number of whites in Barbados decreased. By the end of the century there were about 90,000 people in this society and about 75,000 of them were African-Barbadian. My collegues like Karl Watson and Ronnie Hughes have said that these people shed a lot of their African identity over the next two centuries and became "Barbadian", so too the Euro-Barbadians and they coalesced not only in sexual terms to produce what Alfred says he is miscegenated or half-castes. Looking at him you would not know, but that grouping was called "mulattos" and the historians and others wonder what are they - European in features, phenotype hair etc etc but having African genes. They had quaint and queer terminology "mulattos" suggested that they were "little mules" in that they come from a donkey (which is an African) and a horse (which is a European) and that they could not reproduce normally and that they had to return to the matrix, either a full blooded African or a full blooded European to produce. To carry that joke a bit further, where you find a European and a Africanmating the product was a mulatto; a European and a mulatto mated, the product was an octoroon, one eighth white; if that octoroon mated with a white, the product was a quadroon, a quarter white; if a quadroon and a white mated, the product was a mustee which is, Alfred would be a mustee; and if that mustee and a European mated, the product was a mustifino, or seven eighths white (or as they said seven eighths human) and that process was called "washing the blackamoor white". In Barbados therefore one can move from African to white in about three or four generations. But that is just by the way.

Our focus after this long introduction is what the Africans bought to Barbados. It has long been thought that the African brought to Barbados in those formative years of the sugar revolution nothing more than brawn and a pint-sized brain. Victorian ideology argued that there was the Darwinian process of evolution from beasts coming up from the swamp lands and evolving into Australopithecus, Java man etc etc and becoming Homo Sapiens and at some point there was a "missing link" between man and the monkeys, chimps etc and that was the African. That dominated a lot of scientific and pseudo-scientific arguments over the past 100 or more years and there is substantial refutation of that, suffice to say that it has been argued that the Africans are no less human than other people. So at the time the African came to Barbados and other places, the propaganda was that he had nothing but brawn and a pint-sized brain; that his society had contributed nothing to the noble heritage of mankind. This was part of the reasons used by Christians and others for enslaving him, because he was, after all, not a human being, he was a sub-human. Remember that Adolf Hitler utilised the same argument with respect to the Jews, that they were sub-human and had been a parasitic drain on society and they should be eliminated. All Europe from Portugal to Russia became involved in the slave trade, enslaved Africans and brought them to this region. They subscribed to the notion, at least officially, that Africans were sub-human, but as we see sexually Europeans did not subscribe to that belief. The African was not supposed to come from a society that had reading, writing or had contributed anything of major scientific note, and although Egypt is extremely firmly situated in Africa, it was argued by scientists (and is even argued today) that Egyptian civilisation is not African, it could not be. Africans could not produce the pyramids, those great temples at Karnak, papyrus writing etc. It was established that the typical African was in the Bantu-speaking people, of West Africa with woolly hair like mine, jutting jaws, thick lipped, and that they had not either the brains, intellectual tools or else to create a major civilisation. 

This morning I won't bore you with any refutation of that argument; suffice to say that a new generation of Egyptologists has engaged in substantial refutation of that notion. Let us look at the Bantu-speaking West African and what he brought to Barbados. He brought with him first of all a material culture. The Africans brought with them the ability to work in wood, stone, clay. They had established in areas like Mali and Ghana and so on, a cross continent trade with North Africa in salt, with East Africa in slaves, also in gold and ivory. There were parts of West Africa with workers in iron, that became the "Birmingham" of West Africa and of course they utilised reeds, plants etc and the hides of animals to make baskets, utensils for homes, for carrying, embroidery for their horses, which they domesticated, by the way. All of these art forms and artistic practices were brought by Africans to this Island. Women from Africa, these women came to Barbados in large numbers and were equally engaged in work on the plantation. Women brought with them almost all of the arts which they have today. Basketry was their main preserve and this was not their only preserve; they worked in calabash carving, embroidery, pottery, weaving, bead work, wall-painting, leather work and of course you know they did body decoration. Women's work and men's work occupied different spheres - men were engaged in hunting and cultivating the soil etc, women pursued the manual arts which I just described. Were they able to pursue these material and practical arts in Barbados? The answer is "yes". Because Africans, in coming here along with the Europeans, had to establish a fledgling society. The initial buildings in Barbados were made of wattle and daub, therefore the African with his circular hut house technology was superbly equipped to help the Englishmen in establishing not only the simple grounding but also the initial sugar plantation great houses. Most of the plantation Great Houses were one storey edifices and they were not only built by the Africans in terms of labour, but they were designed by Africans as architects. Although we find that the first set of outstanding Great houses like 'Drax' Hall in St. George and 'Nicholas Abbey' six miles north and east of here, are of Jacobean architecture and a style which comes directly out of England, throughout the Caribbean and in some areas in Barbados (though these plantation great houses are no longer existing) one found single storey great houses and there is evidence of these looking like or coming from African-style houses. So the African did contribute to the material culture of Barbados. He brought a skill, a talent with an experience in masonry, carpentry. You think of Africans as Stone Age people, but at the time when the Europeans went to Africa to capture or buy them and bring them here as slaves, they had iron work, they had nails, there were carpenters, builders, designers. One must remember that out of the West African empires one had large cities, Timbuktu, Jenne etc which had three and four-storey buildings and Africans therefore had that kind of experience. Some of it was not utilised in Barbados because, after all, their purpose here was to hew wood or draw water, cut canes and load them and send sugar on to Britain but at least their material culture remained and they were given the opportunity to try again.

Moving swiftly on - the area of soil cultivation and crop production. This was a main contribution of Africans to Barbados for 300 years. Africans cut the canes, not only cut the canes, but they cleared the land; they built these roads and built those marvels of masonry, the Dutch windmills. It was they who lugged all of the heavy machinery, the iron rollers and the other machinery for the boiling house, the curing house, and who manned the plantations to produce the sugar crop. Africans truly 'ran' the plantations because the persons who came to Barbados from England, from Scotland, from Ireland, as supervisors and managers and owners of plantations, did not have that experience in tropical crop production. They therefore depended, as time went on, on Africans as under-managers, not even as under managers, as drivers, supervisors, in the field, as captains of the mills, as persons in the boiling houses. Some persons would come from England at aged 20/21 to manage a plantation of 3/400 acres and that plantation when they came here was a growing concern, prospering and when they left or died it was still that way. Clearly there was some other agency, some other dimension other than their innate skill or genius and that was theAfrican presence here. When we look therefore at the African contribution to Barbados it seems trite, it seems self-evident, but here you see the presence of the African in the sugar industry. In the 19th century, about 100 years ago, an African Barbadian (and there is a debate over whether you call them Africans or Barbadians or African Barbadians, and you will be surprised to know that persons darker than myself resent being called Africans but that's another story). One dark-skinned Barbadian, Iraneus Harper, a hundred years ago, was responsible for discovering that sugar cane could be reproduced from seedlings and that led to some intensive investigation and research by John Redman Bovell. Consequently, Barbados became one of the two places in the world (the other being Java) which developed sugar breeding and stations producing different crop varieties suited to particular soils and resistant to diseases and also to rats, mongooses, etc. So Africanwork in agriculture was important.

In the arts (that is arts and crafts) here is another major area of African expression and African productivity and contribution. Perhaps the main area visibly that we can identify in arts and crafts is pottery, earthenware. Some 12 miles East of here is the Chalky Mount Pottery village and that is evidence of an expansive and extensive tradition of the ceramic art exclusively African. There is no evidence that the Europeans taught the Africans who were slaves ceramic art, the art of earthenware production. That pottery utilising no kiln, just a wood fire and using the iron pots for 'open-hearth' technique and technology, that practice of utilizing a primitive wheel or no wheel at all, has produced urns and the peculiar jars, which Alfred should have here such as the 'monkey', which kept water cool. They produced urns for keeping meat not only cool but well preserved (well-salted) for long periods. Every possible utensil that you can think of, plates, pots, cups, bowls, vessels for washing etc. were produced by African potters here and that tradition of producing for the household, for the market is also well shown in Ann Watson Yates' book. Here is evidence of the pottery and of a marketeer, a woman, and this is the Wharf in Barbados about 100 years ago and that lady is having a pottery sale not only to Barbadians but to inter-island vessels and visitors. Men and women were the potters, but this lady is marketing. The story of the African here in Barbados is one of men and women working together. When I talked about the African bringing brawn, it was not only male brawn but female brawn as well because in cane fields able bodied men and women worked together and there was activity as you can see there, in that wall painting; men and women using hoe cultivation, weeding fields and that has been a feature of our agriculture for over 300 years - women alongside men. So in pottery, in basketry, in needle craft, in weaving etc, the African brought those skills and those practices and products to Barbados. There was not so much painting until the 20th century, although we find petroglyphs which could be Amerindian or could be early African in some caves but we do not find wall daubs. In fact the tradition of painting in Barbados has only taken off in the last 15 or so years, prior to that it was an exercise of Europeans and North Americans and really could not be considered a major form in this island, but practices such as weaving cloth, peculiarly African practices, these were brought to Barbados. We tend to think, and the literature tends to suggest, that Africans wore cast-off European finery, in the case of the mulattos and the lighter ones, and that the darker skins wore next to nothing, a loin cloth etc. But Africans in Barbados continued the West African practice of weaving their own cloth on primitive racks and making cloth and one has to say it died out because in this century one does not find much evidence of it, but it was here and it did exist during the slave period. So the materials arts were well represented and were continued. As I said pottery is the longest-standing in Barbados and the most evident of a strong and almost exclusive Africantradition. Turning to other areas, when we talk about pottery we must talk about culinary arts and practices. Barbadian culinary tradition is African. Those of you who come here to find Yorkshire pudding, fish and chips or the roast beef tradition of England, will not find that. You will find that there is a tea-drinking tradition, but not just the English tea, which came from India, but the AfricanBarbadians knew and called all brewed beverages "tea", therefore there is a tradition of "bush teas", the bush being the vegetation, the flowering and non flowering vegetation around the areas which had either medicinal qualities or nutritious qualities; and this they knew from Africa, therefore the beverage tradition of Barbados is essentially African. The patented teas were brought from England for the plantation management personnel, but the average African Barbadian drank bush teas, and Alfred is a great singer and he will probably sing for you the song about the 49 different bushes, flowering and non flowering plants from which African Barbadians made brewed beverages, not only for nutritive purposes but for medicinal purposes as well, both during the slave period and afterwards.

In terms of food, as I said, our tradition is African, even Joan cooks cou-cou (spelt "coo-coo" or "cou-cou"). This is known as "fou-fou" in Africa and it is our couscous and it is a solid porridge, in fact it was called "lob lolly" in the beginning by Englishmen who ate it. It is made of cornmeal, the guinea corn which we call Indian corn or maize and it was stirred to a consistency like that of hard porridge and it was the first fast food in Barbados because it could be whipped up in about 20 minutes and produced or served on banana leaves. Corn is in itself a protein element, the meat protein would be crab or fish brought in from Canada and from North America, or around Barbados a lot of fish abounded. There is the flying fish which is native to Tobago but around here we call ourselves "the land of flying fish". The strange thing is that the poor whites, whose story must be told next time, those persons who got lost in the in the struggle to build plantations, they had a long standing relationship with Africans in bondage and their culinary and other practices complemented each other. The poor whites fished, Africans farmed; the poor whites therefore traded fish for farines, for protein and for vegetables etc. We learn that African Barbadians were not allowed, by reason of being slaves, to go on the sea because perhaps some sailed away to St. Vincent and to freedom; that they depended on poor whites for their fish and we also learn that like the Africans in the United States and Canada, they utilised the cast-off elements in a slain animal - the head, the entrails, the hooves. They made food from the head and they made soup, ground the bones and made soup. The obeah men, the faith healers, ground the heads of animals to a fine powder and utilised it in their magical religious formulae, but fish head, cow head or sheep head etc. made a delicious soup. The entrails, the large intestines, the colon was stretched and ground potato, corn etc was put in it. It was cleaned and it became, not your Dutch sausage, but the equivalent of the Dutch and German sausage, called the 'black pudding' which is still a delicacy in Barbados, and tomorrow, Saturday, is the day when our African culinary heritage reasserts itself through the black pudding tradition. Saturday is the day because Saturday is the day of freedom from the hustle and bustle of the week in terms of culinary practices. During the week you have to more or less depend on the fast food, the rice from Italy, from the United States, whatever meat you could put together in a hurry. Two reasons, Saturday was the last day of work and a day of relaxed working; it was also the climax of the exercise of cleaning and preparing the entrails, because remember that the solid waste went through that and you had to clean it totally so that no gastro-enteritis occurred as a result of using it. So that exercise of cleaning and preparing the large intestine for a food took three to four days, utilising salt and lime and cleaning it and letting it soak and become pickled in that lime and totally cleaned and sterilised, so that took a few days. So by Saturday it was ready. I know that my sister is making more money out of selling black pudding than I am making as a lecturer, I have two degrees etc etc and she doesn't and she makes more money out of that. It is an African tradition which continues and is increasing in popularity.
Women in traditional dress, Barbados, West Indies, Caribbean, Central America
Women in traditional dress, Barbados, West Indies, Caribbean, Central America

The African traditions are replicated in Europe and they were transferred to America; America is after all a transfer civilization. I think it might be a fruitless exercise trying to establish the original provenance, whether it came from Africa or Europe. It could be a simultaneous development. What we do know is that in Barbados it was African-Barbadians who used head and belly of the slain animals otherwise they would have been thrown away by the Europeans who used the prime cuts. The culture of poverty meant that the slaves were materially poor, they depended on their masters and they also had to eke out a living by utilising the bushes for brewed beverages and by utilising head and belly and the entrails and the hooves of the animals which were slain. Wherever you have had a slave tradition or a slave population in the Americas where the necessity of having meat protein has driven them to killing rodents, lizards, iguana etc which the European literally did not use, and utilising European cattle, African sheep, goats, any and every animal and even chickens, the steppers, the feet of the chicken have been utilised by Africans as a source of meat; every part of the chicken including the head.


  1. Hi i'd just like to say that i absolutely love this page, my dad's family are from Barbados.

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  2. I love this page also, my dad's family are from Barbados.


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