Barbados is an island state in the Atlantic Ocean and part of the Lesser Antilles. Barbados lies northeast of Venezuela in the Caribbean and is geographically considered Central America. The former British colony has been independent of the United Kingdom since 1966, but as a Commonwealth Realm it is a sovereign member state of the Commonwealth of Nations and has personal ties with the British Crown.
Barbados is the easternmost island of the Lesser Antilles chain and lies in the Atlantic Ocean. In contrast to many of the neighbouring Caribbean islands, Barbados is not of volcanic origin, but represents a so-called Forearc of an accretion wedge, which in turn grew upwards due to formerly submarine reef limestone. This limestone plateau reaches a height of 336 m in Mount Hillaby. The oldest layers were formed in a warm period 125,000 years ago, when the sea level was four to six metres higher than at present. In addition to the main island, Barbados also includes the tiny Culpepper Island located directly off the east coast. About 180 km to the west lies the island state St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The climate of Barbados is warm all year round with small temperature differences and an annual average of 26°C. Rainfall is concentrated during the rainy season from May to October and reaches 2,000 mm per year in the central highlands. Despite this rainfall, there are no larger waters on the island due to the porous limestone subsoil.
Barbados is in the catchment area of Atlantic hurricanes, where the Atlantic hurricane season usually lasts from early June to late November. During this period, Barbados is under increased observation by the Barbados Meteorological Service, which warns of possible natural disasters with clues and forecasts.
Flora and Fauna
In former times, tropical rainforest covered almost the entire island. In the meantime it has been largely replaced by extensive sugar cane plantations and cultivated land. Only in the Turner’s Hall Wood there are still remainders of the tropical forest on an area of approx. 18 hectares. The national flower is the Red Pride of Barbados (peacock bush), which is included in the coat of arms of the country.
The Barbados wildlife includes only a few species. Primarily there are different kinds of monkeys, mongooses, hares and lizards. In April and May, leatherback turtles lay their eggs on the beaches. Beside hummingbirds there are many water birds like seagulls and herons. In the waters around the island there are barracudas, parrotfish and flying fish.
The inhabitants of the island are called Barbadians, the adjective is Barbadic. The Barbadians themselves call themselves Bajans. Bajan, a Creole dialect based on English, is also the language predominantly used in everyday life. The official language on the island is English, which corresponds in spelling and pronunciation largely to British English.
The population itself consists of about 90 % descendants of African slaves, about 4 % whites of predominantly British and Irish descent as well as Asians (Indians, Chinese) and mulattoes. In 2017, 12.1% of the population was born abroad.
About 30 % of the population are Anglican and 18 % belong to the Pentecostal movement. Other important religious groups are Methodists and Adventists, 4% of the population are Catholics.
The infant mortality rate is 11 per 1000 live births. Life expectancy is 76.4 years and the literacy rate 97.6%.
More than one third of the population lives in the capital Bridgetown with its suburbs. Further focal points of the population are the touristic south coast (Parish Christ Church) and the west coast (Parish St. James). In addition to the capital there are three other cities: Speightstown, Holetown and Oistins. On the east coast, the seaside resort of Bathsheba is a centre of tourism. The regional centre in the east of the island is Six Cross Roads.
The pre-European inhabitants of Barbados were Arawak and Caribbean. Around 350 AD, 800 AD and in the 13th century, three waves of immigration reached the island. In between and afterwards the island was isolated from the mainland.
The name Barbados (Portuguese os barbados = (the) bearded) was given to the island in 1536 because the Portuguese explorer Pedro Campos felt reminded of beards by the freely hanging roots of the fig trees and named the island after them.
In the 15 years following the discovery of Barbados by Pedro Campos in 1536, Spanish conquerors enslaved numerous inhabitants for plantation work on other islands. The rest of the local population fled. So the English found an orphaned island almost a century later.
In 1625 England took over the island from the Portuguese. Until 1962 it remained in British possession. 1627 began the settlement of the at this time deserted island by Great Britain. Slaves from Ireland and Indentur slaves from the entire British Isles were settled.
Barbados’ economy was based from the early 1640s on the production of cane sugar, which was shipped to England. In 1655, for example, the island exported about 8000 tons to its European motherland, making it one of the largest sugar producers in the world. Barbados remained heavily dependent on sugar, rum and syrup production until well into the 20th century.
Barbados looks back on a long parliamentary history. It has the third oldest parliament in the Commonwealth (after Westminster and Bermuda). The House of Burgesses was the first parliament to be established in 1639. After conflicts with England, the rights of the parliament and the citizens of Barbados were laid down in 1652 in the “Charta of Barbados, or Articles of Agreement”. This constitutional charter guaranteed freedom of religion, the rule of law, property and extensive parliamentary rights as well as independence.
The rights, which in the beginning only applied to English plantation owners, were extended to the black majority of the population from the full emancipation of slaves in 1838 until independence on 30 November 1966. Women’s suffrage was introduced in 1950. From 1958 to 1962 Barbados was a province of the West Indian Federation.
After independence, Barbados developed a parliamentary democracy aware of its history and traditions. Barbados is divided into eleven parishes, which date back to the structure of the Anglican Church of 1645.
Barbados has a bicameral parliament (a House of Assembly with 30 members elected every five years and a Senate with 21 appointed members). The right to vote begins at the age of 18. In the country report Freedom in the World 2017 by the US non-governmental organisation Freedom House, the country’s political system is assessed as “free”. The policy is essentially determined by the two major parties, the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and the Democratic Labour Party (DLP).
In the 2018 elections, the BLP received all seats in the House of Assembly and Mia Mottley became Barbados’ first prime minister. This friend thus replaced Stuart as Prime Minister of Barbados, who had taken over from his late predecessor David Thompson. The ruling Democratic Labour Party had announced in 2015 that it would amend the constitution and establish Barbados as a republic in 2016, but this did not happen.
In the 1990s, the tourism industry and the handicraft production of the sugar industry lost their economic rank. Oil is produced off the coast of Barbados. In 2005, production amounted to approx. 1,000 barrels/day with reserves of 2.5 million barrels. On 28 January 2016, the EU Commission presented a package of measures to combat tax evasion, including the inclusion of Barbados on the black list of tax havens.
The unemployment rate in 2017 will be 10.5%. In 2016, 1.4 % of all workers worked in agriculture, 93.8 % in the service sector and 4.8 % in industry. A large number of workers work in the tourism sector. The total number of employees is estimated at 144,000 in 2017. According to the Central Bank of Barbados, the per capita income is 16,363 US dollars in 2016. This makes the level of prosperity comparable to that of Slovakia. The country’s largest trading partner is the USA.