You know Columbus wanted to find a shorter route to the “Indies”—China and India and the Indonesian islands. What did they have that sophisticated, Renaissance Europe wanted or needed? Spices, silks, satins, and gunpowder and spaghetti (noodles). Stories had trickled into Europe for decades (thanks primarily to Marco Polo) of a wonderful land to the west of Europe which was the “Indies.” Of course, sailors had to get past sea monsters and terrible storms. But the thought of something to make rancid meat and moldy vegetables taste better and with wives demanding pretty materials for dresses…the attempt was tempting.
It had to be. So when he and his three tiny ships reached land, the people there must be Indians, since this must be the Indies.
Today these islands are known mostly for tourist-related events. But between Columbus and sun-burned tourists are several hundred years of colonization—Spanish, French, British and Dutch primarily. Bet you didn’t know that tiny Netherlands was a major player in commercial wars centuries ago!
What did these other countries want? Coaling stations for the Brits, gold for Spanish, spices for French, trade for the Dutch. Except for Spain, the others went in for plantation-building to raise sugar, tea, and spices, all requiring the use of slaves in order to be profitable. Soon slavery became another source of income as well as the agricultural income.
Spain went further west to Mexico and Peru to find gold, silver and other wealth to ship home to Spain. That act gave rise to another occupation…piracy. That gave rise to increased law enforcement attempts, and that gave rise…you get the point.
Those gorgeous plantations on these islands (like those in the U.S. south) disguised the brutality that decimated thousands of the Indian populations. What brutality didn’t kill, European diseases, smallpox, measles, and venereal diseases killed. (Much like our own American Indians suffered the same fate—another story.)
Let’s talk about two of the islands in this wonder archipelago of pearls in the blue Caribbean. First, Barbados.
The name “Barbados” comes from a Portuguese explorer in 1536, who originally called the island “Os Barbados” ( The Bearded Ones) because he saw the island’s fig trees, whose long roots he thought resembled “beards.”
The island was uninhabited when first settled by the British in 1627, although Amerindian tribes had lived on the island earlier.
No other island can compete with Barbados in the area of natural beauty, places to visit, and food!
But best of all, the pink and white sandy beaches, maybe the best in the Caribbean Basin, are found in Barbados.
Barbados, after over 300 years of British control, tight during earlier years and looser after it became a Commonwealth member, got its independence in l966.
Lots of evidences of those 300 years of occupation remain—left side driving, cricket and Queen Elizabeth II is officially head of state. She is represented by a Governor General, but the real power is with the prime minister elected by the Bajans, and his cabinet. There’s a House of Representatives elected by the people; the Senate is appointed by the governor general. Interesting…and this is the same in several other islands. It would be like our U.S. presidents appointing senators. (Until the second decade of the 20th century in the U.S., by the way, our U.S. Senators were picked by state legislatures because the “common man” wasn’t considered smart enough to elect senators…then women got the vote!!!!)
Politically, the island is divided into parishes, maybe an inheritance from some French influence, much like our Louisiana.
Locals are called Bajans. Thank goodness, English is the primarily language. About 9 out of 10 Bajans are of African descent, with small groups of Europeans and Asians. Most Bajans are Protestants. I love the two major holiday festivals: one is called Carnival and the other is Crop Over Festival, obviously celebrating harvest.
This most easterly of the Caribbean islands started as a plantation-based economy. The land is mostly limestone. The rainy season is from June to October. Constant trade winds, marshes and mangrove swamps are a major part of Barbados. Large sugarcane plantations still dominate the central part of the island. Rum, sugar, and molasses production was big during the 20th century, but today my guess is that tourist crops now dominate. Bridgetown is the capital, about a mile from the port.
As for shopping, don’t buy black coral items…illegal to bring into the U.S. Rum cake is a specialty which if shrink-wrapped will last six months. As for other Bajan arts and crafts, there’s a store in Bridgetown called Artifacts. Pottery is also a good buy, but if you see me loitering me in front of any pottery, please save me!!
Barbados is a major site for spotting sea turtles. A large rum distillery offers a tour. Rainforest hikes and cave exploration, visits to Francia Plantation…and many other places to visit.