Barbados is part of the Lesser Antilles and finds itself situated just to the east of the Caribbean Sea. The name, Barbados, is thought to come from the Portuguese meaning bearded ones. Some think the beard referred to are indeed the long roots of the fig trees that are found abundantly across the island; others believe it has more to do with the beards of the Carib tribes and others think the foam lying over the reef is what gives it this name. As of today, Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state but how has this occurred and what's the Barbados history behind this fascinating island?
Barbados Early Inhabitants
The first civilization to exist in the region is said to have come from the Amerindians who moved to the island from Venezuela. Some evidence may even suggest the island was inhabited from as early as 1600 BC. There has also been a period of Indian inhabitation in Barbados during the fourth century BC.
There is a considerable gap in any knowledge regarding Barbados history after the Caribs mysteriously disappeared. It is possible that they were wiped out by famine or captured by slave traders. It remains a mystery nevertheless.
The first time the British set foot on the island of Barbados was in 1625, during the reign of King James I. The island was found completely uninhabited with the exception of wild boars. These were introduced to the island upon first discovery by the Portuguese. 80 settlers were brought to the island along with 10 slaves in 1627. A few years later in 1639, a house of assembly was established. Products such as tobacco and cotton were produced on the island and in an unusual arrangement, the workforce was mainly European.
Economic Development in Barbados History
The face of Barbados history was to change, when in 1640, the island was transformed into a sugar cane plantation. Although some rum was produced, this gave way to the sugar cane industry which soon became the main focus of Barbados.
Farmers were pushed out of the island and the land was divided into several sugar cane plantations. Slaves were subsequently imported to work the plantations and they were soon outnumbering their European counterparts by three to one. There were also many Catholics from Ireland that came to Barbados to work on the plantations. At the time these Catholics were being persecuted and the plantation offered them the best escape. Other gypsies and workers also joined this plantation, giving the island a very diverse population.
Political Changes in Barbados
Many leaders and political changes followed on from this but the most significant of these came in 1958 when Barbados become a part of the West Indies Federation. This was unfortunately a failure and resulted in Barbados becoming a self governing colony of the British Empire.
Barbados gradually became more and more autonomous until independence was finally granted. This occurred in 1966 and Barbados became a fully independent state and part of the Commonwealth of Nations. The first Prime Minister was Errol Barrow.
Barbados history has been very diverse and its current political status doesn't indicate the hugely diverse story that this little part of the world has to tell. As small an island as it may be, there has been an incredible time line of events leading up to its present day situation and there is a huge level of diversity amongst its population.