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Barbados History

Barbados is the eastern-most Caribbean island. Artifacts and evidence point to its being settled around 1623 B. C. Early residents were Venezuelans who crossed treacherous ocean waters in flimsy dugout canoes. They made their home along Barbados’s coast but have left behind only fragments of tools and burial places. Later settlers were the Arawaks, olive-skinned people who bound their foreheads during infancy to slope it into a point. The Caiques or chiefs

wore nose plugs and/or rings made of copper and gold. They were generally agricultural people who grew cotton, cassava, corn, peanuts and papaya. Their cotton crop was woven and used for hammocks. The Arawaks also used harpoons and nets to fish for food. Around the year 1200, the Arawaks were conquered by the Caribs. They were a taller and stronger Amerindian tribe. They were also cannibals. Warlike and savage, they are portrayed by historians today as having a preference to barbeque their captives and wash down their flesh with cassava beer. The Caribs reportedly once ate an entire French ship crew.

The Portuguese came to Barbados en route to Brazil. The island got its name Los Barbados (bearded-ones) by the Portuguese explorer Pedro a Campos, who named it after the island’s fig trees, which have a beard-like appearance. The Caribs were known as great warriors but the Spanish managed somehow to take over the island in the late 1400s. The Spanish imposed slavery on the Caribs whose violent existence came to an end through European small pox and tuberculosis brought by the Europeans. Spain, however, left Barbados to concentrate on the larger Caribbean islands.

The first English ship touched the island in 1625 when Captain Henry Powell landed with a party of 80 settlers and 10 slaves. The colonists established a house of Assembly, making it the third ever Parliamentary country in the World.

Dutch settlers also played a large role in developing the early plantations and introducing sugarcane from Brazil. The production of sugar, tobacco and cotton was heavily reliant on the indenture of servants. White civilians who wanted to emigrate did so by signing an agreement to serve a planter in Barbados for up to seven years. Servants were also obtained through kidnapping, and convicted criminals were shipped to Barbados. Slaves were brought in from all over Africa. Descendants of the white slaves and indentured laborers still live in Barbados, where they are known as “red legs.”

With the abolition of slavery in 1834, the once dominant sugar cane industry weakened. The abolition of slavery led to a four-year apprenticeship period when free men worked a 45-hour week without pay in exchange for living in the tiny huts provided by plantation owners.

A downswing in the economy in 1937 led to rioting. A strong labor movement started. And independence from Britain came in 1966. The island maintains its ties with Britain today as a member of the Commonwealth. Throughout its history, many people have been drawn here because of the balmy climate and slower pace of life.

The island in the past was also thought to be a cure for the “vapors.” Even George Washington visited Barbados with his tuberculosis-stricken half brother in thwarted hopes of curing his illness.

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