As Barbados reaches the golden anniversary of its independence from Britain, this Caribbean island nation of almost 300,000 people – and possibly millions more comprising its extensive diaspora – can reflect on almost 400 years of recorded history.
This year of celebration focused on a theme of Pride and Industry. Activities in Barbados and across the Bajan diaspora began officially in January this year, with the launch of Barbados We Come From at Independence Square, in capital city Bridgetown. Of course, this year’s Crop Over was extra special; anniversary festivities have continued with art exhibitions, literary festivals and book fairs, artistic and creative performances. There have been tributes to the island’s seven prime ministers, and recognition of the role of the workers and labour movement in Barbados’ campaign for democracy and independence.
2016 also marks the bicentennial of the pivotal anti-slavery rebellion for freedom led by Bussa at Bayley’s Plantation, St. Philip. This signal event, although unsuccessful, laid the basis – along with Caribbean-wide rebellions – for Emancipation throughout the British Empire in 1838.
Barbados’ culture and traditions have their foundation built on the heritage of the indigenous people (the Caribs and Arawaks who were decimated following the initial Spanish/Portuguese intervention), as well as the culture of peoples of predominantly African descent who make up its population and – significantly – on the island’s near 400-year association with solely British colonial institutions and rule.
Unlike many other Caribbean islands, Barbados did not face the intermittent wars and military rivalry between Dutch, French, Spanish and English colonial powers that befell the wider Caribbean region. Although this unbroken connection with Britain, which began in 1625 near Holetown and was ratified by King Charles I in 1627, has undoubtedly influenced Barbadian sociopolitical and cultural life, a distinctly Caribbean identity and culture has evolved in the island, and its most famous sons and daughters are acclaimed globally. In the demands for freedom from enslavement, in regional political affairs, the campaign for independence, as well as in sports, music, literature and culture, Barbados is well renowned.
The career of Barbados’ most famous son and the country’s only living national hero, Garfield Sobers – who marked his 80th birthday in July with a 20/20 cricket match (where Sobers’ Celebrity XI defeated Brian Lara’s team) – paralleled the independence of the majority of Caribbean nations with the domination of the West Indies’ cricket team.
The cricket legend is joined by Labour leader and premier Grantley Adams, the Father of Independence and national hero, Errol Walton Barrow, social campaigner, Nita Barrow, together with entertainers Edwin Yearwood, Alison Hinds, superstar Rhianna, Olympic athlete Obadele Thompson, outstanding intellectual and Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies Hilary Beckles, writers George Lamming, Kamau Braithwaite and Frank Collymore as some of the most celebrated Barbadians.
With discussion well underway to establish Barbados as a republic and to end the British monarch’s role as the island’s head of state, the marking of five decades of formal independence from the United Kingdom will culminate today on Independence Day, November 30. The capital city’s iconic Garrison Savannah will host the unveiling of the much anticipated national monument, a military parade and a mega concert. When the blue and yellow flag is raised and the national anthem performed, Barbados will have achieved a landmark golden anniversary.