World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Barbados : Overview
|Publisher||Minority Rights Group International|
|Publication Date||May 2008|
|Cite as||Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Barbados : Overview, May 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4954ce3023.html [accessed 19 June 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Updated May 2008
Barbados is the easternmost island of the West Indies. It is located in the western Atlantic Ocean, just to the east of the Caribbean Sea. The island is 34 km long and 23 km at its widest part. It has a total area of 431 sq km.
Main languages: English
Main religions: Christianity (majority Anglican)
According to various unofficial sources, close to 90 per cent of the population of Barbados is of African descent. The remaining portion includes persons of mixed descent, Europeans, South Asians (Hindus and Muslims) and an influential group mainly of Syrian and Lebanese origin.
There is a small minority of so-called 'poor whites' (also pejoratively known as 'redlegs'), numbering no more than several hundred. They are the descendants of indentured labourers sent from Britain in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Traditionally marginalized and engaged in subsistence agriculture, this community is mainly to be found in St John parish on the east coast of the island. After centuries of deliberate separation from wider society, the 'poor whites' have now almost disappeared as a distinct minority.
The earliest inhabitants of Barbados were indigenous groups who began arriving by canoe from South America (Venezuela's Orinoco Valley) around 350 CE. Among these were the Taino (Arawak) who set up several settlements on the island after 800 CE. They were later joined by Kalinago (Carib ) migrants in the 13th century.
The indigenous name for Barbados was Ichi-rougan-aim. The name 'Barbados' comes from a Portuguese explorer Pedro Campos who in 1536, called the island Os Barbados ('The Bearded Ones') based on the appearance of the island's fig trees, which have long hanging aerial roots.
Between 1536 and 1550, Spanish raiders regularly seized large numbers of indigenous Taino-Kalinago from Barbados to be used as slave labour on regional plantations. This prompted the Kalinago to flee the island for other Caribbean destinations (see also Dominica and St Vincent).
The first European settlement on Barbados consisted of English colonists. This was not established until 1627. In 1663 the island became a possession of the British Crown and remained so until the late 20th century.
From its earliest establishment large numbers of Africans were taken to Barbados to provide slave labour on the British plantations. In 1659, the English also shipped many Irish and Scots to Barbados as slaves. Furthermore large numbers of people from Ireland and Scotland also went as indentured servants. More British exiles were also shipped in after 1685 following the crushing of the Protestant Monmouth Rebellion in England.
Over the next several centuries this socially marginal British immigrant population was used as a buffer between the rich plantation owners and the larger African population. They served as members of the colonial militia but sometimes also allied themselves with the enslaved African population in a number of local rebellions.
Barbados sugar production on large estates using slave labour became very profitable and important to the British economy. The importation, buying and selling of enslaved Africans ceased in 1804 but plantation conditions did not improve, causing a major and bloody slave rebellion in 1816.
As in the rest of the British Empire, slavery was finally abolished in Barbados in 1834. However unlike plantation colonies like Guyana and Trinidad, after emancipation there was no large scale importation of indentured East Indians to work on Barbados estates. Plantation owners and merchants of British descent continued to dominate local politics until the 1930s when Afro-Barbadians began a movement for political rights.
In 1937 poor economic conditions caused serious unrest, and following the establishment of a British Royal Commission, social and political reforms were gradually introduced leading to universal adult suffrage in 1951.
Barbados was a founding member of the Federation of the West Indies (1958-1962), and when it was dissolved, reverted to its former status as a self-governing colony.
The island became an independent state and a member of the Commonwealth in November 1966 and has since enjoyed over three decades of political stability and economic growth.
Barbados has enjoyed a stable democratic government, and has experienced regular transfers of power between the two major political parties.
Over the past decade Barbados has been seen internationally as a business-friendly and economically sound society, Construction has boomed across the island resulting in new homes, hotels, redevelopments, office complexes, condominiums, and mansions.
In addition to sugar production and tourism, offshore finance and information services have become increasingly important along with the light manufacturing sector.
With a literacy rate of 99.7 per cent and a per capita income of US$15,700 the UN Development Programme has ranked Barbados among the very highest countries in the developing world in terms of social indicators.
Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples
The modern descendants of the original British indentured population who are referred to locally as 'Red Legs', 'ecky becky' or 'Buckra Johnnies' have gradually come out of self-imposed isolation. Although being among the poorest inhabitants of modern Barbados they have long relied on their lighter skin colour to proclaim their distinctiveness and provide themselves with a measure of self-esteem.
Over the years there has been significant intermarriage between this European descended population and the predominantly African mainstream, which has helped to minimize their presence as a distinct minority.
In the past decade Barbados has become a chief destination point for economic migrants from the politically unstable CARICOM member nation of Guyana. This influx has attracted increasing local concern especially related to the immigrants' housing conditions, financial capacity and legal status.Moreover while in the early stages the migrants were mainly of a similar ethno-cultural background as the majority of Barbadians and their numbers manageable, in the last few years there has been a large influx of small-traders, low-skilled labourers and other expatriates of East Indian descent, most of whom work in the agricultural sector or in construction.
Moreover in addition to the concerns over the increasing presence of undocumented unskilled Indo-Guyanese there is also growing disquiet over the inflow of low-income Indo-Trinidad migrants as well as East Indian professionals from the sub continent.
This is prompting rising anti-immigrant sentiments and debate. It is being argued that if migrant numbers increase substantially they will soon begin to challenge the existing social, economic and political stability, especially given the small size of the island.
Furthermore, citing the ethnic tensions that already exist in Trinidad and Guyana those advocating managed migration question the eventual impact the immigrants could have on the local political processes; for example in coopting pliable politicians and engaging in block voting which some fear could change the dynamic in marginal constituencies.