Bajan culture displays some trappings of English life: cricket, polo and horse racing are popular pastimes, business is performed in a highly organized fashion, gardens are lovingly tended, older women often wear prim little hats and special events are carried out with a great deal of pomp and ceremony.
However, on closer examination, Barbados is very deeply rooted in Afro-Caribbean tradition. Family life, art, food, music, architecture, religion and dress have more in common with the Windward Islands than with London. The African and East Indian influences are especially apparent in the spicy cuisine, rhythmic music and pulsating festivals.
Like other Caribbean cultures, Bajans are relatively conservative and the men are macho, but the ongoing bond with a cosmopolitan center such as London has made Barbados slightly more socially progressive than its neighbors.
Bajan youth are fully within the media orbit of North America. The NBA and New York hip-hop fashion are as popular in Bridgetown as in Brooklyn.
Another similarity to the US is the suburban sprawl around Bridgetown. Traffic is often a problem and you can join the masses at a growing number of air-conditioned malls.
The national sport, if not national obsession, is cricket. Per capita, Bajans boast more world-class cricket players than any other nation. One of the world’s top all-rounders, Bajan native Sir Garfield Sobers, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II during her 1975 visit to Barbados, while another cricket hero, Sir Frank Worrell, appears on the B$5 bill.
In Barbados you can catch an international Test match, a heated local First Division match, or even just a friendly game on the beach or grassy field. Although international matches are less common here now that they are being spread more widely around the Caribbean, when it is Barbados' turn, thousands of Bajans and other West Indians pour into matches at Kensington Oval. For schedules and tickets, contact the Barbados Cricket Association.
Horse races and polo are at their peak during the tourist season.
Bajan contributions to West Indian music are renowned in the region, having produced such greats as the Mighty Gabby, a calypso artist whose songs on cultural identity and political protest speak for emerging black pride throughout the Caribbean. These days Bajan music leans toward the faster beats of soca (an energetic offspring of calypso), rapso (a fusion of soca and hip-hop) and dancehall (a contemporary offshoot of reggae with faster, digital beats and an MC). Hugely popular Bajan soca artist Rupee brings the sound of the island to audiences worldwide.
The massively popular singer Rihanna has achieved worldwide fame while being idolized at home. Her reggae-style rap has won many Grammy awards, including best rap song and best dance recording.
Landscape & Wildlife
Barbados lies 160km east of the Windward Islands. It is somewhat pear-shaped, measuring 34km from north to south and 22km at its widest. The island is composed largely of coral accumulations built on sedimentary rocks. Water permeates the soft coral cap, creating underground streams, springs and limestone caverns.
Most of the island’s terrain is relatively flat, rising to low, gentle hills in the interior. However, the northeastern part of the island, known as the Scotland District, rises to a relatively lofty 340m at Barbados’ highest point, Mt Hillaby. The west coast has white-sand beaches and calm turquoise waters, while the east side of the island has turbulent Atlantic waters and a coastline punctuated with cliffs. Coral reefs surround most of the island and contribute to the fine white sands on the western and southern beaches.
Two good places to enjoy the island’s lush natural beauty are Andromeda Botanic Gardens, in a gorgeous setting above Bathsheba with a huge range of beautifully displayed local flora; and Welchman Hall Gully, off the highway from Bridgetown to Belleplaine, which has examples of the island’s ancient forests.
The majority of Barbados’ indigenous wildlife was overwhelmed by agriculture and competition with introduced species. Found only on Barbados is the harmless and elusive grass snake. The island also shelters a species of small, nonpoisonous, blind snake, plus whistling frogs, lizards, red-footed tortoises and eight species of bats.
Hawksbill turtles regularly come ashore to lay their eggs, as does the occasional leatherback turtle. As elsewhere, the turtles face numerous threats from pollution and human interference. The Barbados Sea Turtle Project is working to restore habitat and populations.
Most, if not all, mammals found in the wild on Barbados have been introduced. They include wild green monkeys, mongooses, European hares, mice and rats.
More than 180 species of birds have been sighted on Barbados. Most of them are migrating shorebirds and waders that breed in North America and stop over on Barbados en route to winter feeding grounds in South America.
The forests that once covered Barbados were long ago felled by British planters. One of the knock-on effects is that the country now has a problem with soil erosion. This loose dirt, along with pollution from ships and illegally dumped solid wastes, threatens to contaminate the aquifers that supply the island’s drinking water.