Barbados at 50: Home of Rihanna, cricket and coucou

By Andree Massiah
BBC News

  • Published
Independence Arch, Bridgetown, Barbados
Image caption,
The Independence Arch on Chamberlain Bridge in Bridgetown bears the country's coat of arms, Broken Trident, national flower and pledge, as well as a dolphin and pelican

Happy birthday Barbados!

The Caribbean island is 50 years old on 30 November - more to the point, it's 50 years since it gained independence from the UK.

There are a few things you may already know about this island of a little more than 280,000 people: it was a centre of sugar production, has produced numerous world class cricketers, and is the birthplace of iconic pop star Rihanna.

So as Barbados celebrates its golden year of independence, here are some more facts that you may not know about the island.

It's just like England, sort of

Image caption,
This statue of Admiral Lord Nelson in Broad Street, Bridgetown was erected in 1813 and predates London's Nelson's Column that was constructed in 1843

Due to its past colonial ties with the UK, Barbados is often referred to as Little England. You'd be forgiven for thinking you were wandering around England too (hot climate aside), especially with place names such as Hastings, Worthing, and Dover.

But it's not just place names that are left over from British colonial rule - Barbados has also kept the British judicial and education systems.

The predominant faith is Anglican, and Bajans, as Barbadians are colloquially known, drive on the left side of the road.

A political hero (and others who've done their bit in the US)

Image source, Barbados Government Information Service

Errol Barrow is the man who became Barbados' first prime minister in 1966 and is known as the Father of Independence.

The date of his birth, 21 January, is a public holiday in Barbados and he is one of 10 Barbadian National Heroes.

(Another little fact for you: he shares a birthday with the first African-American US Attorney General, Eric Holder, whose father was born in Barbados; Mr Holder also narrates a new documentary film about Mr Barrow's life.)

Also, US politician Shirley Chisholm, who was of Barbadian descent, was the first black woman to run for president of the United States in 1972.

Flying the flag

Bridgetown and its Garrison is a Unesco World Heritage site, stemming back to the 17th Century. The garrison served as the Eastern Caribbean headquarters of the British Army and Navy.

On Independence Day in 1966, the garrison was the site chosen for the ceremony of the lowering of the British flag and the raising of the new Barbados flag that has, at its centre, the Broken Trident that signifies the break from British rule.

Image caption,
The commemorative Broken Trident has been touring the island during the 50th anniversary year of independence

Good genes

Barbados is an island of "long-livers" having a high number of people over 100 years old. Per capita, it has the second highest number of centenarians in the world behind Japan.

Bajans pick a pot of pickled pork

Image source, Facebook/BeautifulBarbados
Image caption,
The national dish is coucou and flying fish. Coucou consists of cornmeal or breadfruit with okras, and has a consistency like mash potatoes

Sugar used to be the dominant industry in Barbados, producing over 200,000 tonnes a year, compared to today's figure of just 7,000 tonnes.

So it makes sense that Barbados is the birthplace of rum (though some neighbouring islands may disagree), first producing the spirit in the 17th Century. There are more than 1,000 rum shops, similar to pubs or bars, all around the island.

Bajans also enjoy pudding and souse, made of sweet potato and pickled pork, particularly on Saturdays.

Ri-Ri (and that golden green-fingered touch)

Image source, PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/Getty Images
Image caption,
Robyn Fenty, better known by her middle name of Rihanna, or Ri-Ri for short, was born and bred on the island

Popular sounds that can be heard on the island are calypso and soca. Some of the best-known artists paid tribute to their country in the 50th anniversary song Our Home Barbados (Legends to Legacy).

The Crop Over festival is held every summer, traditionally heralding the end of the sugar cane harvest. Islanders and visitors watch carnival costume and song contests, and take part in parades and street parties.

Image caption,
Crop Over ends with Grand Kadooment Day when people in costume "jump" or dance down a route from the National Stadium to Spring Garden Highway

Writers from the island who have made their mark include George Lamming author of 'In the Castle of My Skin', Kamau Brathwaite and Karen Lord.

And green-fingered Barbadians seem to have the knack when it comes to horticultural competitions - they are regular gold award winners at the annual Chelsea Flower Show in the UK.

It's not just cricket

Cricket is the national sport and Barbados has produced a host of legends, along with the late commentator Tony Cozier.

The 3Ws of Frank Worrell, Clyde Walcott, and Everton Weekes; the openers Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes; and the fast bowlers Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, Joel Garner, and Malcolm Marshall, to name a few, all hail from Barbados.

One of the most revered Barbadian cricketers is all-rounder Sir Garfield "Garry" Sobers, who is also the only living national hero, having celebrated his 80th birthday this year.

Image caption,
Among Sir Garfield Sobers' accomplishments is his famous feat in 1968 when he scored six sixes in one over - the first batsman to do this in first-class cricket

Sprinter Obadele Thompson was the first Barbadian to win an individual Olympic medal having achieved bronze in the men's 100 metres at the 2000 Games.

Oh, and if it wasn't enough for Barbados to have excelled in sport, it has invented one too - road tennis is a mixture of table tennis and lawn tennis.

So da's all fuh now - I gawn yuh hear?!

(I'm sure you can work out that it means: So that's all for now - I'm going OK?!)

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