When examining Barbados culture, there are two very distinct influences, one is English, since we were an English colony from 1627 when the first settlers arrived, right up until 1966 when we gained our independence, and the other cultural influence is African from the days of the slave trade.
Since Barbados is the first island west of Africa, we were a vital stop in the slave trade and many West African slaves stayed here to provide a labour force for the sugar cane fields.
Unlike most of our neighbouring islands, Barbados remained under British rule from the day of settlement right up until our independence on November 30th, 1966.
There's actually an old legend that says that the Spanish had once set out to conquer Barbados. Upon approaching the island, the mission captain looked through a telescope, which in those days was not very good and saw what he thought were hundreds of thousands of English soldiers standing at attention with long spears. Once he saw this, he realized that defeat was imminent and decided to abandon the mission and return home. What that captain actually saw was what we know as cane arrows.
Right before the crop is ready the stalks bear a type of light flower that is the shape of an upward pointing arrow, or spear as the case may be. Thus, our crop saved us from a potentially defining war. The African influence goes hand in hand with the influence sugar has had on our island. Without one, there would not have been the other.
Once a year we have our major festival called Cropover, which signifies the end of the sugar cane crop. During Cropover there is abundant celebration featuring calypso music, dancing, colourful costumes and food, all of which have very strong ties back to the original African Slaves. It was actually the slaves who invented this custom by celebrating the end of the especially hard labour, provided by the reaping of the crop. African and English customs and culture are different from each other.
Therefore, it makes for a truly unique blend for Barbados to have such strong influences from those two regions, and so few influences from anywhere else. It's very difficult to rightly explain how the two blend so seamlessly to create this paradise, you just have to experience it for yourself to begin to understand.
Author: Brett Callaghan