1492 and Before – Amerindians in Barbados

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1492 and Before – Amerindians in Barbados

The first Amerindians:

Years ago the early settlers arrived in America. These Red Indians explored America and the surrounding Caribbean islands.

It is not known precisely when these first Amerindians discovered Barbados and settled on the island. Estimates range from 1623 BC until around 400AD. Archaeologists have been able to analyze remains of the first Amerindians in Barbados, including pottery covered in intricate designs and also some primitive forms of agriculture, to determine these dates.

As further construction takes place in Barbados, it may be possible to find out when the Amerindians arrived.

For some reason around 600AD, these Amerindians left Barbados. However, 200 years later, they returned – albeit this time regrouped as a tribe called the Arawaks.

The Arawaks

The Arawaks were very successful explorers and swept northwards amongst the islands of the Caribbean. However, despite their ability to find and colonize islands, they eventually settled in Barbados due to its coral reefs, lack of dense rain forests, fertile soil, and abundance of clay and conch shells. The coral reefs provided habitation for plenty of fish that the Arawaks could easily catch and eat.

The lack of rainforest and fertile soil allowed the Arawaks to grow crops; including, peanuts, squash and a variety of fruits. They grew Cassava from which they took out the poison, turned the natural juice into vinegar, and used it to bake Cassava cakes. These cakes were the primary food in their diet.

The Arawaks were also talented craftsmen, making sharp tools from conch shells to fish, building canoe type longboats, and making domestic products such as graters, juice squeezers, and clay.

The abundance of clay on the island facilitated pottery, and they made bowls, cups, and vessels decorated with pictures of their surroundings such as the animals they encountered. Also, they cultivated tobacco, which they chewed or smoked, and cotton, which they used to make hammocks for sleeping.

The Arawaks had olive skin and long dark hair, enjoyed singing and dancing, and lived in cone-shaped houses with thatched roofs.

Thousands of Arawaks lived on the island with a head-chief as the Governor. A group of headmen ruled over each village. They were monogamous and were only allowed, one woman.

They were a kind and gentle people who did not have barbaric customs such as human sacrifice. They lived in peace in Barbados for hundreds of years in isolation from the rest of the world.

The Caribs

In 1200 AD a new type of Amerindians settled in Barbados – The Caribs. They were like the Arawaks in their appearance, but they were much more fierce and warlike, and they indulged in human sacrifice.

Carib boys were trained to be warriors from a young age. Ordeals designed to make them strong had to be endured such as having a bird beaten to death against their young body.

Women ate separately to the men only after the men had finished eating. When going into battle, the Carib men made scars on their faces using the sharp teeth of agoutis rodents to make themselves look terrifying.

The Caribs were cannibals, which terrified the Arawaks. When they conquered famous enemies, they smoked the meat and ate in victory. The Caribs attacked mostly at night and killed the enemies they captured in cruel and bloodthirsty ways.

Eventually, the peaceful Arawaks of Barbados were either killed by the Caribs, or fled to neighboring islands.

The Caribs inhabited Barbados until the Spanish invaded in 1492. The Spanish captured the Caribs and transported them back to Spain to work as slaves.

In a beautiful twist of fate, the displaced Arawaks were granted the right to live as free men, and not as slaves, by the Spanish. Thanks to the labors of Bartolome de las Casas, the Apostle of the Indians.

So successful was Bartolome de las Casas’ in his endeavors that orders were put in place so that even if an Arawak was captured by the Spanish and taken back to Spain to work as a slave, the Arawak was immediately sent straight back to their island.

Despite the Spanish successfully taking control of Barbados, they soon abandoned it, in favor of colonizing the larger islands in the Caribbean. Barbados was once again an uninhabited island, free for anyone to claim as her own.

The arrival of the English to Barbados

Approximately 100 years after the Spanish had left Barbados, the English arrived. The English settlers had difficulty obtaining water and working the land. Captain Henry Powell went to the other Caribbean islands and brought back 40 Amerindian Arawaks as free men to Barbados and, with their specialized knowledge and skill, they helped the English produce crops.


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Brett Callaghan is the founder and managing director of Totally Barbados. I specialize in writing content for the tourism industry for my island home of Barbados. I help companies build strategies to grow their businesses online with SMART marketing, advertising, and social media goals.