Barbados is a sovereign island nation located in the Lesser Antilles on the American mainland. It is 34 kilometres (21 miles) long and up to 23 km (14 miles) wide, covering an area of 432 km2 (167 square miles). It lies in the western North Atlantic Ocean and 100 km (62 mi) east of the Windward Islands and the Caribbean Sea; it is about 168 km (104 mi) east of the islands of St Vincent and the Grenadines and 400 km (250 mi) northeast of Trinidad and Tobago. Barbados lies outside the main Atlantic hurricane belt. The capital is Bridgetown. Barbados is located 2,600 km (1,600 mi) southeast of Miami.
Inhabited by the Kalinago people since the 13th century and by other Amerindians before that, Barbados was visited by Spanish sailors in the late 15th century and claimed by the Spanish crown. It first appeared on a Spanish map in 1511. The Portuguese visited the island in 1536 but did not claim it as their own. Their only proof was the introduction of wild boar, which provided a good supply of meat every time they visited the island. An English ship, the Olive Blossom, arrived in Barbados in 1625; its men took possession of it in the name of King James I. In 1627, the first permanent settlers arrived from England and the island became first an English and then a British colony.
In 1966, Barbados became an independent state and Commonwealth realm with the British monarch (currently Queen Elizabeth II) as hereditary head of state. Barbados has a population of 280,121, mainly of African descent. Although classified as an Atlantic island, Barbados is considered part of the Caribbean, where it is considered a major tourist destination. Forty per cent of tourists come from the United Kingdom, with the United States and Canada being the next largest visitor groups to the island. In Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index, Barbados ranked second in the Americas (after Canada, tied with the United States) and 17th in the world.
Barbados is located in the Atlantic Ocean, east of the other islands of the West Indies. Barbados is the easternmost island of the Lesser Antilles. It is flat compared to its western island neighbours, the Windward Islands. The island rises gently to the central highlands. The nation’s highest point is Mount Hillaby in the Scotland Geological District at 340 m above sea level.
The capital and main town of Barbados, Bridgetown, is located in the parish of Saint Michael. Other major towns scattered around the island are Holetown in the parish of Saint James, Oistins in the parish of Christ Church and Speightstown in the parish of Saint Peter.
Barbados lies at the boundary between the South American Plate and the Caribbean Plate. Subduction of the South American Plate beneath the Caribbean Plate scrapes sediments from the South American Plate and deposits them above the subduction zone, forming an accretionary prism. The rate of this material deposition causes Barbados to rise at a rate of about 25 mm (1 in) per 1000 years. As a result of this subduction, geologically the island consists of coral about 90 m thick where reefs have formed over the sediment. The land slopes down in a series of “terraces” to the west and merges into a slope to the east. Much of the island is surrounded by coral reefs.
Erosion of the limestone in the north-east of the island in the Scotland District has led to the formation of various caves and gullies, some of which have become popular tourist attractions, such as Harrison’s Cave and Welchman Hall Gully. On the eastern Atlantic coast of the island, coastal landscapes, including chimneys, have been formed due to the limestone nature of the area.
The 2010 census, conducted by the Barbados Statistical Service, showed a resident population of 277,821, of which 133,018 were male and 144,803 female.
Almost 90 % of Barbadians (colloquially referred to as “Bajans”) are of Afro-Caribbean origin (“Afro-Bajans”) or mixed. The rest of the population includes groups of Europeans (“Anglo-Bajans” / “Euro-Bajans”) mainly from the United Kingdom and Ireland, and Asians, mainly Chinese and Indians (Hindus and Muslims). Other groups represented in Barbados include people from the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. Barbadians returning to the United States after years of residence and US-born children of Bajan parents are referred to as “Bajan Yankees”, a term considered derogatory by some.
The largest communities outside the Afro-Caribbean community are:
- Indo-Guyanese, an important part of the economy due to the increase in immigrants from the partner country Guyana. There are reports of a growing Indo-Bajan diaspora from Guyana and India since about 1990. Mainly from South India and the Hindu States, they are growing in numbers but are smaller than the corresponding communities in Trinidad and Guyana.
- Euro-Bajans (4% of the population) have settled in Barbados since the 17th century, coming from England, Ireland and Scotland. In 1643, there were 37,200 whites in Barbados (86 % of the population). They are popularly known as “White Bajans”. The Euro-Bajans introduced folk music, such as Irish and Highland music, and certain place names, such as “Scotland”, a mountainous region. Among white Barbadians, there is a sub-category known as Redlegs; these are mainly descendants of Irish indentured labourers and prisoners who were imported to the island. Many of them later became the first settlers of what is now North Carolina and South Carolina in the United States.
- Barbadians of Chinese descent represent only a small part of the Asian population in Barbados. Most, if not all, arrived in the 1940s, during the Second World War. Many Chinese-Bajans have the surnames Chin, Chynn or Lee, although other surnames are prevalent in some parts of the island. Chinese food and culture are increasingly becoming part of the everyday culture of Bajans.
- Lebanese and Syrians make up the Arab Barbadian community on the island, which is predominantly Arab Christian. The Arab Muslim minority among Arab Barbadians represents only a small percentage of the total Muslim minority population of Barbados. The majority of Lebanese and Syrians came to Barbados through trade opportunities. Their numbers are declining due to migration to other countries.
- Jews arrived in Barbados shortly after the first settlers in 1627. Bridgetown is home to the Nidhe Israel Synagogue, the oldest Jewish synagogue in America, dating back to 1654, although the current building was constructed in 1833 to replace the synagogue destroyed by the hurricane of 1831. The gravestones in the nearby cemetery date from the 1630s. The site, now maintained by the Barbados National Trust, was abandoned in 1929 but was saved and restored by the Jewish community from 1986.
- Muslim Barbadians of Indian origin are largely of Gujarati descent. Many small businesses in Barbados are run and operated by Muslim Bajans of Indian origin.
Most Barbadians of African and European descent are Christians (95 per cent), the largest denomination being Anglicanism (40 per cent). Other Christian denominations with significant followings in Barbados are the Catholic Church (administered by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgetown), Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventist Church and Spiritual Baptists. The Church of England was the official religion of the state until it was legally dissolved by the Parliament of Barbados after independence.
Other religions represented in Barbados are Hinduism, Islam, Baha’i, Judaism and Wicca.
Barbados is the 53rd richest country in the world by GDP (gross domestic product) per capita. It has a well-developed mixed economy and a moderately high standard of living. According to the World Bank, Barbados is one of the 66 highest income economies in the world. A 2012 self-assessment conducted in collaboration with the Caribbean Development Bank found that 20 per cent of Barbadians live in poverty and almost 10 per cent cannot meet their basic daily food needs.
Historically, Barbados’ economy was dependent on sugarcane cultivation and related activities, but since the late 1970s and early 1980s it has diversified into manufacturing and tourism. Offshore financial and information services have become important foreign exchange earners, and the light manufacturing sector is healthy. Since the 1990s, the Barbados government has been considered business-friendly and economically sound. The island has experienced a construction boom, with the development and redevelopment of hotels, office complexes and flats. This boom slowed down during the economic crisis of 2008.
Recent governments have continued their efforts to reduce unemployment, encourage foreign direct investment and privatise the remaining state-owned enterprises. Unemployment was reduced to 10.7 % in 2003. Since then, however, it has risen to 11.9 % in the second quarter of 2015.
The economy contracted in 2001 and 2002 due to a slowdown in tourism, consumer spending and the impact of the 9/11 attacks, but recovered in 2003 and has been growing again since 2004. Traditional trading partners include Canada, the Caribbean Community (especially Trinidad and Tobago), the United Kingdom and the United States.
Trade relations and investment flows have become substantial: in 2003, the island received C$25 billion in investment from Canada, making it one of the top five destinations for Canadian foreign direct investment (FDI). Businessman Eugene Melnyk of Toronto, Canada, is said to be one of Barbados’ richest permanent residents.
It was reported that 2006 was the busiest year for building construction in Barbados as the island’s building boom entered the final stages of several multi-million dollar commercial projects.
The European Union is supporting Barbados with a €10 million programme to modernise the country’s financial services and international business sectors.
Barbados has the third largest stock exchange in the Caribbean region. In 2009, stock exchange officials explored the possibility of adding an international securities market (ISM) to the local exchange.