Barbados has experienced several waves of human settlement. The first wave was the group of Saladoid Barrancoids, farmers, fishermen and ceramists who arrived by canoe from the Orinoco Valley in Venezuela around 350 AD. The Arawaks, who arrived from South America around 800, formed the second wave. Arawak settlements on the island include Stroud Point, Chandler Bay, Saint Luke’s Gully and Mapp’s Cave. According to reports from descendants of native Arawak tribes from other local islands, the original name of Barbados was Ichirouganaim. In the 13th century, in a third wave, the Caribs arrived from South America, displacing the Arawaks and Salodoid Barrancoids. For the next few centuries they lived in isolation on the island.
The name “Barbados” comes from a Portuguese explorer named Pedro Campos, who in 1536 called the island “Los Barbados” (“the bearded ones”) because of the appearance of the island’s fig trees, whose long, hanging aerial roots resembled beards. Between Campos’ sighting in 1536 and 1550, the Spanish conquerors captured many Caribs on Barbados and used them as slaves on the plantations. The rest fled the island to settle elsewhere.
Barbados was settled by the British in 1627. After several failures to harvest cotton, sugar cane was introduced and the colony established itself as a profitable plantation economy. African slaves were the main labour force on these plantations until 1834, when they gained their freedom after several years of rebellion, supported by the growing pressure of the anti-slavery movement in Britain.
The economy remained heavily dependent on sugar, rum and molasses production for most of the 20th century. Although the chains were removed, many of the oppressive working conditions of slavery remained on the island until the 1930s, when the educated black middle class fought for universal adult suffrage and took control of the local administration of the country away from the local aristocracy of British descent. In the 1940s and 1950s, the country began a process of social and political reform that culminated in full independence from Britain in 1966. By the 1980s, tourism and manufacturing had overtaken the sugar industry in economic importance. Barbados has developed into a stable democracy with one of the highest literacy rates in the Western Hemisphere.
The locals refer to themselves as Bajans and the Barbadian things as Bajan.