Barbados is an island nation in the western Atlantic. It is one of the more populous and prosperous countries in the Lesser Antilles, with consistently high human development and literacy rankings.
Like many Caribbean countries, the history of Barbados is marked by successive waves of settlement. The Salodoid-Barrancoid civilization first migrated to the island sometime around the fourth century BCE; the Arawak peoples who at one time inhabited much of the region arrived several centuries later, and both were eventually displaced by the Caribs. Barbados’ modern name was given by Portuguese explorers in the mid-1500s; however, British settlers in the 17th century would have the most lasting cultural impact on the island, which still today enjoys the nickname “Little England” among its neighbors. As a colony, Barbados was known primarily for its sugar plantations, fueled by West African slave labor. The difficult conditions of laborers, and widespread racial disparities even among free Barbadians, led to a massive slave rebellion in 1816, which contributed to the abolishment of slavery in the British Empire in 1834. The movement for Barbadian independence gained momentum over the ensuing decades, and in 1958 the country took a leading role in the West Indies Federation; Barbados continued to work peacefully for independence after this organization dissolved, and became a sovereign state and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations in 1966.
Since independence, Barbados has successfully diversified its economy, reducing reliance on the sugarcane industry while cultivating light manufacturing, offshore finance, and information services. Transportation is quite well developed, and the island’s Sir Grantley Adams International Airport serves as a hub for the region. Agriculture and tourism benefit significantly from the country’s location at the far eastern edge of the Caribbean sea, outside the range of most hurricanes and tropical storms; visitors to the island, drawn by its natural beauty, welcoming citizens, and abundance of duty-free shopping, consistently outnumber its 279,000 inhabitants.
Barbados has a long history of immigration; 90% of Barbadians (or Bajans, as they are known locally) are of African descent, but there are numerous minority communities with roots in China, South Asia, the British Isles, Latin America, and the Middle East. According to some sources, the island is one of the top destinations for emigrants from Guyana. Many expatriates are drawn from neighboring countries by business and job opportunities, and the island is an attractive retirement and vacation home destination among wealthy North Americans and Western Europeans. Barbados also has a well-developed, English-language education system, and is an ideal place for foreigners hoping to devote serious study to Caribbean culture.
English is the official language of Barbados, and with a literacy rate of over 99%, most travelers with a good command of British English will have no trouble getting around. The local Creole, called Bajan, contains many influences from West African languages, and learning a few phrases of it may provide some entertainment during your travels. Hindi, spoken by the Indo-Bajan community, is the largest minority language.