Sunday, 15 January 2012

Barbados - Pride and Industry

It's 1800 kilometres (1100 miles) north from Manaus, the capital of Amazonas, to Bridgetown in Barbados, the place that I will be blogging about for the next month or so.

Barbados is one of the those places I've always dreamed about visiting.  I've only ever been to the Caribbean once, to Cuba, but Barbados would be high on the list for my next visit.  The country's motto is Pride and Industry and, from what I have read about Barbados so far, they have good reason to be proud; of their culture, of their democracy and the fact that Barbados is considered to be somewhat of a success story in the developing world.

Beach in Barbados by Loimere
It's a tiny country - the smallest one I've blogged about so far - it's slightly bigger than the Isle of Wight, a bit smaller than Lantau Island in Hong Kong and roughly the same size as Brooklyn and Queens put together.  I've also discovered that it's located a little bit apart from the other Windward islands of the Caribbean (eg. Martinique, St Lucia or St Vincent) lying about 100 miles to the east of the Windward chain. 

Barbados is also geologically different than its 'neighbouring' Windward islands.  Whilst they are mostly the volcanic summits of submerged mountains, Barbados is made up of coral and protected from the seas by a series of reefs.  It's very flat compared to other Caribbean islands and the difficulty of navigating ships to Barbados meant that, despite its Portuguese name (meaning 'beards'), Barbados remained continuously in the hands of the English from the 17th century until it gained independence in 1966.

Anglican-style church in Barbados by Loimere
Barbados has often been referred to as 'a little piece of England in the Caribbean' and ties with the UK remain strong.  It's believed that the island was originally inhabited by the Taino, a Carib people whose disappearance from Barbados is unexplained.  One theory is that the entire native population was transported by the Spanish to work on their plantations in Hispaniola (compare the fate of the Carib tribes in my earlier blog post about Jamaica). 

The word hurricane comes from the Taino word for their 'storm God', Juracan, who lived on El Yunque mountain in (what is now) Puerto Rico.  When he was angry, he would stir up the winds and seas and wreck havoc on the Caribbean islands, much as hurricanes do today!  Although Barbados lies directly in the path of many hurricanes, they tend not to hit the island directly and usually pass harmlessly northward. 

A busy street in Bridgetown by Loimere
The national language is English, but most people speak a dialect of English called Bajan. The dialect is believed to have been influenced  by languages of West Africa, such as Yoruba.  Like Yoruba, Bajan has no past tense, pronouns such as we have no accusative form (like English us), eg. in Bajan you would say - He see we (not He saw us). 

I'm hoping that, in the next few weeks, I'll be able to experience more Bajan culture.  I want to cook a traditional Bajan dish and read one of Barbados' most famous novels, In the Castle of my Skin by George Lamming.  I want to learn more about the role of sugar in the Atlantic slave trade.  I want to find out more about the West Indies' love affair with cricket, that most English of games!

Scene from The Tamarind Seed
I've already started listening to Calypso music and, as an introduction to Barbados, I watched a 1974 movie called The Tamarind Seed, starring Julie Christie and Omar Sharif - one of the few movies to be set in (and filmed in) Barbados.  I really liked the movie, which is about a love affair between a young English woman and a Soviet military attache.  You can catch glimpses of the island, as they drive around the countryside looking for a Tamarind tree that Julie Christie's character believes will have unusual seeds, shaped like the face of a man.  It's a movie about innocence and espionage.  The glimpses of Barbados were tantalising, but not nearly enough to satisfy my curiosity! 

Image credits:

The photos of Barbados, used to illustrate this blog post, were taken by flickr member, Loimere, aka Derek Hatfield, who is a self-confessed 'geek with a personality' from Wawa/Thunder Bay in Ontario.  You can see more of Derek's work on his website

The image of the still from the movie, The Tamarind Seed is from a photo taken by me. This image is being used to illustrate this blog post and promote Blake Edward's film. By publishing this image, I'm not condoning or encouraging reproduction of this image on the Internet or anywhere else. This image is not meant to bring the actors into disrepute or suggest their endorsement of this blogpost, but is meant to highlight the performances of these actors in this movie.

By coincidence, this is the second time I've blogged about a movie starring Julie Christie and Omar Sharif - see my earlier blog post about the movie version of Dr Zhivago
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