Culture in Barbados


The influence of the English on Barbados is more noticeable than on other islands in the West Indies. A good example of this is the island’s national sport: cricket. Barbados has brought forth several great cricketers, including Garfield Sobers and Frank Worrell.

Citizens are officially called Barbadians; Bajans (pronounced: “bay” “jan” ). The term “Bajan” may have come from a localised pronunciation of the word Barbadian which at times can sound more like “Bar-bajan”.

The largest carnival-like cultural event which takes place on the island is the Crop Over festival. As in many other Caribbean and Latin American countries, Crop Over is an important event for many people on the island, as well as the thousands of tourists that flock to the island to participate in the annual events. The festival includes musical competitions and other traditional activities. The male and female Barbadian that harvested the most sugarcane are also crowned as the King and Queen of the crop. It gets under way from the beginning of July, and ends with the costumed parade on Kadooment Day, held on the first Monday of August.

Barbados retains a strong British influence and is referred to by its neighbours as “Little England”.


Barbados’ architecture pays further testament to Britain, with many historic buildings still standing. In addition to traditional wood and stone, coral was also used in construction, lending a unique Barbadian flair. Jacobean, Georgian, and Victorian styles dominate. But slaves constructed many of these buildings, as well as their own chattel houses, so they were an integral part of the island’s architectural legacy. Built of wood, chattel houses were set atop blocks instead of permanent foundations so they could be easily moved from place to place. The vivid colours of these chattel houses shows the West African influence.


Barbadian culture and music are mixtures of European and African elements, with minimal influence from the indigenous peoples of the island, about whom little is known. Significant numbers of Asian, specifically Chinese and Japanese, people have moved to Barbados, but their music is unstudied and has had little impact on Barbadian music.

The earliest reference to Afro-Barbadian music may come from a description of a slave rebellion, in which the rebels were inspired to fight by music played on skin drums, conch trumpets and animal horns. Slavery continued, however, and the colonial and slave-owning authorities eventually outlawed musical instruments among slaves. By the end of the 17th century, a distinctly Barbadian folk culture developed, based around influences and instruments from Africa, Britain and other Caribbean islands.

Early Barbadian folk music, despite legal restrictions, was a major part of life among the island’s slave population. For the slaves, music was “essential for recreation and dancing and as a part of the life cycle for communication and religious meaning”. African musicians also provided the music for the white landowners’ private parties, while the slaves developed their own party music, culminating in the crop over festival, which began in 1688. The earliest crop over festivals featured dancing and call-and-response singing accompanied by shak-shak, banjo, bones and bottles containing varying amounts of water.


Barbadian folk dances include a wide variety of styles, performed at Landship, holidays and other occasions. Dancers and other performers at the crop over festivals, for example, are popular and an iconic part of Barbadian culture, known for dancing in the costumes of sugarcane-cutters. The Landship movement features song and dance meant to imitate the passage of a British navy ship through rough seas; Landship and other occasions also feature African-derived improvised and complexly-rhythmic dances, and British hornpipes, jigs, maypole dances and Marches.

The Jean and Johnnie dance was an important part of Barbadian culture until it was banned in the 19th century. This was a popular fertility dance performed outdoors at plantation fairs and other festivals, and was functional in that it allowed women to show off to men, and more rarely, vice versa. The dance was eventually banned because the dance was associated with non-Christian African traditions.

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