Barbados Culture Gender Roles and Working Life Research Paper

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Barbados Culture

Barbados was once called the Little England due to its landscape of rolling terrain, as well as its customs of tea drinking and cricket, the Anglican Church, parliamentary democracy and the conservatism of its rural culture. It has a well-developed airport, electrical supply and road system, especially after independence in 1966 when the tourist industry became the most important sector of the economy. Of course, it also inherited a racial caste system from its three hundred years of slavery, and until very recent times, the white minority had almost all the political and economic power. Today, only about 5% of the population is white, 20% of mixed race background and the remaining 75% descended from African slaves. As with most of the Caribbean islands, the indigenous Arawak and Carib populations were devastated by disease in the fifty years after first contact with Europeans in 1492. Although there were American Indian slaves in the islands, including Tituba, who was one of the first of the accused in the famous witchcraft trials in Salem in 1692, this form of slavery was never important for most of the history of the West Indies.

Even in colonial times, Barbados was one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and so it remains today, even with a total population of just 270,000. Every year, 500,000 tourists arrive on the island, and about 10% of the population is directly employed in this industry. Throughout its history, Barbados has been famous for its mild climate and white sandy beaches, which are unique in the West Indies. Although the majority of the population now lives in the capital Bridgetown, in the villages "live many of the maids, security guards, cooks, taxi drivers, and the other minions of the tourist industry" (Gmelch 16). There are also many self-employed vendors, hawkers, beach boys and jet-ski operators who depend on the tourist trade as well. All of the population speaks English, and many blacks still speak Bajan as well, a creole language mixing English and African words, pronunciation and grammar. Most Barbadians regard it as 'broken' English, however, and even a vulgar or lower class dialect, although Bajan is an actual language in its own right.

There were no indigenous Americans living on Barbados when the first white settlers and the African slaves arrived in 1627, although archeological records indicate that they had lived there in earlier times. Spanish settlers first arrived in 1536 and had destroyed most of the native population by 1550, and when the English arrived under the command of Henry Powell the island was "virtually deserted" (Juong and Noelle 149). Arawak Indians kidnapped from the Guiana coast were enslaved there and taught the whites how to grow various crops, but "at no time were American Indians a significant demographic factor in Barbados or capable of sustaining an independent American Indian society there" (Breslaw 7). Early Barbadian planters experimented with cotton, indigo and tobacco, but none of these were profitable, and "a number of rich families who had fled from England due to the Civil War took refuge in Barbados and invested their wealth in the nascent sugar business" (Juong and Morrissette 149). Unlike most on the colonies on the North American mainland, the sympathies of the West Indian planters were not with the Puritans in the English Civil War, but with the Tory side. As in earlier English colonies like Virginia, the majority of laborers were originally white indentured servants until the late-17th Century. Epidemics destroyed tens of millions of American Indians, and they were not considered suitable for fieldwork on the sugar plantations. Arawak Indians were sometimes used as domestic slaves, however, because they "had the reputation of being a peaceful, unaggressive people" (Breslaw 8). Native Americans who had fought against the white settlers in New England and the Carolinas were also transported to the West Indies and sold into slavery there, but Barbados outlawed this traffic in 1676.

Tituba or Tattuba was very likely enslaved as a child and brought to Barbados, where she was then purchased by Samuel Parris, who was to become the minister of Salem Village, Massachusetts. Her people were probably a branch of the Arawak called the Tetebetana, while "uba" was a common suffix for female salve names in Barbados. Arawaks were famous for their abilities in hunting, swimming and fishing, and also "believed in the existence of a large number of spirits of the bush and of the dead" (Breslaw 17). They also had evil spirits and shape shifters called "kenaima" and shamans called "piaiman," and Tituba had learned from these as a young girl. She was owned by a sugar planter named Samuel Thompson who had 67 slaves, and was purchased by Parris in 1679. His father had owned three sugar plantations on Barbados as well as a townhouse in Bridgetown, and he purchased Tituba as a house slave. This is what she also did in his house in Salem Village, where she met with the girls of the town and predicted their futures. At the time of the witchcraft trials in 1692, she would have been 25-30 years old. Initially she was accused of bewitching the 'Afflicted Girls' of the village, and after being beaten and threatened with death by Parris, made an elaborate public confession of witchcraft. She spent two years in prison, after which time Parris sold her to pay the jailer's fees and she disappeared from the historical record.

As early as 1675, there were already slave rebellion and conspiracies in Barbados, and these continued throughout the 19th Century, even after slavery was abolished in 1838 and replaced with a form of serfdom and indentured servitude for black plantation workers. In 1676, the assembly of Barbados banned the importation of Indian slaves for fear that they might make common cause with the Africans, and the government was also very leery of white indentured servants for the same reason. There were only 72 recorded American Indian slaves in Barbados in 1684 versus 46,000 African slaves. At the same time, since most of the land was controlled by white planters, there was little opportunity for poor whites and freed indentured servants compared to the mainland colonies, and the white population of the island began to decrease as slavery became institutionalized. In 1679-84 alone, it fell from 21,725 to 19,568 while the number of African slaves continued to rise until they outnumbered whites by five-to-one (Breslaw 35). Even in the 17th Century, Barbados was "the most densely settled area in the English-speaking world," with a white planter-merchant oligarchy often ruling as absentee landlords over an African majority. These planters generally maintained houses in Bridgetown, where as early as 1690 over 90% of the while household had African domestic slaves (Breslaw 36). At the time of general emancipation in 1838, there were over 90,000 slaves in Barbados, almost all of them native-born creoles. Slavery was harsh in these sugar islands, and the life expectancy of a male slave was only four or five years. According to the Slave Code of Barbados, blacks were considered as "bestial and recalcitrant pagans unworthy of missionary efforts," which accounted for the survival of African customs and religions among the plantation slaves (Juong and Morrissette 150).

Unlike other islands in the West Indies, women were the majority of slave labor in the fields throughout the era of slavery, and their reproduction was also vital to the survival of the system after importation from Africa was curtailed. From the colonial era to the present, the "internal marketing of foodstuffs in most West Indian islands" has been "dominated by women," and female hawkers were always a common sight (Beckles 4). In addition, older women have always had great influence as matriarchs of the African community. Only in Barbados did female slaves outnumber men, and this had already happened as early as 1715. In 1640-1700, over 134,000 African slaves were sold in Barbados while 1.5 million went to the British West Indies as a whole, mainly engaged in sugar production. These colonies were always the most valuable to the European empires, and in Britain sugar planters were a powerful bloc in the House of Commons (Beckles 8). By 1829, there were 81,000 slaves in Barbados, 46% male and 53% female, although white women also outnumbered men by a similar proportion (Beckles 15).

After Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807, pressure mounted in the West Indies for the complete emancipation of the slaves, and there were major rebellions in Barbados in 1816 and Jamaica in 1831. The former began on Easter Sunday in the St. Philip Parish and was led by an African-born slave driver named Bussa or Bussoe. Although the militia and imperial troops defeated the rebels in three days, the island was under martial law for three months and 25% of the sugar crop was destroyed. Over 1,000 slaves were killed in battle or executed after the revolt and large numbers were transported out of the colony (Beckles 2001: 3). Slave…[continue]

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