The first few weeks of August have traditionally marked the end of the sugar season in Barbados, and ever since the 17th and 18th centuries when the country was the world’s largest producer of sugar, it has been a time for huge celebration. Harvest festivals occur all over the world signaling the period when the crops reach maturity so they can be eaten and sold, and the people who work the crops have more free time. These festivals have their roots in Paganism, where the people would worship and praise the sun for a good harvest. Usually and especially with the Crop Over Festival in Barbados, there are weeks of carnival, family gatherings and feasts, drinking, music and dance to signify the harvest passing.
Barbados is the perfect host country for an event such as this, being only 21 miles in length and 14 miles wide, it is small and intimate and therefore it feels like the entire island is gathered for the celebrations. The island sits in the North Atlantic Sea just above Venezuela, and its entire population is little more than that of an average sized town or city in its previous colonial head, Britain. The island has a long colonial past beginning with the first English settlers in 1627 and ending with independence in 1966, and this past can be seen and learned about in both the architecture and the museum in Bridgetown. The landscape of Barbados stays true to that of most Caribbean islands; gorgeous white beaches, limestone hills, rolling lush scenery and Bridgetown; the island’s only city is an exciting destination full of bars and restaurants.
The economy of Barbados has evolved from being dependent on the sugarcane, moving toward manufacturing and tourism in the last few decades, but the harvest is still celebrated every year. The Crop Over festival is now the biggest in Barbados drawing people from all over the country. Its history has had its twists and turns, being affected by the thirty years that followed the Second World War, later to be revived in 1974 bigger and more popular than it had ever been before. It begins with the Opening Gala, an explosion of colour, vibrant costume and rum complemented fun. It is followed by the ceremonial delivery of the last sugar canes, watched by the entire town, officially marking the end of the harvest.
The Crop Over festival is the culmination of Barbadian culture, with arts, dance and music taking center stage. Barbados is a strong and prosperous country, and its people are friendly and welcoming; this can be seen within the festival’s many events. Music in Barbados is an important part of everyday life, and with influences from Africa and Europe meaning the music scene is varied; from reggae and jazz to the nation’s sweetheart, calypso. Calypso is one of the major ingredients in the Crop Over festival’s line up, along with folk concerts and local art exhibitions.
There are two main carnivals that pass through Barbados for the Crop Over festival, the first being Cohobblopot, with bands playing all through the city streets, groups displaying elaborate costumes, and thousands of local people joining in the dance. Then the Grand Kadooment, the official finale celebration of the season. This is a parade of masquerade bands, and a street party that ends at the beach with a huge fireworks extravaganza. Barbados is an island of small wonderful treasures just off the coast of South America, its people and landscape are beautiful, and its culture exciting. The Crop Over festival is the pinnacle of this, where the whole country comes to participate and join in, Barbados is a truly exhilarating adventure.
Which part of the culture in Barbados did you enjoy learning about the most?