Research Paper: Barbados Culture

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[. . .] From their point-of-view, slavery conditions had been greatly ameliorated and humanized in the 18th Century, and the harsher punishments were almost never applied in 1816. By that time, 92% of Barbadian slaves were creoles, and almost all the other leaders of the rebellion were native-born blacks, especially drivers and supervisors on the plantations (Beckles 2001: 6). In all, there were 77,000 slaves in Barbados in 1816, 16,000 whites and 3,000 free coloreds, although the latter mostly sided with the whites during the revolt and even fought with the militia. Whites were prepared to fight to the death as well, recalling the slave revolt in Haiti that had exterminated most of the planters there, and blamed outside abolitionist agitators like William Wilberforce for instigating the slaves (Beckles 2001: 20).

Government, culture and society in Barbados were entirely geared to making the island into a factory that produced sugar, and this continued long after the abolition of slavery. British law, customs and religion were dominant, and all political and economic power was held by whites until independence in 1966. Even after that time, whites continued to control the economy, even though the state and civil service were taken over by blacks (Stoddart 61). Barbados' political parties, education system and predominantly Anglican religion all came from Britain, and even today its units of local government are called parishes. Barbadians (Bajans) are "persistently and passionately devoted to the playing of and talking about cricket," and even Independence Day in 1966 "was celebrated with a special cricket game" (Stoddart 62). Throughout the entire history of Barbados, of course, whites and blacks lived in completely separate cultural, social and educational worlds, both on and off the playing fields. There were always free blacks and mixed-race persons (creoles) who identified heavily with British culture even in the days of slavery. As early as the 1830s, black elementary school teachers "not only taught a classical English curriculum but also strongly upheld its attendant cultural values and behavioral patterns" (Stoddart 63).

At the same time, African folk culture remained a powerful influence among the African slaves and their descendants, including the practice of shamanism, bush medicine, obeah and tuk band music, as well as dances and festivals that originated in Africa. Well into the 20th Century, the Anglican Church and the (white) legal and educational waged a culture war against these practices, and tried to abolish obeah and African folk customs. In 1840, after slavery had been abolished on paper, a new Masters-and-Servants Law still kept most blacks in bondage as "estate-tied wage slaves," which also happened in the American South after Reconstruction. In addition, new state institutions like jails and asylums took over the coercive and disciplinary role of the old plantation system, while churches remained under the control of whites -- with separate seating for blacks. Even cricket was a highly segregated game, with the Barbados Cricket Committee and its successors controlled by white planters, merchants, professionals and school masters. There were separate leagues and teams for blacks, especially for the lower classes, and only after 1966 were blacks allowed to participate in the management of the sport and on its elite committees (Stoddart 67).

In the late-19th Century, there were food riots and rebellions in Barbados in opposition to the white-dominated political and economic system. Looting and destruction of plantations and white-owned business was a common feature of these revolts and disturbances. Although Marcus Garvey was from Jamaica rather than Barbados, his idea that blacks could only achieve justice by going back to Africa was highly popular there, and his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) had a large following. During the 1930s depression, there were numerous strikes and revolts throughout the Caribbean, including Belize, St. Kitts, Trinidad and Jamaica. In 1938, a general strike in Jamaica left 46 people dead and thousands imprisoned (Browne 149). In Barbados in 1937, the rebellion began with looting and burning of white-owned stores in Bridgetown, many of which overcharged blacks and refused to extend them credit. Crowds threatened to kill all whites and attempted to burn down the elite Bridgetown Club, and the police repeatedly opened fire on them leaving at least eleven dead and dozens wounded. Pitched battles were fought in the streets between rioters and police, since most blacks perceived the latter as racist and "oppressive stooges of the local oligarchy" (Browne 154). Very quickly, the unrest spread to the rural areas where the Masters and Servants Act was still in effect, and plantations were widely hated for their poor pay and seasonal employment. Looting, arson, strikes and open battles with the police took place on a large scale, as they had in 1876, 1895 and 1917, and in this case, too, the police did not hesitate to start shooting at the crowds. Shortly afterwards, a wave of strikes broke out in the Bridgetown factories that brought the economy to a standstill. Barbadian nationalism and lower class opposition therefore has a very long history, and "one discerns a single theme of freedom, an empowering impulse, running through popular conceptions of nationhood," as well as equality, social justice and opposition to imperialism and racism (Howe and Marshall x). These traditions continue today in the globalized and service-based economy that has taken over Barbados, although much of the old social structure remains intact.

Behind the Smile is based on interviews with twenty-one workers in the tourist sector of Barbados, ranging from managers and executives to maids and bartenders. Its purpose was to "learn how they interact with the visitors and what they think of them -- of their affluent lifestyles, their moral character, and the manner in which they pursue leisure" (Gmelch ix). Mass tourism is a relatively recent phenomenon in history, given that in the past only members of the elite traveled for pleasure, while most people only moved when absolutely necessary, such as economic migrants, refugees, slaves and forced laborers. Until fairly recent times, travel was difficult, expensive and often dangerous, even for the few who could afford to do so. Only in the 19th Century did Thomas Cook create the first package tours and traveler's checks, taking advantage of the new railroads and steamships that made travel more confortable and accessible. For an island like Barbados, most of the tourists in the past were from the British middle and upper classes, and "by 1900, tourism was a small but notable feature of the economy" (Gmelch 3). Even in the 18th Century, Barbados had the reputation for a healthy climate, with mild temperatures and sea air that benefitted patients with tuberculosis and other long diseases. Bathing in the sea was also considered healthy, although the beach culture of swimming and sun tanning did not exist until the 20th Century. Upper and middle class whites tended to avoid spending too much time in the sun at all, lest their skin become too dark and they lose the status associated with fair complexions. Only with the advent of jet travel in the 1950s and 1960s did Barbados become a mass tourist destination, with travel brochures that portrayed the "image of the Caribbean as a warm, sensual, escapist place" (Gmelch 6).

In the 1950s and 1960s, the World Bank, UN and local elites all encouraged increased tourism in Barbados for purposes of economic development. Prices for its traditional exports like sugar and bananas were falling, and the government thought that the new tourist sector would create jobs and stimulate the economy. In this sense, they succeeded all too well because "today, more Barbadians work in tourism than in agriculture, and most young people disdain agricultural work altogether" (Gmelch 8). In 1959 there were 1.3 million tourists in the Caribbean, and this increased to ten million by 1980 and seventeen million in 2000. By 1992, tourism had become the most important sector of the Barbadian economy, ands stimulated many other areas ranging from food to arts and crafts to construction. From 1960 to 200, sugar production and the number of sugar plantations fell by half. Even so, the development of tourism infrastructure proved to be far more costly than initially expected in the 1950s, including expenditures on roads, airports, hotels and sewage systems designed "not just to make the tourists' journey possible but to make it convenient and comfortable as well" (Gmelch 10). Barbados and the other West Indian destinations had to raise taxes to pay for all this, as well borrow money from foreign governments, and some of them were unable to repay this and had to accept bailouts from the International Monetary Fund.

Most of the profits from tourism do not stay in the local economy but are repatriated abroad, especially since most of the industry including the airlines and two-thirds of the hotel rooms are foreign-owned. In addition, all-inclusive package holidays, paid in advance, lead to a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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