Map Courtesy CIA World Factbook
Barbados is an island nation located towards the east of the Caribbean Sea and the west of the Atlantic Ocean, part of the eastern islands of the Lesser Antilles, with the nations of Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines being its closest neighbors. The island is 430 km2 (166 square miles), and is primarily low, with some hills in the island's interior. It is located 13º north of the Equator and 59º west of the Prime Meridian, about 434.5 km (270 miles) northeast of Venezuela.
Barbados is mainly composed of coral and limestone. It is tropical with constant tradewinds and consists of some marshes and mangrove swamps. Some parts of the island's interior are also dotted with large sugarcane estates and wide pastures with many good views to the sea.
Barbados has one of the highest standards of living and literacy rates in the world and is currently according to the UN's UNDP, the #1 developing country in the world. The island is a major tourist destination.
The earliest inhabitants of Barbados were Amerindian nomads. Three waves of migrants moved north toward North America. The first wave was of the Saladoid-Barrancoid group, who were farmers, fishermen, and ceramists that arrived by canoe from South America (Venezuela's Orinoco Valley) around 350 CE. The Arawak people were the second wave of migrants, arriving from South America around 800. Arawak settlements on the island include Stroud Point, Chandler Bay, Saint Luke's Gully, and Mapp's Cave. According to accounts by descendants of the aboriginal Arawak tribes on other local islands, the original name for Barbados was Ichirouganaim. In the 13th century, the Caribs arrived from South America in the third wave, displacing both the Arawak and the Salodoid-Barrancoid. For the next few centries, the Caribs—like the Arawak and the Salodoid-Barrancoid—lived in isolation on the island.
The name "Barbados" comes from a Portuguese explorer named Pedro Campos in 1536, who originally called the island Os Barbados ("The Bearded Ones"), upon seeing the appearance of the island's fig trees, whose long hanging aerial roots he thought resembled beards. Between Campos' sighting in 1536 and 1550, Spanish conquistadors seized many Caribs on Barbados and used them as slave labor on plantations. Other Caribs fled the island, moving elsewhere.
British sailors who landed on Barbados in the 1620s at the site of present-day Holetown on the Caribbean coast found the island uninhabited. From the arrival of the first British settlers in 1627–1628 until independence in 1966, Barbados was under uninterrupted British control. Nevertheless, Barbados always enjoyed a large measure of local autonomy. Its House of Assembly began meeting in 1639. Among the initial important British figures was Sir William Courten.
As the sugar industry developed into the main commercial enterprise, Barbados was divided into large plantation estates which replaced the small holdings of the early British settlers. Some of the displaced farmers relocated to British colonies in North America, most notably South Carolina. To work the plantations, slaves were brought from Africa; the slave trade ceased a few years before the abolition of slavery throughout the British empire in 1834.
Local politics were dominated by plantation owners and merchants of British descent. It was not until the 1930s that a movement for political rights was begun by the descendants of emancipated slaves. One of the leaders of this movement, Sir Grantley Adams, founded the Barbados Labour Party in 1938.
Progress toward more democratic government for Barbados was made in 1951, when universal adult suffrage was introduced. This was followed by steps toward increased self-government, and in 1961, Barbados achieved internal autonomy.
From 1958 to 1962, Barbados was one of 10 members of the West Indies Federation, and Sir Grantley Adams served as its first and only prime minister. When the federation was terminated, Barbados reverted to its former status as a self-governing colony. Following several attempts to form another federation composed of Barbados and the Leeward and Windward Islands, Barbados negotiated its own independence at a constitutional conference with the United Kingdom in June 1966. After years of peaceful and democratic progress, Barbados became an independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations on November 30, 1966.
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