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Barbados at 50: A Year of Celebrations Marking Independence Day on 30 November 2016

 


By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson

 

 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016.

 

 

As Barbados approaches the golden anniversary of its independence from Britain, the Caribbean island nation of almost 300 000 people - and many more comprising its extensive diaspora – is reflecting on almost 400 years of recorded history.

 

The year of celebration – with activities in Barbados and across the Bajan diaspora - focusing on a theme of Pride and Industry – began officially in January this year with the launch of Barbados We Come From, at Independence Square in capital city Bridgetown, under the country’s broken trident adorned blue and yellow flag.  Of course, this year’s Crop Over was extra special and anniversary festivities have continued with art exhibitions, literary festivals and book fairs; artistic and creative performances; tributes to the island’s seven Prime Ministers and recognition of the role of the workers and labour movements in Barbados’ campaign for democracy and independence. 

 

2016 also marks the 200th anniversary of the pivotal anti-slavery rebellion for freedom led by Bussa at Bayley’s Plantation, St. Philip.  This signal event, though unsuccessful, laid the basis - along with Caribbean-wide rebellions - for Emancipation throughout the British Empire in 1838. 

 

Barbados’ culture and traditions have their foundation built on the heritage of the indigenous people - Caribs and Arawaks decimated following initial Spanish/Portuguese intervention - as well as the culture of peoples of predominantly African descent who make up its population and – significantly - on the islands near 400-year association with solely English-British colonial institutions and rule.

 

Unlike many other Caribbean islands, Barbados did not face the intermittent wars and military rivalry between Dutch, French, Spanish and English colonial powers, which befell the wider Caribbean region. 

 

Although this unbroken connection with England and Britain – that begun in 1625 near Holetown and ratified by King Charles I in 1627 - has undoubtedly influenced Barbadian social and political life and culture, a distinctly Caribbean identity and culture has evolved in the island and its most famous sons and daughters are acclaimed globally. In Caribbean’s agitation for freedom from enslavement, racial equality, the campaign for independence, development in sports, music, literature and culture, Barbados is well renowned.

 

The career of Barbados’ most famous son and the country’s only living National Hero, Garfield Sobers - who marked his 80th birthday in July with a 20/20 cricket match - with Sobers Celebrity XI defeating Brian Lara’s team - paralleled the independence of the majority of Caribbean nations with the domination of the West Indies cricket team.

 

The cricket legend is joined by Labour leader and the country’s Premier Grantley Adams, the Father of Independence and national hero Errol Walton Barrow, social campaigner Nita Barrow, together with entertainers Edwin Yearwood, Alison Hinds, superstar Rhianna, Olympic athlete Obadele Thompson, outstanding intellectual and Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies Hilary Beckles. Others include eminent Barbadians include notable writers such as George Lamming, Kamau Braithwaite and Frank Collymore. Many personalities from the entertainment world also claim Barbadian heritage including hip hop pioneers Grandmaster Flash [Joseph Saddler], Doug E. Fresh, LL Cool J, actors Cuba Gooding Jr., Jada Pinkett, Meagan Good and Stacey Dash. 

 

Reflecting on the golden anniversary celebrations Bajan resident Alan Springer observed that: “What happened in 1966 is something to be celebrated, at the same time looking for someone like [Errol] Barrow to take us forward into the next 50.”

 

Talking about the late Statesman’s vision for the island he recalled: “Barrow saw the agricultural decline and gave us a choice: invest in modern farming or switch focus to modern technology to provide the platform for international business. Errol Barrow was a statesman of the first order whose administration in fact ushered in much of what he envisaged for Barbados going forward - a Barbados that had the right to determine its own governance, elected by Barbadians… a progressive Barbados driven by modern infrastructure, able to compete on a more even footing with nations far more developed, development that was achieved mostly on the backs of nations like Barbados. Barrow wanted an education system able to turn out the next generation of academics to steer the nation into a brave new world.”

 

With discussion well underway to establish Barbados as a republic and to end the British monarch’s role as the island’s head of state, Tee White a Barbados based educator proposed a wider debate which visualizes a political system which can meet Bajans’ needs for empowerment and democracy.  He pointed out that universal adult suffrage was achieved only 15 years before independence and that the current Westminster style system of ‘representative democracy’ on which it is based was established in Barbados by the slave masters in the 17th century.  In this regard he stressed the need for more debates.

 

He said: “There is no doubt that our move to a republic is long overdue.”

 

Whilst that debate continues, five decades of formal independence from the United Kingdom will be marked on Independence Day, November 30, with a military parade and a mega concert - all to be held at the capital city’s iconic Garrison Savannah.

 

When the blue and yellow flag is raised and the national anthem accompanies the unveiling of the much-anticipated national monument, Barbados will have achieved a landmark golden anniversary.

 

Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson is TheNewblackmagazine.com’s deputy editor. He can be reached at shaunhutchinson@thenewblackmagazine.com

 

Image © http://peopleofbajanheritage.tumblr.com

Barbados at 50: A Year of Celebrations Marking Independence Day on 30 November 2016

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