High Commissioner for Barbados Mr Guy Hewitt writes as the Bajan diaspora in the UK prepares to celebrate its 50th Anniversary of Independence
The strength and depth of the bonds between Barbados and Britain, coupled with the delight of visitors who travel to our island, makes the task of promoting Barbados in Britain fairly straightforward. Our paradise island for whom The Queen is also head of state, has been voted Britain’s most popular Caribbean destination by both regular travellers and the rich and famous.
Our popularity, due to the white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and delicious cuisine, is underpinned by the captivating charm of Bajans (as Barbadians are known) causing travellers to visit again and again. Barbados is the world’s leader in holiday returnees with 33 per cent of visitors having previously been to the island.
As the Bajan diaspora in the UK prepares to celebrate its 50th Anniversary of Independence on 30 November 2016, efforts are being made not just to recognise the achievements of our citizens like The RE Sir Garfield Sobers, cricket’s greatest all-rounder, and the multitalented phenomenon Rihanna, but also our contribution abroad.
With approximately a quarter of our population migrating to Britain in the post-World War II era, Barbados will be focusing on the contribution of its diaspora to the UK. This will include descendants like Walter Tull, the first black professional outfield footballer and military officer, and John Archer, the first black Mayor in London. Other outstanding sons and daughters of our soil include the Rt Rev. Wilfred Wood, KA, the first black Bishop in the Church of England, Dr Nola Ishmael OBE, the first black Director of Nursing in London, and Sir Michael Stoute, the multiple champion racehorse trainer.
But this short chronicle of exceptional Bajans in Britain would be incomplete without mentioning Sir James Cameron Tudor’s contribution as the first black President of the Oxford Union, who would go on to become the first Deputy Prime Minister of Barbados, and also The RE Errol Walton Barrow QC, a former RAF World War II pilot and graduate of the LSE and Lincoln’s Inn, who would go on to lead Barbados into Independence and become its first Prime Minister.
To fully appreciate the extent of the Barbados-Britain bond requires a brief journey into history. The entrepreneurial and innovative spirit of Sir James Drax who landed in Barbados in the 1620s as a teenager determined to make his fortune led to the transformation of Barbados. Drawing on the expertise in sugar processing and trading from the Dutch and Sephardic Jews, Drax developed the integrated sugar plantation model, which went on to be exported across the Commonwealth.
By the 1660s, Barbados was producing sugar with an annual value of over £3 million (over £100 billion output worth in today’s prices). As the most valuable commodity of the time – ‘white gold’ as it was known – meant that Barbados was described as “that fair jewel of your Majesty’s Crown” to King Charles II.
However, the heyday of sugar was also the darkest period for the majority of inhabitants; sugar and slavery became Barbados’ pride and shame. Barbados was a junior partner with Britain in this lucrative and heinous crime against humanity. This year started with the commemoration of the bicentenary of the 1816 Slave Revolt in Barbados.
Significantly, out of this oppression our enslaved ancestors bequeathed to us a resilience and an extraordinarily rich cultural heritage which we are immensely proud of.
Furthermore, the enslaved managed to create a whole world of their own within the bleak slave economy and society. It was a world of social values remembered and recreated; a world of culture rich in artistic expression flourishing miraculously in the most barren environment. Let us not forget that the greatest musical creation of the twentieth century, jazz, evolved from the blues, itself rooted in oppression. So too did calypso, reggae and numerous other art forms.
Our colonial heritage has brought many treasures, including Bajan food, which is a unique blend of African, Indian and British influences. Travel to Barbados often includes unforgettable mealtime memories like freshly caught fish, sweet plantains, rice and peas. Other epicurean delights include Friday Night Fish Fry in Oistins and Cuz’s Fish Shack, both of which Newsweek magazine listed as one of the 101 best places to eat around the world.
Much to the pleasure of locals and visitors alike, Barbados is the birthplace of rum, and is renowned for producing some of the world’s finest blends.
Barbados’ most popular and colourful festival, the Crop Over Festival, is another part of our colonial heritage. Originating as the celebration of the sugarcane harvest, this cultural extravaganza features a carnival-type parade including bands of revellers dressed in elaborate costumes, and attracts thousands of people from across the globe. It is a regular fixture on Rihanna and Lewis Hamilton’s events calendar.
For those who like to mix business and pleasure, Barbados has distinguished itself as a premier international business domicile and is the preferred choice for several global investors. More and more, investors are attracted to the country’s proven record of being an efficiently regulated, modern, transparent, treaty-based, stable and cost-effective jurisdiction. Additionally, Barbados’s responsiveness to attaining ever evolving international standards, sound legislative framework, world-class infrastructure, an excellent educational system, intelligent workforce as well as its outstanding quality of life, all combine to provide a unique appeal.
Over 4,000 international business entities offer high-end value-added products and services in the areas of niche manufacturing; software development; business process outsourcing; wealth management; international trade and commerce and international insurance and banking, among a range of other business activities.
Barbados, a mature society built on a rich heritage and solid infrastructure, has acquired the reputation of a country that punches above its weight. On 30 November 1966, this phenomenal heritage was given focus and direction by The Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow, the first Prime Minister and a National Hero of Barbados. Proclaimed as the ‘Father of Independence’, it was said that he “found Barbados a collection of villages and transformed them into a proud nation” giving Barbadians the ability to hold their heads high and proud in this world, as a people worthy of respect.
May the Creator continue to bless and guide Barbados and keep strong our bonds with the UK, the Commonwealth and beyond. Happy Independence Barbados!