The early pioneering of Barbados is attributed to Amerindians from the area of South America known today as Venezuela. They came across the treacherous seas in dugout canoes and set foot on the island almost 4,000 years ago. Throughout the next 3,000 years, the island was inhabited by various tribes with remnants of the peaceful farming and fishing tribe known as the Arawak’s.
The Portuguese happened upon Barbados in 1536 and found it to be deserted. Though they did not settle, they named the island “Los Barbados” which means “bearded ones.” It is generally accepted that the name echoed the Iberians fascination with the Bearded Fig Tree (a type of Ficus) that covered most of the island at that time.
When Captain John Powell landed at Holetown, St. James on the island by accident in 1625, the recorded history of Barbados began as the English claimed the island for the Crown and seized the opportunity for agricultural development. In 1627 Powell brought with him 80 settlers and a number of indentured servants to develop the island of Barbados. Tobacco was the first crop planted for export; however, it was displaced by the more profitable sugar cane. By the end of the 16th century, the island had over 20,000 white settlers and twice that number of slaves.
As Barbados developed as a plantation colony, so did the slave population. Large numbers of people were forcibly brought over from Africa to do the agricultural work. This developed a “triangle of trade” where manufactured goods were shipped from England and traded for African slaves. The slaves were then brought into Barbados, and the sugar from their labors was shipped off to England.
The plantation system in the Caribbean was especially brutal as many of the owners spent most of their lives in England living off the profits that were made. Plantations were left in the hands of overseers whose only goal was production and profit with little regard for human life. Yet in the midst of this, God was at work.
In the development of Christianity on the island, initially, the established church mirrored the attitude of colonial authorities towards the slaves. They were denied the Gospel and the ability to read and write, as it was believed that the owners would then need to acknowledge them as equals created by God, rather than pieces of property.
In contrast, early Methodist and Moravian missionary pioneers had God’s heart for the slaves and were persecuted by government authorities for seeking to evangelize them. Early in the 1800s, a breakthrough came in response to a recent slave rebellion. There was a surge of educational initiatives established by the British governor and the evangelization of all peoples on the island was encouraged.
Slavery was officially abolished in 1843 due to the pressures of religion and rebellion, including a powerful abolitionist movement in England. Yet unlike many other colonies, Barbados did not experience a mass exodus of white settlers. This has left strong British ties and a higher percentage of whites than on most other islands. Barbados remained a British colony until its independence in 1966.
Although slavery was abolished, improvements in conditions for former slaves were marginal and it wasn’t until the riots of 1937 that social reform began to move in their favor. Through the leadership of Grantley Adams and other colleagues, universal suffrage became a reality in 1954. In 1966 Barbados gained its independence from Britain under the leadership of Errol Barrow, however, constitutionally the island remains a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Over the years of independence, Barbados has steadily progressed in economic development.
Today, tourism is the main income earner for the island, and thousands come from Europe and North America. There is also a vibrant offshore banking and manufacturing sector. Sugar cane is still grown, and you will find sugar cane fields and historic sugar plantations dotting the landscape. YWAM Barbados is located on one of these former plantations, and is a reminder of God’s power to redeem from the curse: that which the enemy intended for evil, God has turned to use for good. Today there are Afro-Caribbean Christian missionaries from our campus serving God all around the world.