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Looking again at Barbados

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I always found Barbados a fascinating and intriguing country, a country labelled ‘Little England’ because of its long interrupted colonial association with Britain and the large percentage of English people who had populated it. When elected assemblies were taken away from other Caribbean colonies following the 1862 St. Vincent riots and the more celebrated 1865 Morant Bay revolt, Barbados retained theirs. But I first began to look again at Barbados when I realised that among the leaders of the 1862 riots were a few Barbadians, some of them, although not firmly established, being members of the Wilderness people, as the Shakers called themselves. Then Walter Rodney has pointed to the involvement of Barbadian migrants in many cases of unrest in the Caribbean.

When I studied for about two years in Barbados in the 1970s, I began to see another side. To me, there were two societies, that of the ordinary Barbadian people, a proud people, despite their lowly position in the society. As a student I hung out with a few other Vincentians, including Lennie Daisley with whom I shared a house. Then there were Bert Davy and Andre Iton. They had all graduated and were then working in Barbados. I remember going to several night clubs that were populated mainly by tourists and white Barbadians. When I asked a friend where ordinary Barbadians went, he took me to a Bajan lime. As we approached the wooden building I saw mainly bicycles parked outside. We went in and to the back door and looked into the yard where scores of Barbadians were having a time of their lives. Then I remembered one thing that had always puzzled me – the number of notices in the newspapers that advertised annual fetes, perhaps of bartenders at one of the hotels or a taxi driver or some other worker having their 10th or whatever number of years, anniversary dance.

Then there was the rum shop ‘culture’ that still continues. At some of these rum shops you met all classes of people, sometimes ministers of government or opposition politicians, lawyers, doctors.

There was a lot of political chat. One story stuck with me. A few parliamentarians had met and agreed to support the ‘Little Eight’ following Jamaica’s decision to opt out of the Federation and Eric Williams’ famous political mathematical statement that one from ten leaves nought. Apparently, this came to nothing after one or two who were part of the decision surprised the others by making a completely different presentation. One name I remember was David Simmons, later Sir David. Many years later as head of the Open Campus I went with my colleague to one of these shops in the country and had a really delightful evening. There were, of course, no beggars around. A friend recently told me that they are still popular. People sometimes phone and order lunches, authentic Barbadians ones, to be taken away. On a recent occasion he did see an ambassador at one of them.

Barbadians have begun to lose some of the optimism that came with the change of government. The new PM, with support of the IMF, Inter-American Development Bank and the CDB, after having agreed to a restructuring programme, has been juggling a number of balls in the air at the same time. Public support is being sought and absolutely necessary. For how long she will be able to keep these balls juggling, given the harsh measures that have to be implemented, is anyone’s guess. As stories come out about the mismanagement and alleged corruption of the previous government, there are many questions to be asked. Imagine the party of Errol Barrow, the ‘Dipper’, founded in 1955; Barrow, first PM and National Hero! Freundel Stuart surely has a lot for which to answer!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian 

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