How Slaves Found Freedom in Barbados (And How We Can Do The Same)

Sea view in Barbados

Have you missed parts one, two and three on finding freedom in Barbados? Scoot along and click on the links to read them first. The rest won’t make sense otherwise (chances are it may not make sense even after you’ve read those but what can I say? ;-) )

The Day After Freedom

When the change came, the island held its breath. What would happen the following day?

Would people turn up to work? Or would they leave?

Would it be business as usual? Or would anarchy arrive?

The sun spilled its sparkle across the water of the ocean. And in the morning, those who had been slaves…

…went back to work.

The abolition revolution had come – and already gone.

“One hundred years later,” Morris explains, “those families were worse off than when they’d been slaves.”

We continue our walk past the tombstones outside the church and on to the graveyard by the synagogue.

It’s an interesting thing, freedom. It sings with a breathless promise, and whispers a burden of pain.

It’s an interesting thing, freedom. It sings with a breathless promise, and whispers a burden of pain.

Bajan chattel house

It is one thing to achieve freedom in the headlines and the history books. It is another to find it in reality, to have freedom of thought, freedom of movement, freedom of hopes, dreams and aspirations. Or looking at it another way – to have options that extend beyond “do this” or lose your food, water and shelter.

With no money, no other experience and no other connections what else could freed slaves do but return to the plantations? Barbados, as you don’t need me to tell you, is an island. An island it’s expensive to leave.

So the mills turned and the white sugar continued to bleed from the profitable green cane. True freedom was not an overnight affair.

The drive back from Bridgetown to St James’ parish where the Bajan story began offers glimpses of the sea between the high walls of hotels and private villas and the weather-torn wood of the chattel houses that plantation workers used to fold up and transport between fields in the quest for work.

By the time we reach Holetown, the chattel houses look pink, perky and perfect, marking the gentrified shopping area that runs from The Club Resort & Spa on to the shiny new Limegrove shopping centre.

Barbados Today

Today, Barbados holds the title as the third most developed country in the Western Hemisphere and ranks 4th on world literacy tables. It attracts a pretty jet-set crowd and exports include the songs of an unapologetic Rihanna.

Barbadian culture – or “Bajan if you want to sound cool” according to our driver – is a strong and colourful thing. It thrives on flying fish and cou-cou, world class cricket, Christian hymns and the soulful voice and sinful body (say the radio talkshows) of Rihanna.

The island has forged an entire identity, quite literally, from nothing. From a mix of Britain, Ireland, Ghana, Nigeria,  Brazil, Holland, Guiana and Spain, this island’s success story has written its chapters through sweat and tears and a remarkable scarcity of blood.

Bajan Domino game

A night at Oistin’s, Barbados

“The other Caribbean islands say we’re arrogant,” adds Emerson. “But that’s only we’re because we’re so much better than them.” And with that he doubles over in deep-bellied laughter at his own good humour and fortune.

I’m still thinking about those words, freedom and fortune, as I walk back to my room.

As the door opens, the birds scramble away, sprinkling sugar across the floor. The sky is an empty, coral blue that hangs over water with slow patches that glitter into turquoise and grey.

I switch on my laptop, reach for my cable and let the uploading of photos begin. The modem blinks, I make notes on lined paper and think back on this room and its view of the world.

The truth is, I have seen it before. Nearly ten years ago, I looked out at these waves, heard the tweeting of these small birds and watched the sunset splay drama across the sky. Back when I worked as doctor and remembered my dream to make a living from words.

Back then, I picked up a notebook and I started to write.

In this same room, with this same view, I started again. And in that smallest of ways, I found my own freedom.

insidetravellab in sand

Barbados Today

Barbados Today

Disclosure: I visited Barbados as a guest of Virgin Atlantic thanks to Tropical Sky, experts in luxury holidays and resorts.

I stayed at The Club Barbados Resort & Spa (formerly the Almond Beach Club) where all-inclusive packages start at  £1079 for 7 nights.

Morris Greenidge offers several different types of fantastic walking tours around Barbados that focus on the history of the place – contact him at mgevents at usa.net

As usual, as ever, as always, I was free to write whatever I liked.

 What would you do if you felt free enough to do it?

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13 Responses to How Slaves Found Freedom in Barbados (And How We Can Do The Same)

  1. Gayla March 19, 2013 at 11:21 pm #

    Freedom is an interesting concept and it differs from person to person. It can also be one of the scariest things a person encounters in life. This was a great series on Barbados.
    I’m really curious, though, to know what cou-cou tastes like. I grew up in southern Louisiana eating couche couche, a fried or boiled cornmeal dish served at breakfast with milk and a touch of cane syrup, honey or brown sugar. I wonder if this is a dish that traveled to Louisiana with the Islanders…

    • Abi King March 27, 2013 at 6:41 pm #

      I have a feeling it is…I’ll be writing a post about cou-cou later on but it looked a little like cous-cous only stodgier. I only saw it served with a savoury fish dish but perhaps people have it for breakfast as well. The people I met in Barbados said it had travelled there from West Africa…perhaps from there onwards to Louisiana?

  2. Tracy Z March 20, 2013 at 12:55 am #

    Thanks for sharing your view, I’ve never been to Barbados but definitely want to go now!

    • Abi King March 27, 2013 at 6:41 pm #

      Fascinating island – I hope you get to go.

  3. Pigafe March 20, 2013 at 1:28 am #

    Your thinking about freedom it’s very interesting. Nice place and photos. I was waiting Rihanna’s photos on the beach with you but I think that she was very busy.

    • Abi King March 27, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

      Well, she pestered me for days to meet up but I just didn’t have time ;-) You know how it is…

  4. Linda March 20, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    I think I already told you how fascinating I found these posts. I’m using slavery as an ESL theme at the moment, so this has been doubley interesting. I’ve found student’s views so polarized, and I can give them a different perspective now, thank you.

    Freedom is relative, as I think your own story proves.

    • Abi King March 27, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

      Oh that’s so interesting… In which direction are the views polarized?

      • Linda March 28, 2013 at 7:44 pm #

        These are, remember, young people who are being educated in the Spanish system – they tell me that they are taught that Spain wasn’t involved in slavery, and they were surprised when I mentioned Portugal too. Their perception was that it was a British/American thing. They are too young to “blame” Britain, but you could clearly see where the bias in their teaching was. In the same way Drake or Raleigh were pereived as heroes in the history books I had in school, but in Spain schools teach that they were pirates (as if piracy wasn’t a thing common to all nations at the time). They were also taught that all slave owners were monsters, and were surprised to know that some were “paternalistic”; that everything wasn’t so clear cut. They are not taught about the history of slavery in Africa previous to Europeans becoming involved. And this aftermath of freedom was something they hadn’t thought about, the “what to do with freedom once it’s achieved.

        • Abi King April 20, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

          Thanks for giving us that perspective. My school history days were filled with the evils of the British Empire. There are always so many versions/ perspectives out there, aren’t there?

          • Linda April 21, 2013 at 10:01 am #

            Indeed there are, and you just, unknowlingly, illustrated that, because back in the 60s nothing much was said about the evils of colonialism, save but for a couple of outstanding examples of cruelty. Hence in the years around then, 50s and 60s, my immature mind saw the “wars” in which Britain was involved as what we would now call “wars against terror” and not what most were, wars for freedom. I imagine that some of my generation haven’t learned anything since school either.

  5. Indra March 21, 2013 at 6:43 am #

    Fascinating posts…really enjoy reading them

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