Due to the Sugar Revolution, Barbados saw a rampant growth of sugar cane plantations. According to Mintz, by the end of the XVII Century, the British and French started producing sugar in small farms, where many of them used labour who arrived from European metropolis. Such labourers were minor criminals, debtors, religious and political dissidents and in many cases, Irish revolutionaries. Alternatively, many of these ‘forced’ labourers (engagés) were actually kidnapped. This became such commonplace for both the British and the French that the term ‘barbadear’ (barbading) became the synonym of kidnapping.

Due to the size of the sugar cane industry, farmers were able to cope with the ‘few’ enslaved natives and their ‘hired’ European labourers. It was later on that the plantation owners started buying enslaved peoples from Africa. By the end of the XVIII Century, at the boom of the sugar cane industry, Barbados saw over 600,000 enslaved people arrive at the island. The Slavery Voyages project accounted for a total fo 376,016 enslaved peoples from Africa.

Barbados Transatlantic Trade Numbers

The Native Background

Barbados is roughly 268 square kilometres long. Native cultures such as the Arawaks and the Caribs were barely present after late 1400. The Island’s sugar cane industry largely further dissipated traces of the native cultures of the island, thus replacing them with those new arrivals who later on will adopt the Island as their new home. This is where the native American narratives start to flourish. Nevertheless, we wanted to have a pathway that showcases the contribution to sounds and instruments in modern music. Between 1970 and 1990, Barbados released The Indigenous (as in native) Declaration of Barbados: Symbolic Construction and Political Imagination of Equality. This document engages first, with the past, engaging with the merge of native and new cultures that resulted in the oppression of dominant sectors involved in colonial processes. It further engages with the present, highlighting the impact that colonial and dominant sectors had and currently have in the removal of native traces in such cultures. This can also be linked to the whitewashing narratives. Finally, it focuses on the future, asking the other Latin American Nations to make sure that such native American demands are carried out. Movements such as the Zapatista movement is one of the many examples of the current struggle of decolonisation in Latin America where natives take back control through self-rule, self-government and popular sovereignty.


Interaction point for Barbados

The graphics used in this interaction point focused on the past, present and future of Barbados, highlighting the transition of their tangible and intangible culture to the birth of all these new cultural elements born out of that mix. For example, the role of syncopation in modern music has a strong connection to Afro-Caribean and Afro-Latin beats, such as Cumbia, Salza and Bachata. We highlighted the role of the drums as the key to how such syncopations take place. Furthermore, we focused on the future by showcasing people dancing embracing the merge of sounds, instruments and cultures. Nevertheless, we used the sugar cane knife to showcase and remember the role that the sugar cane industry had on the Trans Atlantic Slave trade.

Sound Track

Syliphone record label recordings from Guinea (Gbili).

Yu Wele

The soundtrack used for this interaction point is a recording from Guinea. The track is held at the British Library. The track is called Yu Wele which means wooden pin. It was performed by Leleya Jazz de Gbili. It belongs to the Syliphone Record Label Collection at the British Library. The Collection showcases in a very similar way to Barbado’s Declaration the recovery of local cultures and highlighting the post-colonial empowerment (the future). This was called the Movement of Authenticité, which was later adopted by other African nations such as Mali, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Zaïre.

The reason why we chose this song is due to the cultural empowerment of past, present and future and its close similarity to Merengue, a very specific tropical music from the Latin American (Caribbean) music. Here is a 30-second sample from the record used for the installation.

Yu Wele (© British Library)

Merengue music is now one of the key music genres of all Latin American Countries. It can be said that the heritage of syncopation from African nations is currently the foundation of most of the Latin music and thus music around the world. This video below is Merengue music performed by the Wilfrido Vargas Orchestra and Rubby Perez.