It’s a tiny island nestled at the southernmost tip of the chain of Caribbean getaways, and yet Barbados has slowly gained popularity in recent years.
The island – a mere 21 miles by 14 miles wide – is the birthplace of pop princess Rihanna, home of soca Queen Alison Hinds and the nerve-center of the popular sport, cricket.
This month, Barbadians at home and throughout the Diaspora will celebrate their 43rd year of independence from Great Britain.
The month-long festivities kicked off on Sunday, Nov. 8 with a church service at the Christ Episcopal Church in Coconut Grove.
On Saturday, Nov. 14, Barbadian staples such as pudding and souse, macaroni pie, flying fish and cou-cou, sweet cakes and Mauby, will be on hand at a free family event at the Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill.
“We are small island but we have big hearts,’’ said the island’s Consul General to Miami, Colin Mayers.
Indeed, Barbados has a population of just 270,000 – a mere fraction of the 1.7 million residents of Broward County.
An estimated 10,000 Barbadians are scattered throughout the Florida Diaspora, a fraction of the immigrant population from larger islands like Jamaica and Haiti.
But unlike its larger Caribbean neighbors, where economic, social and political unrest have historically spurred large groups to leave the islands, Barbados has enjoyed economic and political stability, which would help explain why so few residents leave the island, said Philip St. Hills, deputy consular general to Miami.
“We have been blessed with governments in the past that focus on our education and the rewards are there as the result of that,’’ St. Hills said.
The island, which offers free education from kindergarten through college, boasts a literacy record of 98 percent.
“We don’t have any natural resources but we consider our people to be our greatest resource,’’ St. Hills said.
The government and private sector have also entered into an agreement or a social partnership, St. Hills said, to ensure that their currency trades competitively with the United States.
The Barbadian dollar has traded at the same rate for over 20 years. The dollar trades at $2 for every one U.S. dollar. By comparison, Jamaica’s currency trades at $88 for every one U.S. dollar. Guyana trades at $205 for every one U.S. dollar.
But there is one natural resource that the island boasts which has helped attract a growing number of tourists: its beaches. The island is so small that the beaches are readily accessible from almost any point.
Britain continues to be the number-one source of the island’s tourism. But as new carriers like Jet Blue have added the island to their itineraries, they’ve seen an increase in visitors from the U.S., Mayers said.
Tiger Woods married on the island’s uber-exclusive Sandy Lane Resort. Sting, David Beckham and his wife Victoria, and British Royalty Prince Harry frequently vacation there.
But the island also welcomes the not-so-wealthy. The government recently launched a Barbados family-and-friends reward points program, where participants gain points for referring visitors to the island. The program is open to everyone.
“That’s an innovative approach we’ve launched as our way of compensating the Diaspora,’’ St. Hills said.
And tourism officials continue to push for ways to keep the Diaspora involved.
There is a Diaspora conference every two years in which members of the business, political and general community discuss ways those overseas can help the island. A conference will take place on the island next year.
But perhaps the biggest attraction for the island is the annual crop-over festival, a month-long, calypso-driven festivity which attracts thousands of visitors each year.
“Our island sells itself,’’ Mayers said. “ We know we are not the cheapest, but I think our personality is known as to be peaceful and laid back. It is what always attracts visitors and we are proud of that.’’
THE MORE YOU KNOW
• A Barbadian Family Day will take place on Saturday, Nov. 14 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Central Broward Regional Park, State Road 7 and Sunrise Blvd. in Lauderhill. All are invited to come and experience Barbadian culture, which will include cricket, netball, kite-making, road tennis, dominoes and various other activities for adults and children. Admission to the event is free;
• The Annual Independence Banquet will take place on Friday, Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Signature Grand, 6900 State Road 84 in Davie. The Honourable David J. H. Thompson QC.; M.P., Prime Minister of Barbados, will be the guest speaker. For additional information regarding tickets for the Independence Banquet, contact Roslyn Sealy at 954-806-1377 or Marcia Smith at 954-554-6440. Entertainment will be provided by the reigning Calypso Monarch of Barbados, Red Plastic Bag.
For additional information, contact Althia Cumberbatch at
954-317-3798 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information regarding all events can be found at www.barbadosculturalassociation.org.
• For details on the Barbados Friends and Family reward program, visit: www.barbadosfamilyandfriends.com.