Barbados is the eastern-most island in the Caribbean and recent archaeological discoveries now place the first settlements there at around 1623 B.C.
The first indigenous settlers came from Venezuela and were an agricultural people, growing such crops as cassava, peanuts, guava, cotton and peanuts. Around 1200 these Arawaks were conquered by the Carib people, a taller, stronger Amerindian tribe who hunted with bows and poisoned arrows.
Amongst a number of theories for the island’s name is that it was called Los Barbados by the Portuguese, en route to Brazil. The name is thought to derive from the hanging roots of the fig trees that grow on the island and have a beard-like appearance. However, equally plausible is that the Carib were bearded, or that the foam spraying over the reefs gave rise to the name.
In 1492 the Spanish plundered the island and may have taken the Carib as slaves. However they and the Portuguese failed to claim it and it was left to the English to colonise the island in 1625, when the Olive Blossom, captained by John Powell, arrived and Barbados was claimed on behalf of King James I. The ensuing colonisation by the English led to the distribution of plots of land and deforestation made way for tobacco and cotton plantation until, in the 1630s, sugar cane was introduced to the island. Slavery was abolished in 1834, but it was not until 1838 that over 83,000 were finally emancipated. During the intervening period, slaves continued to work an ‘apprenticeship’ without pay, in exchange for accommodation in the huts provided by the plantation owners.
Barbados was granted internal autonomy in 1961 and on 30 November 1966 gained full independence. The island is a member of the Commonwealth with Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State, represented locally by the Governor General. Barbados is effectively a two-party system, with the two dominant parties being the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), although a number of third parties and independents have stood for election since independence.
The DLP and BLP have alternated in government since independence with each party in power for two terms at a time. The exception to this was the 2003 election, which gave the BLP a third term and 14 years in government. The Democratic Labour Party has been in power since the elections of 2008.
Barbados has a bicameral political system, based on that of Great Britain. The Senate has 21 members appointed by the Governor General, of whom 12 are on the advice of the Prime Minister, 2 on the advice of the opposition leader and 7 at his discretion. The House of Assembly has 30 members elected by direct popular vote to serve five year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Barbados at joint 31st out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 61 (where 100 is least corrupt).