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Some Traditions and Customs from Barbados that You Should Really Know


The national dish is coocoo (a creamy mix of cornmeal and okra) and flying fish. Breaded and fried flying fish is a popular snack or meal. Bajan meals emphasize fish, chicken, pork, and other foods common to West Africa, such as rice, okra, and Scotch peppers. Popular fruits include papaya, mango, guava, bananas, oranges, and pineapples.

Food components such as cornmeal, salt fish, and salt beef were supplied to the original plantation labor forces.

A common meal served in rural areas is the one called privilege mixes rice, among others like okra, hot pepper, pork tail or salt beef, garlic, salt fish, and onions. The Mount Gay Distillery has been producing rum since 1703. Made from bark, sugar and spices, mauby is a popular drink.


Special occasions often call for pudding and souse, the former a spicy sweet potato mash wrapped in the belly of the pig, and the boiled pig’s head served with a “pickle” of onions, hot and sweet peppers, cucumbers, and lemon.

Jarra, a dish consisting of pigeon, peas, stew and salt beef, onions, guinea cornmeal and spices, is served with Christmas dishes such as boiled ham and roast pork.


The arts in Barbados have been supported since the mid-1950s by the Barbados National Arts Council, and tourism has provided patrons for many local artists, especially musicians.

The Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) supports the preservation of the island’s crafts through numerous shops where local artisans sell their wares, as well as offering workshops for beginners and experts alike.


Although Barbados has a long oral narrative tradition, the written Barbados literature, first premiered in the 1940s and 1950s in a Barbadian literary magazine called Bim, which was the first showcase of works by various Caribbean writers destined for future fame. Among them is Derek Wolcott, the 1992 Nobel Prize laureate in Literature, who was born in Saint Lucia but has spent much of his time in Trinidad.

Well-known Barbadian writers include essayist John Wickham, novelist George Lamming (best known for In the Castle of My Skin), and poet Edward Kamau Braithwaite, winner of the 1994 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at New York University.


Barbados has a thriving community of artists producing paintings, murals, sculptures and handicrafts, many of which reflect strong African influences. Barbadian crafts include pottery,


Historically, sexual activity generally began at a young age, when women exchanged sex for financial support and children (“visitation” or “custodial” relationships).

Visiting unions gave way to common law marriages which, for older couples, could be legitimized by a church ceremony. Motherhood is an investment activity for women. In a woman’s youth, children legitimized her claims to income from men, although establishing those claims required submission.

As a woman enters middle age, her daughters take over most of the housework and her sons provide her with financial resources that can make her independent of spousal support and reduce or eliminate her subservience to an autocratic man.

In old age, the financial and domestic support of children meant the difference between extreme poverty and a moderate or even comfortable lifestyle. Because men could only expect support from their children if they had maintained a relationship with the children’s mother, women who were dependent on men in their youth found that their men were dependent on them in late middle age.

Since 1960, family relationships have undergone a revolution. Barbadian women have experienced a combination of good employment opportunities and increased educational levels.

The West Indian marriage pattern of visiting, common law marriage and legal unions remain, but many women now receive much more domestic help, emotional support and caring behavior. Women now have fewer children and enjoy a much better relationship with their partners.


Barbadians are known for their courtesy and civility, a legacy of both British influence and the island’s high population density: living in close proximity to other people puts pressure to avoid censorship and unpleasant confrontations.

Describing his homeland, the well-known Barbadian author John Wickham wrote: “People’s inability to distance themselves from one another has led to concern for public order, compassion for others and a compelling sense of rights and integrity of the neighbors”.


More than 80 percent of the population is Christian, and more than half belong to the Church of England. A small East Indian community includes some people who practice Hinduism, and Islam is respected by a small number of people from various backgrounds.

An increasing number of people practice Rastafarianism. A small Jewish community with Sephardic roots attends services in a synagogue originally built in 1640 BC.

Apostolic Spiritual Baptists (popularly known as “tie heads”) hold a special place in the religious spectrum of Barbados as the only indigenous religion on the island. The sect, founded in 1957 by Bishop Branville Williams, combines Christian observance with the foot-stomping, clapping and dancing characteristic of African religious practices.

Tie heads, named for the cloth turbans worn by both men and women, wear colorful dresses in colors that symbolize particular qualities.

Fraught With Peril