One British tourist’s view of Barbados history

Should Barbados look to Germany and the Holocaust camps for guidance?

by John Slapp

I have visited Barbados many times over the past years and each visit is preceded by excitement at the prospect of reacquainting myself with friends made in previous years and the beauty of the island.

This excitement is, however, tempered by the knowledge that Barbados has denied and neglected its history, both architectural and human, in favour of the “Luxury Dollar”.


Walking around Bridgetown one is struck by the number of neglected historical buildings left to rot and decay. Just one example of many is the Eye Hospital. There are many more. They are treated no better than the eyesores of empty hotels along the Boardwalk.

The Garrison area is one shining light, however Needhams Point, with its guns rusting in the sea, is now a part of the Hilton, for goodness sake! An example of the Dollar being more important than Heritage. It also seems that the Gun Collection in St Ann’s Fort is a national secret if direction signs are anything to go by.

Driving around the island one comes across many old sugar mills and boiling houses. Maybe I am at fault but I have yet to see one restored to give visitors an idea of what they were like. A few days of cane crushing at Morgan Lewis is commendable but hardly inspiring.

I could go on and on, but I think that you get the point.


Barbados has a history. Much as we all wish it had been otherwise the fact remains that slavery, both white and black, is a major part of this history.

This historic slave was hut torn down

I may have missed it and if I did then many others have also, but is there anywhere on the island where the horrors of slavery are exhibited? I have some understanding that one would like to forget these times and would not wish to glamourize them in any way, but to forget and put the past behind us is to dishonour the men, women and children who were its victims.

If you need an example of how to handle and deal with a dark past you only have to look at Germany. It would have been easy to demolish the concentration camps but they are maintained as a symbol and a warning. Barbados could do something similar with one, just one, restored plantation house and surrounding buildings. Show children and visitors what their ancestors went through to enable them to live in the paradise that is Barbados: where and how they lived, how they were treated.

A statue on a roundabout and renaming Trafalgar Square do nothing to bring home the horrors.

I am aware that any action will cost money. It seems, however, that money can be found to attract “celebrities” and to make their lives easy. These celebs are, however, fleeting, here today and gone tomorrow. History is permanent and will always be with us, it is worth investing in as it has shaped all of us.

Yours etc

John Slapp
47 Firs Avenue
Rutland, GB


Filed under Barbados, Barbados Tourism, Culture & Race Issues, History, Human Rights, Slavery

19 responses to “One British tourist’s view of Barbados history

  1. Ivan Taylor

    History here means a reminder of Slavery so it also means Hate of the Colonial era and what that stands for, this hate runs deeper than people realise and by restoring this restores old wounds, we will never be able to separate one from the other, it is sad and in the Caribbean its ground in – people avoid it here as it is a sticky situation but its the truth if you look around and see for yourself who funds and keeps history alive you will understand. I know people with reply and say its a bunch of rubbish but look at it.

  2. Wily Coyote

    Black Barbadians blame ALL EVIL on Slavery, and this time in History MUST BE ELIMINATED. Needless to say the Barbados free education system promotes this way of thinking and Barbados is slowly becoming the BOSNIA of the Caribbean, ethnic cleansing is closer than we’d all like to think.
    Grave yards of the colonial era, from the 1600’s, have been bulldozed, built over and not even a small marker denotes there past existence. Barbados is intent on eliminating all aspects of the colonial slave days, unfortunately will will be there undoing.

  3. Bajanguy

    Present day Barbadians are sometimes “encouraged” to hate their past by local and vocal leaders who from time to time try to convince them that the white (implied to be the “ruling” class) population is trying to reinstate those days of ‘slavery’ through imposing harsh working conditions such as punctuality, not practising malingering, and similar practices which adversely affect productivity.

    The frequent call for the statue of Nelson to be removed from his current place, which should still be named Trafalgar Square, is one example of the twisted thinking of some people who consider themselves “historians” and the ‘guardians of our fate’. Antigua is proud of Nelson’s Dockyard and I believe it brings in much foreign exchange for that country but we are told that Nelson was a slave owner, is to be despised and further his naval efforts did nothing to protect the Caribbean in general and Barbados in particular. How dim can one be?

    Another historic building in the city has recently been partially but significantly destroyed despite everyone being well aware of the significance of such buildings and how rare they have become over the past two decades because of just such callous behaviour by developers and those responsible for protecting our heritage, namely Government departments. The National Trust has little or no legal authority in the matter.

    Foreigners are often publicly scorned because of the perception, stoked by those who should and could know better, that they are only on the island to take what they can enjoy and that by in large they contribute nothing to the island other than some foreign exchange while buying all “the desirable land”. I am in a position to know a little of what many of those foreigners do contribute on a frequent basis but not many of them are interested in the usual “grip and grin” photo opportunities that politicians love to have in the newspapers for their own objectives. The ex-pats prefer to make their contributions quietly and without a lot of fuss in the public, helping with medical expenses, homes for needy children and other major projects too numerous to detail here.

    Sometimes it takes comments (or a Slapp, sorry could not resist that) from a frequent and caring visitor to make people aware of just what we have here and how we should appreciate, develop and value it to our advantage.

    Thank you Mr Slapp for your comments, very forthright and accurate in your assessment of what is wrong with our heritage program, such as it is.

  4. Angela Ifill

    Why don’t we go back and rebuild the Arawak settlements? Why the white people feel that their culture is so precious that one must go all out to preserve it? Invading people’s countries,kidnapping it’s residence,illegally transporting them,enslaving them,brainwashing them,destroying their psyche and values;is that a past to be remembered? Why not promote the days before the white man came and try to wipe us out with biological warfare so as to steal our land? How about the glorious days before my forefathers had to endure slave huts?

    I gather from reading Mr Slapp contribution It pleases him to go around and visit the remains that bring back the memories of his ancestors brutality to innocent people.Probably he gets a high off the memory of the relics that showed his forefathers ruled supreme.Mr Slapp may be one of those longing for a resurgence of the Aryan race.

  5. Ivan Taylor

    There you Go Mr Slapp – Question answered by Ms Ifill I think we need to learn from this and move on
    She has made it quite clear which answers the question posted
    We need to now look to Africa to help us move forward – for finance – industry – for tourism and for future development.

  6. john slapp

    Thankyou for publishing my thoughts.

    I am horrified by the response from Angela. This was without knowing anything about me, my beliefs or even my skin colour. I venture to suggest that she has read into my letter the things that she wants to see there rather than what I said.Far from getting a high off the, non existent, relics, I abhor all forms of enslavement but this is no reason not to learn more about it and its horrors.

    She has focused on my comments on the neglect of the old colonial buildings and has completely missed my concerns about the human history.

    Her accusation that I would like to see a resurgence of the Aryan race,and am by implication a racist, is VERY wide of the mark and insulting in the extreme.

    I have re-read my letter and cannot see anything to deserve her accusations.We actually agree about the evils of slavery, where we diverge is how it should be remembered.

    I do agree with her on one thing though,rebuild an Arawak settlement, they were also part of the island history.

  7. Wiser

    Madam Ifill

    It is very sad to read so much foolishness coming out from your side…and unfortunately your are in good company.

    You see, nobody can deny the fact that slavery have been an horrible practice and the entire world still condemn what happened centuries ago.

    But the huge problem we having is that a good set of people, today, mentally still consider themselves “slaves”(of who?) and they refuse to move on from that far past so they can cry on themselves.

    So I get to the point, why an european find hard to understand how come so many people still bragging their past? Do you know anything about european history mr.s Ifill?? Do you know about the massive killings done during the second war world causing the death of hundreds of thousands lives from many Countries and many today still keep inside the scars of relatives or parents lost during the carpet bombings or massive killings of 67 years ago.

    But europeans moved on and now they work together after so much horror, nobody forget but we moved on. So probably that is the sense of Mr. Slapp message.

  8. Angela, calm down. You appear to have missed the point of Mr Slapp’s letter.
    I have visited the Souther USA numerous times and it is not a great struggle to find restored plantations [in many of the southern states] with RESTORED SLAVE QUARTERS. Curiously, I note many black Americans-with their children-visiting these sites and EDUCATING themselves and the children to what their ancestors lived through. And in America, that was only 150 years ago. Oh, and don’t start a rant about “sharecroppers, the “man,” etc., etc., etc..

  9. charlie aspin

    Angela: GET OVER IT

  10. X

    Anyone followed the link attached to Angela Ifil’s name above? Awesome!

  11. XXX

    That is one classy lady. Wonder if she’ll rub a white one. Might not be as big as she is accostomed to, but mine still works pretty well.

  12. wow from the looks of Angela, she’s got some chip on the shoulder, take time out to read and process hun and to Badbob you’re right on target, the industry needs to stop looking at a few fleeting Euro or North American tourists to fill up a beach, look at how many black Americans go to Bahia in Brazil or back to Elmira in Ghana, there is a market for both! And why is it that tourist = white, we have to get out of that mind set, tourist could be someone from Jamaica coming to learn and see what our culture is about, tourist could be again a African American or Brazilian or Cuban why are we so narrow minded and why are we still reaching for the same low hanging easy fruit. I am a Barbadian and I’ve visited and enjoyed Cuba and can’t wait to go to Brazil – I too am a tourist!

  13. Faraway

    Just read this on an international tourism site. The head of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association says that more should be done to showcase our history or we loose out on tourism market:

  14. Yes, we don’t hear much about the Red Tide in China, where so much of that countries glorious history was destroyed and wiped out. What has happened there, has become and unimaginable shame, which, looks as thought it will be followed in Barbados, if some people have their way. Then what do we have? Nothing, nothing, nothing ! Who wants to come to an island without history, and a made -up copied culture ? Without history, there can be no culture, except one of make- belief.

  15. James Seales

    Oh dear – I get really sad reading comments such as these… Mr Taylor suggesting that “history here” only “reminders us of slavery” and therefore means we all “HATE the colonial era” and “this hate runs deep” enough to “restore old wounds” and we’re incapable of “separating one from the other”.

    Mr Coyote, distinguishing only “black Barbadians” and that “all the evils of slavery MUST BE ELIMINATED from history”, forgetting what some are doing to the Jewish history and their Nazis destroyers. To suggest that Caribbeans are bringing our island towards a “BOSNIA” of “ethnic cleansing” by erasing 17th century graveyards will be someones undoing.

    It is so important to keep history alive – how else can our children learn from the past and reading it from a book is no substitute from the emotional experience felt by visiting an old building, seeing a relics, smelling the dust.

    Mr Bajanguy comments thankfully are more useful – we all know that single-syllabled politicians will cater to the lazy and suggest proper work-ethics are a dangerous trend that only the elitist-whites are using to enforce upon the poor-working-classes. Tourism is virtually our only currency now, and taring down historical relics – which draws in this currency – is beyond foolish. To get the biggest-buck from tourism you have to give the perfect fantasy-dream so it is never forgotten and will have them return to repeatedly.

    Our welcomed visitor Mr Slapp rightly should be aghast and saddened at the likes of the Ms Ifill’s out there – she has clearly forgotten that the Caribs (who knew nothing of the deeper skills of brainwashing, destroying psychological values and biological warfare) ran round the Caribbean killing all male Arawak’s and other gentle tribes and enslaving their women for they own use and therefore to return to Arawak settlements, which no-one alive can know what they were like is a novel idea – the tourist will surely enjoy the fantasy.

    Thank you Mr Slapp for your contribution as ‘Faraway’ a pointed out and CHTA director general Alec Sanguinetti said “Travelers today are looking for an experience,” we have the beaches, hopefully the hospitality, but “we need to keep building on our attractions and culture, and not let our history disappear. ” And as Mr Beadon reminds us – it could so easily be all lost, wiped out in a second with one big hurricane. (JS)

  16. I’m a year and seven months late on this response to Mr. Slapp’s remarks made in January 2012. Freedom to express one’s opinions is taken for granted in Barbados. It’s a legacy we enjoy. And as a Barbadian, I’m aware we’ve got lots of pro-and-con opinions for every topic under the sun. It’s undeniable that the British left its stamp on the island – some were good, other were bad or indifferent. They left an infrastructure which the majority population along with the minority population navigated skillfully through hundreds of years of tension and travail. Yes, the majority population had no wealth…that was made on the island and it left the island. But political stalwarts emerged to represent the majority-poor and they were able to work with the minority-rich to maneuver the island’s ship of state through rough periods of the island’s history. The island is now where it is – its history is what it is. Many look on in wonderment, and marvel of Barbados’ standing in the world community.

    I’m a Barbadian and I’ve resided in Charleston, South Carolina, for 35 years. Historians and history buffs in the Carolinas and elsewhere are focused on Barbados’ history and how its influence seeped to so many parts of the Caribbean and the US mainland. It’s the very history and infrastructure, tangible and intangible, that Barbadians and others are now talking about. Barbadians are the custodians of these historical monuments. That positions Barbados and its people, both at home and throughout the Barbados diaspora, to a place of responsibility. Tourists visit the island to see and understand that history. Yes, large countries and communities frame their history and sell it to those interested in their history – tourists. Charleston “Historic Charleston” is a leading example. And remember…that history includes the plantation system with slavery and it’s consequences which the records show were brought from Barbados to other shores. It’s really something to consider and respond to in a meaningful and responsible way.

  17. john

    As a follow up on my original post.
    I have continued to visit Barbados in the intervening period and have recently had an offer accepted on a property for my retirement.
    During my latest visit in May to view the house, I made a decision to visit Tyrol Cot, the site of the Barbados Heritage Village and the family home of Grantley Adams. I wanted to learn more about the history of the country that I intend to live in.
    The good news is that the staff at the village are to be highly commended for their enthusiasm and dedication.It was a superb tour.
    The bad news is that finding it is a nightmare. Signage, what signage??
    I knew what I was looking for but still missed it and had to u turn, God help any tourist trying to visit they would give up!
    The other bad news is that the house is in need of maintenance. The Barbados NT are doing their best on very little funding.
    We would do well to remember that this house has great historical significance as the home of the man who led Barbados to independence.
    I can,just, understand a reluctance to preserve colonial heritage,but surely this is of a much more “Bajan” period in history?

    I have a feeling that any call to preserve heritage in Bim brings to mind flogging a dead horse.

  18. It’s great to read your recent update. In July I shared a little bit about Charleston, South Carolina, dubbed “Historic Charleston.” As a tourist’s preferred destination in leading travel magazines Charleston, SC, ranks at the very top of the list all the time. Tourism is one, if not the premier economic engine of this city, and incidentals (of paramount importance I might add) such as signage, absence of trash and garbage along its streetscapes are given infinite attention. The results speak louder than words. You commended the staff for their “enthusiasm and dedication”…in Charleston they call it “service” which is part of “hospitality.” Charleston also ranks number one in “hospitality.” Barbados is every bit as historic as Charleston, and Charleston sets a great example for keeping its eyes on the ball in the areas you’ve stated. Pardon me for referring to Charleston…I’m a Bajan living in Charleston. If enough voices speak and act on the preservation of heritage in Bim….this dead horse might just decide it has had enough, jump up, and digs off.