Barbados Red Legs flag – A symbol of cultural affirmation

Barbados Red Legs Flag

Barbados Red-Legs can now boast their own cultural flag

“I know as an outsider, no symbology can be foisted onto another culture;

yet my humble offering might spark the imagination of someone who is from there, and inspire some movement toward cultural affirmation.”

contributed by Three-fold Now

The Red Legs are a cultural community in the Caribbean island of Barbados. They are descendants of Irish and Scottish indentured servants—some forcibly enslaved by Cromwell—and remain as “poor whites” in what is otherwise a predominantly Afro-Caribbean nation. The performer Rihanna claims some family ties to this Irish-Barbadian lineage. 

From Sheena Jolley's stunning Red Legs photographic essay

From Sheena Jolley’s stunning Red Legs photographic essay

There are articles and photographs about the Red Leg community at photographer Sheena Jolley’s portfolio site. (Being from Appalachia, I know that outside photographers delight in capturing the most “colorful” persons and situations; and so, while the images are a snapshot of one aspect, they are only a partial picture of these human beings and this cultural community, not the whole picture.)

That the Red Leg community, despite its small size and reclusive presence, remains prominent in the Barbadian consciousness is evinced by their mention in the brief overview of Barbadian history at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (link) and Barbados Tourism Authority (link).

A 2013 blog post by the Barbados Free Press evoked some interesting, mostly thoughtful, responses from the wider Barbadian community. (See BFP’s Irish Times: Most Barbados Red Legs have bad or no teeth. Many blind, without limbs.

Being from a “poor white” region myself—the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia—and having designed an Appalachian flag, I’ve decided to design and offer a flag for the Red Leg cultural community. I know as an outsider, no symbology can be foisted onto another culture; yet my humble offering might spark the imagination of someone who is from there, and inspire some movement toward cultural affirmation.

The flag retains the Barbadian national colors of blue and gold—to signify that there’s no other home for the Red Legs than Barbados. Red Legs are Bajans too. Being a cultural identity, instead of a political identity, enables an individual to identify with both cultures at the same time.

Barbados flag

Barbados flag

Gold was also a prominent color on some historic flags of Ireland, such as the golden harp on the Green Harp Flag (link). And blue is also the color of the Scottish flag (link).

For the Red Leg cultural flag, the black trident is replaced with a red Celtic triskelion. The triskelion is an ancient Celtic symbol. The word is from ancient Greek, and literally means “three legs”.

The triskelion symbol is found on the national flag of the Celtic Isle of Man (link), which is located in the Irish Sea, between Ireland and Scotland. In the Manx Gaelic tongue, the symbol is called tree cassyn “three leg”. The trident and the triskelion both have a threefoldness.

What do you think?

Three-fold Now

An overview of the Threefold Idea
A Redlegs cultural flag

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30 Comments

Filed under Barbados, Culture & Race Issues, Slavery

30 responses to “Barbados Red Legs flag – A symbol of cultural affirmation

  1. robert ross

    Wonderful idea. A man’s roots prescribe so much about him. Some of us are tired of hearing about reparations, tired of hearing that discrimination and prejudice is ONLY directed by whites against blacks – so that ANYTHING which spells ‘We have a stake in this game too’ is to be applauded.

    Meanwhile MARCH AGAINST POVERTY AND HARDSHIP tomorrow from 10.0am beginning at Independence Square.

  2. Party Animal

    I do hope that over thirty thousand will March tomorrow, lest us hope for one hundred and thirty thousand , three hundred thousand would just make it right.

  3. This and that

    The photo essay of the red legs tells a story that modern Barbados should be ashamed of. For all the world it looks like Barbados has abandoned a segment of their population based upon their whitish race, non-African origins.

  4. John Haynes

    Really? They have alienated themselves. My grandfather was a so called redleg. he didn’t stay up there in St John where he was born and act as if he didn’t belong to Barbados. I am black with Scottish ancestry. When I hear people talking about the red legs as if successive Barbados governments ignore them i get annoyed. They began their isolation. The historians appear to ignore the fact that there were villages all over the Barbadian countryside where assimilation took place in the post-emancipation, villages where poor white and black children played together. Do the research! What happened in those villages? Why do the Redlegs remain? What is white Barbados’ reaction other than to act as if Black Barbados is repressing the poor whites of Barbados. I am the black descendent of redlegs. Some of you white people in Barbados behave as if you are not implicated in the treatment of the socalled Redlegs. You help keep the social and economic lines drawn between whites and blacks. Now let me ask you a question – where else in Barbados would you find people this poor who are not white? Bet you have no idea. As for that flag, please go and shove it. They have no right to it, anymore than I do. I am a Barbadian.. That “do gooder” from Virginia is doing us no good. Then we could all invent little cultural flags.

  5. rastaman

    @john Haynes: I am also mixed race with Scottish ancestry ,but not through the redlegs . I understand what you speak.

  6. Pengo

    It’s always about race in Barbados but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss the subject. I’ll try to keep an open mind.

  7. rastaman

    @pengo : And its not about race in the whole world? Don’t whites think they are superior?

  8. Anonymous

    I don’t think this is helpful. Barbados is a collection of people with roots in different parts of the world. Far better I think to rally everyone together under the broken trident to go forward to the future.

  9. the bigger picture

    whites don’t think they are superior any more than blacks think they are inferior i.e. some do, most don’t

  10. Ruaridh Ross

    Red-legged and toothless? Either they are partridges (alectoris rufa) or sun-burnt tourists fra Glescae visitin Marbella. Toothless? Too many deep fried Mars bars.

  11. BARBADOSADVISOR ACTUAL

    i like the flag! it is about time .i am from Irish slaves ancestor
    we were in barbados before any African.we taught you all how to speak English.i am not toothless or have red legs.
    to recognize we exist is a jump ahead.
    how about one for prime minister now.

  12. BARBADOSADVISOR ACTUAL

  13. BARBADOSADVISOR ACTUAL

    the word red legs is a insult to us.it should be white people of barbados.are you a black legs?

  14. Reblogged this on buckleyfrancis176 and commented:
    OUR NEW FLAG Barbados RED MAN FLAG

  15. john haynes , you say you are black of scottish heritage ! IMPOSSIBLE unless you are part RED LEG and I like the Flag and I accept it !

  16. kentusmaximus

    here you go rasta man Irish are not Scottish . Irish are not freckled red haired people they have all color hair and skin than can take the sun. and do not have red legs.
    here it is from your own people rastaman.
    http://www.africaresource.com/rasta/sesostris-the-great-the-egyptian-hercules/the-irish-slave-trade-forgotten-white-slaves/

  17. broken trident is Black and broken NOT MY FLAG ! OH if your are black mix with scottish and not from Red Legs then you are a johnny come lately!

  18. Pingback: Barbados Red Legs flag – A symbol of cultural affirmation | Barbados Tripadvisor

  19. rastaman

    @kentusmaximus: Interesting article.I may be Irish then 🙂 @barbadosredman: They are really no Caucasians in Barbados. Some who think they are

  20. BARBADOSADVISOR ACTUAL

    to speak further on this matter is futile.to say that they are no Caucasians in barbados is unreal. so what are then.?
    i am a Caucasian.i am also a Barbadian.there are 4 to 5% Caucasian in barbados that are not what you all call ex pats?
    i actually do not know what a expat is?
    does it mean the slave owners that ran away and have now returned now that the slaves have settled down and do not want their revenge on them?
    ex pat is what ?someone that used to be called pat?ha ha
    Jesus lord.ya like DAT one..
    rastaman did you miss where the English and Irish slaves
    were on barbados before any African?in the link i gave you.
    some 9 years before.wunna come and find we there already.!
    then the English do all kind of experimenting with mixing .
    anyway .there is a reference to a black Irish in Irish folklore!
    but i figure that would have been a black slave and family that ran away from England and hid on Ireland in the north.
    in other words only black come from Africa.no where else.

    look here is what happen .the English take all dem wanted and could get from barbados and then realize that sugar and slave trading was going down .! so dem play that them give barbados its independence so a Barbadian could no longer get a English passport and move to England.
    dem teef all they could and leff we to fend for we selves.
    Barbadians did not realize this at the time and fell for the trickery.in their non caring way they left many more blacks than whites .dem not care . dem gone .only now if your grand father had a English passport can you get one.ya site it up?
    den we not see dem for many years . now they are back
    after they see that wunna still aint figure out the trickery.
    ha ha .smart nuh all the time making blacks think they moving ahead and progressing.ha ha tricky buggers a what.!

  21. rastaman

    Do you really know what a Caucasian is? It is a white person with no black blood not even 1% . Tell me who in Barbados can claim to be such?

  22. kentusmaximus

    me

  23. kentusmaximus

    and all the Scottish in martins bay and many more.
    are you blind.white skin blue eyes.Scottish in martins bad
    do not mix breed all these years.most of them.
    who cares ask the Aryan Nations.
    i trying to get off this race thing.it is the INDIVIDUAL person no matter what color they are. we have to stick together or we will always talk this. is not good for the nation of barbados.can we beat the USA at not being racist? let us try.i done .

  24. kentusmaximus

    so rastaman all the English from England that buy them bajan
    citizenship down holetown not Caucasian neither?come on man get a grip.dem is bajans now.you notice something also rasta only me white man writing on here showing my face.
    and none but one other comment on this flag ting.strange nuh as i know some white bajans that does call wunna some real bad names when none of you all around.i can not afford to do that and never have really as i do not have a gun permit.
    in barbados those that have a gun permit and carry a gun where ever they go are the hard seeds.only because they could shoot ya,without dem gun dem couldn’t talk all the crap dem is talk.notice no more whites commenting on this,. dem not care dem sleeping it off this morning and the maid cooking breakfast and lunch.i aint got nutting so.site it up.and all best wishes to you.

  25. kentusmaximus

    Euro-Bajans (4% of the population)[1] have settled in Barbados since the 17th century, originating from England, Ireland and Scotland. In 1643, there were 37,200 whites in Barbados (86% of the population).[61] More commonly they are known as “White Bajans”. Euro-Bajans introduced folk music, such as Irish music and Highland music, and certain place names, such as “Scotland”, a mountainous region. Among White Barbadians there exists an underclass known as Redlegs; the descendants of Irish slaves, and prisoners imported to the island.[62] Many additionally moved on to become the earliest settlers of modern-day North and South Carolina in the United States.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbados

  26. kentusmaximus

    White Slavery and Servitude in Barbados
    Between the years of 1652 to 1659 it is estimated that well over 50,000 men, women, and children of Irish descent were forcibly transported to British imperial colonies in Barbados and Virginia to serve as slave labor on plantations.
    Other prisoners of war, as well as political dissenters, taken from conquered regions of England, Wales, and Scotland were also sent into permanent exile as slaves to Barbados. This essentially enabled Cromwell to purge the subject population of any perceived opposing elements, as well as to provide a lucrative source of profit through their sale to plantation owners. The extent to which White prisoners were transported to Barbados was so great, that by 1701, out of the roughly 25,000 slaves present on the island’s plantations, about 21,700 of them were of European descent. Later, as the African slave trade began to expand and flourish, the Irish slave population of Barbados began to drastically recede over time, due in part to the fact that many were worked to death early on in their arrival and also as a result of racial intermixing with Black slaves.

    In stark contrast to the small number of White indentured servants present on Barbados, who could at least theoretically look forward to eventual freedom no matter how bad their temporary bondage may have been, White slaves possessed no such hope. Indeed, they were treated the same as slaves of African descent in every manner imaginable. Irish slaves in Barbados were regarded as property to be bought, sold, treated and mistreated in any way the slave-owner saw fit. Their children were born into hereditary slavery for life as well. Punitive violence, such as whippings, was liberally employed against Irish slaves, and was often used on them immediately upon their arrival in the colonies to brutally reinforce their enchained status, and as a warning against future disobedience. The dehumanizing and degrading cattle-like physical inspections used to assess and showcase the “qualities” of each captive for prospective buyers, which reached infamy with the Black slave markets, was also practiced upon both White slaves and indentured servants in the colonies of the West Indies and North America. Irish slaves were marked off from their free White kinsmen through a branding of the owner’s initials applied to the forearm for women and on the buttocks for men by a red-hot iron. Irish women, in particular were seen as a desirable commodity by White slave owners who purchased them as sexual concubines. Others found themselves sold off to local brothels. This degrading practice of sex slavery made Irish men, women and children potential victims to perverse whims of many unsavory buyers.

    In reality, White slaves fared no better a fate as unwilling human property than did contemporary captive Africans. At times they were even treated worse then their Black counterparts due to economic considerations. This was especially true throughout most of the 17th century, as White captives were far more inexpensive on the slave market than their African counterparts, and hence were mistreated to a greater extent as they were seen as a conveniently disposable labor force. It was not until later that Black slaves became a cheaper commodity. An account dating back to 1667 grimly described the Irish of Barbados as “poor men, that are just permitted to live,… derided by the Negroes, and branded with the Epithite of white slaves.” A 1695 account written by the island’s governor frankly stated that they labored “in the parching sun without shirt, shoe, or stocking”, and were “domineered over and used like dogs.” It was common knowledge among the Irish of this era that to be deported, or “barbadosed”, to the West Indies meant a life of slavery. In many cases, it was actually common for White slaves in Barbados to be supervised by mulatto or Black overseers, who often treated captive Irish laborers with exceptional cruelty. Indeed:

    The mulatto drivers enjoyed using the whip on whites. It gave them a sense of power and was also a protest against their white sires. White women in particular were singled out for punishment in the fields. Sometimes, to satisfy a perverted craving, the mulatto drivers forced the women to strip naked before commencing the flogging and then forced them to continue working all day under the blistering sun. While the women were weeding in the fields in that condition, the drivers often satisfied their lust by taking them from the rear.

    Such instances of horrific rape and unwilling sexual union between Irish female slaves and Black slave-drivers, was actually implicitly encouraged by many of their White masters. Mulatto children, who resulted from such unions, both willing and unwilling, were seen by the plantation masters as a potentially unlimited breeding stock of future native-born slave labor, acquired free of charge and without the costs of transportation. Existing public records on Barbados reveal that some planters went as far as to systematize this process of miscegenation through the establishment of special “stud farms” for the specific purpose of breeding mixed-race slave children. White female slaves, often as young as 12, were used as “breeders” to be forcibly mated with Black men.

    The enchained Irish of Barbados played a pivotal role as the instigators and leaders of various slave revolts on the island, which was an ever-present threat faced by the planter aristocracy. Such an uprising occurred in November 1655, when a group of Irish slaves and servants escaped along with several Blacks, and proceeded to attempt to spark a general rebellion among the enchained community against their masters. This was a serious enough threat to justify the deployment of militia, which eventually overcame them in a pitched battle. Before their demise they had wreaked considerable havoc upon the ruling planter class, having hacked several to pieces in brutal retribution for their bondage. They had not succeeded in their broader strategy of completely laying waste by fire, the sugar fields in which they had been forced to labor for the enrichment of their masters. Those taken prisoner were made examples of, as a grim warning to the rest of their kindred Irish, when they were burned alive and their heads were thereafter displayed on pikes throughout the market place.

    As a result of a steep increase in Black slave labor migration to Barbados, compounded with high rates of Irish mortality and racial intermixing, White slaves, which had once constituted the majority of the population in 1629, were reduced to an increasingly dwindling minority by 1786. In the present era, there remains only a minuscule, yet significant community within the native Barbadian population comprised of the descendants of Scots-Irish slaves, who continue to bear testimony to the tragic legacy of their enchained Celtic forebears. This small minority within the predominantly Black island of Barbados is known locally as the “Red Legs” , which was originally a derogatory name, understood in similar context to the slur “redneck”, and was derived from the sun-burnt skin experienced by early White slaves who had been previously unadjusted to the tropical Caribbean climate. To this day, a community numbering approximately 400 still resides in the northeastern part of the island in the parish of St. John, and has vigorously resisted racially mixing with the larger Black population, despite living in abject poverty. Most make their living from subsistence farming and fishing, and indeed they are one of the most impoverished groups living in modern Barbados.
    That slave labor was inefficient as compared with that of white men was admitted in both the English and French islands. Edwards estimated that a West India Negro performed only one third the work of an Englishman in England. Peytraud, in his study of slavery in the French Antilles, reached a similar conclusion. 5But the value of such comparisons is diminished by the fact that what the slave did under tropical conditions is generally compared with what the white man did in a temperate climate ; there was practically no data for a comparison under similar conditions; where there was, as cited in the military correspondence, white men to an alarming degree perished. Assuming, nevertheless, the inferiority of slave labor, the profits of large scale sugar culture could easily sustain the expense of slavery, that from tobacco less so, while the cultivation of cereals could not at all bear the expense of slave labor. 6 The costliness of slave labor inhered, of course, in such tendencies as stupidity, slacking, illness, real and feigned, thieving, lack of interest, and occasionally, malicious sabotage and running away. That slavery was a cheap form of labor is, of course, wholly discredited by the facts. But sugar culture not only afforded it, but, for a time at least, went into decadence with its abolition.

    Pasted from

  27. Karl Watson

    It is good to see the Barbadian poor whites being discussed on this forum…so often, they are swept under the carpet or dismissed as irrelevant. Most Barbadian whites of today descend from the traditional villages of St Peter, St Joseph and St Philip where large numbers of poor whites lived…Boscobelle, Hillaby, Irish Town, Dark Hole, the Spa….I don’t believe any exclusively poor white village ever existed in Barbados. The truth of the matter is that for most of their existence, poor whites were used as a buffer group between the enslaved and the planter class and with emancipation, this role came to an end and the poor whites were discarded.

  28. Ruby Reid

    Ruaridh you daft owd man. It’s no aboot cancer i’ gingers efter holidays i’ the sun. It’s no even aboot reD legs ….It’s aboot Re_ legs!

  29. Robert Storey

    @kentusmaximus, as someone who has visited Barbados twice and only has a very limited understanding of Barbados history I have found your postings above both illuminating and educational. Many thanks for taking the time to write out the information above. History shows once again the cruelty of the human race.

  30. D Oracle.

    I glad fuh my mixedness….it give me a great big doggy and thats all i care about…when i put it pon a gyurl she does hoot and beg and dats wuh i like to hear…tek dat yuh bitch yuh!