Thursday, May 12, 2022

History of Barbados

Watson, at right, with some sun-struck visitor.
When we visited Cuba a few years ago, I became entranced with el historiador de Havana, the official historian of the city of Havana, whose office owned and ran most of Old Havana, turning retail profits into preservation activities over many decades.

Well, the historiador of Barbados must be Karl Watson. Karl is a retired professor of the University of the West Indies, scholar, historian, author, archaeologist, preservationist, heritage manager, public historian, speaker and broadcaster -- and sometimes a costumed interpreter of George Washington (who has a Barbados connection). He also had a stint in the Barbadian diplomatic corps, speaks a slew of languages, and is fluent in both Bajan Creole and the French Creole of Martinique.  (I learned from him that both "Barbadian" and "Bajan" are used, with "Barbadian" being a little more formal, maybe.)

We had the pleasure of doing a tour of his island with him last week. We walked all over Bridgetown and drove all over the island, with lunch at the Fisherman's Pub, Speightstown. (Try the flying fish and cou-cou, with a Beck's beer.). What might have been six hours grew into more than eight nine, partly because we couldn't stop talking Bajan history, but also because everywhere we went he was diverted into multilingual chats or at least brief greetings with about a thousand of his friends, students, colleagues, and acquaintances.

Karl's ancestry in Barbados goes back hundreds of years, but pretty much entirely on the "poor white" side of society, as this article sets out. His theory of Barbadian history is that it is important that, at the time of emancipation in the 1830s, 1) the white population did not leave en masse, and 2) a large proportion of the black population was already long established, Christian, and literate. (Barbados permitted schooling for the enslaved from the 1780s.) He thinks that transition contributed to Barbados's longterm status among the more peaceable and prosperous of the Caribbean societies. He also thinks Barbados might have awaited the end of the Queen's reign before abolishing the monarchy, but that's another story.

Thanks, Karl.  It was a pleasure and an honour.

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