The island of Barbados had a long history even before the British arrived in 1625 to find it uninhabited, save a number of Portuguese pigs. Amerindians had lived there in about 1600 BC, then the Arawak came–they called the island “Ichiroughanaim”–and then the Caribs, who ruled the roost for several hundred years until they disappeared, likely as a result of their encounters with Spanish and Portuguese visitors (and/or their germs). Somewhere along the way the island picked up the name “Barbados,” which means “The Bearded Ones.” Who or what possessed such a noteworthy nickname? The Caribs who lived there when the Portuguese happened by? The long, hanging roots of a fig tree indigenous to the island? The foam on the surrounding reefs that made the island seem as if it had a beard? Whatever the case, someone on the island had a great beard, and the name stuck.
Early British settlers claimed the land for the King and began to farm tobacco, cotton, ginger, indigo and, eventually, sugar cane. The island soon became a land full of wealthy sugar plantation owners and their African forced laborers. For the next three hundred years only the very wealthiest citizens of Barbados were allowed to vote, ensuring domination by those very wealthy citizens. Only in the 1950s did universal suffrage come to Barbados, with trade union founder, suffrage crusader and official “national hero” Sir Grantley Adams riding the crest of this popular wave to became the island’s political leader. In 1966 Barbados became independent with another “national hero” at the helm: the Right Honourable Errol Walton Barrow.
In the early 1990s when Barbados faced economic crisis it worked out a deal with the International Monetary Fund to share the economic pain among all sectors of the population, rich and poor. As outlined in this “This American Life/Planet Money” report (here’s a pdf transcript), Jamaica took a different approach. Barbados prospered while Jamaica fell into debt.
In 2021 Barbados cast away the British queen and Commonwealth and became a republic, with the triumverate of powerful female leaders — Dame Sandra Mason as President, Mia Motley as Prime Minister, and in near-equal stature, National Hero Rhianna.