There are many reasons to visit the Caribbean. The chief ones most cited by holidaymakers and the travel industry include fantastic beaches, amazing weather, a laid-back pace of life, and some of the best resorts in the world.
One of the most successful cruise operators has the cheek to use the word ‘Carnival’ as their brand name. But, for those in the know, the sterile tourist environment of a cruise ship is about as far from a carnival as you can get. For the more curious traveller, who doesn’t want to stay locked away in a gated resort, or trapped on a floating shopping mall; the Caribbean islands have a lot more to offer.
So what about a real carnival? The laid-back, cheerful and basically sunny culture of Barbados has much in common with Trinidad & Tobago, and the island’s beautiful, booty-shaking, bombastic blast of a carnival is no exception.
The traditional English Harvest Festival with its roots in pre-Christian tradition provided the initial setting for carnival in Barbados, which was known for centuries as Harvest Home, then finally as Crop over. What used to be a one-day celebration that began the moment the last donkey-cart of sugar cane was brought in from the fields, has now become a five-week festival season which reaches its bacchanalian crescendo on Kadooment Day.
Despite these rustic British roots, Bajan carnival has grown more similar to that of Trinidad and Tobago. Today, Crop-over has the same central elements of pageantry and competition, with Calypso, Soca, costumes and dance, all amid some of the most spectacular street festivities outside of Rio de Janeiro.
Despite their similarities, the carnivals of the Caribbean islands all have a unique character of their own, and Barbados Crop-over is full of surprises. That ‘last cart of sugar cane’ has become the many elaborately decorated floats of the modern carnival parade, ranging from huge buses to festooned bicycles, each featuring fantastic designs depicting each Mas band’s theme. Among the island’s unique musical developments is Tuk, which evolved from a combination of British marching and African rhythms. Featuring whistles, kettle drums, bass drums and African beats in a true Bajan melting pot. Barbados is the only place in the world to witness this unique style of music.
Crop-over in and around Bridgetown is a varied and tumultuous festival, featuring such diverse events as spoken word, cookery festivals, the raucous parties of the main Soca competitions, and even the ‘Jump’ set in beautiful countryside outside the capital. Culminating in a massive party and road-march on Kadooment day on the first Monday in August, Crop-over easily rivals Trinidad, Rio or anywhere else. Again, there’s no clash of dates – so a carnival enthusiast can fit Barbados into their hectic schedule without missing any of their carnival favourites.
For its range of activities and variety of locations and experiences, there is nothing quite like celebrating Crop-over in the sunshine state of Barbados.
Gertrude Blunt is an independent travel writer and music freak based in the UK. Gertrude is currently planning her holidays in Barbados and looking forward to another amazing carnival.