travel | barbados
Whenever I’d contemplated Barbados in the past (sadly, only a handful of times), Rihanna was always the first thing that sprang to mind. Barbados was her birth place, and for some reason that tidbit was the only thing deemed worthy about the island as fas as mass consciousness was concerned.
My database of fun facts expanded when I considered visiting Barbados last spring: it had plantations. Barbados offered a bounty of lodging in homes on old plantations.
I decided to see Turks and Caicos instead, and that was that for Barbados: a pop star and plantations.
what industry had given rise to these mass plantations? no idea. How long had people been enslaved? Not a clue. which country was responsible? Dunno. I wasn’t looking for a history lesson, I was looking for a house on the beach with great snorkeling.
Barbados reentered my reality tunnel a few weeks ago, when I was aboard a cruise for the first time with my family for the holidays. Cruises are a circle of hell, but that’s a separate issue altogether. Bridgetown, the largest city in Barbados, was listed as the port for Day 3.
we paid a visit to Harrison’s Cave, notorious for its stalactite and stalagmite formations. There was a waiting room with an informational video about Barbados playing before our group was ushered into a small theatre for a separate video about Harrison’s Cave. Had I spent this time on my phone, my ongoing ignorance would have put the kibosh on further reflection. But I was all eyes and ears, and here’s what I learned:
1. Barbados is the youngest island in the Caribbean (less than a million years old). It formed from Atlantic and Carribbean tectonic plates colliding and pushing two separate land masses together.
2. The Amerindians from Venezuela were the first to live on the island. After that came the Arawak from South America. Last were the Carib Indians from South America. I was curious and investigated further: Wikipedia doesn’t shed a lot of light on any of these indigenous cultures, preferring to emphasize the European infiltration instead.
3. The Portuguese colonized barbados during the 16th century and immediately enslaved the natives. After that, the English arrived and started claiming the land as their own. They then imported slaves from Africa for the sugar trade.
4. while the slave trade was abolished in 1807 by Britain, it was still at large in Barbados until 1816, when 20,000 slaves organized the largest slave rebellion in island history. Now visitors can spend their vacation sleeping in the home of an old plantation farm.
1. The cave derives its name from Thomas Harrison (a white dude), who owned the land in the 1700s.
2. Several people tried to explore the cave prior to the 1970’s, but it was impossible.
3. A Danish engineer (another white dude) named Ole Sorenson finally accessed the cave in 1974. Two Barbados natives are also credited for the work: Tony Mason and Allison Thornhill. It is very hard to find anything about them online.
4. The team excavated the cave for public use and opened it for profit in 1981.
Let’s face it—cut and dry facts are a snooze fest. they’re an automatic attention killer for most readers.
And maybe that’s part of the problem: we’re so accustomed to information being thrown at us in an engaging, flashy and easily digestible way that deductive reasoning and further questioning is stunted and often eradicated.
After viewing the videos and experiencing the cave, (one of the most beautiful I’ve ever witnessed), I couldn’t stop a barrage of questions from bouncing around my brain.
Why is the cave named after someone who conquered the natives? Why is a Dutch explorer the one who gets all the credit? Who is profiting from the tourist attraction now?
I find it difficult to understand how anyone can claim they own any territory that existed long before human beings were dreamt up. How can anyone charge a fee to experience a natural wonder? It is even harder to comprehend how popular attractions are named after the very race that enslaved the populace. And let’s not forget that a Dutch explorer is the first to be given credit for the excavation of the cave—not the natives who speak the language of the land, those that risked their lives to ensure the cave could support mass visitation.
Could current native islanders in some sense still be seen as enslaved? They bend over backward to provide tourists with experiences and excursions for their vacations on otherwise poverty stricken islands. The tourists spend a week observing the highlights before departing, tanned and relaxed. Visitors learn little about their destination's history and rarely realize how locals have struggled to survive both in the past and in the present.
It has become apparent that the easily adopted tourist mindset fosters many suffocated problems that are rarely considered and never addressed. these humanitarian issues form the foundation of an industry that caters to a tourist’s every need, but never considers the quality of life for those who serve them.
Too many questions slip into the void when we continue a trajectory of distracted acceptance. it is lethal to maintain the status quo, to accept and uphold soul-sucking routines with devices as our means of escape. it is time we extend ourselves past screen shots of beautiful instagram images used for vacation inspiration and reconsider the societal, economic and environmental status of each destination and how our vacations might help or harm. our getaways should not be another occasion for us to continue our descent from any awakened involvement in reality.
words by carter