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26 Sept 2022

Why there’s every reason to party in Barbados as the annual Crop Over festival returns

Why there’s every reason to party in Barbados as the annual Crop Over festival returns

Located in the Lesser Antilles of the West Indies, Barbados completed her long journey to become the world’s newest republic last November, swearing in her first ever president, Dame Sandra Mason, steered by the country’s first female prime minister, Mia Mottley.

Only Barbados could hold a swearing-in ceremony attended by Rihanna, former cricketer Sir Garfield Sobers and the Prince of Wales.

“May you continue to shine like a diamond,” said Ms Mottley, referencing Rihanna’s own words in naming her a national hero. Those words could also be used as a rallying cry for the country’s future.

It was a cause for celebration. But for an island with an insatiable appetite for having fun, the parties never stop. Perhaps the biggest event in the festival calendar is the Crop Over. Dating back to 1687, when Barbados was the world’s largest sugar producer, the event began as a way of celebrating the end of the sugar cane harvest.

Today, it’s the country’s wildest and most popular celebration, lasting five whole rum-soaked weeks. I’m here to find out how it’s transformed this Caribbean island into a haven of positivity and fun.

I begin my festivities at the Mimosa Premium Breakfast Party, where the rum is flowing, in spite of the early hour. Although, I soon discover, time has very little meaning here.

I meet Danny Rivers Mitchell, from Dallas, who runs the travel agency Black Girls Travel Too. She’s here with clients for Crop Over and drums into me the importance of the festival. “It’s about pride, celebration of life, of love and togetherness. Creating something so beautiful, out of something so dark.”

She is, of course, referring to the deeply appalling history of slavery – a period which can never be forgotten.

I’m still reflecting on her words when I reach the Barbados Hilton, located on the south-west of the island just south of Pebbles Beach, a gorgeous stretch of golden sand. It’s 11pm as I climb into bed. But at 1am, my alarm goes off and it’s time for the all-night Native Foreday Morning Fete.

The event is part of the Foreday Morning Jam, where different bands and sound systems blast soca music from trucks with thousands of revellers following behind throwing paint at each other.

Even at this hour, the atmosphere is highly charged, heavily addictive and the night (and early morning) passes by in a haze of splattered paint, dry ice, rum, and a thousand grins.

Yet somehow, I’m up, breakfasted and on the beach by midday.

And still we go on.

But all these parties are merely a warm-up for the main event. The entire island has turned out for the Grand Kadooment, taking place for the first time since 2019. Covid has also led to a temporary change of route for this parade of thousands, split into individual bands and watched by a sea of smiling faces.

The action is overseen by Bussa, the Emancipation Statue located at St Barnabas roundabout outside Bridgetown. More than anyone, he is a symbol of Barbados’ past. As a slave he led the most significant revolt against the Barbadian plantocracy in 1816, sacrificing his own life for what has become a brighter future for others, with the Slavery Abolition Act finally being passed in 1833.

Today’s Barbadians revere him. I recall words by Barbadian poet Frank Collymore which seem to sum up the crowd’s sentiment, remembering our duty, care and love of nature.

“Tasting and feeling her kisses on bright sun-bathed days, I must always be remembering the sea.”

How to plan your trip

Virgin Atlantic (virginatlantic.com; 0344 8747 747) flies daily and direct between London Heathrow and Bridgetown, with return fares starting from £509 per person.

Suites at Barbados Hilton start from around £200. Visit hiltonbarbadosresort.com.

The 2023 Crop Over Festival will take place between July and August 2023.

For information on the destination, go to visitbarbados.org.

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