Barbados’ Crop Over Festival Celebrates the Island’s History

Dance, masquerades, heritage tours and parades are all part of the carnival's deep connection to the island's culture.
 

Photo by Tara Donaldson

 

With its frenetic energy and street-party atmosphere, Barbados’ annual Crop Over festival is an event you need to experience—there’s a reason Rihanna keeps attending.

 


Three Can’t-Miss Events at Crop Over

1. Foreday Morning Jam, August 3

Prepare to get covered in paint while dancing to soca music during this overnight paint party through the streets of Bridgetown.

2. Bridgetown Market, August 3 to 6

Shop for children’s toys, jewelry, leather sandals, snow cones and more at this local street market along one kilometre of the Spring Garden Highway.

3. 1 Love, August 6

Get ready to dance at this huge outdoor soca concert, which featured popular acts like Machel Montano and Bunji Garlin last year.


 

Rihanna has attended Crop Over four times, photo by Alamy Stock Photo

 

The sun has set in Bridgetown, Barbados, but the revelry is just getting started. A large truck blasting loud, rhythmic soca music slowly winds through the streets of the capital city, leading the way for hundreds of dancing Barbadians and tourists sporting neon green, pink and blue shirts. Music and excited chatter fill the dark night as cans of paint are passed through the crowds. Soon, everyone is covered in streaks of orange, green and white. One man’s entire head and torso are glistening with wet paint.

 

Photo by Tara Donaldson

 

It’s all par for the course during the Foreday Morning Jam, a huge paint and dance party in Bridgetown that lasts until the early hours of the morning and is one of the main events of Barbados’ annual Crop Over festival. High-energy, colourful, loud and just plain fun: Foreday captures the essence of this national celebration that takes place on the Caribbean island every summer. Crop Over festivities happen throughout June and July before culminating in a jam-packed week of activities at the start of August.

While a large portion of the festival takes place around the capital, there are Crop Over events across Barbados’s 11 parishes—an energy hangs in the air, no matter where you are on the island.

Crop Over’s significance in Barbados’s history dates back long before the advent of these modern, paint-filled street parties. In the 18th century, Barbados was one of the world’s largest sugar producers, with plantations covering the island. The end of the harvest was marked by a yearly celebration, called Harvest Home (later renamed Crop Over), that incorporated music, food and traditional cultural costumes. Following the abolishment of slavery in 1834—and the subsequent decline of the sugar cane industry—the festival had all but disappeared from the island by the mid-1900s.

 

Photo by Iconotec/Alamy

 

In 1974, the Barbados Board of Tourism revived the festival by giving it a more modern feel, adding elements such as calypso music and masquerades, in hopes of attracting tourists throughout the summer. Later, Barbados’ National Cultural Foundation took over Crop Over, continuing to grow the festival into a lively celebration of the island’s history and culture.

“We like to boast that Crop Over is more than a carnival,” says Cranston Browne, CEO of the National Cultural Foundation. “Other carnivals on the islands concentrate mainly on masquerade and calypso, but, at Crop Over, you’ll find some other events, too. We have a visual arts festival and we also have a heritage component where you get [historic architecture] tours around the island.”

 

Photo from Barbados Tourism Inc.

 

Island history is also showcased during the festival season, with events like Crop Over Xplosion in early June. The event includes the crowning of a festival king and queen and the “Ceremonial Delivery of the Last Canes,” during which a donkey pulls a cart of cut sugar canes to the event to be blessed.

Music plays a huge role in Crop Over, and Barbados’ rich array of talent is on display at calypso, soca and steel pan competitions and performances. Caribbean soca artists dominate the stages at events like Gimme Soca and 1 Love, while hundreds of concert-goers sway and wukkup (a local form of dance) late into the night. Don’t worry if you aren’t familiar with soca music before arriving in Barbados, its upbeat melodies and irresistibly catchy lyrics will make you a fan by the time you leave.

 

Photo by Rodney Legall / Alamy

 

On the day of the festival’s closing ceremony, thousands of locals and tourists come together for the Grand Kadooment parade in Bridgetown. Divided into large groups known as “bands,” parade participants—adorned in gorgeous feather headpieces and wings, bejewelled swimsuit-like costumes and colourful accessories—follow music trucks through the city’s streets.

The scorching sun does little to deter the bands, who walk, dance and wukkup to soca music during the 10 kilometres from Barbados National Stadium to Spring Garden Highway. As each band passes, a fresh sprinkling of lost feathers and pieces of costumes fall to the ground—a final reminder of Crop Over’s energetic vibe.

 

[This story appears in the July 2018 issue of WestJet Magazine]

 

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