Barbados and Scotland…where tartan threads meet island rhythms

Barbados and Scotland…where tartan threads meet island rhythms

Did you know that the sunny island of Barbados has a wee bit of Scotland in its heart? From the names of the places and people to the tartan in their festivals, Scottish heritage is woven into the very fabric of Bajan culture.

Our own Steven and Bill, along with the rest of the Kirkwall City Pipe Band and Just Dance Orkney, have packed their kilts, costumes and bagpipes and are winging their way to the sunny Caribbean to immerse themselves in the vibrant fusion of cultures at the Barbados Celtic Festival- how exciting!

So we wanted to take a dive into the intertwining history between the rolling glens of Scotland and the sun-kissed shores of Barbados, where the sounds of bagpipes blend with the steelpan and the Highland breeze merges with the tropical trade winds. Whether it’s the shared love for a good ceilidh or the echoes of Scottish accents influencing the Bajan dialect, the cultural tapestry between the two countries is as rich as it is surprising.

The earliest human connections between Scotland and Caribbean tell a sad story of human suffering connected to Colonialism, the transatlantic slave trade and the production of goods on plantations, especially sugar cane in the case of Barbados. Many a Scottish magnate made his fortune on the backs of African slaves. In fact, the Scotsman James Hay, Earl of Carlisle, was the first  "proprietor" of Barbados.

There were also thousands of Scots who arrived on these shores during the 17th and 18th centuries as employees, indentured servants or transportees- people forcibly shipped to the island to work. White Barbadians, also known as White Bajans, are descended from the Scottish English, Irish and Portuguese who arrived during the British colonial era.

As a result, the island’s modern population is made up mainly of the descendants of Africans, but also Europeans, many who claim Scottish heritage. So it’s only natural that we can see many of those influences today.

Simply looking at Barbados surnames (lots of Macs!) and place names gives us our first clue. For example, the Scotland District is home, appropriately enough, to the highest point on the island. There are a unique group of geological formations here that are similar to those in bonnie Alba- and they make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site, like our own Heart of Neolithic Orkney. In addition to places such as Maxwell, Strathclyde and Montrose, there is a Graemeshall, named after a house in Orkney.

As in Scotland, Andrew is the patron saint of Barbados, and since 1966, the island celebrates its independence on November 30, St Andrew’s Day. From seafood to renewable energy to digital technologies, the economic ties between Barbados and Scotland are growing exponentially every year, and with events like the Celtic Festival, so do their cultural ties.

The natural beauty of Barbados and especially the warm, welcoming people are a joy to experience, and Steven and Bill have been looking forward to this for a long time. We’ll share some of their adventures on social media so be on the lookout!

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