In the Castle of My Skin

by George Lamming

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What does the British Empire's history have to do with Barbadians?

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Barbados was part of the British Empire from 1627 until 1966. The British found the island uninhabited, but it was most likely populated by the Arawak tribe of the Caribbean, who became extinct within 50 years after contact with Columbus. For almost all of its history, Barbados’ main industry was the production of sugar, which was exported to England. Growing sugar was a labor intensive agricultural endeavor; many Africans continued to be imported to the island as slave labor, yet the population only slowly increased due to the high mortality rate from heavy labor. Because of the great numbers of slaves imported to the island, Barbados became the shipping center of slavery for the English colonies in the New World, many being shipped to Virginia to labor in tobacco production. In the late 1700’s, abolitionists in Britain, protesting slavery on the island, boycotted sugar by refusing to take it with their tea. Britain abolished slavery throughout the Empire in the 1830’s; but Barbados’ main industry remained sugar production, along with manufacturing rum and molasses for many years. Today, tourism is the main industry.

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