Culture North America & Caribbean

Life is sweet: Barbados’ Crop Over festival

The origins of the festival can be traced back to the 1780s when Barbados was one of the world’s largest producers of sugar.

The origins of Crop Over, the main festival in Barbados, can be traced back to the 1780s when Barbados was one of the world’s largest producers of sugar.

For about 30 years around the mid-20th century it went uncelebrated, but was resurrected for tourist purposes in 1974. Since then it has grown into a major celebration of Barbadian culture enjoyed by all, and nobody gets much work done during the six weeks that it lasts – from late June when the sugar cane harvest ends until the first Monday in August: the Grand Kadooment. Parades and calypso competitions lead up to this finale, although there are calypso ‘tents’ and other events during the weeks beforehand.

The celebrations begin with the ceremonial delivery of the last canes on a brightly coloured dray cart pulled by mules, which are blessed. There is a toast to the sugar workers and the crowning of the King and Queen of the crop (the champion cutter-pilers). Weekly calypso tent shows showcase the latest songs with performances by entertainers and comedians as well as calypsonians.

Parties, also known as fêtes or bashments, start with after-work liming, hotting up around midnight and going on until daybreak. The Junior Kadooment Parade and Junior Calypso Monarch Competition give children a chance to have their own carnival and play ‘mas’.

Things start to hot up big time on the Friday night preceding the Grand Kadooment with the Pic-O-De-Crop semi-finals and Party Monarch Calypso Competition at Bridgetown’s Kensington Oval. From a line-up of 18, seven competitors are selected to go forward to the finals to compete against the reigning Calypso Monarch.

Following the selection of the King of Pic-O-De-Crop Calypso there is Fore-Day Morning Jump Up, an event borrowed from Trinidad’s carnival, which is held in the early hours of the Saturday morning. It starts at the National Stadium in Bridgetown and heads out to Mighty Grynner (Spring Garden) Highway; wear old clothes as a lot of oils and paints get liberally smeared around and it ends with a sunrise beach party. On Sunday night Cohobblopot is when the kings and queens of the costume bands show off their creations and compete for prizes and the titles of King and Queen of the Festival.

On the Monday, the Grand Kadooment is the finale of the carnival, when there is a procession of costume bands through the streets, again along Mighty Grynner (Spring Garden) Highway, accompanied by trucks of deafening sound systems and fuelled by alcohol. Your eyes will be blasted with colour by costumed dancers, stilt walkers and masqueraders, your ears blasted with sound by tuk bands, calypso, ringbang and steel pan, and your gut blasted by rum, beer, sun, adrenalin and lack of sleep. After the parade the party continues well into the night on Brighton Beach with more revelry, music, food and fireworks.

Details and dates of all events are published on the Barbados Crop Over Festival Facebook page, as well as on the website of Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc (BTMI).

More information

For more information, check out Lizzie Williams’s guide: