When: May – August
We love a good carnival; it’s a great time to enjoy a location at its most fun and to really immerse yourself in local traditions. This month we just can’t get enough of Crop Over, a festival that lasts not for one day, or a week…. But three whole months! What is there not to love about that?
In the Beginning….
Crop Over has probably got to rank as one of the best carnivals in the world, for stamina alone. As its less than imaginative name suggests, Crop Over celebrates the end of harvest; the first Crop Over festival took place in the 1780s, at a time when Barbados was the world’s largest sugar supplier.
In the 1700s, there were times of feast and famine: life before harvest was hand-to-mouth, with seldom enough to eat. With the harvest period came reasonable wages, accompanied by backbreaking work; and after the harvest it was time to save and plan for the inevitable leaner months. The brief period when harvest ended and just before the panic about surviving set in, was one of celebration, heralding as it did easier times and a brief respite from hard work. Plantation workers feasted, danced, enjoyed traditional music and let themselves be free of anxiety for a few short days.
As other countries started to produce sugar and Barbados’ sugar industry started to decline, so did Crop Over, until, in the wake of WWII it disappeared altogether in the 1940s. In 1974 – the decade of festivals, free love, and celebrations – the festival was reinstated. The new incarnation features many aspects of Barbadian heritage – some from neighbouring Trinidad, and a few more modern indulgences. Now, the carnival marks the beginning of the summer season more than the end of the sugar season, but the result is the same: a summer filled with music, food, and fun.
The Crop Over opening ceremonies usually take place in early-to-mid May. At the opening gala, there is a grand traditional ceremony, during which the last canes of the sugar season are delivered. The carnival’s King and Queen are announced and crowned; traditionally, the title goes to the most prolific female and male sugar cutters of the season. A ceremonial sugar cane is passed from the old King and Queen to the new, representing the end of harvest and the beginning of a new one. Once the formalities are over, one of the best carnivals in the world is ready to begin.
Music and Dancing
Calypso music saturates the air throughout Crop Over, with Calypso bands, steel drums and tuk bands (a traditional Barbadian band featuring a tin whistle drum and banjo) performing daily. In addition, there is a hotly contested calypso competition, which spans the duration of the festivities and culminates at the end of the carnival. The festival calendar is laden with dances, parties, pop-up markets and food stalls, as well as organised events in restaurants, public spaces and markets.
There are plenty of Barbadian traditions on show, including traditional crafts and an artisan market, where you can pick up fabulous souvenirs and trinkets. There are also plenty of shows and mini-carnivals to catch throughout the festival; each participant vying for one of the carnival’s many coveted titles.
In terms of carnivals, Crop Over is a marathon, not a sprint. Barbadians know that, if they are to survive it unscathed, they need to keep a fairly steady pace. So, the noisy, colourful parties, concerts and shows stay relatively low key; that is, compared to its finale.
The Final Weekend
If you are visiting Barbados, and you want to witness one of the best carnivals in the world, make sure you are there for the finale weekend. The weekend starts on the last Friday in August and kicks off in style with the finals of the calypso competition, followed by a massive street party, which goes on until the early hours. The Saturday is fairly quiet, a time to eat, relax and recover in preparation for the final days of Crop Over. Traditional competitions take place through most of the weekend. Bridgetown Street Market is packed with live bands and musicians as it hosts the Barbadian food competition; pure heaven for gourmands.
By Sunday, everyone is ready for some action in the form of Cohobblopot – a carnival display featuring some of the festival’s award-winning bands and performers in exquisite, intricate costumes, as well as a mini version for children. There are celebrations, rum-fuelled parties and incredible music as the island gears up to final celebrations.
The Grand Kadooment
Literally translated as “The Big Fuss”, the Grand Kadooment usually takes place on the first Monday in August. There are a host of music and dance titles up for grabs, including Calypso King or Queen, Sweet Soca King or Queen and Road March King or Queen. People adorned in feathers, sparkles, crowns and a glittering array of traditional and regal attire pour through the streets dancing, shaking and generally having pure, unadulterated fun. Strictly a non-spectator sport, everyone joins in the melee as thousands of people dance/jog/walk as one seething, colourful, raucous mass. There are spectacular traditional displays and fireworks; people tend to party until the small hours.
Barbados may have lost much of its sugar trade, but it has harnessed the sweetness of those roots and used them to make Crop Over one of the biggest, sweetest and best carnivals in the world.