Barbados, densely populated small island in the Caribbean; a parliamentary state, part of the British Commonwealth.
About 21 mi (34 km) long and 14 mi (22.5 km) wide, Barbados lies surrounded by coral reefs 250 mi (400 km) northeast of Venezuela. Bridgetown is the capital and chief business center. Carlisle Bay on the southwest coast is the only harbor. The island has no real mountains and no rivers, and water supply is from artesian wells. The mild climate makes Barbados a popular resort, but it lies in a zone of tropical storms, and destructive hurricanes are not uncommon. The soil is fertile and the whole island is cultivated. Sugarcane, introduced in the 17th century, is still the main crop, though efforts are being made to diversify agriculture and to establish light industry. Chief exports are sugar, molasses, and rum. Nearly 90% of the very dense population is of African descent. Emigrants, mainly to other West Indian islands, are numerous, and money sent home forms a useful part of the economy, which is based on the tourist sector.
Barbados was claimed by the British in 1605 and remained a colony for more than 300 years. The representative assembly was established in 1639, giving the island one of the oldest constitutions in the Commonwealth. Slavery was abolished in 1834, and full adult suffrage was granted in 1950. In 1966 the island gained independence and was admitted to the United Nations. The language is English, the Anglican church is established, and the general outlook is much influenced by a traditional image of England, though many details of life reflect historical and family links with North America.