For some three months from May to early August, Barbados shakes its booty for the island’s biggest, loudest, wildest party – but what is Crop Over, and how can you enjoy it?
Mixing Barbadian folk (much of with roots in ancient West African tradition), culture, art, dance and music – especially calypso and soca – this weeks-long festival evolved over two centuries from events based in the sugar-cane plantations of colonial days. Today, it’s very much a modern party – but keep an eye out for costumes and other element recalling African Orishas (folk deities, particularly of southern Nigeria) and themes relating to the plantation era.
The festival traces its roots back to the 1780s, when sugar production was the dominant industry on Barbados and plantation workers celebrated the end of the sugar-cane harvest (‘crop over’). As the sugar industry declined in the 1940s, so did the festival – but from 1974 it was revived, incorporating a host of new elements and musical styles, and today Crop Over is one of the Caribbean’s most popular events.
Traditionally beginning around early July, when the sugar-cane harvest ended, today it stretches from June or even May to the main finale event, Grand Kadooment, usually the first Monday in August. That’s when ‘mas’ (masquerade) bands and thousands of revellers gather for a boisterous carnival parade jaunting through the island’s capital, Bridgetown, from the National Stadium along Black Rock to Spring Garden Highway.
Crop Over begins in relatively traditional style, with a nod to its origins: the ceremonial delivery of the last sugar canes on a brightly colour, donkey-pulled dray cart, followed by a toast to the plantation workers and the coronation of the King and Queen of the Crop – originally, the most hardworking and effective cane-cutters of the season. The following weeks see a packed calendar of Calypso ‘tents’ (bands) vying for various Monarch titles, music performances, soca singing competitions, flower festivals, photography exhibitions, folk concerts, various private (and often all-inclusive) alfresco parties, the Emancipation Day Walk (1 August), the oil-smeared early street party on Foreday Morning, the curiously named Cohobblopot – when kings and queens of costume bands show off their outfits – and of course Grand Kadooment, the party to end all parties. The much of the action on the events calendar is coordinated by the National Cultural Foundation of Barbados.
If you’re in or around Bridgetown during the Crop Over period, you’ll have little choice but to immerse yourself in music and mayhem! There are concerts and parties, street food and arts events. But if you want a more interactive experience, consider joining a mas band. An increasing number of commercial mas bands offer the chance to buy a spectacular costume – usually on a theme chosen year by year – and join them on the streets as they whine and lime their way through town on Grand Kadooment Day. Whatever you do, book accommodation and events as far in advance as possible – many people start planning for next year’s Crop Over as soon as the last chimes of Grand Kadooment die away. You’ll find more information and lists of bands from Visit Barbados.