As the balmy Caribbean island of Barbados draws close to the celebration of its Golden Jubilee, 50 years of Independence on 30th November 2016, we have reconnected with our Scottish heritage.
Many a Scot would probably find resonances of their heritage in Barbados. If Bajans (colloquialisms for Barbadians) did ethnicity and genealogical tests I am confident that we would realise that Scottish blood flows through a significant part of our population. The origins of these “Macbajans” can be traced back to James Hay, Earl of Carlisle and the first ‘proprietor’ of Barbados.
There are the considerable physical similarities of our rugged East Coast appropriately named the Scotland District and located in the parish of Saint Andrew. 30 November is shared as the national days as is Saint Andrew as Patron Saint. The Barbados Coat of Arm features a Saltire formed of two sugar cane stalks, crossed canes held in the hand of a black slave. This appears on the Bajan dollar coins. While the “Order of Saint Andrew” is Barbados’s highest national award.
Our dishes, like Jug Jug (similar to Haggis) and black pudding would strike a familiar chord as would our renowned skills with fermentation. Barbados is the home of rum. I also discovered, the hard way, that Scots are equal to Bajan’s in giving directions. After walking over a mile in freezing sleet in Edinburgh I realised that a “wee walk” in Scottish is best translated to the Bajan misnomer of “just around the corner”.
The first workers in the sugar industry pioneered in Barbados were Scottish. While some were voluntary migrants who arrived as indentured servants, the majority were unwillingly transported; many prisoners of war. They were nicknamed “red legs” due to the effect of the tropical sun on the skin beneath their kilts.
The recent research done by Scottish Television for the documentary special People’s History broadcast in October which explored the Scottish history in Barbados, revealed that today across the East Coast of the island, mainly in St John, there are white families directly descended from the Scots. And our academics Sir Henry Fraser, Dr Karl Watson and Dr Kevin Farmer presented the documentary evidence of Highland surnames listed as arriving in Barbados in the 1700s.
The strong historical links are celebrated every year in the Celtic Festival which takes place in Barbados on the last weekend in May, organised by Carol Anderson from Edinburgh. This festival of Celtic music fused with our local musicians, has featured performances from your own superb vocalist Eddi Reader, from pipers and Scottish dancers, fiddlers, Welsh choirs, and a new type of “Bajan” haggis created by award winning Scottish Chef Paul Wedgwood and made from local black belly sheep. Chef Wedgwood works closely with local Bajan chefs to fuse the flavours and recipes of both countries during the festival encouraging our cultural links. And all this of course moisturised by Scottish and Bajan finest blends, is a celebration of the historical connection between Scotland (along with Ireland and Wales) and Barbados.
As we plan our Jubilee celebrations, we look not only to the forward but also reflect on the past and in doing so continue to treasure our relationship with the United Kingdom, including our Celtic cousins in the north.
And on Saint Andrews Day, Wedgwood the Restaurant in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, will present a special Bajan themed menu for diners, to Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Barbados Independence. It includes popular Bajan dishes such as macaroni pie, snapper and pigs tails, presented as only Chef Wedgwood does, as fine dining dishes.
May God continue to guide and bless us all. Sláinte...
• Rev Guy Hewitt is the High Commissioner for Barbados