The Crop Over Season is a 3-month festival celebrated every summer in Barbados and this national festival is rooted in sugar. This festival began over 3 centuries ago by plantation slaves to signal the end of the yearly sugar cane harvest. It has since evolved into Barbados’ biggest national festival, similar to Carnival in Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago, with parties, dancing and beautiful costumes.
The evolution of the Crop Over Festival as a Harvest Festival has its origins embedded in the history of the sugar cane plantations of the colonial period, where slaves married an African Yam Festival and the Englishman’s Harvest Home Festival. Slaves, and later freed men, created a unique celebratory blend by, transforming the Plantation mill yards into a hub of activity.
Sugar production was the largest industry in Barbados and for many Barbadians, their lives revolved around the harvest seasons. The end of the harvest meant the end of many long months of hard work for over 500 plantations scattered across the island.
The Harvest festival can be traced as far back as the seventeenth century, where it featured singing and dancing accompanied by shak-shak, banjo, triangle, fiddle, guitar and bones. Other traditions included climbing a greased pole, feasting and drinking competitions. The celebrations included a procession of decorated farm carts brought in the last day of the sugar crop, with an elaborately dressed woman leading the way. At the rear was ‘Mr Harding’, an effigy made of cane trash stuffed into old trousers, a coat and top hat. This figure would later be burnt by labourers as a symbol of hope for survival during the post-harvest, generally referred to as ‘Hard-Times.’
“Harvest Home” developed into Crop Over and Barbadians continued to celebrate the end of the season until the festival was disbanded entirely following an economic downturn during World War II in 1943.
A group of Barbadians, together with the support of the Barbados Tourist Board, revived the festival over 30 years later in 1974 and it included a colourful and lively parade of costumed dancers and fireworks, arts and crafts, a grand opening gala and five full weeks of carnival inspired fun. With the gradual change, the general schematic of Crop Over began to closely mirror the Trinidad Carnival.
Beginning in June, Crop Over runs until the first Monday in August when it culminates in the finale, The Grand Kadooment. There are a number of elements of the Festival including cavalcades every week and daily events at various locations islandwide.
Competition ‘tents’ ring with the fierce battle of calypsonians (Calypso artists) for the coveted ‘Calypso Monarch’ Award. There are also the People’s Monarch and Party Monarch competitions. The climax of the festival is Kadooment Day celebrated with a national holiday when costume bands fill the streets with pulsating Barbadian rhythms.
The Crop Over Festival has evolved from a local celebration to an internally recognised event, with thousands of visitors and Caribbean diaspora joining in on the celebrations. It is a great time of year in Barbados and also a reminder of the rich history of this little island.