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BARBADOS CROP OVER FESTIVAL DATES AND EVENTS

Story and photos by

"R.P.B.! R.P.B.!" shouts the crowd in the Bridgetown, Barbados, National Stadium. Waving their arms in the air and dancing in front of the grandstand to the pulsating rhythm of the steelband, thousands of people cry out for an encore.

Bands parade in front of Barbados National Stadium.
Bands parade in front of Barbados National Stadium.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

R.P.B. stands for Red Plastic Bag, the name of one of Barbados' top calypsonians. On stage, like a god in a glittering metallic jacket, he mesmerizes his adoring audience with his satirical lyrics and catchy beat.

Harvest festival

Calypso is the heartbeat of the Barbados Crop Over festival. Once used to express the attitudes of the African masses to the colonial authorities, today, this authentic folk music is still a mirror of social opinion.

Like calypso, Crop Over's roots stretch back to the days when the slaves celebrated the end of the sugar cane harvest. The earliest-known reference to a Crop Over Festival was made by the manager of Newton Plantation, writing, in 1798, to the estate's owner in England about "a dinner and sober dance for the slaves" after the harvest. Over the years, feasting, dancing and merry-making became associated with the end of the back-breaking work.

By 1940, the festival had died out, with other sources of employment putting an end to traditional plantation life. In 1974, however, the National Cultural Foundation revived celebrations as a tribute to the immense impact sugar had on Bajan history and as an acknowledgement of its role in the current economy.

Today, Crop Over is still an exciting time for Bajans, with numerous fairs and parties held around the island. It's also a time for renewing old friendships as thousands of emigrated Bajans return home.

Bajan Crop Over dates

When is Crop Over? Dates for 2017 celebrations are May 14 to August 7.

Bajans commemorate Crop Over Festival with the ceremonial delivery of the last canes (date: June 24) to Queen's Park. The canes, transported on a brightly-decorated mule-drawn cart, are blessed, and thanks is given to the Almighty for a plentiful crop.

Music and food stalls fill the park and crowds gather to witness the crowning of the King and the Queen of the Crop, the champion cane-cutter and piler of the season.

Festival events

The Barbados festival features something for everyone: music by the Royal Barbados Police Band, donkey-cart rides for the children, exhibits of arts and crafts, and stands selling sugar cakes and mauby (a bitter but refreshing brew made by boiling the bark of the mauby tree with vanilla and spices). Musicians, singers and dancers perform at a folk concert.

Barbados Crop Over celebrations are by no means confined to weekends. Throughout the week, everyone heads to the calypso tents and local nightclubs to listen to their favorite singers. (Check the local newspapers to find out where and when the tents will be pitched.)

What are the dates for 2017 Crop Over events? Mega Calvacade - May 19. Crop Over Visual Arts Festival Exhibition - June 25. Pan Fusion - July 14. Junior Calypso Monarch Finals - July 22. Evening of Folk - July 26. Soca Royale - July 30. Emancipation Day Walk - August 1.

Junior Kadooment

As the weeks progress, excitement reaches a feverish pitch. The Junior Kadooment (date: July 29) rivals the evening calypso competitions when it comes to attendance. But here, a family atmosphere pervades, as parents and relatives come out to cheer the youngsters. Clad in colorful costumes, decorated with makeup and sparkles, little tykes as young as two-years-old strut across the stage of the National Stadium in Bridgetown.

Girl in pink costume at Junior Kadooment.
Girl in pink costume at Junior Kadooment.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The children wait like horses behind a gate, shifting from foot to foot, unable to conceal their excitement and eagerness to show off their costumes: Jack & Jill, Little Bo-Peep, the Pied-Piper and a hundred different childhood fantasies — all products, no doubt, of many hours of eyestrain and sore thumbs.

Pic-o-de-Crop

By the final weekend, excitement has reached a crescendo in Barbados. Many Bajans consider the Pic-o-de-Crop Finals (date: August 5), in Bridgetown, as the highlight of Crop Over. It is here that the finalists battle for the coveted title of Party Monarch. A lot more than popularity is at stake; the winner also receives a substantial cash prize.

There are actually two main calypso competitions. Pic-o-de-Crop is the formal event, judged by experts according to specified categories, such as lyrics, melody and presentation. The Road March or Tune-of-the-Crop, on the other hand, is an event judged by the local people on the final day. The tune played most frequently by the bands, during the Grand Kadooment parade, wins the award. Occasionally, the same song wins both competitions.

Street fair

On the final weekend, Spring Garden Highway closes to traffic for the Bridgetown Market (dates: August 4, 5, 6 and 7). Stands spring up, selling fish cakes, barbecued chicken and fruit cake. Drink stalls outnumber food stands two to one. Some stock full bars; others sell Banks beer, cane juice and mauby.

Local organizations, such as the Lion's Club, operate stands to earn money for their favorite charities. Based on the signs, however, the vast majority are run by individuals such as Norma's Pub and Hope's Booze n'Grub. The food is good, the prices are reasonable and the sanitation standards are high enough that you don't have to worry about what you eat.

You name it, you can buy it at the Bridgetown Market: handwoven baskets, colorful Rastafarian jewelry, wood carvings, dried balloon-shaped hedgehog fish and even ladies' panties. The most popular vendor is the man with the machete who hacks open large green coconuts so purchasers can quench their thirst.

Phenomenal Friday

Crowds make their way to Kensington Oval for Phenomenal Friday on July 7 for a huge song competition.

The highlight of the Grand Kadooment (date: August 7) is the costume competition between the kings and queens of each band. In selecting a winner, judges look for originality, craftsmanship, visual impact and presentation. Prizes are awarded with as much fanfare as the crowning of Miss America.

Stilt dancers. Grand Kadooment.
Stilt dancers. Grand Kadooment.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

One year, the queen was a glittering gold and yellow bird with a towering headpiece of ostrich plumes, depicting The Flight of the Phoenix. The winning king's costume was even more breathtaking. The Enchanted Sea Serpent carried two pairs of blue wings, a 10.7 meter-long tail, an iridescent crown and a dragon-like head, decorated with blue and silver sequins. The runners-up were also dazzling creations of sparkles, feathers and chiffon.

Grand Kadooment

Because Grand Kadooment is held on a Monday, the day is a national holiday in Barbados. Thousands of people line the route joining the National Stadium to Spring Garden Highway. Thousands more fill the stadium to watch revelers dance before the judges.

There are many other prizes, but winning is secondary to having fun. Highway "jamming" is the name of the game. Everyone is in a party mood, helped, no doubt, by "refreshments." But no one is inebriated.

In fact, several of the bands depict social issues. One band, dressed in a traffic theme, carries messages of "Buckle Up" and "Don't Drink and Drive." Another one portrays the environmental dangers of burning sugar cane. A third group carries blown-up condoms and placards reading "Be Careful — AIDS is a Deadly Game."

Special effects

For the most part, though, Crop Over costumes are an explosion of color, highlighted with fog, colored smoke and white doves. Flag throwers lead each band and dancers swirl their skirts, while three-meter-high stiltmen tower over the sea of gyrating masqueraders.

While Crop Over is not put on specifically for tourists, Bajans certainly welcome visitors to join their celebrations. Rest up before going to Barbados because, once you arrive, partying leaves little time for sleep.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Barbados Tourism Authority: www.visitbarbados.org

More things to do in Barbados:

Barbados Atlantis Submarine Tour

Romantic Barbados

Barbados Wildlife Reserve