Bridgetown, Barbados is the sort of Caribbean city that reveals its colonial heritage at every turn. At nearly 400 years old, the capital of the island known as “Little England”—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—is chock-a-block with historic buildings and structures, including the third-oldest parliament in the Commonwealth and a centuries-old statue of Admiral Lord Nelson. It perfectly embodies the prim-and-proper, oh-so-British vibe that the island is known for.
Except, that is, on the first Monday in August.
What Is Crop Over in Barbados?
On that day, the streets of Bridgetown look anything but prim-and-proper. In its place comes something known as “wukking up”: blissed-out men and women—decked out in beads, bikinis, and vividly colored headdresses—gyrating their hips with verve. Frenetic soca music blaring from colossal speakers on moving trucks; Mount Gay rum flowing freely; Caribbean flags representing islands from St. Lucia to Jamaica waving in the hot sun. Weaving through the grand parade in playful costumes: is the well-endowed “Mother Sally,” cleavage on bacchanalian display, followed by the “Steel Donkey,” wukking up a storm in his donkey costume. Even Bajan pop star Rihanna joins in the festivities, waving her Banks Beer rag alongside ecstatic revelers.
This is Kadooment Day: the rapturous climax to Barbados’s Crop Over, the largest summer carnival in the Caribbean.
A five-week festival filled with music, dance, culture, and plenty of rum -- on the island that claims to have invented it -- Crop Over has its roots in the eighteenth century when slaves celebrated the end of the sugar-cane harvest. Modern-day Crop Over commemorates this legacy, even as it ups the ante with more contemporary fetes and events.
Crop Over kicks off with the ceremonial Delivery of the Last Canes and the crowning of the King and Queen of the Festival, commemorating the most productive male and female cane cutters of the season. There are folk concerts, calypso competitions, and art exhibitions, including one at the Central Bank.
Take a stroll through the Bridgetown Market, which transforms, in the days before the big parade, into an all-day street party. Stalls sell flying fish cutters and tasty fried fishcakes. Music is omnipresent: calypso bands perform live, speakers blast the latest soca music.
Nights are meant to be spent at fetes and shows. Don't miss Crop Over’s two major concert events: Pic-O-De-Crop and Cohobblopot. At Pic-O-De-Crop, local calypsonians compete for the coveted title of Pic-O-De-Crop Calypso Monarch.
At Cohobblopot -- local slang for “a stew from a variety of ingredients” -- the mixture is all things carnival: calypsonians and bands display their costumes and perform to packed audiences.
After the official carnival shows, the Crop Over fetes follow. To call them parties is a gross understatement; they’re open-air extravaganzas, often complete with food, performances by local artists, and a crowd dressed to the nines. Such elaborate fetes are reminiscent of the Caribbean’s biggest carnival, in Trinidad, where days and nights are spent at one fete or another.
Foreday Morning is the Barbadian version of what other carnivals call J’Ouvert: the parade that runs from 3 in the morning until the sun comes up, at which revelers cover themselves in everything from mud and paint to cocoa.
You can dance under a water hose at the Oval, home to Foreday Morning’s afterparty, while watching the sun come up, reveling in the cool-down and marveling at an entire stadium full of dirty -- literally! -- Bajans and Trinis and Canadians and Americans, dancing together.
By the time Kadooment Day rolls around, it's the icing on the cake. Participate in the parade while marching or dancing in the sun (or rain), ending up in Spring Garden, a massive park.