Dancing in the streets. Free samples of homemade wine. Outdoor soca concerts. Heritage bus tours.
February is a fun time to be in Barbados, coinciding with the annual Holetown Festival and Agrofest. This year there was bonus fun because 2020 is the year of We Gatherin’ — a series of events in one parish each month to bring Bajans together and encourage those living abroad to return to the island. February was the turn of the parish of St Peter, and the festivities included a food and rum festival pop-up in Speightstown.
We Gatherin’ took over the streets of Speightstown in mid-February. There were performance stages and market stalls, cocktail competitions and a documentary showing. It all happened down the street from the lovely beach.
The documentary was the fascinating PBS special Beyond Barbados: The Carolina Connection, detailing the settlement of South Carolina by white settlers and African slaves from Barbados. That history is little known today, even among Bajans and those of us with Bajan parentage.
While in Speightstown, a visit to the lively Fisherman’s Pub is a must, for delicious Bajan food, karaoke on the dancefloor and a direct sea view.
The Holetown festival is a week-long celebration in Barbados every February, marking the anniversary of English settlers arriving in what they first called Jamestown in 1627. (Why we’re celebrating the Brits arriving considering what they did next is a question for another time!) It features talks and bus tours on the history of the area, parades, concerts and a street fair. This year was my second time catching a couple of the events.
The heritage bus tour is around 90 minutes and takes in the areas of historical interest in the area around Holetown. Local historian Morris Greenidge has been leading the tour, but approaching 80 years old, he said this year was his last time and he will pass the baton to someone else next year. Greenidge is a knowledgeable and humourous guide, relating the stories of the plantation houses and estates in the hills of St James parish. The tour offers insight into the era of settlement and slavery on island, when it was dominated by sugar plantations and 500 factories. Today there is just one operating factory, Portvale in St James.
This year roadworks prevented the coach from stopping at Rock Hall Freedom Village in St Thomas, which was the first village established by freed slaves in 1841 after emancipation. The 20ft steel and bronze monument of a family of three former slaves is a moving memorial and I’m glad I got to see it last year.
Ceramics, jewellery, clothes, toys — and of course food — feature in the street fair that runs the length of Highway 1, making it a convenient place to pick up handmade souvenirs.
The festival closes with a soca concert that invariably has the tourists and locals — and yours truly — up in the aisles dancing. One of the highlights of the last two years has been the now 74-year-old calypso star Mighty Grynner jumping and kicking his way across the stage and putting people decades younger to shame with his energy!
At the end of the month the island’s largest exhibition, the Barbados Agricultural Society’s Agrofest, showcases agricultural products and equipment, encouraging Bajans to eat heathily from the abundance of vegetables and fruit the island has to offer. Veganism is becoming increasingly popular in Barbados, and Agrofest shows how easy it is to source delicious, fresh, organic ingredients here.
The festival is a fun way to spend a blazing hot afternoon eating snowcones and sampling wine made from everything from passion fruit to spinach (yes, it takes like spinach!), and settle on a bench or wall in the evening by the performance stage.
If you’re planning to visit Barbados and take time away from the beach to explore, February is a great tme to come!