A look back at Barbados' history gives a sense of what makes the island tick. The Portuguese were the first Europeans in Barbados' history to explore there, drifting ashore the coral and limestone mountain peak in search of fresh water in 1536. They did not stay for long, but left the island with the name that would stick throughout the rest of Barbados' history - the roots of fig trees native to the island reminded them of beards; Barbados is Portuguese for "the bearded ones".
A new period in Barbados history began with the first permanent settlement almost a century later, when the British established the city of Holetown on the island's western coast in 1627. From then on, Barbados' history as a British colony continued virtually uninterrupted, with the island becoming an important trading port reliant mainly on sugar exports to survive. Sugar cane dominated the economy throughout Barbados' history until a few years after it achieved independence from Britain in 1966, when airline travel increased allowing tourism to grow exponentially.
Today's Bajans, most of whom descend directly from either former plantation owners or their laborers brought to Barbados during the 16th and 17th centuries, are intensely proud of Barbados' history and the nation it has produced. Though tourism is Barbados' most important industry, Bajans have worked hard to build upon the infrastructure left by the British period of Barbados history to diversify and strengthen their business community. British customs and traditions remain strong here - afternoon tea and cricket are national institutions - but Barbados' history has also evolved an independent nation whose standard of living rivals any in the West Indies.
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