Barbados is a geographically unique island, created by the collision of the Atlantic coastal and Caribbean tectonic plates and a volcanic eruption; and later formed by the accumulation of coral.
The name Barbados was derived from "Los Barbados", the name given the island by Portuguese explorer Pedro a Campos, who came upon the island on his way to Brazil. It is believed that he named the island after the ficus trees (known as the bearded fig tree because of the beard-like appearance of its aerial roots) that occupied much of the island's coast.
First settled by the Arawaks, an Amerindian tribe that migrated from Venezuela, Barbados was inhabited by the Caribs (a warlike Amerindian tribe) in 1200. Barbados was briefly occupied by the Spanish in 1492 and Portuguese in 1536. However neither the Spanish nor the Portuguese chose to colonize the island and in 1625 it was claimed by the British who settled it in 1627 and established Barbados as the 3rd parliamentary democracy in the world in 1639.
Barbados' economy was established on the production of sugar, tobacco and cotton; and was initially reliant upon labour provided by indentured servants and convicts shipped from Britain. However in the mid to late 1600s the island's labour demands were met through the Dutch slave trade that provided slaves from Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ghana, The Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon. Slavery was abolished in the British Empire (including Barbados) in 1834.
Barbados dominated the sugar industry in the Caribbean until 1730 when it was surpassed by Jamaica and the Leeward islands, but sugar production remained its primary industry until the 1990s when it gave way to tourism and light manufacturing. Currently Financial Services is the largest component of Gross Domestic Product, followed by Tourism.
Historically referred to as "Little England", Barbados was a British colony from its settlement by Britain in 1627 to 1961 when it was granted internal autonomy. Barbados gained independence on November 30, 1966 and remains a member of the British Commonwealth.