Island country, West Indies. The most easterly of the Caribbean islands, it lies about 100 mi (160 km) east of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Area: 166 sq mi (430 sq km). Population: (2009 est.) 276,000. Capital: Bridgetown. More than nine-tenths of the population is of African ancestry. Language: English (official). Religion: Christianity (mostly Protestant). Currency: Barbados dollar. Largely covered by a layer of coral, Barbados is low and flat except in its north-central part; its highest point is Mount Hillaby, at 1,115 ft (340 m). There is little surface water. The island is almost encircled by coral reefs. Bridgetown is its only seaport. The economy is based on tourism and sugar, while the offshore financial sector is growing. Barbados is a constitutional monarchy with two legislative houses; its head of state is the British monarch, represented by a governor-general, and the head of government is the prime minister. The island was probably inhabited originally by Arawak and later by Carib Indians. Spaniards may have landed by 1518, and by 1536 they had apparently wiped out the Indian population. Barbados was settled by the English in the 1620s. Slaves were brought in to work the sugar plantations, which were especially prosperous in the 17th–18th century. The British Empire abolished slavery in 1834, and all the Barbados slaves were freed by 1838. In 1958 Barbados joined the West Indies Federation. When the latter dissolved in 1962, Barbados sought independence from Britain, which it gained in 1966.
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