We have all come across those videos that circulate online where somebody is doing something that we perceive to be insane, and our internal voice screams “Nope!” Maybe they were jumping out of a plane, swimming with stingrays (R.I.P. Steve Irwin), or eating a pink sauce that was shipped across country in a regular ass box not even packed with dry ice (Y’all are sick for that by the way).
For me, seeing people dancing in the streets for six days straight in feathered outfits was an automatic no. Nothing about parties that started at 2 a.m. and lasted until 9 a.m., drenched in mud and paint appealed to me. In fact, as a homebody, it looked like a perfectly curated hell designed exclusively for me. The only feathers I was ever down to wear were my Triple F.A.T. Goose. However, since I was a kid, my friends who hailed from the West Indies have always tried to sell me on the idea of going to “Festival.” The homies from Trinidad called it Carnival, and the homies from Barbados called it Crop Over. Didn’t matter the name, I wasn’t down for any of it … until last week.
I received an email personally inviting me to Barbados to experience seven days of Crop Over, and I accepted. A week after getting to soak up and swim in Bajan culture, I am experiencing what is known as “Crop Over Tabanca”
I’m sad that I’m not still at Crop Over.
En route to Barbados, I was antsy and nervous. My itinerary was jam-packed and didn’t leave much room for rest or me time, both of which I’ve always needed to function properly. Some days we were scheduled to be back at our hotels from a party at 3 a.m., and then we had to turn around and wake up at 8 a.m. to party once more or be a part of some activity. On paper it looked miserable, and I was dreading every minute of it.
But from the moment that I arrived in Barbados, I felt an energy that said I made the right decision. You could feel the excitement for the first Crop Over in two years due to the pandemic. Barbados is a beautiful island full of beautiful people; if you need further evidence, you can simply google the name Rihanna. She is Bajan to the bone.
The first “fete” that I attended was called Lifted. An open-field party full of soca lovers, and I was intimidated because I didn’t know any of the music. Over the course of the next week that would change, as I would become a full-fledged Soca Papi. But at Lifted I played the role of student, and I quickly learned something that would define my time at Crop Over: Men and women actually danced together here.
Men were walking up behind women and grinding, something that hasn’t been societally accepted in America since around 2004. Based on American ideals, it looked wrong to me initially. But here, a dance didn’t mean a man was trying to hit on a woman, he just simply wanted to vibe. And if she refused, he understood and kept it pushing. But also, women were walking up to men and choosing their dance partners at will. There was no malice or pretentiousness in any of it.
Living in LA, I’ve surrendered to the notion that clubs and parties are nothing more than human aquariums — each group encased by their individual VIP section in the club. The men have more interaction with each other than they do women, and the women have their phones out playing with filters. Nothing about it is remotely fun. In Barbados those sort of behaviors would make you an outlier, but more importantly, a cornball.
After Lifted, I was completely aligned with the mission of Crop Over, which was to simply have fun and party. The apex of the fun was a fete called Native. It was also the event that I most dreaded prior to my arrival. The party started at 2 a.m. and went until 9 a.m. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around people willingly signing up for such a torturous affair.
When we arrived to Native, we were greeted with fireworks like it was The Hunger Games. We walked into what was generally used as a race car track, and there was a huge truck with a flatbed that was blaring music, complete with a host and enough lights to adorn the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. There were also two other oddly put together trucks that had railings, were making their way around the tracks, and were completely full with bottles of liquor. These trucks were in motion, and people were power walking to keep up with them so that they could have their cups filled with alcohol. I had never seen anything like it. But I was all in on the experience, so I hopped in line, too.
I can’t identify the moment that the liquor kicked in and I began to have the best time of my life, but there is video evidence of me picking a woman up against the backdrop of sunrise, dancing in a cascading sea of foam, in slow motion. We have paint smeared across our clothing and skin, and are unquestionably having the kind of moment that Crop Over was made for.
There were other moments of importance as well, such as taking a tour of the island and getting to see the proud history of Bajan people. We drove along the shorelines that colonizers landed upon, and I imagined what the natives felt during that time being under the attack of such an enemy. I also got to see the house and street that Rihanna grew up in and on. Barbados felt like a place that I easily could have been raised in.
The last hoorah of my Crop Over experience was Kadooment or “Playing Mas.” About a six-mile march and dance, partying under the blaze of the Caribbean sun in bedazzled and feathered costumes. You drink, you laugh, you grind on people. And it is one of the most beautiful culminations of Caribbean culture you can witness. There is boundless amounts of Bajan pride on display. As you move throughout the streets of the island, hoards of people not playing mas come out and witness the parade of feathers and colors. They give you high fives, sometimes food and liquor. But they beam with a joy usually reserved for small children at mothers.
Growing up in Irvington, New Jersey I was birthed into a hub of West Indian and African culture. I learned at an early age to appreciate the culture of Black people, who were united by several aspects that will forever escape plain old (see: stolen) African Americans: a flag, a body of land and a language to call their own. I always envied the connectivity that existed amongst my friends whose parents or grandparents had risked everything and pilgrimaged to find footing on American soil.
My experience at Crop Over reignited a desire to connect with Black People all around the world. As a Black American, it is normal to feel displaced and disconnected from America. But there are so many places that welcome us with full embrace, where we can find pieces of ourselves in the culture they’ve been able to preserve. I’m forever thankful for Crop Over. Barbados, as they say, owes me nothing.