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What's in a Town...  Oistins

What's in a Town... Oistins

Oistins - the smallest town in Barbados, is located on the southernmost tip of the island.  This little Barbados town is full of character! It is said that its name was derived from a distortion of the name “Austin” -  The name of a plantation owner whose property was nearby. He was well known at the time for frequent bouts of insobriety, and so it is quite fitting that today the little fishing village is full of Bars & Restaurants and is one of the top spots for Friday night drinks on the island.  However, there is much more to this small town than meets the eye.

The historical significance of this Caribbean town is not to be underestimated. As the story goes, in the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell sent ships to invade Barbados! This was because, after the defeat and execution of King Charles during the English Civil War, there remained locals here who were resolute in their loyalty to the deceased King that needed to be dealt with. 

The 1st attack occurred at Speightstown, and after several unsuccessful attempts to invade at the Speightstown port of entry, Cromwell’s fleet instead made its way to Oistins in January of 1651, where Governor Lord Willoughby commanded the forces to safeguard the island. After a fearsome fight, Lord Willoughby eventually agreed to a truce and the two men penned and signed the Charter of Barbados at the Mermaid Tavern in Oistins. This treaty provided Barbadian colonists with a guarantee, that they would be able to control the local taxation and land ownership laws - Necessary to prevent the crippling of the economy at the time. 

As a side note, some say that George Washington would have become familiar with this Charter when he visited the island in 1751 and that it could have influenced the creation of the American Declaration of Independence. 

The rights and privileges in that Charter remained in effect in Barbados up until the island’s independence in 1966. But today, there is little to suggest that this little fishing village could once have been the site of such military action. The friendliness of the people belies any possibility of conflict, and a trip to the Oistins Bay Garden and the Berinda Cox Fish Market is a testament to this. 

The fish market was named in honour of Berinda ‘Baby Doots’ Cox, who spent over 50 years in the fishing industry. The market is open throughout the week and always has a buzz of activity. Outdoors visitors can witness the building, repair and cleaning of fishing vessels or the skill of weaving nets. Inside the market, you can watch as the fishermen and vendors ply their trade while swiftly and expertly cleaning and removing bones from recently caught fish. Some of the fisherfolk would happily give you the discarded bits to go on to the jetty and feed the turtles which swim up for their daily treats. Once they are not too busy, the vendors will welcome a conversation with visitors and may even indulge you in a lesson or two in how to clean and bone fish.

The fish on sale in the market can be bought by all, and if you want to sample the Bajan way of cooking the various types of fish, you need only visit the Bay Garden next door. Many small restaurants there are open throughout the day and well into the night, but the area truly comes alive on weekends. This is especially so on Friday nights when residents and visitors alike venture out to enjoy the entertainment and good Bajan food. This Barbados town is home to several varieties of fish prepared on-site. These include mahi-mahi (locally called dolphin but no not its, not the mammal Flipper), marlin, tuna, kingfish, snapper, and of course flying fish which is one part of the island’s national dish (Cou Cou & Flying Fish). Platters can be served with fries, salads or other main courses that include rice and peas or macaroni pie. 

As a backdrop to the dining experience, live entertainment or DJ music is often provided on the stage, and it is not unusual to witness the occasional dance group offer an impromptu performance. For those who prefer more traditional ballroom dancing, just west of the central area, you will find a crowd enjoying social dancing and ‘Oldie Goldies’. 

In addition to the dinner, dancing, history and camaraderie… you can also sample crafts from our highly skilled artisans. Dotted along the shoreline and sometimes on the roadside, you can visit the vendors who sell a range of art, craft and souvenirs. 

The festivities in Oistins are usually heightened during the annual Oistins Fish Festival, which is held for one week each year and culminates over the Easter weekend. This festival celebrates the life of fisherfolk and has been running since 1967, beginning one year after the island’s independence. The festival has many highlights: 

  • The fish boning competition sees non-fisherfolk being invited to test their fish boning skills and speed against those of the professionals. 
  • Boat racing
  • Gaming tables (such as the locally popular dominoes)
  • Cook-offs (using fish as the main ingredient)
  • The strong man boat pulling Competition
  • The greasy pole climb and much more

The Festival, held at this landmark in Barbados, truly highlights past and present Barbadian life and culture through its artistic presentations of local art and craft which is offered for sale. Of course, it goes without saying that, within this Barbados town, there will be a wide array of foods and freshly prepared fish on sale throughout the festival. A perfect family affair with activities and treats for everyone (young, old and in-between) the Oistins Fish Festival draws locals from around the island and visitors from around the globe – it is an event that you won’t want to miss.

Notably, this Caribbean landmark also has all the amenities of a modern town – fast food outlets, supermarkets, cafés, restaurants and shopping centres. Conversely, the atmosphere in the city has mostly remained the same over the years - It still exudes the quiet charm of village life, with the primary industry of fishing maintaining its prominence. Whether you are visiting Barbados during the Easter season or at another time of the year, you are sure to experience delicious food, delightful drinks and unforgettable company in this small town.

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