Barbados yesterday went down the road travelled by some other of their Caribbean and international counterparts by becoming the world’s latest country to achieve republican status.
In a ceremony full of pomp and pageantry despite the COVID-19 protocols still in place, hundreds of people gathered along the Chamberlain Bridge and gathered at National Heroes Square in Bridgetown at midnight and with the national anthem playing, a 21-gun salute marked the country officially severing ties with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as head of state — a relationship which dating back some 400 years to the slave trade.
In delivering the feature address in the auspicious position of being the first female head of state, President-elect, Dame Sandra Mason, told citizens, “We the people must give Republic Barbados its spirit and its substance. We must shape its future. We are each other’s and our nation’s keepers. We the people are Barbados.”
Prince Charles, who as the heir to the British throne was on hand as the Queen’s representative, was reflective as the Queen’s royal standard flag was lowered, replaced and a new republican Barbados declared. In noting the stain colonialism on Barbados’ history, Prince Charles said, “The creation of this republic offers a new beginning. From the darkest days of our past and the appalling atrocity of slavery which forever stains our history, people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude.”
As part of the celebration, which came 55 years to the day on which Barbados also declared its independence in 1966, Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who had championed the republicanism movement for the island, also declared Barbadian-born US-based R&B star Robyn “Rihanna” Fenty, who was also on hand for the event, a national hero.
Barbados thus became only the fourth Caribbean country to cut their relationship with the British monarchy, following Guyana, Dominica and Trinidad and Tobago. Just as their other Caribbean counterparts, however, Barbados will remain in the 54-state Commonwealth arrangement.
Of course, many countries take this step to mean that they are finally an adult, self-sufficient and able to make their own decisions and finance their economies without having to seek permission from the monarchy. Naturally, there will still be some collaboration with Britain on initiatives of mutual benefit. During the process going forward, Barbados, which is often referred to as “Little England,” may also even want to remove all vestiges of the English monarchy, since several key tourist attractions, roads and monuments are named after the Queen or her ancestors. Yet, some current countries who are under British influence may not dare take such a step in the current global scenario, where COVID-19 is ravaging their financial and human resources and they have to lean on support from beneficiaries more and more.
Interestingly, however, some Barbadians interviewed by international media organisations on the island yesterday were completely unaware of what becoming a republic meant. Despite this, however, the vast majority of citizens polled still welcomed the move with a kind of pride only becoming a republic can engender.
So for the bold step it took at midnight on Tuesday, Barbados is deserving of kudos from her Caribbean colleagues.