Barbados ceased pledging allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday as she bid farewell to yet another vestige of its colonial past and became a republic for the first time in history.
Several leaders, dignitaries and artists, including Prince Charles and Rihanna, attended the ceremony, which kicked off Monday evening in a popular plaza where the statue of a famous British lord was removed last year as part of a global campaign to erase symbols of oppression.
Fireworks lit the skies at midnight as Barbados officially became a republic, with screens set up across the island so people could watch the event which featured an orchestra of over 100 drummers metal and many singers, poets and dancers. It also aired online, sparking a flurry of enthusiastic posts from Barbadians living in the United States, Canada and beyond.
“Happy Independence Day and everyone’s freedom,” wrote one viewer.
The drive to become a republic emerged over two decades ago and culminated when the island’s parliament elected its first-ever president last month with a two-thirds majority. The former Governor General of Barbados, Sandra Mason, was sworn in before dawn on Tuesday as the island celebrated the 55th anniversary of its independence from Britain.
Ms. Mason, 72, is a lawyer and judge who has also served as Ambassador to Venezuela, Colombia, Chile and Brazil. She will help Prime Minister Mia Mottley rule the wealthy Caribbean island of over 300,000 people that depends on tourism, manufacturing and finance.
Barbados did not need UK permission to become a republic, although the island will remain part of the Commonwealth Kingdom. It’s an event the Caribbean hasn’t seen since the 1970s, when Guyana, Dominica, and Trinidad and Tobago became republics.
Independent since 1966
Barbados became independent from the United Kingdom in November 1966, more than three centuries after the arrival of English settlers, who transformed the island into a wealthy sugar colony based on the labor of hundreds of thousands of African slaves.
In recent decades, the island has started to distance itself from its colonial past. In 2005, Barbados abandoned the London-based Privy Council and chose the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice as the final court of appeal. Then in 2008, she proposed a referendum on the issue of becoming a republic, but it was postponed indefinitely. Last year, Barbados announced its intention to cease being a constitutional monarchy and removed a statue of British Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson from National Heroes Square, the venue for celebrations highlighting the new republic status. .
“From the darkest days of our past and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever sullies our history, the inhabitants of this island have forged their way with extraordinary courage,” said Prince Charles, who thanked the Barbadian officials for inviting him and said he greatly admired what they accomplished. “Freedom, justice and self-determination have been your guides.”
During the ceremony, the Prime Minister awarded singer Rihanna the honor of national hero of Barbados, saying: “May you continue to shine like a diamond”, a reference to her success “Diamonds”.
The flag, coat of arms and national anthem of Barbados will remain the same, but some references will change, according to Suleiman Bulbulia, columnist for “Barbados Today” newspaper. He wrote that the terms “royal” and “crown” will no longer be used, so the Royal Barbados Police will become the Barbados Police Service and “Crown lands” will become “Crown lands”. ‘State “.
“This is the start of a new era,” he wrote. “Any Barbadian can now aspire to be our head of state.”