A jubilant gun salute accompanied the lowering of Queen Elizabeth’s flag in Barbados as the Caribbean island nation declared itself the world’s newest republic on Tuesday.
“Republic Barbados has set sail on her maiden voyage,” newly elected president Dame Sandra Mason declared in her inauguration speech. She is the island nation’s first president, adding, “complex, fractured and turbulent world” it would need to navigate.
Mason was elected its first president one year after Mottley declared the country would “fully” leave its colonial past behind. Barbados gained independence from Britain in 1966 and is known for its idyllic beaches and love of cricket. However, Queen Elizabeth remained as its head of state until Mason’s recent inauguration.
End of Colonial Influence
The new era for the nation of 285,000 ends Britain’s centuries of influence. Britain’s Prince Charles, who also attended the event in support, acknowledged the mark slavery had left on the two countries.
“From the darkest days of our past, and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our history, the people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude,” he told the crowd.
Barbadians enjoyed big fireworks displays timed to mark the historical transition, as a long-running pandemic curfew was suspended for citizens to attend the jubilant event.
The “Pride of Nationhood” ceremony featured Rihanna, Barbados’ most renowned citizen, as well as military parades and a mounted guard of honor.
“May you continue to shine like a diamond and bring honor to your nation,” Prime Minister Mia Mottley told the international celebrity.
According to some Barbadians, the economic turmoil created by the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed overreliance on tourism, which is, ironically, heavily dependent on British visitors.
Over the last few years, the rate of unemployment has increased from 9% to nearly 16%.
“I know it is something that we were going towards for a very long time, but I think it came at a time which is not necessarily the best time considering our economic situation and the COVID situation,” said Nikita Stuart, a 27-year-old local.
The Barbados Muslim Association’s founder, Firhaana Bulbulia, 26, believes that British colonialism and slavery created inequalities on the island. “The wealth gap, the ability to own land, and even access to loans from banks all have a lot to do with structures built out of being ruled by Britain.”
The replacement of Queen Elizabeth II is only catching up with what Barbadians have been feeling continuously for many years.
“I remember in the old days we would be really excited about the queen and Prince Charles and Princess Diana and royal weddings,” Anastasia Smith explained. “But I don’t know if we ever quite saw them as our royal family. Now, everybody is talking about a republic. I’m not sure that anything about my life is going to change. But I think we’re doing the right thing and it’s a proud moment for Barbados.”
Dismantling White Supremacy in Barbados
As a result of Black Lives Matter movements worldwide, local activists successfully lobbied to have Nelson’s statue removed from National Heroes Square that had stood for two centuries.
Nelson’s defense of the slave trade, the basis for Barbados’ plantation economy, has made the statue a target for removal since 1990.
Likewise, the end of British influence has been viewed by some as a necessary step toward financial reparations for the historical use of enslaved people on sugar plantations that were brought from Africa.