Barbados has declared itself a republic, officially removing Queen Elizabeth II as head of state and replacing her with Dame Sandra Mason – formerly governor-general and now president-elect. At a ceremony in the capital Bridgetown, the Caribbean country became the world’s newest republic and formally ended the colonial relationship with Britain that began in 1625 when a ship arrived and declared the island to be under the rule of then King James I of England. The ceremony was attended by dignitaries and celebrities from Barbados including its political leadership, superstar Rihanna and cricketer Sir Garfield Sobers, while the former colonial power was represented by Prince Charles, heir to the British throne.
To emphasise the declaration of the new republic and its sovereignty, a final salute was made to the British monarchy and the Royal Standard flag was lowered for the last time. At midnight in Heroes Square, a 21-gun salute announced the new republic as the national anthem of Barbados was played.
Dame Sandra Mason, after she was sworn in as President-elect, said:
“Vessel Republic Barbados has set sail on her maiden voyage. May she weather all storms and land our country and citizens safely on the horizons and shores which are ahead of us.”
Speeches made on the occasion referred to the injustices of the past few centuries, including the more than 200 years when Barbados was a central node for the transatlantic slave trade. From the 16th century until the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, several millions of people were enslaved on the African continent and transported across the Atlantic to work in the Caribbean plantations and in the colonies of North and South America. The journey in slave ships was in cramped conditions, which led to a horrific death toll. Survival meant a life of immense suffering working in the “New World” of the American continent. Most estimates place the death toll at above one million people.
As guest of honour at the ceremony, Princes Charles acknowledged the “appalling atrocity of slavery” and spoke of this moment as a new beginning. He was awarded the Order of Freedom of Barbados on this occasion, and reaffirmed the ties between Britain and Barbados. The new Caribbean republic will remain a member of the Commonwealth. The Queen, as former head of state, sent her wishes for “happiness, peace and prosperity in the future” and said that Barbados holds a “special place” in her heart.
Queen Elizabeth II remains head of state of 15 countries, but it is expected that the latest move by Barbados will spark further debate in these countries around the status of the British monarchy and their relationship to it.
On this occasion, it was also announced that Barbadian pop star Rihanna would be named a national hero for the country. Referring to the lyrics of one of Rihanna’s songs, Prime Minister Mia Mottley said:
“May you continue to shine like a diamond and bring honour to your nation.”