The Caribbean island nation of Barbados ceased to swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II, shed another remnant of its colonial past and became a republic for the first time in history, the AP news agency reported. Leaders, dignitaries and artists, including Prince Charles and Barbosian singer Rihanna, attended a ceremony held today (Tuesday) in a central square where a statue of a well-known British lord was removed last year amid a global trend to erase symbols of oppression.
Fireworks filled the sky at midnight as Barbados officially became a republic, and screens were set up around the island for people to watch an event featuring an orchestra with more than 100 musicians and numerous singers, poets and dancers. The event aired on the Internet, prompting a plethora of excited messages from Barbus living in the U.S., Canada and abroad. “Happy Independence Day and freedom for all,” wrote one viewer.
The ambition to become a republic began more than two decades ago and culminated with the island’s parliamentary elections last month in its first ever president by a two-thirds majority. Barbados’s Gov. Sandra Mason was sworn in before dawn, with the island marking its 55th anniversary of independence from Britain.
Mason said: “We must strive to redefine our definition of ourselves, of a country and of the Barbados brand, in a more complex, broken and turbulent world.… Our country and people must dream big dreams and fight to make them come true.”
Mason, 72, is a lawyer and judge who has also served as ambassador to Venezuela, Colombia, Chile and Brazil. It will help Prime Minister Mia Motley lead the Caribbean island populated by more than 300,000 people and dependent on tourism, manufacturing and finance.
Barbados did not need permission from Britain to become a republic, although the island would remain a member of the Commonwealth. It is an event that the Caribbean has not experienced since the 1970s, when Guyana, Dominica and Trinidad and Tobago became republics.
Barbados became independent from the United Kingdom in November 1966, more than three hundred years after English settlers arrived and turned the island into a rich sugar colony based on the work of hundreds of thousands of African slaves.
In recent decades, the island has begun to move away from its colonial past. In 2005, Barbados abandoned the London-based Arbitration Council and selected the Caribbean Court of Justice in Trinidad as its last appellate court. Then, in 2008, she proposed a referendum on becoming a republic, but it was rejected indefinitely. Last year Barbados announced plans to cease to be a constitutional monarchy and removed the statue of British Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson from National Heroes Square, the venue for the festivities.
“From the darkest days of our past and the horrific horrors of slavery, which forever tarnish our history, the people of this island have worked their way through with extraordinary strength,” said Prince Charles, who thanked the Barbadian officials who invited him and said he appreciated what they had achieved. “Freedom, justice and self-determination were your guides.”
During the ceremony, the prime minister gave pop star Rihanna the honor of Barbados’ national heroine, telling her, “Keep shining like a diamond,” like the well-known song, while they both laughed.
The flag, emblem and national anthem of Barbados will remain the same, but some references will change, according to Suleiman Bulbulia, a columnist for Barbados Today. He wrote that the terms “royal” and “crown” would no longer be used, so Barbados ‘royal police force would become Barbados’ police service and “crown lands” would become “state lands.”
“This is the beginning of a new era,” he wrote. “Every Barbody can now aspire to be our head of state.”