Barbados ditched Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as head of state, forging a new republic on Tuesday with its first president and severing the last remaining colonial ties nearly 400 years after the first English ships arrived on the Caribbean island.
With the midnight strike, the new republic was born, shortly after Queen Elizabeth’s royal banner was lowered over a busy Heroes’ Square in Bridgetown.
Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, was present to witness the transition, which Republicans hope will stimulate discussion of similar proposals in other former British colonies that have Queen Elizabeth as sovereign.
Barbados projects the elimination of Elizabeth II, who is still queen of 15 other kingdoms, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Jamaica, as a way to finally break the demons of its colonial history.
After a dazzling display of Barbadian dance and music, complete with speeches celebrating the end of colonialism, Sandra Mason was sworn in as the first female president of Barbados in the shadow of the Barbadian parliament.
“End point of this colonial page,” Winston Farrell, a Barbadian poet, said at the ceremony. “Some have become stupid under the Union Jack, lost in the castle of their skin.”
“It’s about us, emerging from the cane fields, reclaiming our history,” he said. “Get over everything she wants to say, put a Bajan in there instead.”
The birth of the republic, 55 years after Barbados declared its independence, frees almost all the colonial ties that have held the small island together with England since an English ship claimed it for King James I in 1625.
It may also herald a broader attempt by other former colonies to sever ties with the British monarchy as it prepares for the end of Elizabeth’s nearly 70-year reign and the future accession of Charles.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley, leader of the Barbados Republican movement, helped lead the ceremony. Mottley has gained global attention by denouncing the effects of climate change on small Caribbean nations.
“This night is the night!” read the headline on the front page of the Barbados Daily Nation newspaper.
“I am very happy,” Ras Binghi, a Bridgetown shoemaker, told Reuters before the ceremony. Binghi said he would be greeting the new republic with a drink and a cigarette.
Prince Charles, whose arrival was cheered by hundreds of people who lined Chamberlain Bridge and the pier in Bridgetown, will deliver a speech highlighting the continued friendship of the two nations despite England’s central role in the transatlantic trade. of slaves.
While Britain regards slavery as a sin of the past, some Barbadians are asking Britain for compensation.
Activist David Denny celebrated the creation of the republic, but said he opposes the visit of Prince Charles, noting that the royal family for centuries benefited from the slave trade.
“Our movement would also like the royal family to pay for reparation,” Denny said in an interview in Bridgetown.
The English initially used British white servants to work the tobacco, cotton, indigo and sugar plantations, but Barbados in just a few decades would become England’s first truly profitable slave society.
Barbados received 600,000 enslaved Africans between 1627 and 1833, who were put to work on the sugar plantations, earning fortunes for the English owners.
More than 10 million Africans were chained to the Atlantic slave trade by European nations between the 15th and 19th centuries. Those who survived the often brutal journey ended up working hard on the plantations.
Barbados will remain a republic within the Commonwealth, a grouping of 54 countries from Africa, Asia, America and Europe.
Outside of the lavish official ceremony, some Barbadians said they weren’t sure what the transition to a republic meant or why it was important.
“They should leave Queen Elizabeth alone, leave her as the boss. I don’t understand why we need to be a republic,” said Sean Williams, 45, in the shadow of an independence monument.
The last time the queen was removed as head of state was in 1992, when the island of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean, was proclaimed a republic.