Barbados bid farewell to the Queen and celebrate the birth of a republic

With the stroke of midnight, Barbados cut its last remaining bonds to the British monarchy after nearly 400 years. In a vibrant celebratory ceremony on Monday evening, the Caribbean island removed Queen Elizabeth II as head of state and inaugurated its first-ever President.

Barbados bid farewell to the Queen and celebrate the birth of a republic
© Jonathan Brady/PA Images/Getty Images Preparations begin for the ceremony in Heroes Square by the Barbados Parliament building where at midnight on November 29, 2021, Barbados will officially become a republic in Bridgetown, Barbados. Picture date: Monday November 29, 2021. (Photo by Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images)

Official festivities marking the island’s historic transition from realm to republic took place in National Heroes Square in the heart of the capital of Bridgetown. Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, had come from London for the occasion and watched as the Royal Standard flag was lowered from the flagpole and the new Presidential Standard raised in its place.

Moments later, the Queen’s own former representative, Governor-General Sandra Mason — a well-respected 73-year-old former jurist — was sworn in as President by the Chief Justice. It was exactly 55 years to the day since Barbados declared independence from Britain.

After taking in a 21-gun salute to mark the historic switch, Mason later bestowed the country’s highest-ranking honor, the Order of Freedom, upon the Prince of Wales — a move designed to highlight the continued close relationship between Barbados and the United Kingdom.

Barbados’s decision marks the first time in nearly three decades that a realm has opted to remove the British monarch as head of state. The last nation to do so was the island of Mauritius in 1992. Like that country, Barbados intends to remain part of the Commonwealth — a 54-member organization of mostly former British territories designed to foster international cooperation and trade.

Prince Charles, who had arrived late on Sunday as Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s guest of honor, told the people of Barbados it was “important” to him to witness the ceremonial changeover.

He also reaffirmed “the close and trusted partnership between Barbados and the UK as vital members of the Commonwealth.”

Some in Bridgetown, however, questioned why the Queen’s son had come at all, pointing out that the island’s historical relationship with the crown was rooted in slavery.

“No member of the royal family should participate in our major freedom day,” activist David Denny told CNN.

“The royal family benefited from slavery financially and many of our African brothers and sisters died in battle for change,” added Denny, general secretary of the Caribbean Movement for Peace and Integration.

An expedition for King James I of England claimed Barbados when his ships first arrived on its shores in 1625. A settlement was established two years later.

“It was the first laboratory for English colonialism in the tropics,” Richard Drayton, professor of imperial and global history at Kings College London, told CNN.

Barbados bid farewell to the Queen and celebrate the birth of a republic
© Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Britain’s Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, attends the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony at Heroes Square on November 29, 2021 in Bridgetown, Barbados.

“Barbados also provided an important source of private wealth in 17th and 18th-century England,” he added, noting that many English families made substantial fortunes from sugar and slavery.

Citing that history, Denny described Prince Charles’ participation as “an insult to our people” and called for financial reparations from the royal family, as well as the British government and other institutions that profited from transporting people from Africa and enslaving them on plantations across the Caribbean.

Denny said the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year “created a consciousness across the world” and sparked solidarity protests on the island. One outcome of the demonstrations: an empty plinth now sits in Bridgetown’s main square where a bronze statue of British Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson — a defender of the island’s slave trade — once stood.

A stone’s throw away from the site of the ceremony in Swan Street, a popular shopping area among locals in downtown Bridgetown, many Barbadians also welcomed the change .

Roger Goodridge, a 59-year-old toy seller, described the move to a republic as “a long time coming” and said he was unsurprised by Charles’ visit.

“The time has passed for ‘Little England.’ We are now on our own and on to our biggest success — breaking the waters and moving onto another stage in our life.”

Victoria Norvill, a 16-year-old student enjoying the public holiday with some girlfriends told CNN: “I feel very good about Barbados becoming a republic because we get to be free and independent.”

Others expressed support but wondered if transition had been “a bit too fast.” The government created its 10-member group tasked with helping manage the transition from a monarchical system to a republic in May this year.

“It’s too hasty. Everyone hasn’t think about it yet and there’s so many people that don’t even know what is a republic,” said Andre Moore, 36.

“I think they should at least have taken a whole year to deal with this or at least two years. I think two years to really think about it, get the mind settled for what they have prepared for this whole republic thing.

Barbados bid farewell to the Queen and celebrate the birth of a republic
© Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Dancers perform during the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony at Heroes Square on November 29, 2021 in Bridgetown, Barbados.
Barbados bid farewell to the Queen and celebrate the birth of a republic
© Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images North Entertainers perform during the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony at Heroes Square on November 29, 2021 in Bridgetown, Barbados.

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