After nearly 400 years under the British monarchy, Barbados removed Queen Elizabeth II as the head of the state of the island nation early Tuesday and replaced her with the country’s first president, marking the country’s transition to a republic.
Barbados commemorated its split from Britain with a culture-filled, historic ceremony that celebrated three of the country’s newest female emblems — its first female prime minister Mia Mottley, first president Dame Sandra Mason and superstar Rihanna.
Children danced and played steel pan. Local artists performed native songs, and poets recited stanzas about the country’s transatlantic slave past, its tribulations and evolution before its current transition to the ninth Caribbean republic.
Barbados became a British colony in May 1625, when the first fleet of English ships docked on the most eastern Caribbean island. Before slavery was abolished on the island in 1834, slaves bore the economic burden of the country’s thriving sugar cane industry. Barbados, which was once called Little England, gained its independence from Britain on Nov. 30, 1966, but the queen was still the head of state.
Locals still pledged allegiance to the royal sovereignty. Queen Elizabeth II’s presence was made known through her representative, the governor-general, and her symbol and face were engraved on the Caribbean island’s currency.
Just after midnight on the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 30, former governor-general Mason was sworn in as the head of state, starting a new legacy for Barbadians.
“We the people must give Republic Barbados its spirit and its substance,” Mason said. “We must shape its future. We are each other’s and our nation’s keepers. We the people are Barbados.”
The royal family embraced the country’s new status. Prince Charles, an heir to the throne, was present at the ceremony. He said the countries would remain close allies and called the British’s “dark” slavery past an “appalling atrocity” that stains history. The queen sent her regards from the palace.
“As you celebrate this momentous day, I send you and all Barbadians my warmest good wishes for your happiness, peace and prosperity in the future,” Queen Elizabeth II said in a statement.
However, some Barbadians said that kind words and congratulations were not enough. They believe the British should pay reparations to the majority-Black population for the hundreds of years of turmoil their ancestors endured for the sake of profit.
A group of activists planned a slavery reparations protest against Prince Charles Tuesday, but they canceled it after the government rejected corresponding permits.
Some white Barbadians, who make up 2.7 percent of the population, complained that they were excluded from the celebrations. Ian Douglas Bourne, ministry of maritime affairs and the blue economy media specialist, said notable white Bajan bands should have also been recognized.
“Asking for diversity’s sake or did we just bring Charlie here to slap his mommy and pretend Barbados only had one set of people,” Bourne wrote on Facebook.
Rihanna was recognized as a national hero on Tuesday. She is the second woman to receive the honor in Barbados’ history.
Mottley said the entertainer commanded “the imagination of the world through the pursuit of excellence with her creativity, her discipline, and above all else, her extraordinary commitment to the land of her birth.”
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