Barbados ditched Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as head of state, forging a new republic on Tuesday with its first-ever president and severing its last remaining colonial bonds nearly 400 years after the first English ships arrived at the Caribbean island.
At the strike of midnight, the new republic was born to the cheers of hundreds of people lining Chamberlain Bridge in the capital, Bridgetown. A 21 gun salute fired as the national anthem of Barbados was played over a crowded Heroes Square.
Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, stood somberly as Queen Elizabeth’s royal standard was lowered and the new Barbados declared, a step which republicans hope will spur discussion of similar proposals in other former British colonies that have Queen Elizabeth as their sovereign.
Barbados casts the removal of Elizabeth II, who is still queen of 15 other realms including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Jamaica, as a way to finally break with 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 Barbados’s first president in the shadow of Barbados’s parliament.
Full stop this colonial page, Winston Farrell, a Barbadian poet told the ceremony. Some have grown up stupid under the Union Jack, lost in the castle of their skin, he added.
It is about us, rising out of the cane fields, reclaiming our history, he said. End all that she mean, put a Bajan there instead, Mr. Farrell concluded.
The birth of the republic, 55 years to the day since Barbados declared independence, unclasps almost all the colonial bonds that have kept the tiny island tied to England since an English ship claimed it for King James I in 1625.