Barbados has stopped pledging allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II as it lost yet another relic of its colonial past and became a republic for the first time in history.
As Barbados officially became a republic, fireworks went up in the midnight sky, with screens set up across the island so people could watch the event which featured an orchestra with more than 100 steel pan players and several performers. It was also broadcast online, prompting a flurry of upbeat messages from eagles living in the US, Canada and beyond.
“Happy Independence Day and freedom to all,” wrote one viewer.
The campaign to become a republic began more than two decades ago, and the island’s parliament last month elected its first president with a two-thirds majority. Barbados Governor General Sandra Mason was to be sworn in before dawn on Tuesday as the island marked its 55th independence from Britain.
Mason, 72, is a lawyer and judge who has also served as ambassador to Venezuela, Colombia, Chile and Brazil. She will help Prime Minister Mia Motley lead a wealthy Caribbean island of more than 300,000 people that relies on tourism, construction and finance.
Barbados did not require permission from the UK to become a republic, although the island would remain a member of the Commonwealth realm. This is a phenomenon the Caribbean has not experienced since the 1970s, when Guyana, Dominica and Trinidad and Tobago became the Republic.
Barbados became independent from the United Kingdom in November 1966, more than three centuries after English settlers arrived and turned the island into a wealthy Chinese colony based on the work of hundreds of thousands of African slaves.
In recent decades, the island has begun to distance itself from its colonial past. In 2005, Barbados superseded the London-based Privy Council and selected the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice as its final appeals court. Then in 2008, it proposed a referendum on the issue of becoming a republic, but it was pushed back indefinitely. Last year, Barbados announced plans to stop being a constitutional monarchy and removed a statue of British Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson from National Heroes Square, the venue of the event, to celebrate becoming a republic.
According to Suleiman Bulbulia, columnist for the Barbados Today newspaper, the flag, coat of arms and national anthem of Barbados will remain the same, but some contexts will change. He wrote that the words “royal” and “crown” would no longer be used, so the Royal Barbados Police Force would become the Barbados Police Service and the “Crown Lands” would become “state land”.
He wrote, ‘This is the beginning of a new era. “Any Barbadian can now aspire to be our head of state.”