The birth of the republic, 55 years after Barbados’s declaration of independence, opens almost all colonial ties that have held it to Britain since an English ship laid claim to King James I in 1625.
It may also be a harbinger of a wider attempt by republican movements in other former colonies to cut ties to the monarchy as it prepares for the end of the Queen’s nearly 70-year reign and the future accession of Charles.
The Barbadian poet Winston Farrell told attendees, “Totally stop this colonial page.” “Some have been fooled under the Union Jack, lost in the palace of their skin.”
“It’s about us getting out of the sugarcane fields, reclaiming our history,” he said. “Finish that, put an eagle in there instead.”
Charles’ speech highlighted the continued friendship of the two countries, although he acknowledged the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
While Britain denounces slavery as a sin of the past, some Barbadians are demanding compensation from Britain.
Activist David Denny celebrated the creation of the republic but said he opposed Charles’ visit, noting that for centuries the royal family had benefited from the slave trade.
“Our movement would like to pay compensation to the royal family as well,” Denny said in an interview in Bridgetown.
The British initially used white British indentured servants to work on the tobacco, cotton, indigo and sugar plantations, but within a few decades the nation would become England’s first truly profitable slave society.
It received 600,000 enslaved Africans between 1627 and 1833, who earned fortunes for the English owners of sugar plantations.
Between the 15th and 19th centuries more than 10 million Africans were tied up in the Atlantic slave trade by European countries.
“I’m very happy,” Bridgetown cobbler Ras Bingi said before the ceremony. Bingi said he would celebrate with alcohol and smoking.
Barbados will remain in the Commonwealth of 54 countries from Africa, Asia, America and Europe. The Queen is the head of the Commonwealth.
Outside the grand official ceremony, some Barbadians said they were unsure what the change meant to the republic or why it mattered.
“They should leave Queen Elizabeth, leaving her as the boss. I don’t understand why we need to be a republic,” said 45-year-old Sean Williams, standing in the shadow of an independence monument.
The last time the Queen was removed as head of state was in 1992 when the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius declared itself a republic.