Barbados ended its oath of loyalty to Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday, shedding another relic of its colonial past and becoming the world’s first republic.
The event, which began late Monday in a prominent area where a monument of a well-known British lord was demolished last year amid a worldwide movement to eliminate symbols of tyranny, was attended by several politicians and dignitaries, including Prince Charles.
At midnight, fireworks rained down from the sky as Barbados became a republic, with screens put up across the island to broadcast the celebration, which featured an orchestra with more than 100 steel pan musicians and a variety of artists. It was also aired online, eliciting a rush of enthusiastic replies from Bajans in the United States, Canada, and other parts of the world.
One viewer said, “Happy Independence Day and independence to everybody.”
The island’s push to become a republic began more than two decades ago, and it concluded last month with the island’s Parliament electing its first president by a two-thirds majority vote. On the 55th anniversary of Barbados’ independence from Britain, Governor General Sandra Mason was set to be sworn in before daybreak on Tuesday.
Mason, 72, is a former ambassador to Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, and Brazil, as well as an attorney and judge. She’ll assist Prime Minister Mia Mottley in leading the prosperous Caribbean island of over 300,000 people, which is reliant on tourism, manufacturing, and finance.
Although Barbados would remain a part of the Commonwealth Realm, it does not require authorization from the United Kingdom to become a republic. It’s an event the Caribbean hasn’t seen since Guyana, Dominica, and Trinidad and Tobago established republics in the 1970s.
Barbados gained independence from the UK in November 1966, more than three centuries after English settlers landed and transformed the island into a prosperous sugar colony reliant on the labor of hundreds of thousands of African slaves.
The island has started to distance itself from its colonial heritage in recent decades. Barbados abandoned the Privy Council in London in 2005 and picked the Caribbean Court of Justice in Trinidad as its last court of appeal.
It then planned a vote on becoming a republic in 2008, but it was postponed indefinitely. Barbados declared preparations to end its constitutional monarchy last year, and a statue of British Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson was removed from National Heroes Square, the site of the republic’s celebration.
According to Suleiman Bulbulia, a journalist for the Barbados Today newspaper, the flag, coat of arms, and national song would remain the same, but specific allusions may alter. The titles “royal” and “crown” will be phased out, thus the Royal Barbados Police Force will become the Barbados Police Service, and “crown lands” will become “state lands,” he wrote.
He wrote, “It is the dawn of a new age.” “Any Barbadian can now aspire to be our President.”