Britain's colonial past brought into focus as Barbados becomes the world's newest republic


It is an event which has been covered everywhere. Its significance has seemingly resonated far beyond the Island's own small borders: Barbados is now a republic after having removed Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state.

The reaction has been a mix of celebration but also reflection as to what the moment represents. Sandra Mason, who was also the first woman admitted to the bar in the country's history, will now lead as Barbados' first president.

Having been sworn at a ceremony earlier today in Bridgetown, the Island’s first president remarked: "From this moment, every Barbadian becomes the living embodiment of the new republic. Whether fair or foul winds come our way, vessel republic Barbados has set sail on her maiden voyage."

She added that the country must now “dream big dreams,” and “fight to realise them”.

Discourse has naturally included the significance of the event for Barbadian/British relations. For many, it has been seen as the drawing of a line in the sand. Prime minister Mia Mottley, said that it was now time to “fully leave our colonial past behind” while Prince Charles spoke of "the darkest days of our [Britain’s] past and appalling atrocity of slavery" which he said, "forever stains our history".

The acknowledgement has been welcomed but will be seen as the minimum given the historical realities of British involvement in Barbados. English settlers who first occupied the island in 1625 manufactured its transition into a sugar plantation economy using enslaved people transported from Africa. These slaves would not be emancipated until the 1830s.

Prince Charles added that “freedom, justice, and self-determination” had been the guiding principles for Barbados in making the decision. Commentators and members of the Caribbean diaspora may now wonder whether similar action could soon be taken in Jamaica. Barbados joins Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago as major republics in the Caribbean.

Mayowa Ayodele