A republic is born: Prince Charles, Rihanna watch as Barbados ditches the Queen

Bridgetown: Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, stood sombrely in the middle of the night as Queen Elizabeth’s royal standard was lowered and the new Barbados declared.

At the strike of midnight on Tuesday, 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 watches as the British royal standard is folded after it is lowered in Bridgetown, Barbados, on Tuesday.Credit:Getty

And with that Barbados ditched Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state, forging a new path 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.

“The creation of this republic offers a new beginning,” said Charles, the heir to the British throne, whose mother sent her warmest wishes.

“From the darkest days of our past and the appalling atrocity of slavery which forever stains our history, people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude.”

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.

“We the people must give Republic Barbados its spirit and its substance,” President Sandra Mason said. “We must shape its future. We are each other’s and our nation’s keepers. We the people are Barbados.”

Rihanna, honoured as a National Hero, and Prince Charles attend the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony at Heroes Square in Bridgetown, Barbados. Credit:Getty

After a dazzling display of Barbadian dance and music, complete with speeches celebrating the end of colonialism, Barbadian singer Rihanna was declared a National Hero by Prime Minister Mia Mottley, the leader of the island’s republican movement.

The birth of the republic, 55 years to the day since Barbados declared independence, unclasps almost all the colonial bonds that have kept it tied to Britain since an English ship claimed it for King James I in 1625.

It may also be a harbinger of a broader attempt by republican movements in other former colonies to cut ties to the monarchy as it braces for the end of Elizabeth’s nearly 70-year reign and the future accession of Charles.

From left: Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, former cricketer Garfield Sobers, Barbados President Dame Sandra Mason, Rihanna, and Prince Charles stand during the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony at Heroes Square in Bridgetown, Barbados on Tuesday. Credit:Getty Images

“Full stop this colonial page,” Winston Farrell, a Barbadian poet told attendees. “Some have grown up stupid under the Union Jack, lost in the castle of their skin.”

“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.”

Charles’ speech highlighted the continuing friendship of the two nations though he acknowledged the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Queen Elizabeth inspects a guard of honour in Barbados in 1977.Credit:AP

While Britain casts slavery as a sin of the past, some Barbadians are calling for compensation from Britain.

Activist David Denny celebrated the creation of the republic but said he opposed the visit by Charles, noting the royal family for centuries benefited from the slave trade.

“Our movement would also like the royal family to pay a reparation,” Denny said in an interview in Bridgetown.

The English initially used white British indentured servants to toil on the plantations of tobacco, cotton, indigo and sugar, but the nation in just a few decades 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.

More than 10 million Africans were shackled into the Atlantic slave trade by European nations between the 15th and 19th centuries.

“I’m overjoyed,” Ras Binghi, a Bridgetown cobbler, said ahead of the ceremony. Binghi said he would be celebrating with a drink and a smoke.

Barbados will remain in the Commonwealth, a grouping of 54 countries across Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe. The Queen is the head of the Commonwealth.

Outside the lavish official ceremony, some Barbadians said they were uncertain what the transition to a republic even meant or why it mattered.

“They should leave Queen Elizabeth be, leave her as the boss. I don’t understand why we need to be a republic,” said Sean Williams, 45, 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 proclaimed itself a republic.

Reuters

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