By John Ikani
Barbados has officially removed Queen Elizabeth II as its Head of State to become the world’s newest Republic.
At the stroke of midnight, the new Republic was born, shortly after Queen Elizabeth’s royal standard was lowered over a crowded Heroes Square in Bridgetown.
The new era for the nation of 285,000 ends Britain’s centuries of influence, including more than 200 years of slavery until 1834.
The birth of the Republic, 55 years to the day since Barbados declared independence, unclasps almost all the colonial bonds that have kept the tiny island tied to England since an English ship claimed it for King James I in 1625.
It may also be a harbinger of a broader attempt by other former colonies to cut ties to the British monarchy as it braces for the end of Elizabeth’s nearly 70-year reign and the future accession of Charles.
The Prince of Wales, Charles and Barbadian singer Rihanna attended the event, which coincided with the country’s 55th anniversary of independence.
In a speech, Prince Charles acknowledged the “appalling atrocity of slavery” the Caribbean island suffered.
The new era for Barbados ends Britain’s centuries of influence, including more than 200 years when the island was a hub for the transatlantic slave trade.
To signify the official change of power, a final salute was made to the British monarchy and the Royal Standard flag was lowered and replaced.
After a dazzling display of Barbadian dance and music, complete with speeches celebrating the end of colonialism, Sandra Mason was sworn in as Barbados’s first President in the shadow of Barbados’s Parliament.
“Full stop this colonial page,” Winston Farrell, a Barbadian poet told the ceremony. “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.”
Speaking as the guest of honour at the event, Prince Charles reiterated the continuing ties between the two nations despite the constitutional status change.
He described the moment as a new beginning before being awarded the prestigious Order of Freedom of Barbados by the new president.
The Queen sent the country her “warmest good wishes” for “happiness, peace and prosperity in the future” and said the nation holds a “special place” in her heart.
Dame Sandra Mason, 72, the island’s governor-general since 2018, was named as president-elect of the nation following a vote in parliament last month. She now replaces the Queen as the head of state.
“Vessel Republic Barbados has set sail on her maiden voyage. May she weather all storms and land our country and citizens safely on the horizons and shores which are ahead of us,” she said after being sworn in.
Barbados announced its plan to become a republic last year, but it will remain within the Commonwealth.
Leading national figures, including Prime Minister Mia Mottley, swore allegiance to Barbados in front of the new president at the ceremony, which lasted for several hours.
She later announced that pop star Rihanna would be named a national hero by President Mason. The artist and businesswoman, whose full name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty, was previously named an ambassador by her home country in 2018.
“May you continue to shine like a diamond and bring honour to your nation,” Ms Mottley said, in reference to one of Rihanna’s songs.