At midnight on Monday, November 29th 2021, Barbados transitioned from a Realm to a Republic as the Caribbean island replaces the Queen with a President.
Prince Charles was invited to observe the handover and speak to crowds at the official ceremony but he did so amid calls from some for the British Royal Family to apologise for the role of its ancestors in the slave trade, acknowledging it as the “appalling atrocity of slavery”, and describing it as something “which forever stains our history”, during the ceremony marking Barbados’ historic transition to a republic.
Charles summed up the period when the UK was one of the leading players in the transatlantic slave trade as the “darkest days of our past”, but looking to the future said the “creation of this republic offers a new beginning”.
Barbados has had a connection with British Kings and Queens for centuries and was considered the “jewel in the crown” of Britain’s colonies and the plantations, farmed by slaves from West Africa, which contributed to Britain’s wealth.
Ever since English ships arrived on these shores in 1625 and claimed the island for King James I, a British Monarch has overseen life on this island.
Even when Barbados celebrated its independence from the UK, when it stopped being a colony on 30 November 1966, it still kept the Queen at its head of state.
That ends on 30 November 2021, on the 55th anniversary of independence – a day when Bajans will wake up in a Republic.
The current Governor-General, Dame Sandra Mason, who has been the Queen’s representative is sworn in as the first-ever president at midnight local time.
The Royal Standard will be lowered and the Presidential Standard will fly from the flag pole instead.
The Prince of Wales has been invited here by the Prime Minister, Mia Mottley – keen as she is to ensure this change in constitutional status is not interpreted as a snub to the 95-year old Monarch.
Prince Charles told the crowds in National Heroes Square in Bridgetown that “the close and trusted partnership between Barbados and the United Kingdom” will not change and the two countries will keep a “common determination to defend the values we both cherish”.
Barbados will remain in the Commonwealth but the number of Realms will fall from 16 today, including the UK, Canada, Australia, Jamaica and the Bahamas, to 15 on Tuesday.
But there are some organisations in Barbados which say the Royal Family should have no part in the commemorations and they object to Prince Charles being awarded the country’s highest honour, the Order of Freedom of Barbados.
The Caribbean Movement for Peace and Integration argues the Royal Family should both apologise for any role it had during the years of slavery and pay money to Barbados in the form of reparations.
Last year, the worldwide Black Lives Matter movement triggered the removal of a statue of Admiral Lord Nelson in Barbados, which was erected by the British in 1813 to celebrate victory in the Battle of Trafalgar.
But as a supporter of the slave trade before his death, it was decided that the bronze statue of Nelson had no place in the main square in Bridgetown.
An empty plinth stands there now, with a banner wrapped around its base in the national colours of blue and gold.
Many Bajans I’ve spoken to don’t care about the constitutional change, and are simply looking forward to the national holiday which is held on 30 November every year.
Others say it is time to move on and to finish the business of independence which began more than half a century ago.
Whatever else, this Eastern Caribbean country is severing a tie with the British Crown which dates back to the 1600s and it might trigger similar moves in some of the other countries where the Queen remains the head of state.