The Royal Family Honors Barbados’s Historic Moment of Independence

·5-min read
Photo credit: Pool - Getty Images
Photo credit: Pool - Getty Images

It’s a historic moment for Barbados and the royal family—but for two very different reasons.

Prince Charles arrived in Barbados late last night, November 28, to witness the landmark moment the country will become a republican nation and remove the queen as its head of state.

The Prince of Wales touched down on the runway at Grantley Adams International Airport at 11 p.m. on Sunday to begin a short visit as the former British colony completes its transition of independence from the United Kingdom.

Though he arrived to the British national anthem, the prince was also greeted by a Guard of Honor featuring Barbados’s new post-republic military colors, which no longer bear the insignia of Queen Elizabeth II.

Prior to Charles's appearance, Clarence House—the heir’s official office—released details of his speech to be delivered during Monday’s handover ceremony. The speech won’t mention Britain’s colonial ties with the country but will stress that the close relationship between the U.K. and Barbados will remain the same.

Speaking at the November 29 inauguration, Prince Charles will mention “the myriad connections between the people of our countries—through which flow admiration and affection, co-operation, and opportunity.” He is also expected to talk about shared values and the connections between British people and the Commonwealth, as well as deliver a message of support from the queen.

While Barbados will continue to be a member of the Commonwealth—the political association of 54 member states that are almost all former territories of the British Empire—Monday’s landmark event will see its number of realms drop to just 15.

Governor-General Sandra Mason, who will be sworn in as the country’s first elected president later today, has often said that Barbados needs to be freed from any link to its colonial history.

“The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind,” Mason said during the September 2020 announcement of the country’s intention to become a republic. “This is the ultimate statement of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of achieving.”

With the queen removed as sovereign, references to the crown removed from national institutions (such as the Royal Barbados Police Force), and barristers no longer being appointed as “Queen’s Counsel,” the country will finally cut ties to its imperial past, some 400 years after English ships first arrived on its shores in 1625.

For two centuries, the British oversaw the transportation of enslaved people from West Africa to farm colonies and brown sugar plantations in Barbados, contributing significantly toward Britain’s wealth (and creating the foundations for multigenerational wealth). It was not until 1834 that slavery was abolished—and another 127 years before Barbados found full independence in 1961.

Given the nation's history as the site of the first and most barbaric Black slave society of the British colonial era, Charles’s visit has not come without controversy. His invitation by Prime Minister Mia Mottley to observe the change in constitutional status will also see him presented with one of the country’s highest honors: the Order of Freedom of Barbados.

Photo credit: Pool - Getty Images
Photo credit: Pool - Getty Images

Many Barbadians, including the Caribbean Movement for Peace and Integration, feel that the royal family’s only role in the handover should be to apologize for its endorsement of more than 300 years of slave trade and pay out to Barbados in the form of reparations.

“If you are breaking with the monarchy, then you cannot invite them to be part of that process,” the activist group’s general secretary, David Denny, told Barbados Today, alongside the announcement of peaceful protests during the republic celebrations. “I am not saying that you cannot invite the prince to Barbados, but not for our ceremony for Barbados to become a republic. It is a contradiction. It is not an honourable thing to do and I think it is an insult to Barbadian people.”

Though Barbados is celebrating 55 years of independence, the process of completely breaking colonial ties with Britain and the Royal Family has been slow. It was only last year, during the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, that a statue of British Royal Navy Commander Admiral Lord Nelson, who strongly opposed the abolishment of the slave trade in the 18th century, was removed from Bridgetown’s Heroes Square.

“The British Royal family is a source of exploitation in this region and many other parts of the world and as yet, they have not offered a formal apology or any kind of repair for past harms,” University of the West Indies’ international relations specialist, Kristina Hinds, added. “I don’t see how someone from the family can be given the Freedom of Barbados Award. That is beyond me.”

As more countries begin a process of deeper social reform, it is inevitable that other Caribbean realms—including Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines—will also look at their own bipartisan efforts.

Earlier this year, Jamaica’s opposition leader renewed calls to end their time as a constitutional monarchy. Mark Golding, leader of the People’s National Party (PNP), urged for steps to be made along with their “sister island” Barbados.

“We in Jamaica should follow now, right away and without delay. The establishment of a non-executive president as our head of state in replacement of its English monarch was agreed by major political parties over a decade ago,” he said in July. “We can work together to make the required constitutional steps to make this happen. Let us move forward with this now.”

Buckingham Palace said it “respects” the decision of Barbados but provided no further comment.

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