By Alexis Taylor
Special to the AFRO
Barbados officially broke up with the Queen of England Nov. 30.
Though independent since Nov. 30, 1966, Barbadians took their freedom a step further at the stroke of midnight. The people not only declared themselves a free republic, but also installed a Black woman as their first president.
“On a rain soaked night 55 years ago, the inhabitants of what had been the world’s first slave society shed the mantle of colonialism to become an independent nation,” said Her Excellency Dame Sandra Prunella Mason, the country’s first president. “Since independence, our heroes and humble citizens, our crews and our passengers have built an international reputation anchored in our characteristics, our national values, our stability and our successes.”
The leader of the world’s newest republic said that the move was a crucial one, a long time in the making.
The first English settlers arrived in Barbados in the early 1620s. They would rule for centuries, forcing slaves into backbreaking labor on large plantation systems until 1834- when a system of apprenticeship took over. The British colonies didn’t fully free their slaves until 1838.
Plantation owners were compensated for the “loss” of their human property. The slaves that gained their freedom were given nothing more.
It would be more than another century before the UK Parliament approved Barbados Independence Act 1966, which still left the country under the monarchy of Queen Elizabeth II.
“In the year 2021, we now turn our vessel’s bow towards the new republic. We do this so that we may seize the full substance of our sovereignty,” said President Mason at the overnight celebration, live streamed on the Barbadian government’s social media network. “For decades we have had discourse and debate about the transition of Barbados to a republic.”
“Today, debate and discourse have become action.”
Queen Elizabeth II, in a message to President Mason and her people, sent “good wishes” of “happiness, peace and prosperity in the future.”
“The people of Barbados have held a special place in my heart,” she said. “It is a country rightfully proud of its vibrant culture, its sporting prowess, and its natural beauty, that attracts visitors from all over the world, including many people from the United Kingdom.”
Prince Charles was in attendance for the ceremony and spoke at the celebration that carried on into the night. The Prince of Wales praised the Bajan people for “forging their path with extraordinary fortitude. He also acknowledged the “darkest days” of the country’s relationship with Britain, calling “the appalling atrocity of slavery” something that “forever stains our history.”
Festivities picked up again early this morning, with the National Independence Honours ceremony for Barbadians who have gone above and beyond to help their fellow man and their country.
Barbadian Ambassador and international pop star Robyn “Rihanna” Fenty was unveiled as the 11th national hero in the country’s history at the midnight investiture ceremony.
Later in the day, Prime Minister Mia Mottley said she chose to honor the business mogul for using her platform to promote “equality, tolerance, diversity, respect and responsibility- all in her Bajan beautiful accent.”
Fenty’s full title is now “The Right Excellent Robyn Rihanna Fenty.” She is now one of only two living Barbadian national heroes- the other being The Right Excellent Sir Garfield St. Alban Sobers, a Barbadian cricket player.
“This is a day that I will never ever forget. It’s also a day that I never saw coming,” said Fenty, the youngest to ever earn the honor. “I am so proud to be a Bajan. I’m going to be a Bajan until the day I die.”
Fenty has always highlighted her bajan roots and has used her makeup and clothing line to uplift communities of color and people of all body types.
“I pray that the youth continue to push Barbados forward,” she said. “I have traveled the world and received several awards and recognitions, but nothing compares to being recognized in the soil that you grew up in.”
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