Barbados ditches British monarchy

December 1, 2021 - 17:26

TEHRAN - After a while of deliberating, prolonging the move and marking the date on the calendar, Barbados has officially removed Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as the head of state and become a republic.

The moment has been long coming, as well as demanded by Barbadians to hold power and elect or nominate their own representative rather than a monarch ruling over the Island sitting some 6,700 kilometers away. The terms “royal” and “crown” will be removed from official terminology. The Royal Barbados Police Force will be the Barbados Police Service; “crown lands” will become “state lands.” No more crowns here anymore. The people had enough of colonialism. The moment was marked by a 21-gun salute and the playing of the Barbadian national anthem.

The ceremony may have been more symbolic than actual changes. The event was held 55 years to the day since Barbados gained full independence but kept the monarch in the ceremonial role. On the ground, this push for independence began back in the 1950’s by Errol Walton Barrow, elected as a member of the Barbados Parliament in 1951. Frustrated by lack of concrete action among officials for sovereignty, he began the movement for the Island’s independence and Barrow later became the nation’s first Prime Minister in the 1960’s and would go on to accomplish his mission of gaining independence from Britain. He was also a strong critic of any interference in the internal affairs of the Caribbean. Barrow spoke out fiercely against the U.S. invasion of Grenada Island in 1983 and he strongly condemned some Caribbean leaders who he accused of acting subserviently to foreign powers. Today he is viewed with high regard and respect among Barbadians (and the wider region) who say there would have been no independence had it not been for their late premier’s determination and will power and courage to change the status quo.

Just two years after Barbados became a new English colony, the foreign invaders wiped away any traces of the original inhabitants. In attendance at the ceremony to become a republic around 400 years later, was none other than Prince Charles, representing the Queen. That itself has stirred a lot of emotion among Barbadians who protested the move, while others saw it as an opportunity for the country’s authorities to raise the issue of compensation. The first English ship arrived on the shores of Barbados in 1625 during the era of the British empire; and then came the terror.

In 1625, just two years after Barbados became a new English colony, the foreign invaders wiped away any traces of the original inhabitants who had resided for centuries and commonly referred to as the Arawaks. Their land was stolen and allocated to those with wealthy backgrounds and connections back in England. But the worst was yet to come; the English turned Barbados into their wider commercial world of slavery. Historian and Professor, Hilary Beckles says “Barbados was the birthplace of British slave society and the most ruthlessly colonized by Britain’s ruling elites.” Beckles is also the vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies and a leading figure in the push by all Caribbean islands to secure reparations from the British, added “[the English] made their fortunes from sugar produced by an enslaved, ‘disposable’ workforce, and this great wealth secured Britain’s place as an imperial superpower and caused untold suffering.” Those enslaved in Barbados were predominantly black and descended from Africans.

Most of the paperwork revolving around the cruel and inhumane English slave trade did not use names, if any of the slaves rebelled or tried to escape, their identity and description would often appear in an advertisement where money would be offered in exchange for information on the whereabouts of the slaves. The atrocities committed by the English lasted for more than 300 years and even continued well beyond the 1807 abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.

The younger generation in the now Republic of Barbados are aware of the key details of the transatlantic slave trade. Their ancestors worked extremely hard after being kidnapped from their West African homes, stripped of their dignity and forced to work on sugar plantations under backbreaking conditions as the property of the English. This barbaric and brutal form of human trafficking, murder, torture, and rape allowed the wealth of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes to grow. They amassed huge fortunes, something that laid the foundations for multi-generational wealth. Young Barbadians are now aware that over time, those fortunes, gained illegally, were viewed as something so glorious by the slaver owners that the island was commonly referred to as “Little England” and regarded as an almost perfect model for the trade.

This painful legacy still haunts the people of Barbados. In 2020, a statue of Admiral Nelson, which had been standing in the Capital, Bridgetown for 208 years was pulled down amidst the Black Lives Matter Movement. It was also the nation’s latest symbolic break from its colonial past. In July this year protesters in Barbados marched on the family home of a British conservative member of parliament, Richard Drax, demanding he hand over his 621-acre sugar plantation to the people of Barbados. The protesters wanted this as compensation for what they say is his family’s 200 years of slave-owning and trading on their Island. Several hundred campaigners attended the protest dubbed “Its time, Mr. Drax.” The March ended at the gates of the Drax family estate where hundreds of campaigners and activists were in attendance. The British MP says he “deeply, deeply” regrets the role of his ancestors but refused the demands for reparations. Not even selling his family estate (one that he gained through the actions of his ancestors) and handing out the money to a reparation institute.

It’s a bit like Prince Charles, representing the Queen at the ceremony where Barbados became a republic and acknowledged “the atrocity of slavery” saying “from the darkest days of our past, and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our history.” Yet he refused to offer compensation to the Island for the suffering the English inflicted on the people there. The irony here is the slave trade was endorsed by the British Royal Family. Alongside other rich English families, members of the British Royal Family played a role in this inhumane practice. In 1824, a local newspaper by the name of The Barbadian reported an official declaration by England’s King George that the “Slave Population…will be undeserving of Our Protection if they shall fail to render entire Submission to the Laws, as well as dutiful Obedience to their Masters.”

Christopher Prior is an associate professor in colonial and postcolonial history at the UK’s University of Southampton; he says “It’s a local manifestation of a very global conversation that’s being had about the legacy of the British empire and its colonial exploitation. Barbados’ move is another element of our decolonizing moments.” There is a possibility the changes in Barbados could trigger the start of a wave of realms cutting ties with the British royal family. Prior says “when the queen eventually passes away, there is going to be an emergence of further conversations, particularly in places like Australia, about whether they want to have Charles [the Queen’s son and heir to the throne] as their head of state, I don’t want to suggest there’s any inevitability, but I think it’s extremely likely that the issue of republicanism is not going to be going away anytime soon.”

Barbados’ decision to ditch the queen follows a wave of protests across the world inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States. The people of Barbados have welcomed their country’s move to sever ties with its old imperial rulers as a matter of national pride. A more frank evaluation of Britain’s imperial past has helped drive an effort to bring down symbols of racism and colonialism from the city of Bristol in the UK to the Caribbean.

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