LONDON – Nearly 400 years after the first English ship arrived on its golden shores, the former British colony of Barbados will wake up on Tuesday as a republic.
The small Caribbean nation will remove Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state in a ceremony beginning late on Monday, breaking its ties to the British royal family – and with it one of the island’s last remaining imperial ties to the United Kingdom.
It is 55 years since Barbados gained full independence but kept the monarch in the ceremonial role.
The event will see Sandra Mason, a Barbadian who has served as the island’s governor general – or the queen’s representative – sworn in as the country’s first president. She was elected to the galleon post by parliament last month, but Prime Minister Mia Mottley will continue to lead the country.
“It’s a monumental move,” Kristina Hinds, an associate professor of political science at the University of the West Indies in eastern Barbados, said on a Zoom call from her home in Wanstead, north of the capital Bridgetown. “I think it’s part of the development of our independence, and it’s definitely a long wait.”
Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, will be present as Barbados celebrates the end of its formal relations with its 95-year-old mother. Elizabeth is the queen of 15 other kingdoms, including Britain, Australia, Canada and Jamaica.
A spokesman for Buckingham Palace said the decision was a matter for the people of Barbados.
The occasion will feature music and dance. In a “final salute to the monarchy,” according to Charles’ office, the Queen’s standard will be lowered and fireworks will mark Mason’s inauguration.
Charles is expected to give a speech stating that much of the relationship between the two nations will remain the same, including “the innumerable relations between the people of our countries.”
His presence may signal the royal family’s desire to maintain strong ties to the island, which remains in the Commonwealth – a voluntary association of 54 states that includes many former British colonies and which the queen has championed throughout her life.
But for Hinds, Charles’ presence is symbolically “a little strange.”
“It is problematic for those of us who believe that the British monarchy, as important as it has been to Barbados historically in positive ways, has also caused serious damage to the country,” she said.
In the 17th century, Barbados was claimed by the British and transformed into a lucrative colony using labor from hundreds of thousands of people brought over as slaves from Africa.
It became an important hub for the production of sugar, an increasingly crucial commodity that helped enrich British slave owners.
“A result of the desire to produce sugar, which provided a growing sweet tooth back in England – white consumer lifestyle built on the basis of black exploitation and slave labor,” said Christopher Prior, associate professor of colonial and postcolonial history at the British University of Southampton.
The island’s current population of about 287,000 consists mainly of descendants of people who were brought over as slaves from Africa to work in the plantations.
Despite this history, there is still a level of respect for the monarchy and Britain in general, especially among the island’s elderly population, Hinds said.
Many places in Barbados are named after the queen or her ancestors, and a majority of the country’s tourists come from Britain, she added. The island is often referred to as “little England”.
Yet several people in Barbados welcomed their country’s efforts to sever ties with its ancient imperial rulers.
“For Barbadians, this is not something personal against the Queen, it’s about our national pride and governance,” René Holder-McClean-Ramirez, 45, a lawyer and consultant for the LGBTQ community, said on the phone from his home in Bridgetown.
“As we grow and develop as an independent nation, it is not necessary or practical to have a foreign head of state,” he said.
For Ronnie Yearwood, a lawyer from Bridgetown, the positive sentiment of the move is combined with regret that the government pushed ahead without consulting the public on what type of republic they wanted.
Barbados first pursued the idea of republicanism in the late 1970s and proposed in 2008 a referendum on the issue, but the date was pushed back indefinitely.
The decision to remove the queen as head of state was announced in 2020, but with little consultation on the transition, Yearwood said.
“There’s a lot of disappointment,” said Yearwood, 42. “It could have been a beautiful moment for all Barbadians.”
NBC News reached out to both the Prime Minister’s office and Mason, but did not receive interviews.
Barbados’ decision to drop the queen follows a wave of protests around the world inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States. A more accurate evaluation of Britain’s imperial past has helped drive efforts to bring symbols of racism and colonialism down from Cambridge to the Caribbean.
“It’s a local manifestation of a very global conversation being held about the legacy of the British Empire and its colonial exploitation,” Prior said.
“Barbados’ move is another element of our decolonizing moments.”
So could the change that touched Barbados’ beaches mark the start of a wave of kingdoms cutting ties with the royal family?
“When the queen eventually dies, there will be an emergence of further talks, especially in places like Australia, about whether they want Charles as their head of state,” Prior said.
“I do not want to suggest that there is any inevitability, but I think it is highly likely that the issue of republicanism will not disappear in the near future.”
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