Republic Barbados sets sail on maiden voyageWednesday, December 01, 2021
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (AFP) — Fireworks filled the sky over Barbados Monday night as the Caribbean island nation declared itself the world's newest republic, lowering The Queen's flag as it severed colonial-era ties to the British throne to the sound of jubilant gun salutes.
“Republic Barbados has set sail on her maiden voyage,” Dame Sandra Mason said in her inauguration speech as the first president of the country, recognising the “complex, fractured and turbulent world” it would need to navigate.
“Our country must dream big dreams and fight to realise them,” the former governor general told those gathered for the ceremony, including Britain's Prince Charles.
The new era for the nation of 285,000 ends Britain's centuries of influence, including more than 200 years of slavery until 1834.
Addressing the matter during the handover, Charles acknowledged the mark slavery had left on the two countries.
“From the darkest days of our past, and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our history, the people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude,” he told the crowd.
A long-running pandemic curfew was suspended to allow Barbadians to enjoy festivities, which included projections at various points across the country and large fireworks displays timed to mark the historic transition.
The 'Pride of Nationhood' ceremony itself was closed to the wider public but Barbados' most famous citizen, the singer Rihanna, took her place alongside top officials for the event, complete with military parades, a mounted guard of honour and gun salutes.
One of the first acts of the prime minister of the new republic was to declare Rhianna a National Hero of Barbados. “May you continue to shine like a diamond and bring honour to your nation,” Prime Minister Mia Mottley told the international celebrity.
A few hours after the ceremony the country bestowed honours on 87 of its nationals as the island also observed its 55th anniversary of political independence from Britain yesterday.
While most of the awards went to those involved in the fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic, the COVID-19 leadership team of seven shared the Order of Freedom of Barbados, the same honour that had been bestowed on Dame Sandra Mason.
The members of the COVID-19 leadership team who now share the apex honour include Minister of Health Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic, head of the Cabinet Sub-Committee on COVID Senator Jerome Walcott, Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George, head of Quarantine Facilities Dr Corey Forde, director of the Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory Dr Songee Beckles, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health Janet Phillips, and Permanent Secretary of the Prime Minister's Office Alies Jordan.
They were honoured for their “committed, untiring and outstanding leadership” while veteran hotelier Peter Odle received the same award for “committed and outstanding contribution to tourism and the hospitality sectors and civic duties”.
Prince Charles received the Honorary Order of Freedom of Barbados in recognition of his support for the efforts of developing countries in the area of climate change and sustainable development and fostering the spirit of entrepreneurship among young people globally.
Former Barbados and West Indies cricket opening batsman Desmond Haynes, prominent businessman Bertram Hall, and multiple calypso monarch Stedson “Red Plastic Bag” Wiltshire also received the Order of the Freedom of Barbados.
Former president of the Senate Rudolph Cappy Greenidge, Anthony Pickering, Nisha L Hiramand Thani, John Richard Alleyne, and Juliet Skinner received the second-highest honour, the Gold Trident of Excellence, for their distinguished national achievement and merit.
The Gold Trident of Excellence was also conferred on Peter Adonijah Alleyne for his distinguished contribution to culture and journalism, and to church leader Reverend Vincent Wood.
The Silver Trident of Excellence honour was conferred on secretary of the muslim community of Barbados Sulieman Bulbulia for his commitment to seeing Barbados become a place of inclusivity and mutual respect; as well as broadcaster Larry Mayers for his long and distinguished career in broadcasting and his passion for community engagement.
Barbados, famous for its idyllic beaches and love of cricket, gained independence from Britain in 1966.
In October, it elected Mason its first president, one year after Mottley declared the country would “fully” sever its colonial ties.
Some Barbadians argue there are more pressing national issues than replacing The Queen, including economic turmoil caused by the pandemic that has exposed over reliance on tourism which, ironically, is dependent on British visitors.
Unemployment is at nearly 16 per cent, up from nine per cent in recent years.