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Singer Rihanna made national hero as Barbados becomes a republic

Barbados won independence from Britain in 1966.

Prince Charles, the president of Barbados Sandra Mason and the Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley after a ceremony to mark the country's transition to a republic.
Prince Charles, the president of Barbados Sandra Mason and the Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley after a ceremony to mark the country's transition to a republic.
Image: PA

FIREWORKS FILLED THE sky over Barbados today as the Caribbean island nation declared itself the world’s newest republic, lowering the British Queen Elizabeth’s flag as it severed colonial-era ties to the throne to the sound of jubilant gun salutes.

“Republic Barbados has set sail on her maiden voyage,” Sandra Mason said in her inauguration speech as the first president of the country, recognizing the “complex, fractured and turbulent world” it would need to navigate.

“Our country must dream big dreams and fight to realize 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.

The ‘Pride of Nationhood’ ceremony itself was closed to the wider public but Barbados’ most famous citizen, the singer Rihanna, took place alongside top officials for the event, complete with military parades, a mounted guard of honor and gun salutes.

royal-visit-to-barbados Rihanna at the presidential ceremony in Barbados on Tuesday. Source: PA

One of the first acts of the prime minister of the new republic was to declare Rihanna a National Hero of Barbados: “May you continue to shine like a diamond and bring honor to your nation,” Prime Minister Mia Mottley told the international celebrity.

Barbados, famous for its idyllic beaches and love of cricket, won independence from Britain in 1966.

In October, it elected Mason its first president, one year after Mottley declared the country would “fully” leave behind its colonial past.

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.

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Relying on tourism

Some Barbadians argue there are more pressing national issues than replacing the queen, including economic turmoil caused by the Covid-19 pandemic that has exposed overreliance on tourism – which is dependent on British visitors.

Unemployment is at nearly 16%, up from 9% in recent years.

“I know it is something that we were going towards for a very long time, but I think it came at a time which is not necessarily the best time considering our economic situation and the Covid situation,” said 27-year-old office manager Nikita Stuart.

For young activists such as Firhaana Bulbulia, founder of the Barbados Muslim Association, British colonialism and slavery lie behind the island’s modern inequalities.

“The wealth gap, the ability to own land, and even access to loans from banks all have a lot to do with structures built out of being ruled by Britain,” Bulbulia said.

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