One head was removed, and another immediately took its place. No, this scenario isn’t from the latest horror movie. It describes the events in Barbados on November 30th when a new republic came into being at the stroke of midnight. In order for that political transition to occur, Queen Elizabeth II had to be removed as the country’s head of state and a new head installed. While no body parts were detached, the Queen is no longer the titular head of this tiny Caribbean nation of about 300,000. And more head removal may lie ahead.
To understand why the Queen is out, some background on and history of Barbados is necessary. It is an island country in the West Indies, the most eastern of the Caribbean islands. British ships arrived on the beautiful shores of Barbados in 1625. Two years later in 1627 Barbados became a British colony, making it one of the world’s oldest colonies. Ultimately, the island was considered the “jewel in the crown” of Britain’s colonies. And of course, a tangible crown was worn by the British monarch who ruled the colonies.
The introduction of sugar cane from Dutch Brazil in 1640 transformed the colony’s economy. While growing sugar cane brought a sweet profit, the manner in which that profit was obtained was not so sweet. Britain invested in plantation slavery on the island in Barbados to grow sugar cane; enslaved Africans worked the sugar cane farms. Between 1627 and 1833, some 600,000 Africans were brought to the colony for that purpose.
Today Barbados is a wealthy Caribbean nation. Given its sugar plantation filled past, it should come as no surprise that close to 90% of Barbadians are of Afro-Caribbean descent and mixed descent. While sugar cane is still grown there, the industry is in decline. And what else is declining is British control.
Barbados declared its independence from Britain in 1966. It then became a constitutional monarchy. Nevertheless, residents of the island continued to adhere to British traditions like afternoon tea, cricket (the sport, not the insect), and horse races. The apron strings (er, royal robe strings) from the Queen were not cut; she still selected the Barbados’ Governor General. So, Barbadians were “independent” but not able to choose who was in charge of their country’s affairs.
A general desire to pursue decolonization was whipped into a frenzy in 2020 with the Black Lives Matter protests. Debates about Barbados’ connection with colonial rule came under a microscope. In a push to get rid of symbols of oppression, Admiral Horatio Nelson’s statue was removed in the country’s capital of Bridgetown. And in September 2020, it was announced Barbados would move to be a republic, i.e., the Queen would no longer be its head of state. “Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state,” were the exact words used.
Change doesn’t happen overnight, and that 2020 declaration didn’t come to fruition until November 30, 2021–the 55th anniversary of Barbados’ independence. The momentous event was celebrated with a military parade, gun salutes, a mounted honor guard, the lowering of the royal standard, and fireworks. The colonial past was also represented; Prince Charles, son and heir to the throne of the head of state being ousted by Barbados, was an honored guest at the ceremony in National Heroes Square in Bridgetown. Addressing the celebrants, he referred to the “appalling atrocity of slavery” in his remarks. To give a current day vibe to the celebration, singer Rihanna, a native Barbadian, attended and was declared a “National Hero of Barbados.” She shone “bright like a diamond” at this recognition.
Transforming to a republic meant a new leader had to be sworn in as president of Barbados. But the new had an old look to it. President Sandra Mason, a 72 year old attorney and judge, was a previous royal appointee as Barbados’ Governor-General. Barbadians elected Mason as their first president in October 2021. She was sworn in as soon as Barbados officially became a republic on November 30th.
Even though Queen Elizabeth is out of head as state in Barbados, ties to the British remain. Barbados will still be in the 54 country Commonwealth of Nations f/k/a the British Commonwealth. This political association, comprised of member states almost all of which are former British territories, has Queen Elizabeth as its head. So, apparently Barbadians will be on friendly terms with their previous head of state.
The changes in Barbados may simply be the start of of further upheaval for the Queen. (As if she didn’t have enough going on in her own family much less the Commonwealth.) Dominica, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago have previously removed the Queen as their head of state. But now other Commonwealth nations are considering separating from Britain due to its imperialist role in society. In particular, such talk is being heard in Jamaica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Winds are blowing in the Caribbean, and they aren’t ocean breezes. They are winds of change. The winds blew British ships into Barbados in the 1600’s, and changing political winds have now blown the Queen out as its head of state. Due to an imperialist past, Britain and her Queen may face blow back in additional Caribbean countries. “Off with her as head” may soon be a rallying cry on other islands.
Could you easily pick out Barbados on a map or globe? What, if any, significance does a titular head of state have? Is the removal of the Queen as head of state merely a symbolic gesture? Why or why not? Can removing a head of state change the past?