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Barbados Celebrates 55 Years of Independence And Transitions to a Republic

by Karen Rollins Nov 30, 2021

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At midnight on 30 November 2021, Barbados celebrated 55 years of independence and its transformation into a parliamentary Republic.

Fireworks lit up the night sky to mark the momentous occasion which saw the island replace Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

The impressive pyrotechnic display followed the official swearing-in ceremony for the country’s first President, Dame Sandra Mason, which was witnessed by national, regional and international dignitaries, including Prince Charles who is the guest of honour at the Republic celebrations.

The fireworks, which symbolised the beginning of a new era, were set off from strategic locations in St Lucy, St Joseph, and St Philip to honour three key Barbadian figures; the father of Independence, Errol Walton Barrow, Sir Grantley Adams who introduced adult suffrage, and the new President Dame Sandra Mason who comes from St Philip.

Across the island, big screens were erected for Barbadians to enjoy the historic event within their communities. The nationwide COVID-19 curfew from midnight to 5am was also lifted for one night, so that people could truly participate in one of the most significant events in Barbados’ history.

The celebrations moved into full swing after 7pm on Monday 29 November at Independence Square with a cultural performance from the newly-reconstructed National Youth Steel Orchestra under the musical direction of Lowrey Worrell.

Later on, several leading Barbadian singers including Stedson ‘Red Plastic Bag’ Wiltshire, Biggie Irie, TC, Edwin, and Peter Ram, kept the party going at National Heroes Square.

Parliament Building, Bridgetown, Barbados

Every element of the overnight ceremony, which lasted over six hours, poignantly represented Barbados’ colonial past and its future as the world’s newest Republic.

Barbados was initially claimed on behalf of King James I in May 1625 when the first British ship arrived under the command of Captain John Powell. The island stayed under British control for over 340 years until 30 November 1966.

In his speech following the installation of Barbados’ new President, the Prince of Wales said the “trusted partnership” between the UK and Barbados would remain intact. He acknowledged the “appalling atrocity of slavery” but congratulated the island on all that it has achieved and said that it held a special place in his heart.

He added: “I remain deeply committed to this very special country and to your future prosperity and wellbeing. I shall always consider myself a friend of Barbados.”

In a tweet ahead of the major celebrations, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also insisted that Britain and Barbados will remain “steadfast friends and allies”, and work together on important issues such as climate change.

In her first message to the country as President, Dame Sandra, said the island was “seizing the full substance of our sovereignty”.

She added: “Today, we set our compass to a new direction. Girded by the successes of the last 55 years, buoyed by the confidence garnered from our triumphs and accomplishments, committed to country and to each other, and motivated to press confidently and boldly forward for the sake of our nation and for present and future generations.”

Meanwhile, one of the major annoucements on the night was the conferring of the honour of National Hero on Barbadian superstar Rihanna who was at the event. Prime Minister Mia Mottley urged her to continue to “shine like a diamond and bring honour to your nation.”

Several other inspirational Barbadians were also recognised in the 55th Independence National Honours list, including the team who have led the country’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Sources: Barbados Government Information Service, The Guardian, and BBC News.