While removing the British Monarch as head of state is more symbolic than anything that is tangible, Barbados declaring itself a republic last 30th November 2021 would have been met with great approval from the majority of the Caribbean. Certainly the people of Guyana, Dominica, and Trinidad and Tobago, who became republics decades ago, would have been asking “what took you so long?”, and wondered what is preventing Antigua and Barbuda; The Bahamas; Belize, Grenada; Jamaica;, Saint Lucia; St Kitts and Nevis; and St Vincent and the Grenadines from doing the same.
The people of Barbados and their impressive Prime Minister Mia Mottley must be congratulated for completing their sovereignty project, cutting ties with the British Monarchy that “owned” the country for centuries. They named a new home grown head of state.
In an earlier statement Mottley wrote: “The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind. Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state… This is the ultimate statement of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of achieving” She quoted Errol Walton Barrow, the first prime minister of Barbados who led Barbados to independence in 1966, who warned his fellow citizens “against loitering on colonial premises.”
However, the news of Barbados’ declaration doesn’t sit well with a segment of the Caribbean population. The attachment to the British throne is deep seated, helped along by the benign and gentle presence of the 95-year-old Queen Elizabeth II, despite the Throne’s centuries-old connection to the enslavement of their ancestors.
The history books are strewn with this royal connection, but this one example demonstrates the British Crown’s sponsoring and growing wealthy on the backs of enslaved Africans:
The pirate Sir John Hawkins, who violently captured 300 Africans in Sierra Leone and sold them at an enormous profit to Spanish plantations in the Americas, was sponsored by Queen Elizabeth I in 1560s for subsequent slave trading missions. The triangular trade between England, Africa and the New World was a neat operation where enslaved Africans were trafficked, and the product of their labour went back to England.
That was when “sugar was king”, and the regal produce built palaces, universities, and cities like Bristol and Liverpool. Indeed street names such as Guinea Street, Jamaica Street, Codrington Place, Tyndall’s Park, Worral and Stapleton Roads to this day tie Bristol to the transatlantic slave trade.
Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies Hilary Beckles ties Queen Elizabeth II to the enrichment of the royal house by referring to a photograph he found in the Barbados archives. The photo shows the Queen in a 1966 visit to the Barbados to a sugar plantation of her first cousin, (Earl) of Harewood. The property was owned by the Harewood family since 1782 with 282 enslaved persons. Beckles said that the Royal family began the large scale slave-trading business; they had the monopoly to supply enslaved Africans to the Caribbean.
To say that the Barbados decision to bid farewell to the British head of state is long overdue is to put it mildly. It is quite a disgrace to have allowed your former enslavers to retain such respect and loyalty for so long.
Now it’s time for the remaining Caribbean states to do the same, as should Canada, as a sign of respect for their citizens of Caribbean ancestry. The late veteran civil rights lawyer and activist Charles Roach would have been much pleased.