Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
When you search on the internet about Barbados becoming a republic you first have to push through a series of holiday advertisements - cheap holidays, palms trees and beaches, and then maybe to the actual event. You would have wondered that perhaps on this occasion, an important date in the history of Barbados, that tourism might have taken a back seat. But no: this event has largely gone unreported. It appears that Barbados is not big enough with a threatening enough economy to be a major news story, despite it being one of Britain’s former colonies, and that with Barbados being a republic it has made a further step in the de-colonialisation process.
Barbados officially became a republic on 28th November. Queen Elizabeth II will no longer be the head of state; she has been replaced by the new President, Dame Sandra Mason. However, The Royal Family were represented by Prince Charles at the ceremony, marking the beginning of the new republic. Prince Charles promptly fell asleep and had to receive subtle nudge from one of his advisers. While the Prince had inadvertently performed the same attention deficit as the British media, he simultaneously demonstrated why not to have a royal family: they are too decrepit an institution to be leading anyone.
Also present at the ceremony was the singer and songwriter Rihanna, who was declared a national hero. But given how much Rihanna earns in contrast to the still widely prevailing poverty of the rest of the republic (that still lingers from colonialism), to call her a ‘hero’ surely sends the wrong message. She does not so much represent the liberation of a nation, more how the culture industry of Western institutions have the ability to assimilate all cultural differences into one profit machine. No matter how pretty her trinket songs are, we should not confuse her celebrity with the revolutionary - be it cultural or political.
But despite the presence of these two figures, we should not detract from the event itself. Becoming a republic furthers the work of dismantling the effects of colonialism to build something far better for Barbados. And given Britain’s own current heads of state, disassociating themselves from UK politics is wise to say the least.
And what of Britain’s own republican ambitions? In spite of Barbados’ move towards a more democratic government, Britain will likely prefer the hierarchical, top-down model of governance that has stuck for so long. The idea of the Queen, of bunting, of ships, makes so many of the British people have a tingly feeling inside. The Queen is simultaneously dismissed as politically impotent and lauded as a key advertisement for Britain overseas and for the London economy. She, and indeed the rest of the family, and all the palaces, and all the wealth, and all the influence in parliament, is explained away as ‘necessary’. But Barbados becoming a republic has shown that the welfare of a people is never dependent on a monarchy.