Barbados is throwing off its colonial shackles. Now the real change must come

Barbados is in the final stages of completing its transition to a republican system of government. On 30 November, the 55th anniversary of its independence from Britain, the British Queen will no longer be Barbados’s head of state. The word ‘royal’ will be removed from the names of institutions and they will no longer bear the insignia of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The tiny Caribbean island will have its first elected president, Dame Sandra Mason, who represents the Barbadian struggle for self-determination and whose term won’t last a lifetime.

To many around the world, the move away from the British monarchy is a mature and progressive separation from the island’s former colonial master. For Barbados’s population of just under 300,000, it is a hugely significant period ending more than 400 years of British rule, which included centuries of the most inhumane form of the slave trade.

Barbados was “Britain’s colonial site of the first ‘black slave society’,” notes Hilary Beckles, a Barbadian historian and chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Reparations Commission. “The most systemically violent, brutal and racially inhumane society of modernity”.

Many of my fellow young Barbadians view 30 November as the start of a new national journey. In fact, many of us are not content with the simple tokenism of having a Barbadian head of state. Instead, we see the need to move on from a centuries-old order that vested tremendous power in a concept of hereditary sovereignty that was never consistent with our identity. As sovereign, the British monarch owns all state lands, buildings, equipment, state-owned companies, the copyright on government publications and employs all government staff.

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Three centuries of atrocities

Most Barbadians between the ages of 18 and 35 are aware of the key details of the transatlantic slave trade. Our ancestors toiled after being kidnapped from their West African homes, stripped of their dignity and forced to work on sugar plantations under backbreaking conditions as the property of Britain’s bourgeoisie.

This barbaric and brutal form of human trafficking, murder, torture, and rape made rich men of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. They amassed huge fortunes, which laid the foundations for multi-generational wealth. Young Barbadians now know that over time, those ill-gotten fortunes were considered so glorious by the slavers that the island was commonly referred to as ‘Little England’ and regarded as an almost perfect model for the trade.

That was just the start of a period of unspoken atrocities, which lasted for more than 300 years. It continued well beyond the 1807 abolition of the transatlantic slave trade and the formal abolition of slavery by colonial assemblies in the Caribbean in 1838.

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