On May 14, 1625 an English ship under the command of Captain John Powell sailed into Barbados and claimed the island on behalf of James 1, the King of England. And for nearly 400 years the Kings and Queens of England reigned as the Kings and Queens of Barbados as well.
On November 30, 2021, Barbados discarded the last official vestige of its colonial history and declared itself a republic, to the boundless joy and pride of Caribbean people all over the world. Today, in the words of Professor Sir Hillary Beckles, Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, “Her Excellency Dame Sandra and Honourable Prime Minister Mia Mottley are now the symbols of the new sovereignty. And this is at it should be.”
The Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), Dr Ralph Gonsalves agrees with Professor Hilary Beckles. To his Barbadian counterpart he wrote: “You have led Barbados in the ennobling endeavour of establishing and institutionalizing a homegrown Head of State shaped in your peoples own image, likeness, faith, love, and hope. This debilitating fiction of a “foreign” Head of State is now at an end.”
It is right that our Prime Minister should take note of and celebrate Barbados’ reclamation of the dignity of their sovereignty. We join him and all Vincentians in offering hearty congratulations to the government and people of Barbados on this momentous occasion.
The idea that an independent Barbadian people should vest the symbols of their identity and supremacy over their own lives in a distant monarch whose family members were the greatest beneficiaries of plantation slavery, which was the business of Barbados between 1627 and 1833, has always been a contradiction beyond repair.
This defilement of Caribbean people could only be remedied by restoring to us the right to control our own destinies as independent countries in the community of nations. For Barbados, independence came in 1966, while in St Vincent and the Grenadines, it arrived in 1979. But in both cases, however, it came with an umbilical cord attached to our nationhood: the maintenance of the British Queen as our Head of State.
Why our countries would remain so long enmeshed in the rituals and symbols of our colonial past is a complex and difficult subject. And indeed, in 2009, Vincentians rejected a referendum to change our constitution, which among other things, would have ended our symbolic subordination to a British Monarch as our Head of State. In this sense, Barbados has beaten us to the punch. We hail their success. And we do hope that given the entangled histories and close relationships over the centuries between the peoples of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados, Barbados’ proclamation of itself as a sovereign republic will provoke a similar response in St Vincent and the Grenadines.