The Caribbean island gained independence from Great Britain in 1966, but is still part of the Commonwealth. Now she seeks to “leave behind her colonial past”
The first slaves of Barbados were not black but white, a combination of criminals, Irishmen who had been defeated by Cromwell and Scots punished for having fought on the side of Prince Charles Stuart. That’s why even today the native population speaks with a touch reminiscent of the Dubliner, and in the capital, Bridgetown, there is a historic neighborhood known as the Scotland district.
The only Caribbean island that never changed hands, and the third oldest parliamentary democracy in the Commonwealth, Barbados became independent from Great Britain in 1966 and now it has decided that it wants to become a republic.
“It is time to leave our colonial past behind and be fully sovereign,” declared Prime Minister Mia Motley in the throne speech, presenting the legislative agenda between now and 2023. As early as 1998, a commission to review the constitution recommended taking that step and stop having Isabell II as head of state.
The United Kingdom is gradually losing all the links that bind it to what were its former possessions without being able to do anything about it. In the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Dominica are already republics. Plans are well advanced in Jamaica, and he could still win the race to Barbados.
Australia held a referendum in 1999 in which 54.9% of the population decided to remain subject to the British monarchy. Tuvalu has voted on the matter twice, 1986 and 2008.
In Canada, a survey conducted in 2014 indicated that the majority of the population wished to have a Canadian as head of state, although the change does not seem imminent. New Zealand royalists are elderly, and the country has already removed the Union Jack from its flag.
Although the Portuguese first arrived in Barbados on their way to Brazil and named it after the lush fig trees, which appeared to have beards, the island was colonized by the English from 1627, its first Assembly was established in 1639 and people from financial backgrounds and well connected with the metropolis it received land.
A rapid process of deforestation allowed the emergence of cotton, sugar, tobacco and sugar cane plantations that required workers. Whites who needed to emigrate could do so through a contract in which they promised to “serve” a landowner for between five and seven years, but soon that labor began to be supplemented with black slaves brought from Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon and Sierra Leone, until the abolition of the practice in 1834.
Barbados was the platform for British colonial expansion to Jamaica and the Carolinas, and one of the empire’s most populated territories, with a large educational system and a higher percentage of white inhabitants, many of whom were criticized in the metropolis for adopting “the black culture and lifestyle”.
Today it has a particular identity, different from that of other Caribbean islands, due to the fusion of British and African characters, with such spectacular results as the singer Rihanna, the great national pride along with the old Mount Gay rum and the Kensington Oval, the cricket ground where the West Indies team finds pleasure in defeating England.
By Rafael Ramos, from Bridgetown