The island of Barbados became the latest to cut ties with the British monarchy and became the world’s newest republic on Monday during a handover ceremony.
Dame Sandra Mason was sworn in as the Caribbean island nation’s new president by its chief justice before taking an oath of allegiance to Barbados.
“Republic Barbados has set sail on her maiden voyage,” Mason said in an inauguration speech, adding that Barbados now needs to navigate a “complex, fractured, and turbulent world.” She added, “Our country must dream big dreams and fight to realize them.”
Barbados announced its plan to become a fully independent republic in 2020, but it will stay within the Commonwealth, formerly known as the British Commonwealth. Until Monday, the country had been ruled for 396 years under the British monarchy.
The event Monday was held 55 years to the day since Barbados gained independence but kept the British monarch in a ceremonial role. Slavery was abolished in 1834, although Barbadian activists and Prince Charles on Monday still continued to invoke it.
“What we are saying is, ‘This is it,’” said the Rev. Charles Morris, an Anglican priest. “We want to choose our own head of state, symbolic or not.”
During the ceremony, Barbadian singer Rihanna—who was in attendance—was declared a national hero. “May you continue to shine like a diamond and bring honor to your nation,” Prime Minister Mia Mottley told the celebrity singer.
Barbados casts the removal of Queen Elizabeth II, who is still the monarch of 15 other realms including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Jamaica, as a way to break from its colonial history.
The last time the queen was removed as head of state was in 1992 when the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius proclaimed itself a republic.
With a population of around 280,000 people, Barbados is among the more populated and prosperous Caribbean nations. The Barbados economy previously was heavily reliant on exporting sugar but, in recent years, has diversified and now relies more on tourism, although it has been hard-hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reports say that unemployment in the country is nearly 16 percent, up from about 9 percent in recent years.
“I know it is something that we were going towards for a very long time, but I think it came at a time which is not necessarily the best time considering our economic situation and the COVID situation,” said 27-year-old office manager Nikita Stuart in an interview with AFP.
Reuters contributed to this report.