This story is based on “Becoming A Republic” in Chapter 40 of Rogues in Paradise.
Rogues In Paradise – The Book
The Caribbean watches as Barbados breaks with the monarchy and becomes an independent democratic republic. Recent royal visits to the islands were met with declarations of plans to cut ties with the monarchy and establish a Republic (i) as Barbados has done. Read all about it and discover the spirit of Barbados in RoguesinParadise.
Barbados Republic – Cutting Ties
Transitioning from a constitutional monarchy to a republic carries many contrary sentiments and viewpoints: Many believe that becoming a republic is a way for a country to sever its ties with a colonial history that included practices like slavery. They see it as an opportunity to establish a new national identity free from past colonial influence. This perspective often emphasizes the need to acknowledge and address the historical injustices and inequalities perpetuated during the colonial era. It can take on a vindictive tone that despises all aspects of the past and sees those who worked within the colonial system as traitors and uncle toms.
Africa: The Path to Identity
Caribbean Author C. L. R. James says, “The road to the West Indies National Identity lies through Africa.” In his novel “The Black Jacobins,” (i) he elaborates, saying that this is particularly relevant for nations like Barbados where, despite a predominantly black population, the colonial class still holds economic control and power. He argues that loyalty to the Empire is tied to the debt owed to the Caribbean and Africa for raiding its people and resources. It is a very current perspective as the region seeks reparation for Colonial wealth extracted from Africa and the Caribbean. This perspective underscores the notion that the colonial legacy left deep imprints on the social and political life of both the colonized and colonizing societies, which have continued to shape historical narratives and contemporary discussions on post-colonialism.
A Cherished Heritage
On the other hand, some take pride in the historical connection to the past. To some Barbadians, the colonial period, despite its flaws, contributed to the development of institutions, infrastructure, education and law, policing, and governance systems in the country. They argue that Barbados’ education, legal systems, and democratic practices are a source of pride and a reminder of the country’s historical journey. They are hurt by views that throw out what is of value and diminish a real sense of identity that has distinguished who they are.
It is not limited to the Caribbean: Black Americans also have varying views. Smokey Robinson says he does not care for any hyphenated designation like African-American and, to a lesser extent, Black-American; he is American, full stop!
Many Bajans point to The Right Honourable Errol Barrow (Rogues chapter thirty), who fought for the British in World War II and was an English scholar in economics and law. As the father of independence, he established many British institutions that shaped Barbados. Bajans are proud of his achievements, but some say his time has passed, and his cozy relationship with the colonial establishment is no longer appropriate. He certainly was a man of his time and an inspired leader.
Balancing Complex Perspectives
These perspectives are not mutually exclusive, and each viewpoint can have a range of nuanced opinions. The decision to become a republic often involves complex considerations, including historical context, cultural identity, societal values, and aspirations for the future. Many Barbadians, Africans, and British deeply respect the royal family. Like the sharp tongue royalist who told Pompasettin’ (chapter one), she was waiting for the Queen. Meant in Jest, it shows the depth of affection for the Queen. Many believe the British Crown helped abolish slavery in Barbados and across its colonial holdings.
The journey toward emancipation involved various factors, including changing societal attitudes, economic considerations, and the efforts of abolitionists. Today, the republic seeks reparation for the past, adding another layer of contension. When freedom finally came, Bajans took to the streets with their song, rejoicing Jin Jin, the queen. This was on Freedom Day, emancipation. (ii)
“Lick an Lock-up Done Wid. Hurray fuh Jin-Jin
De Queen come from England to set we free
Now Lick an Lock-up Done Wid. Hurray fuh Jin-Jin“
(“Jin-Jin” refers to Queen Victoria) More see Rogues in Paradise – Post Emancipation.
Identity Stumbles on the Republic Road
Becoming a republic raises profound questions about identity, urging Barbadians to forge a new sense of self while navigating the intricate terrain between treasured heritage and pursuing an independent future. It is a loss that is hard to articulate but is felt deeply by all who once cherished their Britishness and are proud of their achievements in education, work, law, and culture.
Those who oppose becoming a republic also point out that Barbados had already achieved considerable independence, with the British Crown serving as more of a symbolic figurehead. They argue that the nation had autonomy in many aspects, making the transition less about gaining independence and more about severing ties that still held historical significance.
Countries with similar transitions have often engaged in open discussions, debates, and consultations to consider their citizens’ diverse perspectives. This allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the implications of such a change and helps shape the course of action that aligns with the majority’s aspirations while respecting the nation’s history.
As Barbados moves forward with its decision to become a republic, these diverse sentiments will continue to be part of the national discourse. The challenge lies in finding a way to acknowledge both the historical complexities and the aspirations for a more independent and self-defined future.
Mia Mottley says it’s no longer a matter of money and apology. What Barbados needs is investment that makes sense for all. With that approach, Barbados is set to take a leadership role in world reconciliation, racial harmony, and freedom. See more in the ROGUES book that provides a new look at history and heritage with the voices of everyday Bajans.
(i) C. L. R. James ‘The Black Jacobins,” 401.
(ii) Emancipation: The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833: The Slavery Abolition Act was a landmark legislation passed by the British Parliament. It marked the beginning of the end of slavery across the British Empire, including Barbados. The Act didn’t immediately free all enslaved individuals; instead, it initiated a gradual process of emancipation. As Barbados moves forward as a republic, it carries the echoes of emancipation, acknowledging the historical journey that has shaped its identity and aspirations.
– Credit for Graphis: IDEA – Global State of Democracy
The Book that inspired this blog
For a fresh look at Barbados’ history, heritage, and culture, get the boo, Rogues in Paradise. A thoughtful, funny, and provocative story of the people of Barbados. Readers will find themselves in an evolving world that explores and explains surprising truths about its past and present significance and character.