Dame Sandra Mason, 72, has replaced Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state of Barbados. She was sworn in as president during an overnight handover ceremony in, the capital, Bridgetown. This event coincided with the 55th anniversary of Barbados’ independence – Barbados gained full independence in 1966 but kept the monarchy in the ceremonial role.
As the clock struck midnight and after 394 years, the Royal Standard representing the Queen was lowered as the chief executive officer of the National Cultural Foundation, Carol Roberts-Reifer, made the declaration of Barbados’ transition to its new constitutional status.
A 21-gun salute was fired as the national anthem played.
“Republic Barbados has set sail on her maid voyage,” Mason said in her first speech as the first president of the country. “We ought no longer to be found loitering on colonial premises. We must seek to redefine our definition of self, of state, and the Barbados brand, in a more complex, fractured, and turbulent world. Our country and people must dream big dreams and fight to realize them.”
Since its independence, Barbados has tried its best to separate itself from its colonial past. In 2005, the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice took the place of the London-based Privy Council. In 2006, the first proposal to become a republic was issued. Then in 2021, Barbados announced the plans to replace the Queen as head of state and removed the statue of British Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson from National Heroes Square.
The Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, was in attendance to show the monarchy’s support for this new era in Barbadian history. Barbados became a colony of the British Empire in 1627 when English settlers arrived and turned the island into a wealthy sugar colony.
“From the darkest days of our past and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our history, the people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude,” Prince Charles said. He went on to thank the Barbadian officials for inviting him and congratulated them on their successes. “Freedom, justice, and self-determination have been your guides.”
Prince Charles was recognized for his support of developing countries in climate change and sustainable development and fostering the spirit of entrepreneurship amongst young people internationally. He was awarded the Order of Freedom of Barbados and received the final salute.
While the country is now fully independent of the monarchy and the United Kingdom, it will remain part of the commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II gave her congratulations to the new president and all Barbadians:
“Barbados remains an active participant within the Commonwealth, and I look forward to the continuation of the friendship between our two countries and peoples. As you celebrate this momentous day, I send you and all Barbadians my warmest good wishes for your happiness, peace and prosperity in the future.”
It’s a new, exciting era for the Republic of Barbados where any Barbadian can hope to be head of state.