On the 30th November 2021, Barbados became the world’s newest republic. They said goodbye to the British royal family, and after 400 years are now completely free from the UK! On today’s episode, let’s discuss why Barbados made this decision, and whether other countries might follow in their footsteps?
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Easternmost (adj) – furthest towards the east of an area
Lowestoft is the easternmost town in Great Britain
Head of state (n) – the official leader of a country, often someone who has few or no real political powers (like a constitutional monarch or president)
Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state in 15 countries
Republic (n) – a country without a king or queen, usually governed by elected representatives of the people and a president
A majority of Jamaicans want the island to become a republic
Follow in (sb’s) footsteps (idiom) – to do the same thing as someone else
She followed in her mother’s footsteps and started her own business
Unique (adj) – being the only existing one of its type or, more generally, unusual, or special in some way
I’d recognize your handwriting anywhere – it’s unique
To acknowledge (v) – to accept, admit, or recognize something, or the truth or existence of something
He didn’t even acknowledge my presence
Ruthlessly (adv) – in a way that shows no thought or worry about pain caused to others when deciding what you need to do
She ruthlessly pursued her ambition, letting nothing get in her way
To grant (v) – to give or allow someone something, usually in an official way
They granted her an entry visa
Reparation (n) – payment for harm or damage
The company paid reparations to the victims of the explosion
On May 14th 1625, an English ship captained by John Powell landed on the easternmost of all the Caribbean islands – named los Barbados by earlier Portuguese visitors. The island was claimed in the name of English king James I, from that moment becoming an English (and later British) colony. Two years later in 1627 the first English settlers arrived to colonize the island. 396 years later, Barbados has finally broken the relationship with the royal family of England, removed Queen Elizabeth as head of state, and become a republic. This episode of Thinking in English will look at the history of Barbados, why they said goodbye to the Queen, what the future holds for Barbados, and whether any other countries might choose to follow in the Caribbean island’s footsteps!
Queen Elizabeth II is the queen of the United Kingdom. I’m sure you all know that. But did you know that she is also queen of fourteen other nations all around the world? Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, The Bahamas and Tuvalu all count Queen Elizabeth as their head of state. Including the UK, she is Queen of 15 different nations. Until this week, that number was 16.
Barbados is a Caribbean island with approximately 300,000 citizens. Actually, I think I read somewhere recently that Barbados is technically an Atlantic island as it is in the Atlantic ocean not the Caribbean sea – however, we usually describe it as Caribbean due to the nature of its history, politics, culture, and people. The first people to live on the island were indigenous Amerindians, who likely used canoes to cross the sea from modern day Venezuela thousands of years ago. Little is known about these people, but archaeologists know of their existence from recently discovered ancient tools and burial places.
Later, the Arawaks established a society on the island. The Arawaks were a group of short and olive-skinned Amerindians known for binding their heads as children to producing pointed skulls. They grew crops including cotton, cassava, corn, peanuts, guavas, and papaya, and fished for food using a variety of different tools. On the way to Brazil, Portuguese explorers gave the island the name Los Barbados, which literally translates into English as ‘the bearded ones,’ due to the appearance of Barbados’ unique fig trees!
As I said at the beginning of the episode, Barbados became an English colony in 1625 and English settlers arrived to set up a new home on the island in 1627. British colonialism has a dark, violent, and cruel history that many British people do not like to talk about. In my opinion, it is important for British people like myself, as well as French, Belgian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Italian, German people to acknowledge the terrible history and legacy of colonialism around the world. On Barbados, the indigenous Arawak people quickly disappeared – likely through a combination of diseases caught from the new settlers and violence from the British. On the island, the English created a ruthless slave society using African slaves brought across the Atlantic ocean. In fact, Professor Hilary Beckles, a Barbadian historian from the University of West Indies says that “Barbados was the birthplace of British slave society and the most ruthlessly colonised by Britain’s ruling elites… They made their fortunes from sugar produced by an enslaved, ‘disposable’ workforce, and this great wealth secured Britain’s place as an imperial superpower and caused untold suffering.”
From the first settlers in 1627, Barbados remained a British colony until 1961 when they were granted some amount of autonomy. On the 30th of November, 1966 the Island gained full independence, but remained a constitutional monarchy with the British monarch being the new country’s head of state. And earlier this week, exactly 55 years after winning their independence, Barbados finally completed the process of removing itself from British influence by becoming a republic, with an elected President instead of the British monarch. At a ceremony attended by hundreds of officials, as well as Barbadian superstar Rihanna and future British King, and son of the Queen, Prince Charles, Sandra Mason was sworn in as the first ever President of Barbados. In her first speech as President, Ms Mason said that “Vessel Republic Barbados has set sail on her maiden voyage. May she weather all storms and land our country and citizens safely on the horizons and shores which are ahead of us.”
What does the future hold for Barbados? Well, the island is now free to completely shape its own future without the influence of the UK. Barbadian politicians have already began changing the country with the new Charter of Barbados which will guarantee certain rights: including protection over sexual orientation for the first time! There will also be discussions about the legacy of racism and slavery in the country. Although slavery ended 150 years ago, the black population of Barbados continues to suffer from poor socio-economic status. Some Barbadians have argued that Britain should pay reparations, or provide more assistance, in helping improve the situation for those people. Moreover, although Barbados will no longer have the Queen as head of state, Barbados will remain part of the Commonwealth: a loose association of former British colonies and current dependencies, along with some countries that have no historical ties to Britain.
While Barbados is the world’s newest republic, it is not the first country to remove the Queen as head of state. Barbados joins Guyana, which gained independence in 1966 and became a republic in 1970; Trinidad and Tobago, which became independent in 1962 and a republic in 1976; and Dominica, which gained full independence as a republic in 1978. In the last 25 years, the Pacific Island of Tuvalu, Barbados’ neighbour St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Australia have all held referendums on whether they should keep the Queen as head of state. This is where Barbados did things differently – they did not hold a referendum directly on becoming a republic.
Could other countries follow in Barbados’ footsteps? Well, maybe! In Jamaica, both the major political parties have supported republican ideas in the past. An opinion poll in 2020 actually found that 55% of Jamaicans supported saying goodbye to the British monarchy! Outside of the Caribbean, a poll earlier this year found only a quarter of Canadians supported keeping the British monarchy. Even in the UK, support for the monarchy is declining. And in the next few years, when the current monarch dies and Prince Charles inherits the British Crown, perhaps the monarchy will become even less popular!
In this episode of Thinking in English, I have looked at Barbados’ decision to say goodbye to the Queen and become a republic! I looked at the history of the Caribbean island, how it became a republic, what the future holds for the country, and whether other countries may follow in Barbados’ footsteps! Personally, I am happy that Britain’s former colonies are taking more control and leaving the monarchy. I like the Queen, but that doesn’t mean I like the monarchy in general. I think my country, and other former colonial powers, need to do more to make up for the atrocities we committed in our pasts!
Do you think Barbados made the right decision to become a republic? What type of government does your country have?
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