ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Let's head now to the world's newest republic. The Caribbean island of Barbados made history today. In a lavish ceremony full of dignitaries, politicians and Rihanna, Barbados removed the Queen of England as its head of state. Here is the nation's first president, Dame Sandra Mason, at that ceremony.
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PRESIDENT SANDRA MASON: We the people must give Republic Barbados its spirit and its substance. We must shape its future. We are each other's and our nation's keepers. We the people are Barbados.
SHAPIRO: Kareem Smith is a reporter for the online outlet Barbados Today, and he joins us from Bridgetown. Welcome.
KAREEM SMITH: Thank you for having me.
SHAPIRO: What did it feel like to be at that ceremony?
SMITH: Wow. It was really a rush of excitement. You went through so many different emotions from very early on in the ceremony, which was filled with cultural celebrations, everything that was Barbadian. That touched on our African heritage, our links with Britain, our minority populations that include persons from the Asian continent. So it was just a swell of jubilation. And as the ceremony got a bit later in the evening, it took on a much more solemn character when we saw the arrival of Prince Charles spending the last moment as royalty over Barbados, really, as well as the new president and the prime minister. Mia Mottley was really the mastermind behind this whole transition to a republic. And you really started to get a feeling as though Barbados was truly moving on.
SHAPIRO: Barbados gained independence from Great Britain in 1966, so why did it take so long for the country to take this step?
SMITH: There are many accounts as to why that may have been. We hadn't made a full break like countries like the United States of America and some of the other Latin American countries who are associated with other European powers. But on one hand, it is said that because of the relationship that Barbados had with Britain, those types of reforms - moving towards a full republic - may have been deemed a step too far in terms of the consciousness of Barbadians and their understanding of the Independence Project. But on the other hand, at that point in time, Britain was still very much trying to cling on to its empire, so to speak. And so I think the process of Barbadians perhaps needed to be a bit more extended to ensure that persons fully understand and could grasp and appreciate the need to fully break away.
SHAPIRO: I'd love for you to tell us a little bit more about the first president, Dame Sandra Mason, because she's a history-making figure as well.
SMITH: First of all, I think what's really exciting about Sandra Mason is the fact that apart from being a born Barbadians who looks like the average Barbadians, she has also been able to identify with the Barbadian struggle. She came up within a working-class family in rural Barbados. She went through the public primary and secondary education systems. And she benefited from the free education that was on offer at the University of the West Indies. She was the first woman to be called to the Barbados Bar as a practicing attorney. She served as the first magistrate to become a diplomat. And really, becoming the first president of Barbados really is the culmination of everything that she stands for. And really, she is a glowing symbol of the Barbadian dream - that despite not being born into some kind of hereditary sovereignty like the queen or inheriting a massive amount of wealth, that you can still aspire to serve within the highest offices of Barbados.
SHAPIRO: So I'm curious. When you walk around the capital Bridgetown today, does it feel different? Like, are there flags and banners out? Are people in the streets? Like, what's the vibe?
SMITH: Yeah. Well, I really don't think that it is as festive as perhaps we would have wanted it to be because we are still currently in one of the most infectious, one of the deadliest waves of COVID-19 that has been a source of economic hardship and a feeling of depression throughout the country. And I think that these republic celebrations really have done quite a bit to renew a sense of hope within the average Barbadian.
Prior to the transition, I must admit that there were many persons who were still wondering, you know, what does this really mean for me, you know? But I think having gone through the ceremonial aspect of it, again, being able to see a daughter of this, I mean, in Robyn Rihanna Fenty - also from a working-class background - rise to become one of the national heroes of Barbados, it really gives an air of hopefulness about what's ahead.
SHAPIRO: I'm thinking, you've got this trio of women - the prime minister, the president and Rihanna. That pretty much says it all.
SMITH: Yeah, I remarked quite lightheartedly that we now have three of the most powerful women in the world. And I think all three of those women encapsulate something very, very special about Barbados and about the progressive direction in which we want to go.
SHAPIRO: Kareem Smith is a journalist with Barbados Today. Thank you for talking with us.
SMITH: Thank you.
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UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.