A 50th anniversary is a grand occasion indeed and, this year, celebrations of Barbados’ fifth decade of Independence from Britain began in January and continued throughout the year.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart officially launched the commemoration on January 6 with much fanfare at a special ceremony which began with a parade through the streets of the capital.
The parade comprised students and uniformed groups such as the Barbados Cadet Corps, the Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Barbados Landship, Barbados Red Cross Society, the Barbados Youth Service and the Seventh Day Adventist Pathfinders.
Barbadians from all walks of life lined the streets of Bridgetown, many waving flags, to witness the event. The parade ended at Independence Square, where a commemorative Broken Trident arrived on board a Barbados Coast Guard vessel, accompanied by a flotilla of watercraft.
This national symbol was carried ashore by the oldest active fisherman on the island, Fred Watson, before it was handed over to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
Addressing the event, Stuart urged the country to help shape Barbados into a place which “we would be proud of even 50 years from now”.
“We can’t live our lives in the past and as I said, not everything about Barbados has been as we would have wanted it to be but we cannot un-make history.
“But we can shape the future and our concern tonight has to be not only to celebrate what we have achieved, but also to determine what kind of Barbados it is we want to create for the next 50 years,” Stuart said.
Between January and November, the broken trident made its way from Independence Square to schools and businesses around the island, as part of official activities marking the occasion.
However, there was constant criticism of the $7m price tag of the festivities from the 0pposition and some members of the public, with calls for Government to justify such spending at a time when the economy was on the decline and several communities were suffering from a prolonged lack of water.
Members of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party stated they would not participate in the celebrations as they were unhappy with the state of the country.
Stuart, however, defended Government’s spending, saying there was a lot to be thankful for.
He said: “Those people who were not interested in celebrating obviously do not see anything to be thankful for. We must not be angry with them. We must just feel sorry for them because it means that somehow their souls have been enveloped in a kind of darkness from which I think they need to be rescued,” Stuart said.
As November 30 drew nearer, Barbadian pride was on full display across the island, with schools, businesses and other establishments decorated in the national colours. Students and workers also reflected their patriotism by dressing up in blue, yellow and black outfits.
In addition to the annual Independence honours, national awards were conferred on 50 Bajans under the Barbados Jubilee Honour Bill 2016, for their contribution to the nation’s development over the past 50 years.
The actual Independence celebrations were marred by inclement weather, when torrential rains left parts of the country under flood waters, including the Garrison Savannah where the Independence Day parade was scheduled to be held.
This forced the postponement of several activities, including the unveiling of the 50th Anniversary of Independence National Monument at the Garrison, the Independence Day parade, which was moved to Kensington Oval, and the Golden Anniversary Spectacular Mega Concert, which was also held at Kensington Oval.
Last year, Stuart had announced his intention to “complete the process of decolonization” by establishing a republican form of government. Although he did not set a timeline, Stuart indicated that it would happen “soon”.
There was speculation that the change would have coincided with the Jubilee celebrations. However, it has not happened and Barbados continues to pledge allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II.
Indeed, representing the Queen, his 90-year-old grandmother, Britain’s Prince Harry took part in the Independence celebrations during a three-day official visit that was part of a seven-country tour of the Caribbean.
The Jubilee celebrations may be over, but Barbadians continue to fly the national flag with pride, and are obviously looking forward to better things during the country’s development over the next 50 years.