After 55 years, Barbados has officially severed ties with Queen Elizabeth II — and one of its first actions as the world’s newest republic was to honor global superstar Rihanna with the title of “national hero.”
And now, the star — who was born Robyn Rihanna Fenty in the Barbados parish of Saint Michael in 1988 — can add the order of “national hero” to her ever-growing list of achievements.
The honor was bestowed during Monday’s overnight presidential inauguration ceremony in the capital, Bridgetown, an event that marked the island nation’s official removal of Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state, kick-starting an era with the island’s first-ever president, almost 400 years since Barbados became an English colony.
“On behalf of a grateful nation, but an even prouder people, we therefore present to you the designee for national hero for Barbados, Ambassador Robyn Rihanna Fenty,” Prime Minister Mia Mottley said.
“May you continue to shine like a diamond and bring honor to your nation by your works, by your actions,” she told the singer, referring to her hit song “Diamonds.”
Since 2018, Rihanna has held the title of ambassador for culture and youth in Barbados, and many on the island celebrate “Rihanna Day” on Feb 22.
Calls for the Caribbean island to become a republic intensified amid the Black Lives Matter movement that swept countries around the world last year. Barbados then announced that it would become a republic by November 2021, the 55th anniversary of its independence.
“The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind,” the government said at the time, while Buckingham Palace said that the widely-debated matter was for government officials and Barbadians to handle.
Heir to Britain’s throne, Prince Charles, attended Monday night’s ceremony to represent the royal family. He said during the event that slavery was an “appalling atrocity which forever stains our history” adding that “freedom, justice and self-determination” had helped guide Barbados.
Britain played a predominant role in the transatlantic slave trade, with English settlers profiting off the island by turning it into a sugar colony with hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans forced into labor.
In recent years, there have been growing demands for reparations for slavery on the island.
On Tuesday the queen issued a congratulatory message to the country’s new president, Sandra Mason, who was sworn in at midnight, along with the people of Barbados, calling the occasion a “momentous day.”
“I first visited your beautiful country on the eve of independence in early 1966, and I am very pleased that my son is with you today,” the monarch said, adding that Barbadians had long “held a special place in my heart.”
The queen also expressed hope that the two countries would remain friends.
Now that the 95-year-old monarch has been removed from the role of head of state, the country’s prison will no longer be known as “Her Majesty’s” prison, and officials including police and military will no longer swear allegiance to the queen.
With Barbados’s decision now cemented, some wondered whether other Caribbean nations of which the queen remains head of state might follow suit.
In Jamaica, the opposition leader has suggested that the country should follow Barbados’s example. In July, Jamaica also announced it would be requesting compensation from Britain over its role in the slave trade during the 17th and 18th centuries, when an estimated 600,000 Africans were shipped to the Caribbean as enslaved people.