Naming roundabouts, roadways or buildings after those who made major contributors, whether through education, sports, politics or the entertainment industry, has been viewed as a way of forging our own identity and “shedding the remnants of our colonial past”.
At the most recent renaming – of the Spring Garden Highway after calypsonian The Mighty Grynner over the weekend – Prime Minister Mia Mottley hinted that Barbados may be making further changes to its national honours system, seemingly moving away from the British tradition of creating knights with the title of “Sir” or “Dame”.
The highest honour of the land is to include the title of “The Most Excellent” and this was for those people who “did not want to be tied to the pre-Independence period”.
The Prime Minister said: “We must claim our destiny and we must now establish an equivalent award under the freedom of Barbados who do not want to be known as Sir or Dame can still have the highest level award in this country. There will still be some who want the Knight or Dame of St. Andrew, but there are many, many of us in the post-Independence generation who would not know how to accept that award; so these people will hereafter be known as The Most Excellent.”
The Prime Minister added that this title would reaffirm their identity as Barbadians.
But her statement was not entirely clear in the context of our present National Awards system. We presume that “Most Excellent” would rank below the National Heroes who now carry the title of “Right Excellent”. But does this contemplate an enlarged pantheon of heroes in the future?
After having used the British honours system exclusively for many years, Barbados instituted its own National Awards regime in 1980. The Order of Barbados consists of four awards, with the highest being the Knight or Dame of St. Andrew – initials K.A. or D.A and honorifics of Sir or Dame. Next comes the Companion of Honour of Barbados; then the Gold and Silver Crowns of Merit, which “recognise high meritorious service or achievement in Science, the Arts, Literature, Sports, Civic duties or any other endeavour worthy of national recognition”. After that is the Barbados Service Award, which has two grades, namely the Barbados Service Star and the Barbados Service Medal, which are given for “meritorious work in the civil, fire, police, military, prison or other protective services”.
There are also decorations given for bravery, namely the Barbados Star of Gallantry “for an act of conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme peril” and the Barbados Bravery Medal “for an act of bravery in hazardous circumstances”.
Nevertheless, despite these national awards, following similar moves by Jamaica in 1969, St. Lucia in 1980, the Solomon Islands in 1981, Belize in 1991, Antigua and Barbuda in 1998, Papua New Guinea in 2004 and Grenada in 2007, prominent Barbadians are still recognised on the Queen’s Honours List, which generally comes out twice a year, on her birthday in April and in January for the New Year.
Does this “Most Excellent” title symbolise that we are ready to take national honours to the next step, as our Commonwealth colleagues in Canada, Australia and New Zealand have done over the past century?
During and after the First World War, Canada’s parliament passed the Nickle Resolutions, which, though non-binding, gradually ended the award to Canadians of titular honours of the British realm – peerages, baronetcies and knighthoods. After the Second World War, knighthoods and imperial honours would continue until 1955, when all awards of imperial honours to Canadians. In 1967, Canada established its own honours system with the Order of Canada.
In 1975, another former dominion, Australia established its own honours system with the creation of the Order of Australia, establishing its own system of bravery decorations. Imperial honours for Australians continued until 1989, when the last recommendations were made, ending in 1992.
Also in 1975, New Zealand introduced its first indigenous honour, the Queen’s Service Order, followed by the Order of New Zealand in 1987. In 1996, it replaced imperial honours with the New Zealand Order of Merit.
It is perhaps now time to end our ties to the imperial honours system, if indeed our Head of State is the titular Queen of Barbados, as she is Queen of Canada, or Australia, or New Zealand or other Commonwealth realms in the Caribbean.
But the issue of honours in this realm brings into sharp focus the question of whether we should be either realm or republic.
For the last two decades, we have flirted with the idea of Barbados becoming a republic, with former Prime Minister Owen Arthur making that declaration in 1999, and Freundel Stuart echoing similar sentiments shortly after the island celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence in 2016.
Prime Minister Mottley also said in her speech over the weekend that all Barbadians should be able to embrace the fact that they can reach the highest heights in the island and receive recognition for their accomplishments regardless of their backgrounds.
Does this mean that we will have a greater say in who receives such honours, which are now widely construed as being political in nature? Or will we continue to pay lip service to ‘gaining true sovereignty and charting our destiny in the world’ while continuing with the status quo because it has served elites well over the years?