Britain's Prince Charles has acknowledged the "appalling atrocity of slavery", describing it as something "which forever stains our history", during the ceremony marking Barbados' historic transition to a republic.

Fireworks filled the skies as the flag of Queen Elizabeth was lowered during the ceremony that officially severed colonial-era ties to the British throne.

"Republic Barbados has set sail on her maiden voyage," Sandra Mason said in her inauguration speech as the first president of the country, recognising the "complex, fractured and turbulent world" it would need to navigate.

"Our country must dream big dreams and fight to realise them," the former governor-general told those gathered for the ceremony.

The new era for the nation of 285,000 ends Britain's centuries of influence, including more than 200 years of slavery until 1834.

Addressing the matter during the handover, Prince Charles acknowledged the mark slavery had left on the two countries.

Prince Charles acknowledged the mark slavery had left on Barbados

"From the darkest days of our past, and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our history, the people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude," he told the crowd.

A long-running pandemic curfew was suspended to allow Barbadians to enjoy festivities, which included projections at various points across the country and large fireworks displays timed to mark the historic transition.

The 'Pride of Nationhood' ceremony itself was closed to the wider public but Barbados' most famous citizen, the singer Rihanna, took her place alongside top officials for the event, complete with military parades, a mounted guard of honor and gun salutes.

One of the first acts of the prime minister of the new republic was to declare Rhianna a National Hero of Barbados.

"May you continue to shine like a diamond and bring honour to your nation," Prime Minister Mia Mottley told the international celebrity.

President of Barbados, Sandra Mason, speaks at the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony

Barbados, famous for its idyllic beaches and love of cricket, won independence from Britain in 1966.

In October, it elected Ms Mason its first president, one year after Ms Mottley declared the country would "fully" leave behind its colonial past.

Some Barbadians argue there are more pressing national issues than replacing the queen, including economic turmoil caused by the Covid-19 pandemic that has exposed over-reliance on tourism - which, ironically, is dependent on British visitors.

Unemployment is at nearly 16%, up from 9% in recent years.

For young activists such as Firhaana Bulbulia, founder of the Barbados Muslim Association, British colonialism and slavery lie behind the island's modern inequalities.

"The wealth gap, the ability to own land, and even access to loans from banks all have a lot to do with structures built out of being ruled by Britain," Ms Bulbulia said.

For many Barbadians, replacing the queen is just catching up with how the nation has felt for many years.

"I remember in the old days we would be really excited about the queen and Prince Charles and Princess Diana and royal weddings," Anastasia Smith, a 61-year-old nurse, told AFP.

"But I don't know if we ever quite saw them as our royal family. Now, everybody is talking about a republic. I'm not sure that anything about my life is going to change.

"But I think we're doing the right thing and it's a proud moment for Barbados."

Buoyed by Black Lives Matter movements across the world, local activists last year successfully advocated for the removal of a statue of the British Admiral Horatio Nelson that stood in National Heroes Square for two centuries.

And the end of the queen's reign is seen by some as a necessary step towards financial reparations to address the historic consequences of the use of slaves brought from Africa to work on sugar plantations.