Today, Monday 15th October 2012 is being celebrated as National Heroes’ Day in Jamaica. This holiday is celebrated on the third Monday in October every year.
For some, this public holiday is a well-deserved day off from their 9-5. For others, this day holds a far deeper meaning.
This year, 157 Jamaicans have been selected for National Honours and Awards. An annual ceremony will be held at King’s House. King’s House is the official residence of the Governor-General of Jamaica. Jamaica as a part of the Commonwealth is a constitutional monarchy with a Governor-General as the head of state. The Prime Minister (Mrs Portia Lucretia Simpson Miller) and the Governor-General (Sir Patrick Linton Allen) play key roles in this historic ceremony.
In addition, our 2012 Olympians and Paralympians will get a ‘Heroes’ welcome with a cultural event and presentation ceremony.
However, to have any kind of appreciation for such awards and/or festivities, it is necessary to understand how it all started. Before we (as a nation) can understand where we are going [and where we are], we must first understand where we have been.
Our National Heroes
The Order of National Hero, established in 1969, is the highest of the Orders and may be conferred on any Jamaican or naturalised citizen who has rendered the most distinguished service to Jamaica. The recipient is styled ‘The Right Excellent’ and wears the insignia of the Order.
The motto of the Order, ‘He Built A City Which Hath Foundations’, is engraved on the insignia.
Jamaica currently honours one National Heroine and six Heroes:
- Nanny of the Maroons (heroine);
- Samuel Sharpe;
- George William Gordon;
- Paul Bogle;
- Marcus Garvey;
- Alexander Bustamante; and
- Norman Manley.
Born in Ghana and died in Jamaica, Queen Nanny was a small, wiry woman with piercing eyes. She was a leader of the Maroons in Jamaica at the beginning of the 18th century.
The defiant nature of the Maroons, led Nanny and her brothers (Accompong, Cudjoe, Johnny and Quao) to settle in the BlueMountain areas after they ran away from their plantation. Known as an outstanding military leader, Granny Nanny played an integral role during the First Maroon War from 1720 to 1739, which was a fierce fight with the British.
The government of Jamaica declared Nanny a National Heroine in 1976. Her portrait graces the $500 Jamaican note.
The Right Excellent Samuel Sharpe (affectionately known as “Daddy [Sam] Sharpe”; 1801 – 1832)
Sam Sharpe was an educated town slave. He was also a preacher and spokesman.
In 1831, he was the main instigator of the most outstanding Slave Rebellion in Jamaica’s history. The rebellion began on the Kensington Estate in St. James and was largely instrumental in bringing about the abolition of slavery.
Daddy [Sam] Sharpe was hanged on the 23rd May 1832. In 1834, the British Parliament passed the Abolition Bill and in 1838, slavery was abolished.
Daddy [Sam] Sharpe said:
“I would rather die upon yonder gallows than live in slavery.”
Sam Sharpe was declared a National Hero in 1975. His portrait is on the $50 Jamaican note.
The Right Excellent George William Gordon (1820 – 1865)
His father was an attorney to several sugar estates in Jamaica and his mother – a slave. Gordon, was self-educated and a landowner in the parish of St. Thomas.
George Gordon entered politics and urged the people to protest against and resist the oppressive and unjust conditions under which they were forced to live. He faced severe odds, as the people whose interests he sought to serve did not qualify to vote. He was not in agreement with the attempts to crush the spirit (by again reducing them to slavery) of the freed people of Jamaica.
Gordon was arrested and charged for complicity in what is now called the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865. He was illegally tried by Court Martial and in spite of a lack of evidence, convicted and sentenced to death. He was subsequently executed.
On the centenary of his death (1965), he was proclaimed a National Hero. His portrait graces the $10 Jamaican note (now $10 coin).
The Right Excellent Paul Bogle (died 1865)
The exact date of Paul Bogle’s birth is unknown, but it is believed that he was born a free man in about 1820 – 1822. Bogle was a Baptist deacon in Stony Gut, a few miles north of MorantBay in St. Thomas. He was generally regarded as a peaceful man who shunned violence.
He was eligible to vote at a time when there were only 104 voters in the parish of St. Thomas. He was a firm political supporter of George William Gordon.
In 1865, Bogle led a protest march to the MorantBay courthouse. The march was birthed out of the poverty and injustice in the society and the lack of public confidence in the central authority.
This protest march paved the way for the establishment of just practices in the courts and it also led to better social and economic conditions for the people.
Paul Bogle was declared a National Hero in 1969. His portrait graced the $2 Jamaican note which is no longer in circulation. His portrait is now on the $0.10 Jamaican coin.
Jamaica’s first National Hero was born in St. Ann’s Bay, St. Ann and died in London.
Garvey’s legacy can be summed up in the philosophy he taught – race pride, the need for African unity, self-reliance, the need for black people to be organised and for rulers to govern on behalf of the working classes.
During his career Garvey travelled extensively throughout many countries, observing the poor living and working conditions of black people. In 1914 he started the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Jamaica. The UNIA eventually grew into an international organisation. The organisation encouraged self-government for black people worldwide, self-help economic projects and protest against racial discrimination.
The government of Jamaica declared Marcus Garvey the first National Hero in 1964. His portrait is on the $0.50 Jamaican note and coin. However, both are no longer in circulation. His portrait is now on both the $0.25 and $20 Jamaican coins.
The Right Excellent Sir William Alexander Bustamante (1884 – 1977)
Sir Bustamante was born in the parish of Hanover and was the first Prime Minister of Jamaica (1962 – 1967). Lady Gladys Bustamante (nee Longbridge) and Sir Bustamante got married on the 7th September 1962.
He travelled extensively as a young man, returning to Jamaica in 1932 and began to lead the struggle against colonial rule. Known for his terse and telling phrases that cut to the quick of things, he shares the honour of being one of the two ‘Founding Fathers’ of Jamaica’s Independence. This legacy is shared with his cousin Norman Washington Manley.
Alexander Bustamante was declared a National Hero in 1969. His portrait graces the $1 Jamaican note (now $1 coin).
The Right Excellent Norman Washington Manley (1893 – 1969)
Norman Manley was born in the parish of Manchester. He was an athlete, a soldier during the First World War and a Rhodes Scholar. Manley became one of Jamaica’s leading lawyers in the 1920s. He was married to Edna Swithenbank Manley who died in 1987 at the age of 86.
Manley, along with his cousin Alexander Bustamante fought for full adult suffrage in Jamaica. They lead the country into independence.
His son, Michael Manley, went on to become the fourth Prime Minister of Jamaica.
Norman Manley was proclaimed a National Hero in 1969. His portrait is on the $5 Jamaican dollar bill (now $5 dollar coin).
Other Jamaican currency that are no longer in circulation
For Jamaica to truly become a Nation on a Mission, I quote:
“It is imperative that we pause to reflect on our achievements and challenges over the first 50 years and commit ourselves to working together to ensure that the ensuing 50 years will be even more rewarding and beneficial to all of us.”
Related article: Jamaica – A Nation on a Mission (Part 1)