This little island of mine gained independence from the Britain crown in the year of 1962. My dad who was 13 at the time when the country gained independence can recall the day to the T. And, although I wasn’t born at the time to witness the grand celebration, just like you, I am sure it was huge. Without further ado, here are 10 facts about Jamaica’s Independence.
1. We gained independence on August 6, 1962.
58 years later it is still a big celebration as it should be. Whenever August 6th rolls around, you can feel the patriotism over the country. Flags were being sold on the roadside, mini shows on local television recalling the day of and the days before the independence, downtown is buzzing because you have to get your grand gala outfit (see #3) and individuals marking their calendars as it usually means “holiday” from the dreadful work week.
2. Independence Day is not celebrated on a Sunday
According to The Holidays (Public General) Act – 27th April 1895 – “(b) the 6th day of August (or in the case the 6th day of August falls on a Sunday, then the following Monday) which shall be known as “Independence Day”. Act As you know we are very religious/spiritual country. And as such, Independence Day falling on Sunday which is the day of worship for most denominations within Jamaica, it is not celebrated. Independence Day festivities and celebration are done on the following day which is Monday. Since I work a full-time job in Jamaica, I am always excited because it means that I get to go to work one day less within that week.
3. Alexander Bustamante won the General Elections in April of 1962
Alexander is Jamaica’s first prime minister and he was elected in April even though Independence wasn’t until August. Many preparations had to be made before the actual “independence date”. So in February of the same year, Premier Norman Manley (Opposition Leader) called the General Elections which saw the Jamaica Labour Party (Spearheaded by Bustamante) fighting for the majority of the 45 elected seats within Parliament against the People’s National Party (Spearheaded by Norman Manley). JLP won 26 seats and the voter turnout was 73%.
4. Princess Margaret Opened Parliament
With the new title of Independent country attached to our name, we had to go “big” as I would say. On behalf of Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret opened the first session of “Parliament” in Jamaica. To this day I can still remember the clips on a television of Princess Margaret (who I thought was Queen Elizabeth at the time) sitting beside The Right Alexander Bustamante. They even shared a “Dance” at the after-party.
5. Cayman Islands was no longer our dependent state.
From 1863 to the year of Independence, the Cayman Islands was a “Dependency” of Jamaica. What this means is that they functioned as us by being dependent on our resources (including legislature) to run their country. However, after we gained independence from Britain, the Cayman Islands broke their “Ties” with us. SO, they decided to remain under the British Crown, so they were a “direct dependency”.
6. The Queen is the head of state
As with most Caribbean countries, there has been a question in the political sphere “if we are independent?”. Although we have gained “independence” to run the country as to how we see fit, the queen is still the head of the state. SO certain cases are usually taken to the “British” through the privy council which is the final court system recognised in our books. So, if the “Britain” has the final say – are we independence? Or, should we switch from the Privy council to the Caribbean Court of Justice like other Caribbean territories? As well as, the “British” crown is still present within the political atmosphere as the governor-general is still needed to sign certain laws and regulations within the country. The Governor-general was a “British” individual who was sent by the Monarch to oversee or maintain order. Although, he is Jamaican, his post questions whether we are an independent nation.
7. Grand Gala is held on Independence Day
Although I’ve never been to a Grand Gala watching it on television makes you feel like you are almost right there in the crowds with the patrons. Grand Gala is held every year on Independence Day to celebrate Jamaica. The event is held at National Stadium where patrons flock to the gates just to be a part of the independence festivities held for the year. The event is broadcasted live on national television on both stations. The event welcomes hundreds of performers who do skits, dancing, singing, poem reciting, maypole dancing, Kumina and so much more. As well as, vendors who are selling candy, flags, shrimps (or swims as you call it), jerk chicken, soup, vuvuzela, and Jamaican headbands, hat, or kerchiefs. As well, you will see the citizens decked out in their black, green and gold from head to toe. You watch and sit in awe of the variety of colours, music blaring and the excitement you can see on everyone’s facing.
8. All British flags were lowered throughout the country
Since we were no longer going to be a part of the British crown, all of the flags had to be removed. So, throughout the country, all the British flags were lowered and removed. This would have been from schools, government places, business places and so much more. It was recorded and you can see the soldiers ceremoniously marching to the pole to signal a new nation. Then, the Jamaica flag was attached and raised right up. My dad told me that earlier in the day they were distributing the flags so that when the independence occurred you would have your flag to wave. Also, in clips, you can see the multitude of Jamaicans waving their flags on the same day rejoicing with their flags waving in the air.
9. The JMD was worth more than the USD
At the time of our independence, the JMD was valued more than the USD. We use the USD as a comparison measure as it is the most used and valued currency in the world. However, at the time of independence, it was worth more than the USD. At the time you would have needed JMD 1.20 to purchase USD 1.00 which would have continued until 1971. In the same year, the PNP had finally won an election which would have seen Michael Manley running the country. The economic, social, and political landscape was a mess as the dollar started to dwindle, help was needed from the IMF, certain key industries had left Jamaica, classism and so much more. However, there was a lot of good as a lot of my friend’s parents were able to afford school through education under Michael Manley’s ruling. I can’t say it was any particular person or parties’ fault for I was never there.
After that, the dollar has devalued even further. And now you need JMD 145 to purchase USD 1.
10. Jamaica was the catalyst for Independence within the Caribbean
After Jamaica gained its independence in 1962, this saw many territories soon following after. Why? Jamaica had left the West Indies Federation (which was a political group for the Caribbean countries) for it did not see the value at the time as they were the only country “pulling their weight”. After our independence, Trinidad gained theirs on August 13st in 1962, Barbados in 1966, the Bahamas in 1973, Grenada in 1974 and so many other territories within the next decade.
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Ashley is a born and bred Jamaican of 24 years old. She currently enjoys listening to music, going to the river and eating KFC. She is an accountant by day and a freelance artist by night.