When the clock struck midnight on August 1, 1838, Reverend William Knibb declared “The
negro is free”. In a letter to a confidant, Knibb recalls: “Never did I hear such a sound. The
winds of freedom appeared to have been let loose. The very building shook at the strange
yet sacred joy”. In Jamaica, like other British colonies, black persons would gather at town
squares and other public areas to celebrate the end of one of the most brutal acts of
mankind. This celebration of the end of enslavement, on paper anyway, continued
throughout the years.
According to Falmouth Post, from as early as 1860, August 1 saw many Jamaicans
march through the streets, playing music and waving flags with biblical scriptures
written on them. Led by clergymen who called themselves ‘Apostles of Liberty’,
children were given cake and lemonade in decorated classrooms. In the afternoon,
persons would gather at public meetings where sums of money were collected and
used for charitable causes.
Still, after the Morant Bay Rebellion, there came rumours that another black uprising
would take place on Emancipation Day in 1866. With these fears, many missionaries
did not organise around the event anniversary, and due to this, public observance
dwindled in the decade. However, come the 1870s, persons started to
commemorate the day once more. This effort was led by black persons of lighter
According to the historians Brian L. Moore and Michele A. Johnson in the book They
Do As They Please: The Jamaica Struggle for Cultural Freedom After Morant
Bay, these lighter-skinned black Jamaicans wanted to forget the shame of their
ancestral enslavement while some among them hoped that by supporting the
celebration of freedom, they would call attention to how much progress had been
made by them as a class. Many had been elevated in society, both in terms of their
class and complexion and saw themselves as advocates for those not in the same
position. Thus, throughout the 1870s, tradesmen would march through the streets –
beginning in Parade and eventually find themselves in Spanish Town for a picnic.
This effort kickstarted other remembrance activities in other parts of the island.
By the 1880s, August 1 was unofficially restored as a public holiday. Popular stores
in Kingston would close on that day, while church services, lectures, and picnics
were happening throughout the island. In 1893, the holiday was added to the list of
mandatory public holidays when C. S. Farquharson introduced the Public General
Holidays bill. The bill increased the number of public holidays from nine to 10 and to
include the new addition, Emancipation Day. From then onwards, other events such
as athletic competitions, cricket matches, concerts, etc, were added to Emancipation
Day celebratory activities. Throughout the years to come, the holiday would have
special events held on that day. The Jamaica Patriotic League held their annual
meetings on the day. In 1894, the People’s Convention, organised by the black
journalist and politician Dr Robert Love was held on August 1. A July 27, 1901,
article published in his newspaper Jamaica Advocate stated: “It is the intention of
the People’s Convention to celebrate the day in a manner befitting the event and the
obligation of the children of the emancipated … . It is a day on which to recall the
history of our Fathers, and to contemplate the destinies of our children”.
Still, the holiday faced opposition throughout the rest of the decade and the 1900s.
Some were of the view that labourers would lose 10 working days each year while
others argued that the remembrance of Emancipation would revive old animosity
and hate between white and black people in Jamaica. Others were of the view that
the celebration of Emancipation did nothing for the Black people. The Daily
Gleaner, in an August 14, 1918 editorial, titled ‘Observe Or Not’, stated that the
holiday was not celebrated in any other country where slavery existed, so why
should it be a holiday in Jamaica. This was untrue as, by this time, Emancipation
Day was celebrated in other British colonies in the region. Nevertheless, the editorial
piece sums up their argument with: “But as we have said, August 1st has no sort of
religious significance today, and after eighty years can have none. There is therefore
no reason in the world why anyone should endeavour to observe it as of special and
of particular significance.” During the 300th Celebrations in 1955, which saw
Jamaica commemorate 300 years of English colonisation, many supported that
celebration and called for an end to the Emancipation holiday. In her scholastic
paper, ‘Commemorations in Jamaica: A Brief History of Conflicts’, Veronica M.
Gregg states, “Emancipation Day, it was asserted, was racial and included only
black people, the celebration of the English conquest of Jamaica was multiracial or
nonracial and inclusive and therefore more national and more representative of
Despite the opposition, though, there was no amendment to the Public General
Holidays and Jamaicans continue to observe Emancipation Day as an official
holiday. Organisations would also have their own celebrations. In 1934, the
Universal Negro Improvement Association organised one of the largest events to
acknowledge Emancipation Day. In 1959, the African Reformed Church celebrated
the Emancipation Jubilee with their own organised event. However, by the early
1960s with Jamaican Independence Day being August 6, many in government had
concerns over the two holidays being so close to each other. As such, in 1962, the
commemoration of Emancipation Day was suspended and replaced with
Independence Day – to be celebrated on the first Monday of August.
NETTLEFORD’S. PATTERSON’S EFFORTS
Emancipation Day would return on the Jamaica national calendar in the 1990s,
thanks in part to the late Professor Rex Nettleford and former prime minister P.J.
Patterson. Nettleford, in numerous of his publications and speeches on the black
race in Jamaica, saw Emancipation not as a singular event but an ongoing struggle
focus on black people liberating themselves from the past and contemporary
bondage of colonisation. As Patterson shared in a 2021 interview with The Jamaica
Observer, he shared a committee (the National Symbols Committee), headed by
Nettleford, to look at how the “country’s national symbol and observance could
contribute to sustaining our cultural unity”. The report produced, stated that there
was a vast confusion of the momentous events among young persons in Jamaica,
and as such, Jamaica, “deserves, in the case of Emancipation Day, a
commemoration, and in the case of Independence Day, a celebration”.
As such, in 1997, a bill for a double holiday where Emancipation Day would be
August 1 and Independence Day, August 6, was introduced in Parliament. However,
amendments to the Public Holiday Act faced opposition. Opposition Leader Edward
Seaga was of the view that the double holiday would lessen the importance of the
country’s Independence and questioned if the commemoration of Emancipation
would achieve anything important in the country. Bruce Golding, then president of
the National Democratic Movement, proposed that the two days be merged into one.
Despite the blowback, Patterson stood his ground and defended the
recommendation of the double holiday. Thus, the act was successfully amended,
and Emancipation Day was reinstituted as a national holiday in 1997. Ever since,
Jamaica has been celebrating both Emancipation Day and Independence Day as
two public holidays.
In recent years, there have been calls by those in the private sector that the double
holiday lessens productivity in the workplace. In 2020, news came out that the
Government was considering merging both Emancipation and Independence Day.
Also in that year, was the Don Anderson Poll where 62 per cent of those surveyed
were in favour of the Government merging both holidays. Still, as of today, there
seems to be no move by the Government to suspend Emancipation Day
celebrations or merge both holidays.
With 2023 marking the 185th anniversary of the full emancipation of black enslaved
people in British colonies, the national commemoration of Emancipation in Jamaica
continues to survive … for now.
Part I of II – Documentary on Jamaican National Heroine to Screen at the 24th Annual Pan African Film & Arts Festival.
New York, January 15, 2016 – The legendary Nanny of the Maroons is Jamaica’s only female National Heroine. She was an eighteenth-century, African warrior Queen who led a band of former enslaved Africans in the mountains of Jamaica to a decisive victory over the mighty British army. Despite all this acclaim, Queen Nanny remains a mystery. Her name is mentioned only four times in textbooks. And so most of what we know about her comes through oral tales and legends.
Conceived by veteran movie stuntman and award-winning filmmaker, Roy T. Anderson and History Professor Harcourt T. Fuller, PhD, this landmark, one-hour, documentary film will unearth and examine this mysterious figure that is Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Chieftainess.
Sponsored by the Jamaica Cultural Alliance (JCA), a Los Angeles 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, Queen Nanny will have its West Coast Premiere as an official selection of the 24th Annual Pan African Film & Arts Festival on Saturday, February 6, 2016 @ 7 pm, at the Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza 15 in Los Angeles, CA. A private, invitation-only reception will precede the film’s showing. Queen Nanny had a very successful World Premiere screening on October 19, 2015 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, as part of the 2015 Remember Slavery Programme of Activities along with screenings of such films as Selma and Book of Negroes (BET). The World Premiere also drew attention to the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). The United Nations is also is considering the film as part of their educational outreach for Slavery Remembrance Day, to be observed Friday, March 25, 2016.
Queen Nanny was filmed in Jamaica, Ghana, Canada, and the United States over the course of two years, and include interviews with Maroons and scholars who are experts in Caribbean history and the study of slavery. As we seek to uncover the history and legacy of Queen Nanny, her intriguing story is told through songs, performances, and a series of reenactments.
This film also looks at Queen Nanny’s legacy and impact on contemporary women in general, with interviews featuring, among others: Jamaica’s current Prime Minister, The Most Hon. Portia Simpson-Miller; double Olympic and World Champion sprinter Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce; the “Queen of Reggae” Rita Marley; U.S. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke; University Professors Verene Shepherd and Linda Heywood. View YouTube teaser at https://www.youtube.com/embed/nF_Os_yW-D4.
There is a persistent myth that seeks to suggest that the influence of Caribbean music on the rest of the world is a recent phenomenon, and that prior to the appearance of Bob Marley and Reggae music the Caribbean had no significant presence in the wider world. Not only that, but there is no general awareness of the musical life of Marley during the period when he was just a Wailer along with Peter
Tosh and Bunny Livingstone, and made very successful recordings of R & B ballads
Gospel and Ska.
The other myth is that Rhythm belongs to Africa and melody to Europe, and that any person of African heritage who engages the so-called European musical aesthetic, or seeks to be technically equipped to play a musical instrument is mentally enslaved in Euro-centrism. Together these two persistent myths have been the lynchpins of a social engineering strategy, employed to create perhaps unwittingly, a generation of Jamaicans (since this is not the case in the other English-speaking parts of the region) disconnected from melody as music, incapable of actually hearing and identifying discordant sounds, and has produced a new recording industry, peopled by producers who create a single rhythm track
upon which several, or endless numbers of singers, and this word is used reservedly, perform without concern for differences in quality of voice or range, or even differences in the structure of the work to be recorded. But before there was ‘global cultural diffusion’ a term used by Orlando Patterson in his work ‘Global Culture and the Cosmos’ there was ‘world music’ and before that there was the usual globe-
trotting activities of artistic prophets and musicians from the Caribbean such as Bertie King-Sax, Coleridge Goode-Bass, Joe Harriot-sax, Lord Kitchener-Calypsonian composer, and Lord Beginner, Jiver Hutchinson-trumpet, Dizzy Reece-trumpet, Little G. McNair-flute, Shake Keane, Snake-hips Johnson and Cyril Blake a vocalist-trumpeter and guitarist, whose band was recorded live at Jigs Club
in Wardour Street, by Parlophone records in 1941 during the second world war. Earlier still, during the twenties, Sam Manning and Fred Hall and Carl Berrateau who were major recording stars on what was known as the ‘race records’ circuit. Even earlier still there were recordings by Trinidadian musicians, issued in the UK.
Says John Cowley in his paper on ethnic relations in the UK: ‘ it must be stated that although most of the recordings were of Trinidadian musicians, “mentor” as in the Cole Mentor Orchestra who accompanied Sam Manning in 1926, and used to describe Lionel Belasco’s unissued 1948 recording,
Jamaica Serenade, is almost certainly the Jamaican song/dance form usually spelt mento…..This and other clues such as the presence of Jamaicans inLondon jazz/dance bands in the 1930s indicates they were part of the West Indian musical spectrum at this time.’
Beginning in June 1912, with New York recordings by Lovey’s Trinidad String Band, made both for the Victor Talking Machine and Columbia Gramophone companies, British West Indian music has a long history on gramophone records.Victor and Columbia visited Trinidad in 1914 for on-the-spot recordings; the
former issuing examples of Native Trinidad Kalenda by Jules Sims and Double Tone and Single Tone Calipso by J. Resigna (chantwelle, Julian Whiterose). Victor also discovered and started their many recordings of Trinidad pianist and bandleader Lionel Belasco. ( Who was probably the first black musician to be recorded) Perhaps because all speech is powerful and sacred, and words do not return
to us void but wanders about in the air until they fulfill themselves, we who are African descendants, and bearers of an oral civilization, tend to pay rather more attention to our verbal artists than to the instrument playing musician whose work, by its very nature, is evanescent; even when musical works are recorded, there is difficulty in retaining their pattern without words to lock them into the memory.
For this very reason, simple chants, and short repetitive phrases are favoured. The DJ of Dance hall is the modern day Griot whose praise/curse occupation and pre-occupation, enables him to memorize and speak long lines of speech in his oral presentation, accompanied only by a sustained rhythm which aids the process of recall. It is for the same reason that the Calypso and Mento troubadours were
popular, both forms being storytelling forms whose real currency was words. Nevertheless the instrument playing musician had and continues to have a very important role to play, for no matter how short or how simple the phrase, it is the musician who must create it; every successful calypsonian is a musician, playing either the guitar or the banjo, and every Mento band is made up of musicians playing an instrument and singing, and every one of Jamaica’s popular music stars owes more than 50% of their successes to the musicians who created the music to which they sang, and who helped them in many cases to organize the grammatical content of their songs. There can be no dancing without music; no films, no plays; Why have we come to regard complex musical structures and their creators within a
Caribbean space, with suspicion? There is no lack of evidence of musicianship in Africa; the many instruments of melody that are African in origin speaks to the myth that Africa only had rhythm. The vibraphone has an antecedent in the African xylophone; the many stringed instruments including the Banjo stands as evidence as well as the many wind instruments of African origin. The SANKO is a Zither type
instrument known to the Ashanti and the KOONTING, a 3-stringed plucked instrument, the KORRO an 18 stringed Harp and the Simbing a small 7-stringed harp all known to the Mandingoes as well as a 5-stringed Mandolin known to the Gabon are some of the many instruments of melody known in Africa.
Recently at a presentation ceremony to hand over to Dr. Olive Lewin CDs of her research collection, she remarked in her thank-you speech that she looked forward to the time when the traditional music forms collected and preserved would form the basis of large orchestral works, and I recalled being at a concert of the Jamaica Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mr. Sidthorpe Becket in 1978 and hearing
the Linstead Market Suite composed by Mapletoffe Poulle, who incidentally, had a hand in the creation of the melody of the Jamaica National Anthem. Perhaps because of Mr. Poulle’s middle class, his work was ignored. But then, what of the works of Ms. Marjorie Whylie for the National Dance Theatre Company, of Mr. Noel Dexter’s religious compositions for the Caribbean church using the Caribbean
musical traditional forms? of Mr. Peter Ashbourne? and of Barry Chevannes?
… chapter 2 coming up soon.