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Jamaican Independence Day

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Jamaican Independence Day Stage Show | Jamaica 50 CelebrationsJamaican Independence Day Celebrations | The National Stadium (Photo Credit: Jamaussie.com)

by Sheree-Anita Shearer | Associate Writer

Jamaican Independence Day, the 6th of August each year, is met with fanfare all over the country, in fact, the celebrations begin before that with small events all across the island from the end of July leading into the month of August.


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The celebrations officially begin on August 1st which is recognised as Emancipation Day. The entire week, from the 1st to the 6th is called “Emancipendence” and various events are had over the period to commemorate this.

What was Jamaica’s road to Independence?

Though Jamaica only gained its Independence in 1962, the country was emancipated in August 1838. On this day the country was freed from slavery, but Jamaica was still a colony of Britain.

The hanging of George William Gordon and Paul Bogle sparked the debate on social injustice still in Jamaica under British rule even after the country was emancipated from forced labour.

These social injustices lead to even more calls for self-governance by Jamaicans and from 1867-1962 political parties were formed, by 3 of our National Heroes; Marcus Garvey (People’s Political Party), Alexander Bustamante (Jamaica Labour Party) and Norman Manley (People’s National Party).

Jamaica eventually gained Independence on August 6th 1962, with Alexander Bustamante being the first Prime Minister of the country.

What were the first Independence day celebrations like in Jamaica?

Jamaicans need to celebrate with much fanfare and excitement has been since our emergence as a new nation. Leading up to the celebrations, a team was commissioned to put the celebratory activities in place slated to be carried out from July 30th to August 12th, 1962. And included church services, a state banquet, street dances and parades.

Jamaican Independence Day | National Float Parade Jamaican Independence Day | National Float Parade "Banana Boat" Float (Photo Credit: National Library of Jamaica)

The National Float Parade, Flag Raising Ceremony and Independence State Banquet were the most significant activities which occurred.

The Float parade had various real-life adaptations from different aspects of Jamaica, like Ranny Williams and Ms Lou on the Banana Boy Float parade, a replica of the pantomime of the same name and the adaptation of our National Coat of Arms a similar float. There were also effigies of prominent figures in Jamaica such as Sir. Kenneth Blackbourne, Ranny Williams and Ms Lou.

Traditional Johnkunu dancing was also displayed in the streets.

On August 5th, 1962 at 11:59 PM, the national stadium went dark for a minute with the only light being shone on the flag. The Union Jack was lowered to symbolise the end of Britain’s more than 300-year rule over the nation. At midnight August 6th 1962, Jamaica’s new flag was hoisted and our newly composed National Anthem rung out all over the stadium.

The night’s events included various performances from youth groups and the armed forces a tradition carried out until today, except this is now reserved for our Grand Gala celebrations on Independence Day.

Her Royal Highness, Princess Margaret, represented Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and officiated the ceremonies which gave Jamaica her independence, the first Independent state in the Western Hemisphere in the 20th century. She was accompanied by her husband the Earl of Snowdon and the Royal Party.

Independence is celebrated every year and continues to be a well anticipated season which both reminds us of the significance of political freedom and signals the possibilities of a brighter future.

Jamaican Independence Day | Opening of Parliament By Princess MargaretJamaican Independence Day | Opening of Parliament By Princess Margaret (Photo Credit: National Library of Jamaica)

Becoming independent, Jamaica’s locally drafted Constitution came into effect on August 6, 1962. And Princess Margaret officially opened the first Jamaican parliament on August 7th, 1962 with Prime Minister and leader of the JLP, Alexander Bustamante and leader of the opposition, Norman Washington Manley.

Independence Day In Jamaica Today

Independence Day was not originally celebrated on the 6th. It was originally celebrated on the first Monday in August before the 6thof August was chosen and made a public holiday.

The recognition of Emancipation day as a public holiday did not begin until 1997.

People choose to celebrate Independence Day in different ways, usually, it is a beach day as most people are off from work. Families use the opportunity to have reunions and cookouts as well.

But much like our very first celebrations, many government, community and privately organised fairs, parades, street dances and church services are held throughout the day with culturally appropriate food being served.

Jamaican Independence Day Stage ShowJamaican Independence Day Stage Show

The main event though is the Grand Gala held in the nation’s capital, Kingston Jamaica at the National Stadium. The winner of the Festival Queen and Festival Song (gospel and popular) competitions are in attendance, with the song winners each performing their winning song.

The officials for the country, our Governor General, Prime Minister, Opposition Leader, Minister of Youth and Culture and other ministers of government are all in attendance with scores of Jamaicans who travel from all over the country for the event. There are many performances by popular persons in arts and entertainment including popular dancehall and reggae stars.

Of course, all donning their black, green and gold attire and waved miniature replicas of our flag.

It is also an opportunity to highlight and award Jamaicans for various disciplines for their exemplary work in their field and essentially, their contribution to Jamaica.

As Jamaica celebrates its 60th year, our Diamond Jubilee, even more emphasis is made on the sacrifices of those who made it all possible from National heroes like Nanny and Sam Sharpe who fought for our emancipation from forced labour to Paul Bogle, George Williams Gordon, Marcus Garvey, Sir Alexander Bustamante and Norman Washington Manley and the countless others who fought for the political and social independence we celebrate today.

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Return to Jamaican Historical Moments Since 1962 from Jamaican Independence Day 
Return to My Island Jamaica Homepage from Jamaican Independence Day

References & Sources For Jamaican Independence Day

  1. Jamaica Independence, 1962, https://nlj.gov.jm/jamaicaindependence1962/
  2. Jamaican Independence Timeline, https://jis.gov.jm/media/Jamaican-Independence-Timeline.pdf
  3. The independent country - Jamaica, https://www.britannica.com/place/Jamaica/The-independent-countryb
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