Party Like It's 1962
Enjoy celebrating Independence Day in the US? Wait until you get a hold of Jamaican Independence Festival.
Barbecues and fireworks are great, but when Jamaicans come together to celebrate their independence, they do it longer, harder, and with a real sense of purpose.
Jamaicans Do It Longer
For one thing, Jamaica’s independence from the United Kingdom is still relatively fresh on the minds of many islanders. It only came 55 years ago, in 1962. Much of the current population was around for the actual independence and their children have heard from those who lived through it.
Even more importantly, the Jamaican Independence Festival is not just one day; it’s a week of celebrations from Saturday, July 29 to Sunday, August 6. That’s 7 days of celebration for a general population that knows how to party.
So why a whole week? That’s because Jamaica is celebrating more than the end of colonial rule – which, unlike in America, happened voluntarily as England learned its lesson 187 years after the Declaration of Independence. Jamaica’s Independence Celebration also includes Emancipation Day on August 1, the anniversary of the day that slavery was abolished in 1834.
Birth of a Festival
Freedom from servitude and colonial rule is plenty of reason to party but the event marks more than a remembrance for Jamaicans. It also marks the birth of a concerted effort to foster a national identity. And the roots of that undertaking, coincidentally, came from Boston, Massachusetts where much of America’s independent spirit was born (see Boston Tea Party).
Boston was the birthplace of former Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga, who was born to Jamaican parents and who moved back to the island with his family when he was still young. After attending Harvard University, Seaga became entranced by Jamaican music and would go on to produce and promote it through the historic West Indian Records Limited label he would set up.
Though he would sell what would become the most popular music label in the Caribbean to join politics, Seaga never lost the love for music and Jamaican culture. When the country gained its independence, Seaga created the festival as a way to establish a Jamaican sense of identity by celebrating its history and culture.
A Showcase for Jamaican Culture
Today, the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission organizes the festival, which includes competitions ranging in everything from reggae dance to children’s gospel, creative writing, and drama.
Many of the island’s greatest talents participated in the festival including Bob Marley, Toots and the Maytals – who, by the way, won the competition with Bam Bam in 1966 – Desmond Decker, and others. The festival is held in the summer, partially to spur travel to the island for foreigners and Jamaicans who live elsewhere.
Although the float parade and main gala celebration happen in Kingston and Montego Bay, events are held throughout the country’s parishes. Stay tuned to find out what events are scheduled on the island and at Moon Palace Jamaica during the Jamaica Independence Festival.