My Jamaica!! Memories of Independence
This is the land of my birth, this is Jamaica, my Jamaica, the land of my birth -Eric Donaldson
There is just something about this little island, set in the Caribbean sea. Jamaica is just a dot on the map compared to the rest of the world – that’s what we were taught in school. As children we wondered, how come! We’ve got so much going on here. Just didn’t make sense! Until we were introduced to the world map. Perspective is everything!
As our Independence day approaches, I won’t lie, I always get a little nostalgic. I ALWAYS miss the vibe, the celebrations, the events, everything about it. This holiday ranks up there with Christmas for me. I can’t even explain it as my words cannot do justice to the way I feel. Share with me “my Jamaica”; memories of independence celebrations.
Family Gatherings on Independence Day
This was a given. It is probably no different from what happens in most places in the world for any major national holiday when people are off work. I remember my entire family; aunts, uncles, cousins, extended family would gather at my grandmother’s house in the hills of St Catherine(In Jamaica we call rural areas “country”). To put this all in context, my grandmother had a modest 3 bedroom house, no electricity at the time and no running water. Despite all of that, it was one of my happy places.
On Independence morning, my mother would try to get is there as early as she could. Of course, we wanted to partake of that real country breakfast of chocolate tea made with coconut milk, freshly boiled on that wood fire in the outdoor kitchen , you know the type with the grease floating on the top? To round that out, we would have ackee and saltfish(our national dish), made from ackee freshly picked from her trees. Not to mention the roast breadfruit to go with it.
While we were finishing up breakfast, the men from the community would be preparing the “meat” for dinner. I apologize to the non-meat eaters and vegans in advance… but we would actually have fresh meat that day. Personally I could not look at that poor goat or pig whose life would be sacrificed for the feast, but it is what it is.
The radio would be blasting festival songs from years past and the vibe was just right. We would be walking around the property, partaking of fresh fruit from the trees, playing games with my other cousins. The adults would be playing dominoes; some recalling various hilarious family incidents from the past and just sharing stories with us. Stories that had shaped who we were.
My uncle “P”, was the comedian of the family. He had the funniest stories and the delivery is what made it so unique. My aunt(the oldest of my mother’s sisters) was always so industrious. She had an extremely keen memory. She shared some truly legendary stories. Things and times have changed and they are no longer with us but we have the memories.
Festival Song Competition
I’m not sure but this might be a little unique to Jamaica, but in the months leading up to Independence, we have a Festival Song competition. The competition has evolved over the years but when I was growing up, all entries had to have certain characteristics to qualify. There were a few competitors who had that formula down pat! We always anticipated those top ten finalists with their catchy beats. By the time we were going off on summer holidays from school, the songs would make their way to the airwaves. It was amazing how fast we would catch on to our favorites. Old and young alike. The vibe was electric. Other popular artists had to share the spotlight or be sidelined during those summer months.
They would have road shows across the island providing entertainment for the people. While I was too young to be allowed to attend these shows I would watch on TV with my family. Enjoying it just as much. Eric Donaldson, The Astronauts, Roy Rayon, Toots Hibbert, Ras Karbi, Tinga Stewart, Stanley and the Turbines…just to name a few.
When time came for the finals, everybody had their favorite. We would watch with bated breath to find out the winner. Oh how I miss that. Many times I fell asleep just before it ended. The next morning(usually a Sunday) suspense would get the better of me. I would be dying to find out who won (P.S. there was no internet to google).
In 1987 we were celebrated 25 years of independence. Roy Rayon won with his song “Give Thanks and Praises”. Saints and sinners alike were singing this one. Church people took to it like bees to honey. Oh the memories lol…
Grand Gala was special! Although I don’t recall ever attending in person it was the highlight of the celebrations. It was usually televised so people from across the island could partake. This was a showcase of all kinds of performances depicting out culture pre- and post-independence. Music, dance, poetry, food, national symbols. For those who don’t know, itty-bitty Jamaica is culturally rich. We maintain our culture, we celebrate it and we pass it on. Despite all our challenges as a nation, this is one thing we have gotten right. It is what makes us who we are today and what makes us unique and fascinating to the rest of the world.
Legends like Bob Marley, Usain Bolt are all part and parcel of who and what we celebrate during independence. It’s the Jamaican pride. I can’t explain it. I plan to take my family back to Jamaica during the summer to experience it.
On Independence day as well, we would have float parades throughout the streets of Kingston culminating at the National Stadium. The stadium only seats about 30,000 but was always jammed to capacity. People would line the streets, to see the parades; young, old, uptown, downtown. It brought the entire country together. Our beauty queens and other local celebrities would be transported in classic cars during the parade. Floats depicting different aspects of Jamaican life or history would be on display, the military, our constabulary force, anything uniquely Jamaican. Just fun times…
There are so many memories to share but if I continue this post would be way too long. Maybe you can share with me some of your own memories of Independence. I would love to hear them.