Journalist and Founder of PlacesBrands, Samantha North.

Journalist and Founder of PlacesBrands, Samantha North.

Istanbul-based Journalist and Place Specialist, Samantha North, will be the keynote speaker at the first-ever Brand Jamaica Symposium to be held at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus (Multi-Purpose Room, Main Library) in Kingston, July 16-17, 2015.

The conference, entitled ‘Re-Imagine Jamaica: Unlimited Possibilities’, and staged by The Re:Imagine Jamaica Project, a nation brand think tank founded by Jamaican scholar and journalist, Dr. Hume Johnson, alongside the Centre for Leadership and Governance, UWI, will bring together key professionals and practitioners in business, tourism, creative industries, sports, science and technology, media communication, marketing, politics, and academia to discuss key issues, trends, challenges and practices that are shaping Jamaica’s public international image, as well as share experiences, perspectives, and the latest developments in the national drive to promote and protect Brand Jamaica.

Ms. North will deliver her keynote on Day 1 of the conference, Thursday July 16 at The Undercroft, UWI Mona campus, beginning at 7pm-9pm. This event will be chaired by Executive Director of the Broadcasting Commission, Cordel Green. The public is invited.

Ms. North says her keynote address will introduce the concept of nation branding and explain why a strong brand is so vital for countries to achieve success. Ms. North will present lessons learned from a range of international examples, and discuss how these can be leveraged to strengthen and promote Jamaica’s nation brand.

See Samantha North discuss her goals for Jamaica:

In 2012, Ms. North founded PlacesBrands, a media outlet designed to analyse the latest trends and developments in place branding. PlacesBrands quickly became an influential voice in the field of nation and place brands and enjoys a committed international audience.

Ms. North is involved in a range of international place-related projects for countries as diverse as China, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, Jordan, and Turkey. Her clients have included the Qatar Olympic Committee, Ernst & Young, the City of Antwerp, Connect Limburg, and UP There Everywhere.

“I’m thrilled to have this great opportunity to visit Jamaica and join the important conversation about its brand. Jamaica already has a uniquely powerful national image. The summit will explore ways to strengthen and harness that image to serve Jamaican society more effectively,” said Ms. North.

“We’ll examine a range of global examples, aiming to learn from one another while taking the Brand Jamaica conversation in dynamic new directions. In doing so, we will also discuss new ideas for strategically boosting the city brand of Kingston.”

A graduate in sociology from of the University of Exeter, UK, Samantha also holds a Masters degree in business and economics from Belgium’s Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel. Samantha’s writing has been published in Al Jazeera UK, the Daily Telegraph, City Metric, New Internationalist, and Time Out.

She also contributes a regular column on nation branding for London-based print publication Transform Magazine. In addition, Ms. North’s expertise is sought after and represented at City Nation Place, UK – a new forum for those involved in establishing brand strategies for their cities, nation and regions.

Her first book, Wish You Were Here Too: A Revolution for People and Places, co-authored with fellow place brand specialist Julian Stubbs, is forthcoming in late 2015.


For more information on Brand Jamaica Symposium, please refer to our blog

For interviews, contact Co-Chairs, Brand Jamaica Symposium 2015, Dr. Hume Johnson & Dr. Kamille-Gentles-Peart at or

For more information on Samantha’s work on places, see her portfolio at She can also be contacted at; or follow her on Twitter at @placesbrands; or Facebook:

ReimagineJA BANNER - RIGHT The Re:Imagine Jamaica Project, the nation brand think tank founded by Jamaican journalist and scholar, Dr. Hume Johnson, collaborates with the University of the West Indies’ Centre for Leadership and Governance (CLG) to stage the inaugural Brand Jamaica symposium on July 16 & 17, 2015 at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Kingston, Jamaica (Multi-Purpose Room, Main Library).

The conference, entitled ‘Re-Imagine Jamaica: Unlimited Possibilities’, will bring together key professionals and practitioners in business, tourism, creative industries, sports, science and technology, media communication, marketing, politics, and academia to discuss some of the key issues, trends, challenges and practices that are shaping Jamaica’s public international image, as well as share experiences, perspectives, and the latest developments in the national drive to promote and protect Brand Jamaica.

On the heels of the recent 6th Biennial Conference of the Jamaica Diaspora held in Montego Bay, a symposium on Brand Jamaica is crucial and timely. It will address several key issues of importance to Jamaica’s national identity and global competitiveness such as tourism, business and industry, the creative industries, sports, as well as how to protect Brand Jamaica from dilution, contamination and exploitation. The summit will also tackle some of the reputational challenges that undermine and threaten Brand Jamaica such as crime, corruption and human rights, as well as how to handle communication challenges during times of crisis such as natural disasters, public health issues etc.

“Nations, regions and cities are today competing with each other for their share of the world’s tourists, investment, aid, students, for buyers of their products and services, for talent as well as for the attention and respect of the media and the global community. In an increasingly competitive global marketplace, Jamaica is obliged to develop, manage and leverage its national image to not just stand out, but also gain economic and social advantage”, says Dr. Hume Johnson, who is a professor of Public Relations at Roger Williams University, Rhode Island, USA, and will co-chair the conference alongside colleague Professor of Global Communication at RWU, Dr. Kamille Gentles-Peart.

“It is important to begin a process of taking stock of the quality of the nation’s global brand and image, both the areas which are positive and can be leveraged for our economic benefit and political and social advantage as well as the aspects that threaten our good name, says Dr. Johnson.

“Our aim is to advocate for a re-imagining and repositioning of the Jamaican brand, the creation of a more complex narrative beyond sun, sand and sea, one that projects a more positive and complete image of the country centred on its people, culture and heritage. We also aim to engage over the two days various stakeholders and domestic sectors in grasping a fuller understanding of Brand Jamaica and the role they play in it. In addition, we wish to lobby for the establishment of a policy framework, and a overall Brand Jamaica strategy.

“It will also provide an occasion to engage the Jamaican Diaspora, and reflect on how the Diaspora may broaden the scope of its involvement in the development process for its own benefit and for Jamaica”, says conference co-chair and scholar on the West Indian Diaspora, Dr. Kamille Gentles-Peart. She adds that Jamaicans in the diaspora can help to solidify the positive image of Jamaica, mobilise support for the development initiatives at home, and participate in promoting brand Jamaica.

Speakers at the Brand Jamaica symposium 2015 include investment consultant and former Executive Director of JAMPRO with responsibility for investment, Michael McMorris, who will deliver a special lunch time address on July 16; State Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Arnaldo Brown, Executive Director of the Broadcasting Commission, Cordel Green; Film Commissioner, Carole Beckford; President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, Nicola-Madden-Grieg, Roselyn Fisher of the Scientific Research Council (SRC) Member of the Ganja Taskforce, Delano Seiveright, and Lillyclaire Bellamy of the Jamaica Copyright Agency.

The keynote speaker is Samantha North, a place branding specialist and journalist with the UK Telegraph and Al Jazeera who is based in Istanbul, Turkey. This special session will be held on July 16 from 7pm-9pm at the Undercroft Building at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus. The public is invited.

Other partners involved in the staging of the Brand Jamaica Symposium include Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS) and Department of Government (UWI), Spanish Court Hotel, Power 106FM/Music 99.



The Re:Imagine Jamaica Project is a think thank that aims to contribute to global knowledge and understanding of Jamaica through scholarly research. It also aims to promote Jamaican credentials in business, the arts, science and technology, culture, academia and sport. The overall goal is to ‘imagine’ Jamaica through new lens, produce new narratives to tell a more complete and complex story about this remarkable country.


For more information on Brand Jamaica Symposium, please direct any questions directly to Dr. Hume Johnson (Conference Co-Chair & Chairperson, The Re:Imagine Jamaica Project)

Dr. Kamille Gentles-Peart (Conference Co-chair) –


The Re:Imagine Jamaica Project asked a random sample of college students in America this question: ‘When you think of Jamaica, what comes to mind’? Here is what they said, and why re:imagining Jamaica is so important.

The Re:Imagine Jamaica Project and the University of the West Indies’ Centre for Leadership and Governance (CLG) will partner to stage the inaugural Brand Jamaica symposium entitled ‘Re-Imagine Jamaica: Unlimited Possibilities’, scheduled for July 16 & 17, 2015 at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Kingston, Jamaica.

This premier event will bring together key professionals and practitioners in business, tourism, creative industries, sports, science and technology, media communication, marketing, politics, and academia. The goal is to discuss key issues, trends, challenges and practices that are shaping Jamaica’s public international image, as well as share experiences, perspectives, insights and the latest developments in the national drive to lift, promote and protect Brand Jamaica.

The symposium is being co-chaired by Communication Professors at Roger Williams University, Rhode Island, USA. Correspondence can be sent to

By Hume Johnson, PhD

My pal, Dr. Kamille Gentles Peart entering Half Way Tree restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island.

Jamaican restaurant, Half Way Tree, Providence, Rhode Island.

At the corner of Chestnut and Pine Streets, in a quiet area of Downtown Providence, Rhode Island, a massive Jamaican flag hangs from a solid brick building, flapping with pride, billowing warmth in the frigid New England air. At first, the name ‘Fat Squirrel’ plastered in large letters across the building catches us off guard but on closer approach, a black, green and gold signage (reminiscent of the brand logo of Wray and Nephew white overproof rum) comes into view with the words ‘Half Way Tree’. Opening the door, the sounds of  1990s/early 2000s Reggae greeted us, penetrating the room, serving as backdrop to lunchtime dining. There was no doubt. We had entered the belly of Jamaica in Providence.

Jamaican restaurant Half Way Tree, Providence, RI

Half Way Tree is a full service Jamaican restaurant and take out, serving strictly Jamaican cuisine. It is only the second operative in Rhode Island (The other is called Tina’s located on Federal Hill, Providence and run by a Clarendon woman called Miss Tina). Half Way Tree morphs into a nightclub on weekends, featuring Rhode Island’s top Reggae selector, DJ Paul Michael, and once in a while, popular Reggae acts brought in from Jamaica. Lady Saw was latest to hit the stage, performing to a packed crowd on  March 15; Shaggy, Mr. Vegas, Freddy McGregor previously. The audience? The nightclub aspect of Half Way Tree is patronised by a mix of people – Africans, particularly Liberians as the constitute the largest contingent of Africans in Rhode Island, West Indians, African-Americans, Cape Verdeans and white Americans, mostly from Rhode Island and Massachusetts – ready to sample Jamaican cuisine.

Chatting with Ted Panagiotis (left), proprietor of Half Way Tree restaurant. Also pictured, Dr. Kamille Peart of The Re:Imagine Jamaica Project.

Chatting with Ted Panagiotis (left), proprietor of Half Way Tree restaurant. Also pictured, Dr. Kamille Peart of The Re:Imagine Jamaica Project.

The proprietor is Ted Panagiotis, a pleasant guy of Greek-Italian heritage. Between hitting the waves of the seaside town of Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island as a teenager (Ted’s Dad owned a surf shop), and listening to Reggae supplied by Jamaican neighbours, Panagiotis developed an intense affair with Reggae and Jamaica. Intrigued by his fascination with Jamaican culture, we gladly accepted his invitation to dine with him at his Half Way Tree restaurant recently. Amidst large plates of sizzling spicy jerk pork, green bananas, boiled dumplings (which I haven’t had in ages), ackee and saltfish, rice and peas and fried plantains made by chef whom by the way hails from Portland, Jamaica, we got down to chatting.

Re:imagine Jamaica: Ted, you are not Jamaican, your heritage is Greek-Italian. Yet you open a Jamaican restaurant. Why?

Ted Panagiotis: From the time I was in High School, all I could think of was Reggae music. I had a backpack with all these Haile Selassie buttons; when I played Basketball in Woonsocket (suburb in Rhode Island), I had a red, green and gold wristband and my friends would always harass me. Reggae has always been a major part of my life. Since I was around the culture, I’ve been eating Jerk chicken and stuff like my whole life; and my girlfriend is Jamaican, and she is always cooking the curry chicken etc. Eventually, after losing my job and couldn’t find another job, I decided to start my own thing. At the other location I operated a club and played Reggae and Dancehall music for 8 years, and I heard that the guy who had a Spanish restaurant there wanted to leave so I said, you know what, why don’t I try to start a Jamaican restaurant.

RJ: What was it about Jamaican food that intrigued you?

Jamaican Jerk is a personal favourite of Ted.

Jamaican Jerk is a personal favourite of Ted.

TP: I love Jamaican food, and that is one aspect of it. I eat Jerk chicken almost everyday, and I will eat boilings and jerk chicken every single day. I wanted to do something with Jamaica. The other aspect is, as a businessman, there  aren’t a lot of Caribbean restaurants around in Rhode Island. There was a Jamaican restaurant called ‘Caribbean Sizzle’ which was on Broad Street, which was good, and I used to go there a lot, and now there is ‘Tina’s’ on Federal Hill- the one Jamaican restaurant in all of Rhode Island. So I figure, I  do the Dancehall parties, for eight, nine years, we already sell out all of our parties so I already had a link to the market. I don’t like Greek food so I wasn’t going to open a Greek restaurant. I like Italian food but there are a million Italian restaurants around.

Ackee and Saltfish, Ackee and saltfish, Jamaica's national dish, is one of the popular dishes on menu at Half Way Tree.

Ackee and Saltfish, Ackee and saltfish, Jamaica’s national dish, is one of the popular dishes on menu at Half Way Tree.

RJ: Jamaican cuisine has lagged behind other cuisines around the world, and has remained virtually unknown. What do you make of this?

TP:I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that many people who open a nice Jamaican restaurant, they never keep it authentically Jamaican.They play on the Jamaican name but its not authentic. Restauranteurs need to also love the country not just the cuisine. The focus on the bottom line sometimes prevent the true exploration of the cuisine and the culture and what it has to offer. Interestingly, there is a Greek guy following me on Instagram,  who opened a very popular Greek restaurant in the middle of Kingston called ‘Opa’, right on Constant Spring Road.

RJ: You name your restaurant ‘Half Way Tree’, calling upon a popular place in Kingston, Jamaica familiar to all Jamaicans? What  made  you select this name?

TP: I had a million names. I first wanted to call it Rocksteady, my favourite era of Reggae and I looked online and there is a huge Jamaican restaurant in Tampa called ‘Rocksteady’, and I didn’t want to copy it. So my girl says to me, when you went to Jamaica, where did you have the most fun.  I said ‘I went to ‘Hot Mondays’, ‘Uptown Tuesdays’, ‘Weddy Weddy Wednesdays’ and all of this was in Half Way Tree. So I stuck with Half Way Tree because this was really where I had the most fun, and that’s the meeting spot.

RJ: How important is it to Brand Jamaica and how does your restaurant ‘Half Way Tree’ contribute to this?

A mural with Jamaica's 7 National Heroes adorns the wall of Half Way Tree restaurant.

A mural with Jamaica’s 7 National Heroes adorns the wall of Half Way Tree restaurant.

TP: One thing I don’t like is when I go to a Jamaican restaurant is all they have depicting Jamaica is Bob Marley. So all people think of Jamaica as just weed and Bob Marley but its so much more than that, especially the food, oh my God, it is amazing! Not enough people push other aspects of Jamaica. I have a picture of Bob Marley here somewhere although my favourite is Peter Tosh. Everything in here is going to be Jamaican. The 7 national heroes of Jamaica are here because that’s important. Not even the Jamaican restaurants owned by Jamaicans push the Jamaican culture. There is so much more to Jamaica than Bob Marley and so much more to Reggae than Bob Marley too. I would like to bring Jamaican plays and actors here; bring the comedians here; full on, everything Jamaican. I wish other people with do this (help to promote Jamaica) on other areas because if you talk to people who don’t know the country, many people have a bad idea of Jamaica. ‘Oh you went to Kingston, that must be scary!.. but what about New York City. You are not going to walk in Brownsville Brooklyn in New York in the middle of the night in the same way as a tourist, you wouldn’t go strolling in Trench Town in the middle of the night. I am in the business of promoting Jamaica, not just what’s on my menu. I am having a poster done of Half Way Tree showing the clock and the traffic and may the history of the place etc.

*The majority of the top restaurants in Rhode Island are located on a popular strip, called Federal Hill, famous and historic in the State’s history. This is where Jamaican restaurant ‘Tina’s’ is located which serves a largely American clientele. This is while ‘Half Way Tree’ sits in a fairly secluded section of town. So I was compelled to ask Ted the following:

RJ: How is  business, and how is this location working out for you?

Saturday nights at Half Way Tree is dedicated to live performance and club music.

Saturday nights at Half Way Tree is dedicated to live performance and club music.

TP: I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the business so far, especially given the winter we have had. I have had to close ten times  since February even though the costs don’t change. I’ve been very happy with the response so far. The first thing people ask for is Red Stripe beer. When we were at the other location, we already had a strong customer base, but we had to close down; people were very disappointed but they waited for it because the first day we reopened – January 12 – we couldn’t keep up. The good thing about this spot is that the roots to Reggae music has gone back so many years that the older Jamaicans, younger Jamaicans, the locals all know this spot. Ten years ago,  the locals know this spot. My DJ, my business partner on the music stuff, Paul Michael, he used to play parties here in a lounge called Century 21, and he had Mr. Vegas here, he had Stone Love here. Now we have parties every Saturday nights and we have been doing it for 2 years, and the locals all know this spot and support us and this has been very helpful.

RJ: How do you plan to expand the knowledge of Jamaican cuisine beyond the local market, to people who don’t know it?

TP: One of the big things that we did at the last restaurant- that cost us a little bit of money – but I thought it got us out to a broader market was- we did a GroupOn, and also Yelp. (Groupon is a deal-of-the-day recommendation service for consumers. Every 24 hours, Groupon broadcasts an electronic coupon for a restaurant or store in your city, recommending that local service while also offering you a 40% to 60% discount if you purchase that service while Yelp was founded to help people find great local businesses). These services got us to a group of people that had perhaps never tried Jamaican food. That’s also the reason I use Jamaican waitresses because the questions that they ask, only a Jamaican can answer. That was a major boost for us.

RJ: What does the future hold for Half Way Tree? What do you imagine for it in next 5 or 10 years.

TP: I want to expand. I don’t just want to do music, I want to expose people to all aspects of the culture. For example, I would like to bring comedian Shebada here to Providence. I have him on Cds and we play them here in the restaurant (chuckles). In the past, we did a Fish Fry, had a bouncy house for the kids and we took part of that money and we sent a barrel down to Waterhouse in Kingston with stuff. I want to do that too. Just because I am not Jamaican doesn’t mean…I want to support Jamaica. Many people do not realise how rough it is in those parts. People don’t have books or food to go to school so I just don’t want to do only a restaurant.

RJ: Finally, beyond the food and the music which you most clearly love, what is your overall impression of Jamaica?

Ted Panagiotis - owner of Jamaican restaurant, Half Way Tree, Providence.

Ted Panagiotis – owner of Jamaican restaurant, Half Way Tree, Providence.

TP: In Kingston, I couldn’t believe how friendly people are. They were welcoming. The people on the street in Jamaica were nicer to me than the people in New York City. I tell people, I don’t understand why you would not want to go to Jamaica; walking up and down the street, the stores, everyone was so nice. When I went to Jamaica, it was election time, many people told me not to go. I was there 3 days before the actual voting. The US embassy made me sign something that says if anything happen to me, they can release my name to the media. I think they over reached. I did not wear any green or any orange, so they went overboard. I was in Red Hills and this was orange area, PNP area, and they were jeering and yelling at a selector in green shirt but it was mostly fun. I did not feel unsafe. The food was unbelievable. The people were friendly. You blend in in Kingston. I completely blend in.

RJ: What is your view of Brand Jamaica, the image projected of the country overseas?

TP: The only nice thing about Jamaica that people show on TV is the beaches. I think it is completely wrong. They don’t talk about the food, they don’t talk about the culture and the people who live there. Some of the people in Jamaica work hard, their whole life is one of hard work. They don’t talk about any of that stuff. They talk about the violence. They talk about ‘Come to Sandals’ and tell you not to go off the resorts. That to me is all wrong. I go there for three days with my friend. I know nothing about Jamaica. I am in Jamaica, what is there to do? What am I supposed to do, sit in a hotel? When I talk about Jamaica here, people think I am crazy because their view of Jamaica is dreadlocks. They don’t understand that there are white Jamaicans, Chinese Jamaicans….

RJ: Tell us one thing that may surprise us, with regard to your knowledge of, and interest in Jamaica.

PG: I read the Star every week. You can buy the weekly Star from New York. I keep updated on what’s going on. Plus the pastor; Pastor Dumas is very funny!

*Half Way Tree is located at 150 Chestnut Street, Providence. It is opened 7 days a week. Learn more at:





Hume Johnson is Chairman of The Re:Imagine Jamaica Project, and Professor of Public Relations at Roger Williams University, Rhode Island. She can be reached at

By Sabrina Caserta – Staff Writer

We continue to feature different aspects of Jamaican culture and history. This week American student Billy Daddono tells us about his fascination with Rastafari. Intrigued by the lifestyle of Rastafari, he impressed us with his knowledge of Rasta and why they continue to hold his attention.


Colours of Jamaica; Reggae, Rasta

Colours of Jamaica; Reggae, Rasta

My name is Billy Daddono and I’m here to tell you about the Rastafari movement because it was my fascination with rasta culture that introduced to Jamaica. Before I get into the beliefs and impact of the movement, it is important that I explain the origin. It arose in Jamaica in the 1930’s as a product of the working class’ dissatisfaction with an oppressive society.

Somewhere between a religion and way of life, the movement has spread across the globe since then. But it could not have become so popular, however, if it wasn’t for a man named Haile Selassie I, and Marcus Garvey, a black activist leading the cause for black racial pride in the 1920s. Yet Selassie was regarded as a prophet by many Rastaa, and none could deny his positive impact on world society. Selassie was in the perfect position to assume the role. From 1930-1975, he was the Emperor of Ethiopia, and the power allowed him to voice his opinions and fought against colonial rule in his own country. He became the figurehead of the Rasta religion, and even after his death it persists.

But to understand Rasta, we have to begin with a Jamaican man named Leonard Howell was the first Rasta. Howell set up a commune of 5,000 Rasta’s in St, Catherine Jamaica. It’s rare that such a prominent way of life has emerged so recently and quickly, which is testament to the validity of the beliefs of Rastas.

A logo which depicts its connection to Africa

A logo which depicts its connection to Africa

Rastas accept the bible as their religious text, but there also small variations in beliefs that allow Rastafari to be considered its own religion. For example, Rastas believe that they need to repatriate to Ethiopia, also known as Zion. Repatriation is the idea that a Rasta needs to both physically and mentally move to Zion in order to fulfill their religious obligation. Ethiopia is considered the birthplace of humankind, and is also considered heaven. As opposed to the Christian and Jewish religions, Rastas believe that heaven is on Earth at Ethiopia. They also believe that Babylon is a place of corruption, a place that is the exact opposite of Zion. With these general beliefs in place, the way of life then emerges. Serious Rastas condemn certain types of meat, all liquor, and materialism. They view these things as poison to the mind and body, which in turn will prohibit one from reaching Zion.

A curious aspect of Rastafari is the use of marijuana as a spiritual gateway. Most religions condemn “drugs”, but this one is tolerant if used in a positive manner. Rastafari is a religion founded by the oppressed which is why it’s not as structured as most. This is one of the reasons it has impacted the world population.

Jamaican - Robert Nesta 'Bob' Marley - one of the world's most iconic artistes

Jamaican – Robert Nesta ‘Bob’ Marley – one of the world’s most iconic artistes

The effects of Rastafari are everywhere, but it’s most evident in Jamaica. The main tool Rastas have used to spread their message is music – Reggae, a genre indigenous to Jamaica. For example, everyone knows who Bob Marley is. Most people also know that he was a Rasta. His work for Rastafari is comparable to gospel music for Christianity, except Bob Marley has instant classics that transcend both distance and race. His positive messages of love and unity have had an impact on us all, and those words stem from his belief in Rastafari. In addition, Rastafari has been a crutch to the Jamaican people. During the 30’s, they needed something to believe in more than ever. Instead of turning to more malevolent ideology, people followed the Rastafari way of life, which promotes awareness and positive actions. The Rastas in Jamaica will do what it takes to create both social and economic stability, but they will do it peacefully.

In conclusion, Rastafari is an important part of Jamaican culture and worldly culture. If you research the topic as I have, you may find you identify with Rastas more than you think.

Cuban Flag

Mystique and magnetism: Cuba through a Jamaican lens.

In this guest post, done for nation brand blog, PlaceBrands, Dr Hume Johnson reflects on Brand Cuba from the perspective of its closest neighbour, Jamaica, and discusses what may be next for the small island nation in the wake of its revitalised relations with the United States. Dr Johnson is Assistant Professor of public relations at Roger Williams University, Rhode Island, founder of the Re-Imagine Jamaica Project, and a scholar of country branding and public diplomacy. 


What does Brand Cuba consist of?  


Cuba is a giant in the world. Despite decades of international isolation and sanctions designed to cripple this already poor nation, Cuba has managed to build a powerful and enviable international nation brand image anchored on successes in healthcare, sports, education, exports and for better or worse, revolutionary socialist ideas which became a model for much of Latin America.


Cuba’s medical brand is the key to its strong global image. The island boasts one of the best medical services in the world, as well as medical expertise, technology, superior facilities and standards of care which are models for other countries to follow. Cuba is also busy sharing this medical expertise on the international stage and is celebrated even by Western media for this. For example, Cuban doctors were at the forefront of the battle against the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, sending the largest contingent of foreign medical professionals to combat the disease.


The strength of Brand Cuba also lies in the fact that despite being a poor Third World society, crippled by international sanctions, it has nevertheless made significant developmental strides. Cuba ranks very highly on the Human Development Index in education and literacy – having the 4th highest literacy rate in Latin America, and in terms of life expectancy, and infant mortality and so on.


Cuba’s sports brand is also well- known, fielding strong players in baseball and boxing at the Olympics and World levels. In terms of export products, Cuba’s brand of tobacco has elevated Cuban cigars to become the most sought after in the world.


What do Jamaicans think of Cuba?


Jamaicans are not easily propagandised and have generally not bought into historically misleading and biased notions about Cuba and Fidel Castro purported by the West.


Jamaica has had a longstanding and positive diplomatic relationship with Cuba since the 1970s under the leadership of former Jamaican Prime Minister, Michael Manley. Jamaica’s position has always been one of respect for Cuba’s sovereign right to its own ideological and political policy positions.


In Jamaican society, where inequality is a major concern and the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ is so vast, Cuba was a model for radical change and for policies that favour equal access to social goods, and rights for the poor.


Jamaicans have also largely celebrated Cuba for its contributions to education, sports and healthcare in Jamaica. Secondary schools such as Jose Marti High and GC Foster College – which train many of Jamaica’s outstanding athletes and coaches – are gifts from Cuba to Jamaica. Many of our young doctors are trained in Cuba, and the country benefits from Cuba’s medical expertise, so Jamaicans have and will remain unwavering in our support for Cuba.


What does the future hold for Brand Cuba?


After Obama’s historic decision to normalise relations with Cuba, people’s perception of Cuba will change. Mind you, there has always been a mystique and magnetism about Cuba, based on its history, culture and the appeal of its natural environment. Yet, after five decades of communist rule over this small Caribbean society with ancient infrastructure, outdated modes of transportation, electricity and communication, the curiosity and wonderment about Cuba will be heightened. 


Cuba also has the chance to open up to the world, and truly enter the global market and compete for tourists, investment, students and capital. Its prime location in the Caribbean Basin, its proximity to Panama Canal and large markets such as the United States, as well as its skilled and educated workforce make it a magnet for foreign direct investment.


A new dawn for Cuba has arrived, and, as one Jamaican commentator remarked, a sleeping giant has been awakened.

Dr. Hume Johnson is Assistant Professor of Public Relations at Roger Williams University, Rhode Island. She writes extensively on civil society and governance in Jamaica for leading journals. Dr. Johnson is a recognised political analyst with Jamaican media and a noted spokesperson on Brand Jamaica. – See more at:


Dr. Hume Johnson is an Assistant Professor of Public Relations at Roger Williams University, Rhode Island, United States, Founder of the Re:Imagine Jamaica Project and a scholar of country branding and public diplomacy.


By Sabrina Caserta – Staff Writer

Every week, we will feature some aspect of Jamaican culture and history. This week, American Zachary Hintz, talks about his delightful encounter with Jamaican food.


Ackee and Saltfish, Jamaica's national dish, a favourite among Jamaicans.

Ackee and Saltfish, Jamaica’s national dish, a favourite among Jamaicans.

I am delighted by Jamaican cuisine. It is slowly but surely becoming the next best cuisine. National Geographic ranked Jamaican dish ‘ackee and saltfish’ as only the second best dish in the world. So I had to find out for myself. I’ve never been to Jamaica but my best friend is Jamaican and I’ve had the pleasure of consuming Jamaican food. And I will tell you all about it.

Jamaican food is very rich in both flavor and history, and is also very important to the culture in Jamaica. It is a result of a mixture of cooking techniques, flavors, and spices, influenced by the indigenous people of Jamaica as well as the Spanish, British, African, Indian, American, and Chinese. To properly discuss Jamaican food, I will break it down into the three categories of food: beverages, entrees, and desserts: as well as tell you about the importance of food in the Jamaican culture.

Red Stripe

Popular Jamaican lager Beer called ‘Red Stripe’.

Jamaican beverages are very unique. Typical beverages include bush tea, a tea made with mint, brown sugar, and water, carrot juice, cucumber juice, ginger beer, and Guinness punch, sorrel drink, which is made with cinnamon sticks, sugar water, and sorrel. Other drinks consist of limeade, mango juice, peanut punch, sky juice, suck-suck, which is a refreshing cooler drink. More drinks involve ting soda, and pineapple soda. A popular type of milkshake in Jamaica is known as Irish moss. Irish moss is made with seaweed found off the coast of Ireland, honey, vanilla, and other natural ingredients. I, myself, found this interesting because it definitely does not sound like the typical ingredients a milkshake consists of milk and ice cream. Red Stripe beer is also a product of Jamaica, famous for its unique shaped can. Jamaican rum beverages, typically mixed with fruit, or fruit juice are also very popular.

Jamaican entrees consist of a wide variety of seafood, tropical fruits, and meats. The Rastafarian movement also influenced many popular vegetarian dishes. This is known as Ital cooking. The word ital is derived from the word vital, which reflects the Rastafarian practice of deriving words by replacing significant syllables with the character “I.” Popular Jamaican dishes include curry goat, fried dumplings, fried plantains, which are basically like a fried bananas, jerk dishes that can range from pork to fish based, rice and peas, a vinegary concoction called escovitched fish, and Jamaican beef patties, or a turnover filled with spiced meat. The national dish of Jamaica is Ackee and Saltfish, which is a codfish dish, with a yellow fruit called ackee.

World renowned chef Anthony Bourdain eating Jamaican food during a recent feature on Jamaica.

World renowned chef Anthony Bourdain eating Jamaican food during a recent feature on Jamaica.

Popular desserts include mango and sop-sop ice-cream, made with coconut milk Tropical fruits also make typical desserts. Irish moss is also another dessert. Jamaican fried dough is another favorite, as well as ginger cake. Plantain tarts are also commonly eaten in Jamaica. Jamaican upside-down cake is another example of a popular dessert.

Jamaican food not only satisfies the taste buds of the Jamaican people, but it also plays a part in daily life, with lunch historically being the main meal of the day. This is followed by a light meal of bread or bulla. Rice is a ubiquitous ceremonial food. Along with “ground provisions” such as sweet potato, yam, and green plantains, it is used in African and East Indian ceremonies. It also is served with curried goat meat as the main food at parties, dances, weddings, and funerals. Sacrificially slaughtered animals and birds are eaten in a ritual context.


Jamaican Jerk

Several African-religious sects’ use goats for sacrifice, and in Kumina, an Afro-religious practice, goat blood is mixed with rum and drunk. A “country” morning ritual, called “drinking tea,” (aka having Breakfast) includes boiled bananas or roasted breadfruit, sautéed callaloo with “saal fish” (salted cod), and “bush” or “chaklit” (chocolate) tea. Afro-Jamaicans eat plantains, or fried dumplings and a hot drink early in the evening. A more rigid work schedule has forced changes, and now the main meal is taken in the evening. This meal may consist of stewed or roasted beef, boiled yam or plantains, rice and peas, or rice with escovitched fish.

As delicious and culturally important as Jamaican food is, I will stop here. I hope you all learned a little more about Jamaican food, and that maybe some of you will be inspired to try a Jamaican dish.

By Hume Johnson, PhD

Members of the cast of 'Cool Runnings', the popular Disney Film about the exploits of the Jamaica bobsled team at the Winter Olympics in 1988

Members of the cast of ‘Cool Runnings’, the popular Disney Film about the exploits of the Jamaica bobsled team at the Winter Olympics in 1988

‘What is the greatest contribution your nation has given to the world’? This was the question suggested by followers on Facebook to Miss Universe 2015 contestants. For scholars and practitioners of nation brand, this is the perfect question – a chance to pitch your nation to a global audience. Projecting national image is the new capital for nations in the 21st century; so important in a competitive global environment where each nation must compete with each other for their share of tourists, aid, capital, investments, students, for consumers of your products, talent and for respect and attention in the global community. With only 30 seconds to respond, there is only so much one can say. Miss Jamaica Universe Kaci Fennell – a striking beauty sporting a distinctive low cut hairstyle – mentioned Bob Marley and the fastest man alive, Usain Bolt as contributions Jamaica has given the world. Yet Jamaica – a tiny island located in the Caribbean Sea; a mere speck on the world map – has given so much more. For a population of merely 2.7 million people and a brutal history of plunder, enslavement and colonisation, Jamaica has  established a remarkable posture and presence in the world based on a raft of astounding accomplishments. These accomplishments are numerous, but here, I will highlight ten things that Jamaica has contributed to the world:

1. Influenced the Global ‪Civil Rights‬ Movement: Jamaica has contributed to the civil rights movements taking place across the world from the early 1960s onwards through the philosophical ideas purported by Jamaican national hero, Marcus Garvey, a black activist who preached about black racial identity and repatriation to Africa. Marcus Garvey became one of the most influential leaders emerging from Jamaica during the 1920s and 30s. Garvey’s advancement of Pan-African philosophies in UNIA, combined with his own beliefs became known as Garveyism. This philosophy inspired the Rastafari Movement and the Nation of Islam. Garvey’s ideas also had a huge influence on the views of American civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X who fought for equality for blacks in America and across the world. Garvey’s political actions and beliefs gave rise to social movements of activism around the world.  These grassroots movements led to further advancements in the field of civil rights worldwide.



Jamaican - Robert Nesta 'Bob' Marley - one of the world's most iconic artistes

Jamaican – Robert Nesta ‘Bob’ Marley – one of the world’s most iconic artistes

2. Through Reggae Led Global Movement for Equality, Peace & Justice: Through the powerful message embedded in the island’s indigenous music Reggae and popularised by its iconic emissaries such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, Jamaica has been at the forefront of  a global movement for equality, peace and justice since the 1970s. Songs such as Marley’s ‘One Love’ – named by the BBC as the greatest song of the 2oth century – and ‘War’ resonated with oppressed peoples on every continent and inspired a desire to fight for and protect their rights. Indeed the expression ‘One Love’ is a widely understood expression of love and respect for all peoples regardless of race, creed or colour, Jamaica’s gift to the world.


3. Played a lead role in the global movement against apartheid in South Africa: It would be remiss not to talk about the role Jamaica played in the anti-apartheid movement across the world. Jamaica’s historical connection to Africa meant that  the plight of their African brothers and sisters suffering through apartheid in South Africa did not go unnoticed. Through  protests and petitions and songs, Jamaica kept the anti-apartheid issue on the global agenda and forced action by other nations.

4. Gave the world an entirely new forms of music- Reggae & Ska: Originating in Jamaica in the early 1960s, Reggae is noted for its message of love, equality and justice. Thanks to its most iconic emissary, Bob Marley, Reggae took root around the world. Today, Reggae artistes such as Jimmy Cliff, Burning Spear, Diana King and Shaggy are well known across the world and continue to spread Reggae’s message of peace and love. Indeed, in 1999, to recognise the start of the new millennium, Time Magazine named Bob Marley’s album ‘Exodus’ the best album of the 20th century while British broadcaster BBC named his famous record ‘One Love,  ‘Song of the Century’. Ska itself preceded Rocksteady and Reggae, originating in Jamaica in the early 1950s, combining elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and blues. In the 1960s, Ska was the dominant music form in Jamaica, taking a hold among the urban, young and hip in London and elsewhere.
5. Introduced to the world an entirely new religion – Rastafari: Developed in Jamaica in the 1930s, Rastafarians revere the late emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, support repatriation to Africa, the home of their ancestors and racial pride and identity. The followers, which now number in the thousands around the world, sport the distinctive dreadlocks hairstyle, observe various rites and customs and use weed (marijuana) as a religious sacrament. Many of Jamaica’s Reggae artistes are Rastafarians and their popularity and fame around the world helped to popularise and contribute to the expansion of Rasta culture globally.


Jamaican dubpoet, Mutabaruka. Photo Credit:

Jamaican dubpoet, Mutabaruka. Photo Credit:

6. Gave global popularity to a whole new cultural lifestyle (Rasta Culture). Attendant to the global embeddedness of Rastafari was a whole new culture and lifestyle including the sporting of dreadlocks. Although this hairstyle has its origins in the far east, and among the Masai tribe in Africa it was the Jamaican Rastafarian that gave it global popularity. Jamaica is also the country to which ‘dreadlocks’ is most associated. Rasta also introduced a whole new fashion embodied in fatigue wear and the red, green and gold of the Ethiopian flag, which Rastas adopted and a unique language. This lifestyle continues to resonate with urban youths on every continent.

7. Gave the world sought after export products‬: Although Jamaican cuisine remains largely unknown around the world, Jamaican export products such Blue Mountain Coffee, Red Stripe Beer, Jerk Spice have been fully established worldwide, with Jamaican meat pies – patties growing in popularity. Blue Mountain coffee, for example, is one of the most expensive and sought after coffees in the world, with Japan importing the highest percentage – some 80 per cent. Jamaican Jerk has made its name globally, with its hot and spicy flavour a major appeal. Not many beers and rums are as well known as red Stripe Beer as well as Wray and Nephew and Appleton Jamaica Rum are across the world. The latter noted as one of the top sellers among the elite in Europe.Red Stripe
8. Transformed the sport of Track and Field: Known as the ‘sprint factory’ of the world, Jamaica has produced some of the world’s greatest runners. Athletes such as Merlene Ottey, Veronica-Campbell-Brown, Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce, and particularly Usain Bolt, the fastest man alive, have helped to transform the entire field of athletics from a fading sport to the most popular event at the Olympic Games. Breaking record after record, Jamaican athletes have set new bars of achievement in world athletics and have given the world new sprint techniques and coaching tactics.


Jamaican sprinters - Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell

Jamaican sprinters – Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell

9. Inspired  confidence and courage through Bobsled): Since its historic participation in the Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Canada in 1988, although hailing from a country where snow does not exist, the Jamaican bobsled team has been an example of courage, confidence and triumph over adversity for many people around the world. Many other nations from with tropical climates have since participated in the Winter Games, drawing inspiration from Jamaica.  At the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2015, the Jamaica bobsled team was the centre of international media attention for the enduring glory they bring to the Games.

10. Gave the world one of the most inspiring films of the last century. CoolRunnings‬; The inspired participation of the Jamaican Bobsled team at the Winter Olympics in 1988 became the subject of the popular Disney Film ‘Cool Runnings’. This is perhaps the most well-known film set in Jamaica and its human plot of courage and confidence and optimism continues to capture the imagination of people around the world. It is worth mentioning that the Jamaican film ‘The Harder They Come’ starring Reggae singer, Jimmy cliff, helped to project Jamaica around the world, exposing life in the reggae industry and the subculture in which it finds its message.

Although I noted only 10 more popular contributions on this list, it is worthy of mention that  – although less known – Jamaica has contributed to the following:

  • The freeing of slaves in British colonies through the work of the Maroons who took on the British and won a Treaty;
  • Important discussions surrounding a new world economic order in the 1970s via former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley’s role in the Non-Aligned Movement;
  • Academics such as the late Stuart Hall and others who made made a massive impact upon the global knowledge economy;
  • Poets and others in literature and the arts who have helped to define and interpret the human condition, as well as
  • Scientists and agriculturalists who have contributed to human development; the developments in medical marijuana by Jamaican scientists among them.
  • Led a global campaign for the legalisation of marijuana through social and artistic activism since the 1970s. Although this is not yet the case in Jamaica, other nations, including the United States have legalized marjuana use in some states. Jamaica has begun to move to legislation decriminalizing weed for recreational use.

In sum, Jamaica has contributed to the  world a rich heritage, a vibrant culture and a proud and talented people.

#OneLove !

PLEASE NOTE: Thanks for the numerous commentary on this piece guys. I established a list of 10 things Jamaica has contributed to the world, not to critique Kaci but for the edification of our young people who should know about our place in the world. We can debate them if we so desire, add to the list or strike off others. The list is by no means exhaustive. I merely wanted to note some popular contributions. In some future, I will take into account your comments and establish a more expansive essay. It is nevertheless a valid conversation to attempt to locate Jamaica’s contribution and place in the world.

I am glad the conversation about #BrandJamaica has found some fresh lease. Be sure to join us for the inaugural #BrandJamaicaSymsposium to be held at the UWI, July 16-17, 2015. Its called ‘Re:Imagine Jamaica: Unlimited Possibilities’. We shall be discussing the key trends, issues and challenges that are shaping #BrandJamaica. See this link for more information and Watch my FACEBOOK page for more details in the months ahead.…/cfp-brand…/


About the Author: Dr. Hume Johnson is the Chairman of the nation brand think tank, ‘The Re:Imagine Jamaica Project’ which aims to promote global understanding of Jamaica by highlighting Jamaica’s credentials in the arts, sports, science and technology, academia and business. Dr. Hume Johnson is also a Professor of Public Relations at Roger Williams University, Rhode Island, USA. A former broadcast journalist, Dr. Johnson writes extensively on Jamaica’s national image (Brand Jamaica), governance, popular protest and civil society in Jamaica. She is the author of “Challenges to Civil Society: Popular Protest & Governance in Jamaica” (Cambria Press, New York, 2011). She can be reached at


We are very excited about the recent movement to celebrate film in Jamaica. We applaud JAMPRO and the Film Commissioner Carole Beckford on its staging of the upcoming Jamaica Film Festival scheduled for July 7-11 in Kingston. See this post for more details.


KINGSTON, January 4 – Jamaica can and will continue to host a number of film and music festivals. The country’s content and production are of the diversity, quality and brand strength to be able to maintain and sustain festivals for its relevant markets.

The state’s investment and export promotion agency, JAMPRO has secured the services of a number of organisations and professional individuals as part of a continuing effort to market the country’s resources in a number of key sectors, of which film and the creative industry are important. Akin to that is hosting of events, meetings, conferences, workshops, seminars, roadshows, and in this case festivals as mechanisms to showcase the island’s services.

The Jamaica Film Festival 2015, scheduled for July 7 – 11 this year in Kingston is one such event and as the FILM COMMISSIONER, based at JAMPRO, a team is working on delivering this event. So far…

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2014 in review

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