10 Things Jamaica has Contributed to the World
By Hume Johnson, PhD
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. http://centerforinterculturaldialogue.org/…/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 email@example.com