Wed | Nov 25, 2020

Jamaica turns 55 | celebrating the history of a nation

Published:Friday | August 4, 2017 | 12:00 AMAmitabh Sharma
A view of the walls guarding Fort Charles converging in a watch tower
Independence Urn
Ibeji Dolls
Stereophonic Jukebox
Turnbull Gaming Table
Dove Harp

Freedom — this word is as powerful as the emotions and feelings it exudes, and for a nation, when the day dawns, a fresh breath of air, that of new hopes, dreams and the will to make those dreams come to reality. Jamaica in 1962 was a nation ready to be on the move, her people liberated, rejoicing and raring to take on the world.

Fifty five years later, the country has come a long way, and it has, along the way had its triumphs and gone through its fair share of tribulations. In every sphere — from the sciences to the arts, sports to culture, the contributions by its citizen has made this little rock on the face of the earth stands tall.

Jamaica can be summed in one phrase — Wi likkle but wi tallawah!!

The history of this island under the sun is as potent and deep rooted as the resilience of her people and is reminiscent of the upheavals, milestones and the foundations. Over the centuries, the influences in Jamaica have made the island a melting pot of culture.

Some of this history is preserved in the artefacts from the pages of history, which can be viewed at museums across the island.

“They (the artefacts) are representative of the collection as a whole and the rich mix of Jamaican culture — both by period and peoples,” said Jonathan Greenland, director, National Museum Jamaica, Institute of Jamaica.

As we observe Jamaica's 55th birthday, Arts and Education in collaboration with National Museum of Jamaica, brings to you a series of artefacts, their significance and their trivia. These pieces chart the course of Jamaica’s history, which is alive, relevant and significant, however the world might evolve or change.


“These artefacts,” informed Sharifa Balfour, assistant curator at National Museum Jamaica, “ can be viewed in various museums across the island.”

In the words of Jamaica’s first national hero, Marcus Mosiah Garvey “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Let’s nurture and continue to strengthen the roots as we build upon the legacies left behind.

Independence Urn

Commissioned by Sir Alexander Bustamante in 1962, this Independence Urn was one of the eight pieces created by Peter Cave and Gary Sharpe of Island Worcester Ceramics.

One of the Urns was presented to Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret in 1962. This celebratory piece chronicles various important events in the history of Jamaica. The design starts with the arrival of Columbus in 1494. It also includes the arrival of the British in 1655, the Port Royal Earthquake in 1692, Emancipation 1838 and the granting of independence in 1962.

Ibeji Dolls

Twins are considered sacred among the Yoruba people of Nigeria. The Yoruba people have one of the world’s highest rates of twin births. The Ibeji (and all twins for that matter) are considered to be one soul contained in two bodies inextricably linked in life through destiny.

The Ibeji are said to be the Orishas (Gods) of joy, mischief, abundance and childish glee. Ibeji Figures or Dolls are a distinctive aspect of Yoruba culture.

Twins are thought to possess unusual powers that must be respected by their parents. If one or both of the twins die, a substitute figure or Ibeji is commissioned upon consultation with a diviner. It is believed that the spirit of the dead twin is embodied in an Ere Ibeji (wood carving), the surviving twin or parents of the twins would be responsible for the care of the dolls for the rest of their life.

The dolls are placed on a household altar and covered with a special cloth. Sacrifices of food and other items are regularly made at this altar. Shrines will frequently have bowls containing small male and female carvings of deceased twins (ere Ibeji) sitting on the altar.

Did you know?

 - That the average world rate of twin birth is 0.5 per cent while the birth rate of the Yoruba people is 5 per cent.

- That Ibeji Dolls are carved as adults and not as babies or children.

- Ibejis are said to be the children of Shango (God of Thunder) and Oshun (Goddess of love and sweet waters).

Stereophonic Jukebox — Rowe Ami MM4 Trimount Jukebox, USA 1970

The Automatic Music Instrument Company (AMI) was established in Michigan in the 1920s, first producing record selecting Jukeboxes in 1927.

Jukeboxes began to proliferate in Jamaica’s taverns and bars in the 1950s where their rich sound became an essential feature, attracting people to casually gather to listen and dance to the latest hit tunes, adding to the establishment’s profits.

By the 1960s Jamaican records were being produced in sufficient number to rival imports and while Sound System’s DJ’s filled the Dance Halls on the weekend,  jukeboxes gave those without their own equipment the opportunity to entertain themselves.

Did you know?

The origin of the term Juke is uncertain; it is possibly derived from the term Jook, which was used by African Americans in the U.S. as slang for dancing and/or seduction. The term may have also derived from the term Jute, which refereed to jute joints where Black jute pickers socialised and played music.

Turnbull Gaming Table

This early 19th century Mahogany Game and Reading Table, was made utilising multiple woods to make the checker board surface and to create decorative motifs.

The use of Jamaican hardwoods to design elaborate marquetry decorative work became fashionable in the early part of the nineteenth century, especially in the furniture of master craftsman Ralph Turnbull.

Turnbull was one of Jamaica’s leading cabinet makers of the period. For this reason, furniture in this style and of the period are usually referred to as “Turnbull Style”.

Did you know?

- Ralph Turnbull was born in 1788 in Scotland.

- The Turnbull gaming table was made from wood found mostly in Jamaica.

- The top of the gaming table was removable and included a backgammon game on the underside.

Dove Harp

The dove harp is attributed to Brother Everald ‘Culture’ Brown. As with his other musical inventions, Brother Brown created the dove harp originally for collective ritual use by his church band.

The dove harp is among his most ambitious art works, which derive their poignancy from the combination of visionary inspiration and technical inventiveness. Their shapes and decorations are laden with intricate symbolism. These instruments bring together sound and vision, the two most important components of his mystical experiences. It was made from metal and painted with wood and plastic in 1982. 

Did you know?

- Everald Brown was born in 1917 and raised in rural Clarendon.

- Everald Brown's beliefs were influenced by Baptist Pentecostalism that had accommodated African rituals from Myalism, Revivalism and Kumina.



For more information contact:

National Museum Jamaica, Institute of Jamaica

10-16 East Street, Kingston

Tel: (876) 922-0620-6