The National Honours and Awards Act, promulgated on July 1969, made it possible for the nation to recognise those who by their service and contribution have had a meaningful and significant impact on national life.
Formal recognition of service to Jamaica and its citizens may be given by the conferment of the honour of one of the Orders of six Societies of Honour established under the provisions of the Act, namely:
The insignia of the Order of National Hero is a 12-pointed gold and white star, centred on a black enamelled medallion. The medallion features the Jamaican Coat of Arms in gold relief, and it is encircled by the motto of the Order, "He built a city which hath foundations." It is typically displayed on a neck ribbon in the national colours of Jamaica (black, yellow, and green), along with a laurel wreath of gold and green enamel.
The honour of the Order of the Nation is often conferred on the Governor-General of Jamaica and upon any person who has been appointed as Prime Minister of Jamaica unless they are already recipients of the Order of National Hero.
Members of the order and their spouses are styled 'the Most Honourable' and members wear the insignia of the order as a decoration while appending the postnominal on to their name.
The insignia of the Order of the Nation consists of a magnificent breast star bearing the heraldic Arms of Jamaica on a red enamelled background in the centre and surrounded by the motto of the order in gold lettering on green enamel. Between the points of the star are gold representations of pineapples. The broad watered silk sash is in brilliant red with narrow green edging.
The honour of the Order of Excellence (OE) is ranked equally, in the order of precedence, with the honour of Order of the Nation and may be conferred upon any foreign head of state or foreign former head of government. A member of the order is styled 'The Most Honourable' and the motor of the order is 'Excellence through service'.
The insignia of the Order of Excellence is a 12-point breast star in yellow gold, interspersed with representations of pineapples in white gold. In the centre are the Arms of Jamaica in yellow gold, superimposed on a red enamelled background and surrounded by the motto of the order, 'Excellence through service' in gold with yellow shoulder sash edged with a narrow band of green and black in equal proportions.
The Order of Merit is conferred upon Jamaicans or on distinguished citizens of another country who has achieved eminent international distinction in the field of science, arts, literature or any other endeavour. Members and Honorary Members of the Order are entitled to wear the insignia of the order as a decoration and to be styled as The Honourable. In addition, they can append the postnominal letters OM to their names, or OM (Hon) in the case of Honorary Members. The order's motto is 'He that does the truth comes into the light'.
The award can be held by no more than 15 living persons. Bob Marley was awarded the Order of Merit in 1981, shortly before his death. The poet, singer, actress and broadcaster Louise Bennett-Coverley was also a member.
The insignia of the Order of Merit is a collar badge suspended from a deep maroon silk riband. The six-armed white enamelled star with 12 points has superimposed on, it a lesser shaped star in silver. Between each of the outer six points of the star is the blue Lignum Vitae flower of Jamaica. In the centre, the Arms of Jamaica in gold on a contrasting silver background, surrounded by the motto of the order in gold lettering on red enamel.
The Order of Jamaica can be conferred upon any Jamaican citizen of outstanding distinction or any distinguishing citizen of a country other than Jamaica. The motto is 'For a Covenant of the People'. Members and Honorary Members are entitled to wear the Insignia of the Order as a decoration; to be styled 'Honourable'; to use the post nominal letters 'OJ' in the case of Members and 'OJ (Hon)' in the case of Honorary Members.
The insignia of the Order of Jamaica is made in solid gold and consists of a white enamel collar badge, the ends of which represent the ackee fruit and leaves, suspended from a deep green silk band. The centre shows the heraldic Arms of Jamaica against a gold background and this is surrounded by the gold lettered motto of the order on green enamel.
The Order of Distinction has two ranks: higher class- Commander and lower class- Officer. Commanders take place and precedence immediately after Members and Honorary Members of the Order of Jamaica. The Motto of the Order is, ''Distinction Through Service'. A member or Honorary Member may be promoted from the rank of Officer to that of Commander.
The Honour of the Order of Distinction is conferred upon Members - Citizens of Jamaica who rendered outstanding and important service to Jamaica; Honorary Members - Distinguished citizens of a country other than Jamaica.
Commanders of the Order of Distinction are entitled to use the post nominal letters:
'CD' in the case of Members; 'CD (Hon.)' in the case of Honorary Members.
Officers of the Order of Distinction are entitled to use the post nominal letters: 'OD' in the case of Members; 'OD (Hon.)' in the case of Honorary Members. The term' Order of Distinction' should never be abbreviated by the letters 'OD' as the post nominal letters 'OD' denote 'Officer of the Order of Distinction'.
The insignia of the Order of Distinction (Officer) is suspended from a breast riband of similar colours without the finial. The triangular silver badge has in the centre a yellow enamelled square on which is placed the Arms of Jamaica in silver.