Over the last decade and a half, the month of February has taken on a special significance in the cultural life of Jamaica, particularly in terms of the island’s Reggae music. On January 9th, 2008, the government of Jamaica announced that the month of February was to be officially declared as Reggae Month. This was done to highlight and celebrate the impact of the musical genre on the country’s social, cultural, and economic development. Additionally, the birthdays of two of Jamaica’s and Reggae Music’s late icons are commemorated during the month of February: The late Dennis Brown, CD; also known as the ‘Crown Prince of Reggae’, is celebrated on February 1, while the late Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley, OM; is celebrated on February 6th. Marley is peerless in terms of his impact on Jamaica and the world and serves as a pivotal identifier of the essence and spirit of who we are as Jamaicans. It is for these reasons that people outside of Jamaica are stupefied that Marley has not been elevated to the stature of National Hero of Jamaica.
I make no pretense of being able to predict how our social and political leaders back home arrives at their specific decisions, but I do believe that I can provide them with ten compelling reasons that some individuals might suggest for making Bob Marley a National Hero of Jamaica. It's important to note that the official process for designating a National Hero involves careful consideration by the government and relevant authorities. Against such a background, here are my ten reasons:
Cultural Icon: Bob Marley is a global symbol of Jamaican culture and reggae music. So profound is Marley’s impact on the music industry and popular culture, 43 years after his death, he continues to contribute significantly to the promotion of Jamaica’s identity worldwide.
Advocate for Peace: Marley's music often conveyed messages of peace, love, and unity. His commitment to using music as a tool for positive change and his advocacy for peace during politically turbulent times in Jamaica are noteworthy.
Social Activism: Marley served as a voice for the “voiceless” and used his huge influence to advocate for change locally and internationally in social and political causes. Marley was a strident advocate for the rights of the oppressed and marginalized. Any analysis of his catalog of music will expose the constant elements addressed by his music - issues such as poverty, inequality, and the need for social justice.
Promotion of Rastafari: During the period 1930-1975, Rastafarians were among the most severely persecuted and vilified members of the Jamaican population. Born in 1945, Marley would convert to Rastafarianism in 1966, despite the public persecution. He was even arrested in 1968 for possession of ganja. As a prominent Rastafarian, Marley played a key role in promoting Rastafari beliefs and culture in Jamaica and around the world. Today, Rastafari is regarded as an integral element of the Jamaican culture and is one of the major cultural magnets that attracts foreign visitors which feeds Jamaica’s Tourism product.
Impact on Reggae Music: In Jamaica and around the world Bob Marley is often referred to as the "King of Reggae." Marley’s influence on the genre and his role in popularizing reggae music globally could be considered as the most significant contribution to Jamaica's cultural legacy. Today, Reggae music which evolved in the late 1960s is now as ubiquitous to the beaches of Southeast Asia and dorm rooms of Boston as it does to its Jamaican homeland. Reggae has now been added to the list of global cultural treasures by UNESCO, the United Nation’s cultural and scientific agency. Marley has been cited as the music’s greatest symbol and even more so, cited for giving voice to the oppressed in Jamaica. According to UNESCO, Reggae music “functions as a vehicle of social commentary, as a cathartic experience, and means of praising God remain unchanged, and the music continues to provide a voice for all.”
6 International Recognition: Marley's impact extends far beyond Jamaica, and he is
celebrated globally. Designating him as a National Hero could be seen as a way of
acknowledging and honoring Jamaica's international cultural ambassador.
7 Legacy of Unity: Marley's music has the power to bring people together across cultural and national boundaries. His legacy promotes a sense of unity and shared humanity, aligning with the values of a nation.
8 Positive Influence on Youth: Bob Marley continues to be a role model for many
inspiring generations with his music and philosophy. Recognizing him as a National
Hero could serve as a positive influence on Jamaican youth.
9 Tourism Boost: Bob Marley's association with Jamaica attracts tourists interested in
experiencing the roots of reggae music and learning about the cultural heritage of
the country. It is estimated that more than a third of Jamaica’s annual tourist traffic
comes to the island to sample and otherwise experience Reggae Music at its
source. Bob Marley is seen by tourists as the physical identifier of the music. In the
circumstances, making Marley a National Hero would have even more positive
economic implications for Jamaica's tourism industry.
10 Symbol of Resilience: Bob Marley's life story has been as compelling as it has been colourful. His has been a story of overcoming adversity and rising to international fame. His story symbolizes resilience and determination, elements that today are sadly lacking among too many Jamaicans. Designating him as a National Hero would provide an example for Jamaicans and a way of celebrating the indomitable spirit of the Jamaican people.