“He built a city which hath foundations”

During the month of October, Jamaica celebrates National Heritage Week which is observed each year during the week leading up to the third Monday in October which is National Heroes Day. Various activities are held during Heritage Week in celebration of our unique culture.

The first National Heroes Day was celebrated on Monday, October 20, 1969 and designated a public holiday in order to honour the sacrifices made by Jamaica’s seven National Heroes. Later on, the day took on additional significance as it was also used to show appreciation to those who have made a meaningful and significant impact on national life through their service and contribution.

With the establishment of the National Honours and Awards Act on July 18, 1969, persons can be formally recognized for their service to Jamaica and her citizens through the conferment of the Honour of one of the Orders of the six Societies of Honour established under the provisions of the Act. These Societies are as follows:

  • The Order of National Hero
  • The Order of the Nation (ON)
  • The Order of Excellence (OE)
  • The Order of Merit (OM)
  • The Order of Jamaica (OJ)
  • The Order of Distinction which has two (2) ranks:
  • Commander (CD), and
  • Officer (OD)

Persons may also be awarded the Badge of Honour or the Medal of Honour.

The Order of National Hero is the most senior Order. The Honour may be conferred upon any Jamaican national, or anyone who is, or was at the time of their death, a citizen of Jamaica and rendered to Jamaica service of a most distinguished nature. A member of the Order is entitled to be styled “Right Excellent” and the motto of the Order is “He built a city which hath foundations”. 

Marcus Garvey has the distinction of being named Jamaica’s first National Hero. He is the embodiment of the motto of the Order. Garvey built a “city” with a firm foundation through his work and the Universal Negro Improvement Association-African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). The man and his philosophy provided the foundation for many social, political and cultural movements, not only in Jamaica, but globally. The late, the Most Honourable Edward Seaga reiterated this point when he said, “Marcus Garvey was one of the enlightened men whose unremitting work helped to shatter the last and toughest layers of that shell of intolerance, which has shackled, burdened and retarded our society for generations. But Marcus Garvey stood on a pedestal of his own, which made his influence felt not only here, and in this region, but in many other places across the world”.  

Garvey is highly regarded as a standard-bearer of early 20th century Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism. In fact, there are those who say he was the most influential Black Nationalist and Pan-African leader to have ever walked the Earth. Though Garvey did not play a role in the process that lead to Emancipation in 1838 as this event preceded his birth, his message sought to empower Blacks across the world to remove the invisible shackles that made them victims to mental slavery. It is for this reason that Mr. Seaga further explained that, “Garvey shattered the mental prison that developed in his part of the world over some 400 years, to let in the fresh winds of liberty and equality which we now breathe today. For this, we made him the first National Hero of Jamaica”.

Garvey’s philosophies are still relevant and as such, his legacy and impact have outlived him. Through these philosophies, blacks today are still charged to expand on the foundation built by this Hero. 


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