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  • Writer's pictureDennis Howard

Marley Miss Lou More Than Icons*

Updated: May 11

Few figures loom as large in the vibrant mosaic of Jamaican culture as Bob Marley and Louise “Miss Lou” Bennett-Coverley. Their contributions to music, language, and identity resonate not only within the Caribbean but across the globe. Yet, despite their undeniable impact, there remains a curious hesitance to elevate them to the esteemed status of national heroes of Jamaica.

Since the nation’s Independence, discussions surrounding the recognition of Marley and Bennett as national heroes have been fraught with unnecessary debate and resistance championed by certain quarters of the Government and polite society. Instead, suggestions have been made to create a new category of honour — that of the “National Icon”. This proposal, however, is deeply flawed, rooted in outdated notions of colonial racial bias and elitism.

The discomfort stems from outdated, racially charged notions. Colonial hierarchies placed Eurocentric ideals and culture above Jamaica’s rich, predominantly West African heritage. The power elite, it seems, remain uncomfortable with the raw, powerful expressions of everyday Jamaicans— the very expressions that Marley and Miss Lou championed.

An icon, defined by The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “a person or thing widely admired, especially for having great influence or significance in a particular sphere”. While Marley and Miss Lou are undoubtedly cultural icons, their immense contributions to Jamaica warrant recognition beyond public admiration. Hence, they have been awarded the third-highest national award, the Order of the Merit.

Their achievements extend far beyond mere iconic status. Marley and Miss Lou were cultural ambassadors, shaping Jamaica’s global image and fostering national pride. Their contributions deserve the highest national recognition.

Marley, Miss Lou, and countless others have shaped Jamaica’s cultural landscape and endowed it with immense global significance. Through reggae music, Marley not only entertained but also became a voice for the oppressed, spreading messages of anti-colonialism, black consciousness, and social justice. Similarly, Miss Lou championed the Jamaican language, celebrating its richness and vitality while challenging linguistic hierarchies and social structures that marginalised the ordinary Jamaican.

Our cultural icons have enriched our national identity and elevated Jamaica’s stature on the world stage. They have inspired generations and served as ambassadors of Jamaican culture, garnering international acclaim and accolades. Yet, within their own homeland, they await the highest honour — that of being named national heroes.

It is time for Jamaica to assert its cultural sovereignty and take ownership of its heritage. We must resist the temptation to rely on external validation and instead create our own prestigious institutions that celebrate and honour our cultural luminaries. By hesitating to recognise Marley and Miss Lou as national heroes, we risk succumbing to the deterritorialisation of our heroes, allowing their legacies to be appropriated and celebrated elsewhere.

Marley and Miss Lou lived outside Jamaica; Marley lived in the United States and England, and Miss Lou lived in Canada for 25 years. Both countries have recognised this in various ways so far. In 2011, archival materials belonging to Miss Lou found a home at McMaster University, located in Hamilton, Canada. A strand of locks belonging to Marley and handwritten lyric sheets are displayed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.

The fear of losing these heroes to another nation’s claim is not unfounded.

Delaying this honour risks another country potentially bestowing upon them the recognition they deserve before their own. This would be a national embarrassment, a validation of the very colonial mindset that seeks to diminish our cultural icons.

The following are some of the international awards bestowed on these icons.

Marley’s accolades:

• The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award

• Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

•Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the ‘100 Greatest Artistes of All Time’

• Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) Diamond certification for his album

Legend (selling over 10 million copies)

•Exodus named by Time Magazine as Album of the 20th Century

•One Love named BBC Song of the 20th Century

Miss Lou’s accolades:

• Order of the British Empire (OBE) from Queen Elizabeth II

• Honorary Doctor of Letters: York University, 1998

• Creation of Miss Lou’s Room at Harbourfront Centre Toronto, Ontario.

• Honoured at the Second Annual Caribbean American Awards of Excellence in Miami.

Both Marley and Miss Lou have the Order of Merit, Jamaica’s third-highest honour. Elevating them to the status of national hero would be a natural progression which acknowledges their profound impact on the nation’s cultural and social fabric.

Here’s the truth: failure to honour our cultural icons within our borders sends a disheartening message to our citizens and the world.

Bob Marley's Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

It suggests a lack of appreciation for the contributions of these individuals and perpetuates a narrative of cultural inferiority. As Jamaicans we take pride in our rich heritage and the global influence of our culture.

It is time to reflect this pride by honouring those who have helped shape and define it.

Bob Marley and Miss Lou exemplify the spirit and resilience of the Jamaican people, and it is only fitting that they be recognised as national heroes. Let us break free from the shackles of hesitation and embrace our cultural icons with the reverence and honour they deserve.

*First published in The Jamaica Observer May 2, 2024



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