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Jamaica's Unsung National Heroes - The Stories of Three Amazing Jamaican Women

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

Jamaican People; Jamaican Culture; Jamaica Attractions; Jamaican Heritage; Famous Jamaicans; Jamaican History

The Order of National Hero is the most senior order in Jamaica’s honor system awarded by the local government. To be qualified as a Jamaican national hero, a person must have been born in or be a citizen of Jamaica, and rendered to the country, service of a distinguished nature. Seven have earned that distinction, but Jamaica has also produced numerous nsung heroines in their own rights – Jamaican Women.

A Jamaican Farmer

Jamaica National Heroes & Heroine

Marcus Garvey was Jamaica’s first national hero, conferred in 1969 along with George William Gordon, Paul Bogle, Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante. He founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association which protested racial discrimination, aided economic projects, and encouraged self-government for black people.

George William Gordon urged resistance to forced oppressive conditions of the less fortunate. He subdivided and sold his own lands at low rates, empowering them to gain fairly from their produce.

Paul Bogle challenged official forces when leading a protest march to the Morant Bay courthouse. It set a foundation for fair practices within the justice system, plus social and economic improvements.

Norman Washington Manley was instrumental in arranging Jamaica’s independence from Britain.

Alexander Bustamante brought attention to the social and economic problems of the underprivileged, and confronted the power of the Colonial Governor. He became independent Jamaica’s first Prime Minister in 1962.

Samuel Sharpe was the notable leader of the 1831 Slave Rebellion, which was instrumental in abolishing slavery in Jamaica. Along with the island’s first national heroine, he was conferred the honor in 1982.

Nanny led the Maroons in a victorious 18th century war over British colonizers. Her leadership is credited with delivering the first organised force of Jamaica’s slave population for freedom. Her strength can be glimpsed in the modern Jamaican woman.

Nanny was a leader of the Maroons at the beginning of the 18th century. She was known by both the Maroons and the British settlers as an outstanding military leader.
Nanny of the Maroons

Characteristics of Jamaican Women

Jamaican women embody the resilience, warmth, and natural beauty depicted in the black, gold and green of our flag. Jamaica became one of the world’s only 62 states that elected a woman as its leader back in 2006. In 2015, an International Labour Organisation study found that Jamaica had the highest percentage of female managers worldwide, with nearly 60%! These are just samples of the undeniable value exuded by Jamaican women.

A Jamaican Female Manager

Vigour is evidenced in our very own mothers, sisters, aunts, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. The diligence of a market lady packing produce for the day, a vendor transporting goods on her head, and a business woman balancing multiple roles as “head cook and bottle washer” are common sights throughout Jamaica. These responsibilities are often in addition to being homemakers, breadwinners, partners, and mother figures keeping households level. Over many decades, extraordinary accomplishments of our sun-kissed island women and their descendants have extended beyond the small country’s shores to impact the globe.

A Jamaican Market Woman

Tessanne Chin

Jamaican songbird Tessanne Chin was born in 1985, after the heyday of ska and The Carnations band her pa rents performed with. She grew up around tuneful family talents and was introduced to music at an early age. It was only natural that she develop her own melodic sound and flourish within that industry. Her older sister Tami Chin was a popular local recording artiste.

Tessanne began performing at a young age with one of Jamaica's performing arts schools, Little People and Teen Players Club. She later toured for 3 years with reggae icon Jimmy Cliff as one of his back-up singers, before deciding to launch her own music career. Upon her return to Jamaica she joined a rock band called Mile High as singer, songwriter, and frontwoman. Eventually her ambitions grew larger and a solo career ensued, which led to the release of her independent debut album entitled "In Between Words" in 2010. Tessanne’s sultry fusion of Dancehall and Reggae with edgy strains of rock & roll carved out a bold signature style for herself in the local music industry.

A few years later in 2013 Tessanne Chin had Jamaica (and now an international audience) cheering her on week after week to become the first foreign-based winner of NBC’s season 5 of The Voice singing competition. She then signed a contract with Universal Records as part of her winnings and subsequently released her major-label debut album, Count On My Love the following summer. In addition to being named Caribbean Journal's Artist of the Year and opening for renowned acts, she performed at the White House (along with other notable entertainers) for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama's "In Performance at the White House" series in 2014. Highs and lows of her professional singing career as well as personal life unfolded before the public eye, including record deals, divorce, childbirth, and a second marriage, yet her energy continues to beam.

Tesanne Chin, Jamaican Songbird, WInner of the Voice Competition

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

Jamaica has produced numerous superstar female athletes over the decades, with Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce being one of our beloved golden girls. She was born in 1986, and rose from very humble beginnings to earn many accolades, including Olympic and World Championships titles.

She grew up in a violence-plagued Kingston community with siblings and an industrious single mother, who worked as a street vendor. Shelly-Ann became the first Caribbean woman to win 100m gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In 2012 she married, and during what should have been a ‘honeymoon’ period became the 3rd woman in history to defend an Olympic 100-metre title later that year in London. She went on to the 2013 world championships to win the 100m then the 200m 4 days later, writing history books again as the 3rd woman to claim this double. She also became the first female sprinter to sweep the 100m, 200m and 4X100m in a single World Championship that year. At the end of that season Shelly-Ann was named Woman Athlete of the Year by the International Association of Athletics Federations. In 2014 she became the first woman to win 3 100m gold medals in World Championships history.

Despite injury plaguing her season, determination kept her on the podium as she earned a bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics. As a mother and seasoned competitor she ran an astonishing 10.63 seconds in a 2021 100-metre dash at Jamaica’s national stadium to set a new national record and briefly be dubbed the 2nd fastest woman of all time. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (staged in 2021), she won silver, becoming the 1st athlete to medal in the 100m race at 4 consecutive Olympics. Her unwavering ambition has made her 1 of the most decorated female athletes and among BBC's list of inspiring and influential women in the world.

At just 5’3” the “Pocket Rocket” (or “Mommy Rocket” since the birth of her son) has amazed spectators, critics, and even herself time and time again for over a decade. Silencing nagging injuries and scrutiny, Shelly-Ann’s obstacles stimulated her prolific career. Her early challenges sparked her Pocket Rocket Foundation to provide academic and physical support to student-athletes in difficult financial situations.

Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce, DIstinguished Female Jamaican Athlete

Toni-Ann Singh

Toni-Ann Singh is yet another embodiment of the evident beauty of a Jamaican woman, inside and out. A record of Miss World and Miss Universe pageant finalists over the years demonstrates our ingrained loveliness and charisma. Toni-Ann was born in 1996 to an adolescent mother, at a time when the unemployment rate of young women was twice that of young men in Jamaica. At age 9 Toni-Ann and her family immigrated to the United States. She is a mental health awareness advocate and passionate about female empowerment, graduating with a degree in women's studies and psychology from Florida State University. Her first pageant was the Florida Caribbean Association where she met judge and Miss Jamaica World 2005 Terri-Karelle Reid, who encouraged her to enter the Miss Jamaica World competition; the rest is history.

Taking a break from pursuing her Master’s degree, Toni-Ann entered during her gap year. She became the 4th Jamaican to win Miss World in 2019, and the longest-reigning titleholder following the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pageant she publicly praised her Jamaican mother during the question segment, professing “I watched her pour everything into me, even at the sacrifice of her own wants and her needs, and that's why I am able to sit before you today."

Toni-Ann pledged support for the Women’s Centre Foundation in her native St. Thomas parish when entering the Miss World competition. The beauty queen wanted to assist adolescent mothers with resources to parent effectively while continuing their education. As the winner of the pageant’s talent segment with her impressive rendition of ‘I Have Nothing’ she re-recorded the single to benefit charity as one of her acts of goodwill. Despite global travel limitations during her reign, and as an ambassador for the United Nations, she shared her benevolence virtually with organisations around the world to fulfil Miss World's 'Beauty with a Purpose' mantra.

Excelling in and beyond a small, “third-world” country to repeatedly create history and global impact is nothing less than a grand feat. A Jamaican woman is more than a jewel to the eye; she is a treasure to the world… just waiting to shine!

Toni-Ann Singh, Miss World 2019

Winsome Sears

Jamaica-born Republican Winsome Sears has become the first female lieutenant governor and the first woman of colour to win statewide office in Virginia.

Sears defeated Democrat Hala Ayala in Tuesday's election.

Ayala also would have been the first woman of colour to hold statewide office if she had won.

The Republican rocketed out of political obscurity earlier this year when she won the GOP nomination on the strength of a campaign photo in which she posed holding a military rifle.