Jamaica’s National Symbols
The Jamaican Flag
The Jamaican National Flag was first raised on Independence Day, August 6, 1962, and signifies the birth of the independent nation. The Flag has a diagonal cross or saltire with four triangles in juxtaposition. The diagonal cross is gold and one-sixth of the length of the fly of the flag; the top and bottom triangles are green, while the hoist and fly triangles are black. The colours of the flag symbolize the shining of the sun (yellow), the lushness of the land (green), and the strength and creativity of the people (black).
The Jamaican Coat of Arms
The Coat of Arms was first designed in 1661 and partially revised in 1957. It features the original inhabitants of the island, a male and female member of the Taino tribe, standing on either side of a shield bearing a red cross with five golden pineapples. The crest shows a Jamaican crocodile mounted on the Royal Helmet of the British Monarchy and mantling. The original Latin motto, ‘Indus Uterque Serviet Uni’, was translated into English, ‘Out of Many One People’. This truly captures the multiracial roots of the population.
National Fruit Ackee
Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica as well as a component of the national dish – ackee and codfish. Ackee is derived from the original name Ankye which comes from the Twi language of Ghana. The botanical name of the fruit – Blighia Sapida – was given in honour of Captain William Bligh of “Mutiny on the Bounty” fame, who in 1793 took plants of the fruit from Jamaica to England. Before this, ackee was unknown to science. In 1778, Dr. Thomas Clarke, one of the earliest propagators of the tree, introduced it to the eastern parishes. Although ackee is not indigenous to Jamaica, it has significant historic associations. It was imported from West Africa, probably on a slave ship, and now grows in abundance on the island. While the fruit is eaten in great quantities in Jamaica and even canned for export, this is the only Caribbean island where the fruit is generally recognized as an edible crop.
National Flower Lignum Vitae
The Lignum Vitae is a short, compact tree that is native to continental tropical America and the West Indies. When translated to English from Latin, the name means “wood of life”. The name is fitting as the tree is purported to have medicinal qualities. The tree grows best in the dry woodlands along the north and south coasts of the island and produces an attractive blue flower. The plant is extremely ornamental, with an attractive blue flower and orange-yellow fruit. The wood is most used to create curios and was once used as propeller shaft bearings in nearly all the ships sailing the Seven Seas.
National Tree Blue Mahoe
The Blue Mahoe is indigenous to the island and grows quite rapidly, often reaching 20m (66ft) or more in height. The name mahoe is derived from a Carib Indian word while the ‘blue’ refers to the distinctive blue-green streaks in the polished wood. The tree is quite impressive with its straight trunk, broad green leaves and hibiscus-like flowers. The attractive flower changes colour as it matures, going from bright yellow to orange red and finally to crimson. Cuba is the only other place where the Blue Mahoe grows naturally. The tree is currently used for reforestation and is a valuable source of cabinet timber.
The National Bird
The Doctor Bird or Swallowtail Hummingbird, is one of the most outstanding of the 320 species of hummingbirds. The bird is able to fly backwards and produces a humming sound from its feathers when it does – hence the common name of hummingbird. The origin of the name ‘doctor-bird’ is somewhat unsettled. It has been said that the name was given because the erect black crest and tails resemble the top hat and long tail coats worn by doctors in the old days. For years the doctor bird has been immortalized in Jamaican folklore and song.