Like many Jamaicans, I have taken most things on the island for granted; the Jamaica National Heroes Park is just one of the many. There are no incentives to visit a burial ground. Who wants to go to a place where it’s possible to encounter duppies (ghosts)? Even worse, angry spirits.
Our national heroes and patriots must be angry seeing the country showing little appreciation for the freedoms we now enjoy after sacrificing so much for us to have a better life. They must be rolling in their graves.
It was always on my list of places in Jamaica to visit because I was curious; I wanted to see how they honored national heroes. I didn’t know it was open to the public, or I would have gone there long ago; others might also think the same.
After writing a post about the Emancipation Park in New Kingston, one of the best parks on the island, I decided to compare to see if Heroes Park is of the same standard. So I made the trek.
A brief history of The National Heroes Park
Before Jamaica’s independence, the area was one of the most popular spots in Kingston. It was the venue for many celebrations, including the Emancipation celebrations on August 1, 1838, to mark the end of the apprenticeship also Queen Victoria’s golden and diamond jubilees in 1887 and 1897.
For 100 years, the land was the center of horse racing in Jamaica. It was 1953, also the site for other sporting activities such as cricket and cycle racing. Being a place where people naturally gathered, the area was also the venue for traveling circuses that visited the island.
In 1818, the Kingston Council purchased the property for £985 and 10 shillings. Back then, it was part of a property called Montgomery Pen. It was later known as the Kingston Race Course because of its dominant activity and remained so until 1953, when horse racing moved to Knutsford Park (New Kingston).
They officially renamed National Heroes Park in 1973 and are now a permanent place for honoring Jamaica’s heroes, with monuments erected in an area known as the Shrine. Another section, reserved for former Prime Ministers and outstanding patriots, adjoins the Shrine area.
What I saw at the National Heroes Park.
It never occurs to me that the road along the park forms a big circle, thus Heroes Circle. Trying to find the best entry point, the light bulb suddenly when off.
It wasn’t enjoyable to see a site of such national importance. Apart from the Shrine, which hosts the monuments honoring the national heroes and the burial ground for Prime Ministers and distinguished Jamaicans, the property is an eyesore.
I expected carpet-like grass, but I saw a brownish lawn battling the Kingston heat to maintain relevance. An adequately irrigated ground would bring the place to life. In contrast, the gardens lining the walkways flourish. They seem to contain the spirits of their ancestors, fighting and hoping for a better future.
Most parts are dusty and not well maintained. Nearby government offices use a small section for parking. There is a football(soccer) field and a multipurpose court. The unfinished perimeter fencing around the 50-acre property looked promising and would have done wonders for the park’s aesthetics.
The monuments honoring the former Prime Ministers and those remembering the national heroes are impressive. Their size and artistic design symbolized a deeper meaning—each unique and reflects aspects of their lives. It shows that we have the potential to create top-notch monuments.
Redevelopment plans for Downtown Kingston include the Nation Heroes Park, the site for a new parliament building. I am looking forward to when those plans materialize because there is have huge potential to attract tourists and provide employment for the surrounding communities.
What to do at the National Heroes Park
- Large trees protecting you from the sun and the cool breeze from Kingston’s harbor make National Heroes Park a perfect place to relax.
- With pedestrian traffic low, reading or meditating will be undisturbed.
- Although the lawn is not the best quality, some areas are perfect for picnics with family or friends.
- It is a perfect place to learn about Jamaica’s national heroes and their contributions to the country.
- The design of the monuments and tombs is of the best quality. It highlights the skills of Jamaican artists and builders.
- Sample Jamaica street food at Heroes Circle roast and boiled corn, boiled crabs, and roast breadfruit.
Jamaica’s National Heroes are buried at the National Heroes Park.
Of Jamaica’s seven national heroes, they buried only three at Heroes Park, the Right Honorable Marcus Garvey, Norman Washington Manley, and Sir Alexander Bustamante. The others all have monuments honoring them_ Nanny of the Maroons, Paul Bogle, George William Gordon, and Sam Sharpe.
Is the Park safe?
Although near volatile communities, Heroes Park is safe to visit. The Jamaica Defence Force honor guard has a base there, and soldiers patrol the area. Depending on the day you visit or the occasion, you will see them standing guard or performing their ceremonial duties.
I cannot recall hearing of any crime inside the park, and research of publications from the island’s newspapers came up empty.
An interesting observation at the Jamaica National Heroes Park
Norman Washington Manley’s wife, Edna Manley, and Sir Alexander Bustamante’s wife, Gladys Maud Bustamante, are buried beside them. These women contributed significantly to Jamaica’s development in supporting roles and by themselves.
Edna Manley was a distinguished artist and educator; Jamaica’s only College of the Arts bears her name. Gladys Bustamante, or Lady B, was a Jamaican workers’ and women’s rights activist and also a prominent trade unionist.
I am puzzled and disappointed that nothing is there to honor one of Jamaica’s most famous sons, Robert Nesta Marley OM. His contribution to reggae music and Jamaica is enormous, yet no formal recognition at the site for distinguished Jamaicans. His statue at the national stadium is excellent, but they should honor him among the heroes.
Jamaica National Heroes Park should be on your list of places to visit in Kingston. It’s an exciting place to learn about Jamaica’s history and culture. Although not of the same standard as Hope Garden or Emancipation Park, one could understand it is an enormous job to maintain a 50-acre property.
Some people who sacrificed their entire lives serving the country are honored there. It is the resting place for Louise Simone Bennett-Coverley or Miss Lou OM, OJ, MBE. She puts the authentic Jamaican language on the international stage. The crown prince of reggae Dennis Emanuel Brown CD, is also buried there, among other distinguished Jamaicans. The man responsible for igniting the flames of resistance in many modern black leaders and Jamaica’s first National Hero, Marcus Mosiah Garvey ONH tomb, is on-site.
Apart from learning about history, Jamaica National Heroes Park is a great place to chill and escape Kingston’s heat. The site is not world-class, but there are plans to redevelop the area.
Next time you are in Kingston, trek to the National Heroes Park.