Arguably no culture is as rich and vibrant Jamaica’s, hence we strive to display aspects that are as unique as we are. This was probably the rationale behind our current Miss Universe Jamaica Iana Tickle Garcia opting to highlight the infamous story of Annie Palmer of Rose Hall in St James.
For the uninitiated, Annie Palmer was a plantation owner who originally hailed from Haiti and came here with her husband who she later murdered along with several lovers and countless enslaved. If that was not enough to seal her place in local infamy, her Haitian roots were said to be sated with the practice of voodoo rituals which earned her the title ‘The White Witch of Rose Hall’.
It is a story well known across the island as documentaries, books and folk tales have been made about Palmer for decades. Indeed, there are tours of Rose Hall Plantation daily and even night tours. The plantation is said to be haunted by Annie’s restless spirit as it is believed that she herself was murdered by a man she enslaved after she, in a fit of jealousy, killed the love of his life. This is the stuff that Lifetime movies are made of.
And this is the stuff that the newly crowned queen Garcia highlighted and promoted when she showcased this aspect of our cultural history. The 19-year-old’s national costume, a sparkling all-white creation, was designed by Uzuri International, local franchise holders of the Miss Universe Jamaica pageant. Dubbed ‘The Legend of Rose Hall’, it speaks to Annie Palmer, the 18th-century figure who drove fear into the hearts of many and who centuries after her passing, people pay good money just to go visit her gravesite and take pictures.
Not everyone is pleased with the choice. Many argue that with impressive figures such as Louie Bennett and Bob Markey, etc, she could have chosen a more “respectable” figure that was not, in fact, a murderess and brutal participant in a system where our forefathers were nothing more than disposable property during the epoch of chattel slavery.
A firestorm of public opinion has spilt over onto social media where Garcia has received backlash from those who say highlighting a murderess, no matter how long deceased, is disrespectful and a slap in the face of everyone whose ancestors’ blood was spilt on that plantation because of the whims and fancies of one “wicked white woman”.
Under the post on the official Miss Universe Jamaica page on Instagram, users are up in arms over what they see as poor judgment on her part and that of the organisers in choosing someone who stood for nothing good or wholesome but who in fact, was part and parcel of a dark era in our dark history.
One commenter, @Henrianjb, described it as “an absolute embarrassment to our nation”. Singer and performer, @Samanthastrachan, chimed in, asking “Did no one do research!! What?! How could you put this on an international Stage/!! Who taught you history?!! Google is also free!”
Others noted that this was not the appropriate time for criticism. “She needs our support, not negative comments,” said @dwighthgordon.
Garcia responded to the criticism via Twitter. “I have been up since 4am [sic] this morning, as I was yesterday and the day before… . But I say this cause I’m wondering if there are people who think that I actually [have] time to spend on their negativity and criticisms,” said a now-deleted tweet from her personal Twitter account, @ianaolivia.
Garcia later apologised for her earlier tweet, stating: “Firstly I must apologize for my response this morning [sic] I understand that my response came off as uncaring. I am and have always been a proud Jamaican”.
The national costume contest does not hold weight in determining who makes it to the Top 20 (voting for which is now closed). One contestant will, however, take home the best national costume award. The 2019 Miss Universe Competition takes place Sunday, December 8 at 7:00 PM eastern time.