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Olive Lewin Gets Posthumous OM: Culture Dominates Jamaica's Highest Honours

Dr. Olive Lewin to receive Order of Merit, Jamaica's 4th highest honour

When musicologist and folk researcher Dr. Olive Lewin receives her much deserved, albeit posthumous, Order of Merit on Heroes Day 2013, she will become Jamaica’s 11th cultural icon to do so. Lewin’s award will also mean that more than 50% of the Jamaicans who are named for the island’s fourth highest honour, have made their mark on the nation through the cultural landscape, highlighting the weighty contributions of Jamaican culture to the nation’s development.

Lewin, who died in April 2013, joins Edna Manley, Bob Marley, Prof. Rex Nettleford, Louise Bennett, Jimmy Cliff, Sir Philip Sherlock, Prof Mervyn Morris, and Peter Tosh as cultural icons who bear this distinction.

Lewin led the large contingent of 138 awardees for national honours that was announced during the celebration of Jamaica’s 51st year of independence. Since its announcement, a few have argued against the “wholesale” distribution of the awards, noting that the plethora of awardees water down its significance.

However, nominees for Order of Merit remain few, only 2 persons can be admitted to the order in any single year and there can be only 15 living members at any time.

Interestingly, since 2009 the two Jamaicans awarded the Order of Merit, have made their achievement in the cultural realm. Professor Mervyn Morris, received the award for his contributions to literature in 2009 while reggae legend Peter Tosh, was awarded the distinction last year. No Orders of Merit were conferred in 2010 and 2011.

The cultural domination is not maintained across the wider award categories. However, this year’s list of awardees from who have made their contribution through culture include reggae crooner Beres Hammond, who has been conferred with the Order of Jamaica.

Professor Carolyn Cooper, Lorna Goodison, Orrett Rhoden, have been conferred with the Order of Distinction (Commander Rank) while Volier Johnson and David Reid will be conferred with the Rank of Officer.