Miss Jamaica Universe stepped onstage in a magnificent jeweled, feathered costume that has many Jamaicans confused and bewildered.
It’s customary for contestants of Miss Universe to wear elaborate, over-the-top garments during the pageant’s National Costume competition.
However, one costume in particular has received a lot of criticism. Iana Tickle Garcia, Miss Jamaica Universe 2019, sported a white feathered getup representing Annie Palmer, the ‘White Witch of Rose Hall’.
The White Witch of Rose Hall is a controversial figure to say the least. A variety of stories about her exist in Jamaican folklore, and it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. But the most popular belief is that she was a slave owner and a murderer, so some find Garcia’s costume alarming. The elaborate, sparkly dress and diamond-studded headdress was designed by Uzuri International.
Miss Jamaica Universe posted photos of the dress on its official Instagram and Facebook accounts, drawing mixed reactions from social media users.
“ANNIE PALMER, THE LEGEND OF ROSE HALL…Dubbed the White Witch of Rose Hall, local folk legend has it that Annie Palmer ruled the 18th century plantation with an iron fist and drove fear in the hearts of loved ones and enemy’s alike. Her iconic home, the Rose Hall Great House is a national heritage site in Montego Bay Jamaica and still stands magnificently today after almost three hundred years as a popular visitor attraction where many claim they have spotted Annie Palmer’s ghost.”
The photos drew mixed reactions from social media users, some of which were angry that the contestant and her sponsors would “glorify” such a controversial character. It’s likely that Garcia herself had no say in the naming of the costume.
“Of all the wonderful things of our culture that could have been depicted you all chose to highlight someone who helped to oppress and killed our ancestors. You have no idea the message that this sends, none of it good,” said one Facebook user.
Another blog commenter believes the costume choice is just one piece of a much larger issue:
“The white world of slave owner ancestry has worked very hard to rewrite the horrors of the African slave trade. White women are rarely held accountable for the atrocities they always committed against children, women and men during slavery. History has been white washed so vehemently that even some African Americans believe slavery was not that bad.“
Others defended Garcia, many saying that they were happy to see a contestant from Jamaica wearing a different type of costume.
“Sometimes we need to step out of the Box with the basket on our head, we are rich in history some good some bad, yet there is so much beauty let’s be Jamaica. Yes we can,” said another user.
Glorifying slavery? Or sparking conversations?
Miss Universe Jamaica defended the dress, releasing an official statement on Facebook after comments got out of hand.
“With this year’s costume, we never sought to glorify slavery, nor promote witchcraft or any of the folk tales Annie Palmer has been accused of…” the statement said. The statement also mentioned the fact that Annie Palmer is a “tourism icon” and that Rose Hall Developments was one of Garcia’s sponsors.
Instead, the page asserts that the purpose of the costume was to “tell the story of another part of Jamaican history without endorsing, glorifying or celebrating her deeds or the atrocities of slavery.” They hoped that it would spark conversations resulting in “teachable moments”.
Miss Universe Jamaica then encouraged its social media followers to support its contestants instead of criticizing them.
“Iana Tickle Garcia, our reigning Miss Universe Jamaica has been viciously attacked on social media for wearing the costume, while representing the country abroad. This is unacceptable,” the statement said. “Please let’s stop this and allow her to focus on competing and making us all proud as Jamaicans.”
A historic win for Jamaica
In other pageant news, Toni-Ann Singh from Jamaica has won the 69th Miss World beauty pageant. Born in St. Thomas, the aspiring singer and medical student impressed the judges with her rendition of, “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston. She is the fourth Jamaican to win the title of Miss World since the competition began.
Her win is historic due to the fact that black women hold the titles for Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, Miss America, Miss Universe and Miss World, for the first time in history.
After her win, Singh tweeted: “Please know that you are worthy and capable of achieving your dreams… you have a PURPOSE.”
Miss Nigeria in particular was happy to see Singh win, jumping with joy while on stage and sparking online conversation. Although she placed fifth in the competition, Nyekachi Douglas appeared to be extremely excited about Singh’s win. Whether out of friendship or support for a fellow woman of color, her reaction was one of the most most talked about moments during the competition.
In interviews, Douglas stated that Singh was her friend and her “support system” during the pageant.
The Changing Pageant World
Singh’s win comes at a time when the pageant world is undergoing many changes, many for the better. This year, Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi took the Miss Universe crown. She was the first woman to do so while wearing her natural afro-textured hair. She told Insider Magazine that many people, even her friends, tried to get her to wear a wig for the competition.
Tunzi stated that she wants women to understand that “beauty does not look one certain way.”
“It’s about accepting yourself for who you are and how different you are,” she said. “I hope it just inspires women to be themselves, their authentic selves.”
What do you think of the costume worn by Miss Jamaica Universe this year? Let us know in the comments below!
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Main image source: Instagram @OfficialMissUniverseJamaica
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