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Friendly Society

Historical Background

The Friendly Society Movement arose in the 17th and 18th century in Europe but by the 19th century word of the Movement had spread way beyond the boundaries of Europe. Friendly Societies had their origins in burial Societies of ancient Greek and Roman Artisans. In the Middle Ages, the Guilds of Europe and England extended the idea of mutual assistance to circumstances of distress such as illness.

The Friendly Societies went a step further by attempting to define the magnitude of the risk against which it was intended to provide and how much members should contribute to meet the risk. Offshoots of the Friendly Societies include Trade Unions, Fraternal Orders (such as the International Orders of Odd Fellows) and Life Insurance Companies.

The Order of Odd Fellows began about 1863 as an alternative way of treating with economic crisis and unrest in the Jamaican colony. It was felt that most of the unrest was, as a result of the replication of the prejudices of Victorian Britain in the Jamaican colony. These prejudices created a specific hierarchy of race, which left the “Blacks” struggling at the bottom of the pyramid. The climate was one, which was characterized by unemployment, poverty and unrest among the masses.

Thus the Friendly Societies Movement came at a critical time. For a number of social reasons, a high failure rate was expected. Instead, it blossomed into much more; where there was poverty it brought relief; where there was suffering it eased the pain.

Presented with alternative or helpmate to their economic crisis. It provided for poor relief, funeral expenses, and assistance during illness, old age, disability and distress. Most Mutual Aid Societies as they were called were initially organized by churches and played basically the same role as they did in Britain. The British also exported Freemasonry to Jamaica.

These Freemasonry offered assistance to members of their various Lodges in very much the same form as the Mutual Aid Societies. Freemasonry was an organization of the middle and upper class income gentlemen of the island. It included Governors, wealthy banana Merchants, Doctors, Lawyers and also members of the Clergy.

The idea of Friendly Societies and what they can offer members, quickly spread and by 1903 some twenty-five Friendly Societies were registered. It must be noted though that just as how the Lodges attracted the middle and upper income earners the Mutual Aid Societies catered to the labouring class and was attractive because of the saving component that it offered.

The Movement has grown significantly in numbers since 1863. In fact, to date there are approximately 351 societies registered. Today, the Friendly Societies do not fall under the portfolio of the church or other interested factions. Instead, Friendly Societies (which include Mutual Aid Societies and Lodges) are presently under the regulation and supervision of the Department of Co-operatives and Friendly Societies.

Sadly, some of these Societies have lost their zeal and purpose. Members have become more individualistic and are no longer concerned with investing to assist their fellow man; also the changing times have brought with them other means of savings, which cater to the individual as opposed to a group of persons, and the the failure to attract youthful members. Consequently, these Societies suffer from lack of continuity and pathetic membership drives.

It must be noted, however, that although some persons may be of the opinion that the Friendly Societies Movement has outlived its usefulness, there are still a few faithful members who continue to fight fervently and relentlessly to preserve a way of life that still provides for many no matter how small in financial and social status. Secondly, there has been renewed interest by members in utilizing Friendly and Benevolent Societies for their social well being as well as community development.

registrar of D.C.F.S

The Department of Co-operatives and Friendly Societies (DCFS), an agency within the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and fisheries, continues its relentless pursuit of social equity and unity of purpose, which embrace the core values of decency, civility and co-operation. Read more...