Located 90 miles south of Cuba and 119 miles west of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Jamaica is the fourth largest island country in the Caribbean Sea, with a total area of 4240 square miles.
Jamaica was ruled by the Spanish after Christopher Columbus’ arrival in 1494. During Spanish rule the indigenous people Arawak and Taino suffered many losses to disease, causing the Spanish to look to Africa for slave labor. During this time the island country was known as Santiago and remained so until the English drove out the Spaniards in 1655, renaming it Jamaica.
Sugar became the top export of Jamaica while under British colonial rule, with most of the field labor being done by African slaves. In 1838 the British chose to emancipate the slaves, causing there to be a shortage of labor for the sugar plantations as freedmen turned to farming. In the early 1840’s plantations were worked by Indian and Chinese labor. On August 6th 1962 Jamaica finally became independent of the United Kingdom.
Jamaica has a population of 2.8 million people, and after the United States and Canada, the island has the third most populated country in the Americas. Its capital city Kingston is also the largest city and boasts a population of 937,700 people. While Jamaicans have mostly African blood there are many Indian, Hakka, European and Chinese Jamaicans, as well as minorities of mixed race. Since the 1960’s many Jamaicans have emigrated in search of work, settling mainly in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Member of the British Commonwealth, Jamaica recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as its Head of State and Monarch. Government of Jamaica consists of a Governor-General (currently Sir Patrick Allen) and a Prime Minister (Andrew Holness), and a Parliament that consists of a House of Representatives that is elected by the people, and a Senate that is appointed.
There are two main languages common to Jamaica. The government, law, media and education all us Jamaican Standard English (JSE) which is considered the official language of Jamaica, however Jamaican Patois (an English-based creole) is the primary spoken language. Almost half the population is bilingual, and in recent years schools have been teaching lessons in Patois but still recognize JSE as being the official language for lessons. Sign Language is known by some Jamaicans, with the Jamaican and American sign language being commonly used, along with the local indigenous version, Jamaican Country Sign Language.
Jamaica’s largest practiced religion is Christianity, with country people tending to follow the Protestant religion. Only 2% of the population follow the Roman Catholic religion. Christianity became popular during the struggle against slavery, when educated ex-slaves joined forces with Baptist missionaries and British Christian abolitionists. Other less popular religions in Jamaica are Rastafari, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhism, Hinduism, Baha’I faith. Jews, Mormons and Muslims have very small numbers present in Jamaica.
The Jamaican people are defined by the lifestyle, religions, values and beliefs that is the Jamaican culture. History has caused Jamaica to embrace a very diverse society, with many ethnicities contributing to the culture of the island country. While the original Taino peoples became slaves to the Spaniards, it was not long before the British rid Jamaica of the Spaniards and brought a huge number of Africans to the country, enslaving them to work the sugar plantations. During the time of slavery African culture was predominant, with the slaves doing all they could to survive the atrocities of forced labor.
A Far Eastern influence was introduced to Jamaica when the British were forced to indenture Indian and Chinese migrants to work the plantations in place of the African slaves freed when slavery was abolished. The different races inhabiting Jamaica each impacted the music, dance, language, religion and practices, bringing the diversity of Jamaican culture to what it is today.