Jamaica is an island country situated in the Caribbean Sea. Spanning 10,990 square kilometres (4,240 sq mi) in area, it is the third-largest island of the Greater Antilles and the Caribbean (after Cuba and Hispaniola). Jamaica lies about 145 kilometres (90 mi) south of Cuba, and 191 kilometres (119 mi) west of Hispaniola (the island containing the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic); the British Overseas Territory of the Cayman Islands lies some 215 kilometres (134 mi) to the north-west.
Originally inhabited by the indigenous Arawak and Taíno peoples, the island came under Spanish rule following the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1494. Many of the indigenous people were either killed or died of diseases to which they had no immunity, and the Spanish thus forcibly transplanted large numbers of African slaves to Jamaica as labourers. The island remained a possession of Spain until 1655, when England (later Great Britain) conquered it, renaming it Jamaica. Under British colonial rule Jamaica became a leading sugar exporter, with a plantation economy dependent on the African slaves and later their descendants. The British fully emancipated all slaves in 1838, and many freedmen chose to have subsistence farms rather than to work on plantations. Beginning in the 1840s, the British began utilizing Chinese and Indian indentured labour to work on plantations. The island achieved independence from the United Kingdom on 6 August 1962.
With 2.9 million people, Jamaica is the third-most populous Anglophone country in the Americas (after the United States and Canada), and the fourth-most populous country in the Caribbean. Kingston is the country’s capital and largest city.
The majority of Jamaicans are of African ancestry, with significant European, Chinese, Indian, Lebanese, and mixed-race minorities. Due to a high rate of emigration for work since the 1960s, there is a large Jamaican diaspora, particularly in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The country has a global influence that belies its small size; it was the birthplace of the Rastafari religion, reggae music (and associated genres such as dub, ska and dancehall), and it is internationally prominent in sports, most notably cricket, sprinting and athletics. Jamaica is an upper-middle income country with an economy heavily dependent on tourism, with an average of 4.3 million tourists a year. Politically it is a Commonwealth realm, with Elizabeth II as its queen. Her appointed representative in the country is the Governor-General of Jamaica, an office held by Sir Patrick Allen since 2009. Andrew Holness has served as Prime Minister of Jamaica since March 2016. Jamaica is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy with legislative power vested in the bicameral Parliament of Jamaica, consisting of an appointed Senate and a directly elected House of Representatives.
Around 650 AD, Jamaica was colonized by the people of the Ostionoid culture (ancestors of the Taíno), who likely came from South America. Alligator Pond in Manchester Parish and Little River in St. Ann Parish are among the earliest known sites of this Ostionoid culture, also known as the Redware culture. These people lived near the coast and extensively hunted turtles and fish.
Around 950 AD, the people of the Meillacan culture settled on both the coast and the interior of Jamaica, either absorbing the Redware culture or co-inhabiting the island with them.
The Taíno culture developed on Jamaica around 1200 AD. They brought from South America a system of raising yuca known as “conuco.” To add nutrients to the soil, the Taíno burned local bushes and trees and heaped the ash into large mounds, into which they then planted yuca cuttings.
Taíno society was divided into two classes: naborias (commoners) and mitaínos (nobles). These were governed by chiefs known as caciques (who were male), who were advised by priests/healers known as bohiques. Caciques enjoyed the privilege of wearing golden pendants called guanín and sitting on wooden stools to be above the guests they received. Bohiques were extolled for their healing powers and ability to speak with gods.
The Taíno had a matrilineal system of kinship, descent and inheritance. When a male heir was not present, the inheritance or succession would go to the oldest male child of the deceased’s sister. The Taíno had avunculocal post-marital residence, meaning a newly married couple lived in the household of the maternal uncle. He was more important in the lives of his niece’s children than their biological father; the uncle introduced the boys to men’s societies.
Most Taíno lived in large circular buildings (bohios), constructed with wooden poles, woven straw, and palm leaves. These houses, built surrounding the central plaza, could hold 10-15 families each. The cacique and his family lived in rectangular buildings (caney) of similar construction, with wooden porches. Taíno home furnishings included cotton hammocks (hamaca), sleeping and sitting mats made of palms, wooden chairs (dujo or duho) with woven seats, platforms, and cradles for children.
The Taíno played a ceremonial ball game called batey. Opposing teams had 10 to 30 players per team and used a solid rubber ball. Normally, the teams were composed of men, but occasionally women played the game as well. The games were often played on courts in the village’s center plaza and are believed to have been used for conflict resolution between communities. The most elaborate ball courts are found at chiefdoms’ boundaries. Often, chiefs made wagers on the possible outcome of a game.
Taino spoke an Arawakan language and did not have writing. Some of the words used by them, such as barbacoa (“barbecue”), hamaca (“hammock”), kanoa (“canoe”), tabaco (“tobacco”), yuca, batata (“sweet potato”), and juracán (“hurricane”), have been incorporated into Spanish and English.
Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean. It lies between latitudes 17° and 19°N, and longitudes 76° and 79°W. Mountains dominate the interior: the Don Figuerero, Santa Cruz, and May Day mountains in the west, the Dry Harbour Mountains in the centre, and the John Crow Mountains and Blue Mountains in the east, the latter containing Blue Mountain Peak, Jamaica’s tallest mountain at 2,256 m. They are surrounded by a narrow coastal plain. Jamaica only has two cities, the first being Kingston, the capital city and centre of business, located on the south coast and the second being Montego Bay, one of the best known cities in the Caribbean for tourism, located on the north coast. Kingston Harbour is the seventh-largest natural harbour in the world, which contributed to the city being designated as the capital in 1872. Other towns of note include Portmore, Spanish Town, Savanna la Mar, Mandeville and the resort towns of Ocho Ríos, Port Antonio and Negril.
Tourist attractions include Dunn’s River Falls in St. Ann, YS Falls in St. Elizabeth, the Blue Lagoon in Portland, believed to be the crater of an extinct volcano, and Port Royal, site of a major earthquake in 1692 that helped form the island’s Palisadoes tombolo.
Among the variety of terrestrial, aquatic and marine ecosystems are dry and wet limestone forests, rainforest, riparian woodland, wetlands, caves, rivers, seagrass beds and coral reefs. The authorities have recognize the tremendous significance and potential of the environment and have designated some of the more ‘fertile’ areas as ‘protected’. Among the island’s protected areas are the Cockpit Country, Hellshire Hills, and Litchfield forest reserves. In 1992, Jamaica’s first marine park, covering nearly 15 square kilometres (5.8 sq mi), was established in Montego Bay. Portland Bight Protected Area was designated in 1999. The following year Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park was created, covering roughly 300 square miles (780 km2) of a wilderness area which supports thousands of tree and fern species and rare animals.
There are several small islands off Jamaica’s coast, most notably those in Portland Bight such as Pigeon Island, Salt Island, Dolphin Island, Long Island, Great Goat Island and Little Goat Island, and also Lime Cay located further east. Much further out – some 50-80km off the south coast – lie the very small Morant Cays and Pedro Cays.
The climate in Jamaica is tropical, with hot and humid weather, although higher inland regions are more temperate. Some regions on the south coast, such as the Liguanea Plain and the Pedro Plains, are relatively dry rain-shadow areas.
Jamaica lies in the hurricane belt of the Atlantic Ocean and because of this, the island sometimes suffers significant storm damage. Hurricanes Charlie and Gilbert hit Jamaica directly in 1951 and 1988, respectively, causing major damage and many deaths. In the 2000s (decade), hurricanes Ivan, Dean, and Gustav also brought severe weather to the island.
Jamaica’s climate is tropical, supporting diverse ecosystems with a wealth of plants and animals. Its plant life has changed considerably over the centuries; when the Spanish arrived in 1494, except for small agricultural clearings, the country was deeply forested. The European settlers cut down the great timber trees for building and ships’ supplies, and cleared the plains, savannas, and mountain slopes for intense agricultural cultivation. Many new plants were introduced including sugarcane, bananas, and citrus trees.
Today, however, Jamaica is now the home to about 3,000 species of native flowering plants (of which over 1,000 are endemic and 200 are species of orchid), thousands of species of non-flowering flora, and about 20 botanical gardens, some of which are several hundred years old. Areas of heavy rainfall also contain stands of bamboo, ferns, ebony, mahogany, and rosewood. Cactus and similar dry-area plants are found along the south and southwest coastal area. Parts of the west and southwest consist of large grasslands, with scattered stands of trees.
Jamaican’s fauna, typical of the Caribbean, includes highly diversified wildlife with many endemic species. As with other oceanic islands, land mammals are mostly several species of bats of which at least three endemic species are found only in Cockpit Country, one of which is at-risk. Other species of bat include the fig-eating and hairy-tailed bats. The only non-bat native mammal extant in Jamaica is the Jamaican hutia, locally known as the coney. Introduced mammals such as wild boar and the small Asian mongoose are also common. Jamaica is also home to about 50 species of reptiles, the largest of which is the American crocodile; however, it is only present within the Black River and a few other areas. Lizards such as anoles, iguanas and snakes such as racers and the Jamaican boa (the largest snake on the island), are common in areas such as the Cockpit Country. None of Jamaica’s eight species of native snakes is venomous.
Jamaica is home to about 289 species of birds of which 27 are endemic including the endangered black-Billed parrots and the Jamaican blackbird, both of which are only found in Cockpit Country. It is also the indigenous home to four species of hummingbirds (three of which are found nowhere else in the world): the black-billed streamertail, the Jamaican mango, the Vervain hummingbird, and red-billed streamertails. The red-billed streamertail, known locally as the “doctor bird”, is Jamaica’s National Symbol. Other notable species include the Jamaican tody and the Greater flamingo,
One species of freshwater turtle is native to Jamaica, the Jamaican slider. It is found only on Jamaica and on a few islands in the Bahamas. In addition, many types of frogs are common on the island, especially treefrogs. Beautiful and exotic birds, such as the can be found among a large number of others.
Jamaican waters contain considerable resources of fresh-and saltwater fish. The chief varieties of saltwater fish are kingfish, jack, mackerel, whiting, bonito, and tuna. Fish that occasionally enter freshwater and estuarine environments include snook, jewfish, mangrove snapper, and mullets. Fish that spend the majority of their lives in Jamaica’s fresh waters include many species of livebearers, killifish, freshwater gobies, the mountain mullet, and the American eel. Tilapia have been introduced from Africa for aquaculture, and are very common. Also visible in the waters surrounding Jamaica are dolphins, parrotfish, and the endangered manatee.
Insects and other invertebrates are abundant, including the world’s largest centipede, the Amazonian giant centipede. Jamaica is the home to about 150 species of butterflies and moths, including 35 indigenous species and 22 subspecies. It is also the native home to the Jamaican swallowtail, the western hemisphere’s largest butterfly.
Jamaica is regarded as a bilingual country, with two major languages in use by the population. The official language is English, which is “used in all domains of public life”, including the government, the legal system, the media, and education. However, the primary spoken language is an English-based creole called Jamaican Patois (or Patwa). The two exist in a dialect continuum, with speakers using a different register of speech depending on context and who they are speaking to. ‘Pure’ Patois, though sometimes seen as merely a particularly aberrant dialect of English, is essentially mutually unintelligible to speakers of standard English and is best thought of a separate language. A 2007 survey by the Jamaican Language Unit found that 17.1 percent of the population were monolingual in Jamaican Standard English (JSE), 36.5 percent were monolingual in Patois, and 46.4 percent were bilingual, although earlier surveys had pointed to a greater degree of bilingualism (up to 90 percent). The Jamaican education system has only recently begun to offer formal instruction in Patois, while retaining JSE as the “official language of instruction”.
Additionally, some Jamaicans use one or more of Jamaican Sign Language (JSL), American Sign Language (ASL) or the indigenous Jamaican Country Sign Language (Konchri Sain). Both JSL and ASL are rapidly replacing Konchri Sain for a variety of reasons.
Jamaican cuisine includes a mixture of cooking techniques, flavours, spices and influences from the indigenous people on the island of Jamaica, and the Spanish, Irish, British, Africans, Indian and Chinese who have inhabited the island. It is also influenced by the crops introduced into the island from tropical Southeast Asia. Jamaican cuisine includes various dishes from the different cultures brought to the island with the arrival of people from elsewhere. Other dishes are novel or a fusion of techniques and traditions. In addition to ingredients that are native to Jamaica, many foods have been introduced and are now grown locally. A wide variety of seafood, tropical fruits and meats are available.
Some Jamaican cuisine dishes are variations on the cuisines and cooking styles brought to the island from elsewhere. These are often modified to incorporate local produce. Others are novel and have developed locally. Popular Jamaican dishes include curry goat, fried dumplings, ackee and saltfish (cod). Jamaican cuisine has been adapted by Irish, African, Indian, British, French, Spanish, and Chinese influences. Jamaican patties and various pastries and breads are also popular as well as fruit beverages and Jamaican rum.
Jamaican cuisine has spread with emigrations, especially during the 20th century, from the island to other nations as Jamaicans have sought economic opportunities in other areas.
The Jamaican motto is one nation “Out Of Many People”
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