In 1494, Columbus and his Spanish conquistadors westernized the island’s native Taino name of “Yamaye” into “Xaymaca”, a word originally meaning “land of wood and water” or “land of many springs”.
Christopher Columbus claimed Jamaica for Spain after landing there in 1494. Columbus’ probable landing point was Dry Harbour, now called Discovery Bay. St. Ann’s Bay was the “Saint Gloria” of Columbus who first sighted Jamaica at this point.
The Spanish were forcibly evicted by the British at Ocho Rios in St. Ann and in 1655 the British took over the last Spanish fort in Jamaica. The Spanish colonists fled leaving a large number of African slaves. Rather than be re-enslaved by the English, they escaped into the hilly, mountainous regions of the island, joining those who had previously escaped from the Spanish to live with the Taínos.
These runaway slaves, who became known as the Jamaican Maroons, fought the British during the 18th century. During the long years of slavery Maroons established free communities in the mountainous interior of Jamaica, maintaining their freedom and independence for generations.
In 1962, after many uprisings and revolts, Jamaica was the first Caribbean country to gain independence from the United Kingdom, yet chose to remain a member of the British Commonwealth and with Queen Elizabeth II as our ultimate monarch, even if only just on paper.
Jamaica’s history of stubborn rebellion against authority, as demonstrated by the Slaves, Maroons and Port Royal buccaneer pirates, and the forming of pro African religious movements like Bedwardism, Garveyism and later Rastafari, all carry the Jamaican cultural tradition that Bob Marley calls “resisting against the system”.
The people of Jamaica are very proud yet warm hearted, helpful and kind, positive and vibrant with a love for life. Fifty-three percent of the population lives in urban areas like Kingston, Portmore, Spanish Town and Montego Bay (MoBay).
Our population is 90% black from the descendants of African slaves, 1% East Indian from the descendants of indentured laborers, 7% mixed race type ancestry, with a few whites, Middle Easterners, Chinese and Jews.
Jewish indentured servants slowly became merchants after 1st helping to establish the sugar production industry and over time, the East Indians and Chinese who filled the labor gap left the escaped and freed by slaves would finish their indenture contracts and either start small businesses or join Jamaica’s professional working class.
Regardless of racial, national or ethnical background, the major ethnic division in Jamaica is based on shade of skin color, ranging between fair skinned, brown and black, with individuals judged by society along a spectrum of shades and physical features.
Jamaica was an European slave colony for over 400 years, between 1494 and 1962, a period marked by conflict between white absentee owners at the top of the social pyramid, African laborers at the bottom, with local overseers and merchants in the middle class.
By the beginning of the 19th century, Jamaica’s heavy reliance on slavery resulted in blacks (Africans) outnumbering whites (Europeans) by a ratio of almost 20 to 1. Even though England had outlawed the importation of slaves, some were still smuggled into the colonies.
In plantation systems, manual labor was done by outdoor African slaves, while whites managed and owned the facilities – often fathering children with black female slaves.
As “brown” mulatto offspring gained education and privileges, they began to occupy indoor middle-level positions, and be distrusted by the black field slaves.
After independence, Jamaica’s social pyramid morphed into a threesome of rich white plantation owners and industrialists, brown civil servants, merchants and small farmers, and landless laborers – usually with darker skin.
During the global Great Depression of the 1920’s and 1930’s, thousands of rural, homeless and unemployed Jamaican black laborers moved to Kingston the capitol city in search of work.
Jamaica’s newly urban poor, were now for the 1st time living “next door” to Kingston’s white and brown-skinned political, merchant, and professional upper classes!
Black skin was associated back then with being “uneducated”, “lazy,” and “dishonest” – a lingering result of colonial divide-and-conquer propaganda – with knowledge of the role and importance of African symbols and culture subverted and ranked at the bottom of Jamaica’s social ladder.
Back then and still today, acquiring the lifestyle, speech and material possessions of US and European culture have been the ultimate markers of success for “proper” Jamaicans, with the majority of national wealth being owned by a small number of light-skinned or white families and Jamaicans of Chinese and Middle Eastern heritage.
Blacks then and for a time were limited to manual labor, skilled trades and owning small to medium-sized businesses.
Today, Black Jamaicans work in all types of jobs, own all types and sizes of businesses, and occupy the highest political and professional positions.
Jamaicans of Chinese descent work and own businesses mainly in wholesale and retail and wholesale activities, and East Indians have excelled in professional and commercial activities.
While race has played a defining role in Jamaica’s social class divisions, the pattern is undergoing significant change, with increased socioeconomic integration of Blacks and increased availability of educational opportunities!
Jamaica is an independent island nation and part of the British Commonwealth, with Queen Elizabeth II as titular ruler and a governor general who “oversees” on her behalf.
Our currency is the Jamaican dollar, JMD
The Jamaican flag has three main colors, Black, Green and Gold – one of only three national flags that do not share any colors of the American flag!
The black represents our people, struggle and hardship; green for our island’s natural bounty and our hope; and the gold, our world famous sunshine!
Jamaica offers religious freedom with no official religion, and voluntary military service.
Traditionally, a Jamaican woman’s place is in the home, in a society where most leadership positions are held by men and women work mainly in domestic labor, retail and banking, education, administration and in micro-business ventures.
Many Jamaican families are lead by women, with mothers responsible for raising children and supporting the family economically, traditionally in domestic, secretarial, clerical, teaching and micro-business (hustling).
A typical Jamaican family could be a grandmother, her daughter and the daughter’s children from current and previous male partners.
Jamaican fathers may be a regular part of the family or he may visit and live with them for periods of time – sometimes because of working overseas or because of having more than one family – or may he may be completely absent and unknown.