Jamaicans hold four
Commonwealth Games records and three world records.
Four Jamaican women have won Commonwealth Writers’ Prizes: Olive Senior
in 1987 (Best Book); Erna Brodber in 1989; Alecia McKenzie in 1993; and
Vanessa Spence in 1994.
The Commonwealth Library Association has its secretariat at the Mona,
Kingston, campus of the University of the West Indies.
Joined Commonwealth: 1962
Population: 2,784,000 (2013)
GDP: 0.5% p.a. 1990–2012
UN HDI: world ranking 96
Official language: English
Timezone: GMT minus 5hr
Currency: Jamaican dollar (J$)
Area: 10,991 sq km
Capital city: Kingston
Population density (per sq. km): 253
Jamaica, whose name comes from the Arawak Xaymaca, meaning ‘Land of Wood
and Water’, lies south of Cuba and west of Haiti.
Kingston (capital, pop. 584,627 in 2011), Portmore (182,153), Spanish
Town (147,152), Montego Bay (110,115), May Pen (61,548), Mandeville
(49,695), Old Harbour (28,912), Savanna-la-Mar (22,633), Ocho Rios
(16,671), Port Antonio (14,816), Linstead (14,231), St Ann’s Bay
(11,173), Morant Bay (11,052), Hayes (10,639), Ewarton (9,753) and Bog
There are 22,120 km of roads, more than 70 per cent paved. There is no
Main ports are Kingston, with dedicated wharves for bulk cargoes of
petroleum, flour, cement, gypsum and lumber, and Montego Bay in the
north-west; and the international airports are Norman Manley
International, 17 km south-east of Kingston, and Montego Bay
International, 5 km north of the city.
Jamaica is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of
States, Association of Caribbean States, Caribbean Community,
Non-Aligned Movement, Organization of American States, United Nations
and World Trade Organization.
Jamaica hosts the headquarters of the International Seabed Authority,
the autonomous international organisation established in 1994 under the
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Jamaica is the ridge of a submerged mountain range. The land rises to
2,256 metres at Blue Mountain Peak. The coastline is indented, with many
good natural bays. Fine sandy beaches occur on the north and west
coasts. Small fast-flowing rivers, prone to flash flooding, run in
Tropical at the coast (22–34°C), with fresh sea breezes; markedly cooler
in the mountains. Rainfall ranges from 1,500 mm p.a. in Kingston to
3,850 mm p.a. in Port Antonio. Jamaica lies in the hurricane zone.
The most significant environmental issues are deforestation; pollution
of coastal waters by industrial waste, sewage and oil spills; damage to
coral reefs; and air pollution in Kingston due to vehicle emissions.
Jamaica’s luxuriant tropical and, at higher altitude, subtropical
vegetation is probably the richest in the region. There are more than
3,000 flowering species, including 194 orchid species, several cactus
species, of which seven are unique to Jamaica, and 12 native palm
species. Forest covers 31 per cent of the total land area, having
declined at 0.1 per cent p.a. 1990–2010. Arable land comprises 11 per
cent and permanent cropland nine per cent of the total land area.
Fauna include 30 bat species. There is also a rich variety of birdlife
(of some 75 species recorded, ten were threatened with extinction in
2012), turtles, non-poisonous snakes, lizards, crocodiles, 14 kinds of
butterfly unique to Jamaica, and many moths and fireflies. Manatees live
in the coastal waters. There are about 500 species of landshell, many of
which are unique to Jamaica.
Little is known about the island’s early history, except that there are
many traces of Arawak habitation, and that Arawaks, agriculturists who
made good-quality textiles and pottery, were living there when
Christopher Columbus landed on 14 May 1494, on his second American
voyage of exploration. He named the island Santiago (Saint-James).
However, the name was never adopted and it kept its Arawak name Xaymaca,
of which ‘Jamaica’ is a corruption. Lacking gold, Jamaica was used
mainly as a staging post in the scramble for the wealth of the Americas.
The Spanish arrival was a disaster to the indigenous peoples, great
numbers of whom were sent to Spain as slaves, others used as slaves on
site, and many killed by the invaders, despite the efforts of Spanish
Christian missionaries to prevent these outrages. There were no Arawaks
left on the island by 1665, but there were enslaved Africans replacing
In 1645 the British captured Jamaica from the Spaniards, whose former
slaves refused to surrender, took to the mountains and repelled all
attempts to subjugate them. These people came to be known as Maroons
(from the Spanish cimarron, meaning ‘wild’, a word applied to escaped
slaves). Between 1660 and 1670 pirates used Jamaica as a place of
In 1670 Spain formally ceded the island to Britain. Two years later the
Royal Africa Company, a slave-trading enterprise, was formed. The
company used Jamaica as its chief market, and the island became a centre
of slave trading in the West Indies. Nonetheless, the battles of the
Maroons to retain their freedom succeeded when, in 1740, the British
authorities recognised their rights to freedom and ownership of
Settlers, using slave labour, developed sugar, cocoa, indigo and later
coffee estates. The island was very prosperous by the time of the
Napoleonic wars (1792–1814), exporting sugar and coffee; but after the
wars sugar prices dropped, and the slave trade was abolished in 1807.
After the emancipation of slaves in 1834, the plantations were worked by
indentured Indian and Chinese labourers. Sugar prices fell again in
1846. Jamaica’s worsening economic situation caused widespread suffering
and discontent. In October 1865, a political protest at Morant Bay
organised by G W Gordon developed into an uprising during which the
local magistrate and 18 other Europeans were killed. The governor, E J
Eyre, declared martial law and launched a punitive campaign of ruthless
severity, with several executions without trial, including the hanging
of Gordon, who had not instigated any violence. The reaction in Britain
was astonished outrage. Eyre was removed from office and Jamaica placed
under Crown colony rule (1866). The banana industry was established in
the second half of the 19th century, on big estates and smallholdings.
In the early 20th century, Jamaicans worked on banana plantations in
Central America and Cuba, and in the construction of the Panama Canal.
Jamaica’s first colonial constitution gave considerable power to
settlers. The governor’s council included senior figures such as the
bishop and Chief Justice, but the representative assembly was controlled
by white settlers. After the imposition of direct Crown colony rule in
1866, settlers lost their power and the Governor was advised only by the
mainly nominated privy council. With amendments, this constitution was
retained until 1944.
In 1938, the People’s National Party (PNP), led by Norman Manley, was
formed to campaign for independence. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), led
by Sir Alexander Bustamante, was founded in 1943.
In 1944, an executive council, with half its members elected by
universal adult franchise, was established. In 1953, ministers from the
council took over most portfolios, and Bustamante became Chief Minister.
Manley followed, in 1955. When Jamaica joined the Federation of the West
Indies in 1958, it had full internal self- government with a legislative
council (Senate) and legislative assembly (holding real power).
On independence in 1962 Bustamante was Prime Minister. With bauxite in
demand, tourism flourishing and a revival in bananas, Jamaica’s economy
In 1972, the PNP, led by Norman Manley’s son, Michael, won the
elections, and remained in office until 1980, when the JLP under Edward
Seaga came to power. The PNP, again under the leadership of Michael
Manley, won the elections of 1989.
Due to ill health, Prime Minister Michael Manley retired in March 1992
and was succeeded by P J Patterson, who led the PNP to another victory
at elections in March 1993. The PNP won 52 seats, the JLP eight.
Jamaican politics was preoccupied with economic and security issues
during the 1990s and this resulted in a high incidence of strikes, with
all parties favouring economic liberalisation. In late 1995 the JLP
split, leading to the creation of a third party, the National Democratic
Movement, headed by Bruce Golding, former chairman of the JLP.
Patterson and the PNP were returned in the general election in December
1997. The poll had been relatively peaceful and the international team
of observers led by former US President Jimmy Carter judged it free and
fair. With 56 per cent of the votes the PNP took 50 of the 60 seats in
the lower house, while the JLP received 39 per cent of the votes and
took ten seats.
The Truth About Jamaica &
Reggae The Story Of
Jamaican Music BBC Documentary
Roots, Reggae, Rebellion
Full BBC Documentary 2016
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