is the largest English speaking island in the
Caribbean: 600 miles south of Florida and less
than two hours by plane from Miami. It is 146
miles long, between 22 to 55 miles wide and has
considerable variation in landscape from the coral
sands and ironshore cliffs of the shoreline, through
coastal wetlands, plains and highlands to the
misty peaks of the Blue Mountains. It has a maritime
tropical climate. The warm trade winds that blow
by day are called "sea breeze" or "doctor
breeze". The average daily temperature varies
according to elevation from a high of 86F at sea
level to a low of 63F in the mountains. The average
annual rainfall ranges from 300 inches on the
eastern slopes of the Blue Mountains to 230 inches
in some parts of the south coast. During the cooler
months, December to March the island sometimes
experiences northerners: chill winds and high
seas associated with a cold front to the North.
July to September are the warmest months, May
and October are traditionally the rainy months
and there was a time when you could set your clock
by the afternoon rain during these months. Currently,
the increasingly erratic weather patterns are
attributed by some environmentalists to deforestation
and global warming. The hurricane season is demarcated
by the cautionary rhyme:
August come it must
October all over
last hurricane to hit the island was the savage
Gilbert in September 1988.
The original inhabitants of Jamaica
are believed to be the Arawaks who came from South
America 2500 years ago. They called it Xaymaca
which meant "land of wood and water."
The Spaniards who succeeded them wrote this phonetically,
and substituted J for X. Christopher Columbus
discovered the island in 1492 and claimed it for
Spain. The Spaniards were disappointed that there
was no gold and did little to develop the island.
A few settlers cultivated cane and raised livestock.
The gentle Arawaks were eliminated by overwork,
brutality and European diseases. Many of them
killed their children and drank poison rather
than submit to slavery under the Spaniards. Africans
were imported to replace them.
1655 a British expedition failed to conquer Santo
Domingo but took Jamaica as a consolation prize.
When the Spaniards fled the island they freed
their African slaves who took to the hills and
formed the nucleus of the Maroons. The early British
colonists lived under constant threat of attack
from the Spanish, the French, and freebooting
pirates, hence the island is ringed with ancient
forts. The latter part of the seventeenth century
was the age of the buccaneers. Because England
was perennially at war with France or Spain and
the Royal Navy could not patrol the entire Caribbean,
the Crown issued Letters of Marque to ship's captains,
authorizing the capture and plunder of enemy vessels.
Thus the pirates became "buccaneers"
and graduated to become "privateers".
One former buccaneer, Henry Morgan, actually became
Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica in 1674.
the eighteenth century, British landowners made
vast fortunes out of sugar and great numbers of
African slaves were imported to work on the plantations.
After a long campaign spearheaded by non-conformist
missionaries in Jamaica and Liberal politicians
in England, the slaves received their freedom
towards the middle of the nineteenth century.
Jamaica remained a British Colony with a governor
until granted Independence in 1962. Major legacies
of the British are: the parliamentary system,
the judicial system, and the game of "cricket,
vast majority of Jamaicans are of African descent
or mixed race. Other groups include East Indians,
Chinese and European. Hence the national motto,
"Out of Many, One People." The current
population is estimated at 2.5 million.
the past the population growth has been modified
by emigration to North America or the U.K. Currently,
due to tough economic conditions in those countries,
many Jamaicans are repatriating.
The original inhabitants of Jamaica were gentle,
pleasure loving people who liked dancing and
playing ball games. They believed in an afterlife
and sometimes strangled a dying chief to speed
him into paradise. They hunted, cultivated a
few crops and fished. Their canoes were made
by burning and chiselling out the trunks of
silk cotton trees, a method that is still used
today. Another legacy of the Arawaks is bammy,
a thick pancake made from cassava and delicious
fried with fish.
The name comes from the Spanish "cimmaron"
meaning wild or untamed. When the British invaded
the island in 1655 the African slaves of the
Spanish colonists escaped into the hills and
lived a wild, free life. Some of them helped
their former masters in guerilla warfare against
the British. One such was Juan de Bolas, whose
subsequent defection to the British side hastened
the final exodus of the Spaniards.
time the Maroons came to control large areas
of the interior and would swoop down from the
hills to raid the plantations and kidnap women.
Runaway slaves also found a refuge with them.
The two main groups were the Trelawny Town Maroons
led by Kojo (alias Cudjoe) and the Windward
Maroons led by Queen Nanny and later by Quao.
The Maroons were skilled hunters and fierce
fighters and the British Army and local militia
were unable to control or conclusively defeat
them. Indian hunters and their dogs had to be
imported from Central America to track them
in the bush. The first Maroon War ended with
a treaty that ceded large areas of land to the
Maroons. In turn, they had to promise to recapture
and return all runaway slaves and help the government
in the event of an invasion. The land ceded
to the Maroons was around Flagstaff in Trelawny
and was named Trelawny Town, and at Accompong
in St. Elizabeth. Accompong remains Maroon territory
to this day, but after the Second Maroon War,
the Trelawny Town land was taken away and most
of the male Maroons exiled to Canada and then
to Africa. The remnants of their families settled
nearby in a district now known as Maroon Town.
The land given to the Windward Maroons was around
Moore Town, Charles Town and Scott's Hall. Of
these, Moore Town is the only sizeable Maroon
settlement justify. Maroon land is held in common
and they are not required to pay taxes.
language of Jamaica is English though you may
sometimes find this difficult to believe. Students
of dialect maintain that the patois varies from
parish to parish and even from yard to yard. Jamaica
Talk is a synthesis of several influences: Old
English and nautical terms such as "breadkind"
and "catch to"; Spanish as in "shampata"
from, zapatos (shoes); Irish dialect as in "nyampse"
(a fool); African as in "duppy" (a ghost)
or "nyam" (to eat), and American slang
such as "cool" elaborated as "cool
runnings" or "diss" as in disrespect.
Rastafarian "I-dren" (brethren) have
their own language and one word that you will
hear frequently is "Irie" meaning good,
happy, pleasant or high. The traditional Rasta
greeting "Peace and Love" is giving
way to "Respect due". Dance-hall, Jamaica's
latest musical phenomenon, has its own ever evolving
language. Though influenced by American "rappers",
much of it is entirely indigenous, for example
"Browning" which describes any light-skinned
girl; to "big-up" a person means to
praise or advertise them, and "flex"
meaning behaviour or deportment.
is said that there are more churches per square
mile in Jamaica than anywhere in the world. The
variety of houses of worship covers everything
from centuries old parish churches to the bamboo
and zinc shacks of Revivalists. The vast majority
of believers belong to one of the numerous Christian
denominations: the traditional groups being Anglican,
Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Seventh Day Adventists
and United Church (Presbyterian). There are also
numerous Evangelical groups as well as Moravians,
Mennonites, Plymouth Brethren, Unity and Jehovah
Witnesses. Other religious groups include Jews,
Hindus, Muslims, Bahai's and Rastafarians.
Rastafari is an indigenous religion which emerged
during the 1930s as a grass roots answer to
social conditions and the irrelevance of white-oriented
denominations. Basic tenets include the divinity
of the late Emperor Haile Selassie (Ras Tafari)
of Ethiopia, re-incarnation, and a taboo against
males cutting or combing their hair or beards.
However, Rasta is an evolving and subjective
religion and not all Rastas embrace all of these.
Rastafari has been used as a cover by criminals,
and as a publicity gimmick by pop musicians,
but in its pristine form it is a valid faith
which emphasizes the indwelling God Spirit in
every person. Rastafaris developed their own
version of the Jamaican dialect in which "I"
is a frequent pre-fix. (For example "I
and I" or "I-man" meaning I or
myself and "I-dren" meaning children
or brethren). "I-tal" food is vegetarian
cooking without salt. Many Rastas regard the
use of marijuana as a sacrament and aid to meditation.
order of National Hero of Jamaica was created
in 1965. The first heroes named were Sir Alexander
Bustamante and Norman Washington Manley, the founders
of the two political parties and architects of
independent Jamaica. Named at the same time were:
Paul Bogle, a farmer and preacher who led the
so-called Morant Bay Rebellion, George William
Gordon, an ex-member of the House of Assembly
who was hung for alleged complicity in the Morant
Bay Rebellion, and Marcus Garvey, a journalist
and printer who emigrated to the United States
and founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association.
In 1975 two more were created: Sam Sharpe, the
involuntary leader of the Christmas Rebellion
in 1831 and Nanny, chieftainess of the Windward
Maroons though historical evidence of the lady
FAVOURITE PLACE IN JAMAICA
Hon. P.J. Patterson
Prime Minister of Jamaica
be asked to name my favourite spot in Jamaica
is like being asked to pick a single gem from
a room full of sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and
time I travel through the island, I discover yet
another spot of breathtaking beauty. There is
always that spectacular view along roads which
is specially revealed for the first time after
many previous journeys. Within minutes of driving
or a climb of a few hundred feet, the traveler
in Jamaica often experiences not just a simple
change of scenery but the marvel of a totally
does one choose between the majesty of our hills
and the serenity of our waters? To avoid making
that agonizing choice, I will opt for a spot which
combines nearly all the joys of nature.
in the hills of Eastern Westmoreland, there nestles
a somnolent village. As each day dawns, a beguiling
mist gives way to the first rays of sunshine.
The air is fresh, the breeze gentle, the atmosphere
serene. The tranquillity is enhanced by a constant
chirping from the birds. Beyond the cliffs below,
there is a bewitching view of the coastline -
the sea with its delicate tincture and rhythmic
the distance, one can see fishermen paddling their
small canoes to cast their nets or raise their
pots. Above there is the brilliant blue sky, with
only the semblance of a slowly drifting cloud.
As one looks westward, there is a panoramic view
of the fertile plains, with the gentle streams
making their way through the cane fields. The
surrounding hills are dotted with humble cottages
where live proud but gentle people, farmers in
the main, tending their crops. Mango trees are
laden. Breadfruit is in season. Gardens are resplendent
with crotons, ferns, hibiscus. The verdant trees
are covered with clusters of red poinciana and
flaming jacaranda. As the evening ends, one can
see the sun, like a burning ball of fire, disappear
slowly below the western sky. At this spot, where
every prospect pleases, one feels truly at peace
to say, it is off the beaten track. Its name -
Hon. Edward Seaga
Leader of the Opposition
in the hills by a stream; temperature 60-65 degrees;
mist in the evening and early morning; lots of
shade trees, I don't fancy too much direct sun;
a soft, gentle breeze. Philodendrons in the undergrowth,
azaleas and hydrangeas for mass of colour. A view
of nearby hills with very few homes. No view of
the city. Books? A small selection. The birds
will do the rest.
Former British High Commissioner
of my most memorable experiences in Jamaica have
been spent far up in the coffee growing areas
of the Blue Mountains where tourist beaches are
a distant prospect and where the air is cool and
clear. Perhaps my favourite place is at the highest
point of the road which goes up through Newcastle
and down to Buff Bay. Beyond Hardware Gap and
before you sweep down to silver Hill is a beautiful,
ever-changing vista over majestic hills ? ever-changing
because the clouds are constantly creating new
shapes and shadows. Sometimes the mist comes down
and blots out the view completely, and then the
magic moment comes when the mist suddenly disperses
and reveals the view once again.
here where the coffee bushes thrive there is a
wonderful range of wild flowers and shrubs not
found at lower levels. The almost over-powering
scent from the wild ginger will stay with me for
many years as will the agapanthus, angels trumpets
the pavements and city streets are far away; there
are few cars and less noise and bustle. This is
a place to contemplate on the wonders of nature
and to refresh one's mind and body for life's
Former United States Ambassador
If you were to ask me to name my favourite place
in Jamaica, there could only be one answer - its
capital city, Kingston. Yes, the beaches are beautiful,
the mountains breathtaking, but anyone who visits
this lovely island and does not see Kingston is
missing an essential and vibrant part of the Jamaican
experience. To a first-time visitor, the sights
and sounds may seem confusing and chaotic; but
Kingston is the pulse of the nation, the center
of commerce, the seat of government, and definitely
not a sleepy backwater. There is the bustle of
downtown: the ships in the harbour, the street
vendors, the lovely Ward Theatre and the superbly
designed Conference Centre. Then there is the
businesslike atmosphere of New Kingston, with
its tall buildings and smartly dressed office
workers. Combine this with a variety of cultural
delights: Devon House, museums, music, theatre
and an impressive array of art galleries and you
will find a metropolis of many moods. You may
even find an oasis of tranquillity in Hope Gardens
or the University Campus at Mona. Without question,
there is a sense of history in the traditions
of government, of academia and in the architecture
of places such as Kings House, Jamaica House,
Spanish Town and Port Royal.
Yet, Kingston is so much more than buildings,
parks and streets. It is the vibrancy of the people
which makes this such a great city. You see it
in the range of artistic expression in the fine
arts, theatre and music, in the world class performances
of Jamaica's excellent athletes, in celebrations
such as Carnival and in the cultural and academic
contributions Jamaicans have made to other countries,
including my own. Tough and voluble, but with
an endurance, warmth and humour that is typically
Jamaican, the creative energy of the people makes
Kingston exciting, sometimes exhausting but never
Former High Commissioner
Canadian High Commission
a challenge! How to pick one favourite place among
so many possibilities. Potential selections abound
from the heights of the Blue Mountains to the
cool depths of the coral reefs under the surrounding
sea. Should it be the sheer sensual beauty of
the mountains, with their extraordinary colours
of plant, flower and bird life; enjoying the touch
of warm, humid air that suddenly cools as a cloud
rolls in; the driving energy of a pelting rain
shower; the heady fragrance of myriad flowers,
damp earth, wild spices; the melodious competition
of birds fiercely singing for control over their
bit of territory; the heavy sweetness of mangoes
hanging from richly laden trees . . .
Or perhaps the north coast, with its rich store
of pleasures for those in search of fun, sun,
and a taste of the rhythm of Jamaica. Or the quieter
pursuits of the south coast; dropping down from
well-tended farms to the gentle expanse of Treasure
Beach, its rolling waves enticing all ages to
try a little body surfing; watching the fishermen
weigh and haggle over the day's catch; sneaking
a swing on the tarzan rope to plunge into the
grotto pool underneath the spectacular YS falls
No wait, what about the cool delight of sinking
into the tranquil depths 'neath the seas, an alien
observer in a silent world, trading stares with
impassive, wise groupers, marveling at the exquisite
organization of coral as their millions cooperate
to create exquisite fans, antlers, tubes . . .
No, better yet . . .
Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany
escape the hustle and bustle of life in the capital
Kingston, I have come to like the quietness of
Port Antonio and its surroundings.
The best vantage point to overlook the beautiful
coastline seems to be the Bonnie View Hotel. The
short ferry trip to Navy Island draws you into
the seclusion and mystique of Errol Flynn's memories.
Frenchman's Cove with its rain forest approach
and picturesque beach reflects the miniature character
of the island's landscape.
The wider space and rough waves of Long Bay have
captured my fascination and whetted my appetite
for the famous Portland jerked pork.
All in all, Jamaica in and of itself is my favorite
Former Japanese Charg' D'Affaires and Counsellor
Embassy of Japan in Jamaica
wife, Misako, and myself have been in the beautiful
island of Jamaica for the past 3 years and it
is very difficult to pinpoint any one place as
being our favourite. We each have special spots
that are dear to our hearts and spots that we
We have travelled the island many times and have
seen the wealth of beauty spots the island has
to offer. Many times we have had the impression
that the scenery here and that in Japan are somewhat
similar. There is a feeling of open friendliness.
For myself, I would say that Port Antonio is my
number one. The breathtakingly beautiful scenery
and quiet atmosphere gives me just what I need
for quiet meditation after a hard week at the
mission. The atmosphere there is one that is so
quaint and I would venture to say is indigenous
to the parish.
My wife is a scuba-diver and so Negril is her
favorite place. She has spent many hours enjoying
the coral reefs and viewing the marine life off
the coast of Negril.
Jointly we would say though that Montego Bay is
a place where we share sentiments. Why . . . Golf,
golf and more golf. The course at the Half Moon
Hotel is so lush and nice, and the world renowned
Tryall Golf Course is one place that we are happy
to have played.
There are so many places and things that we love
about Jamaica, including Blue Mountain Coffee,
reggae music and the people, that when our tour
of duty ends, there will be many happy memories
for us to take back to Japan.
Excerpted from Tour Jamaica by Margaret Morris