GEOGRAPHY OF JAMAICA
The islands of the Caribbean look like stepping stones stretching in
an arc from the western end of Venezuela in South America to the peninsula
of Florida in North America. The Caribbean islands are divided into two
The Greater Antilles: Forming the
northern part of the arc are four large islands, Cuba, Hispaniola (made
up of Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Jamaica and Puerto Rico.
The Lesser Antilles: The eastern end
of the arc consists of the smaller islands which together form the Lesser
Antilles. These include the West Indian islands of St. Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla,
Antigua, Montserrat (this group is called the Leeward Islands), Grenada,
St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Dominica (This group is called the Windward Islands),
Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and the French islands of Martinique and
The islands vary widely in size, ranging from Cuba and Hispaniola, by
far the largest, to the tiny islands of the Grenadines. Those which have
English as their official language and are members of the Commonwealth
are usually referred to as the West Indies.
The body of water bounded by these islands and the northern coast of
South America is the Caribbean Sea
Almost at the centre of the Caribbean Sea, Jamaica lies 150 kilometres
(90 miles) south of Cuba and 160 kilometres (100 miles) west of Haiti,
the two nearest countries. The closest point to Jamaica in South America
is Cartagena in Colombia, a distance of 710 kilometres (445 miles) almost
due south The latitude and longitude of the capital, Kingston, are about
18 degrees N and 78 degrees W.
Jamaica is the largest of the English Speaking West Indian islands. It
has an area of 11,424 square kilometres (4,411 square miles), more than
twice the area of Trinidad, which is next in size, and measures 243 kilometres
(146 miles) from east to west. Its greatest width is 80 kilometres (51
miles), from St. Ann's Bay to Portland Point. The distance from Kingston
to the nearest point on the north coast, Annotto Bay, is 36 kilometres
Jamaica is centrally situated in the Caribbean Zone. It lies on the direct
sea routes from the United States of America and Europe to the Panama Canal.
ORIGIN OF THE ISLAND
Jamaica belongs to the Central American region of the
Western Hemisphere. The West Indian islands are actually the summits of
a submarine range of mountains which in prehistoric times perhaps formed
one large land mass connecting Central America to Venezuela in South America.
During the ages, vast changes took place in this region of the earth's
crust. The land subsided beneath the sea. When it rose again only the highest
parts of it appeared above the surface of the sea. These formed the Caribbean
islands, which have remained separate and distinct islands ever since.
A close examination of the structure of the islands shows that there is
a single mountain range in Puerto Rico which may be regarded as the centre
of the submarine system. This range runs into Haiti, where it divides into
three separate branches connected by submarine ridges. The northern branch
passes through the north of Cuba as the Organos Mountains, and then into
the Peninsula of Yucatan. The central branch passes into southern Cuba
as the Sierra Maestra and continues under the sea into Central America.
The south range passes through Jamaica, forming the Blue Mountains, the
central mountain range of the island, and continues into Honduras.
East of Puerto Rico the main chain divides itself, forming an inner chain
and an outer chain of islands. The inner chain includes St. Lucia, St.
Vincent and Grenada. The other chain can be traced through the Virgin Islands,
Antigua, Barbados, Tobago and northern Trinidad, continuing into the South
American Continent as the coastal mountains of Venezuela.
Christopher Columbus's thoughts as he first set eyes
on Jamaica while his fleet steered for St. Ann's Bay on his second voyage
of discovery to the New World in 1494, are com-municated to us by the Spanish
historian Andres Bernaldez in the following description:
"It is the fairest island eyes have beheld; mountainous and the land
seems to touch the sky; very large; bigger than Sicily, has a circumference
of 800 leagues (I mean miles), and all full of valleys and fields and plains;
it is very strong and extraordinarily populous; even on the edge of the
sea as well as inland it is full of very big villages, very near together,
about four leagues apart."
Bernaldez, of course, grossly exaggerated the circumference of the island,
which is about 740 kilometres (460 miles); and our mountains do not seem
to touch the sky. But although the face of the island has been changed
to some degree since then, particularly by the work of man, this description
of the island's natural beauty is not unjustified today.
The student of geography will find, nevertheless, that when temperature,
soil, vegetation, structure and natural resources are taken into consideration,
this semi-tropical island is, from a purely geographical standpoint, an
excellent habitation for human beings.