Jamaica 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:
June too soon
August come it must
October all over
The last hurricane to hit the island was the savage Gilbert in September
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.
In 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.
During 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, lovely cricket."
The 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.
In 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.
In 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 left. Maroon land is held in common and they are not required to pay taxes.
The 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.
It 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.
The 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 is non-existent.
MY FAVOURITE PLACE IN JAMAICA
RT. Hon. P.J. Patterson
Prime Minister of Jamaica
To 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
Each 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 different vista.
How 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.
High 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 waves.
In 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 with nature.
Needless to say, it is off the beaten track. Its name - Content.
Rt. Hon. Edward Seaga
Leader of the Opposition
Former British High Commissioner, 1989-1995
Some 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
Up 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 and eucalyptus.
Here 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 daily exigencies.
J. Gary Cooper
United States Ambassador
Kathryn Hewlett- Jobes
Former High Commissioner
Canadian High Commission
Dr. Wilfried Bolewski
Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany
Japanese Charg' D'Affaires and Counsellor 1992-95
Embassy of Japan in Jamaica
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