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Jamaicamarker, the third largest Caribbeanmarker island, was inhabited by Arawak natives. When Christopher Columbus arrived at the island, he claimed the land for Spainmarker. Still, it was not truly colonized until after his death. But only a few decades after Columbus' death almost all Arawaks were exterminated . Spain held the island against many buccaneer raids at the main city, which is now called Spanish Townmarker. Eventually England claimed the island in a raid, but the Spanish did not relinquish their claim to the island until 1670.

Jamaica became a base of operations for buccaneers, including Captain Henry Morgan. In return these buccaneers kept the other colonial powers from attacking the island. Africans were captured, kidnapped, and forced into slavery to work on plantations when sugarcane became the most important export on the island.

Many slaves arrived in Jamaica via the Atlantic slave trade during the same time enslaved Africans arrived in North America. During this time there were many racial tensions, and Jamaica had one of the highest instances of slave uprisings of any Caribbeanmarker island. After the British crown abolished slavery, the Jamaicans began working toward independence. Since independence there have been political and economic disturbances, as well as a number of strong political leaders.

Prehistory and European discovery

Tainos from South America had settled in Jamaicamarker at around 1,000 BC and called the land Xamayca, meaning "a land of wood and water". After Christopher Columbus' arrival in 1494, Spainmarker claimed the island and began occupation in 1509, naming the island Santiago (St. James). The Arawaks were exterminated by the Spanish. Some also committed suicide, presumably to escape. Spain brought the first slaves to Jamaica in 1517.

On Jamaica one outspoken man, Bartolomé de Las Casas, worked for the protection of the Taino population. It was also he who suggested, and later came to regret, the importation of slaves from Africa. De Las Casas was a Spanishmarker priest, and wrote several books about the poor treatment of the natives by Spanish conquistadors. He believed that the Spanish should work to convert the Tainos to Christianity.

Spanish rule

The settlers later moved to Villa de la Vega, now called Spanish Townmarker. This settlement became the capital of Jamaicamarker. By the 1640s many people were attracted to Jamaica, which had a reputation for stunning beauty, not only when referring to the island but also to the natives. In fact, pirates were known to desert their raiding parties and stay on the island. For 100 years between 1555 and 1655 Spanish Jamaica was subject to many pirate attacks, the final attack left the island in the hands of the English. The English were also subject to pirate raids after they began their occupation of the island.

The 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia states, "A review of the period of Spanish occupation is one which reflects very little credit on Spanish colonial administration in those days. Their treatment of the aboriginal inhabitants, whom they are accused of having practically exterminated, is a grave charge, and if true, cannot be condoned on the plea that such conduct was characteristic of the age, and that as bad or worse was perpetrated by other nations even in later years." This is borne out by the much more detailed history of Spanish Jamaica by Francisco Morales Padrón.

British rule

A depiction of daily life in Jamaica from the early nineteenth century.
Watercolor, ink, and pencil.
Created beteween 1808 and 1816.
The cultivation of sugar cane and coffee by African slave labour made Jamaica one of the most valuable possessions in the world for more than 150 years. The colony's slaves, who vastly outnumbered their white masters by a ratio of 20:1 in 1800, mounted over a dozen major slave conspiracies and uprisings throughout much of the 18th century, including Tacky's revolt in 1760. Escaped slaves known as Maroon established independent communities in the mountainous interior that the British were unable to inhabit, despite major attempts in the 1730s and 1790s; one Maroon community was expelled from the island after the Second Maroon War in the 1790s and those Maroons eventually became part of the core of the Creole community of Sierra Leonemarker. The colonial government enlisted the Maroons in capturing escaped plantation slaves. The British also used Jamaica's free people of color, 10,000 strong by 1800, to keep the enslaved population in check. During the Christmas holiday of 1831, a large scale slave revolt known as the Baptist War broke. It was organised originally as a peaceful strike by Samuel Sharp. The rebellion was suppressed by the militia of the Jamaican plantocracy and the British garrison ten days later in early 1832.

Because the loss of property and life in the 1831 rebellion, the British Parliament held two inquiries. The results of these inquiries contributed greatly to the abolition of slavery as of August 1, 1834 throughout the British Empire. However the Jamaican slaves remained bound to their former owners' service, albeit with a guarantee of rights, until 1838 under what was called the Apprenticeship System. The freed population still faced significant hardships, marked by the October 1865 Morant Bay rebellion led by George William Gordon and Paul Bogle. It was brutally repressed. The sugar crop was declining in importance in the late 19th century and the colony diversified into bananas.

In 1872 the capital was moved to Kingston, as the port city had far outstripped the inland Spanish Town in size and sophistication.

In 1866 the Jamaican legislature renounced its powers, and the country became a crown colony. Some measure of self-government was restored in the 1880s, when islanders gained the right to elect nine members of a legislative council.

The establishment of Crown Colony rule resulted over the next few decades in the growth of a middle class of low-level public officials and police officers drawn from the mass of the population whose social and political advancement was blocked by the colonial authorities.

The Great Depression had a serious impact both on the emergent middle class and the working class of the 1930s. In the spring of 1938 sugar and dock workers around the island rose in revolt. Although the revolt was suppressed it led to significant changes including the emergence of an organized labour movement and a competitive party system.

Independent Jamaica

Jamaica gained a degree of local political control in the mid-1940s. The People's National Party (PNP) was founded in 1938. Its main rival, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) was established five years later. The first elections under universal adult suffrage were held in 1944. Jamaica joined nine other UK territories in the Federation of the West Indies in 1958 but withdrew after Jamaican voters rejected membership in 1961. Jamaica gained independence on August 6, 1962, remaining a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The first prime minister was Alexander Bustamante of the Jamaica Labour Party.

Initially, power swapped between the People's National Party and the Jamaican Labour Party regularly. Michael Manley was the first PNP prime minister in 1972 and he introduced socialist policies and relations with Cuba. His second term elections marked the start of repeated political violence. When the PNP lost power in 1980 Edward Seaga immediately began to reverse the policies of his predecessor, bringing in privatization and seeking closer ties with the USA. When the PNP and Manley returned to power in 1989 they continued the more moderate policies and were returned in the elections of 1993 and 1998. Manley resigned for health reasons in 1992 and was succeeded as leader of the PNP by Percival Patterson.

Historically, Jamaican emigration has been heavy. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Jamaicans migrated to Central America, Cubamarker, and the Dominican Republicmarker to work in the banana and canefields. In the 1950s the primary destination was to the United Kingdommarker; but since the United Kingdom restricted emigration in 1962, major flow has been to the United Statesmarker. The heaviest flow of emigration particularly to New Yorkmarker, and Miamimarker occurred during the 1990s and continues to the present day due to high levels of violence, drugs, and gang warfare which is hampering Jamaica. About 20,000 Jamaicans emigrate to the United States each year; another 200,000 visit annually. New York, Miami, and Fort Lauderdalemarker are among the U.S. cities with the largest Jamaican population. In New York, over half of Jamaican expatriates reside in Brooklyn. Remittances from the expatriate communities in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canadamarker make increasingly significant contributions to Jamaica's economy.


  • Black, Clinton V. 1983. The Story of Jamaica. London: Collins Educational.
  • Ledgister, F.S.J. 1998. Class Alliances and the Liberal-Authoritarian State: The Roots of Post-Colonial Democracy in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Surinam. Trenton: Africa World Press.
  • Morales Padrón, Francisco. 1953 2003. Spanish Jamaica. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers.
  • Williams, Eric. 1964. British Historians and the West Indies. P.N.M. Publishing Company, Port-of-Spain.
  • Sawh, Gobin, Ed. 1992. The Canadian Caribbean Connection: Bridging North and South: History, Influences, Lifestyles. Carindo Cultural Assoc., Halifax.
History of the African JamaicansDuring some serious times on the continent of Africa, turmoil occurred between the tribes of Western African (who received compensation from European Slave Traders for each person they captured)and the Jews of Eastern Africa. The Jews were hunted and round up with guns given to the capturers by the Slave Traders. Some were killed, others afraid to be killed by the new weapons simply surrendered. They were taken to Accra in nowadays Ghana and was shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to Port Royal, Jamaica to be sold to Slave Merchants. The Slave Merchants then would transport the slaves to their final destination around the Caribbean & the U.S. Colonies, where they work without wages for more than 300 years. Still, more than half jumped overboard in the ocean prior to reaching the new land.

The Maroons: A tribe from Central Africa (Ashanti Tribe)that were brought to Jamaica. Upon their arrival to the new land, they formed an alliance with the other slaves. Together they rebelled against the traders and escaped slavery. They formed a colony in the hills around the Blue Mountains, called Maroon Town. The Maroons formed armies that patrolled the woodlands, keeping Maroon Town safe from Europeans, Mercenaries and other invaders. Maroon Town today, is still considered a separate nation within Jamaica. They kept their African traditions and customs even until today. The most famous of the Maroons is Nanny, a woman who actually fought many of the oppressors by ambush and is now a Jamaican National Hero.The Birth of Ras Tafari:
Ras Tafari Makonnen was born July 23, 1892. Rastafari is a movement which originated in Jamaica and other Caribbean Islands when the Ras Tafari Makonnen was born July 23, 1892. The movement have spread from a few Blackheart men (so they were called in those days), to millions around the world today including the United States, Japan, Israel, Germany, the entire Caribbean to name a few. These people are mainly Vegan (vegetarians who do not eat any flesh) and uses Marijuana as a Spiritual Sacrament. They also grow their locks as according to the order of separation given by Moses in the book of Numbers (Chapter 6). In the early days, Rastafarians (so they are called by other Religious groups) were harassed, beaten, jailed and subjected to cutting their locks by the authorities in Jamaica. They were treated cruelly and treated as outcasts of the society who couldn’t understand the practice of growing locks. They then, relocated to the hilly regions of the country to escape the discrimination of their spiritual practices. Today, Rasta people are highly respected in music, nutrition and alternative medicine, being that they are usually in good health and are great musicians with political & spiritual contents in their music.
The Salomonic Dynasty of Horn of Africa through King Salomon & Queen of Sheba started upon her departure from Israel. The two married and had a son by the name of Menelik, the first Davideon King of the region. The tradition continued up until 1976 when the King H.I.M. Haile Selassie the first removed himself from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, after making an announcement during a coup attempt to overthrow the Ethiopian Monarchy. The announcement state the, "...if this revolution is the people’s choice he will gladly step out of the way for the progress of the Ethiopian people..." He then went into exile at an unknown location. Some claims stated that he was killed by mercenaries; others claim that he moved to London and changed his name, some say that they have proof that he moved to Axum, the spiritual center of Ethiopia and is now a priest and a guardian of the Holy Sanctuary where the Ark of the Covenant is kept. I don't know which is true, but since they could come up with a burial site for the king, I a deep feeling that he could very much be alive and among us. The Bible says of Christ, he came to his own and they received him not. Could he have come to the Ethiopians and they didn't recognize his importance.

Prior to all that, on November 2, 1930, Ras(prince) Tafari Makonnen was visited by leaders & statesmen from 72 leading nations including the U.S. and at the time Princess Elizabeth (now Queen of the Brits). They all came to witness crowning of Ras Tafari Makonnen as King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Lion of Judah. He also was renamed Haile Selassie I (English translation: the power of the Trinity) that same day along with his wife who was titled Empress Menen. He visited most of the countries throughout the world on Official State Visits including a massive turn out in Washington D.C. to meet with President Kennedy (who was highly criticized for the invite by a young politician named Ronald Reagan, later to become president) and a few weeks later the news flashed around the world about the assassination of the U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Was the king’s visit the trigger that skeptics or extremists (Lee Harvey Oswald) have been waiting on to carry out the killing of the president? Hmm… The fact still remains that he was killed after the visit of H.I.M. Haile Selassie I and also after young Ronald Reagan’s speech at the Republican Convention that year.

sources: family stories from my family in Jamaica, no actual article or reference.


Further reading

  • Michener, James, A. 1989. Caribbean. Secker & Warburg. London. ISBN 0-436-27971-1 (Especially Chap. XI. "Martial Law in Jamaica", pp. 403-442. Semi-fictional but mainly accurate).
  • Kurlansky, Mark. 1992. A Continent of Islands: Searching for the Caribbean Destiny. Addison-Wesley Publishing. ISBN 0-201-52396-5.
  • Barringer, Tim., Forrester, Gillian. and Martinez-Ruiz, Barbaro. 2007. Art and Empancipation in Jamaica: Isaac Mendes Belisario and His Worlds. Yale University Press. New Haven and London. ISBN 978-0-300-11661-8

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