Jamaica: Out of Many One People
My expedition ended abruptly on January 31st. The end was not COVID or health-related. I will write about the experience in more detail next week. Although we did not visit Jamaica as planned on this trip, we have visited this beautiful island over 40 times. My comments below reflect my research, many of my photos, and my experiences on earlier visits.
Jamaica is the largest English-speaking Caribbean Island and the fourth largest island in the Caribbean, following Cuba, Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and Puerto Rico.
Jamaica is one of the islands of the West Indies. The region’s name, West Indies, was given by Columbus, who, on his earlier trip across the Atlantic landing in the Bahamas, thought he had landed in India. The island had been named Xaymaca by Cubans, who also called it “the land of blessed gold”.
Columbus arrived in Jamaica in 1494 on his second voyage. He was met by the indigenous Arawak (also known as Tainos) with hostility. As with other islands, most indigenous people were enslaved by Columbus and later by the Spaniards during the conquests. They were worked so hard and so ill-treated and contaminated by European diseases they all died.
Spain did not support the settlers to their satisfaction. This created internal conflicts leaving the island ripe for the British to attack in 1655. The Spaniards nor the British found gold on the island, however, Jamaica became a haven for pirates.
Although the movie series and Disney attraction Pirates of the Caribbean romanticized pirates, they were lawless and brutal. Privateers (sea raiders with a government license to pillage enemy ships), and warship crew, became pirates to steal the gold and silver from ships headed to Europe. Between 1492-1830, 250,000,000 pounds of gold and silver were stolen from Central America and South America to enrich the rulers who financed the voyages. Port Royal became known as the wealthiest and the wickedest city in the world.
Jamaican beer and popular foods- jerk chicken, ox tails, meat patties
The first inhabitants of Jamaica are believed to have arrived about 600 CE from islands to the east. They were known as Redware people because little is known about them other than the red pottery discovered centuries later. The Arawaks arrived about 800 CE.
As an ethnically diverse country, Jamaica’s 3 million people are of African, European, East Indian, and Chinese heritage. Patwa, an English-based creole dialect is the primary spoken language among Jamaicans, however “traditional” British/US English is used when speaking to non-Jamaicans.
Europe and Africa are the primary influencers of Jamaica’s culture. Foods, drumming, rhythms of music and dance, and traditional medicine reflect an African influence, while Europe influences public institutions, Christian worship, and business.
The Rastafari religion and political movement began in Jamaica in the 1930s. Those who practice this faith are called Rastas. Wearing long hair in its locked natural uncombed state, although part of the religion, has become a style among Black people around the world whether they practice Rastafari or not.
Jamaicans do not differentiate by ethnicity how they refer to each other. You will not likely hear anyone say, “She is a Black Jamaican, or he is a Chinese Jamaican.” However, it saddens me to report that colorism is alive and well within the Jamaican culture. The higher the level of the professional position, generally the lighter the incumbent’s skin. (I have observed this bias in almost all of the over 40 countries I have visited.)
Slave Owners | the Enslaved | Invaders
Spaniards enslaved many Arawaks and were the first to introduce enslaved Africans to Jamaica. Pirates also enslaved people of various ethnicities. British Admiral Sir William Penn, and General Robert Venables captured Jamaica and expelled the Spanish.
The Royal African Company was formed in 1672 with a monopoly of the British slave trade, and from that time Jamaica became one of the world’s busiest slave markets, with a thriving smuggling trade to Spanish America. The English settlers focused on growing crops that could easily be exported to England. Tobacco, indigo, and cocoa soon gave way to sugar which became the main crop for the island. The sugar industry grew so rapidly that the 57 sugar estates on the island in 1673 grew to nearly 430 by 1739.
Slavery thrived but not without a fight. At one point, enslaved Africans outnumbered Europeans 5 to 1. During the 18th century, slavery grew to 300,000.
Escaped African and Amerindian slaves, known as Maroons, settled inland and cultivated the land as early as 1655. They raided plantations and harassed owners. Nanny Town and other villages fought for independent recognition.
Maroon communities emerged across the Caribbean, but none were as great a threat to the British as the Jamaican Maroons.
Today, the four official Maroon towns still in existence in Jamaica are Accompong Town, Moore Town, Charles Town and Scott's Hall. They hold lands allotted to them in the 1739–1740 treaties with the British.
Join me next week to learn about Aruba and how this four-month expedition turned into a two-week voyage.