Introduction to Jamaica

Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean. It is approximately 150 miles long and 50 miles wide. The Blue Mountains divide large portions of the island, with the highest (Blue Mountain) peak over 4000 meters. Jamaica is famous for it’s Blue Mountain coffee, some of the most expensive coffee in the world.

Jamaica is famous for it’s music, which is known around the world. It is also famous for it’s beautiful beaches and rain forests. The maroon tradition in Jamaica is still very much alive, with famous maroon’s Nanny and Cujo shown on the Jamaican $400 and $50 currencies.

Jamaica is considered the most Africanized of the Caribbean islands. This can be seen in the traditional drumming and other African ceremonies and religions that are still practiced across the island. Throughout rural Jamaica you can still find the traditional wakes, accompanied even today by kumina or dinki mini drumming. The Rastafarian influence is also apparent in Jamaican culture, from it’s Ital dietary beliefs to the nyabinghi drumming and singing, which Bob Marley helped to legitimatize.

While English is spoken in Jamaica, most rural Jamaicans speak Patois. This Jamaican creole is influenced by West African Twi, as well as old English and an assortment of other languages. Most Jamaicans can speak English, but at their homes and with each other, many rural Jamaicans prefer Patois. Patois can be heard in traditional Jamaican folk songs, as well as in modern reggae and dancehall music, which is exporting patois to the world. Beloved Jamaican poet Miss Lou was instrumental in helping to gain acceptance of this Afro-Caribbean creole.

A Brief History of Jamaica

Arawaks from South America had settled in Jamaica prior to Christopher Columbus' first arrival at the island in 1494. During Spain's occupation of the island, starting in 1510, the Arawaks were exterminated by disease, slavery, and war. Spain brought the first African slaves to Jamaica in 1517. In 1655, British forces seized the island, and in 1670, Great Britain gained formal possession.

Sugar made Jamaica one of the most valuable possessions in the world for more than 150 years. The British Parliament abolished slavery as of August 1, 1834. After a long period of direct British colonial rule, Jamaica gained independence in 1962, remaining a member of the Commonwealth. Today Jamaica’s is best known for tourism, on which is relies heavily. It’s greatest exports are bauxite (used to produce aluminum) spices, and bananas.

Study the links to the right for a more detailed history of Jamaica. Be sure to study these cultural materials carefully, as a way of preparing for your work in Jamaica, and as a sign of respect for our Jamaican hosts. A knowledge of Jamaica and it’s history will help you get the most from your experience.

Jamaican Culture and History