Jamaica in the Past and in the Present

A link to the past in the present, Jamaica is known for its proud culture, shaped by history and economy

Photo credit: © Ken Clark

An intriguing cultural heritage defines the spirited people of Jamaica, a place Columbus is said to have called, "the fairest isle mine eyes ever beheld." But peace would be rare after Columbus feasted his eyes on this fair isle.

Jamaica is located 90 miles south of Cuba, and has a total area of 4,213 square miles.  This makes it the largest island in the Commonwealth Caribbean.  Jamaica arose from the sea millions of years ago as a result of volcanic activity, and has a terrain comprised of high mountains, low valleys, and coastal plains.


From the relative calm of its early Arawak inhabitants to the slavery and revolt brought on by the Spanish and British, no group who touched Jamaica's shores left without leaving an indelible print on the country's fabric. You can still see the influence of the past today, all over the island and in its people. 

Some may argue that Jamaica's struggles began after the Great Depression, when Marcus Garvey spoke out about Black Nationalism, but political strife can be traced back to many years before when slavery was introduced to the island.  After years of poor treatment, island slaves began to fight back, taking strength from the knowledge that the French and American revolutions had been successful.  Jamaica saw more slave uprisings than any other island in the Caribbean, and emancipation was finally granted in 1834.   You can learn more about the history of Jamaica by clicking here


People from around the globe have settled in Jamaica over the years, making it a true melting pot.  From English colonist to Africans who were originally forced to the island as slaves, and even the most resent influx of West Indian immigrants, the blend of so many different cultures has made the island of Jamaica a truly dynamic locale.  The island's language is a great way to see how much each different culture has effected the island's own.  While the official language is English, dialects with African, Spanish, and European lilts showcase the melding of languages from around the world. 

Music is a hugely important part of Jamaican culture.  It is hard to think of Jamaica without immediately equating the island to reggae music, though many other forms such as traditional African dance and dancehall are popular means of expression as well.  Another association that most foreigners make with Jamaica is the island's huge Rastafarian following.  Rastafari focuses on the cultivation of the inner spirit, and is well-known for its use of marijuana for spiritual an medicinal purposes.  What many people don't know is that a large number of other religions have their home in Jamaica, including Judaism, Hindi, Muslims, Bahai, and various Christian sects.


...a pleasure and health retreat...


The political and social history of the island is closely tied to the economy, which has had a very shaky past. Once the world's largest producer of sugar, Jamaica had endured slave revolts and racial inequality while plantation owners prospered off the fruits of the land and the backs of the workers. Economic depression followed emancipation, and political splits and gang warfare peppered the 20th century, but Jamaica has kept itself afloat with banana and bauxite exports and tourism.

Jamaica has been marketing itself to the outside world as a pleasure and health retreat since the 1890s, and tourism has been a major industry since even before that time.  Today, over 26 thousand guest rooms at numerous hotels accommodate well over one million vacationers each year during the tourist season alone, and new rooms are popping up every year.  Tourism is such a major industry in Jamaica that one in four residents works directly in the industry.

Despite intense political strife and racial divide, the people of Jamaica have maintained the relaxed attitude for which the Caribbean is famous. Jamaicans are proud of who they are and pride themselves on their native culture. When you visit Jamaica, you will understand the complexity and the joy of the local spirit, which embraces its past through expressions such as music, dance, and joyful celebrations.


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