Jamaica is an island country situated in the Caribbean Sea. Spanning 10,990 square kilometres (4,240 sq mi) in area, it is the third-largest island of the Greater Antilles and the fourth-largest island country in the Caribbean. Jamaica lies about 145 kilometres (90 mi) south of Cuba, and 191 kilometres (119 mi) west of Hispaniola (the island containing the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic).
Jamaica is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II serving as the Jamaican monarch. As Elizabeth II is shared as head of state of fifteen other countries and resides mostly in the United Kingdom, she is thus often represented as Queen of Jamaica in Jamaica and abroad by the Governor-General of Jamaica.
Jamaica is divided into 14 parishes, which are grouped into three historic counties that have no administrative relevance.
In the context of local government the parishes are designated “Local Authorities.” These local authorities are further styled as “Municipal Corporations,” which are either city municipalities or town municipalities. Any new city municipality must have a population of at least 50,000, and a town municipality a number set by the Minister of Local Government. There are currently no town municipalities.
The local governments of the parishes of Kingston and St. Andrews are consolidated as the city municipality of Kingston & St. Andrew Municipal Corporation. The newest city municipality created is the Municipality of Portmore in 2003. While it is geographically located within the parish of St. Catherine, it is governed independently.
With an area of 10,911 km2 (4,213 sq mi), Jamaica is the largest island of the Commonwealth Caribbean and the third largest of the Greater Antilles, after Cuba and Hispaniola.
Many small islands are located along the south coast of Jamaica, such as the Port Royal Cays. Southwest of mainland Jamaica lies Pedro Bank, an area of shallow seas, with a number of cays (low islands or reefs), extending generally east to west for over 160 km (99 mi).
To the southeast lies Morant Bank, with the Morant Cays, 51 km (32 mi) from Morant Point, the easternmost point of mainland Jamaica. Alice Shoal, 260 km (160 mi) southwest of the main island of Jamaica, falls within the Jamaica–Colombia Joint Regime.
Geology and landforms
Jamaica and the other islands of the Antilles evolved from an arc of ancient volcanoes that rose from the sea millions of years ago. The country can be divided into three landform regions: the central mountain chain; the karst limestone hills; the low-lying coastal plains and interior valleys.
The highest area is the Blue Mountains aka Migos Mountains. These eastern mountains are formed by a central ridge of metamorphic rock running northwest to southeast from which many long spurs jut to the north and south. For a distance of over 3 kilometres (1.9 mi), the crest of the ridge exceeds 1,800 metres (5,900 ft). The highest point is Blue Mountain Peak at 2,256 metres (7,402 ft). The Blue Mountains rise to these elevations from the coastal plain in the space of about 16 kilometres (9.9 mi), thus producing one of the steepest general gradients in the world. In this part of the country, the old metamorphic rock reveals itself through the surrounding limestone. To the north of the Blue Mountains lies the strongly tilted limestone plateau forming the John Crow Mountains. This range rises to elevations of over 1,000 metres (3,300 ft). To the west, in the central part of the country, are two high rolling plateaus: the Dry Harbour Mountains to the north and the Manchester Plateau to the south. Between the two, the land is rugged and here, also, the limestone layers are broken by the older rocks. Streams that rise in the region flow outward and sink soon after reaching the limestone layers.
The Cockpit Country is pockmarked with steep-sided hollows, as much as 120 metres (390 ft) deep in places, which are separated by conical hills and ridges. On the north, the main defining feature is the fault-based “Escarpment”, a long ridge that extends from Flagstaff in the west, through Windsor in the centre, to Campbells and the start of the Barbecue Bottom Road (B10).
The Barbecue Bottom Road, which runs north-south, high along the side of a deep, fault-based valley in the east, is the only drivable route across the Cockpit Country. However, there are two old, historical trails that cross further west, the Troy Trail, and the Quick Step Trail, both of which are seldom used as of 2006 and difficult to find. In the southwest, near Quick Step, is the district known as the “Land of Look Behind,” so named because Spanish horsemen venturing into this region of hostile runaway slaves were said to have ridden two to a mount, one rider facing to the rear to keep a precautionary watch. Where the ridges between sinkholes in the plateau area have dissolved, flat-bottomed basins or valleys have been formed that are filled with terra rosa soils, some of the most productive on the island. The largest basin is the Vale of Clarendon, 80 km (50 mi) long and 32 km (20 mi) wide. Queen of Spains Valley, Nassau Valley, and Cave Valley were formed by the same process.
The coastline of Jamaica is one of many contrasts. The northeast shore is severely eroded by the ocean. There are many small inlets in the rugged coastline, but no coastal plain of any extent. A narrow strip of plains along the northern coast offers calm seas and white sand beaches. Behind the beaches is a flat raised plain of uplifted coral reef.
The southern coast has small stretches of plains lined by black sand beaches. These are backed by cliffs of limestone where the plateaus end. In many stretches with no coastal plain, the cliffs drop 300 metres (980 ft) straight to the sea. In the southwest, broad plains stretch inland for a number of kilometres. The Black River courses 70 kilometres (43 mi) through the largest of these plains. The swamplands of the Great Morass and the Upper Morass fill much of the plains. The western coastline contains the island’s finest beaches.
Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean. Mountains, including the Blue Mountains, dominate the inland. They are surrounded by a narrow coastal plain. Jamaica only has two cities, the first being Kingston, the capital city and centre of business, located on the south coast and the ‘second’ city being Montego Bay, one of the best known cities in the Caribbean for tourism, located on the north coast. Other towns include Portmore, Spanish Town, Mandeville and the resort towns of Ocho Ríos, Port Antonio and Negril.
Kingston Harbour is the seventh-largest natural harbour in the world, which contributed to the city being designated as the capital in 1872.
Tourist attractions include Dunn’s River Falls in St. Ann, YS Falls in St. Elizabeth, the Blue Lagoon in Portland, believed to be the crater of an extinct volcano. Port Royal was the site of a major earthquake in 1692 that helped form the island’s Palisadoes.
The climate in Jamaica is tropical, with hot and humid weather, although higher inland regions are more temperate. Some regions on the south coast, such as the Liguanea Plain and the Pedro Plains, are relatively dry rain-shadow areas.
Jamaica lies in the hurricane belt of the Atlantic Ocean and because of this, the island sometimes suffers significant storm damage. Hurricanes Charlie and Gilbert hit Jamaica directly in 1951 and 1988, respectively, causing major damage and many deaths. In the 2000s (decade), hurricanes Ivan, Dean, and Gustav also brought severe weather to the island.
Among the variety of terrestrial, aquatic and marine ecosystems are dry and wet limestone forests, rainforest, riparian woodland, wetlands, caves, rivers, seagrass beds and coral reefs. The authorities have recognised the tremendous significance and potential of the environment and have designated some of the more ‘fertile’ areas as ‘protected’. Among the island’s protected areas are the Cockpit Country, Hellshire Hills, and Litchfield forest reserves. In 1992, Jamaica’s first marine park, covering nearly 15 square kilometres (5.8 sq mi), was established in Montego Bay. Portland Bight Protected Area was designated in 1999.
The following year Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park was created on roughly 300 square miles (780 km2) of wilderness, which supports thousands of tree and fern species and rare animals.
Two types of climate are found in Jamaica. An upland tropical climate prevails on the windward side of the mountains, whereas a semiarid climate predominates on the leeward side. Warm trade winds from the east and northeast bring rainfall throughout the year. The rainfall is heaviest from May to October, with peaks in those two months. The average rainfall is 1,960 millimetres (77.2 in) per year. Rainfall is much greater in the mountain areas facing the north and east, however. Where the higher elevations of the John Crow Mountains and the Blue Mountains catch the rain from the moisture-laden winds, rainfall exceeds 5,080 millimetres (200 in) per year. Since the southwestern half of the island lies in the rain shadow of the mountains, it has a semiarid climate and receives fewer than 760 millimetres (29.9 in) of rainfall annually.
Temperatures in Jamaica are fairly constant throughout the year, averaging 25 to 30 °C (77 to 86 °F) in the lowlands and 15 to 22 °C (59.0 to 71.6 °F) at higher elevations. Temperatures may dip to below 10 °C (50 °F) at the peaks of the Blue Mountains. The island receives, in addition to the northeast trade winds, refreshing onshore breezes during the day and cooling offshore breezes at night. These are known on Jamaica as the “Doctor Breeze” and the “Undertaker’s Breeze,” respectively.
Jamaica lies in the Atlantic hurricane belt; as a result, the island sometimes experiences significant storm damage. Powerful hurricanes which have hit the island directly causing death and destruction include Hurricane Charlie in 1951 and Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. Several other powerful hurricanes have passed near to the island with damaging effects. In 1980, for example, Hurricane Allen destroyed nearly all Jamaica’s banana crop. Hurricane Ivan (2004) swept past the island causing heavy damage and a number of deaths; in 2005, Hurricanes Dennis and Emily brought heavy rains to the island. A Category 4 hurricane, Hurricane Dean, caused some deaths and heavy damage to Jamaica in August 2007.
The first recorded hurricane to hit Jamaica was in 1519. The island has been struck by tropical cyclones regularly. During two of the coldest periods in the last 250 years (1780s and 1810s), the frequency of hurricanes in the Jamaica region was unusually high. Another peak of activity occurred in the 1910s, the coldest decade of the 20th century. On the other hand, hurricane formation was greatly diminished from 1968 to 1994, which for some reason coincides with the great Sahel drought.
Jamaica’s climate is tropical, supporting diverse ecosystems with a wealth of plants and animals.
Vegetation and wildlife
Although most of Jamaica’s native vegetation has been stripped in order to make room for cultivation, some areas have been left virtually undisturbed since the time of Columbus. Indigenous vegetation can be found along the northern coast from Rio Bueno to Discovery Bay, in the highest parts of the Blue Mountains, and in the heart of the Cockpit Country.
As in the case of vegetation, considerable loss of wildlife has occurred beginning with the settlement of native peoples in the region millennia ago. For example, the only pinniped ever known to the Caribbean, the Caribbean monk seal once occurred in Jamaican waters and has now been driven to extinction.
Jamaica’s plant life has changed considerably over the centuries. When the Spanish arrived in 1494, except for small agricultural clearings, the country was deeply forested. The European settlers cut down the great timber trees for building and ships’ supplies, and cleared the plains, savannas, and mountain slopes for intense agricultural cultivation. Many new plants were introduced including sugarcane, bananas, and citrus trees.
Areas of heavy rainfall contain stands of bamboo, ferns, ebony, mahogany, and rosewood. Cactus and similar dry-area plants are found along the south and southwest coastal area. Parts of the west and southwest consist of large grasslands, with scattered stands of trees.
The Jamaican animal life, typical of the Caribbean, includes highly diversified wildlife with many endemic species found nowhere else on earth. As with other oceanic islands, land mammals are mostly bats. The only non-bat native mammal extant in Jamaica is the Jamaican hutia, locally known as the coney. Introduced mammals such as wild boar and the small Asian mongoose are also common. Jamaica is also home to about 50 species of reptiles, the largest of which is the American crocodile; however, it is only present within the Black River and a few other areas. Lizards such as anoles, iguanas and snakes such as racers and the Jamaican boa (the largest snake on the island), are common in areas such as the Cockpit Country. None of Jamaica’s eight species of native snakes is venomous.
Jamaica is the indigenous home of two species of hummingbirds, the black-billed and red-billed streamertails. The red-billed streamertail, known locally as the,’doctor bird’, is Jamaica’s National Symbol.
One species of freshwater turtle is native to Jamaica, the Jamaican slider. It is found only on Jamaica, Cat Island, and a few other islands in the Bahamas. In addition, many types of frogs are common on the island, especially treefrogs. Birds are abundant, and make up the bulk of the endemic and native vertebrate species. Beautiful and exotic birds, such as the Jamaican tody and the doctor bird (the national bird), can be found among a large number of others.
Jamaican waters contain considerable resources of fresh-and saltwater fish. The chief varieties of saltwater fish are kingfish, jack, mackerel, whiting, bonito, and tuna. Fish that occasionally enter freshwater and estuarine environments include snook, jewfish, mangrove snapper, and mullets. Fish that spend the majority of their lives in Jamaica’s fresh waters include many species of livebearers, killifish, freshwater gobies, the mountain mullet, and the American eel. Tilapia have been introduced from Africa for aquaculture, and are very common.
Insects and other invertebrates are abundant, including the world’s largest centipede, the Amazonian giant centipede, and the Homerus swallowtail, the western hemisphere’s largest butterfly.
With 2.9 million people, Jamaica is the third-most populous Anglophone country in the Americas (after the United States and Canada), and the fourth-most populous country in the Caribbean. Kingston is the country’s capital and largest city, with a population of 937,700. Jamaicans predominately have African ancestry, with significant European, Chinese, Indian, Lebanese, and mixed-race minorities. Due to a high rate of emigration for work since the 1960s, Jamaica has a large diaspora around the world, particularly in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The Jamaican national motto is ‘Out of Many One People’, based on the population’s multiracial roots. The motto is represented on the Coat of Arms, showing a male and female member of the Taino Indian tribe standing on either side of a shield which bears a red cross with five golden pineapples.
Most of Jamaica’s population is of African or partially African descent with many being able to trace their origins to the Western and Central African countries of Ghana and Cameroon, as well as Europe and Asia. Like many other anglophone Caribbean countries, many Jamaicans with mixed ancestry self-report as black. The prominent black nationalist Marcus Garvey is possibly the most famous Jamaican who was of full African heritage. Other famous full African Jamaicans include the Maroons of Accompong and other settlements, who were the descendants of escaped slaves that introduced the jerk cooking technique to the world. Many Maroons continue to have their own traditions and speak their own language, known locally as ‘Kromanti’.
It is extremely uncommon for Jamaicans to identify themselves by race as is prominent in countries like the United States where the race of a person is hyphenated with the ethnicity proceeding the nationality, for example, the American usage of the terms, White-American or African-American. Due to its history, most Jamaicans describe their nationality as a race in and of itself where they identify as simply being,’Jamaican’ regardless of ethnicity.
Asians form the second-largest group and include Indo-Jamaicans and Chinese Jamaicans. Most are descended from indentured workers brought by the British colonial government to fill labour shortages following the abolition of slavery in 1838. Prominent Indian Jamaicans include jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, who was the first Jamaican in the Kentucky Derby, and Miss Jamaica World and Miss Universe winner Yendi Phillips. The southwestern parish of Westmoreland is famous for its large population of Indo-Jamaicans.
Along with their Indian counterparts, Chinese Jamaicans have also played an integral part in Jamaica’s community and history. Prominent descendants of this group include Canadian billionaire investor Michael Lee-Chin, supermodels Naomi Campbell and Tyson Beckford, and VP Records founder Vincent “Randy” Chin.
There are about 20,000 Jamaicans who have Lebanese ancestry Notable Jamaicans from this group include former Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga and Jamaican politician and former Miss World Lisa Hanna.
In 1835, Lord Seaford gave 500 acres of his 10,000 acre estate in Westmoreland for the Seaford Town German settlement. Today most of the town’s descendants are of full or partial German descent.
There is also a significant Portuguese Jamaican population that is predominantly of Sephardic Jewish heritage that is primarily located in the Saint Elizabeth Parish in the southwestern part of Jamaica. Famous descendants include the dancehall artist Sean Paul, former record producer and founder of Island Records Chris Blackwell, and Jacob De Cordova who was the founder of the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper.
In recent years, immigration has increased, coming mainly from China, Haiti, Cuba, Colombia, and Latin America; 20,000 Latin Americans reside in Jamaica. The Jamaican government is currently considering making Spanish Jamaica’s second official language. The move has been encouraged by Spain’s Secretary for International Cooperation, Fernando Garcia Casas, who thinks that “…bilateral cooperation between (his) country and Jamaica could be greatly increased by encouraging greater use of the Spanish language there”.
About 7,000 Americans also reside in Jamaica.
American fashion icon and philanthropist Ralph Lauren has been a resident of the island for almost 30 years. His estate, Round Hill Hotel and Villas, is a popular tourist destination and hotel, that was the location of American President John F. Kennedy’s honeymoon after marrying his wife Jacqueline. It has also hosted several celebrities and politicians from around the world and has been the inspiration for many of his home and fashion collections, including the Spring 2018 collection that was officially presented at New York Fashion Week. Lauren’s wife, Ricky, is also a popular socialite among locals who has written a book about the island entitled, “My Home”.
There are also many first-generation American, British and Canadians of Jamaican descent.
A study found that the average admixture on the island was 78.3% Sub-Saharan African, 16.0% European, and 5.7% East Asian.
Jamaica is regarded as a bilingual country, with two major languages in use by the population. The official language is English, which is “used in all domains of public life”, including the government, the legal system, the media, and education. However, the primary spoken language is an English-based creole called Jamaican Patois (or Patwa). A 2007 survey by the Jamaican Language Unit found that 17.1 percent of the population were monolingual in Jamaican Standard English (JSE), 36.5 percent were monolingual in Patois, and 46.4 percent were bilingual, although earlier surveys had pointed to a greater degree of bilinguality (up to 90 percent). The Jamaican education system has only recently begun to offer formal instruction in Patois, while retaining JSE as the “official language of instruction”.
Additionally, some Jamaicans use one or more of Jamaican Sign Language (JSL), American Sign Language (ASL) or the indigenous Jamaican Country Sign Language (Konchri Sain). Both JSL and ASL are rapidly replacing Konchri Sain for a variety of reasons.
In 2016 it was announced that the government of Jamaica is considering making Spanish an official second language. The move has been discussed between Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness in a meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro as well as the Jamaican House of Representatives. It has also been publicaly endorsed by Spain’s Secretary for International Cooperation, Fernando Garcia Casas, who thinks that the ties between both countries could be increased with the use of Spanish there.
The indigenous people, the Taíno, called the island Xaymaca in Arawakan, meaning the “Land of Wood and Water” or the “Land of Springs”.
Colloquially Jamaicans refer to their home island as the “Rock.” Slang names such as “Jamrock”, “Jamdown” (“Jamdung” in Jamaican Patois), or briefly “Ja”, have derived from this.
National bird: red-billed streamertail (also called doctor bird) (a hummingbird, Trochilus polytmus)
National flower – lignum vitae (Guiacum officinale)
National tree: blue mahoe (Hibiscus talipariti elatum)
National fruit: ackee (Blighia sapida)
National motto: “Out of Many, One People.”
Previously inhabited by the indigenous Arawak and Taíno peoples, the island came under Spanish rule following the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1494. Many of the indigenous people died of disease, and the Spanish transplanted African slaves to Jamaica as labourers. Named Santiago, the island remained a possession of Spain until 1655, when England (later Great Britain) conquered it and renamed it Jamaica. Under British colonial rule Jamaica became a leading sugar exporter, with its plantation economy highly dependent on slaves forcibly transported from Africa. The British fully emancipated all slaves in 1838, and many freedmen chose to have subsistence farms rather than to work on plantations. Beginning in the 1840s, the British utilized Chinese and Indian indentured labour to work on plantations. The island achieved independence from the United Kingdom on 6 August 1962.
The Arawak and Taíno indigenous people, originating in South America, settled on the island between 4000 and 1000 BC. When Christopher Columbus arrived in 1494, there were more than 200 villages ruled by caciques (chiefs of villages). The south coast of Jamaica was the most populated, especially around the area now known as Old Harbour. The Taino still inhabited Jamaica when the English took control of the island in 1655. The Jamaican National Heritage Trust is attempting to locate and document any evidence of the Taino/Arawak.
Spanish rule (1509–1655)
Christopher Columbus claimed Jamaica for Spain after landing there in 1494. His probable landing point was Dry Harbour, called Discovery Bay, St. Ann’s Bay was named “Saint Gloria” by Columbus, as the first sighting of the land. One and a half kilometres west of St. Ann’s Bay is the site of the first Spanish settlement on the island, Sevilla, which was established in 1509 and abandoned around 1524 because it was deemed unhealthy. The capital was moved to Spanish Town, then called St. Jago de la Vega, around 1534 (at present-day St. Catherine).
British rule (1655–1962)
Spanish Town has the oldest cathedral of the British colonies in the Caribbean. The Spanish were forcibly evicted by the English at Ocho Rios in St. Ann. In the 1655 Invasion of Jamaica, the English, led by Sir William Penn and General Robert Venables, took over the last Spanish fort on the island. The name of Montego Bay, the capital of the parish of St. James, was derived from the Spanish name manteca bahía (or Bay of Lard), alluding to the lard-making industry based on processing the numerous boars in the area.
In 1660, the population of Jamaica was about 4,500 white and 1,500 black. By the early 1670s, as the English developed sugar cane plantations and “imported” more slaves, black people formed a majority of the population. The colony was shaken and almost destroyed by the 1692 Jamaica earthquake.
The Irish in Jamaica also formed a large part of the island’s early population, making up 2 thirds of the white population on the island in the late 17th century, twice that of the English population. They were brought in as indentured labourers and soldiers after the conquest of Jamaica by Cromwells forces in 1655, The majority of Irish were transported by force as political prisoners of war from Ireland as a result of the ongoing Wars of the Three Kingdoms at the time. Migration of large numbers Irish to the island continued into the 18th century.
Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 and then forcibly converted to Christianity in Portugal, during a period of persecution by the Inquisition. Some Spanish and Portuguese Jewish refugees went to the Netherlands and England, and from there to Jamaica. Others were part of the Iberian colonisation of the New World, after overtly converting to Catholicism, as only Catholics were allowed in the Spanish colonies. By 1660, Jamaica had become a refuge for Jews in the New World, also attracting those who had been expelled from Spain and Portugal.
An early group of Jews arrived in 1510, soon after the son of Christopher Columbus settled on the island. Primarily working as merchants and traders, the Jewish community was forced to live a clandestine life, calling themselves “Portugals”. After the British took over rule of Jamaica, the Jews decided the best defense against Spain’s regaining control was to encourage making the colony a base for Caribbean pirates. With the pirates installed in Port Royal, which became the largest city in the Caribbean, the Spanish would be deterred from attacking. The British leaders agreed with the viability of this strategy to forestall outside aggression.
When the English captured Jamaica in 1655, the Spanish colonists fled after freeing their slaves. The slaves dispersed into the mountains, joining the maroons, those who had previously escaped to live with the Taíno native people. During the centuries of slavery, Maroons established free communities in the mountainous interior of Jamaica, where they maintained their freedom and independence for generations. The Jamaican Maroons fought the British during the 18th century. Under treaties of 1738 and 1739, the British agreed to stop trying to round them up in exchange for their leaving the colonial settlements alone, but serving if needed for military actions. Some of the communities were broken up and the British deported Maroons to Nova Scotia and, later, Sierra Leone. The name is still used today by modern Maroon descendants, who have certain rights and autonomy at the community of Accompong.
During its first 200 years of British rule, Jamaica became one of the world’s leading sugar-exporting, slave-dependent colonies, producing more than 77,000 tons of sugar annually between 1820 and 1824. After the abolition of the international slave trade in 1807, the British began to “import” indentured servants to supplement the labour pool, as many freedmen resisted working on the plantations. After slavery was abolished, workers recruited from India began arriving in 1845, Chinese workers in 1854, as many freedmen resisted working on the plantations. Many South Asian and Chinese descendants continue to reside in Jamaica today.
By the beginning of the 19th century, Jamaica’s dependence on slave labour and a plantation economy had resulted in black people outnumbering white people by a ratio of almost 20 to 1. Although the UK had outlawed the importation of slaves, some were still smuggled in from Spanish colonies and directly. While planning the abolition of slavery, the British Parliament passed laws to improve conditions for slaves. They banned the use of whips in the field and flogging of women; informed planters that slaves were to be allowed religious instruction, and required a free day during each week when slaves could sell their produce, prohibiting Sunday markets to enable slaves to attend church.
The House of Assembly in Jamaica resented and resisted the new laws. Members (then restricted to European-Jamaicans) claimed that the slaves were content and objected to Parliament’s interference in island affairs. Slave owners feared possible revolts if conditions were lightened. Following a series of rebellions on the island and changing attitudes in Great Britain, the British government formally abolished slavery by an 1833 act, beginning in 1834, with full emancipation from chattel slavery declared in 1838. The population in 1834 was 371,070, of whom 15,000 were white, 5,000 free black; 40,000 ‘coloured’ or free people of color (mixed race); and 311,070 were slaves.
In the 19th century, the British established a number of botanical gardens. These included the Castleton Botanical Gardens, developed in 1862 to replace the Bath Botanical Gardens (created in 1779) which was subject to flooding. Bath Botanical Gardens was the site for planting breadfruit, brought to Jamaica from the Pacific by Captain William Bligh. It became a staple in island diets. Other gardens were the Cinchona Plantation, founded in 1868, and the Hope Botanical Gardens founded in 1874. In 1872, Kingston was designated as the island’s capital.
In 1945, Sir Horace Hector Hearne became Chief Justice and Keeper of the Records in Jamaica. He headed the Supreme Court, Kingston between 1945 and 1950/1951. After Kenya achieved independence, its government appointed him as Chief Justice and he moved there.
Jamaica slowly gained increasing independence from the United Kingdom. In 1958, it became a province in the Federation of the West Indies, a federation among the British West Indies. Jamaica attained full independence by leaving the federation in 1962.
Strong economic growth, averaging approximately 6% per annum, marked the first ten years of independence under conservative Jamaica Labour Party governments; they were led successively by Prime Ministers Alexander Bustamante, Donald Sangster and Hugh Shearer. The growth was fueled by strong private investments in bauxite/alumina, tourism, the manufacturing industry and, to a lesser extent, the agricultural sector.
The optimism of the first decade was accompanied by a growing sense of inequality among many Afro-Jamaicans, and a concern that the benefits of growth were not being shared by the urban poor. Combined with the effects of a slowdown in the global economy in 1970, the voters elected the PNP (People’s National Party) in 1972. They tried to implement more socially equitable policies in education and health, but the economy suffered under their leadership. By 1980, Jamaica’s gross national product had declined to some 25% below the 1972 level. Due to rising foreign and local debt, accompanied by large fiscal deficits, the government sought International Monetary Fund (IMF) financing from the United States and others.
Economic deterioration continued into the mid-1980s, exacerbated by a number of factors. The first and third largest alumina producers, Alpart and Alcoa, closed, and there was a significant reduction in production by the second-largest producer, Alcan. Reynolds Jamaica Mines, Ltd. left the Jamaican industry. There was also a decline in tourism, which was important to the economy.
Independence, however widely celebrated in Jamaica, has been questioned in the early 21st century. In 2011, a survey showed that approximately 60% of Jamaicans believe that the country would be better off had it remained a British colony with only 17% believing it would be worse off, citing as problems years of social and fiscal mismanagement in the country.
Jamaican cuisine includes a mixture of cooking techniques, flavours, spices and influences from the indigenous people on the island of Jamaica, and the Spanish, Irish, British, Africans, Indian and Chinese who have inhabited the island. It is also influenced by the crops introduced into the island from tropical Southeast Asia. Jamaican cuisine includes various dishes from the different cultures brought to the island with the arrival of people from elsewhere. Other dishes are novel or a fusion of techniques and traditions. In addition to ingredients that are native to Jamaica, many foods have been introduced and are now grown locally. A wide variety of seafood, tropical fruits and meats are available.
Some Jamaican cuisine dishes are variations on the cuisines and cooking styles brought to the island from elsewhere. These are often modified to incorporate local produce. Others are novel and have developed locally. Popular Jamaican dishes include curry goat, fried dumplings, ackee and saltfish (cod) – the national dish of Jamaica – fried plantain, “jerk”, steamed cabbage and “rice and peas” (pigeon peas or kidney beans). Jamaican cuisine has been adapted by Irish, African, Indian, British, French, Spanish, Chinese influences. Jamaican patties and various pastries and breads are also popular as well as fruit beverages and Jamaican rum.
Jamaican cuisine has spread with emigrations, especially during the 20th century, from the island to other nations as Jamaicans have sought economic opportunities in other areas.
Development of the cuisine
The Spanish, the first European arrivals to the island contributed dishes such as the vinegary concoction escovitched fish (Spanish escabeche) contributed by Spanish Jews. Later, Cantonese/Hakka influences developed the Jamaican patty, an empanada styled turnover filled with spiced meat. African cuisine developed on the island as a result of waves of slavery introduced by the European powers. More Chinese and East Indian influences can also be found in Jamaican cuisine, as a result of indentured labourers who replaced slaves after emancipation brought their own culinary talents (especially curry, which Jamaican chefs sometimes use to season goat meat for special occasions).
African, Indian, American, Chinese and British cuisines are not new to the island. Through many years of British colonialism the cuisine developed many habits of cooking particular to a trading colony.
Jamaican Cuisine and the Rastafarians
The Jamaican cuisine is quite diverse and mention must be made of the Rastafarian influence. Rastafarians have a vegetarian approach to preparing food, cooking, and eating, and have introduced a host of unique vegetarian dishes to the Jamaican cuisine. They do not eat pork, and the strict ones do not eat meat, including poultry and fish. There are even some who believe in cooking with little or no salt and cooking in an ‘Ital’ way.
The transport infrastructure in Jamaica consists of roadways, railways and air transport, with roadways forming the backbone of the island’s internal transport system.
The Jamaican road network consists of almost 21,000 kilometres (13,000 mi) of roads, of which over 15,000 kilometres (9,300 mi) is paved. The Jamaican Government has, since the late 1990s and in cooperation with private investors, embarked on a campaign of infrastructural improvement projects, one of which includes the creation of a system of freeways, the first such access-controlled roadways of their kind on the island, connecting the main population centres of the island. This project has so far seen the completion of 33 kilometres (21 mi) of freeway.
Railways in Jamaica no longer enjoy the prominent position they once did, having been largely replaced by roadways as the primary means of transport. Of the 272 kilometres (169 mi) of railway found in Jamaica, only 57 kilometres (35 mi) remain in operation, currently used to transport bauxite.
On 13 April 2011, limited passenger service was resumed between May Pen, Spanish Town and Linstead.
There are three international airports in Jamaica with modern terminals, long runways, and the navigational equipment required to accommodate the large jet aircraft used in modern and air travel: Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston; Ian Fleming International Airport in Boscobel, Saint Mary Parish; and the island’s largest and busiest airport, Sir Donald Sangster International Airport in the resort city of Montego Bay. Manley and Sangster International airports are home to the country’s national airline, Air Jamaica. In addition there are local commuter airports at Tinson Pen (Kingston), Port Antonio, and Negril, which cater to internal flights only. Many other small, rural centres are served by private fields on sugar estates or bauxite mines.
Ports, shipping and lighthouses
Owing to its location in the Caribbean Sea in the shipping lane to the Panama Canal and relative proximity to large markets in North America and emerging markets in Latin America, Jamaica receives high container traffic. The container terminal at the Port of Kingston has undergone large expansion in capacity in recent years to handle growth both already realised as well as that which is projected in coming years. Montego Freeport in Montego Bay also handles a variety of cargo like (though more limited than) the Port of Kingston, mainly agricultural products.
There are several other ports positioned around the island, including Port Esquivel in St. Catherine (WINDALCO), Rocky Point in Clarendon, Port Kaiser in St. Elizabeth, Port Rhoades in Discovery Bay, Reynolds Pier in Ocho Rios, and Boundbrook Port in Port Antonio.
To aid the navigation of shipping, Jamaica operates nine lighthouses.