Cultural History


Quick Facts

Landmass: 146 miles long, widths varying from 22 to 51 miles

Geography: 6 mountain ranges almost half of its surface is above 1000 feet

Hydrographic: About 120 rivers, more than 150 miles of coast line Jamaica has several mineral springs, four of which are developed with facilities for bathing and some with accommodations.

Climate: Average temperature is 80°. Annual average rainfall is 78 inches ranging from 30 to 300 inches

Country: Jamaica is made up of 3 Counties which are divided into 14 Parishes

Language: English

Currency: Jamaican Dollar


The islands of the Caribbean look like stepping stones stretching in an arc from the western end of Venezuela in South America to the peninsula of Florida in North America. The Caribbean islands are divided into two groups.

The Greater Antilles: Forming the northern part of the arc are four large islands, Cuba, Hispaniola (made up of Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Jamaica and Puerto Rico.

The Lesser Antilles: The eastern end of the arc consists of the smaller islands which together form the Lesser Antilles. These include the West Indian islands of St. Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla, Antigua, Montserrat (this group is called the Leeward Islands), Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Dominica (This group is called the Windward Islands), Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.

The islands vary widely in size, ranging from Cuba and Hispaniola, by far the largest, to the tiny islands of the Grenadines. Those which have English as their official language and are members of the Commonwealth are usually referred to as the West Indies.

The body of water bounded by these islands and the northern coast of South America is the Caribbean Sea.



  • Jamaica is divided into three counties:
    • Surrey, 2,124 sq. km (820 sq. miles), the eastern county
    • Middlesex, 5,248 sq. km (2,026 sq. miles), the middle county
    • Cornwall, 4,053 sq. km (1,565 sq. miles), the western county
  • The counties are divided into fourteen parishes.
    • Surrey has four parishes
    • Kingston (including Port Royal)
    • St. Andrew
    • St Thomas
    • Portland
    • Middlesex has five parishes
      • St. Catherine
      • St. Mary
      • Clarendon
      • St. Ann
      • Manchester
    • Cornwall has five parishes
      • St. Elizabeth
      • Trelawny
      • St. James
      • Hanover
      • Westmoreland
    • Jamaica is about the size of Connecticut. It is the third largest island of the West Indies and the largest English-speaking Island of the Caribbean.
      • It is 600 miles south of Miami, 150 miles west of Haiti and 90 miles south of Cuba.
      • It is 146 miles long and about 55 miles wide and has an area of 4,411 square miles.
      • The average temperature varies from 86°F to 63°F in the mountains.
      • Jamaica has rugged mountain ranges, with Blue Mountain Peak, the highest point, soaring 7,402 feet. It has miles of white beaches, bordered by the blue Caribbean. It has 120 rivers flowing from the mountains to the coast. And it has great central plains, fertile agricultural lands, towering cliffs, magnificent waterfalls, dense tropical forests…and eternal summer.

    The first settlers in Jamaica were the Arawak Indians. They are believed to come from the country now known as Guyana.

    They were short people, rather stout, with straight black hair and flattish noses. They lived in huts and slept in hammocks.

    They made rough seats of wood and spares tipped with stones or shark teeth, they did not have the bow and arrow.

    The men were skillful fishermen and caught fish and turtle for food while the women planted Cassava, Corn, and Sweet Potatoes.

    They made their cooking vessels from clay and their clothing from fibers of cotton that grew wild on the Island.

    In 1494 on May 4, Christopher Columbus arrived at the island of Jamaica. This was on his second voyage to the New World, which was afterwards called America. Columbus annexed the island in the name of his master and mistress, the King and Queen of Spain. But it was not occupied until Juan de Esquivel came from Santo Domingo in 1509, and for 146 years Jamaica remained a Spanish colony.
    q In 1655 on May 10, a body of English sailors and soldiers landed at Passage Fort, in Kingston harbor, and marched towards Spanish Town. They were commanded by Admiral Penn and General Venables, who had been sent by Oliver Cromwell to capture the island of Hispaniola. Penn and Venables failed to take the city of Santo Domingo and sailed on to Jamaica. On May 11, the Spaniards surrendered. They were allowed a few days to leave the island. Some of them went to Cuba, but others secretly went to the northside of Jamaica.

    After the takeover of the British, they turned the Island into a vast sugar plantation and became very prosperous.

    As a result, they were forced to bring in slaves from Africa to work on the plantations. This slave trade continued until the 1st of August 1838 when slavery was abolished.

    After Emancipation, many of the ex-slaves settled down as small farmers in the mountains, cultivating steep hill slopes far away from the plantations. Still others settled on marginal lands in the plains nearby the plantations on land leased or bought in various land settlement schemes organized and sponsored by Christian groups such as the Baptists.

    Jamaica remained a British colony until August 6, 1962, when Jamaica began an Independent nation.


    The original inhabitants of Jamaica were the Arawak Indians. Then there were the Spaniards. After the capture by the English, the slaves of the Spaniards escaped into the mountains to form the Maroons. The name is a Spanish word meaning wild and untamed. Then came to British, who governed Jamaica until 1962. The majority of present-day Jamaicans are of African descent or a mixed race. Other groups include East Indians, Chinese and Europeans. Hence, the National Motto, “Out of Many, One People.” The current population is about 2.5 million people.



    The language of Jamaica is English though you may sometimes find this difficult to believe. Students of dialect of several influences: Old English and nautical terms such as “beadkind” and “catch to”; Spanish as in “shampata” from zapatos (shoes); Irish dialect as in “nyampse” (a fool); African as in “duppy” (a ghost) or “nyam” (to eat), and American slang such as “cool” elaborated as “cool runnings” or “diss” as in disrespect, Rastafarian “I-dren” (brethren) have their own language and one word that you will hear frequently is “”Irie” meaning good, happy, pleasant or high. The traditional Rasta greeting “Peace and Love” is giving way to “Respect due.” Dance Hall, Jamaica’s latest musical phenomenon, has its own ever-evolving language. Though influenced by American “rappers,” much of it is entirely indigenous, for example “Browning” which describes any light-skinned girl; to big-up” a person means to praise or advertise them, and “flex” meaning behavior or deportment.


    It is said that there are more churches per square mile in Jamaica than anywhere in the world. The variety of house of worship covers everything from centuries old parish churches to the bamboo and zinc shacks of Revivalists. The vast majority of believers belong to one of the numerous Christian denominations; the traditional groups being Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Seventh Day Adventists and United Church (Presbyterian). There are also numerous Evangelical groups as well as Moravians, Mennonites, Plymouth Brethren, Unity and Jehovah Witness. Other religious groups include Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Bahai’s and Rastafarians.

    National Heroes

    The order of National Hero of Jamaica was created in 1965. The first heroes named were, Sir Alexander Bustamante and Norman Washington Manley, the founders of the two political parties and architects of Independent Jamaica. Named at the same time were: Paul Bogle, a farmer and preacher who led the so-called Morant Bay Rebellion, George William Gordon, an ex-member of the House of Assembly who was hung for alleged complicity in the Morant Bay Rebellion, and Marcus Garvey, a journalist ad printer who emigrated to the United States and founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association. In 1975 two more were created: Sam Sharpe, the involuntary leader of the Christmas Rebellion in 1831 and Nanny, chieftainess of the Windward Maroons though historical evidence of the lady is non-existent.


    The Country is entirely governed by Jamaicans since our Independence in 1962 based on a set of laws set forth in a constitution.

    The system of government is democratic, therefore, the Government is elected by the people every five years. Every Jamaican citizen, eighteen years and older, has the right to vote. This is called The Universal Adult Suffrage.

    • The Government consists of Her Majesty, a Senate, The House of Representatives.
    • Her Majesty (The Queen) is represented by The Governor General of Jamaica.
    • The Senate consists of 21 persons, called Senators, who are appointed by The Governor General on the recommendation of The Prime Minister.
    • The Parliament is responsible to look after the welfare of the Island and its people.
    • In doing this, The Parliament is assisted by the Civil Service.
    • The Civil Service is broken down into ministries.
    • The existing ministries are:
      • -Prime Minister’s Office
      • -Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade
      • -Ministry of Finance
      • -Ministry of Tourism, Commerce and Industry
      • -Ministry of Public Utilities, Mining and Energy
      • -Ministry of Education and Culture
      • -Ministry of Water and Transport
      • -Ministry of Labor and Welfare
      • -Ministry of the Public Service and the Environment
      • -Ministry of Health
      • -Ministry of National Security and Justice
      • -Ministry of Local Government, Youth, Sports and Community Development
      • -Ministry of Agriculture


    Tourism is an important part of Jamaica’s economy. Because of the Island’s warm climate and year-round sunshine, its beaches and beautiful landscape, many thousands of people from all over the world come her each year for a holiday.

    Tourism began to prosper in Jamaica after World War I, when improved methods of transportation made it easier for people to get from one country to the other. Indications are that in the early 1920′s the number of tourists visiting the island annually probably did not exceed a few thousand. By 1938, the figure had risen to 64,000, and in 1952 the number of arrivals almost doubles to over 104,000; in 1966 the number exceeded 345,000, and in 1970 nearly 415,000. In 1982 it exceeded 600,000. Since the 1987/1988 season, the number of visitors has exceeded one million a year and has continued to grow, partly as a result of the great increase in the arrivals of cruise ship passengers. Total arrivals for 1993 were 1,616,430.


    • Although there had been attempts for over a century to establish small-scale mining in Jamaica, the present well-established mineral industry of Jamaica only dates back to 1952, when the export of klin dried metallurgical bauxite ore was started. This was shortly followed by the export of alumina. The birth of this new industry was the result of a successful exploration and development programme. It was somewhat unusual in that this development occurred in areas near to well-established population centers with such infrastructure facilities as roads, railways and harbors. All these, of course, had to be vastly improved to service the new industry. Jamaica’s mineral industry is mainly based on bauxite but it also includes industrial minerals such as gypsum, marble, silica sand and clays, besides a thriving sand and gravel industry.


    Agriculture is the basic industry of Jamaica. As the island possesses a wide variety of soil and climate, nearly every tropical product can be grown here. The chief economic crops are sugar, bananas, citrus, cocoa and coconuts, each of which is dealt with below in detail. Not one of the major crops of the island is indigenous. Sugar cane, coconut, rice and ginger were introduced into the island, cocoa from South America, limes and mangoes from India, the breadfruit from Tahiti and ackee from Africa.

    The agricultural industry of Jamaica also includes: Pimento, coffee, fisheries and forestry.


    Diversity of Jamaican culture has created an exotic, spicy array of foods. Our national favorites include: ackee (from Ghana) and saltfish. Curried goat, bammy, an absolutely irresistible pepper pot soup, and very spicy jerk pork and chicken, a Jamaican invention that’s become a worldwide favorite.

    National Symbols, Pledges and Anthems