Jamaica was originally inhabited by the Taino people group. These were eradicated as a result of illness and ill treatment when Europeans, first from Spain, settled on the island from the 16th century. West African slaves were brought to the island from 1517, and sugar cane plantations were built on which they worked.
In 1655, Jamaica became a British colony, and coffee, cocoa and sugar cane made great profits to the British. Towards the end of the 18th century a number of slave revolts occurred. In 1838 slavery was formally abolished.
The economy based on banana plantations ended abruptly during the downturn in the 1930s. In 1944, Jamaica was hit by a famine disaster. The island gained full internal autonomy in 1947. After a referendum, Jamaica withdrew from the West Indies Federation in 1962, and the country became independent the same year.
Jamaica is especially known for the rastafari movement, a religious movement that originated in the 1930s among the African-hated population of Jamaica and is based on the dream of returning to Africa. To see more information other than history, please visit Abbreviationfinder to learn more about climate, population, government, and economy for the country of Jamaica.
Arawak and Taino people from South America settled in Jamaica about 1000-400 BCE. Before Christopher Columbus arrived in Jamaica in 1494, the island had a population of about 60,000 native tainos (a subgroup of Arab watchers), divided into chiefs who farmed. This population was completely eradicated by the Spaniards over a hundred years. Today, the only thing that exists of taino elements in Jamaican culture is linguistic.
- Countryaah: Check to see the location of Jamaica on the world map. Also covers major mountains, rivers and lakes in Jamaica.
Spanish colonial period
The natives succumbed to the ill treatment of Europeans and the smallpox virus. The first Spanish settlement, Seville, was established in 1509, but was abandoned in 1524. The settlement was moved around 1534 to St. Jago de la Vega, later Spanish Town. From 1517 slaves were imported from West Africa, and from the 1520s sugar cane plantations were established on which the slaves worked.
British colonial era
When the British took over the colony in 1655, the majority of the modest population consisted of a few thousand Africans. Most of them fled to the mountain regions where they established their own way of life with self-sufficient agriculture and hunting. This population group went under the term maroons. The British therefore had to introduce new slaves to develop their plantation economy.
Armed conflicts between the British and the Marons characterized the colony until 1739, when the latter gained limited independence. The British peasants developed large sugar plantations, which led to a number of slaves fleeing to join the Maroons. Several revolts among the slaves took place towards the end of the 18th century. It was not until 1838 that slavery was formally abolished, and many eventually emigrated to the coasts of Central America and the Caribbean as the plantations could not employ the large number of wage laborers who also had no access to land. In 1865, these contradictions led to the bloody Morant Bay rebellion.
Sugar, bananas and bauxite
From the latter half of the 19th century, American companies began to take an interest in the Caribbean. Jamaica’s new major export product, in addition to sugar and rum, became bananas. From the end of the century, United Fruit Company began buying bananas from black small farmers.
World War I meant increased sugar exports to the mother country of Britain, while banana exports suffered a severe setback around 1930. The crisis in the world economy led to unstable conditions on the island.
Until 1938, Jamaica had been politically dominated by the white minority, which constituted only about one percent of the population. It was this year that the People’s National Party (PNP) was created and the black majority put forward demands for economic and social reform. In 1943, the more conservative Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) was formed. Intellectuals of mixed origin and Indians became dominant in both parties. Foreign capital interests dominated the economy. In the mid-1950s, more than 100,000 Jamaicans emigrated to the United Kingdom and the United States.
In 1959, the country gained internal autonomy and became a member of the West Indian Federation. On August 6, 1962, Jamaica gained full independence. JLP and Prime Minister Alexander Bustamante took over the colonial bureaucracy, which had difficulties in achieving its own national character. Foreign interests then focused heavily on bauxite extraction, and Jamaica evolved to become a leading supplier to the world’s aluminum production. Nevertheless, unemployment and poverty increased.
As the opportunities for emigration to the UK waned, the move to the capital Kingston increased, which was gradually marked by crime, prostitution, drug traffic and other illegal activities.
The Black Power movement in the United States in the 1960s radicalized large parts of the population of Jamaica, but it was above all the rastafari movement that emerged as a mobilizing response to the oppression of the black population. The dream of returning to Africa had been activated by Jamaican Marcus Garvey as early as 1914, when he started The Universal Negro Improvement Association and the African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) in Kingston. Garvey’s movement was particularly strong around 1920–22. This resulted in a separate interpretation of the Bible in which Ethiopia’s newly crowned emperor Haile Selassie Iappeared as the living Christ or in most interpretations God, often referred to as Jah, a term loosely based on the Anglicization of the God of Israel YHWH: Jehovah.
The most familiar form of the Rastafari movement is reggae music. Although they did not create reggae, the movement has had a great influence on it, and reggae music has earned the rastafarian movement by spreading the message worldwide. In recent times, however, several rastafaris have become more critical of the Bible (especially King James’ Version) and have consequently embarked on deep hermeneutic studies or rejected it altogether to take on what might be called neo-religious elements.
The Maron tradition had also helped the authentic African culture stand strong in Jamaica.
Nationalism and crises
During the 1960s, Michael Manley, leader of the PNP, managed to build a broad alliance of progressive and nationalist elements with broad support within the rastafari movement. In 1972 he was elected prime minister. Manley enacted radical reforms, and taxes on bauxite recovery led to improved finances from 1974. The approach to Cuba to strengthen cohesion in the Caribbean led to a US campaign against Manley, which had important support among social democrats in Europe, including Norway. Bauxite companies reduced activity, tourism weakened and the US withdrew financial support to the island.
Following Manley’s re-election in 1976, the International Monetary Fund imposed tougher demands on Jamaica’s economic strategy. A state of emergency was introduced between 1976 and 1977 in an attempt to gain control over the escalating violence that was also directed at the ruling party. The 1980 election led to a violent clash between supporters of the PNP and JLP, and over 500 people lost their lives before Edward Seaga of the JLP could be declared the winner.
Seaga broke off relations with Cuba in 1981 and quickly made Jamaica America’s most important support in the Caribbean. Through the American Caribbean Assistance Program (Caribbean Basin Initiative) in 1982, Jamaica was given a central role. As a result of disagreement over the electoral procedure, the PNP withdrew from the December 1983 elections but chose to lead the opposition outside parliament.
After several years of negotiations, the JLP government reached an agreement with the IMF in 1984. However, this led to new waves of protests, especially within the unions, as a result of drastic reductions in the public sector. In those years, the government was under constant pressure, including strikes, riots in protest of price rises and discontent in business. The PNP increasingly managed to channel discontent in support of its policies, while the government acted harder on the protesters. In 1988, the country was hit by Hurricane Gilbert, causing a quarter of the population to lose their homes and banana and coffee crops were lost. The damages amounted to approximately USD 300 million.
PNP strengthens its position
At the 1989 elections, PNP and Michael Manley returned to government positions. However, Manley announced in 1992 his departure as prime minister due to failing health, and he died in 1997. He had been party leader for 33 years and prime minister for a total of 11 years. The party appointed Percival James Patterson as Manley’s successor. In the 1993 election, the PNP won a superior victory and won 53 of the 60 seats in parliament, while the rival JLP, led by former prime minister Edward Seaga, only got seven seats. The election campaign was violent with several deaths, and the JLP accused the ruling party of cheating. However, the election was monitored by international observers who did not report any irregularities. The main theme of the election campaign was the opportunities to cope with the increasing crime as well as the widespread drug trafficking.
At the 1998 elections, the PNP retained 50 seats, and in 2002, Patterson’s party was able to embark on its fourth consecutive term, even though the lead on the JLP was now reduced to 35 against 25 seats. Patterson resigned as prime minister in 2006 as a result of corruption charges and was succeeded by PNP’s newly elected leader, Portia Simpson Miller. Thus, Jamaica’s longest reigning prime minister was followed by the first woman in office. However, she was only seated until the 2007 election, where the JLP won a scarce victory after 18 years in opposition, and Bruce Golding became prime minister.
About a year after the Christopher Coke scandal that took place in 2010, Bruce Golding resigned from his post and was followed by Andrew Holness on October 23. Holness and JLP lost the election that took place in December 2011 and Simpson-Miller took his place as prime minister.
The two dominant parties have approached each other ideologically and largely agree on economic policy, which has been governed by IMF guidelines. Since the 1990s, the PNP has pursued a tight monetary and fiscal policy with austerity and the privatization of state-owned enterprises, and has to a considerable extent been overcome with galloping inflation. Government debt was also brought under control. After a weak period until the late 1990s, Jamaica experienced relatively strong economic growth around the turn of the century, a growth curve which, however, soon seemed to flatten.
However, a longer period of political stability has not been able to change the fact that more than 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and unemployment is above 15 percent. Crime and violence also constitute a continuing problem. 1300 recorded killings (2006) in a population of 2.7 million place Jamaica at the top in international homicide statistics. On several occasions, the army is involved in the fight against criminal gangs, with the same background, the parliament in 2008 decided to retain the death penalty. This development represents a serious threat to the tourism industry, which is the main pillar of the country’s economy ahead of bauxite production.
In January 2009, Governor Kenneth Hall resigned for health reasons and was succeeded by current General Governor Patrick Allen. He is the sixth person to have been awarded this position since Jamaica’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1962.