Jamaica is an island nation located in the Caribbean Sea about 145 km south of Cuba. It has an area of 10,991 km² and population of about 2,725,000 (as of July 2015 according to The World Bank). To put the country size into perspective, it is approximately 1/25th the size of Oregon (which has an area of 255,026 km²). That being said, Jamaica is a country with world recognition — it is an island that overachieves for its small size and punches above its weight. It is known internationally through its musical legacy, dominance in athletics, and its warm, bold, spiritual people.
(image: Google Maps Jamaica)
The national motto of Jamaica is “Out of Many, One People”. National symbols of Jamaica include its national bird: the red-billed streamertail, its fruit: the ackee, its tree: the blue mahoe, and its flower: the lignum vitae flower.
English is the official language of Jamaica, however the vibrant national language Jamaican Patois is commonly spoken by the island nation’s inhabitants. For anybody interested in hearing or learning Jamaican Patois, I would recommend checking out this youtube channel: Jamaican Sinting.
Jamaican music has a strong global presence and is one of the few countries with its own soundtrack. Reggae, ska, mento, rocksteady, dub, dancehall, and ragga all originated within the island’s recording industry. Its music has also strongly influenced the development of punk rock, jazz, hip-hop, and rap music. Very few countries have had as much influence on the global music scene.
The country also has a notable platform in the sports sphere, consistently producing world class athletes particularly in track & field, cricket, and boxing. Its national bobsled team has competed many times in the Winter Olympics and has beat out many well-established teams. Additionally, chess, basketball, football (aka soccer), and rugby, and horse racing are widely played throughout Jamaica.
According to the 2001 census, the majority of Jamaicans (62%) are Protestant Christians. Other religions practiced affiliations on the island are Roman Catholic (2%), Jehovah’s Witnesses (2%), Rastafarian (1%), Islam (.2%), Hinduism (<.1%), Judaism (<.1%), Baha’i (<.1%), and 21% claimed no religious affiliation. (International Religious Freedom Report 2008).
Three climate types can be found in Jamaica. It is dominated by a tropical monsoon climate, but tropical rainforest and tropical savanna climates can also be found in the country (respectively Am, Af, and Aw according to the Köppen–Geiger climate classification). It has constant warm to hot temperatures year round, although the higher central areas may receive cooler temperatures. On average throughout the island, the rainiest months are September and October and hurricane season runs June to November. However there is significant precipitation variation nationwide, with the east coast receiving considerably more rain. I’ve included a climate chart below of annual temperature and precipitation in Kingston for reference.
The history of Jamaica is both a rich and rocky one; riddled with prosperity and hardships that speaks to the perseverance and determination of its people. I’ll provide a brief synopsis of its history here, but a more in-depth history of Jamaica can be found by following the links at the bottom of this page.
The original inhabitants of the island were known as the Arawaks or Tainos, who came from South America 2,500 years ago and settled the island which they named Xaymaca (which meant “land of wood and water”). They lived peacefully until Christopher Columbus discovered the island in 1494, after which the Arawaks were mostly destroyed by the Spaniards in years following. The island then remained under Spanish rule mainly as a supply base to aid in conquering the American mainland until it was taken by the English in 1655.
During the first couple centuries of British rule, sugar became the main crop and export of Jamaica. The bulk of sugar and other exports was largely produced by enslaved Africans, who filled the large labour force of the industry. The slave trade became so profitable for English colonists that the transportation of slaves from West Africa to the West Indies became commonly known as “The Middle Passage”in the 3-sided journey of a British slaver.
The slave trade continued until 1807, when the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed. After this, many plantation owners brought in Indian and Chinese indentured servants and some continued to illegally smuggle slaves onto the island. However slavery itself was not abolished until 1833 with the Slavery Abolition Act, which was passed following a series of rebellions and the changing attitudes of Britain. After this, Jamaica slowly gained increasing independence from the United Kingdom until it fully attained its independence from England on August 6, 1962 and developed a constitution.
If anybody would like to provide thoughts, input, or corrections to any of the information I have provided here, please feel free to comment or send me an email! As I gain my own experience and insight into Jamaica while living there, I may update this page to reflect these new insights or pieces of information.
For further reading about Jamaican history and modern Jamaican culture, I strongly recommend The Dead Yard by Ian Thomson.
Explore a map of Jamaica: Google Maps Jamaica
More in-depth history of Jamaica: Jamaican History
Keep up to date with Jamaican News: Jamaica Information Service
Data and statistics related to Jamaican population and GDP: The World Bank – Jamaica
More info about Jamaica: Wikipedia – Jamaica