The island of Jamaica is the third largest in the Caribbean. It is ideally
located, capturing trade winds that assist in maintaining a near constant
temperature between 77 and 82 degrees and which bless the mountainous island"s
northeast coast with abundant rain. Jamaica supports a wide diversity of plant
and animal life. More than half the island is higher than 800 feet above sea
level. The economy depends heavily on the tourism business, and some of the
Caribbean"s finest resorts and elegant boutique hotels are found on the beaches
But Jamaica offers more than lovely beaches and crystal clear water. As
wonderful as those things are, they are in plentiful supply in the Caribbean.
Jamaica is more - much more. Jamaica is deep emerald green rainforests,
waterfalls and mountain streams. Jamaica is an array of birds - colorful
parrots, macaws, and hummingbirds with tails that curl three times their body
length. Jamaica is reggae and intricate wood carving. Jamaica"s culture does not
lurk around its edges. You do not have to go looking for it in museums.
Jamaica"s culture permeates the island. It drifts through every breeze and wafts
through every moment on the island, whether in the smell of roadside food
preparation or in the rhythm and sound of the music present everywhere. Jamaica
dances and invites you to dance with it. The Jamaican culture has endured
slavery, oppression and bad times. Its culture, like its people, not only
survives, not only endures, but thrives.
The island is not without its scars. There is poverty and the street and
beach merchants can be aggressive in plying their trade. However, the population
as a whole possesses a warmth and a humor that is characteristically Jamaican
and visitors miss a real opportunity for adventure if they fail to engage the
people beyond the boundaries of the hotels and resorts.
History and Culture
The English wrested Jamaica away from the Spanish in the mid-1600s and used
the island as a base throughout the Caribbean. They permitted pirates to hold
sway over some areas of the island like Port Royal to continue to threaten
Spanish interests in the rest of the Caribbean. Sugarcane and banana
plantations, worked by slaves, became the economic base of early Jamaica. But in
the mountainous interior, free and runaway slaves, known as Maroons, lived and
routinely attacked the British. Two great slave rebellions finally ended the
ignoble institution of slavery.
Thus, the cultural heritage of the island has its origins in the slave trade.
As the slaves learned the language of their colonial masters, they melded and
mixed it with their own. African dialect and English flowed between Spanish and
French to find expression in "patois" spoken with the distinctly Jamaican accent
mimicked by so many but found only here.
general consensus is that Jamaica has more churches per square mile than any
other place in the world. Every denomination finds a home here, as well as Jews,
Hindus, Muslims and Rastafarians. The latter group, the Rastafarians, first
appeared in the 1930s, and worships the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. The
dreadlocks worn by the group is indicative of their belief that hair should not
cut or combed. It is well known, and overly emphasized, that Rastifarians use
marijuana as a sacrament, but the focus of the religion is on inward spiritual
The arts, woodcarving, music, and dance of Jamaica are uniquely distinctive
and immediately recognizable. Reggae has found an audience worldwide, its beat a
fusion of African and Caribbean rhythms. Its most famous artist, Bob Marley,
achieved international fame and remains an influence many years after his death.
Jamaican religions have greatly colored the folk music, and the lyrics express
the deep spirituality of the people.
Jamaican cuisine is likewise unique and richly flavored with the fusions of
tastes both familiar and strange. Jerk marinade, created from island spices, is
added to fish, pork, chicken and beef. Seafood, breads and native fruits are
island specialties: ackee and saltfish with roast breadfruit, peas and rice,
escoveitched fish, and bammy, a pancake shaped, deep-fried cassava