A Brief History of Jamaica

Jamaica, an island located within the Caribbean Sea, derived its name from an Arawak (original inhabitants) word ‘Xaymaca’ meaning land of wood and water. The Arawaks had a gentle idyllic culture which was decimated some 80 years after the Spaniards arrived in Jamaica in 1494.

The British captured Jamaica from the Spaniards in 1655. After a brief period of experimenting with indentured European labour, the British turned to large-scale importation of Africans to be used as slaves on the sugar plantations. Jamaica became a large slave trans-shipment centre, bringing prosperity to its English plantation owners and to cities such as Liverpool and Bristol, which serviced the trade with Jamaica and the rest of the colonies in the Americas.

The Jamaican Flag

Slaves freed by the fleeing Spaniards were joined in the mountains by runaway British slaves. These Maroons, with their vast knowledge of the uninhabited Jamaican mountainside, successfully waged war against British planters and eventually contracted a peace agreement with the British. This treaty occurred over 50 years before the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. To this day, the Jamaican Maroons operate autonomously from Jamaican society.

The Maroons became a people whose history exemplified the driving force of freedom. You may consider a tour to the Maroon Village and the January 6 festival signifying the signing of the peace treaty with the British when you next visit Jamaica.

By the close of the 18th century, sugar was losing its economic pre-eminence because of competition from beet sugars well as rising production costs. With slaves emancipated in 1838 plantations had to begin paying wages to their workers. 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 organised and sponsored by Christian groups such as the Baptists.

During the period 1944 to 1952, Jamaica diversified from a mono-crop export economy to include bananas, other agricultural commodities, bauxite and tourism. The USA displaced the UK as Jamaica’s principal trading partner. There was also a tremendous migration of labour to the UK and the USA which needed labour for the post-war reconstruction and expansion of their economies. Jamaica gained political independence in 1962, with a Westminster-style constitution and a Governor-general representing the British Crown.

With its diverse history, the Jamaican motto is “Out of Many, One People”.

The eighties saw large volumes of emigrants, primarily to the USA, swelling the ranks of established overseas Jamaican communities. Jamaicans are contributing to every sphere of human activity and distinguishing themselves in cultural activities, such as music and sports.

For a more detailed history of Jamaica read: https://www.jamaicanproducts.com.au/2019/08/06/jamaicas-road-to-independence-part-1/


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