Jamaica is an island in the Caribbean sea south of America. It is famous to the world at large as the country of singer Bob Marley, reggae music and the Rastafarians. Despite that most Jamaicans are not Rastafarians.
The British took Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655 to grow sugar, making it one of the sugar islands worked by black slaves.
Jamaica now makes a living mainly from the beautiful white sands along the blue sea on the north coast where North Americans, Britons and others come on holiday. Since Jamaica lies in the tropics, it is like summer all year round. The places where visitors come to stay, eat and enjoy themselves charge high North American prices but pay their workers a low Jamaican wage. The owners keep the difference.
Money also comes in from Jamaicans working overseas who send money home to their families.
Since the middle 1900s, many have moved overseas, especially to Britain, America and Canada. Among them are the parents of Colin Powell and Naomi Campbell. Jamaica has good schools but it is still a poor country. Of those with a university degree, three in four have left the island.
In Jamaica the rates of murder and out-of-wedlock births are far higher than in America. Crime in Jamaica has been getting worse over the years. New York City is now safer than Jamaica.
Jamaicans come mainly from the Guinea coast in West Africa, especially from what is now known as Ghana and Nigeria. The British brought them to Jamaica to work as slaves for the sugar planters. Some of the slaves ran away to live as free men in the mountains. They are called the Maroons. In 1838 the British freed all the slaves.
Jamaica was part of the British Empire for over 300 years, from 1655 to 1962. It was one of the islands of the British West Indies, which broke up into separate countries in the 1960s.
Jamaicans speak English, but on the island it comes in two forms:
- British English – and, increasingly, American English – that everyone learns in school. It is the main form of English used by the rich and well-to-do.
- Jamaican patois that most people speak. It uses English words (with dropped h’s) with some West African words thrown in, but the word order and ways of putting things is different. To anyone who mainly speaks British or American English, it takes some getting used to, but it is not like learning a whole new language. It is English, just in a different form. It is like what Haitian Creole is to French.
Bob Marley sang in what was mostly British English, but Sean Paul sings in patois, just to give you an idea.
Most Jamaicans are Christians, mainly Protestants. Religion is taken more seriously than it is in North America.
A few practise the old African black magic called obeah, which works through evil spirits. It comes from the Yoruba in Africa and is something like the voodoo of Haiti.
Some Jamaicans, though not many, are Rastafarians. They smoke marijuana, read the Bible, believe in God, do not eat pork, do not comb or cut their hair (but wash it, thus the dreadlocks) and say that Haile Selassie, who ruled Ethiopia in the middle 1900s, was the Second Coming of Christ. Reggae music grew out of Rastafarianism.