THE HISTORY OF JAMAICA

A look at the history of one of the most influential islands in the Caribbean, the island of Jamaica.

The table of contents is as follows:

  • The Discovery

  • The Arawaks or Tainos

  • The reign of The Spaniards

  • The occupation by the English

  • Port Royal Destroyed

  • The Independence

  • The Map of Jamaica

  • The National Heroes

  • The National Flag of Jamaica

  • The National Flower of Jamaica

  • The National Tree of Jamaica

  • The National fruit of Jamaica

  • The National Bird of Jamaica

  • The National Dish of Jamaica

  • The National Pledge

  • The National Anthem

  • The Coat of Arms

The Discovery

In 1494 on May 4, Christopher Columbus arrived at the island of Jamaica. This was on his second voyage to the New World, which was afterwards called America.

 

Columbus annexed the island in the name of his master and mistress. the King and Queen of Spain. But it was not occupied until Juan de Esquivel came from Santo Domingo in 1509. and for 146 years Jamaica remained a Spanish colony.

The Arawaks or Tainos

Jamaica was inhabited by a gentle race of people called the 'Arawaks or Tainos'. They had probably come from the country now known as Guyana, where Arawak Indians are still to be found. They were short people, rather stout, with straight black hair and flattish noses; they were copper-coloured.

 

They lived in huts shaped like those of the peasants of Jamaica. They slept in hammocks. They made rough seats of wood, and spears tipped with stone, or with the teeth of sharks. They did not have the bow and arrow. The men were skilful fishermen, and caught fish and turtle to eat. They made their cooking vessels out of clay, and burnt them in fire till they became hard. The women grew cassava, corn and sweet potatoes for food.

 

Cotton grew wild in the island, and they twisted the fibre into cloth, strips of which they wore around their waists. They also wore strings of beads and shells.

The Spaniards

The Spaniards made slaves of them and put them to difficult tasks. The Spaniards treated the Arawaks so harshly that in about fifty years all of them were dead. They had numbered fully sixty thousand. The Spaniards got slaves from Africa to take their place.

The Spaniards first settled on that part of the northern coast of Jamaica which is now known as the parish of St. Ann. There they built a town called Sevilla Nueva, or New Seville. Afterwards they moved to the southern part of the island and built the town of St. Jago de la Vega (St. James of the Plain), which is still called Spanish Town. The island was given to the Columbus family as a personal estate in 1540, but they did nothing to develop it. The Spanish colony in Jamaica was never a very large or a very flourishing one.

The English Arrival

In 1655 on May 10, a body of English sailors and soldiers landed at Passage Fort, in Kingston harbour, and marched towards Spanish Town.

 

They were commanded by Admiral Penn and General Venables, who had been sent by Oliver Cromwell to capture the island of Hispaniola. Penn and Venables failed to take the city of Santo Domingo and sailed on to Jamaica.

 

On May 11, the Spaniards surrendered. They were allowed a few days to leave the island. Some of them went to Cuba, but others secretly went to the northside of Jamaica.

Jamaica

(From Colony to Independence)

The Occupation of the English

In 1656 Don Cristobal Arnaldo de Ysassi led strong guerrilla forces in the interior. He had been appointed the last Spanish Governor of Jamaica. Two expeditions from Cuba came to the north coast to help him. General Doyley attacked both times by sailing around the island from Kingston. He defeated Ysassi near Ocho Rios in 1657 and at Rio Nuevo in 1658, the last named being the biggest battle ever fought in Jamaica. Ysassi continued to hold out until 1660, when the defection of Maroon allies made his cause hopeless, and he and his followers escaped to Cuba in canoes. In 1661 a Commission arrived from England formally appointing Doyley as Governor of Jamaica, and commanding him to establish a Council to assist him in the government of the colony. This Council was to be elected by the colonists.

In 1662 Lord Windsor arrived as Governor of Jamaica. He brought with him a Royal Proclamation declaring that all children born of English subjects in Jamaica should be regarded as free citizens of England. Lord Windsor retired from the Government of Jamaica within the year, and Sir Charles Lyttleton became Deputy Governor. There were then 4,205 persons in Jamaica. Santiago de Cuba was captured and looted by Admiral Myngs.

In 1663 an expedition sailed from Jamaica to attack the Spanish town of Campeche, in Central America. After some misfortunes, this effort succeeded, and much booty and many ships were taken by the English. In the same year we first hear of the English trying to suppress the Maroons. These were descendants of former slaves of the Spanish. They escaped to the mountains and forests in the interior, where they lived a wild, free life and, it was rumoured, murdered every white person they came across. An expedition was sent against them under Juan de Bolas, a former Maroon who had aided the English. The soldiers were defeated. Peace was patched up shortly afterwards between the Maroons and the English, but it did not last for long.

In 1664 the first House of Assembly was called together. It consisted of twenty members elected by the people. It met at Spanish Town and passed 45 laws for the government of the colony.

 

In 1673 there were 17,272 persons in Jamaica. In that year Sir Henry Morgan became Lieutenant-Governor.

In 1674 Lord Vaughan arrived as Governor. The next year 1,200 settlers from Surinam came to Jamaica and started sugar planting.

In 1677 Lord Vaughan left Jamaica, and Sir Henry Morgan once more became Lieutenant-Governor. He was again Lieutenant-Governor in 1680. This was the same Henry Morgan who, in 1668, attacked Porto Bello on the Isthmus of Panama, and plundered it. In 1671, leading a body of buccaneers from Jamaica, he attacked and captured the old city of Panama, plundered it and burnt it to the ground.

In 1678 the Earl of Carlisle arrived as Governor. He brought with him instructions that before any laws were passed by the House of Assembly, a draft of them should be submitted to the King for his alterations or approval. Before this, the House of Assembly had first passed laws, and then sent them to England for the King's approval. The House strongly protested against this change, which would have reduced its power and authority very much. After a long struggle, the English Government yielded, and the old system was continued.

In 1687 the Duke of Albemarle as Governor. With him came Sir Hans Sloane as his physician. Sir Hans Sloane wrote two large volumes on Jamaica. Albemarle favoured Sir Henry Morgan, who died in 1688 and was buried with honours at Port Royal.

In 1690 the Earl of Inchiquin arrived as Governor. During this year a rebellion of the slaves took place at Chapelton in Clarendon. It was suppressed, and the ringleaders were executed. Some of the slaves, however, escaped to the mountains, where they joined the Maroons.

In 1692 Sir William Beeston became Governor of Jamaica.

On June 7, the great Port Royal earthquake occurred. Port Royal was then the chief city in Jamaica, famous for its riches. The House of Assembly met there. The buccaneers took their prizes there. The houses were substantially built of stone. The inhabitants lived a wild, reckless life, and Port Royal was described as one of the wickedest places on earth.

Port Royal Destroyed

At about 20 minutes to 12, on the forenoon of June, the 7, the inhabitants of the town were startled by a noise like thunder, which seemed to come from the north. Immediately the earth began to shake, and then the walls of the houses fell on every side. There were three shocks.

 

The first was not very severe; the last was the worst. A considerable portion of the city sank beneath the sea. The sea receded, then rushed back with terrible force, sweeping over the land and drowning hundreds of persons.

 

Thousands perished. Minor shocks occurred all that day and for several days afterwards. The earthquake was felt all over the island; great landslides occurred and some springs disappeared.

 

The dead bodies of the people floated in harbour and rotted on the land. Port Royal was almost completely ruined.

 

Its surviving inhabitants endeavored to restore what was left of it to its former importance, but in 1704, a fire broke out in one of its warehouses and destroyed every building except the forts.

Port Royal

The Independence

At midnight on August 5, 1962, Jamaica became a free independent nation within the British Commonwealth of Nations.

 

A ceremony marking the event was held at the newly constructed National Stadium in Kingston, which was filled to its capacity of 35,000.

The chief persons taking part were Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret (representing Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II), her husband, the Earl of Snowdon, Sir Kenneth Blackburne, who had been nominated by the Queen on the recommendation of our then Premier to be Jamaica's first Governor-General, Sir Alexander Bustamante, Jamaica's first Prime Minister, and Mr. Norman Manley, Leader of the Opposition.

The National Fruit

Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica as well as a component of the national dish ackee and codfish.

Although the ackee is not indigenous to Jamaica, it has remarkable historic associations.

 

Originally, it was imported to the island from West Africa, probably on a slave ship. Now it grows here luxuriantly, producing large quantities of edible fruit each year.

Ackee is derived from the original name Ankye which comes from the Twi language of Ghana. The botanical name of the fruit, Blighia Sapida, was given in honour of Captain William Bligh of "Mutiny on the Bounty" fame, who in 1793 took plants of the fruit from Jamaica to England.

 

Captain Bligh also brought the first breadfruit to Jamaica. Before this, the ackee was unknown to science. In 1778 Dr Thomas Clarke, one of the earliest propogators of the tree, introduced it to the eastern parishes.

The National Heroes of Jamaica

The Order of National Hero is the most senior order. The honour of the Order of National Hero may be conferred upon any person who was born in Jamaica or is, or at the time of his or her death was, a citizen of Jamaica and rendered to Jamaica service of a most distinguished nature. A member of the Order is entitled to be styled “The Rt Excellent” and the motto of the Order is “He built a city which hath foundations”.

Only 7 recipients in the history of Jamaica, have so far received this highest of honours - Nanny of the Maroons, Paul Bogle, Alexander Bustmante, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, George William Gordon, Samuel Sharpe and Norman Washington Manley.

To take a look at each of their brief biographies, please click directly on the images in the slideshow above.

(Information provided by Jamaica Information Service).

The Map of Jamaica

Jamaica is divided into 3 Counties - Cornwall, Middlesex and Surrey.

The counties are further sub-divided into 14 Parishes with the capitals in brackets as below:

The National Flower

The Lignum Vitae was found here by Christopher Columbus. Its name, when translated from Latin, means wood of life, probably adopted because of its medicinal qualities.

 

The short, compact tree is native to continental tropical American and the West Indies. In Jamaica it grows best in the dry woodland along the north and south coasts of the island.

The plant is extremely ornamental, producing an attractive blue flower and orange-yellow fruit, while its crown has an attractive rounded shape. The tree is one of the most useful in the world. The body, gum, bark, fruit, leaves and blossom all serve some useful purpose. In fact, the tree has been regarded for its medicinal properties.

 

A gum (gum guaiac) obtained from its resin was once regarded as a purgative. It was exported to Europe from the early sixteenth century as a remedy (combined with mercury) for syphillis and has also been used as a remedy for gout.

The National Tree

The Blue Mahoe is the national tree of Jamaica. It is indigenous to the island and grows quite rapidly, often attaining 20m (66ft) or more in height. In wetter districts it will grow in a wide range of elevations, up to 1200m (4000 ft.) and is often used in reforestation.

The tree is quite attractive with its straight trunk, broad green leaves and hibiscus-like flowers. The attractive flower changes colour as it matures, going from bright yellow to orange red and finally to crimson.

The name mahoe is derived from a Carib Indian word. The blue refers to blue-green streaks in the polished wood, giving it a distinctive appearance.

The Blue Mahoe is so beautiful and durable that it is widely used for cabinet making and also for making decorative objects such as picture frames, bowls and carving.

The inner bark of the tree is often referred to as Cuba bark because it was formerly used for tying bundles of Havana cigars. Cuba is the only other place where the Blue Mahoe grows naturally.

The National Bird

The doctor bird or swallow tail humming bird, is one of the most outstanding of the 320 species of hummingbirds. It lives only in Jamaica. These birds' beautiful feathers have no counterpart in the entire bird population and they produce iridescent colours characteristic only of that family. In addition to these beautiful feathers, the mature male has tow long tails which stream behind him when he flies. For years the doctor bird has been immortalized in Jamaican folklore and song.

The origin of the name "Docor-bird" is somewhat unsettled. It has been said that the name was given because the erect black crest and tails resemble the top hat and long tail coats doctors used to wear in the old days. Other schools of thought believe that it refers to the way the birds lance the flowers with their bills to extract nectar.

According to Frederic Cassidy the bird is an object of superstition. The Arawaks spread the belief that the bird had magical powers. They called it the "God bird", believing it was the reincarnation of dead souls. This is manifested in a folk song which says: "Doctor Bud a cunny bud, hard bud fe dead" (It is a clever bird which cannot be easily killed).

The Jamaica Coat Of Arms

Considered as a legacy from the British with slight modifications, the Jamaican coat of arms was granted to Jamaica in 1661 under Royal Warrant. The original was designed by William Sancroft, then Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Jamaican national motto is ‘Out of Many One People’, based on the population’s multiracial roots.

The motto is represented on the Coat of Arms, showing a male and female member of the Taino tribe standing on either side of a shield which bears a red cross with five golden pineapples.

The crest shows a Jamaican crocodile mounted on the Royal Helmet of the British Monarchy and mantling.

Ten Historical Facts

1) Two indigenous tribes, the Arawak and Taino resided in Jamaica before European colonisation, from about 4000 BC, until the 1494 arrival of Christopher Columbus, who claimed the island for Spain.

2) The Spanish were forcibly evicted by the British at Ocho Rios in 1655. Many West African slaves fled into the mountains, when the English captured Jamaica to live with the Tainos.

They became known as the Jamaican Maroons.

 

3) During the first 200 years of British rule, Jamaica became the world’s leading sugar-producing nation.

 

4) The Christmas Rebellion of 1831-32, a 10-day revolt led by preacher Samuel Sharpe, saw 60,000 slaves demand freedom and a working wage of half the going rate.

It was the largest slave uprising in the British West Indies, but was suppressed by the British forces, with approximately 500 slaves killed.

 

5) The 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion involved about 300 Jamaicans, including Paul Bogle, who wanted the right to vote and an improvement of economic and social standards.

The rebellion was brutally smashed by the British forces who – as has been stated in the history books – “slaughtered all before [them]…man or woman or child.” 793 black Jamaicans were killed and over 600 flogged.

6) The People’s National Party (PNP) was founded by Norman Manley in 1938.

7) The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) was founded in 1943 with leader Alexander Bustamante.

8) The first general election took place in 1944, with a new constitution and popularly elected House of Representatives. The JLP won the election with 22 of the 32 seats.

9) Before gaining independence in 1962, Jamaica was part of the 1958 Federation of the West Indies, a union of all British colonies in the Caribbean.

10) Jamaica’s constitution was drafted and came into force in February 1962. On August 6, 1962, Jamaica became independent within the British Commonwealth, with Alexander Bustamante of the Jamaica Labour Party as Prime Minister.

The National Pledge

*Historical facts provided by the Jamaica Gleaner and the Jamaica Information Service

Jamaica's Independence in 1962

(Rare film footage)

The National Flag

The Jamaican flag was unfurled and hoisted for the first time at the dramatic hour of midnight on August 5, 1962 as the British flag was being lowered, signalling the dawn of Jamaica’s political independence from Britain, present day United Kingdom, after over 300 years under British rule.

Following a national flag design competition (in 1961), which failed to yield a winning model, a bipartisan committee of the Jamaica House of Representatives in early 1962, designed the Jamaican Flag in time for Independence Day Celebrations on August 6, 1962. The emblem has a diagonal cross or saltire with four triangles in juxtaposition. The cross is in GOLD and the width of each of its bends (arms) is one-sixth of the length of the fly of the flag. The top and bottom triangles are in GREEN, and the hoist and fly triangles are in BLACK. It follows the ‘Admiralty Pattern’ and the width-to-length ratio of the flag is 1:2.

“The sun shineth, the land is green and the people are strong and creative” is the symbolism of the colours of the flag. Black depicts the strength and creativity of the people; Gold, the natural beauty of the sunlight and the wealth of the country; and Green signifies hope and agricultural resources.

The National Dish

The national dish of Jamaica is not the renowned Jerk Pork or Jerk Chicken, but Ackee and Salt Fish.

 

Ackee is the fruit of an African tree brought to Jamaica by the infamous Captain Blygh as food for the slaves.

 

The appearance of the dish is somewhat like scrambled eggs, but there the resemblance ends.

 

Although ackee itself is fairly bland in taste, the combination of the salt cod and spices give it a flavorful and distinctive taste. Some people find the taste of the salt cod too strong for their liking, so ask your cook to be moderate with her use of the cod.

 

Bacon or salt pork may also be added as flavoring for the ackee. A word of caution; unripe ackee can be poisonous. It is very easy to tell if the ackee is ripe, and ready for eating. When ripe, the bright red pod opens to expose the yellow fleshy edible section of the ackee.

The Current Prime Minister

The Most Honourable Andrew Michael Holness ON, MP

The Most Honourable Andrew Michael Holness was first elected as Member of Parliament (MP) to represent the Constituency of West Central St. Andrew in 1997, at the age of 25. Now in his fourth consecutive term as MP, Mr. Holness became Jamaica’s ninth Prime Minister after the Jamaica Labour Party defeated the People’s National Party at the polls on February 25, 2016.

 

Mr. Holness has pledged to build real partnerships with the Private Sector, Civil Society, the Diaspora, the Opposition and International Partners in order to achieve the vision of shared prosperity for all Jamaicans through inclusive economic growth and meaningful job creation.

The Politics of Jamaica

Politics in Jamaica takes place in the framework of a representative parliamentary democratic constitutional monarchy. The 1962 Constitution of Jamaica established a parliamentary system whose political and legal traditions closely follow those of the United Kingdom. As the head of state, Queen Elizabeth II - on the advice of the Prime Minister of Jamaica - appoints a governor-general as her representative in Jamaica. The governor-general has a largely ceremonial role. Jamaica constitutes an independent Commonwealth realm.

The Constitution vests executive power in the cabinet, led by the Prime Minister. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested both in the government and in the Parliament of Jamaica.

Parliament is composed of an appointed Senate and an elected House of Representatives. Thirteen Senators are nominated on the advice of the prime minister and eight on the advice of the leader of the opposition; a two-thirds super-majority of both chambers is needed for major constitutional amendments. General elections must be held within five years of the forming of a new government.

The prime minister may ask the governor-general to call elections sooner, however. The Senate may submit bills, and it also reviews legislation submitted by the House. It may not delay budget bills for more than one month or other bills for more than seven months. The prime minister and the Cabinet are selected from the Parliament. No fewer than two nor more than four members of the Cabinet must be selected from the Senate.

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