The History of the Jamaican People and Their Culture

By: Stephanie Larkin

Jamaica is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean, but this country is also called home by millions of people. Most tourists never learn about the history of the Jamaican people, but if you’re planning to vacation here, you will enjoy and understand it more if you better understand their culture.

Early History of Jamaica

The history of Jamaica begins with the natives that inhabited the island before Christopher Columbus discovered it in 1494. These people, the Taino, were the original residents of the island, but they quickly died out with the arrival of Spanish colonists. They were peaceful people and thrived in the agricultural industry. The smallpox epidemic that European settlers brought to Jamaica caused their ultimate extinction. Today, there are no known direct descendants of the Taino people, but branches of the same family tree from other tribes do still exist in Puerto Rico, Aruba, and parts of South America. Due to intermarrying, however, some of the inhabitants of Jamaica may still carry a Taino bloodline.

Jamaica, like the United States, is known as a melting pot due to European settlement, most of which was British. This was also a hub for slavery in the Americas until 1838, when the practice was abolished by the English who still owned the island. During this time period, Jamaica was also a hot spot for pirates. It remained in British control on varying levels until the 1960s.

Jamaican Language and Religion

Because of this port-based country’s draw for various groups of people, the culture you will find on this island is a mixture of the cultures of the native people, most of whom are Spanish and English settlers, African slaves, and tourists from around the world who decided to move to this island. English is the official language of the country, but most people speak Jamaican Patois, which some consider to be an English dialect while others consider it to be a separate language.

Although Jamaica is a small country with under three million inhabitants, its culture has influenced the world. Without Tainos-influenced Jamaica, we would not have words such as canoe, hammock, and barbecue. The hammock is an ever-popular way to relax in the sun, and in the 16th century, Jamaicans created hammocks as a way to change sailors’ sleeping quarters. It was much cleaner than the traditional bug-filled beds of soggy straw which lay on the ground.

Jamaica’s culture is deeply rooted in religion. Due to the high number of missionary immigrants initially, Christianity is by far the strongest religion in this country. However, an offshoot of traditional Christianity called Rastafari developed in Jamaica, and this religion (made more famous in the Western World by musician Bob Marley) is the backbone to much of Jamaica’s musical and spiritual practices. This religious sect is based on the Old Testament with the belief that Haile Selassie of Ethiopia is the true descendant of Christianity.

Jamaican Music

Music is one of the most important parts of Jamaican culture, in part due to its strong ties to the church. This small nation is home to a number of musical genres, including reggae, dance hall, and ska. This is also the birthplace of toasting, a chant/speech style of music with a strong beat, which is said to be one of the grandfathers of today’s rap and hip-hop culture. Some of the most famous Jamaican musicians include Bob Marley, The Skatalites, Alton Ellis, Peter Tosh, Beenie Man, and most recently Sean Kingston. In addition, a number of artists have cited Jamaican music as an influence in their work. These artists include rock bands such as The Clash and The Police, and rap artists Wu-Tang Clan.

Dance is quite important in Jamaican culture. These include both religious types of dancing, which are an integral part of ceremonies, and secular dancing, which is a response to the reggae, ska, and dance hall music that became so popular in this country in the 20th century. Other nearby islands, like Trinidad and Tobago, also influenced dance in Jamaica.

Jamaica Today

Today, Jamaica is still a melting pot of cultures. Over all cultures, however, the focus has slowly been shifting to tourism and the environment, and today most major cruise lines have ships that port in Jamaica. There is also a keen awareness of the decline in healthy coral reefs in this country, and a movement to bring them back.

Jamaica might be a tiny island, but this country has a big personality. If you’re traveling to Jamaica, take a moment to find out more about the culture of the Jamaican people. They are some of the most friendly, welcoming people you’ll ever meet.

About Author:

Stephanie Larkin is a freelance writer who writes about topics pertaining to vacations and the travel industry such as a Jamaica Vacation