Much of the following information is courtesy of the Jamaica Tourist Board
Additions/Updates by Marty Bush (Voice/FAX 206-202-3135)
The national motto of Jamaica is "out of many, one people" because Jamaicans are a mix of many people descended from Africa, Europe, India, the Orient and the Middle East.
In 2011 Jamaica celebrated 49 years as an independent nation. On August 6, 1962 at midnight, in a ceremony witnessed by Britain's Princess Margaret and U.S. Vice President Lyndon Johnson, the British Union Jack was lowered and the new black, green and gold Jamaican flag was raised.
Jamaica's history stretches much farther back; beyond even when Columbus sighted land, on his second voyage in 1494. In describing Jamaica, he recorded in his log: "The fairest land ever eyes beheld...the mountains touch the sky"--a description echoed by five centuries of newcomers.
The Spanish mariners found a gentle American Indian people, the Arawaks, who lived off the sea and their cultivation, had invented the hammock, and had never experienced war. To them, the Spaniards with their ships, guns and horses were godlike, and were welcomed as gods. Under the Spanish settlement, however, the entire Indian population--perhaps a hundred thousand--died: a combination of forced labor, mass executions and European diseases previously unknown, like the common cold, to which they had no immunity.
The Spanish never fully settled Jamaica, though Columbus himself was to spend nearly a year there in 1503, out of favor at court and nearing the end of his life. The island-named from its Arawak name Xaymaca", "land of wood and water"--passed to his son Diego, whose descendants to this day carry the now-honorary title of Marquis of Jamaica. In 1509--the year Henry VIII came to the English throne--they established a capital, New Seville, near the modern town of Ocho Rios (which they called "Las Chorreras," 'the waterfalls,' and the English conquerors later misunderstood, calling it eight rivers). Today the foundations of New Seville are being excavated, and the search continues for the two ships which Columbus left beached nearby.
The Spanish colonists raised cattle on Jamaica, and shipped lard ('manteca') made from wild pigs from a quiet north coast port today called Montego Bay. Jamaica became for them a post for provisioning their ships headed to Central America in search of gold. But in the century and a half of their rule, the Spanish made two introductions which became pivotal to Jamaica's future: they brought in sugar cane, and slaves from Africa to cultivate it.
The English captured the island in 1655 as a consolation prize. King Charles II beheaded, Oliver Cromwell had sent a large army (commanded in part by an ancestor of William Penn) to conquer the Caribbean islands.
Pushed back in Hispaniola (today's Haiti/Dominican Republic), they moved on to Jamaica, driving the Spanish from their new capital of St. Jago de la Vega--now Spanish Town, near Kingston--to flee to Cuba. Jamaican towns like Runaway Bay commemorate their departure. For nearly two hundred years sugar was king, and mammoth fortunes built on sugar were supported by increasing numbers of slaves. Buccaneers were encouraged to operate from Jamaica, attack the treasure ships of Spain and France and capture territory. A young indentured laborer from Wales called Henry Morgan would rise to be Lieutenant Governor and prosper. His home base, Port Royal, on a peninsula outside Kingston, was "the richest, wickedest city in Christendom," until on a hot afternoon in 1692 an earthquake tumbled most of it beneath the sea--a judgment, the pious said.
While magnificent plantation houses like Rose Hall and Greenwood rose above the cane fields, and fortunes earned were more the envy of the English King, the spirit of independence took different forms among planters and slaves. For the slaves, there was the continuing presence of the Maroons, descendants of the escaped slaves of the Spaniards, who called them "cimarrones" (runaways); they lived in the mountains, defied the British troops, served as a magnet for other runaways and periodically staged rebellions until a treaty in 1739 gave them a measure of autonomy which they still retain today.
The planters, too, were rebellious. When the 13 American colonies declared independence from Britain, the Jamaica House of Assembly voted to join them--perhaps because most of their trade was with America, but a daring gesture just the same.
Meanwhile, from a base in Jamaica the British Navy took from France and Spain in 18th Century wars, and was first command to a young naval officer named Horatio Nelson; a plaque in 'new' Port Royal's Fort Charles tells visitors "You who tread in his footprints, remember his glory."
The 1800's inexorably brought the end to slavery, abolished in 1834 and its legal vestiges ended four years later. In the economic chaos that followed emancipation one event stood out: the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865, led by a black Baptist deacon called Paul Bogle, supported by a wealthy Kingston businessman, George William Gordon, both later executed and now among Jamaica's National Heroes. In the panic that followed the rebellion and its brutal quelling, Jamaica's Assembly voted away its traditional independence and became a full colony of England.
In the years that followed, much of today's Jamaica was forged. To the black majority, European minority, and growing prosperous brown professional middle class were added migrants from India and China. Brought as indentured workers for sugar estates, they rapidly moved to other occupations. The very old Jewish community was joined by migrant Arab traders from Palestine.
Intermarriage created today's unique racially mixed Jamaican people, and is the basis of Jamaica's national motto, "Out of Many, One People." Ambition sent many abroad: to fight in Britain's wares; for a nurse called Mary Seacole, to save as many lives in the Crimea as Florence Nightingale; to build the Panama Canal; and in one man's case, find fortune and return to build Kingston's famous Devon House, to grow cane in Cuba and mahogany in Belize, and to start communities in the United States and elsewhere which have prospered and contributed men and women of vision and achievement to the world.
Those at home also created and built; Jamaica's rich farmlands prospered and indirectly in the U.S., by a New England sea captain. Lorenzo Dow Baker, whose Boston Fruit Company became United Fruit, began bringing American visitors to Jamaica before the turn of the century on their banana boats. Jamaica exported citrus, including new hybrids like the ortanique and the 'ugly fruit';. Rum became king. A new overseas market was found for Jamaican ginger in a product called ginger ale. Pimento was exported under the name 'allspice', and Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee became one of the world's premium brands.
In the 1930's political life was reborn. Two very dissimilar men, Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley (who, in a uniquely Jamaican coincidence, happened to also be cousins) founded the two political parties--the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP). Recently, a strong 3rd party was formed, the National Democratic Movement (NDM)
For 30 years, the island's rich bauxite (alumina) deposits were the bedrock of the economy. In the 1970's, Jamaica restructured an economy where tourism, as well as modern agriculture--including non-traditional areas like flowers, fish-farming and vegetables for export--take a bigger place in supporting a population of over two million. In fact, tourism has become the largest earner of foreign exchange, a major direct and indirect employer, and a big and growing market for virtually all of Jamaica's consumer products.
Jamaica sits in the western Caribbean. At 4,411 square miles, it is approximately the size of the state of Connecticut. Millions of years ago Jamaica was volcanic, and the mountains which soar to nearly 7,500 feet are higher than any in the eastern half of North America. These mountains run all through the island's center, with a narrow coastal plain, some 160 rivers and many waterfalls, and a dramatic coastline -- especially on the north and east -- of white sand coves.
Much of the island is limestone, which means a variety of underground caves and offshore reefs, and safe and naturally filtered drinking water. In the high mountains of the east, misty pine forests and northern hemisphere flowers abound; homes have fireplaces and heaters are needed in the evenings.
The flatter southern coast can look like African savannah or Indian plains, and has alternating black and white sand beaches as well as mineral springs richer than Baden Baden. There are tropical rain forests, and rolling green countryside that, except for the occasional palm tree, could be the south of England.
Almost everything grows. In the heyday of the British Empire, flowering and fruit trees were brought from Asia, the Pacific and Africa; evergreens from Canada, roses and nasturtiums from England. The breadfruit was sent from Tahiti, first by Captain Bligh on the "Bounty". In return, Jamaica's native pineapple was sent to Hawaii; its mahogany to Central America. There are varieties of orchids, bromeliads and ferns in Jamaica that are native to nowhere else, and varieties of fruit like the Bombay mango that don't seem to flourish anywhere else in the hemisphere.
Jamaica boasts a broad variety of birds, both native and migratory, from the tiny bee hummingbird and its cousin the 'doctor bird' (whose longer-tailed profile is the logo of the national airline, Air Jamaica) to the mysterious solitaire, with its mournful cry. Visitors to Jamaica's north coast resorts are familiar with the "kling-kling"--the shiny black Antillean grackle who shares breakfast toast and circulates with a dancer's elegance. A hike though the highest mountains has been known to be rewarded by a sight of papillio homerus, one of the world's largest butterflies, also a native.
Jamaica's nearly 3 million people are a spectrum of races -- and every known combination of races -- that bespeak the island's heritage. Most are black; many are every shade of brown, with over or undertones of Chinese, East Indian, Middle Eastern and European.
Religion is an important force; so is religious tolerance. The vast majority is Christian, but there are communities of Jews, Hindus and Moslems. The Church of Jamaica--formerly the Church of England--has the largest membership. Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians have been important forces since they fought for social justice two centuries ago. Roman Catholics have a significant voice and membership, and the newer American preachers have large followings. There are also Quakes, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Scientists and more. Rastafarianism commands a large following and general respect. And behind the eloquence of all Jamaicans lies the King James version of the Bible.
Jamaicans of every description are above all friendly, funny, opinionated, talented, and always impossible to forget. National pride is specific: beating the English at cricket, winning gold medals in the Olympics (remember the 1992 bobsled team?) or world boxing titles, outstandingly bright and successful family members, a new house, a successful business, the ability to survive. The Jamaican sense of humor is legendary. It is dry and understated, but robust and physical; it makes fun of oneself and others; it is subtle and simultaneously direct.
Jamaicans speak English and speak it eloquently, but with their own musical lilt, unique sentence patterns, and some words which are a survival from West African languages.
When Jamaicans speak Patois (pah'-twa), a blend of English and African, the discussion may be almost incomprehensible to the visitor at first, but in a little while you catch the rhythm and begin to pick up expressions.
Proverbs and place names express the vitality of Jamaica talk: for "Mind your own business", there is "Cockroach no business inna fowl-yard"; for being corrupted by bad companions, "You lay down wid dawg, you get up wid fleas"--and for the pretentious, "The higher monkey climb, the more him expose."
Both British and Biblical place names abound--Somerset and Siloah, Highgate and Horeb. There are Arawak names like Liguanea, Spanish ones like Oracabessa...and entirely Jamaican ones like Rest-And-Be-Thankful, Red Gal Ring and Me-No-Sen You,-No-Come (If I don't send for you, don't come).
All Jamaica's history is told by the food Jamaicans eat. The cassava the Arawaks grew is used today as "bammie, a toasted flat wafer eaten with fried fish. The Maroons, always on the run, devised a way of spicing and slow cooking pork that they called "jerking". Today's visitor tastes jerk chicken and fish as well. To feed the slaves cheaply and well, the ackee fruit was brought from Africa, as was a variety of yams and root vegetables as well as the breadfruit. To preserve meat and fish, spices and peppers were added, and unique seasonings like the famous Pickappeppa Sauce devised. The national dish is saltfish and ackee, gently spiced.
The Indian and Chinese influence made curries and chow meins also part of the national menu, and modern Kingston boasts restaurants from Lebanon and Korea, all run by Jamaicans. Over three centuries of British rule of course ensured the basic roasts and stews that followed the flag. And American favorites like hamburgers, pizza and tuna are everywhere.
Familiar and exotic fruits abound--mangoes, pineapples, citrus, papayas, bananas, otaheite apples and soursop--eaten fresh and frequently, or combined in desserts like ''matrimony'', a fruit salad bound with condensed milk.
Jamaica's pop music, Reggae, has become known and loved around the world, made famous by legendary Bob Marley and others.
The paintings and carvings of Jamaican artists are finding their way abroad, and are on view in Kingston's National Gallery. The National Dance Theater Company, well known overseas, showcases Jamaica's colorful history and contemporary ideas, while groups like the Jamaica Folk Singers perform in song and dance rituals that reach back into the country's past. In Kingston's lively theater scene, there is a choice of international plays and local, highly entertaining comedies and cabaret.
When Christopher Columbus sailed into the turquoise waters of what is today called Discovery Bay on the northern coast of Jamaica, he was stunned by the beauty surrounding him. Nearly 500 years later, travelers from all over the world agree and keep returning to make their own discoveries in Ocho Rios and surrounding areas that comprise "The Garden Parish" of St. Ann.
Ocho Rios is the central point of a magnificent region that includes both deserted and developed beaches, fern-clad cliffs and breathtaking waterfalls.
The charm of Ocho Rios is that it has remained tranquil, yet can be stimulating. Through the centuries it evolved from a center of Spanish cultural influence to a region of lush sugar plantations and colorful fishing villages, and finally to a modern Caribbean resort area offering a wide variety of vacation experiences and accommodation options.
Ocho Rios may well be the most photographed area in the West Indies. Shaw Park Gardens on the high ground affords spectacular vistas of the coast. Dunn's River Falls, over 600 feet high and cascading in tiers onto the beach, is considered the Niagara of the Caribbean. Fern Gully offers a spectacular, curving 3-mile journey through a world of tropical ferns, including the 30-foot tall Fern Tree and more than 550 other native varieties.
Several excellent plantation tours give an introduction to Caribbean farming, and to strange and exotic vegetation. "Firefly", the mountain top house where Noel Coward lived and is buried, is open to visitors. There are the excavations of the 16th century Spanish ruins of New Seville, and, of course, there is Discovery Bay, which today features historic Columbus Park. The Chukka Cove Equestrian Center offers several scenic horseback trails as well as polo and dressage lessons, from novice to expert.
In addition to the Carib Ocho Rios Condominiums where Marty & Margot Bush rent their apartment to many visitors of the island of Jamaica, there are many other picturesque places.
Accommodations range from grand and luxurious to small and secluded. They include Jamaica's largest convention hotel, the Jamaica Grande, smaller very exclusive hotels like Plantation Inn, Jamaica Inn and Sans Souci, all-inclusive resorts such as Ciboney Spa and Villa Resort, Enchanted Gardens, Couples, Jamaica Jamaica, Sandals Dunns' River, Sandals Ocho Rios and more modest lodging facilities on the beach.
Ocho Rios also has Jamaica's largest concentration of resorts that cater specifically to family holidays. Boscobel Beach and FDR (also all-inclusive), both have comprehensive programs and unique facilities for children.
The larger hotels offer nightly shows and dancing. The Jamaica Grande has created a disco called "Jamaic'n Me Crazy" which is modern, yet still invokes a feeling of being completely mind and soul in Jamaica. Romantics should also find time for a torchlit canoe ride on the White River with a spectacular Island feast and entertainment on the beach below. The Acropolis disco in the center of town is known for a good blend of locals and tourists. The Roof disco caters to mostly locals, but many tourists say this is the best Jamaican Reggae place in town.
For information on areas than Ocho Rios in Jamaica, please contact the Jamaica Tourist Board.
Jamaica Fact Sheet
Presently estimated at 3 million. A multi-racial mix: African; European; Afro-European; East Indian; Afro-East Indian; Chinese; Afro-Chinese. Kingston's population is over 700,000.
Average annual temperature is 82 degrees F. As low as the 50's on the highest mountains. Northeast trade winds and mountain breezes keeps the temperature pleasant along the coast. Average annual rainfall is 78 inches.
The third largest Caribbean island, 4,411 square miles, 146 miles long, with widths varying between 22 and 51 miles. A very mountainous country, almost one-half of the island is 1,000 feet above sea level. Blue Mountain Peak is the highest point, at 7,402 feet.
Mountain ranges rich in limestone, marble, porphyry, alabaster, shale and sandstone. Jamaica has a lush terrain and dramatic coastline, with valleys, waterfalls, and some 120 natural rivers.
English and "Patois", which is Jamaican Creole words and speech patterns used by most of the population.
The official rate of exchange fluctuates daily, depending on the foreign exchange markets. The current rate, at this writing (10/2011), stands at approximately US$l.00 to J$85.00. Foreign currency may be exchanged for Jamaican dollars at any bank during regular business hours or at licensed exchange bureaus or `cambios' in the airports and at hotels island wide. Purchase of goods and services on island, including hotels, restaurants, car rental agencies and duty free shops, may be made in any currency, but the US$ may provide you more for your money.
For more information on Jamaica, contact the Jamaica Tourist Board
Chicago, 312-346-1546 or 800-621-5232
Los Angles, 213-384-1123 or 800-421-8206
Miami, 305-665-0557 or 800-327-9857
Atlanta, 404-250-9971 or 800-327-9857
Dallas, 214-361-8778 or 800-327-9857
New York, 212-688-7650 or 800-847-4279
Last Revised: Saturday, Oct 1, 2011
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