|Motto: "Out of Many, One People"|
|Anthem: "Jamaica, Land We Love" |
and largest city
|Vernacular language||Jamaican Patois|
|Ethnic groups |
|Government||Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy|
|House of Representatives|
from the United Kingdom
|6 August 1962|
|10,991 km2 (4,244 sq mi) (160th)|
• Water (%)
• 2022 estimate
|266/km2 (688.9/sq mi)|
|GDP (PPP)||2018 estimate|
|$26.981 billion (134th)|
• Per capita
|GDP (nominal)||2018 estimate|
|$15.424 billion (119th)|
• Per capita
|Gini (2016)|| 35|
|HDI (2021)|| 0.709|
high · 110th
|Currency||Jamaican dollar (JMD)|
+1-658 (Overlay of 876; active in November 2018)
|ISO 3166 code||JM|
Jamaica (// (listen); Jamaican Patois: Jumieka) is an island country situated in the Caribbean Sea. Spanning 10,990 square kilometres (4,240 sq mi) in area, it is the third-largest island of the Greater Antilles and the Caribbean (after Cuba and Hispaniola). Jamaica lies about 145 kilometres (90 mi) south of Cuba, and 191 kilometres (119 mi) west of Hispaniola (the island containing the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic); the British Overseas Territory of the Cayman Islands lies some 215 kilometres (134 mi) to the north-west.
Originally inhabited by the indigenous Taíno peoples, the island came under Spanish rule following the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1494. Many of the indigenous people either were killed or died of diseases, after which the Spanish brought large numbers of African slaves to Jamaica as labourers. Named Santiago by the Spanish, the island remained a possession of Spain until 1655, when England (later Great Britain) conquered it, renaming it Jamaica. Under British colonial rule Jamaica became a leading sugar exporter, with a plantation economy dependent on the African slaves and later their descendants. The British fully emancipated all slaves in 1838, and many freedmen chose to have subsistence farms rather than to work on plantations. Beginning in the 1840s, the British began using Chinese and Indian indentured labour to work on plantations. The island achieved independence from the United Kingdom on 6 August 1962.
With 2.8 million people, Jamaica is the third-most populous Anglophone country in the Americas (after the United States and Canada), and the fourth-most populous country in the Caribbean. Kingston is the country's capital and largest city. The majority of Jamaicans are of Sub-Saharan African ancestry, with significant European, East Asian (primarily Chinese), Indian, Lebanese, and mixed-race minorities. Due to a high rate of emigration for work since the 1960s, there is a large Jamaican diaspora, particularly in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The country has a global influence that belies its small size; it was the birthplace of the Rastafari religion, reggae music (and associated genres such as dub, ska and dancehall), and it is internationally prominent in sports, most notably cricket, sprinting and athletics. Jamaica is often considered the world's least populous cultural superpower.
Jamaica is an upper-middle income country with an economy heavily dependent on tourism; it has an average of 4.3 million tourists a year. Jamaica performs favourably in measurements of press freedom and democratic governance. It ranked first in the Caribbean on the World Happiness Report for 2021. However, it ranks poorly for civil rights of LGBT persons, ranking last in the Western Hemisphere. Politically it is a Commonwealth realm, with King Charles III as King of Jamaica. His appointed representative in the country is the Governor-General of Jamaica, an office held by Patrick Allen since 2009. Andrew Holness has served as Prime Minister of Jamaica since March 2016. Jamaica is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy with legislative power vested in the bicameral Parliament of Jamaica, consisting of an appointed Senate and a directly elected House of Representatives.
The indigenous people, the Taíno, called the island Xaymaca /ʃa͡iˈmaka/ in their language, meaning the "Land of Wood and Water" or the "Land of Springs". Yamaye has been suggested as an early Taíno name for the island as recorded by Christopher Columbus. Colloquially, many present-day Jamaicans refer to their home island as the "Rock". Slang names such as "Jamrock", "Jamdown" ("Jamdung" in Jamaican Patois), or briefly "Ja", have derived from this.
Humans have inhabited Jamaica from as early as 4000–1000 BC. Little is known of these early peoples. Another group, known as the "Redware people" after their pottery, arrived circa 600 AD, followed by the Taíno circa 800 AD, who most likely came from South America. They practised an agrarian and fishing economy, and at their height are thought to have numbered some 60,000 people, grouped into around 200 villages headed by caciques (chiefs). The south coast of Jamaica was the most populated, especially around the area now known as Old Harbour.
Though often thought to have become extinct following contact with Europeans, the Taíno in fact still inhabited Jamaica when the English took control of the island in 1655. Some fled into interior regions, merging with African Maroon communities. The Jamaica National Heritage Trust is attempting to locate and document any remaining evidence of the Taíno.
Spanish rule (1509–1655)
Christopher Columbus was the first European to see Jamaica, claiming the island for Spain after landing there in 1494 on his second voyage to the Americas. His probable landing point was Dry Harbour, called Discovery Bay, and St. Ann's Bay was named "Saint Gloria" by Columbus, as the first sighting of the land. He later returned in 1503; however, he was shipwrecked and he and his crew were forced to live on Jamaica for a year while waiting to be rescued.
One and a half kilometres west of St. Ann's Bay is the site of the first Spanish settlement on the island, Sevilla, which was established in 1509 by Juan de Esquivel but abandoned around 1524 because it was deemed unhealthy. The capital was moved to Spanish Town, then called St. Jago de la Vega, around 1534 (at present-day St. Catherine). Meanwhile, the Taínos began dying in large numbers, both from introduced diseases and from enslavement by the Spanish. As a result, the Spanish began importing slaves from Africa to the island.
Many slaves managed to escape, forming autonomous communities in remote and easily defended areas in the interior of Jamaica, mixing with the remaining Taino; these communities became known as Maroons. Many Jews fled the Spanish Inquisition to live on the island. They lived as conversos and were often persecuted by the Spanish rulers, and some turned to piracy against the Spanish Empire's shipping.
Early English period
The English began taking an interest in the island and, following a failed attempt to conquer Santo Domingo on Hispaniola, Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables led an invasion of Jamaica in 1655. Battles at Ocho Rios in 1657 and the Rio Nuevo in 1658 resulted in Spanish defeats; in 1660 the Maroon community under the leadership of Juan de Bolas switched sides from the Spanish, and began supporting the English. With their help, the Spanish defeat was secured.
When the English captured Jamaica, most Spanish colonists fled, with the exception of Spanish Jews, who chose to remain on the island. Spanish slave holders freed their slaves before leaving Jamaica. Many slaves dispersed into the mountains, joining the already established maroon communities. During the centuries of slavery, Jamaican Maroons established free communities in the mountainous interior of Jamaica, where they maintained their freedom and independence for generations, under the leadership of Maroon leaders such as Juan de Serras.
Meanwhile, the Spanish made several attempts to re-capture the island, prompting the British to support pirates attacking Spanish ships in the Caribbean; as a result piracy became rampant on Jamaica, with the city of Port Royal becoming notorious for its lawlessness. Spain later recognised English possession of the island with the Treaty of Madrid (1670). After that, the English authorities sought to rein in the worst excesses of the pirates.
In 1660, the population of Jamaica was about 4,500 white and 1,500 black. By the early 1670s, as the English developed sugar cane plantations worked by large numbers of slaves, black Africans formed a majority of the population. The Irish in Jamaica also formed a large part of the island's early population, making up two-thirds of the white population on the island in the late 17th century, twice that of the English population. They were brought in as indentured labourers and soldiers after the conquest of 1655. The majority of Irish were transported by force as political prisoners of war from Ireland as a result of the ongoing Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Migration of large numbers of Irish to the island continued into the 18th century.
A limited form of local government was introduced with the creation of the House of Assembly of Jamaica in 1664; however, it represented only a tiny number of rich plantation owners. In 1692, the colony was rocked by an earthquake that resulted in several thousand deaths and the almost complete destruction of Port Royal.
During the 1700s, the economy boomed, based largely on sugar and other crops for export such as coffee, cotton, and indigo. All these crops were worked by black slaves, who lived short and often brutal lives with no rights, being the property of a small planter-class. In the 18th century, slaves ran away and joined the Maroons in increasing numbers, and resulted in The First Maroon War (1728 – 1739/40), which ended in stalemate. The British government sued for peace, and signed treaties with the Leeward Maroons led by Cudjoe and Accompong in 1739, and the Windward Maroons led by Quao and Queen Nanny in 1740.
A large slave rebellion, known as Tacky's War, broke out in 1760 but was defeated by the British and their Maroon allies. After the second conflict in 1795–96, many Maroons from the Maroon town of Cudjoe's Town (Trelawny Town) were expelled to Nova Scotia and, later, Sierra Leone. Many slaves ran away and formed independent communities under the leadership of escaped slaves such as Three-Fingered Jack, Cuffee and at Me-no-Sen-You-no-Come.
By the beginning of the 19th century, Jamaica's dependence on slave labour and a plantation economy had resulted in black people outnumbering white people by a ratio of almost 20 to 1. Although the British had outlawed the importation of slaves, some were still smuggled in from Spanish colonies and directly from Africa. While planning the abolition of slavery, the British Parliament passed laws to improve conditions for slaves. They banned the use of whips in the field and flogging of women; informed planters that slaves were to be allowed religious instruction, and required a free day during each week when slaves could sell their produce, prohibiting Sunday markets to enable slaves to attend church. The House of Assembly in Jamaica resented and resisted the new laws. Members, with membership then restricted to European-descended Jamaicans, claimed that the slaves were content and objected to Parliament's interference in island affairs. Slave owners feared possible revolts if conditions were lightened.
The British abolished the slave trade in 1807, but not the institution itself. In 1831 a huge slave rebellion, known as the Baptist War, broke out, led by the Baptist preacher Samuel Sharpe. The rebellion resulted in hundreds of deaths and the destruction of many plantations, and led to ferocious reprisals by the plantocracy class. As a result of rebellions such as these, as well as the efforts of abolitionists, Britain outlawed slavery in its empire in 1834, with full emancipation from chattel slavery declared in 1838. The population in 1834 was 371,070, of whom 15,000 were white, 5,000 free black; 40,000 "coloured" or free people of colour (mixed race); and 311,070 were slaves. The resulting labour shortage prompted the British to begin to "import" indentured servants to supplement the labour pool, as many freedmen resisted working on the plantations. Workers recruited from India began arriving in 1845, Chinese workers in 1854. Many South Asian and Chinese descendants continue to reside in Jamaica today.
Over the next 20 years, several epidemics of cholera, scarlet fever, and smallpox hit the island, killing almost 60,000 people (about 10 per day). Nevertheless, in 1871 the census recorded a population of 506,154 people, 246,573 of which were males, and 259,581 females. Their races were recorded as 13,101 white, 100,346 coloured (mixed black and white), and 392,707 black. This period was marked by an economic slump, with many Jamaicans living in poverty. Dissatisfaction with this, and continued racial discrimination and marginalisation of the black majority, led to the outbreak of the Morant Bay rebellion in 1865 led by Paul Bogle, which was put down by Governor John Eyre with such brutality that he was recalled from his position. His successor, John Peter Grant, enacted a series of social, financial and political reforms whilst aiming to uphold firm British rule over the island, which became a Crown Colony in 1866. In 1872 the capital was transferred from Spanish Town to Kingston.
Early 20th century
Unemployment and poverty remained a problem for many Jamaicans. Various movements seeking political change arose as a result, most notably the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League founded by Marcus Garvey in 1917. As well as seeking greater political rights and an improvement for the condition of workers, Garvey was also a prominent Pan-Africanist and proponent of the Back-to-Africa movement. He was also one of the chief inspirations behind Rastafari, a religion founded in Jamaica in the 1930s that combined Christianity with an Afrocentric theology focused on the figure of Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia. Despite occasional persecution, Rastafari grew to become an established faith on the island, later spreading abroad.
The Great Depression of the 1930s hit Jamaica hard. As part of the British West Indian labour unrest of 1934–39, Jamaica saw numerous strikes, culminating in a strike in 1938 that turned into a full-blown riot. As a result, the British government instituted a commission to look into the causes of the disturbances; their report recommended political and economic reforms in Britain's Caribbean colonies. A new House of Representatives was established in 1944, elected by universal adult suffrage. During this period Jamaica's two-party system emerged, with the creation of the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) under Alexander Bustamante and the People's National Party (PNP) under Norman Manley.
Jamaica slowly gained increasing autonomy from the United Kingdom. In 1958 it became a province in the Federation of the West Indies, a federation of several of Britain's Caribbean colonies. Membership of the Federation proved to be divisive, however, and a referendum on the issue saw a slight majority voting to leave. After leaving the federation, Jamaica attained full independence on 6 August 1962. The new state retained, however, its membership in the Commonwealth of Nations (with the Queen as head of state) and adopted a Westminster-style parliamentary system. Bustamante, at the age of 78, became the country's first prime minister.
Strong economic growth, averaging approximately 6% per annum, marked the first ten years of independence under conservative JLP governments; these were led by successive Prime Ministers Alexander Bustamante, Donald Sangster (who died of natural causes within two months of taking office) and Hugh Shearer. The growth was fuelled by high levels of private investment in bauxite/alumina, tourism, the manufacturing industry and, to a lesser extent, the agricultural sector. In the 1967 Jamaican general election, the JLP were victorious again, winning 33 out of 53 seats, with the PNP taking 20 seats.
The optimism of the first decade was accompanied by a growing sense of inequality among many Afro-Jamaicans, and a concern that the benefits of growth were not being shared by the urban poor, many of whom ended up living in crime-ridden shanty towns in Kingston. This, combined with the effects of a slowdown in the global economy in 1970, led to the voters electing the PNP under Michael Manley in 1972. The PNP won 37 seats to the JLP's 16.
In terms of foreign policy Jamaica became a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, seeking to retain strong ties with Britain and the United States whilst also developing links with Communist states such as Cuba.
Manley's government enacted various social reforms, such as a higher minimum wage, land reform, legislation for women's equality, greater housing construction and an increase in educational provision. Internationally he improved ties with the Communist bloc and vigorously opposed the apartheid regime in South Africa.
In 1976, the PNP won another landslide, winning 47 seats to the JLP's 13. The turnout was a very high 85 percent. However, the economy faltered in this period due to a combination of internal and external factors (such as the oil shocks). The rivalry between the JLP and PNP became intense, and political and gang-related violence grew significantly in this period.
By 1980, Jamaica's gross national product had declined to some 25% below its 1972 level. Seeking change, in 1980 Jamaicans voted the JLP back in under Edward Seaga, with the JLP winning 51 seats to the PNP's nine seats. Firmly anti-Communist, Seaga cut ties with Cuba and sent troops to support the US invasion of Grenada in 1983. The economic deterioration, however, continued into the mid-1980s, exacerbated by a number of factors. The largest and third-largest alumina producers, Alpart and Alcoa, closed; and there was a significant reduction in production by the second-largest producer, Alcan. Reynolds Jamaica Mines, Ltd. left the Jamaican industry. There was also a decline in tourism, which was important to the economy. Owing to rising foreign and local debt, accompanied by large fiscal deficits, the government sought International Monetary Fund (IMF) financing, which was dependent on implementing various austerity measures. These resulted in strikes in 1985 and a decline in support for the Seaga government, exacerbated by criticism of the government's response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. Having now de-emphasised socialism and adopting a more centrist position, Michael Manley and the PNP were re-elected in 1989, winning 45 seats to the JLP's 15.
The PNP went on to win a string of elections, under Prime Ministers Michael Manley (1989–1992), P. J. Patterson (1992–2005) and Portia Simpson-Miller (2005–2007). In the 1993 Jamaican general election, Patterson led the PNP to victory, winning 52 seats to the JLP's eight seats. Patterson also won the 1997 Jamaican general election, by another landslide margin of 50 seats to the JLP's 10 seats. Patterson's third consecutive victory came in the 2002 Jamaican general election, when the PNP retained power, but with a reduced seat majority of 34 seats to 26. Patterson stepped down on 26 February 2006, and was replaced by Portia Simpson-Miller, Jamaica's first female Prime Minister. The turnout slowly declined during this period of time, from 67.4% in 1993 to 59.1% in 2002.
During this period various economic reforms were introduced, such as deregulating the finance sector and floating the Jamaican dollar, as well as greater investment in infrastructure, whilst also retaining a strong social safety net. Political violence, so prevalent in the previous two decades, declined significantly.
In 2007 the PNP was defeated by the JLP by a narrow margin of 32 seats to 28, with a turnout of 61.46%. This election ended 18 years of PNP rule, and Bruce Golding became the new prime minister. Golding's tenure (2007–2011) was dominated by the effects of the global recession, as well as the fallout from an attempt by Jamaican police and military to arrest drug lord Christopher Coke in 2010 which erupted in violence, resulting in over 70 deaths. As a result of this incident Golding resigned and was replaced by Andrew Holness in 2011.
Independence, however widely celebrated in Jamaica, has been questioned in the early 21st century. In 2011, a survey showed that approximately 60% of Jamaicans believe that the country would have been better off had it remained a British colony, with only 17% believing it would have been worse off, citing as problems years of social and fiscal mismanagement in the country. However, this poll reflected a greater discontent with the JLP handling of crime and the economy, and as a result, Holness and the JLP were defeated in the 2011 Jamaican general election, which saw Portia Simpson-Miller and the PNP return to power. The number of seats had been increased to 63, and the PNP swept to power with a landslide 42 seats to the JLP's 21. The voter turnout was 53.17%.
Holness's JLP won the 2016 general election narrowly, defeating Simpson-Miller's PNP, on 25 February. The PNP won 31 seats to the JLP's 32. As a result, Simpson-Miller became Opposition Leader for a second time. The voter turnout dipped below 50% for the first time, registering just 48.37%.
In the 2020 general election, Andrew Holness made history for the JLP by accomplishing a second consecutive win for the Jamaica Labour Party, winning 49 seats to 14 won by the PNP, led this time by Peter Phillips. The last time a consecutive win occurred for the JLP was in 1988. However, the turnout at this election was just 37%.
Government and politics
Jamaica is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. The head of state is the King of Jamaica (currently King Charles III), represented locally by the Governor-General of Jamaica. The governor-general is nominated by the Prime Minister of Jamaica and the entire Cabinet and then formally appointed by the monarch. All the members of the Cabinet are appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the prime minister. The monarch and the governor-general serve largely ceremonial roles, apart from their reserve powers for use in certain constitutional crisis situations. The position of the monarch has been a matter of continuing debate in Jamaica for many years; currently both major political parties are committed to transitioning to a republic with a president.
Jamaica's current constitution was drafted in 1962 by a bipartisan joint committee of the Jamaican legislature. It came into force with the Jamaica Independence Act, 1962, which was passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which gave Jamaica independence.
The Parliament of Jamaica is bicameral, consisting of the House of Representatives (Lower House) and the Senate (Upper House). Members of the House (known as Members of Parliament or MPs) are directly elected, and the member of the House of Representatives who, in the governor-general's best judgement, is best able to command the confidence of a majority of the members of that House, is appointed by the governor-general to be the prime minister. Senators are nominated jointly by the prime minister and the parliamentary Leader of the Opposition and are then appointed by the governor-general.
The Judiciary of Jamaica operates on a common law system derived from English law and Commonwealth of Nations precedents. The court of final appeal is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, though during the 2000s Parliament attempted to replace it with the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Political parties and elections
Jamaica has traditionally had a two-party system, with power often alternating between the People's National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). The party with current administrative and legislative power is the Jamaica Labour Party, after its 2020 victory. There are also several minor parties who have yet to gain a seat in parliament; the largest of these is the National Democratic Movement (NDM).
The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) is the small but professional military force of Jamaica. The JDF is based on the British military model with similar organisation, training, weapons and traditions. Once chosen, officer candidates are sent to one of several British or Canadian basic officer courses depending on the arm of service. Enlisted soldiers are given basic training at Up Park Camp or JDF Training Depot, Newcastle, both in St. Andrew. As with the British model, NCOs are given several levels of professional training as they rise up the ranks. Additional military schools are available for speciality training in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
The JDF is directly descended from the British Army's West India Regiment, which was formed during the colonial era. The West India Regiment was used extensively throughout the British Empire in policing the empire from 1795 to 1926. Other units in the JDF heritage include the early colonial Jamaica Militia, the Kingston Infantry Volunteers of WWI and reorganised into the Jamaican Infantry Volunteers in World War II. The West Indies Regiment was re-formed in 1958 as part of the West Indies Federation, after dissolution of the Federation the JDF was established.
The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) comprises an infantry Regiment and Reserve Corps, an Air Wing, a Coast Guard fleet and a supporting Engineering Unit. The infantry regiment contains the 1st, 2nd and 3rd (National Reserve) battalions. The JDF Air Wing is divided into three flight units, a training unit, a support unit and the JDF Air Wing (National Reserve). The Coast Guard is divided between seagoing crews and support crews who conduct maritime safety and maritime law enforcement as well as defence-related operations.
The role of the support battalion is to provide support to boost numbers in combat and issue competency training in order to allow for the readiness of the force. The 1st Engineer Regiment was formed due to an increased demand for military engineers and their role is to provide engineering services whenever and wherever they are needed. The Headquarters JDF contains the JDF Commander, Command Staff as well as Intelligence, Judge Advocate office, Administrative and Procurement sections.
In recent years the JDF has been called on to assist the nation's police, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), in fighting drug smuggling and a rising crime rate which includes one of the highest murder rates in the world. JDF units actively conduct armed patrols with the JCF in high-crime areas and known gang neighbourhoods. There has been vocal controversy as well as support of this JDF role. In early 2005, an Opposition leader, Edward Seaga, called for the merger of the JDF and JCF. This has not garnered support in either organisation nor among the majority of citizens. In 2017, Jamaica signed the UN treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
In the context of local government the parishes are designated "Local Authorities". These local authorities are further styled as "Municipal Corporations", which are either city municipalities or town municipalities. Any new city municipality must have a population of at least 50,000, and a town municipality a number set by the Minister of Local Government. There are currently no town municipalities.
The local governments of the parishes of Kingston and St. Andrews are consolidated as the city municipality of Kingston & St. Andrew Municipal Corporation. The newest city municipality created is the Municipality of Portmore in 2003. While it is geographically located within the parish of St. Catherine, it is governed independently.
|Cornwall County||Capital||km2||Middlesex County||Capital||km2||Surrey County||Capital||km2|
|2||Saint Elizabeth||Black River||1,212||7||Manchester||Mandeville||830||12||Portland||Port Antonio||814|
|3||Saint James||Montego Bay||595||8||Saint Ann||St. Ann's Bay||1,213||13||Saint Andrew||Half Way Tree||453|
|4||Trelawny||Falmouth||875||9||Saint Catherine||Spanish Town||1,192||14||Saint Thomas||Morant Bay||743|
|5||Westmoreland||Savanna-la-Mar||807||10||Saint Mary||Port Maria||611|
Geography and environment
Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean. It lies between latitudes 17° and 19°N, and longitudes 76° and 79°W. Mountains dominate the interior: the Don Figuerero, Santa Cruz, and May Day mountains in the west, the Dry Harbour Mountains in the centre, and the John Crow Mountains and Blue Mountains in the east, the latter containing Blue Mountain Peak, Jamaica's tallest mountain at 2,256 m. They are surrounded by a narrow coastal plain.
Jamaica has two cities, the first being Kingston, the capital city and centre of business, located on the south coast and the second being Montego Bay, one of the best known cities in the Caribbean for tourism, located on the north coast. Kingston Harbour is the seventh-largest natural harbour in the world, which contributed to the city being designated as the capital in 1872. Other towns of note include Portmore, Spanish Town, Savanna la Mar, Mandeville and the resort towns of Ocho Ríos, Port Antonio and Negril.
Tourist attractions include Dunn's River Falls in St. Ann, YS Falls in St. Elizabeth, the Blue Lagoon in Portland, believed to be the crater of an extinct volcano, and Port Royal, site of a major earthquake in 1692 that helped form the island's Palisadoes tombolo.
Among the variety of terrestrial, aquatic and marine ecosystems are dry and wet limestone forests, rainforest, riparian woodland, wetlands, caves, rivers, seagrass beds and coral reefs. The authorities have recognised the tremendous significance and potential of the environment and have designated some of the more "fertile" areas as "protected". Among the island's protected areas are the Cockpit Country, Hellshire Hills, and Litchfield forest reserves. In 1992, Jamaica's first marine park, covering nearly 15 square kilometres (5.8 sq mi), was established in Montego Bay. Portland Bight Protected Area was designated in 1999. The following year Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park was created, covering roughly 300 square miles (780 km2) of a wilderness area which supports thousands of tree and fern species and rare animals.
There are several small islands off Jamaica's coast, most notably those in Portland Bight such as Pigeon Island, Salt Island, Dolphin Island, Long Island, Great Goat Island and Little Goat Island, and also Lime Cay located further east. Much further out – some 50–80 km off the south coast – lie the very small Morant Cays and Pedro Cays.
The climate in Jamaica is tropical, with hot and humid weather, although higher inland regions are more temperate. Some regions on the south coast, such as the Liguanea Plain and the Pedro Plains, are relatively dry rain-shadow areas.
Jamaica lies in the hurricane belt of the Atlantic Ocean and because of this, the island sometimes suffers significant storm damage. Hurricanes Charlie and Gilbert hit Jamaica directly in 1951 and 1988, respectively, causing major damage and many deaths. In the 2000s (decade), hurricanes Ivan, Dean, and Gustav also brought severe weather to the island.
Flora and fauna
Jamaica's climate is tropical, supporting diverse ecosystems with a wealth of plants and animals. Its plant life has changed considerably over the centuries; when the Spanish arrived in 1494, except for small agricultural clearings, the country was deeply forested. The European settlers cut down the great timber trees for building and ships' supplies, and cleared the plains, savannas, and mountain slopes for intense agricultural cultivation. Many new plants were introduced including sugarcane, bananas, and citrus trees.
Jamaica is home to about 3,000 species of native flowering plants (of which over 1,000 are endemic and 200 are species of orchid), thousands of species of non-flowering flora, and about 20 botanical gardens, some of which are several hundred years old. Areas of heavy rainfall also contain stands of bamboo, ferns, ebony, mahogany, and rosewood. Cactus and similar dry-area plants are found along the south and southwest coastal area. Parts of the west and southwest consist of large grasslands, with scattered stands of trees. Jamaica is home to three terrestrial ecoregions, the Jamaican moist forests, Jamaican dry forests, and Greater Antilles mangroves. It had a 2019 Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 5.01/10, ranking it 110th globally out of 172 countries.
Jamaica's fauna, typical of the Caribbean, includes highly diversified wildlife with many endemic species. As with other oceanic islands, land mammals are mostly several species of bats of which at least three endemic species are found only in Cockpit Country, one of which is at-risk. Other species of bat include the fig-eating and hairy-tailed bats. The only non-bat native mammal extant in Jamaica is the Jamaican hutia, locally known as the coney. Introduced mammals such as wild boar and the small Asian mongoose are also common. Jamaica is also home to about 50 species of reptiles, the largest of which is the American crocodile; however, it is only present within the Black River and a few other areas. Lizards such as anoles, iguanas and snakes such as racers and the Jamaican boa (the largest snake on the island), are common in areas such as the Cockpit Country. None of Jamaica's eight species of native snakes is venomous.
Jamaica is home to about 289 species of birds of which 27 are endemic including the endangered black-Billed parrots and the Jamaican blackbird, both of which are only found in Cockpit Country. It is also the indigenous home to four species of hummingbirds (three of which are found nowhere else in the world): the black-billed streamertail, the Jamaican mango, the Vervain hummingbird, and red-billed streamertails. The red-billed streamertail, known locally as the "doctor bird", is Jamaica's National Symbol. Other notable species include the Jamaican tody and the Greater flamingo,
One species of freshwater turtle is native to Jamaica, the Jamaican slider. It is found only on Jamaica and on a few islands in the Bahamas. In addition, many types of frogs are common on the island, especially treefrogs.
Jamaican waters contain considerable resources of fresh and saltwater fish. The chief varieties of saltwater fish are kingfish, jack, mackerel, whiting, bonito, and tuna. Fish that occasionally enter freshwater and estuarine environments include snook, jewfish, mangrove snapper, and mullets. Fish that spend the majority of their lives in Jamaica's fresh waters include many species of livebearers, killifish, freshwater gobies, the mountain mullet, and the American eel. Tilapia have been introduced from Africa for aquaculture, and are very common. Also visible in the waters surrounding Jamaica are dolphins, parrotfish, and the endangered manatee.
Insects and other invertebrates are abundant, including the world's largest centipede, the Amazonian giant centipede. Jamaica is the home to about 150 species of butterflies and moths, including 35 indigenous species and 22 subspecies. It is also the native home to the Jamaican swallowtail, the western hemisphere's largest butterfly.
Coral reef ecosystems are important because they provide people with a source of livelihood, food, recreation, and medicinal compounds and protect the land on which they live. Jamaica relies on the ocean and its ecosystem for its development. However, the marine life in Jamaica is also being affected. There could be many factors that contribute to marine life not having the best health. Jamaica's geological origin, topographical features and seasonal high rainfall make it susceptible to a range of natural hazards that can affect the coastal and oceanic environments. These include storm surge, slope failures (landslides), earthquakes, floods and hurricanes. Coral reefs in the Negril Marine Park (NMP), Jamaica, have been increasingly impacted by nutrient pollution and macroalgal blooms following decades of intensive development as a major tourist destination. Another one of those factors could include tourism: being that Jamaica is a very touristy place, the island draws numerous people traveling here from all over the world. The Jamaican tourism industry accounts for 32% of total employment and 36% of the country's GDP and is largely based on the sun, sea and sand, the last two of these attributes being dependent on healthy coral reef ecosystems. Because of Jamaica's tourism, they have developed a study to see if the tourist would be willing to help financially to manage their marine ecosystem because Jamaica alone is unable to. The ocean connects all the countries all over the world, however, everyone and everything is affecting the flow and life in the ocean. Jamaica is a very touristy place specifically because of their beaches. If their oceans are not functioning at their best then the well-being of Jamaica and the people who live there will start to deteriorate. According to the OECD, oceans contribute $1.5 trillion annually in value-added to the overall economy. A developing country on an island will get the majority of their revenue from their ocean.
Pollution comes from run-off, sewage systems, and garbage. However, this typically all ends up in the ocean after there is rain or floods. Everything that ends up in the water changes the quality and balance of the ocean. Poor coastal water quality has adversely affected fisheries, tourism and mariculture, as well as undermining biological sustainability of the living resources of ocean and coastal habitats. Jamaica imports and exports many goods through their waters. Some of the imports that go into Jamaica include petroleum and petroleum products. Issues include accidents at sea; risk of spills through local and international transport of petroleum and petroleum products. Oil spills can disrupt the marine life with chemicals that are not normally found in the ocean. Other forms of pollution also occur in Jamaica. Solid waste disposal mechanisms in Jamaica are currently inadequate. The solid waste gets into the water through rainfall forces. Solid waste is also harmful to wildlife, particularly birds, fish and turtles that feed at the surface of the water and mistake floating debris for food. For example, plastic can be caught around birds and turtles necks making it difficult to eat and breath as they begin to grow causing the plastic to get tighter around their necks. Pieces of plastic, metal, and glass can be mistaken for the food fish eat. Each Jamaican generates 1 kg (2 lbs) of waste per day; only 70% of this is collected by National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA)—the remaining 30% is either burnt or disposed of in gullies/waterways.
There are policies that are being put into place to help preserve the ocean and the life below water. The goal of integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) is to improve the quality of life of human communities who depend on coastal resources while maintaining the biological diversity and productivity of coastal ecosystems. Developing an underdeveloped country can impact the oceans ecosystem because of all the construction that would be done to develop the country. Over-building, driven by powerful market forces as well as poverty among some sectors of the population, and destructive exploitation contribute to the decline of ocean and coastal resources. Developing practices that will contribute to the lives of the people but also to the life of the ocean and its ecosystem. Some of these practices include: Develop sustainable fisheries practices, ensure sustainable mariculture techniques and practices, sustainable management of shipping, and promote sustainable tourism practices. As for tourism, tourism is the number one source of foreign exchange earnings in Jamaica and, as such is vital to the national economy. Tourist typically go to countries unaware of issues and how they impact those issues. Tourist are not going to be used to living in a different style compared to their own country. Practices such as: provide sewage treatment facilities for all tourist areas, determine carrying capacity of the environment prior to planning tourism activities, provide alternative types of tourist activities can help to get desired results such as the development of alternative tourism which will reduce the current pressure on resources that support traditional tourism activities. A study was conducted to see how tourist could help with sustainable financing for ocean and coastal management in Jamaica. Instead of using tourist fees they would call them environmental fees. This study aims to inform the relevant stakeholders of the feasibility of implementing environmental fees as well as the likely impact of such revenue generating instruments on the current tourist visitation rates to the island. The development of a user fee system would help fund environmental management and protection. The results show that tourists have a high consumer surplus associated with a vacation in Jamaica, and have a significantly lower willingness to pay for a tourism tax when compared to an environmental tax. The findings of the study show that the "label" of the tax and as well as the respondent's awareness of the institutional mechanisms for environmental protection and tourism are important to their decision framework. Tourist are more willing to pay for environmental fees rather than tourist tax fees. A tax high enough to fund for environmental management and protection but low enough to continue to bring tourist to Jamaica. It has been shown that if an environmental tax of $1 per person were introduced it would not cause a significant decline in visitation rates and would generate revenues of US$1.7M.
|Black or Black Mixed||92.1%||2,661,965|
Jamaica's diverse ethnic roots are reflected in the national motto "Out of Many One People". Most of the population of 2,812,000 (July 2018 est.) are of African or partially African descent, with many being able to trace their origins to the West African countries of Ghana and Nigeria. Other major ancestral areas are Europe, South Asia, and East Asia. It is uncommon for Jamaicans to identify themselves by race alone, with most Jamaicans seeing Jamaican nationality as an identity in and of itself, identifying as simply being "Jamaican" regardless of ethnicity.
The Jamaican Maroons of Accompong and other settlements are the descendants of African slaves who fled the plantations for the interior where they set up their own autonomous communities. Many Maroons continue to have their own traditions and speak their own language, known locally as Kromanti.
Asians form the second-largest group and include Indo-Jamaicans and Chinese Jamaicans. Most are descended from indentured workers brought by the British colonial government to fill labour shortages following the abolition of slavery in 1838. Prominent Indian Jamaicans include jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, who was the first Jamaican in the Kentucky Derby, NBC Nightly News journalist Lester Holt, and Miss Jamaica World and Miss Universe winner Yendi Phillipps. The southwestern parish of Westmoreland is famous for its large population of Indo-Jamaicans. Along with their Indian counterparts, Chinese Jamaicans have also played an integral part in Jamaica's community and history. Prominent descendants of this group include Canadian billionaire investor Michael Lee-Chin, supermodels Naomi Campbell and Tyson Beckford, and VP Records founder Vincent "Randy" Chin.
There are about 20,000 Jamaicans who have Lebanese and Syrian ancestry. Most were Christian immigrants who fled the Ottoman occupation of Lebanon in the early 19th century. Eventually their descendants became very successful politicians and businessmen. Notable Jamaicans from this group include former Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga, Jamaican politician and former Miss World Lisa Hanna, Jamaican politicians Edward Zacca and Shahine Robinson, and hotelier Abraham Elias Issa.
In 1835, Charles Ellis, 1st Baron Seaford gave 500 acres of his 10,000 acre estate in Westmoreland for the Seaford Town German settlement. Today most of the town's descendants are of full or partial German descent.
The first wave of English immigrants arrived to the island in 1655 after conquering the Spanish, and they have historically been the dominant group. Prominent descendants from this group include former American Governor of New York David Paterson, Sandals Hotels owner Gordon Butch Stewart, United States Presidential Advisor and "mother" of the Pell Grant Lois Rice, and former United States National Security Advisor and Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. The first Irish immigrants came to Jamaica in the 1600s as war prisoners and later, indentured labour. Their descendants include two of Jamaica's National Heroes: Prime Ministers Michael Manley and Alexander Bustamante. Along with the English and the Irish, the Scots are another group that has made a significant impact on the island. According to the Scotland Herald newspaper, Jamaica has more people using the Campbell surnames than the population of Scotland itself, and it also has the highest percentage of Scottish surnames outside of Scotland. Scottish surnames account to about 60% of the surnames in the Jamaican phone books. The first Jamaican inhabitants from Scotland were exiled "rebels". Later, they would be followed by ambitious businessmen who spent time between their great country estates in Scotland and the island. As a result, many of the slave owning plantations on the island were owned by Scottish men, and thus a large number of mixed-race Jamaicans can claim Scottish ancestry. High immigration from Scotland continued until well after independence. Today, notable Scottish-Jamaicans include the businessman John Pringle, former American Secretary of State Colin Powell, and American actress Kerry Washington.
There is a significant Portuguese Jamaican population that is predominantly of Sephardic Jewish heritage. The first Jews arrived as explorers from Spain in the 15th century after being forced to convert to Christianity or face death. A small number of them became slave owners and even famous pirates. Judaism eventually became very influential in Jamaica and can be seen today with many Jewish cemeteries around the country. During the Holocaust Jamaica became a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution in Europe. Famous Jewish descendants include the dancehall artist Sean Paul, former record producer and founder of Island Records Chris Blackwell, and Jacob De Cordova who was the founder of the Daily Gleaner newspaper.
In recent years immigration has increased, coming mainly from China, Haiti, Cuba, Colombia, and Latin America; 20,000 Latin Americans reside in Jamaica. In 2016, the Prime Minister Andrew Holness suggested making Spanish Jamaica's second official language. About 7,000 Americans also reside in Jamaica. Notable American with connection to the island include fashion icon Ralph Lauren, philanthropist Daisy Soros, Blackstone's Schwarzman family, the family of the late Lieutenant Governor of Delaware John W. Rollins, fashion designer Vanessa Noel, investor Guy Stuart, Edward and Patricia Falkenberg, and iHeart Media CEO Bob Pittman, all of whom hold annual charity events to support the island.
A study found that the average admixture on the island was 78.3% Sub-Saharan African, 16.0% European, and 5.7% East Asian. Another study in 2020 showed that Jamaicans of African descent represent 76.3% of the population, followed by 15.1% Afro-European, 3.4% East Indian and Afro-East Indian, 3.2% Caucasian, 1.2% Chinese and 0.8% other. A 2012 genetic study on Jamaican Y-chromosomal ancestry has revealed that the population "exhibit a predominantly Sub-Saharan paternal component, with haplogroups A1b-V152, A3-M32, B2-M182, E1a-M33, E1b1a-M2, E2b-M98, and R1b2-V88" comprising 66.7% of Jamaican paternal gene pools. Y-chromosomes indicative of European ancestry "(i.e., haplogroups G2a*-P15, I-M258, R1b1b-M269, and T-M184) were detected at commensurate levels at 18.9%". Y-haplogroups indicative of Chinese O-M175 (3.8%) and Indian H-M69 (0.6%) and L-M20 (0.6%) ancestry were found at significant levels.
According to a 2008 study examining the frequency of the Duffy antigen receptor for Chemokines (DARC) Single Nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), (63%) of Jamaican women sampled exhibited the CC genotype (absent among women of European ancestry) at levels less than US African-Americans (73%), which more comparable to Haitian females (75%).
Jamaica is regarded as a bilingual country, with two major languages in use by the population. The official language is English, which is "used in all domains of public life", including the government, the legal system, the media, and education. However, the primary spoken language is an English-based creole called Jamaican Patois (or Patwa). The two exist in a dialect continuum, with speakers using a different register of speech depending on context and whom they are speaking to. "Pure" Patois, though sometimes seen as merely a particularly aberrant dialect of English, is essentially mutually unintelligible with standard English and is best thought of a separate language. A 2007 survey by the Jamaican Language Unit found that 17.1 percent of the population were monolingual in Jamaican Standard English (JSE), 36.5 percent were monolingual in Patois, and 46.4 percent were bilingual, although earlier surveys had pointed to a greater degree of bilinguality (up to 90 percent). The Jamaican education system has only recently begun to offer formal instruction in Patois, while retaining JSE as the "official language of instruction".
Additionally, some Jamaicans use one or more of Jamaican Sign Language (JSL), American Sign Language (ASL) or the indigenous Jamaican Country Sign Language (Konchri Sain). Both JSL and ASL are rapidly replacing Konchri Sain for a variety of reasons.
Many Jamaicans have emigrated to other countries, especially to the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. In the case of the United States, about 20,000 Jamaicans per year are granted permanent residence. There has also been emigration of Jamaicans to other Caribbean countries such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guyana, and The Bahamas. It was estimated in 2004 that up to 2.5 million Jamaicans and Jamaican descendants live abroad.
Jamaicans in the United Kingdom number an estimated 800,000 making them by far the country's largest African-Caribbean group. Large-scale migration from Jamaica to the UK occurred primarily in the 1950s and 1960s when the country was still under British rule. Jamaican communities exist in most large UK cities. Concentrations of expatriate Jamaicans are quite considerable in numerous cities in the United States, including New York City, Buffalo, the Miami metro area, Atlanta, Chicago, Orlando, Tampa, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Hartford, Providence and Los Angeles. In Canada, the Jamaican population is centred in Toronto, with smaller communities in cities such as Hamilton, Montreal, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Ottawa. Jamaican Canadians comprise about 30% of the entire Black Canadian population.
A notable though much smaller group of emigrants are Jamaicans in Ethiopia. These are mostly Rastafarians, in whose theological worldview Africa is the promised land, or "Zion", or more specifically Ethiopia, due to reverence in which former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie is held. Most live in the small town of Shashamane about 150 miles (240 km) south of the capital Addis Ababa.
When Jamaica gained independence in 1962, the murder rate was 3.9 per 100,000 inhabitants, one of the lowest in the world. By 2009, the rate was 62 per 100,000 inhabitants, one of the highest in the world. Gang violence became a serious problem, with organised crime being centred around Jamaican posses or "Yardies". Jamaica has had one of the highest murder rates in the world for many years, according to UN estimates. Some areas of Jamaica, particularly poor areas in Kingston, Montego Bay and elsewhere experience high levels of crime and violence.
However, there were 1,682 reported murders in 2009 and 1,428 in 2010. After 2011 the murder rate continued to fall, following the downward trend in 2010, after a strategic programme was launched. In 2012, the Ministry of National Security reported a 30 percent decrease in murders. Nevertheless, in 2017 murders rose by 22% over the previous year.
Many Jamaicans are hostile towards LGBT and intersex people, and mob attacks against gay people have been reported. Numerous high-profile dancehall and ragga artists have produced songs featuring explicitly homophobic lyrics. Male homosexuality is illegal and punishable by imprisonment.
Largest cities or towns in Jamaica
Demographic Statistics 2016, pp. 15–16 (2011 Census)
|3||Spanish Town||Saint Catherine||147,152|
|4||Montego Bay||Saint James||110,115|
|7||Old Harbour||Saint Catherine||28,912|
|9||Ocho Rios||Saint Ann||16,671|
Christianity is the largest religion practised in Jamaica. About 70% are Protestants; Roman Catholics are just 2% of the population. According to the 2001 census, the country's largest Protestant denominations are the Church of God (24%), Seventh-day Adventist Church (11%), Pentecostal (10%), Baptist (7%), Anglican (4%), United Church (2%), Methodist (2%), Moravian (1%), and Plymouth Brethren (1%). Bedwardism is a form of Christianity native to the island, sometime viewed as a separate faith. The Christian faith gained acceptance as British Christian abolitionists and Baptist missionaries joined educated former slaves in the struggle against slavery.
The Rastafari movement has 29,026 adherents, according to the 2011 census, with 25,325 Rastafarian males and 3,701 Rastafarian females. The faith originated in Jamaica in the 1930s and though rooted in Christianity it is heavily Afrocentric in its focus, revering figures such as the Jamaican black nationalist Marcus Garvey and Haile Selassie, the former Emperor of Ethiopia. Rastafari has since spread across the globe, especially to areas with large black or African diasporas.
Other religions in Jamaica include Jehovah's Witnesses (2% population), the Bahá'í faith, which counts perhaps 8,000 adherents and 21 Local Spiritual Assemblies, Mormonism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. The Hindu Diwali festival is celebrated yearly among the Indo-Jamaican community.
There is also a small population of about 200 Jews, who describe themselves as Liberal-Conservative. The first Jews in Jamaica trace their roots back to early 15th-century Spain and Portugal. Kahal Kadosh Shaare Shalom, also known as the United Congregation of Israelites, is a historic synagogue located in the city of Kingston. Originally built in 1912, it is the official and only Jewish place of worship left on the island. The once abundant Jewish population has voluntarily converted to Christianity over time. Shaare Shalom is one of the few synagogues in the world that contains sand covered floors and is a popular tourist destination.
Other small groups include Muslims, who claim 5,000 adherents. The Muslim holidays of Ashura (known locally as Hussay or Hosay) and Eid have been celebrated throughout the island for hundreds of years. In the past, every plantation in each parish celebrated Hosay. Today it has been called an Indian carnival and is perhaps most well known in Clarendon where it is celebrated each August. People of all religions attend the event, showing mutual respect.