History of Jamaica
The Long Road to Freedom and
Prosperity in Jamaican History.
Jamaican history began with the migration of the Arawak Indians from the South America area in about 650 AD. They named the lush island "Xaymaca" which meant "land of wood and water". Of course, centuries later, this island paradise became known as Jamaica, a jewel of the Caribbean. The Arawaks were a peaceful indigenous people that thrived in harmony until the Spanish occupation in 1494.
The adverse impact on the Arawak by the Spanish invasion was devastating to its existence. Through plunder and killing by the Spanish, combined with new-brought disease, the indigenous Arawak became extinct. Only a few artifacts remain in Jamaican museums.
The Spanish and their slaves fell upon Jamaica and used it as a base for their conquest in the Americas, particularly of Mexico in search of the treasures of gold and silver. The core population of the Spanish and their slaves was primarily centered in a Jamaican area they called "Town of Santiago le la Vega" which would centuries later be named "Spanish Town". The architecture of original buildings is still evident today.
In 1655 the British captured Jamaica from the Spanish who did little to defend its occupation because Jamaica offered no riches of gold and silver. The Spanish fled Jamaica to other areas of the Caribbean, Mexico and South America in pursuit of riches and new conquests. Before fleeing they released and armed their slaves that became known as "Maroons". The Maroons mostly sought refuge from the British in the Jamaican area just south of what is known today as Montego Bay. As fierce defenders, the Maroons were never controlled by the British and even became self-governing in some areas.
Production of cane sugar became the economic and political strength of the Jamaican British Colony. Sugar plantations dominated Jamaican life and led to massive importation of slaves from Africa to provide manual labor and comforts to the plantation owners. Newfound prosperity led to extensive trade among other Caribbean Islands, Jamaica and England, not only in sugar trade and other manufactured goods, but in slave trade as well.
The sugar plantations dominated economic and political life in Jamaica in every sense. They occupied the best lands and the laws supported the slave system which motivated many slaves to escape to the mountains to become Maroons as well.
To combat the growing unrest of rebellious slaves, an uneasy alliance was established between the plantation owners and the governor who represented the crown royalty of England. The alliance became progressively weakened because of excessive taxation on the plantations. Motivated by Jamaican heroes such as Rev. Sam Sharpe and incited by rebellions of which the Christmas Rebellion is perhaps the most famous, emancipation of the Jamaican slaves eventually occurred.
After emancipation, ex-slaves dispersed to mountain areas far from the Jamaican plantations. Many began cultivating new crops including coffee and bananas. Others settled marginally productive lands that were either leased or bought through the efforts of Christian groups, particularly the Baptists. During this period of peasant history of about 1838-1938, there were many struggles and battles over land.
The following periods beyond 1938 experienced major political changes and economical transformation. No longer was Jamaica a single export economy of sugar. The Jamaican economy became diversified into other agricultural products as well as the export of bauxite and alumni. Gradually, tourism became a leading industry as the world discovered the beauty and attractions of Jamaica. The political and economic strength of the overwhelming majority of descendants of the ex-slaves became the stimulation of achieving political independence from England in 1962.
Today. Jamaica is the jewel and vacation destination of the Caribbean. It has indeed come a long way.