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The Land And The People

Excerpted from the book, Tour Jamaica, by Margaret Morris

Jamaica is the largest English speaking island in the Caribbean: 600 miles south of Florida and less than two hours by plane from Miami. It is 146 miles long, between 22 to 55 miles wide and has considerable variation in landscape from the coral sands and ironshore cliffs of the shoreline, through coastal wetlands, plains and highlands to the misty peaks of the Blue Mountains. It has a maritime tropical climate. The warm trade winds that blow by day are called "sea breeze" or "doctor breeze". The average daily temperature varies according to elevation from a high of 86F at sea level to a low of 63F in the mountains. The average annual rainfall ranges from 300 inches on the eastern slopes of the Blue Mountains to 230 inches in some parts of the south coast. During the cooler months, December to March the island sometimes experiences northerners: chill winds and high seas associated with a cold front to the North. July to September are the warmest months, May and October are traditionally the rainy months and there was a time when you could set your clock by the afternoon rain during these months. Currently, the increasingly erratic weather patterns are attributed by some environmentalists to deforestation and global warming. The hurricane season is demarcated by the cautionary rhyme:


June too soon
July standby
August come it must
September remember
October all over

The last hurricane to hit the island was the savage Gilbert in September 1988.

The original inhabitants of Jamaica are believed to be the Arawaks who came from South America 2500 years ago. They called it Xaymaca which meant "land of wood and water." The Spaniards who succeeded them wrote this phonetically, and substituted J for X. Christopher Columbus discovered the island in 1492 and claimed it for Spain. The Spaniards were disappointed that there was no gold and did little to develop the island. A few settlers cultivated cane and raised livestock. The gentle Arawaks were eliminated by overwork, brutality and European diseases. Many of them killed their children and drank poison rather than submit to slavery under the Spaniards. Africans were imported to replace them.

In 1655 a British expedition failed to conquer Santo Domingo but took Jamaica as a consolation prize. When the Spaniards fled the island they freed their African slaves who took to the hills and formed the nucleus of the Maroons. The early British colonists lived under constant threat of attack from the Spanish, the French, and freebooting pirates, hence the island is ringed with ancient forts. The latter part of the seventeenth century was the age of the buccaneers. Because England was perennially at war with France or Spain and the Royal Navy could not patrol the entire Caribbean, the Crown issued Letters of Marque to ship's captains, authorizing the capture and plunder of enemy vessels. Thus the pirates became "buccaneers" and graduated to become "privateers". One former buccaneer, Henry Morgan, actually became Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica in 1674.

During the eighteenth century, British landowners made vast fortunes out of sugar and great numbers of African slaves were imported to work on the plantations. After a long campaign spearheaded by non-conformist missionaries in Jamaica and Liberal politicians in England, the slaves received their freedom towards the middle of the nineteenth century. Jamaica remained a British Colony with a governor until granted Independence in 1962. Major legacies of the British are: the parliamentary system, the judicial system, and the game of "cricket, lovely cricket."

The vast majority of Jamaicans are of African descent or mixed race. Other groups include East Indians, Chinese and European. Hence the national motto, "Out of Many, One People." The current population is estimated at 2.5 million.


In the past the population growth has been modified by emigration to North America or the U.K. Currently, due to tough economic conditions in those countries, many Jamaicans are repatriating.


The original inhabitants of Jamaica were gentle, pleasure loving people who liked dancing and playing ball games. They believed in an afterlife and sometimes strangled a dying chief to speed him into paradise. They hunted, cultivated a few crops and fished. Their canoes were made by burning and chiselling out the trunks of silk cotton trees, a method that is still used today. Another legacy of the Arawaks is bammy, a thick pancake made from cassava and delicious fried with fish.


The name comes from the Spanish "cimmaron" meaning wild or untamed. When the British invaded the island in 1655 the African slaves of the Spanish colonists escaped into the hills and lived a wild, free life. Some of them helped their former masters in guerilla warfare against the British. One such was Juan de Bolas, whose subsequent defection to the British side hastened the final exodus of the Spaniards.

In time the Maroons came to control large areas of the interior and would swoop down from the hills to raid the plantations and kidnap women. Runaway slaves also found a refuge with them. The two main groups were the Trelawny Town Maroons led by Kojo (alias Cudjoe) and the Windward Maroons led by Queen Nanny and later by Quao. The Maroons were skilled hunters and fierce fighters and the British Army and local militia were unable to control or conclusively defeat them. Indian hunters and their dogs had to be imported from Central America to track them in the bush. The first Maroon War ended with a treaty that ceded large areas of land to the Maroons. In turn, they had to promise to recapture and return all runaway slaves and help the government in the event of an invasion. The land ceded to the Maroons was around Flagstaff in Trelawny and was named Trelawny Town, and at Accompong in St. Elizabeth. Accompong remains Maroon territory to this day, but after the Second Maroon War, the Trelawny Town land was taken away and most of the male Maroons exiled to Canada and then to Africa. The remnants of their families settled nearby in a district now known as Maroon Town. The land given to the Windward Maroons was around Moore Town, Charles Town and Scott's Hall. Of these, Moore Town is the only sizeable Maroon settlement justify. Maroon land is held in common and they are not required to pay taxes.

The language of Jamaica is English though you may sometimes find this difficult to believe. Students of dialect maintain that the patois varies from parish to parish and even from yard to yard. Jamaica Talk is a synthesis of several influences: Old English and nautical terms such as "breadkind" and "catch to"; Spanish as in "shampata" from, zapatos (shoes); Irish dialect as in "nyampse" (a fool); African as in "duppy" (a ghost) or "nyam" (to eat), and American slang such as "cool" elaborated as "cool runnings" or "diss" as in disrespect. Rastafarian "I-dren" (brethren) have their own language and one word that you will hear frequently is "Irie" meaning good, happy, pleasant or high. The traditional Rasta greeting "Peace and Love" is giving way to "Respect due". Dance-hall, Jamaica's latest musical phenomenon, has its own ever evolving language. Though influenced by American "rappers", much of it is entirely indigenous, for example "Browning" which describes any light-skinned girl; to "big-up" a person means to praise or advertise them, and "flex" meaning behaviour or deportment.

It is said that there are more churches per square mile in Jamaica than anywhere in the world. The variety of houses of worship covers everything from centuries old parish churches to the bamboo and zinc shacks of Revivalists. The vast majority of believers belong to one of the numerous Christian denominations: the traditional groups being Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Seventh Day Adventists and United Church (Presbyterian). There are also numerous Evangelical groups as well as Moravians, Mennonites, Plymouth Brethren, Unity and Jehovah Witnesses. Other religious groups include Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Bahai's and Rastafarians.



Rastafari is an indigenous religion which emerged during the 1930s as a grass roots answer to social conditions and the irrelevance of white-oriented denominations. Basic tenets include the divinity of the late Emperor Haile Selassie (Ras Tafari) of Ethiopia, re-incarnation, and a taboo against males cutting or combing their hair or beards. However, Rasta is an evolving and subjective religion and not all Rastas embrace all of these. Rastafari has been used as a cover by criminals, and as a publicity gimmick by pop musicians, but in its pristine form it is a valid faith which emphasizes the indwelling God Spirit in every person. Rastafaris developed their own version of the Jamaican dialect in which "I" is a frequent pre-fix. (For example "I and I" or "I-man" meaning I or myself and "I-dren" meaning children or brethren). "I-tal" food is vegetarian cooking without salt. Many Rastas regard the use of marijuana as a sacrament and aid to meditation.

The order of National Hero of Jamaica was created in 1965. The first heroes named were Sir Alexander Bustamante and Norman Washington Manley, the founders of the two political parties and architects of independent Jamaica. Named at the same time were: Paul Bogle, a farmer and preacher who led the so-called Morant Bay Rebellion, George William Gordon, an ex-member of the House of Assembly who was hung for alleged complicity in the Morant Bay Rebellion, and Marcus Garvey, a journalist and printer who emigrated to the United States and founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association. In 1975 two more were created: Sam Sharpe, the involuntary leader of the Christmas Rebellion in 1831 and Nanny, chieftainess of the Windward Maroons though historical evidence of the lady is non-existent.

RT. Hon. P.J. Patterson
Prime Minister of Jamaica

To be asked to name my favourite spot in Jamaica is like being asked to pick a single gem from a room full of sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and diamonds.

Each time I travel through the island, I discover yet another spot of breathtaking beauty. There is always that spectacular view along roads which is specially revealed for the first time after many previous journeys. Within minutes of driving or a climb of a few hundred feet, the traveler in Jamaica often experiences not just a simple change of scenery but the marvel of a totally different vista.

How does one choose between the majesty of our hills and the serenity of our waters? To avoid making that agonizing choice, I will opt for a spot which combines nearly all the joys of nature.

High in the hills of Eastern Westmoreland, there nestles a somnolent village. As each day dawns, a beguiling mist gives way to the first rays of sunshine. The air is fresh, the breeze gentle, the atmosphere serene. The tranquillity is enhanced by a constant chirping from the birds. Beyond the cliffs below, there is a bewitching view of the coastline - the sea with its delicate tincture and rhythmic waves.

In the distance, one can see fishermen paddling their small canoes to cast their nets or raise their pots. Above there is the brilliant blue sky, with only the semblance of a slowly drifting cloud. As one looks westward, there is a panoramic view of the fertile plains, with the gentle streams making their way through the cane fields. The surrounding hills are dotted with humble cottages where live proud but gentle people, farmers in the main, tending their crops. Mango trees are laden. Breadfruit is in season. Gardens are resplendent with crotons, ferns, hibiscus. The verdant trees are covered with clusters of red poinciana and flaming jacaranda. As the evening ends, one can see the sun, like a burning ball of fire, disappear slowly below the western sky. At this spot, where every prospect pleases, one feels truly at peace with nature.

Needless to say, it is off the beaten track. Its name - Content.

Rt. Hon. Edward Seaga
Leader of the Opposition

Deep in the hills by a stream; temperature 60-65 degrees; mist in the evening and early morning; lots of shade trees, I don't fancy too much direct sun; a soft, gentle breeze. Philodendrons in the undergrowth, azaleas and hydrangeas for mass of colour. A view of nearby hills with very few homes. No view of the city. Books? A small selection. The birds will do the rest.

Derek Milton
Former British High Commissioner

Some of my most memorable experiences in Jamaica have been spent far up in the coffee growing areas of the Blue Mountains where tourist beaches are a distant prospect and where the air is cool and clear. Perhaps my favourite place is at the highest point of the road which goes up through Newcastle and down to Buff Bay. Beyond Hardware Gap and before you sweep down to silver Hill is a beautiful, ever-changing vista over majestic hills ? ever-changing because the clouds are constantly creating new shapes and shadows. Sometimes the mist comes down and blots out the view completely, and then the magic moment comes when the mist suddenly disperses and reveals the view once again.

Up here where the coffee bushes thrive there is a wonderful range of wild flowers and shrubs not found at lower levels. The almost over-powering scent from the wild ginger will stay with me for many years as will the agapanthus, angels trumpets and eucalyptus.

Here the pavements and city streets are far away; there are few cars and less noise and bustle. This is a place to contemplate on the wonders of nature and to refresh one's mind and body for life's daily exigencies.

J. Gary Cooper
Former United States Ambassador

If you were to ask me to name my favourite place in Jamaica, there could only be one answer - its capital city, Kingston. Yes, the beaches are beautiful, the mountains breathtaking, but anyone who visits this lovely island and does not see Kingston is missing an essential and vibrant part of the Jamaican experience. To a first-time visitor, the sights and sounds may seem confusing and chaotic; but Kingston is the pulse of the nation, the center of commerce, the seat of government, and definitely not a sleepy backwater. There is the bustle of downtown: the ships in the harbour, the street vendors, the lovely Ward Theatre and the superbly designed Conference Centre. Then there is the businesslike atmosphere of New Kingston, with its tall buildings and smartly dressed office workers. Combine this with a variety of cultural delights: Devon House, museums, music, theatre and an impressive array of art galleries and you will find a metropolis of many moods. You may even find an oasis of tranquillity in Hope Gardens or the University Campus at Mona. Without question, there is a sense of history in the traditions of government, of academia and in the architecture of places such as Kings House, Jamaica House, Spanish Town and Port Royal.

Yet, Kingston is so much more than buildings, parks and streets. It is the vibrancy of the people which makes this such a great city. You see it in the range of artistic expression in the fine arts, theatre and music, in the world class performances of Jamaica's excellent athletes, in celebrations such as Carnival and in the cultural and academic contributions Jamaicans have made to other countries, including my own. Tough and voluble, but with an endurance, warmth and humour that is typically Jamaican, the creative energy of the people makes Kingston exciting, sometimes exhausting but never dull!

Kathryn Hewlett- Jobes
Former High Commissioner
Canadian High Commission

What a challenge! How to pick one favourite place among so many possibilities. Potential selections abound from the heights of the Blue Mountains to the cool depths of the coral reefs under the surrounding sea. Should it be the sheer sensual beauty of the mountains, with their extraordinary colours of plant, flower and bird life; enjoying the touch of warm, humid air that suddenly cools as a cloud rolls in; the driving energy of a pelting rain shower; the heady fragrance of myriad flowers, damp earth, wild spices; the melodious competition of birds fiercely singing for control over their bit of territory; the heavy sweetness of mangoes hanging from richly laden trees . . .

Or perhaps the north coast, with its rich store of pleasures for those in search of fun, sun, and a taste of the rhythm of Jamaica. Or the quieter pursuits of the south coast; dropping down from well-tended farms to the gentle expanse of Treasure Beach, its rolling waves enticing all ages to try a little body surfing; watching the fishermen weigh and haggle over the day's catch; sneaking a swing on the tarzan rope to plunge into the grotto pool underneath the spectacular YS falls . .

No wait, what about the cool delight of sinking into the tranquil depths 'neath the seas, an alien observer in a silent world, trading stares with impassive, wise groupers, marveling at the exquisite organization of coral as their millions cooperate to create exquisite fans, antlers, tubes . . .

No, better yet . . .

Dr. Wilfried Bolewski
Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany

To escape the hustle and bustle of life in the capital Kingston, I have come to like the quietness of Port Antonio and its surroundings.

The best vantage point to overlook the beautiful coastline seems to be the Bonnie View Hotel. The short ferry trip to Navy Island draws you into the seclusion and mystique of Errol Flynn's memories. Frenchman's Cove with its rain forest approach and picturesque beach reflects the miniature character of the island's landscape.

The wider space and rough waves of Long Bay have captured my fascination and whetted my appetite for the famous Portland jerked pork.

All in all, Jamaica in and of itself is my favorite place.

Hiroshi Funakoshi
Former Japanese Charg' D'Affaires and Counsellor
Embassy of Japan in Jamaica

My wife, Misako, and myself have been in the beautiful island of Jamaica for the past 3 years and it is very difficult to pinpoint any one place as being our favourite. We each have special spots that are dear to our hearts and spots that we share together.

We have travelled the island many times and have seen the wealth of beauty spots the island has to offer. Many times we have had the impression that the scenery here and that in Japan are somewhat similar. There is a feeling of open friendliness.

For myself, I would say that Port Antonio is my number one. The breathtakingly beautiful scenery and quiet atmosphere gives me just what I need for quiet meditation after a hard week at the mission. The atmosphere there is one that is so quaint and I would venture to say is indigenous to the parish.

My wife is a scuba-diver and so Negril is her favorite place. She has spent many hours enjoying the coral reefs and viewing the marine life off the coast of Negril.

Jointly we would say though that Montego Bay is a place where we share sentiments. Why . . . Golf, golf and more golf. The course at the Half Moon Hotel is so lush and nice, and the world renowned Tryall Golf Course is one place that we are happy to have played.

There are so many places and things that we love about Jamaica, including Blue Mountain Coffee, reggae music and the people, that when our tour of duty ends, there will be many happy memories for us to take back to Japan.

Excerpted from Tour Jamaica by Margaret Morris


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