Even though I am American born, I am of Jamaican heritage. My parents came from Jamaica to America for more opportunities to succeed and better themselves. My family did take advantage of the opportunities America has to offer and are living better than they do now than if they stayed in Jamaica. However, I will discuss how my heritage helps shape me as a person and why I celebrate my heritage as it is.
I was raised drinking porridge, Milo and eating Plantain with my family as a little girl in Brooklyn, New York. I watched Caribbean orientated channels that promoted Jamaican culture and what was going on there. I listened to Bob Marley and Peter Tosh growing up as well as Beanie Mean, Elephant Man and Shaggy. I interacted with other Caribbean descended Blacks such as myself and even some African Americans growing up but that all changed when I moved to Florida. When I moved to Florida, I wasn’t as exposed to my heritage because the area I grew up in was predominately White with a few Hispanics living around. The only time I was exposed to my heritage was when I was around my family and I enjoyed every minute of it.
What about the history of Jamaica?
Arawak Indians settled the island centuries before European settlers and African slaves ever set foot on the island. Arawaks named the island Xaymaca, which meant the land of water and wood. They are described as short, stout with flattish noses, long, straight black hair and copper colored skin. Arawaks were peaceful people who planted corn, tobacco, sweet potato and cassava and lived in huts and slept on hammock. The men were skilled fishermen and hunted for fish and turtle to eat. The women made cooking utensils out of clay and wore shells and beads around their bodies. However little did the Arawaks know that European colonization of the island will change the whole fabricate of their existence.
Then Christopher Columbus arrived on the island in 1494 on his second voyage to the New World and saw sixty thousand Arawaks living there. Columbus claimed the colony for Spain and more Spaniard settlers started to come on the island. The Spanish’s first settlement on the island was New Seville, which is now located in the parish of St. Ann in 1509. And they also settled another part of the island called St. Jago de la Vega, which is now called Spanish Town. Jago de la Vega used to be the capital of Jamaica and was the center of government and trade. Spain gave the island as an inheritance to Columbus’ family in 1540. However, Spain settling the island had a detrimental effect on the Arawak population. Arawaks were enslaved and put to work to the point that they died out. Arawaks also died of malnutrition and contacting diseases from European settlers. And the Spanish replaced Arawak Indians with African slaves.
In 1655, the English took over Jamaica after General Venables and Admiral Penn sailed to Spanish Town and took over the control when the Spanish surrendered. The Spaniards fled to Cuba and a few even moved to Northern Jamaica. The English freed the slaves of Spaniards and descendants from these people were known as Maroons. Officer Sedgewick and other English settlers came to the island later that year but died of diseases and lack of access to food and supplies to keep them healthy and well. But this didn’t stop the English from settling the island and building settlements.
However, Port Royal attracted the attention of many European settlers due to buccaneering and looted enemy ships for gold, jewelry and silver. Henry Morgan was the most famous buccaneer of the time and raided Spanish ships and fleets. He was appointed by King Charles II of England as the governor of Jamaica in 1673. However, an earthquake destroyed Port Royal in 1692 and the port was abandoned for much of the eighteenth century.
African slave trade became an important part of the island. Colonists profited from and enjoyed selling African slaves to their owners to work on plantations. African slaves were shipped to the island to pick Tobacco, Indigo, Cotton and Sugarcane. Sugarcane became the island’s number one crop and sugar plantation became common. These crops were then harvested and taken back to England. However these slaves weren’t happy with their status and combined with the Maroons and lead slave revolts against their master. Rebellions such as The Easter Rebellion in 1760 led to Maroons fighting wars against the English settlers and others such as the Quakers standing up against slavery.
In 1808, the Abolition Bill was passed and it outlawed selling and importing slaves from the African continent to the New World. And in 1838, Jamaica outlawed slavery.
English slave owners and settlers started to leave the island yet the social order of the wealthy to the poor remained. The country experienced drought and slow economic growth due to the abolition of slavery and because Americans cut supplies to the island during the Civil War. And this sparked the Morant Bay Rebellion in 1870, where former slave, Paul Bogie and his men invaded the courthouse and killed people. The governor, Edward Eyre put down the rebellion and had Bogie executed.
Then Edward Eyre enacted the ancient Constitution for the Crown Colony system and education, health and social services started to improve. The island progressed economically, socially and politically. Roads and important buildings were being built and implemented and the capital was moved from Spanish town to Kingston. And Jamaican was prosperous for a long time until the 1930s.
The Great Depression hit the island and many people lost their jobs and earnings. Falling sugar prices, fall of the banana industry by Panama Industry disease and high unemployment lead to frustration and violence becoming widespread on the island. Out of this, came political parties such as the Bustamante industrial Trade Union, named after Sir Alexander Bustamante and Jamaican Labor Party, National Worker’s Union and People’s National Party, founded by Norman Manley. Both Bustamante and Manley was geared towards getting Jamaicans to be self efficient and practice self government.
In 1962, Jamaica granted independence from Great Britain and made it’s own Constitution that it’s citizens adhere to.
Jamaica is known for it’s rum, beautiful beaches, Reggae, Dancehall, Bob Marley and it’s bob sledding team. However, there is more to Jamaica than just rum and Bob Marley. There is a cultural bonding, shared life experiences and a sense of belonging when that I experience when I am in the presence of another Jamaican especially if the person is familiar with American culture.
Links from where I got my information from: