Historians believe that the Arawak and Taino peoples that initially inhabited the island originated in South America, and settled on the island between 4000 and 1000 BC.
Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1494, he claimed the island for Spain and over the next 40 years a few Spanish settlements were built.
Territorial conflicts in theCaribbean between the British and Spanish eventually led to the Brit’s taking total control of the island in 1655.
When the English captured Jamaica the Spanish colonists fled after freeing their slaves. Those slaves fled into the mountains and lived with the Tainos. Those runaway slaves became known as the Jamaican Maroons.
By 1660, the population of Jamaica was about 4,500 whites and some 1,500 blacks, and in a few short years blacks formed a majority of the population.
Although Britain verbally abolished the slave trade in 1807, they continued to import Chinese and Indianworkers into their colonies as indentured servants to supplement the now depleted work force. Descendants of those workers continue to reside in Jamaica today.
During its first 200 years of British rule (on the backs of slaves) Jamaica became one of the world’s leading sugar-exporting nations, producing more than 77,000 tons of sugar annually by the early 19th century.
Like other islands in theCaribbean, Jamaica had its share of slave rebellions. Eventually, this forced Britain to formally abolished slavery in 1834, and in that year over 300,000 slaves still worked on the island.
In 1872, Kingston became the island’s capital and Jamaica continued to gain increasing levels of independence from the United Kingdom (UK). It finally gained its full independence in 1962.
Over the first few years of independence the Jamaica economy flourished and grew significantly. Tourism, followed by a solid manufacturing base were the major contributors.
Like many countries involved in the slave industry, the poor were often left behind in these periods of growth, and this was certainly true in Jamaica.
Through the 1970s and 1980s governments came and went, debt levels increased and the economy all but cratered. To make it even worse, some major industries closed and tourism decreased.
According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, gangs affiliated with the major political parties evolved into powerful organized crime networks involved in international drug smuggling and money laundering.
Violent crime, drug trafficking, and poverty still pose significant challenges to the government today. Nonetheless, many rural and resort areas remain relatively safe and contribute substantially to the economy.
Through it all Jamaica remains an important force (actually, a major force) in the tourism economy and politics of the Caribbean.
Today Jamaica is known for many things – but certainly on top of any list are its numerous idyllic beach resorts, white-sand beaches, local pirate history, Reggae music, culture and food, and of course, delicious Blue Mountain Coffee.
Fast and Facts
- Name: Jamaica
- Capital City: Kingston (590,000 pop.)
- Jamaica Population: 2,868,380 (2010 est.)
- World Populations (all countries)
- Currency: Jamaican Dollar
One-Thousand Jamaican Dollars
- Ethnicity: Black 91.2%, Mixed 6.2%, other or unknown 2.6% (2001 census)
- GDP total: $23.93 billion (2010 est.)
- GDP per capita: $8,400 (2010 est.)
- Land Sizes
- Language: English, English patois
- Largest Cities: (by population) Kingston, New Kingston, Spanish Town, Portmore, Montego Bay, Mandeville, May Pen, Old Harbour, Linstead, Half Way Tree
- Name: The Arawak name for the island was “Xaymaca,” which means “land of wood and water.” It was Spanish explorers who substituted a J for the X at the beginning of the word.
- National Day: August 6
- Religion: Protestant 62.5% (Seventh-Day Adventist 10.8%, Pentecostal 9.5%, Other Church of God 8.3%, Baptist 7.2%, New Testament Church of God 6.3%, Church of God in Jamaica 4.8%, Church of God of Prophecy 4.3%, Anglican 3.6%, other Christian 7.7%), Roman Catholic 2.6%, other or unspecified 14.2%, none 20.9%, (2001 census)
- Coastline: 1,022 km (0.62 miles)
- Land Area:
(land) 4,181 sq miles (10,831 sq km)
(water) 62 sq miles (160 sq km)
(TOTAL) 4,243 sq miles (10,989 sq km)
To convert sq km (kilometers) to sq mi (miles)
use our converter
- Land Area: (all countries)
- Land Divisions: Jamaica is divided into 14 parishes: Hanover, Saint Elizabeth, Saint James, Trelawny, Westmoreland, Clarendon, Manchester, Saint Ann, Saint Catherine, Saint Mary, Kingston, Portland, Saint Andrew, and Saint Thomas
- Horizontal Width: 146 miles (235 km) from Negril east to the easternmost end of the island
- Vertical Length: 51 miles (82 km) from Discovery Bay south to Alligator Pond
Note: Lengths and widths are point-to-point, straight-line measurements from a Mercator map projection, and will vary some using other map projections
- Bordering Countries: (none)
- Geographic Center: 23 miles (37 km) northwest of Spanish Town
- Highest Point: Blue Mountain (2,256 meters)
- Lowest Point: Caribbean Sea (0 meters)
- Latitude and Longitude
- Relative Location