Main article: History of Jamaica
Jamaica was first claimed for Spain after Christopher Columbus discovered it in 1494. Columbus used it as his family's private estate. The British Admiral William Penn (father of William Penn of Pennsylvania) and General Venables seized the island in 1655. Under the first 200 years of British rule, Jamaica became the world's largest sugar exporting nation and produced over 77,000 tons of sugar annually between 1820 - 1824, which was achieved through the massive use of imported African slave labor.
Britain's over-zealousness in using slavery soon backfired, and by the start of the 19th century, blacks outnumbered whites to a rate of almost 20 to one. A series of revolts followed, and in 1838 slavery was formally abolished.
Over the years Jamaica slowly gained independence from Britain, and in 1958 Jamaica became a province in an independent nation called the Federation of the West Indies. Jamaica separated from the federation in 1962 and is now a completely sovereign nation. They celebrated the tricenntenial in 1955.
Deteriorating economic conditions during the 1970s led to recurrent violence and a drop-off in tourism.
Former capitals of Jamaica include Port Royale, where the pirate Governor Morgan held sway, and which was destroyed by a storm and earthquake, and Spanish Town, in St. Catherine parish, the site of the old Spanish colonial capital and the English capital during the 18th and 19th century.
Main article: Politics of Jamaica
Jamaica is a constitutional monarchy, the head of state being the monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. The monarch's representative in Jamaica is the Governor-General, who is chosen by the prime minister and fills the role of approving bills, and other state functions. For the most part, the monarch (through her representative, the Governor-General) is a figurehead, and what little real power she has reserved for times of crisis. The present government favours turning Jamaica into a republic within the Commonwealth, in which the Queen and Governor-General would be replaced by a President.
The Jamaican Parliament is bicameral, consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Members of the House (known as 'Members of Parliament' or MPs) are directly elected, and the leader of the majority party in the House becomes the Prime Minister. Senators are appointed by the Prime Minister, and the parliamentary Leader of the Opposition.
Main article: Parishes of Jamaica
Jamaica is divided into 14 parishes:
Main article: Geography of Jamaica
The island of Jamaica has mountainous inlands surrounded by a narrow coastal plain. For this reason, all major cities are located on the coast. Chief towns include the capital Kingston and Montego Bay.
The climate in Jamaica is tropical, with hot and humid weather, although the inlands have a more temperate climate...
Main article: Economy of Jamaica
Jamaica's economy is heavily based on bauxite exports and tourism.
Serious problems include high interest rates; increased foreign competition; the weak financial condition of business in general resulting in receiverships or closures and downsizings of companies; the shift in investment portfolios to non-productive, short-term high yield instruments; a pressured, sometimes sliding, exchange rate; a widening merchandise trade deficit; and a growing internal debt for government bailouts to various ailing sectors of the economy, particularly the financial sector.
Depressed economic conditions in 1999 led to increased civil unrest, including a mounting crime rate.
Main article: Demographics of Jamaica
Jamaica is mainly a blend of African and British cultures, with influences from the Spanish and Taino cultures, although the Tainos as a people were completely wiped out by the Spanish soon after their arrival in 1494. These Tainos (sub-Arawaks) were known for archery and have left many remnants of their culture in artifacts and in at least one popular food (bammy- a small flat cake made of grated cassava).The majority of the population is of African descent, however there are smaller groups of persons of mixed race, Indian, Chinese and European heritage. Caucasians compose a tiny minority, less than 1% of the population, however, they have historically played a large role in the nation's political and economic development.
The official language is English, although the patois form Jamaican English is widely spoken. About two-thirds of the Jamaicans, through colonization, have accepted Christianity, spread over a large number of denominations. The remaining third adheres various other religions, including local faiths.
Though a small nation, Jamaica is rich in culture, and has a strong global presence.
The movie The Harder They Come from 1973 depicts one side of Jamaican culture. The main character is involved in dealing and smuggling ganja, and it was largely this movie that introduced reggae music in America. See further The Harder They Come (soundtrack).