Once you hear the name Jamaica (pronounced Jay-mei-car), the next thing that comes to mind is beaches, dreadlocks and creole. Well, there’s more.
Jamaica is a hotspot for tourists. The country draws an average of 4.3 million people to this part of the Caribbean every year. Spanning 10,990 square kilometres, the island draws people in with its laid back atmosphere, sandy beaches, tropical weather, all-inclusive resorts, rich culture, lively music, and varied geography. Plus, it doesn’t cost a lot of money to travel to and take a vacation in this area!
Jamaica has produced world famous people from Bob Marley to Usain Bolt, P.J Patters, Sean Paul, Shabba Ranks, Jimmy Cliff, Shaggy and so many more.
Despite the fact that it is a beautiful country, it is not without its painful past.
It is estimated that nearly 750,000 people were brought to Jamaica as slaves between 1655 and 1807. The slaves came primarily from now West Africa, mostly from the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and Biafra (Eastern Nigeria).
In addition, many immigrants arrived from elsewhere around the globe. After the abolition of slavery in 1834, workers were brought in from other countries as Jamaica looked for sources of income besides sugar. Workers from Germany, Ireland and Scotland came for a while. Asian immigrants came from India and China and eventually workers came from what is now Lebanon (although throughout Jamaica they are referred to as “Syrians.”).
Today, Jamaica is so mixed that statisticians indicate that 92% of Jamaica’s residents are of Black African descent, East Indians and African-East Indians make up about 3.4% of the population, while Caucasians represent about 3.2%. Chinese and African-Chinese residents compose a little over 1% of the population.
The official language of Jamaica is English, spoken in proper fashion with a uniquely Jamaican accent. But the language of the streets is patois (pronounced pa-twaa). This musical dialect is a combination of English, Spanish, Portuguese, African phrases and a good dose of Jamaican slang. Spoken in a sing-song style, the result is as exotic as any foreign language. Jamaican patois is a fascinating use of the language. It includes words from many different African languages. Most are believed to come from the Twi language (a Ghanaian tribe) languages. Other influences include the language of Mendi, Igbo, Efik, Yoruba, Kongo, Kimbundu, Ewe, Mandinka and, possibly Swahili.
One tourist posted on her social media platform that as you wind through communities in the Jamaican countryside, you’ll notice the many churches. Religion is an important part of Jamaican life. The Church of Jamaica, formerly the Church of England, has the largest following. Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Scientists and other groups also have significant memberships.
Jamaica’s best known religion is Rastafarianism, which centers around the divinity of the late Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia. You’ll see many dreadlocked Rastafarians, usually wearing crocheted tams (a type of hat). Rastafarianism mandates vegetarianism, a strict code of peace and, the best known facet of the religion, the smoking of ganja or marijuana. They claim that they take their cue from several passages from the Bible which include “Proverbs 15.17; “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.” And Leviticus 21.5; “They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard nor make any cuttings in their flesh.” Rastas are renowned herbalists, using folk medicine and relying on the land’s bounty of plants to heal many illnesses.
Today the Rastas are a small sect of the Jamaican population but because of the famous ones like the late late Bob Marley, they are symbolic and are easily identified by their dreadlocks that either flow down their back or are held beneath a knitted cap or tam.
In Jamaica, a normal country morning meal, called “drinking tea,” includes boiled bananas or roasted breadfruit, sauteed callaloo with “saal fish” (salted cod), and “bush” (herbal) or “chaklit” (chocolate) tea. Afro-Jamaicans eat a midafternoon lunch as the main meal of the day. This is followed by a light meal of bread, fried plantains, or fried dumplings and a hot drink early in the evening.
At Ceremonial Occasions, rice is a ubiquitous ceremonial food, along with sweet potato, yam, and green plantains, it is used in African and East Indian ceremonies. It also is served with curried goat meat as the main food at parties, dances, weddings, and funerals.
There are predominantly two types of marriage patterns in Jamaica; the legally recognized and socially preferred Western-style monogamous union and the consensual union. The selection of a spouse is made by individual choice, but in more traditional communities, the approval of parents and close relatives is sought. Among the Indians and Chinese, monogamous unions predominate. Traditionally, among African Jamaicans there has been a link between socio-economic status and type of marriage. A consensual union often occurs among young people, with a legal union taking place when economic stability is achieved.
The Igbo People of Jamaica:
The “Red Ibo” or “Red Eboe” was used to refer to the Igbo slaves in Jamaica because of their light skin. Igbo slaves were distinguished physically by their fair skin tones, a stereotype which persists to present-day Nigeria. Today, in Jamaica, “red eboe” is used to describe people with light skin tones with African features. It was during the slavery period that the culture and language of the Igbos diffused into the Jamaican culture. The Jamaicans are so akin to the ways of the Igbos such that it is not uncommon to see Jamaicans watch Igbo Nollywood movies. Some of their rural areas take after the Igbo’s in Eastern Nigeria.
Chinese New Year:
Apart from secular Independence Day that is celebrated on the first Monday in August, the Chinese New Year is celebrated as there are many Asians living in the country.
So, as soon as international flight restrictions are lifted and you want to take a trip to some other place, you might want to try Jamaica and learn to speak some patios.
Are there a people or culture with stories worth telling? Please share with us in the comment section.