Geography and Landscape


Jamaica (in Arawak: xaymaca = land of forest and water) is a British Commonwealth parliamentary monarchy on the island of the same name in the Caribbean Sea. It is an island of the Greater Antilles and is located 160 kilometers west of Hispaniola, 145 kilometers south of Cuba, 160 kilometers west of Haiti and 960 kilometers south of Miami in the United States.

Jamaica Satellite photoJamaica Satellite photoPhoto: Public domain

Jamaica has a total area of 10,991 km2. The island is 235 kilometers long and ranges from 35 to a maximum of 82 kilometers wide and has a coastline of approximately 1022 kilometers. It is the third largest island in the Caribbean after Cuba and Hispaniola, consisting of the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Jamaica includes the island groups of Morant Cay and Pedro Cay to the south of the island.


Jamaica was created about 60 million years ago when upward pressure and a drop in sea level caused many volcanic cones to rise above sea level. One of these volcanic cones would later become Jamaica. The islands that were created in this way were gradually surrounded by belts of coral limestone. Jamaica is quite mountainous, more than half of the island is more than 300 meters above sea level and more than 100 square kilometers is above 1500 meters. The coastal plains vary greatly in height, from flat to mountainous with peaks of 1366 and 1923 meters high. In the southwest are the famous elongated sandy beaches. The rest of the coast can be very steep with large and small bays. The capital Kingston is located on a bay in the southeast of the island.

The northeast is the highest part of the island where the Blue Mountains rise within eighteen kilometers from sea level to an altitude of about 2300 meters.

Blue Mountains, JamaicaBlue Mountains, JamaicaPhoto: Wolmadrian in the public domain

A limestone plateau with karst phenomena (Cockpit Country) in the western part of the island covers over two thirds of the island. The wooded landscape is dotted with holes created by erosion. We also find extensive cave systems here. About five percent of the total area is lowland. On the north coast there is a coral reef that protects the coast there from the waves.

More than 120 rivers cross the island. Some rivers suddenly disappear underground and return to the ground miles away. The rivers in the north are often narrow with many rapids and waterfalls. The rivers in the south are wider and flow a little less fast. Most rivers dry up in summer. Only the longest (approx. 80 km) river in Jamaica, the Black River, is somewhat navigable. Other rivers are the White River, the Rio Grande and the Martha Brae. In the southwest is also an extensive marsh area, the “Great Morass”.

Jamaica is in an earthquake zone: Port Royal was destroyed in 1692 and Kingston in 1907.

Climate and Weather

Jamaica has a tropical climate with many hours of sunshine a day. The high temperatures are tempered in mountains by the altitude and on the north coast by the cooling northeast trade wind (Doctor's Breeze). The average temperature on the coast varies between 25 and 32 °C and is fairly constant. In mountains it averages about 6 °C. The coolest period of the year runs from December to March.

Sunset JamaicaSunset JamaicaPhoto: Adam L. Clevenger CC 2.5 Generic no changes made

On average, Jamaica falls almost 2000 mm per year, but this can vary greatly from region to region. Kingston on the south coast receives less than 1000 mm of rain per year. The north coast has to process between 2500 and 5600 mm of rainfall per year, partly as a result of the trade winds. The Portland and St. Thomas districts have an average rainfall of more than 5000 mm annually. Most rain falls in May and June and from September to November. The rest of the year are the dry periods.

The period from August to October is the “high season” for the long-running hurricanes. Jamaica was severely hit by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. Agriculture, businesses, infrastructure and buildings were severely affected by this hurricane, which left a trail of destruction. Gilbert killed 45 people. In the twentieth century, Jamaica was hit by nineteen hurricanes. The average seawater temperature is around 25 °C.

Plants and Animals


National flower of Jamaica blossom of the Lignum vitaeNational flower of Jamaica blossom of the Lignum vitaePhoto: Jayesh Patil CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Jamaica has about 3000 different species of plants, shrubs and trees, of which about 800 are endemic, that is, species that only occur in Jamaica. Jamaica has about 200 varieties of orchids, 550 varieties of fern and 60 varieties of bromeliads. Valleys are full of palm trees, peaks are covered with low mountain forest and bearded mosses. At the time of the discovery of Jamaica in the 15th century, Jamaica was covered with huge forests. Native plants were pineapple, sugar apple and guava. Almost all fruits that now grow in Jamaica were imported after that time, such as bananas, aubergines, cassava, citrus fruits, coconuts and the akee, which is often eaten during breakfast. The hemp plant from which marijuana or ganja is made has also been imported. The national tree is the Blue Mahoe, an endemic hibiscus species; the national flower is the blue blossom of the Lignum vitae.

Bamboo Alley JamaicaBamboo Alley JamaicaPhoto: Sara Poluzzi (CC BY-SA 2.0) no changes made

Bamboo is found all over the island and rhododendron, honeysuckle, lilies and the merianas or Jamaican rose grow on the Blue Mountains. Strychnine and medicines are extracted from the strychnas, a type of nightshade. Common tree species are almond, cedar, pine, allspice, tamarind, trumpet, breadfruit and tulip trees. Common flowers and plants include bougainvillea, conifers, flamboyant, gale, medlar, disc cactus, anthurium, heliconia, and silk plant. Bladderwort is an insectivorous plant. Mangrove forests are still found on the west coast and are protected.


The bird world is most varied in Jamaica. There are about 250 species, about half of which remain permanently on the island and the rest come to overwinter or breed. About 24 species are endemic, so only occur in Jamaica.

Doctor Bird JamaicaDoctor Bird JamaicaPhoto: Alfred Moya (CC BY 2.0) no changes made

Jamaica has three species of hummingbirds and a subspecies, of which the pennant-tailed hummingbird (Doctor Bird) is the national bird and the dwarf hummingbird is the second smallest bird in the world. Other bird species include the native Jamaican toddy, screech owl, brown owl, turkey vultures, parrots and the Jamaican pigeon. Following is a random list from the motley Jamaican bird world: ducks, frigate birds, buntings, gannets, cuckoos, crows, spoonbills, gulls, pelicans, pluckers, snips, mock thrushes, sugar thieves, troop or kling-klings, falcons and swallows and many others. The largest population of whistling ducks in the world is found in Jamaica. These whistling ducks are so special because they cannot croak.

The beaked muzzle crocodile is Jamaica's largest reptile. Rare are iguanas and the Jamican stump-tail rat. There are 116 species of butterflies in Jamaica, some with a wingspan of up to 15 cm (giant swallowtail). Also special are 50 types of fireflies and one type of luminous clipping beetle. Countless are the moth species, 21 of which are endemic Canaan rose. Strychnine and medicines are extracted from the strychnas, a type of nightshade. Common tree species are almond, cedar, pine, allspice, tamarind, trumpet, breadfruit and tulip trees. Common flowers and plants include bougainvillea, conifers, flamboyant, gale, medlar, disc cactus, anthurium, heliconia, and silk plant. Bladderwort is an insectivorous plant. Mangrove forests are still found on the west coast and are protected.

Furthermore, the fauna of Jamaica has three types of turtles, five types of non-poisonous snakes (including the yellow snake, a constrictor species), seventeen frog species, one type of giant toad and spiders. It is unique that the fourteen native frog species do not come into the world as tadpoles, but immediately crawl out of their eggs as frogs. Mongooses were imported in the 19th century to control the rats. However, they also slaughtered the bird and snake population in particular. For example, the black snake has died out in Jamaica due to the mongoose. We have now managed to keep the number of mongooses under control.

A rare rodent is the underground Jamaican hutia. About 25 species of bats are found in Jamaica. The Jamaican iguana, considered extinct, was found to be alive in the Hellshire Hills. This lizard species can grow up to 1.5 meters long. The 23 other lizard species are not that big, but they are found all over the island.

West India Manatee, JamaicaWest India Manatee, JamaicaPhoto: Public domain

The most special animal of Jamaica is the West Indian manatee, a type of manatee, which mainly resides on the south coast of the island. A selection from the marine fauna: barracudas, surgeonfish, angel fish, grunt fish, wrasse, parrotfish, rays, pike, tuna, hammerhead shark, tiger shark and spiny dogfish.

Some common corals in the waters around Jamaica include red coral, fire coral, stony coral, and bark coral. Near Montego Bay is the Montego Bay Marine Park, Jamaica's first national underwater park, of which about half remain permanently on the island and the rest come to overwinter or breed. About 24 species are endemic, so only occur in Jamaica.


Pre-Columbian period

Not much is known about the original inhabitants of Jamaica. Archaeological excavations indicate that Jamaica was inhabited at least hundreds of years before the arrival of the Spanish in the early 16th century.

Taino Stool, Jamaica

Taino Stool, JamaicaPhoto:Public domain

The residents that the Spaniards found in Jamaica were Taino, descendants of the Arawak Indians, who arrived in Jamaica around 700 from the South American mainland via the Lesser and Greater Antilles. These earliest inhabitants of the island soon introduced a certain structure in their society.

For example, the island was divided into a kind of provinces led by a "cacique", a chief. Decisions were made by him, but there were also self-governing villages.

The particularly dangerous cannibalistic Carib Indians never reached Jamaica, unlike many other Caribbean islands. Religion played a central role in the lives of the Arawak Indians. They idolized several gods, all of which had something to do with the weather or celestial bodies. The supreme god was Yocahú, the sun god.

Spanish rule

Christopher Columbus, JamaicaChristopher Columbus, JamaicaPhoto: Public domain

The arrival of the Spaniards would disturb the peace on the island. Most likely, Jamaica was discovered by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage of discovery to the new world. Dominica, Puerto Rico and Guadeloupe were also discovered during that trip. On his way back to Spain in 1494, he arrived in Jamaica via the south coast of Cuba. The hopes of finding large amounts of gold were soon over. He called the island Santiago. In 1503, Columbus visited Jamaica again on his fourth voyage. Because both ships of his expedition were wrecked off the coast of Jamaica, Columbus and his crew were forced to stay on the island under difficult conditions. Only over a year later in June 1504 were they found by a Spanish rescue mission and returned to Spain. Weakened and sick, Columbus died in Spain on May 20, 1506.

Jamaica was only placed under Spanish administration in 1509. Then they also built the first settlement, Sevilla Nueva. However, this settlement was not too favorable near a swamp, so this place was soon abandoned for a place on the south coast. This is where Villa de la Vega (now: Spanish Town) was founded, which was officially the capital of Jamaica from 1538 to 1872. Jamaica was Columbus's property at the time, and when he died in 1506, his son Diego inherited the island. Diego appointed one of his father's lieutenants as the island's first governor, Don Juan de Esquivel.

English rule

Oliver Cromwell, JamaicaOliver Cromwell, JamaicaPhoto: Public domain

In 1654, English statesman Oliver Cromwell sent a fleet to the Caribbean to break the sovereignty of Spain there. However, the fleet, led by Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables, was so ill-equipped and prepared for its task that they were severely weakened from the area near Hispaniola (now: Haiti and the Dominican Republic). To make something of it, the English sailed to sparsely populated and weakly defended Jamaica. On May 10, 1655, 38 ships with about 8,000 troops landed near the capital Villa de la Vega. The English could conquer the island without a fight. The Spaniards had gone north to travel to Cuba from there. The only opposition came from a small group of Spaniards who were left behind and slaves released by the Spaniards, so-called maroons or “cimarrons”. In 1658 reinforcements for the Spaniards came from Cuba, but after the lost battle at Rio Bueno, Jamaica finally fell into the hands of the English.

By 1656, some 1,600 English settlers had already arrived in the eastern part of Jamaica. Cromwell had promised them land and goods. Unfortunately, about three-quarters of the settlers died from tropical diseases. The island under military rule started to develop well economically. Lively trade developed between Jamaica, England and other Caribbean islands.

In England, meanwhile, the battle between anti-royalist Cromwell and supporters of the monarchy raged. This battle also started in Jamaica, but a mutiny among the troops was soon suppressed by the English commander, Colonel Edward d'Oyley. In 1661, the monarchy in England was restored and King Charles II appointed D'Oyley as governor. During the rest of the 17th century, more and more settlers came to Jamaica, attracted by the prosperous economic developments.


The 17th century was also dominated by the buccaneers, initially hired by the English to defend the Caribbean against the French and the Dutch, with which England was constantly at odds. The buccaneers had a perfect location for a base in Jamaica. At one point, these buccaneers developed into a motley crew of pirates and adventurers who settled on the island of Tortuga northwest of Hispaniola, where there was a lively trade with passing ships. However, the Spaniards felt threatened and drove the buccaneers to the island of Tortola. The hunted buccaneers then united in the “Confederacy of the Brethren of the Coast”.

They gradually conquered more and more Spanish ships and developed as a relentless power, feared all over the Caribbean. Jamaica's new governor Sir Thomas Modyford, along with the Spaniards, sought to curtail the power of the buccaneers. However, when war against Holland and England broke out, Modyford attempted to make an alliance with the “Brethren” to defend the island from the Spaniards. The buccaneers agreed and settled en masse in Port Royal and Kingston Harbor. Port Royal quickly became the largest city in Jamaica with more whore lockers and bars than anywhere else in the world.Photo

Henry Morgan JamaicaHenry Morgan JamaicaPhoto: Public domain

Young Welshman Henry Morgan took charge of the buccaneers. They lived among Spanish cities across the Caribbean. They had just attacked Panama, the major city of the Spaniards in the New World, when Spain and England made peace. Morgan was still tried in England for this, but was acquitted and even became governor of Jamaica. He died in 1688.

Both countries now regarded the buccaneers as a bunch of ordinary pirates who were forced to return to sea after a major earthquake in Jamaica. Most of Port Royal had disappeared into the sea, killing more than 2,000 residents.

War in Europe and slave rebellions

In the late 17th century, a French invasion force commanded by Admiral Jean du Casse landed in Jamaica. The colonists defended themselves vigorously and expelled the French despite many casualties and great material damage. The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Rijswijck in September 1697. In the early 18th century, Jamaica also experienced the consequences of the war in which England and Holland faced France and Spain. For example, there was a six-day sea battle between the French fleet commanded by Jean du Casse and that of Admiral John Benbow, which ended undecided.

The war, fought mainly in Europe, was ended with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. It was agreed that England could supply slaves to the Spanish territories in the New World, making Jamaica the center of the slave trade in the Caribbean. Still, Jamaica was not doing very well. There were constant financial problems with the British crown and conflicts with the Maroons. Epidemics and natural disasters also ravaged the island. In addition, man was bothered by the increasing piracy in which ships were attacked and plantations looted. Some well-known pirates of the time were Nicholas Brown (Great Pirate), Edward Teach (Blackbeard), and Jack Rackham (Calico Jack).

In 1739 another war broke out between Great Britain, Spain and France as a result of an argument about illegal trade. The British suffered heavy losses and lost about 20,000 men. In 1748, another peace treaty (Aix-la-Chapelle) was signed, which ended in 1756 with the outbreak of the Seven Years' War between old rivals France and England. The British managed to conquer almost all French islands in a few years. This war was also concluded with a treaty, now that of Paris in 1763.

Maroon Village in JamaicaMaroon Village in JamaicaPhoto: Public domain

In 1760 one of the largest slave rebellions in the history of Jamaica broke out.

The Maroons, once slaves themselves, were even called to the rescue by the government. The Tacky's Rebellion, named after leader Tacky, spread all over the island. At one point, Tacky was shot to death and uprisings broke out across the island that lasted for months.

The American Revolutionary War had major consequences for the Caribbean. In 1781, the British troops surrendered after the Battle of Yorktown and the influence of the British in the Caribbean soon diminished. Only Barbados, Antigua and Jamaica remained British property. In 1782, the French and Spaniards attempted to invade Jamaica, but were defeated in the Battle of the Saints by Admiral George Rodney and his fleet.

The anti-slavery movement and the French Revolution of 1789 also affected Jamaica. The Second Maroon War broke out in 1795. The new governor of Jamaica, Count of Balcarres, declared a state of emergency and sent soldiers inland. However, they were ambushed and many were killed or injured. A few hundred maroons lasted a long time against about 1500 European inspection troops. Eventually, the often invisible insurgents with dogs were tracked down.

After this, the Maroons chose eggs for their money and quickly started peace negotiations.

Slavery is abolished and Jamaica becomes crown colony

Kingston Jamaica 1897Kingston Jamaica 1897Photo: Public domain

In 1807 the slave trade in the British Commonwealth was banned and in 1838 slavery was completely abolished. The parliament of Jamaica and the plantation owners are strongly opposed to the measures. The advocates of abolition received support from the missionaries of non-conformist churches. In 1831 another slave uprising broke out, with the result that slavery was officially abolished in Jamaica as well. As a result, sugar production fell sharply and the plantations were taken over by Jews and people of mixed descent, at the expense of white planters. Not much changed for the black farmers. The parliament, elected by a small number of white voters, still ruled the service. The conditions of the blacks were further aggravated by crop failures and the consequences of the American Civil War.

In 1862, Edward John Eyre became governor of Jamaica, and he immediately got to work. The black people's condition led to an uprising in 1865, the “Morant Bay Rebellion” led by Paul Boyle and George William Gordon. Approx. 400 people were killed or later executed. One of them was Gordon who was hanged. Eyre's intervention was strongly condemned in England and he was therefore recalled.

Just before that happened, he managed to secure Jamaica's crown colony status. This allowed the governor to continue to exercise his great power. Far-reaching reforms and improvements were made under governors such as Sir John Peter Grant in the late 1800s. Infrastructure was greatly improved, local government and the judiciary were reorganized and the banana trade, which is important to the Jamaican economy, got underway well, to some extent offset the decline of the sugar industry. In 1872, Kingston became the capital of Jamaica and remained so despite some major fires and a terrible 1907 earthquake.

Jamaica independent

Declaration of independance JamaicaDeclaration of independance JamaicaPhoto: Public domain

As a result of the First World War and the worldwide crisis in the 1930s, this era of prosperity came to an end. Unemployment, banana diseases and rapid population growth caused tensions on the island to rise quickly. Another outburst of insurrection and violence followed in 1938. As a result of this unrest, the first unions and political parties were established.

The main parties became Norman Washington Manley's People's National Party (PNP) and Sir William Alexander Bustamante's Jamaica Labor Party (JLP).

Requirements with regard to salary increases and improvement of the working conditions soon arose. Political reforms were also high on the agenda. This led to a new constitution in 1944, after which the period of Jamaica as a crown colony came to an end. The road to independence had definitely taken.

The two major parties and their leaders disagreed on how to proceed now.

Manley wanted complete independence, Bustamante wanted to benefit from British patronage and economic aid for as long as possible. In the 1950s, both ultimately chose the first alternative: independence.

After constitutional changes in 1953 and 1957, Jamaica gained self-government in 1959 and Britain was only responsible for defense and foreign affairs. In these years, the extraction of bauxite also started and the tourist industry grew. In 1958 the “West Indies Federation” was founded by other British territories in the Caribbean, of which Jamaica was initially also a member. After a referendum among the people of Jamaica, voters elected to secede from Britain.

Agreement was then reached in February 1962 and Independence Day was set for 6 August. Jamaica remained a member of the Commonwealth. The first session of the new parliament took place on August 7, 1962, and the first prime minister became Bustamante of the JLP. Since institutions such as the legal power, the central bank and the civil service were already functioning quite well, the transition to independence went without too many problems.

It was also important that political parties were not divided by race or class, but had different interest groups under their umbrella. In the economic field, two five-year plans were developed that benefited, among others, from bauxite extraction, oil refining, cement production and textile manufacturing. The major problem at this time was the rapid growth of the population resulting in high unemployment.

Michael Manley JamaicaMichael Manley JamaicaPhoto: Public domain

In 1972, the PNP won elections led by Michael Manley. He carried out a number of important reforms; including a minimum wage law and new labor laws regulating workers' rights. Land reforms were also introduced and more houses were built for the poor of Jamaica. Still, Jamaica's economic situation remained poor. The PNP remained in power in 1976 but was unable to resolve economic problems even now. Foreign policy increasingly focused on Russia and Cuba, after which American aid was reduced.

The run-up to the 1976 elections was dominated by violent actions by the supporters of both major parties. This violent rivalry is quite common in Jamaica.

The military usually refrains from violence. Instead, the political parties have their own armed gangs that try to win over voters by force. Allegations of Cuban aid and CIA interference are also rife during the election campaign. Manley declared a state of emergency in 1976 to restore order. This was indeed successful and the PNP won the elections by a large majority. In the same year, Manley announced that Jamaica was heading for bankruptcy and was forced to accept the terms and conditions of the International Monetary Fund in exchange for financial aid. In the meantime, a “brain drain” started. Businesses lost skilled workers and important figures from education and technology left the country.

Government debt rose to $ 150 million in 1979.

The period before the 1980 elections would become the bloodiest in Jamaica's modern history. More than 500 people died. The October 30, 1980 elections were ultimately won by a large majority by Edward Seaga's JLP. When it came to foreign relations, Seaga followed a radically different course from its predecessor Manley. Seaga fully focused on the United States and even closed the Cuban Embassy. Hotels and other state-owned enterprises returned to private ownership. Furthermore, his first priority was to restore the Jamaican economy. This resulted, among other things, in a return of Western investors and in 1981 a small economic growth. Inflation was kept under control, unemployment declined slightly and the budget deficit was corrected. Jamaica's political and economic image improved in the Western world, but this was again undermined by widespread crime and the production of large amounts of marijuana.

After this good start, the fragile economy was hit again. As Jamaica increasingly imported from abroad, the trade deficit increased. In addition, revenues declined as world trade prices for aluminum and bauxite fell. All this resulted in many layoffs, a decline in purchasing power and a sharp rise in the cost of living. On top of all this, Jamaica was hit in 1988 by one of the worst disasters in the island's history; hurricane Gilbert. Three hundred million dollars in damage, a quarter of the population homeless and major damage to agriculture and industry were the consequences.

Since independence, Jamaican politics has been dominated by two parties: the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP), founded by Sir Alexander Bustamente, and Norman Manley's People's National Party (PNP). These two parties alternated regularly during the twentieth century. New parties were not formed until the early 1990s when the JLP became severely divided, resulting in the creation of a new political party in 1995, the National Democratic Movement (NDM). In 2001 another new party was founded, United People's Party (UPP).

P.J Patterson JamaicaP.J Patterson JamaicaPhoto: Jeffrey O Gustafson CC 3.0 Unported no changes

P.J. Patterson of the PNP serves as the prime minister for the third consecutive term, while the PNP has won the election for the fourth consecutive time. P.J. Patterson resigned the leadership of the PNP on March 31, 2006. Portia Simpson-Miller won the race for the PNP leadership in February that will secure Jamaica's first female Prime Minister. The PNP is expected to maintain a comfortable majority in parliament despite the fact that in the forthcoming parliamentary elections (by the end of 2007 at the latest) it will suffer from changes in leadership positions within the party. In September 2007, the people decided differently and the Labor Party won the elections. Bruce Golding is the new prime minister. In January 2009, Governor General Kenneth Hall resigns due to health concerns. In February 2009 he is succeeded by Patrick Allen. In May 2010, dozens of people were killed in fighting with a drug boss in Kingstown. On January 5, 2012, Portia Simpson-Millar is elected again. In June 2014, the government announced its intention to drastically reform the country's drug laws. The aim is to decriminalize the use of mariuhana in particular. In February 2015, parliament allowed the possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal purposes. Andrew Holness has been Prime Minister since March 2016. He has the smallest possible majority of just one seat.In the 2021 elections, Holness will remain in power.


In July 2017, the population of Jamaica was 2,990,561. The population density at that time was approximately 270 inhabitants per km2. The coastal plains, the areas of Central Range and the Blue Mountains and the agglomeration of Kingston-St Andrew have the largest population concentrations. More than half of the inhabitants live in the cities and the migration to those cities is still increasing. The capital Kingston is very densely populated with more than 590,000 inhabitants.

More than 90% of the population are people of pure African descent. The number of mulattoes is limited, unlike most Caribbean islands. Several descend from the Maroons, slaves who escaped into the mountains at the time. The remaining 10% of the population consists of British and Americans (together about 1%), Indians and Chinese (about 4%) and some Lebanese and Syrians.

There are no longer direct descendants of the Arawak Indians; the Arawak Indians were completely exterminated by the Spaniards in the 16th and 17th centuries.

School kids JamaicaSchool kids JamaicaPhoto: Ralf Steinberger CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Large-scale family planning programs have reduced the population growth (almost 2% per annum in the period 1972-1974) to 0.9% (1982-1991) and 0.68% in 2017. Birth and death rate (2017) are respectively. 17.9 ‰ and 6.8 ‰. Life expectancy at birth is 72.1 years for men and 75.4 years for women.

Jamaica has a fairly young population. 27.2% of the population is under 14 years of age, 64.8% is between 15-64 years of age and 8% of the population is over 65 years of age.

Emigration, which took place on a large scale to Great Britain and the United States, especially before independence in 1962, declined and increased again from the end of the 1970s. Still, over two million Jamaicans have emigrated over time. For example, it is estimated that there are approximately 400,000 residents of Jamaican descent in the eastern United States.


Vowel Scheme Patois, JamaicaVowel Scheme Patois, JamaicaPhoto: Unknown CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The official language in Jamaica is English. In addition, a large part of the population also speaks a dialect, the Patois. This dialect originated in the seventeenth century and is a mixture of English, French, Spanish and various West African languages. It is absolutely impossible to follow for non-Jamaicans.

Some specific words in Patois are:


First Reformed Church JamaicaFirst Reformed Church JamaicaPhoto: Jim Hendrson in the public domain

Jamaica has no state religion and there is complete religious freedom. The majority of Jamaicans are Protestant. However, this Protestant community is divided among many denominations. The largest societies are Baptists (18%), Church of God (17%), Anglicans (15%), Methodists (6%) and Presbyterians (5%).

Approx. 7% of the population is Catholic, often Chinese. Furthermore, there are still small groups of Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Seventh-day Adventists, the Pentecostal church and supporters of Revivalism, a typical Jamaican religion, which originated at the beginning of the 19th century and which contains Christian and many African animistic elements. The core idea is that living persons can be possessed and influenced by spirits from the afterlife. Some revivalist cults are pocomania enkumina.

Rastafarianism is disorganized religion and is more of a faith, not a real church.

Rastafarianism has no official doctrine or dogmatic hierarchy and is a collection of social and spiritual doctrines that can be interpreted in any way by any Rastafarian. For example, not all rastafarians have dreadlocks or smoking ganja (marijuana). They all assume that Africa is the spiritual home of the blacks to which they all eventually return.


State Structure

Cote of Arms JamaicaCote of Arms JamaicaPhoto: Public domain

Since August 6, Jamaica has been an independent parliamentary democracy within the British Commonwealth. The English monarch is officially the head of state. At the moment it is Queen Elisabeth II, who is represented by a governor general.

The British parliament is a model for the Jamaican. Legislative power consists of the Senate (House os Lords) and the House of Representatives (House of commons). The Senate consists of 21 members appointed by the Governor General. Governor General's office is purely ceremonial. Eight senators are appointed on the recommendation of the opposition and thirteen members are nominated by the government. The House of Representatives has 60 members, who are elected every five years through general elections by Jamaicans aged 18 and over. At the request of the Prime Minister, the Governor General can call elections at any time. The leader of the largest party in parliament is the prime minister and, together with his cabinet of ministers, he forms the executive power.

The island is administratively divided into 14 municipalities or “parishes” with an elected city council: Clarendon, Hanover, Kingston, Manchester, Portland, Saint Andrew, Saint Ann, Saint Catherine, Saint Elizabeth, Saint James, Saint Mary, Saint Thomas, Trelawny and Westmoreland.

Jamaica is a member of the United Nations and sub-organizations of the UN, Commonwealth, Organization of American States (OAS), Sistema Económico Latinoamericano (SELA), World Trade Organization (WTO), Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), and associate member of the EU (Lomé convention).

The two main political parties are the People's National Party (PNP, founded in 1938) and the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP, 1944). For the current political situation see chapter history.


High School Students JamaicaHigh School Students JamaicaPhoto: Public domain

Although much attention is paid to education, the government is facing major problems. There is not enough of almost everything, such as school buildings, textbook and other teaching materials. Children under six years old go to so-called “basic schools”. Primary education is compulsory for children aged seven to fifteen. There are two types of primary education: “primary schools” for children aged 6 to 12 (especially in the cities) and “all-age schools” for children aged 6 to 15 (especially in the countryside). In rural areas, classes of over 50 students are not uncommon. Primary education is free and the school uniform is also provided free of charge. Approx. 90% of compulsory school attendants do indeed go to school.

58% of 12 to 18 year olds are in secondary education. This consists of two parts, a three-year basic period and a two-year advanced course. The follow-up course trains for an academic or a technical course. Kingston is the headquarters of the University of the West Indies (founded in 1948). Dependances can be found in Barbados and Trinidad. Other forms of higher education can be taken at the College of Agriculture and the College of Arts, Science and Technology. The Ministry of Education also provides educational radio and television broadcasts and there are evening courses.

Reggae music, Bob Marley and the rasta culture

Reggae originated in Jamaica in the early sixties of the 20th century from ska, fast rhythm 'n blues with emphasis on the backbeat. Reggae is characterized by a constant backbeat: of a four-beat measure, the second and fourth beat are emphasized. It is generally the drums and especially the staccato-played rhythm guitar that maintain this rhythm, while a carrying bass line provides a clear counterpart.

The lyrics are often social or political, while Rastafarianism is also constantly sung. Bob Marley and the Wailers brought about the breakthrough of reggae to the general public from the mid-1970s. Other major reggae pioneers included Jimmy Cliff, Burning Spear, Toots and the Maytals, and Sly Dunbar (drums) & Robbie Shakespeare (bass), a famous rhythm duo in the reggae world.

Over time, various sub styles developed within reggae, such as dub (including Lee Perry), lovers rock (including Gregory Isaacs), dancehall (including Yellowman) and ragga (including Shabba Ranks). Ragga is a combination of rap and reggae on mostly computer-controlled rhythms, where the subject choice was almost exclusively in the field of love and sex. In the 1990s, this form occupied a dominant position in the reggae idiom. For that reason, the original reggae was increasingly called “roots reggae”.

Bob Marley, JamaicaBob Marley, JamaicaPhoto: Public domain

Bob Marley. actual first names: Robert Nesta (April 6, 1945 - Miami, Fla., St. Ann's, May 11, 1981) was a Jamaican singer, guitarist and composer and is considered the most important reggae musician of all time. He was also a great spiritual leader. He became leader of the group The Wailers in 1964, which initially also included Peter Tosh. The lyrics of this group were politically committed and, from 1970 onwards, were also strongly inspired by the rastafarian religion of Marcus Garvey.

Marley wrote the world hit “I shot the sheriff” for Eric Clapton in 1974. After this success, Marley's career also accelerated. The group was now called Bob Marley & The Wailers and the live version of No woman no cry (1975) meant the breakthrough to the general public. In 1976, Marley was seriously injured in an attack by political opponents.

After his recovery, he made his comeback with a series of convincing records and concerts and finally became a pop idol. After his death from cancer, his popularity continued unabated, while some of his children like Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers successfully followed in his footsteps.

In response to Revivalism (see: religion), Rastafarianism arose in the 1930s. The Rasta culture considers the former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie as the reincarnated Christ and salvation is only possible if one returns to Africa and especially of course Ethiopia. Rastas have a different lifestyle and stand out because of their dreadlocks, the long twisted locks of hair.

One of the sources of inspiration for the rasta movement was Jamaican Marcus Garvey and his UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association) movement. He wanted to unite all blacks in the world and this movement had millions of followers at one point. In the 1920s, he predicted that a black king would soon be crowned. In 1930 this would become Ras Tafari Makonnen, the third emperor of Ethiopia, who would call himself Haile Selassi, the “Living God”. For the black, oppressed people of Jamaica, he became the black savior and Ethiopia the promised land.

The Rasta movement has also become a political power factor in Jamaica, and two major organizations are involved in the religious, social and political spheres, the Ethiopian National Congress (ENC) and the Rastafarian Movement Association (RMA).



Rum Factory JamaicaRum Factory JamaicaPhoto: Acampbell3000 CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Jamaican economy is now more diversified than has traditionally been the case. Agriculture, which contributed 7% to GDP in 2017 and provided employment to 16% of the working population, produces for both domestic consumption and exports. Sugar exports accounted for 9% of total export value in 2017, but this sector does not have good prospects. Revenues from agricultural exports fell from 50% in 1970 to about 5% in 2017. After agriculture, it was the extraction of bauxite that dominated the economy for decades. After a downturn in the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s, due to struggles around planned nationalization and later a global recession, a recovery has been emerging in recent years (5% GDP). The sector employs less than 4,000 people. Tourism has experienced strong growth and is now one of the major foreign exchange providers and employs 12,000 people. The (light) industry, which accounts for 21% of GDP and provides 16% of jobs, is also of growing importance. Inflation was curbed and fell from 40% in 1978 to 4.4% in 2017.

Unemployment fell from 30% in 1978 to 12.2% in 2017. Tourism is primarily a growth sector. Economic growth in 2017 was 0.7%. 17.1% of Jamaican families live below the poverty line.

Agriculture, livestock, forestry and fishing

Sugar Cane JamaicaSugar Cane JamaicaPhoto: Phil CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

About 30% of the total land area is used for growing crops, 20% is pasture and 20% is covered with forest; Sugar exports are partly state-owned; about 50% of sugar cane cultivation takes place on large plantations, each with its own refinery. The main agricultural areas are located in the coastal plains. Rum is fired from molasses, a by-product of sugar. Together with sugar, these by-products account for 40% of the total agricultural production. The sugar industry faces stiff competition from countries such as Brazil, Cuba and India.

Other agricultural products include bananas, citrus fruits, coffee, allspice and ginger. Very important, according to some sources, even the main agricultural provider of foreign money, is the cultivation of marijuana, which is mainly exported to the United States. Of the food crops, yams, potatoes, rice, cassava and maize are important, partly for personal use and partly for sale on the local market. The vast majority of Jamaican farmers have less than one hectare of land available for this. Extensive livestock farming, forestry (tropical hardwoods) and fishing (mackerel and tuna) are of little significance for the island's economy. Food must be imported, including fish.

Mining and energy supply

Aluminium Plant in JamaicaAluminium Plant in JamaicaPhoto: Nigel20 CC3.0 Unported no changes made

Jamaica is the third largest producer of bauxite (Australia and Brazil). A quarter of the Jamaican soil contains bauxite. Jamaica still has estimated reserves of 2.5 trillion tons, 7% of the world reserve and still enough to produce for a hundred years. The extraction of bauxite is done in opencast mining and is highly mechanized. One third of the revenues from this sector were earned from the export of bauxite, two thirds from the semi-finished alumina. Most of the raw bauxite is exported directly. The alumina is a raw material for the production of aluminum. The enormous expansion of the aviation industry from the 1950s was, of course, of paramount importance to the Jamaican bauxite industry. The number of workers in the bauxite industry accounts for only one percent of the workforce!

The largest bauxite companies are Kaiser, Alcon, Alcoa and Acro, all foreign companies. Since the sharp fall in the world bauxite price since 1992, this share has fallen to 8.7%. The alumina market picked up again from 1994.

Other minerals are gypsum (approx. 200,000 tons per year), lime and marble. Jamaica relies almost exclusively on imported petroleum for the production of electrical energy. This is also one of the reasons that Jamaica cannot convert alumina into aluminum itself; the electricity required for this is too expensive for Jamaica.


The main industrial activity is the processing of agricultural products for the food and beverage industry. Also important are the production of textiles and footwear and the construction industry. Kingston is an important industrial center with, among other things, metal industry, telecommunications equipment and a petroleum refinery.


Export JamaicaExport JamaicaPhoto:R. Haussmann, Cesar Hidalgo, CC 3.0 no changes made

The main imports consist of food, machinery and raw materials. Sugar, coffee and bananas are still exported on a much smaller scale. After Columbia, Jamaica is the largest producer of marijuana or ganja. In any case, it is Jamaica's largest illegal export product. Where the undoubtedly high yields go is not clear, but it certainly makes a major contribution to the Jamaican economy. About half of the exports go to the United States and 36% of the imports also come from the United States. It is therefore not surprising that Jamaica is totally dependent on this country.

The market for durable consumer and capital goods is too small and Jamaica is too dependent on foreign countries for both technology and raw materials. The main trading partners are the United States, Canada, Venezuela, England and the partners in CARICOM. The central bank has been the Bank of Jamaica since 1960. In addition to the twelve commercial banks, there are two development banks.


Jamaica has a good road network; Of the 18,200 km, 3,200 km are paved. Of the approximately 389 km of railroad operated by the government, the 182 km long connection from Montego Bay to Kingston is the most important.

There are also four railways for the transportation of bauxite ore. There are fourteen airports, two of which are international: Norman Manley International Airport at Kingston and The Donald Sangster International Airport at Montego Bay. Kingston is the largest port with several yards and docks and smaller ports can be found in Montego Bay, Port Antonio, Savanna-la-Mar, Port Royal and Ocho Rios.

Holidays and Sightseeing

Tourism is currently the main source of income for the Jamaican economy. More than three million people visit the island every year, more than half of them are cruise tourists.

Jamaica ranks fourth in terms of the number of tourists to Caribbean countries. Only the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Cuba receive more visitors. About 65% of tourists come from the United States; 12% of Britain. Many Dutch tourists also visit Jamaica.

Devon House Kingston JamaicaDevon House Kingston JamaicaPhoto: Davis Amsler CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Most tourists visit the lively capital of Kingston, where the roots of Reggae music lie and where you can visit a museum dedicated to Bob Marley. The museum is located in a house where he used to live in the Trenchtown slum. Devon House is another of Kingston's attractions, it is a large colonial-style mansion from the nineteenth century. The gardens surrounding Devon House are beautifully landscaped and complete the trip. Near Kingston are also a number of attractive beaches.

Montego Bay JamaicaMontego Bay JamaicaPhoto: Grahampurse CC 4.0 International no changes made

The most famous beach resort in Jamaica is Montego Bay on the north side of the island. The extensive sandy beaches play the main role here. You can swim, snorkel, dive or just relax on your beach chair. The coast is a protected area and is part of Jamiaca's first national park, Montego Bay Marine Park. Above Montego Bay is the British fort that you can reach with a brisk walking tour. Dating back to the 18th century, it was built to protect the area from attacks by both pirates and other powers.

Dunn's River Falls JamaicaDunn's River Falls JamaicaPhoto: Breakyunit at the English Wikipedia CC3.0 Unported no changes made

You may not expect it, but Jamaica has some spectacular waterfalls. The most famous is the Dunn's River Falls near Ocho Rias on the north coast of Jamaica. This group of waterfalls is 180 meters wide and the height difference is 55 meters. Tourists can climb these falls quite easily under the guidance of a guide or individually. The tour takes you through a lush landscape. The waterfalls flow directly into the sea and there is a beautiful beach to rest from climbing.

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Baker, C. / Jamaica
Lonely Planet

Baker, C. / Jamaica

Bayer, M. / Jamaica
Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen/Novib

Helm, R. van der / Jamaica


Wilkins, F./ Jamaica
Chelsea House Publishers

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated December 2021
Copyright: Team Landenweb