The people of Jamaica Essay Sample
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- Category: jamaica
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The people of Jamaica Essay Sample
Whenever people talk of Jamaica what always registers is a vacation hideaway in the Caribbean. We are reminded of great sunny weather, frolicking in the sand and beautiful hotels all designed to treat guests in ways only Jamaican’s can pamper.
The resorts in Jamaica are known the world over to serve honeymooners, those out on vacations and even retirees out to splurge on the natural beauty of Montego Bay. Jamaica welcomes over a million tourists into its shores each year and they are treated to diverse destinations to Negril, Ocho Rios or move to Kingston the capital city (About Jamaica, 2005).
Actually Jamaica is an island nation and part of the Greater Antilles area within the Caribbean Sea. The island is 234 kilometers in length with a breadth of around 80 kilometers. It is located northeast of Central America, south of Cuba and west of Hispaniola – the island of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Moreover, it is the third most inhabited country in the Anglophone region in the Americas following the United States and Canada (Wikipedia contributors, 2007).
The first inhabitants of Jamaica were the Arawak tribe from the Arawakan linguistic stock and native of North America also known as the Tainos. In fact these aborigines coined the name “Xymaca” which could mean the “land of springs” or commonly referred to as the “land of wood and water”. These Amerindians or the Native American Tainos came to the island around 700 A.D. They were a bunch of a timid and quiet stock engaged mostly in fishing and agriculture. Although Jamaica is hilly and had a mountainous terrain, the inhabitants settled and the area suited their lifestyle (Wikipedia contributors, 2007).
The American Tainos peaceful existence in Xymaca lasted for over 700 years and was only disrupted with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1509. It became a Spanish Colony and was renamed Santiago de la Vega.
The Spaniards finally took over and established the first settlement and capital of the island in 1523. The next 350 years for the aborigines was critical since atrocities were committed against them by the Spanish colonizers. Eventually the local tribe died out as a result of harsh treatment and diseases (Background Note, 2007).
The demise of the local tribe resulted in labor shortage because of the already flourishing large-scale agriculture based plantation economies. Thus the Spanish conquistadors resorted to importing slaves from Africa. Initially the slave trade came in trickles but later due to the labor requirements of large plantation owners, Jamaica became one of the global centers of African slavery.
By 1670 under the provisions of the Treaty of Madrid, the British took over the reigns of the island. Not only did immigrants increased in number but agriculture also flourished with cacao, sugar, coffee, bananas and several forest products dominating the island economy. Thus the large-scale labor shortage led to the importation of more slaves. In its heyday, Jamaica imported 662,000 slaves making it the primary slave-trading center of the world (Background Note, 2007).
But in August 1, 1833, by parliamentary legislation, slavery was abolished. The granting of freedom to slaves left open $30 million as compensation to the owners of around 310,000 of the freed slaves. What followed was chaos as the recently liberated African Jamaicans refused to work and abandoned the different plantations. Instead they occupied lands in the interior and resorted to farming themselves. This disrupted the agriculture-based economy and rendered several plantations bankrupt (Background Note, 2007).
The situation further deteriorated and led the island to a worst economic crisis. Furthermore, the court showed impartiality by its discriminatory acts, oppressive taxation, and land exclusion measures which finally caused widespread unrest among thousands of African Jamaicans. Thus, the injustices perpetrated made the island ripe for an insurrection (Background Note, 2007).
In October 1865, a rebellion was started in Port Morant and martial law was declared by the government. But the rebellion was short-lived as government quelled the uprising while also inflicting brutal reprisal. Because of the incident, Jamaica was made into a British crown colony, depriving Jamaicans of government self-rule which they have enjoyed since the late 17th century.
In 1884, a representative government was restored, but Jamaica remained a British subject until nominal independence was finally granted in 1962. Jamaica being a British colony became a member of the Federation of the West Indies in January 3, 1958. But the union was short-lived because of disagreement over what role Jamaica had on the federation. A break-up of the federation happened and Jamaica seceded come August 6, 1962.
Out of the breakup, total independence was granted to the island. Thus, national election was held on April 1962 and the first Jamaican Prime Minister held office (Background Note, 2007).
The ethnic composition
It is important to note that the first settlers of Jamaica were the Native American Arawaks or the Taino tribe that lived for over 700 years starting in around 700 A.D. This finding was supported by archaeological diggings in the vicinity of the purported settlement sites.
At the time of the Spanish colonial rule, estimates put the Taino population to around 100,000. The majority of the populations were found near the coastline and near riverbanks. The Tainos relied heavily on fishing as the large part of their diet, although agriculture was also practiced – cultivation of cassava, maize, and arrowroot. The Tainos already engaged in a little form of tribal governance as the island was subdivided into provinces and each is headed by cacique (chief) with a sub-chief as assistant (Satchell, 1999).
With the rule of the Spanish conquistadors, the Tainos endured the brutal reign and harsh slave labor for the next 350 years. But it was the advent of diseases, brought about by the foreign settlers that eventually wiped the Tainos from the face of the earth. Not a trace of the Tainos existence could be gleamed from the present day society, though they were instrumental in the early growth of Jamaica’s plantation-based economy.
At the height of the Spanish rule, there were already disgruntled slaves that ran away from their masters in protest of the harsh treatment and working conditions. These motley groups were known as the “Maroons” lived and converged around the “cockpit area” – on the hilly side of Jamaica. Later they organized as resistance guerilla groups out to make the lives of plantation owners miserable. So when those whose conditions under their masters are no longer bearable, they have a haven to retreat to (Jamaica: Culture and History, 2007).
During the height of the British rule, the “maroons” developed enough offensive strength to be a threat to the new colonial masters. And seeing their relevance to the deterioration of the economy, the British granted them autonomy in 1739. Some remnants of the “maroons” are still visible to this day. The descendants still had jurisdiction over the lands granted to their forefathers and still practiced self-rule.
The British brought in more slaves and were treated barbarously in order to exact obedience, though it backfired and pocket insurrection followed. A raging war materialized between plantation owners and the slaves. Slaves that were caught by the authorities were either burned, strangled or tortured. The slaves retaliated by burning plantations and killing plantation owners. Thousands of slaves were shipped to other countries and they were replaced by indentured Indians and Chinese laborers (Jamaica: Culture and History, 2007).
The main bulk of the population of Jamaica today composes of the descendants of African slaves imported by the Spanish and British rulers. For over three centuries, their forefathers were part of the slave trade that was bought by plantation owners to work on the different plantations. After the abolition of slavery, the real problem started because the freed slaves no longer desired to serve their masters even for a fee. And since they outnumber the plantation owners, chaos ensued as plantations went bankrupt and the economy reeled under the intense economic pressure (Jamaica: Culture and History, 2007).
The experience placed into the hands of the freed slaves a bargaining leverage that eventually led plantation owners to sue for peace and capitulate to some of the demand imposed by the liberated slaves. A stop to the slave economy was eminent and Jamaican’s braced for the takeover of the capitalist economy.
Well, the transition placed the island in dire economic disaster as majority of the slaves turned down wages mandated by plantation owners. Instead they seek other forms of work to augment their income. The slaves were still not given their right of suffrage where voting was provided by the plantation owner’s family and friends. Thus, the white plantocracy reigned supreme with their political power intact.
Meanwhile the awakening of the slaves could be traced back to the religious missionaries that set-up congregations and enticed slaves to join the sect in 1790. It was at this juncture that African Jamaicans were taught to read and write— a privilege that was not given to them by their plantation masters. The congregation grew rapidly and missionaries were forced to seek financial aid from England (Davidson, 2003).
It thus completed Jamaica’s baptism of fire into the religious sect and provided them with the hope of the future especially with a bible in their hands. They attended Sunday Schools with the missionaries as teachers ever willing to expound on the merits of the religion and the bible was embraced as their holy book, their comforter and companion to the journey towards the dreaded valley of the shadow of death. The long years of immersion with the word of God made the African Jamaicans a very religious people that has not wavered even to this day (Davidson, 2003).
The woes of the island economy further exacerbated the worsening situation when the U.S. Navy blockaded the northern Caribbean during the American Civil War. It put to stop all vital supplies and affected Jamaica as it tried to make the new economy work. The end result was the Morant Bay Rebellion, but the government defused the uprising where leaders and supporters were subjected to vicious reprisals. Some of those caught were hanged while hundreds were executed and flogged, and the majority had their homes put to the torch in brutal retribution.
Even following the lifting of the naval blockade, Jamaica still could not rise from its economic debacle. The effects of the Great Depression in the United States were still felt in the islands up to the 30’s and it curtailed the export of Michel Gross bananas. But when the Second World War started, the economic situation started to change, as the British were dependent on Jamaica for the food supply and raw materials. And maybe a stroke of faith, adult suffrage was finally given to Jamaica in 1944 which was followed by total autonomy from Britain in 1947.
When total independence was achieved in 1962, diversity was still very much prevalent and this led the framers of the Jamaican Constitution to stamp the island’s motto ‘Out of Many, One People’, aptly described because of the ethnic and racial differences, while all must be united under one flag.
True enough, today diversity persists as Jamaica had a diverse population and ethnic composition. Although the Afro-Jamaicans constitute the overwhelming majority, the 2006 census recorded a total population of 2.69 million. The blacks accounted for 2.43 million or 90.5%, the whites had 5,380 or a measly 0.2%, the east Indians made up 1.3% and the Chinese 0.3%, and other ethnic groups composed of Syrians, Lebanese and Jews rounding off at 0.5%. People of mixed descent (ethnic intermarriages), the mulatto’s included all account for 7.3% of the total population (Background Note, 2007).
However, true to all countries with black population, racism and color discrimination – the legacy of over three centuries of slavery is very evident in present-day Jamaica; although the racial twist is not as pronounced in Jamaica with the colored people being the most dominant ethnic group. Since the abolition of slavery in 1834, the Afro-Jamaican blacks have risen from the ladder of social mobility, through business entrepreneurship and higher education.
And because of the blacks’ sheer number, they have manifested political clout and expressed their will through the ballot by electing the first black Prime Minister in 1992. Nevertheless, the blacks must duplicate their political power with economic power as it continues to elude the black majority, together with other concerns about racism that has not been fully resolved.
What is unique about the people of Jamaica though, is that it has the nerve to show its discontent towards the government oppressing them – to rise up and rebel. A rabid example of this occurred when government announced a 30% increase in gasoline taxes in 1999. The people responded by setting ablaze the sugar cane fields in Kingston and Montego Bay. And because of this incident, the government rescinded the order three days later.
Sugar has made Jamaica popular the world over for it had a strange hold of this single industry for over 150 years. When the world demand for sugar plummeted, the economy as well suffered. And because sugar cultivation was labor extensive, it left thousands with reduced income and a bleak future. Jamaicans were then left with no option but to look for other avenues to augment their income. The majority of workers opted for emigration and what better place to be at except the United Kingdom. But in 1967 Britain restricted the entry of Jamaican immigrants so that the rest tried their luck in the United States and Canada (Background Note, 2007).
There are about 20,000 Jamaican immigrants entering the American shores yearly and almost 200,000 come as visitors or tourists annually. New York, Miami, Chicago and Hartford are the United States cities where the majority of Jamaican’s converge either as regular citizens or as tourists. Expatriate Jamaican’s from the United States, Great Britain and Canada send remittances home to the tune of 1.6 billion dollars annually. Certainly this contribution has propped up considerably the ailing Jamaican economy (Background Note, 2007).
Looking at the chronological events that made-up the history of the people of Jamaica, it is a parody of cruelty, oppression, persecution from the very first inhabitants until slavery was abolished in 1834. How they endured the harsh treatment, forced labor and isolation could only be due to their will power, resolve and determination to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was their show first and foremost and no amount of physical pain deterred each and every inhabitant to share in the struggle for self-aggrandizement and preservation.
A glimpse back at the masters who inflicted untold pain and sorrow to a colorful race is even beyond condemnation. The colonizers being religious and God fearing people to do such brutal torture is beyond imagination. The bible is explicit that no man must hold dominion over his fellow human being. Unless of course they consider the African slaves as beast, then they are only doing their duty as masters by the Holy Book. But to deprive a person of this right because of his color and belief runs contrary to established norms.
The history of the Jamaican race is in itself a study of the struggles; the fight against injustice; against a system anchored on greed, economic and political power all intertwined to keep a grieving race at bay. Somehow as a consolation, the Jamaican people learned to stand up for their right, fight for what is fair, and live a life free from oppression – a legacy they left behind and judiciously inherited by a modern country (Jamaica, n.d.).
First in a long line of unmatched cruelty were the Arawak’s or the Taino’s who shouldered the brunt of the barbaric traits of the Spanish colonial masters. The local population who were about 100,000 at the time were enslaved and subjected to forced labor. Initially, the natives were utilized in their search for gold and silver. Finding none, they were forced to work on the expanding agricultural based plantation. These people never revolted against the invading settlers, they endured but in the end they perished because of diseases – particularly the small pox epidemic.
The demise of the natives brought untold labor shortage and the Spanish authority at the time imported slaves from Africa. The arrangement worked for a while and history remained still as no major event transpired. But in 1655, the British attacked and invaded Jamaica. In 1670 the British formally annexed Jamaica through the tenets of the Treaty of Madrid (Jamaica, n.d.).
Seeing the huge agricultural potential of Jamaica, the Briton’s took advantage by expanding plantations and planting additional crops. Gradually the island was subdivided among absentee landowners who left the task of managing their farms to overseers and managers. The main crop produced was sugar and it necessitated hiring additional workers, as this industry was labor intensive. Thus additional slaves have to be brought in to augment the dwindling labor reserves. With this system in place, Jamaica became the major supplier of sugar around the globe for next 150 years (Jamaica, n.d.)
At the height of the slave trade, records would show that around 20 million slaves taken out of Africa were sold and traded. Six hundred thousand of those slaves were destined to work in the plantations in Jamaica. Due to the entry of a huge number of slaves into the island, the ratio of the white masters against the black slaves now stood at almost 20 to 1. The Briton masters preferred the slaves because they are cheaper and hardworking to eventually bring prosperity to the island (Slave Trade, 2007).
By the end of the 18th century, Jamaica became the enviable colonial possession of the British Empire, primarily because of the prosperity of the island anchored on the sweat, blood and persecution of the slaves. The harsh treatment of slaves and poor working conditions at the plantations continued unabated as overseers and managers neglected the humanity of the slaves. The inhuman treatment eventually bred resentment and revolt. It only shows the real character of the African slaves, they can be submissive when necessary to possess the determination when required and fight for what is sane and right.
The revolt of the slaves actually started right after the invasion of the island by the British forces in 1655, led by the “maroons”. The maroons (literally wild men of the mountains) were escaped slaves who occupied the mountains and the forests. Even after the Spaniards officially ceded Jamaica to the British, the struggle of the maroons for self-determination continued. The guerilla warfare waged by the maroons against the British lasted for several generations, because of fresh recruits coming from slaves who escaped from their masters. This has been the jest of the struggle until the abolition of slavery in 1834 (Jamaica: Where It All Started, 2007).
It is worthwhile to mention that the maroons led the slave revolt in 1729 (the Maroon War), then the Tacky Rebellion in 1760, the second Maroon War in 1795 and the Christmas Rebellion of Sam Sharpe in 1831. It is interesting to note that the Afro Jamaican forefathers never lacked the will to fight for the principles that they want preserved even at the expense of their own lives. These are brutal lessons learned the hard way, a precious heirloom to the generations of Jamaican freedom fighters (Jamaica: Where It All Started, 2007).
When slavery was finally abolished, slaves were released from centuries of bondage, land owners were given a small amount of compensation – 27 British pounds for every adult slave and 4 British pounds for every child they own. And in transition, the slaves were allowed to work in the plantation with wages for at least three more years. The abolition of slavery finally brought the collapse of the island economy and the plantation system.
Their woes were not yet over as England established the crown-colony form of government, with the governor given absolute executive and legislative powers. It left the freed slaves as puppets under a baton wielding titular head. Succeeding events intervened, causing widespread dissatisfaction to the existing form of government. Island wide riots followed and labor unions were created and the growing demands for self-determination left the British authorities with no choice but to sue for more time (Jamaica, n.d.).
The succeeding years saw a bright light in the future of Jamaica. The island is finally undergoing recovery and development in the context of social, constitutional, economic and its evolution to be finally a sovereign state. The fields of education, health, social services were vastly improved as it trickled slowly to rural beneficiaries. Then the banking system came to be – an island wide savings bank system was started. Roads, bridges and railways were constructed and cable communication to Europe was established and the island’s capital was transferred from Spanish Town to Kingston.
The streak came to a sudden stop though as another crisis loomed in the horizon. This time the contributing factors were the people’s discontent over the slow pace of political development. Then the apparent negative growth of the banana industry because of the widespread infestation of the Panama Disease (a virus that wiped out plantations of Michel Gross bananas) and the plummeting world sugar prices. Naturally this will mean reduced labor opportunities, coupled with the curtailment of migration opportunities and the inherent fear of a rapidly rising population growth rate (Jamaica: Where It All Started, 2007).
Out of all of this negative perceptions, the first labor union in Jamaica was formed together with the two major political parties. These were the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) and its affiliate the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) the political party wing, the other being the National Workers Union (NWU) and its political wing the Peoples National Party (PNP). Some analysts are in the opinion that the creation of these rival labor unions and political parties was the catalyst for the early resolution of the future independence of Jamaica.
Thus in 1944, England created a bicameral legislature, a ministerial government and for the first time gave the citizens their right of suffrage. Eventually, full internal self-government control was given to Jamaica in 1959. In 1962, Jamaica was granted a country status of full independence within the bounds of the British Commonwealth.
Although Jamaica and its brood of slaves have finally weathered the storm, stability is far from established. It is still a long way to go for proponents to really set aside their personal grievances and sit down to chart a course for the future of the island. There are still pockets of resistance that needs to be understood, cared for and dealt with not with an iron hand as the previous masters have done but by compassion and abject humility.
The population likewise must set aside their ethnic differences, tolerate each others misdemeanors and unite for the common good. This really is hard to achieve as demonstrated by other countries with varying ethnic compositions. But who knows, after all Jamaicans are very religious and they can always abide by the only commandment Jesus Christ bestowed upon us – “to love thy neighbors as thyself”.
The future of Jamaica is already assured, it may stumble from time to time, but it has the resolve to rise again. Their forefathers have seen to it that their legacy must always be etched on the people’s minds and soul, so their sacrifice would not have been done in vain and our prayers are with them.
Looking closely at the intricate history of the Jamaican people reveals a chronology of persecution time and again proliferated by different colonizers that battered the population to submission. Beginning with the Native American Tainos or the Arawaks, they claimed the island simply because of the abundance of natural resources which they tapped for their daily existence. And for 700 long years it stayed as their ray of hope, a permanent abode for their growing tribe (Jamaica, 2007).
Settlements of Arawak natives sprung on areas near the sea and riverbanks, a manifestation that Xymaca is indeed a promising area. In fact they became so numerous that they had the place subdivided into provinces and led a tribal cacique and assistant. So early on, the inhabitants of Jamaica had already practiced some form of town planning.
With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, estimates put the Taino population at around 100,000. Remember that these Amerindians were sort of peace loving because no written record could attest that they showed resistance to colonizing Spaniards. They tried to co-exist with the new settlers who subjected them to slave labor for the ensuing agriculture based plantations. Thus, for the next 350 years they endured maltreatment but their number dwindled because of diseases brought inland by the foreign settlers. Eventually they all perished and not a sign of their existence surfaced.
What followed next was the importation of slaves from Africa. Though the African slaves were subjected to the same brutal treatment, they were not timid like the native Tainos. At the height of the slave trade, 600,000 of them collectively stayed in Jamaica. And as expected they rose in protest against harsh treatment and inhuman working conditions.
The crescendo of the slave uprising was no longer controllable and the slaves were finally granted freedom by the British Parliament. Those who were freed stayed in Jamaica and started a life free from the control of plantation masters. Their struggle for self-determination though lasted for several centuries. As free people they roamed and thrived in Jamaica, started their families never to be slaves again.
For the next century they lived and coexisted with other ethnic groups, remnants of the slave trade who also made Jamaica their home. At present, Jamaica has reached population of a little less than 3 million where the majority of Afro-Jamaicans account for almost 91%. Even after a century, the stigma of being a descendant of slaves still echoes in the streets of Jamaica. That is why there are still pockets of violence due to racial discrimination. Although in Jamaica, the racial slur is not prevalent because the Afro Jamaican ethnic group comprises the majority.
Even with the granting of total independence in 1962 and the election of an Afro Jamaican as the first ever Prime Minister, Jamaica still wallowed in want. No opportunity for the majority to start a decent way of living. So those who have the will applied for immigration to other countries seeking for greener pastures. The mass exodus of these migrants almost stalled population growth because the present growth rate could only be at most 0.9% annually.
The mass movement of the population to the United States, Great Britain and Canada had its rewards as well. Though arguably it caused brain drain intellectually, these likewise gained economic benefits for the country. At present foreign remittances by Jamaicans abroad amount to over 1.6 billion dollars annually. Not a bad investment after all.
The Jamaican expatriates abroad became the ambassador of goodwill for the country. They were responsible for spreading the natural wonders of their native country. And eventually Jamaica evolved into a major tourist destination. So, the ethnic groups that comprise the population of Jamaica have all helped in the collective effort to make their home country what it is today.
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