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General Information :: History of Jamaica

When you think of the Caribbean, what destination comes to mind first? Seasoned travellers tend to agree on one answer. Sure, there are lot's of nice places in the Caribbean, but, there's no place like Jamaica.

Many islands boast warm weather, seductive beaches and tropical breezes. Usually it stops there. In Jamaica it's only the appetizer, not the main course. Just one visit and you'll quickly see why Jamaica is no ordinary destination.

Christopher Columbus first documented the island's extraordinary beauty in 1494 when he described Jamaica as 'The fairest land my eyes have ever seen." The island's natural beauty hasn't changed much in 500 years. It is still extraordinary, and a lot easier to get there. Today, you can pack your bags, grab your suntan lotion, get on an airplane and be there before you can say "boonoonoonoos." And, when you arrive, you too will fee "ire" (a popular Jamaican word meaning good, happy, okay).

The sun, sand and sea is just the beginning. There are beautiful mountains laced with rivers, waterfalls to climb, gardens to visit, rivers to raft, and a host of other attractions. Sports enthusiasts will find spectacular diving, and fishing is a lure. Music lovers will tune in to reggae, soca and the gentle rhythms of calypso. When you add the spice of fine dining and warmth of Jamaican people, you will understand why Jamaica is such a popular destination.
In fact, Jamaica is much more than one destination. It is a cluster of destinations, within a destination. There is Kingston, Montego Bay, Negril, Mandeville, Ocho Rios, Port Antonio and South Coast. Each has its own personality and attractions. All are easily accessible, and merit consideration. You make the choice, but whatever you do, make it Jamaica.

Jamaica's history is intriguing. It's a tempestuous story of Arawak Indians, notorious pirates, Spanish settlers, British naval heroes and slaves yearning for freedom.

The Arawak Indians (also known as Taino Indians) were the first inhabitants. Columbus found them living here when he first landed on May 4th 1494. He originally called the island St. Jago, after the patron saint of Spain. The Spanish soon settled on he island. Although the Arawaks of Jamaica are gone, many of their words still live in the he English Language. Perhaps best known is the word Jamaica, derived from the he Arawak word Xaymaca, meaning 'land of wood and water'##When Columbus landed, it was actually during his second voyage to this part of the world. He set foot ashore on the island's North Coast in an area known today as Discovery Bay. Like so many of today's visitors, Columbus also returned to Jamaica for another visit during his fourth voyage in 1503.

For pirates to sugar barons, the island's history continued for hundreds of years as a tapestry of colourful characters and events. It includes tales of sugar and slaves, Spaniards, and Englishmen, howling hurricanes, crushing earthquakes and notorious pirates.

The people who made Jamaican history were larger than life: Christopher Columbus, the first European discoverer; Sir Henry Morgan, the pirate-turned-respectable governor; and the Maroons, escaped slaves who established settlements in the mountains and fought the regiments of British redcoats to a standoff.

Jamaica's first town was Seville Nueva, near St. Ann's Bay. In 1538, the Spaniards, having abandoned Seville, founded Spanish Town on the South Coast and made it the island's capital. Seville Nueva now lies beneath the earth in St. Ann. Archaeological excavations are being made of this Spanish Settlement.

In 1655 Jamaica became a British Colony when the English captured it from the Spaniards. The English turned the island into one vast sugar plantation. Sugar became "king." Plantation owners prospered to a point, that in England, they used to say "rich as a West Indian planter"

Growing sugar cane meant labourers, so the English brought Africans to work as slaves. When the slaves were freed in 1838, most of them deserted the plantations and settled in the he hills to cultivate their own land. They founded a peasantry which is still regarded as the backbone of Jamaica. After slavery was abolished, the English brought in Indians and Chinese as indentured labourers.

When the English came, the Spaniards fled to neighbouring islands. Their slaves escaped into the mountains, forming their own independent groups called Maroons. The name is an abbreviation of Cimarron, and is derived from the  he Spanish word Cima, or mountain top. They were soon joined by many other slaves, also fleeing from the English. For years, they fought the English who sought to re-enslave them. They were fierce fighters who fought off the troops. Eventually the English were forced to sign peace treaties, granting the Maroons self-government and rights to the mountainous lands they inhabited. Descendants of the Maroon still live in the mountainous terrain. They maintain their lands and elect their own governing councils. Maroons, however are integrated into Jamaican society.

 

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