Jamaica is an island country located in the Caribbean and is part of the West Indies. The country is spread over an area of 10,991 sq kms comprising mostly of mainland with a few scattered islands. Jamaica is the third-largest country in the Greater Antilles, preceded by Cuba (which lies to its north) and Hispaniola (which is located to its east). It is the fourth-most populous country in the Caribbean and third-most populous Anglophone country in the Americas with a population of 2.98 million (as in 2021)
The Taino indigenous people were the original inhabitants of the island till 1494 when Christopher Columbus landed on its shore and took over control. Most of the inhabitants were either killed or died of disease under the Spanish rule which ended around 1655 following the arrival of the British. The country gained independence from British colonial rule in 1962.
The island’s economy is majorly dependent on tourism and it is ranked an upper-middle income country.
Official language: English
National language: Jamaican Patois (English-African Creole)
Currency: Jamaican dollar (JMD)
Time zone: UTC-5:00
Country code: +1-876
People: More than 70% are of African descent; rest of mixed race
Government: Parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy
Famous Jamaicans: Bob Marley, Usain Bolt
People of Jamaica
Ethnic groups and languages
Spanish colonists had virtually exterminated the aboriginal Taino people by the time the English invaded the island in 1655. The Spaniards themselves escaped the island or were expelled shortly afterward. The population of English settlers remained small, but they brought in vast numbers of African slaves to work the sugar estates. Today the population consists predominantly of the descendants of those slaves, with a small proportion of people of mixed African and European
descent. Even fewer in number are people who trace their ancestry to the United Kingdom, India, China, the Middle East, Portugal, and Germany.
Religion of Jamaica
Freedom of worship is guaranteed by Jamaica’s constitution. Most Jamaicans are Protestant. The largest denominations are the Seventh-day Adventist and Pentecostal churches; a smaller but still significant number of religious adherents belong to various denominations using the name Church of God. Only a small proportion of Jamaicans attend the Anglican church, which, as the Church of England, was the island’s only established church until 1870. Smaller Protestant denominations include the Moravian church, the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, the Society of Friends (Quakers), and the United Church of Christ. There is also a branch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
Climate of Jamaica
The tropical climate is influenced by the sea and the northeast trade winds, which are dominant throughout the year. Coastal breezes blow onshore by day and offshore at night. During the winter months, from December to March, colder winds known locally as “northers” reach the island from the North American mainland.
The mountains cause variations in temperature according to elevation, but there is little change from season to season. Temperatures on the coasts can reach the low 90s F (about 32 °C), and minimum temperatures in the low 40s F (about 4 °C) have been recorded on the high peaks. Average diurnal temperatures at Kingston, at sea level, range between the high 80s F (about 31 °C) and the low 70s F (about 22 °C). At Stony Hill, 1,400 feet (427 metres) above sea level, the
maximum and minimum means are only a few degrees cooler.
Rains are seasonal, falling chiefly in October and May, although thunderstorms can bring heavy showers in the summer months, from June to September. The average annual rainfall for the entire island is about 82 inches (2,100 mm), but regional variations are considerable. The mountains force the trade winds to deposit more than 130 inches (3,300 mm) per year on the eastern parish of Portland, while little precipitation occurs on the hot, dry savannas of the south and southwest. Jamaica has occasionally been struck by hurricanes during the summer, notably in 1951, 1988, 2004, and 2007. Earthquakes have caused serious damage only twice—in 1692 and 1907.
Economy of Jamaica
Jamaica’s economy is mixed but increasingly based on services, notably tourism and finance. Since independence in 1962, the country has developed markedly but unevenly. Mining and manufacturing became more important to the economy in the latter part of the 20th century, while the export of agricultural commodities declined. Starting in the 1980s, the state reduced its role as a major player in the economy, partly because structural adjustment and economic
liberalization favored private enterprise as the engine of economic growth. In the 1990s, however, a financial crisis necessitated government bailouts of some faltering industries and financial institutions.
The port of Montego Bay is one of Jamaica’s largest seaports. Jamaica’s economy relies heavily on tourism, which has become one of the country’s largest sources of foreign exchange. Significant Spanish investment in the early 21st century joined U.S. and local capital in the tourist sector. Most tourists remain on the island for several days or weeks, although increasing numbers disembark only briefly from cruise ships at Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, and Falmouth. Those and
other towns on the northern coast, as well as Kingston, are the tourist sector’s main bases of activity. Jamaica is famous for its pleasant climate, fine beaches, and superb scenery, including the waters of Montego Bay and the majestic Blue Mountains.
GOVERNMENT AND SOCIETY
Under the Jamaica (Constitution) Order in Council of 1962, by which the island achieved independence from the United Kingdom, Jamaica is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government. Citizens at least 18 years of age are eligible to vote. Jamaica has had universal suffrage since 1944.
The prime minister, who is head of government, is appointed by the leading political party from its parliamentary members. The British monarch, who is titular head of state, follows the prime minister’s recommendation in appointing a Jamaican governor-general who has largely ceremonial powers. The principal policy-making body is the cabinet, which consists of the prime minister and at least 11 other ministers.
The bicameral parliament consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House has 63 members, who are directly elected. The speaker and deputy speaker are elected by the House from its members. The Senate has 21 members, who are appointed by the governor-general—13 in accordance with the advice of the prime minister and eight on the advice of the leader of the opposition party. Senators are appointed for the duration of a single parliamentary term. The president and deputy president of the Senate are elected by its members. General elections must be held at least once every five years, and the governing party may choose to hold early elections.
The legal system is based on English common law. The highest court in the Jamaican legal system is the Court of Appeals. It hears appeals from the Resident Magistrates’ Courts, which include the Family Courts, the Kingston Traffic Court, Juvenile Courts, and a division of the Gun Court. The Court of Appeals also handles appeals from the Supreme Court, the country’s highest trial court.
The governor-general, on the advice of a Jamaican Privy Council, may grant clemency in cases involving the death penalty; occasionally such cases are referred to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. According to human rights organizations, the judicial system is overburdened, with long delays before trials and with prison conditions characterized by overcrowding, insufficient food supplies and funding, and occasional brutality.
The island is divided into 14 parishes, two of which are amalgamated as the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation, generally corresponding to the Kingston metropolitan area. Parish councils, whose members are directly elected, administer the other parishes. The capitals of some parishes have elected mayors. Jamaica is also traditionally divided into three counties—Cornwall, Middlesex, and Surrey.
The two main political parties are the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP), and between them they have dominated legislative elections since the country’s independence, to the virtual exclusion of any third party. The adversarial nature of Jamaican politics conceals broad agreement on constitutionalism, public education, and social welfare.
The PNP, founded in 1938 as a democratic socialist party, leans more to the left than the more centrist and conservative JLP. Ethnic minorities (such as the descendants of Indian and Chinese immigrants) have participated in politics at the highest levels. Women have served with distinction in the House of Representatives, Senate, and cabinet, although men still predominate numerically.
In 2006 Portia Simpson Miller became the first female president of the PNP and the first woman to serve as prime minister. Currently, The Most Honorable Mr. Andrew Holness ON is the Prime Minister of Jamaica and he is elected for the third time.
Security of Jamaica
Crime is a major problem on the island, particularly in poor urban areas. Most times, it is gang related feuds, domestic and, minor social reasons. For years, many national and local elections were marred by violence and fraud. However, political violence diminished in the late 20th century. The Jamaica Constabulary Force is primarily responsible for internal security; in the event of major disturbances or natural disasters, it is supplemented by the Jamaica Defense Force.
Special police units have occasionally been formed in attempts to reduce corruption and to control organized crime. Jamaica has a death penalty, but no hangings have taken place since 1988, because of protracted appeals to the Privy Council.
Jamaica’s military services (army, coast guard, and air force) enlist only a few thousand personnel and absorb a small percentage of the GDP; service is voluntary. The main concern for the armed forces, besides political and social unrest, is drug trafficking. In 1998 the Jamaican government
signed an agreement allowing U.S. antinarcotics agents to pursue suspected drug smugglers into Jamaican territorial waters.
Health and welfare
There are several public hospitals, including a university hospital, a pediatric hospital, and various health centers and clinics. Jamaica also has a few private hospitals. The National Health Fund subsidizes some prescription drugs used in the treatment of chronic illnesses such as diabetes.
In Jamaica there are over 330 health centres, 24 public hospitals, the University Hospital of the West Indies, a regional teaching institution in Montego Bay partially funded by Regional Governments including Jamaica, 10 private hospitals and over 495 pharmacies.
There are around 5,000 public hospital beds and about 200 in the private sector. Health care in Jamaica is free to all citizens and legal residents at the public hospitals and clinics.
This, in theory, includes the cost of prescribed medication. There are long queues at public health facilities. An audit in 2015 identified shortages of manpower, equipment, medications, wheelchairs, stretchers, gloves, beds, and other essential supplies. 3.3% of the national budget is
spent on health services.
The government operates a compulsory insurance program that provides retirement and other benefits.
Government-funded and private organizations assist children, youths, and women with vocational training and job placement.
The government has promoted large housing developments in both urban and rural areas, especially in the impoverished suburbs of St. Andrew and Kingston, which have large migrant populations.
The bungalow is Jamaica’s most common type of middle-income residence. Many older residences feature the African-influenced construction of the
Jamaican vernacular and Georgian-style architecture. Gated apartment complexes have increased significantly in the Kingston metropolitan area. Jamaica’s location in a tropical zone that is prone to hurricanes and earthquakes dictates construction with reinforced concrete and concrete blocks, and roofs are usually made of corrugated steel or of metal tiles coated in bitumen and stone chips.
Roughly nine-tenths of women and four-fifths of men are literate. Primary education is free and, in some areas, compulsory between the ages of 6 and 11. A substantial part of the country’s annual budget supports the Ministry of Education. Many schools, especially high schools, were originally established and are still governed by religious bodies, although they are now largely financed by the government. There has been increasing emphasis on publicly funded vocational training.
Institutions of higher learning include the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (1981) in Portland parish in eastern Jamaica; the University of Technology, Jamaica, in Kingston (1958); and the University of the West Indies (1948), the main campus of which is in Mona, a northeastern section of Kingston. Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, formerly the Cultural Training Centre (1976), has schools of art, dance, drama, and music.
Jamaica’s cultural development has been deeply influenced by British traditions and a search for roots in folk forms. The latter are based chiefly on the colourful rhythmic intensity of the island’s African heritage.
Jamaican culture is a product of the interaction between Europe and Africa. Terms such as “Afrocentred” and “Euro-centred,” however, are often used to denote the perceived duality in Jamaican cultural traditions and values. European influences persist in public institutions, medicine, Christian worship, and the arts. However, African continuities are present in religious life, Jamaican Creole language, cuisine, proverbs, drumming, the rhythms of Jamaican music and
dance, traditional medicine (linked to herbal and spiritual healing), and tales of Anansi, the spidertrickster.
Daily life and social customs
Family life is central to most Jamaicans, although formal marriages are less prevalent than in most other countries. It is common for three generations to share a home. Many women earn wages, particularly in households where men are absent, and grandmothers normally take charge of preschool-age children. Wealthier Jamaican families usually employ at least one domestic helper.
The main meal is almost always in the evening, because most people do not have time to prepare a midday meal and children normally eat at school. Families tend to be too busy to share most
weekday dinners, but on Sundays tradition dictates that even poor families enjoy a large and sociable brunch or lunch, usually including chicken, fish, yams, fried plantains, and the ubiquitous rice and peas (rice with kidney beans or gungo [pigeon] peas). One of Jamaica’s
most popular foods is jerk (spiced and grilled) meat.
Clothing styles vary. Rastafarians, who account for a tiny part of the population, typically wear loose-fitting clothing and long dreadlocks, a hairstyle associated with the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I in the early 20th century.
Jamaican independence from Great Britain (August 6, 1962) is commemorated annually. The government sponsors Festival as part of the independence celebrations. Although it has much in common with the region’s pre-Lenten Carnivals, Festival is much wider in scope, including street
dancing and parades, arts and crafts exhibitions, and literary, theatrical, and musical competitions. Since the late 20th century, Jamaicans have also celebrated Carnival, typically with costumed parades, bands, and dancing. Emancipation Day is celebrated on August 1.
The population of Jamaica has grown steadily through the centuries, despite considerable emigration, and in the 1950s and ’60s a peak in the birth rate created a baby boom generation. Birth and death rates have both been declining since the 1970s.
Jamaican workers emigrated to Panama in successive waves: in the 1850s to help build a transisthmian railway, in the late 19th century during the failed French-led effort to build a canal, and in 1904–14 during the successful U.S.-led effort. The nascent banana industry in Central America drew still more Jamaicans, as did the need for workers on the sugar and coffee plantations of Cuba. There were notable waves of emigration to the United Kingdom and to Canada in the second half of the 20th century. The United States attracted more Jamaicans than all other countries combined during the 19th and 20th centuries, and the United States and Canada continue to be the primary destination of Jamaican emigrants.
Internal migration has also been pronounced, due to growth in bauxite mining, the manufacturing sector, and tourism. Job opportunities in tourist resorts on the northern coast and in the Kingston region have attracted many migrants from rural communities. In the early 21st century nearly one-third of the island’s population lived in the Kingston metropolitan area, and more than half lived in urban areas. Jamaica’s population density is about average for the West Indies.
There are two international airports in Jamaica with modern terminals, long runways, and the navigational equipment required to accommodate the large jet aircraft used in modern air travel: Norman Manley International Airport in the capital, Kingston and Sangster International Airport in the resort city of Montego Bay. Both airports were once home to the country’s (now defunct) national airline, Air Jamaica. In addition there are local commuter airports at Tinson Pen (Kingston), Port Antonio, Ocho Rios, Mandeville, and Negril that cater to internal flights only. The Ian Fleming International Airport opened in February 2011 to serve the Ocho Rios – Port Antonio area. Many other small, rural centres are served by private fields on sugar estates or bauxite mines.
The Jamaican road network consists of almost 21,000 kilometres of roads, of which over 15,000 kilometres is paved.  The Jamaican Government has, since the late 1990s and in cooperation with private investors, embarked on a campaign of infrastructural improvement projects, one of which includes the creation of a system of freeways, the first such access-controlled roadways of their kind on the island, connecting the main population centres of the island. This project has so far seen the completion of 33 kilometres of freeway.
The Highway 2000 project, which seeks ultimately to link Kingston with Montego Bay and the north coast, is currently undergoing a series of phases/legs. Phase 1 is the highway network between Kingston and Mandeville, which itself has been divided into sub-phases: Phase 1a (Kingston-Bushy Park (in actuality, Kingston-Sandy Bay) highway and the upgrade of the Portmore Causeway), which was completed June 2006, and Phase 1b (Sandy BayWilliamsfield). Phase 2a is the highway between Old Harbour and Ocho Rios, and Phase 2b is the highway between Mandeville and Montego Bay.
Railways in Jamaica, as in many other countries, no longer enjoy the prominent position they once did, having been largely replaced by roadways as the primary means of transport. Of the 272 kilometres of railway found in Jamaica, only 57 kilometres remain in operation, currently used to transport bauxite.
In 2008, with increasing traffic congestion, moves are being made to reconstruct old railway lines.
Ports and Shipping
Owing to its location in the Caribbean Sea in the shipping lane to the Panama Canal and relative proximity to large markets in North America and emerging markets in Latin America, Jamaica receives high container traffic. The container terminal at the Port of Kingston has undergone large expansion in capacity in recent years to handle growth both already realised as well as what is projected in coming years.
There are several other ports positioned around the island, including the alumina ports, Port Esquivel in St. Catherine (WINDALCO), Rocky Point in Clarendon and Port Kaiser in St. Elizabeth. Port Rhoades in Discovery Bay is responsible for transporting bauxite dried at the adjacent Kaiser plant. Reynolds Pier in Ocho Rios is responsible for exporting sugar. Montego Freeport in Montego Bay also handles a variety of cargo like (though more limited than) the Port of Kingston, mainly agricultural products. Boundbrook Port in Port Antonio exports bananas. There are also three cruise ship piers along the island, in Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and Port Antonio.The Kingston port is situated in the Kingston Harbour, which is the 7th largest natural (i.e. not man made) harbour in the world.
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