Would you like to know more about Jamaican culture, traditions and heritage? My family and I went to Jamaica to immerse ourselves in the rich and vibrant beauty of the island. It has a colourful history that makes them stand out as a nation.
Jamaica sits in the heart of the Caribbean. Known for their music, food and history. Their flag symbolizes and represents the country through its colours:
Yellow – represent the sunshine and the natural wealth of the country.
Green – represents hope and the natural beauty of the country.
Black – represents the creative and passionate people of Jamaica.
During our trip to Jamaica, I learned about and experienced the amazing and rich Jamaican culture. Let me share with you the things that I have learned while exploring the cultural capital of Jamaica, Kingston.
The Mockingbird Hill Hotel arranged a historical music tour of Kingston with Amilcar Lewis and Philipp Lobban of Backayard Magazine. We also did the Jamaican Culture and Heritage tour in Kingston with Olde Jamaica Tours also arranged by the Hotel Mockingbird Hill.
History and Arts
During our visit to Kingston, We went to the Institute of Jamaica to see the galleries on the origins and history of Jamaica. It was really interesting to learn about the history of Jamaica, the New World and the dark colonial times.
The National Gallery of Jamaica displays a lovely collection of paintings, murals and sculptures of different Jamaican artists. Visiting the gallery is a great way to understand and appreciate Jamaican culture.
The first inhabitants of Jamaica, The Tainos, named the country as “Xaymaca”, which meant the land of wood and water. They were believed to be the Arawak Indians from South America, who migrated to the Caribbean around 650 A.D. They built their communities and agriculture was their main livelihood.
We also paid a visit and respect to the notable leaders and personalities of Jamaica at the National Heroes Park. We were in luck to meet Ms Sarah Manley, the daughter of the former Prime Minister of Jamaica Mr Michael Manley.
During the time of exploration to discover new lands and building empires thru force and slavery, Jamaica was also held captive by invaders. The history of Jamaica during the colonial times was a dark time and gloomy.
The Spanish occupation
In 1494, during the time of the explorations, Christopher Columbus sailed west to find a route to India by sailing to the west, and found the Caribbean and called it the West Indies.
He landed in Discovery Bay, Jamaica with the intention to claim the island and repair his vessel. The relationship between the Spanish and the Tainos was not easy and smooth.
Resistance to the occupation was present, but the Spanish succeeded to take and claim the island. The Spanish Town was the capital of Jamaica and was the centre of the Catholic faith on the island.
The Tainos were enslaved, captured and eventually nearly wiped out by the diseases carried by the Spaniards. The Spaniards brought the first influx of captive Africans as their slaves to the island.
The British occupation
In 1655, the British invaded Jamaica with the help of the buccaneers. They managed to take control of the island from the Spaniards. The fighting between the British and the Spaniards gave an opportunity to the plantation slaves to run away and look for shelter in the mountains.
They, later on, called themselves the Maroons. The British occupation also brought the Slave Trade in the Americas and the Caribbean from West Africa.
The British abolished slavery throughout the British empire on 1833. Jamaica has been a part of the British Empire for 307 years. On 1962, Jamaica finally had their Independence from the British occupation to have its own government.
Maroon came from the Spanish word “cimarrones” which means “mountaineers”. The Maroons are the slaves who escaped the plantations during the invasion of the British to occupy Jamaica.
They went to seek refuge in the thick forests and mountains of Jamaica so their previous masters could not follow them. The Maroons made their own settlement in the mountains and lived as free men and established their own laws.
Currently, the Maroons are a respected and independent community in Jamaica. They still have autonomy up to this date within their own community.
Port Royal was once considered the “wickedest city on earth”. At the edge of Kingston was the infamous city of the buccaneers, where the real pirates of the Caribbean ruled and plundered galleon ships and ransacked villages and islands.
The city was filled with brothels, taverns and the ill-gotten wealth of the pirates. The British asked the buccaneers to help ceased the Spaniards and in return, the Buccaneers wanted to use Port Royal as their hub.
In the devastating earthquake of 1692, the majority of Port Royal was claimed and submerged under the Caribbean sea together with their plundered gold and other treasures.
Faith and Religions
Catholicism was introduced by the Spaniards and the Church of England (Anglican) was introduced by the British. Judaism is also a known religion in Jamaica, brought over by the Jewish refugees who stayed on the island.
Rastafarianism is the one that really caught my attention during our visit to Jamaica. The king of Reggae Music, Bob Marley is one of the famous Rastas (A person who practices Rastafarianism) and he helped to spread the preachings of the religion and H.I.M Haile Selassie I through his songs.
Rastafari is a young religion that originates in Jamaica during the 1930s. They are more socially accepted now than before. Rastafari is commonly called Rasta, Ras or Natty.
Rastafarianism is now a religious sect that is respected and recognised around the world.
Jamaican Food and drinks
A visit to Jamaica won’t be complete without trying their local and traditional Jamaican food and drinks. Jamaican food is known for its delicious Jerks, goat curry and patties to name a few.
Ackee & saltfish is one of the most loved dishes in Jamaica, which is typically served with callaloo, fried plantain, dumplings, bammy and rice & beans.
Blue Mountain coffee is one of the most expensive and best coffees in the world. Only grown in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica! For all the coffee lovers out there, I need not explain how good and tasty this coffee is!
Jamaica is known for their best rum and the overproof rum leads the scene in this category. A standard rum will range from 80 – 100 proof, but the Overproof rum is ranging from 125 – 160 proof!
Jamaica is an English-speaking country. The locals also use their native Jamaican Patois or Patwah. Patwah is basically a language derived from the English language with an influence from Central and West African dialects or words.
Sample Jamaican Patois words:
Wah Gwaan = Greetings that literally translate as “What’s going on?” or “What’s up?”
Yahso = right here
Irie = Rastafarian term to describe when one is feeling good; everything is alright
likkle = little or small
raggamuffin = a rebel or rugged looking
pickney = children
Back a Yard = used to refer to somebody’s hometown or country.
Big Up = give respect
A well – celebrated festival and parade in Jamaica and in other Caribbean islands during the Christmas period. A mixture of West African and English influenced this vibrant and colourful festival.
It began back in the colonial time when the slaves got a day off working on the plantation to celebrate Christmas.
Accompong Maroon Festival
Every 6th of January, the Maroons celebrate the signing of the peace treaty between the Maroons and the British Empire. Accompong Town is a “nation within a nation”, led by its own elected community leader called “colonel”, with no police, no crimes and no taxes to pay, this autonomous town is one of the off-the-beaten places to see in Jamaica.
The celebration begins as they start blowing their Abeng horn to call all the Maroons, commemorating what they did almost 300 years ago. The Maroons will have a private ceremony to pay respect to their ancestors. The whole day is filled with loads of music, dance and tasty Jamaican food.
Music is the universal language that everyone can understand. A powerful way of expression to deliver a message to everybody. Jamaicans love music and it is pretty evident from the works of Bob Marley and other famous Jamaican music artists.
We went to Alpha Boys School in Kingston, an institution in Jamaican music. The alumni of this school became pioneers and well-known artists in the music scene. Check out this awesome Alpha Boys School Radio.
The Alpha Boys School is run by the nuns so any donations that you can share are also welcome and will surely help the young Jamaican kids to reach their dreams.
Ska is a very popular music genre from Jamaica in the 50s with a distinct sound of calypso and mento with a blend of rock, jazz and rhythm and blues. One of the known artists in this genre is Eddie Thornton, an alumnus of Alpha Boys School. Listen to the sample of Ska music.
Rocksteady is another precursor and influence of reggae music. Rocksteady is less energetic compared to Ska. It is also a mixture of Jazz, Rhythm and Blues and a bit of Latin and African influence. Listen to the sample of Rocksteady music.
The mixture of Ska and Rocksteady is popular Reggae music. Reggae music took the world by storm, of course, by the king of Reggae music, Bob Marley. His powerful songs influence many music enthusiasts and are still loved up to this date. Listen to Bob Marley’s Reggae music.
On our visit to Jamaica, we didn’t get the chance to visit Bob Marley’s mausoleum and birthplace in Nine Mile, St. Ann and in Hope Road, Kingston. This will be another good excuse to come back to Jamaica. Watch this documentary and learn more about Jamaican music.
I hope this helped you to understand and appreciated the Jamaican culture, traditions and heritage. As well as inspired you to visit and discover the beauty of Jamaica.
Special thanks to Hotel Mocking Bird Hill (Shireen & Barbara) for organising our itinerary in Kingston. Altamont Court Hotel for our accommodation in Kingston. Great thanks and good vibes to Amilcar and Philip of Backayard Magazine, Josh Chamberlain of Alpha Boys School, Mitch of Rockers Record Int’l, Life Yard, Olde Jamaica Tours, Jessa Tours, Mr Basil Smith and to Jik- Reuben for the awesome photos.