From New World Encyclopedia
Flag of Jamaica Coat of arms of Jamaica
Motto"Out of Many, One People"
Anthem"Jamaica, Land We Love"
Royal anthem: "God Save the King"
Location of Jamaica
(and largest city)
17°59′N 76°48′W
Official languages English
Recognized regional languages Spanish, Caribbean Hindustani, Hindi, Jamaican Patois, Portuguese, Chinese, Levantine Arabic[1]
Ethnic groups (2011) Black 92.1%
Mixed 6.1%
East Indian 0.8%
Other 0.4%
unspecified 0.7%[2]
Demonym Jamaican
Government Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
 -  Monarch Charles III
 -  Governor-General Patrick Allen
 -  Prime Minister Andrew Holness
 -  from the United Kingdom August 6, 1962 
 -  Total 10,991 km² (166th)
4,244 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 1.5
 -  2022 estimate 2,818,596[2] (140th)
 -  Density 266/km² 
688/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2018 estimate
 -  Total $26.981 billion[3] (134th)
 -  Per capita $9,434[3] (109th)
GDP (nominal) 2018 estimate
 -  Total $15.424 billion[3] (119th)
 -  Per capita $5,393[3] (95th)
Gini (2016) 38[4] (107)
Currency Jamaican dollar (JMD)
Time zone (UTC-5)
Internet TLD .jm
Calling code [[++1-876]]

Jamaica is an island nation of the West Indies. The third largest island in the Caribbean Sea, after Cuba and Hispaniola, it is 146 (235 km) miles long and 25-50 miles (35-82 km) wide. Jamaica is 391 miles (635 km) east of Nicaragua on the Central American mainland, 93 miles (150 km) south of Cuba, and 100 miles (160 km) west of Haiti on the island of Hispaniola.

Its indigenous Arawakan-speaking Taino inhabitants named the island Xaymaca (Jamaica), meaning "Land of Wood and Water." Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1494, renaming it Santiago, but the original name persisted. Columbus called the island “the fairest isle that eyes have beheld,” and adopted the island for his family's private estate.

Though Jamaica is sometimes referred to as a melting pot for the great variety of peoples who settled, the greatest majority of its people are of African descent, due to the slaves brought by the European colonists. Variously under Spanish and British rule, it gained independence in 1962.

Known for its diverse ecosystems, varying land types and beautiful beaches, it is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean. The character of the Jamaican people is expressive and lively. Their love of, and creativity in, music and dance has crossed national boundaries and influenced many, especially in the nations of the Commonwealth as well as in Africa.


In the fifteenth century Jamaica was almost completely forested. This soon changed as settlers from Europe removed the timber for building purposes. They cleared the mountain slopes, savannas and plains to make way for cultivation, where they in turn planted sugarcane, bananas, and citrus trees.

Even with such extensive clearing, the island today is known for its diverse ecosystems, including stunted, elfin forests on the highest peaks, rainforests in the valleys, savannas, and dry, sandy areas supporting only cacti and other xerophytic plants

Some areas of the island have been left virtually undisturbed since the time of Columbus and indigenous vegetation can be found along the northern coast from Rio Bueno to Discovery Bay, in the highest parts of the Blue Mountains, and in the heart of the Cockpit Country.

Over 252 species of birds can be found in Jamaica. Of these, 27 are found only there, including the national bird; the streamer-tailed Hummingbird, or Doctor Bird.


The coastline of Jamaica is one of many contrasts. The northeast shore is severely eroded by the ocean. There are many small inlets in the rugged coastline, but no coastal plain of any extent. A narrow strip of plains along the northern coast offers calm seas and white sand beaches. Behind the beaches is a flat raised plain of uplifted coral reef.

The southern coast has small stretches of plains lined by black sand beaches. These are backed by cliffs of limestone where the plateaus end. In many stretches with no coastal plain, the cliffs drop 300 meters straight to the sea. In the southwest, broad plains stretch inland for a number of kilometers. The Black River courses 70 kilometers through the largest of these plains. The swamplands of the Great Morass and the Upper Morass fill much of the plains. The western coastline contains the island's finest beaches, stretching for more than 600 kilometers along a sandbar at Negril.


Hibiscus, from Jamaica's national tree.

Two types of climates are found on Jamaica. An upland tropical climate prevails on the windward side of the mountains, whereas a semiarid climate predominates on the leeward side. Warm trade winds from the east and northeast bring rainfall throughout the year. The rainfall is heaviest from May to October, with peaks in those two months. The average annual rainfall is 196 centimeters. Rainfall is much greater in the mountain areas facing the north and east. However, where the higher elevations of the John Crow Mountains and the Blue Mountains catch the rain from the moisture-laden winds, rainfall exceeds 508 centimeters per year. Since the southwestern half of the island lies in the rain shadow of the mountains, it has a semi-arid climate and receives fewer than 762 millimeters of rainfall annually.

Temperatures are fairly constant throughout the year, averaging 25°C to 30°C in the lowlands and 15°C to 22°C at higher elevations. Temperatures may dip to below 10°C at the peaks of the Blue Mountains. The island receives, in addition to the northeast trade winds, refreshing onshore breezes during the day and cooling offshore breezes at night. These are known on Jamaica as the "Doctor Breeze" and the "Undertaker's Breeze," respectively.

Jamaica lies in the Atlantic hurricane belt, as a result, the island sometimes experiences significant storm damage. Powerful hurricanes which have hit the island directly causing death and destruction include Hurricane Charlie in 1951 and Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. Several other powerful hurricanes have passed near to the island with damaging effects. In 1980, for example, Hurricane Allen destroyed nearly all Jamaica's banana crop. In recent years, Hurricane Ivan, in 2004, swept past the island causing heavy damage and a number of deaths. In 2005, Hurricanes Dennis and Emily brought heavy rains to the island.

Geology and landforms

Map of Jamaica

Jamaica and the other islands of the Antilles evolved from an arc of ancient volcanoes that rose from the sea millions of years ago. During periods of submersion, thick layers of limestone were laid down over the old igneous and metamorphic rock. In many places, the limestone is thousands of feet thick. The country can be divided into three landform regions: The eastern mountains, the central valleys and plateaus, and the coastal plains.

The highest area is that of the Blue Mountains. These eastern mountains are formed by a central ridge of metamorphic rock running northwest to southeast from which many long spurs jut to the north and south. For a distance of over 3 kilometers, the crest of the ridge exceeds 1,800 meters. The highest point lies at the Blue Mountain Peak at 2,256 meters. The Blue Mountains rise to these elevations from the coastal plain in the space of about sixteen kilometers, thus producing one of the steepest general gradients in the world. In this part of the country, the old metamorphic rock reveals itself through the surrounding limestone.

To the north of the Blue Mountains lies the strongly tilted limestone plateau forming the John Crow Mountains. This range rises to elevations of over 1,000 meters. To the west, in the central part of the country, are two high rolling plateaus, the Dry Harbour Mountains to the north and the Manchester Plateau to the south. Between the two, the land is rugged and the limestone layers are broken by the older rocks. Streams that rise in the region flow outward and sink soon after reaching the limestone layers.

The limestone plateau covers two-thirds of the country, so that karst formations dominate the island. Karst is formed by the erosion of the limestone in solution. Sinkholes, caves and caverns, disappearing streams, hummocky hills, and terra rosa (residual red) soils in the valleys are distinguishing features of a karst landscape, all of which are present in Jamaica. To the west of the mountains is the rugged terrain of the Cockpit Country, one of the world's most dramatic examples of karst topography.

The Cockpit Country is pockmarked with steep-sided hollows, as much as 120 meters deep in places, which are separated by conical hills and ridges. On the north, the main defining feature is the fault-based "Escarpment," a long ridge that extends west to east. The Barbecue Bottom Road, which runs north-south, high along the side of a deep, fault-based valley in the east, is the only drivable route across the Cockpit Country. However, there are two old, historical trails that cross further west, the Troy Trail, and the Quick Step Trail, both of which are seldom used and difficult to find.

Where the ridges between sinkholes in the plateau area have dissolved, flat-bottomed basins or valleys have been formed that are filled with terra rosa soils, some of the most productive on the island. The largest basin is the Vale of Clarendon, 82 kilometers long and 32 kilometers wide. Queen of Spain's Valley, Nassau Valley, and Cave Valley were formed by the same process.


The original Arawak or Taino people from South America first settled the island between 1,000 and 4,000 B.C.E. Although some claim they became virtually extinct following contact with Europeans, others claim that some survived for a while longer. There is very little trace of the Arawak culture.

Jamaica was claimed for Spain after Christopher Columbus first landed there on May 3, 1494, and adopted the island as his family's private estate. The British Admiral William Penn, father of William Penn of Pennsylvania, and General Venables seized the island for England nearly 200 years later, in 1655.

British rule

During its first 200 years under British rule, post Spanish rule, Jamaica became one of the world's leading sugar exporting nations and produced over 77,000 tons of sugar annually between 1820 and 1824, which was achieved through the massive use of imported African slave labor. The British also brought in Indian and Chinese indentured servants in the early 1800s whose descendants remain today.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the United Kingdom's heavy reliance on slavery resulted in Africans outnumbering Caucasians by a ratio of almost 20 to one, leading to constant threat of revolt. Following a series of rebellions, slavery was formally abolished in 1834, with full emancipation declared in 1838.


Jamaica slowly gained increasing independence from the United Kingdom. In 1958, it became a province in the Federation of the West Indies. Upon leaving the Federation in 1962, Jamaica gained full independence.

Strong economic growth averaging about 6 percent per year marked its first ten years of independence under conservative governments led successively by Prime Ministers Alexander Bustamante, Donald Sangster and Hugh Shearer. The growth was fueled by strong investments in bauxite and alumina, tourism, manufacturing industry and to a lesser extent the agricultural sector. However, the initial optimism of the first decade vanished following a change in Government to the People's National Party (PNP), in 1972.

Jamaica began to lag economically with its gross national product falling in 1980 to some 25 percent below the level previously obtained in 1972. Rising foreign and local debt accompanied by large fiscal deficits resulted in the invitation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), financing from the United States and other countries, and the imposition of IMF austerity measures, with a greater than 25 percent interest rate per year.

Economic deterioration continued into the mid-1980s, exacerbated by the closure of the first- and third-largest alumina producers, Alpart and Alcoa; the significant reduction in production by the second largest producer, Alcan; the exit of Reynolds Jamaica Mines Ltd. from Jamaican industry; and, reduced flows from tourism. During the 1980s, Jamaica saw an increases in crime and petty theft began to weigh on the island.

Capital city

The former capital of Jamaica was Spanish Town in the parish of Saint Catherine, the site of the old Spanish colonial capital. The Spanish named the town Santiago de la Vega. In 1655 when the British captured the island, much of the old Spanish capital was burned by the invading British troops. The town was rebuilt by the British and renamed Spanish Town. It remained the capital until 1872, when the city of Kingston was named the capital under questionable circumstances.


Inside the Jamaican Parliament

Jamaica's current Constitution was drafted in 1962 by a bipartisan joint committee of the Jamaica legislature. It came into force with the Jamaica Independence Act in 1962, of the United Kingdom Parliament, which gave Jamaica political independence. This was followed by a redesign of the Island's Flag.

The Jamaican head of state is King Charles III, who officially uses the title "King of Jamaica" when he visits the country or performs duties overseas on Jamaica's behalf. The King is represented by a Governor General, nominated by the Prime Minister and the entire cabinet. All the members of the cabinet are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. The King and his Governor General serve largely ceremonial roles, apart from their potent reserve power to dismiss the Prime Minister or Parliament.

The Parliament of Jamaica is bicameral, consisting of the House of Representatives (Lower House) and the Senate (Upper House). Members of the House, known as Members of Parliament or MPs, are directly elected and the member of the House of Representatives who—in the Governor General's best judgment, is best able to command the confidence of a majority of the members of that House—is appointed by the Governor General to be the Prime Minister. Senators are appointed by the Prime Minister, and the parliamentary Leader of the Opposition.

Jamaica has traditionally had a two-party system, with power often alternating between the People's National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Jamaica is a full and participating member of the Caribbean Community, or CARICOM.


The Jamaica Defense Force (JDF) is Jamaica's small but professional military force. It is based on the British military position with organization, training, weapons and traditions closely aligned with Commonwealth Realms. Once chosen, officer candidates are sent to one of several British or Canadian basic officer courses depending on which form of military service they are enlisted in. Enlisted soldiers are given basic training at JDF Training Depot in Newcastle or Uppark Camp, Kingston. As with the British model, NCOs (noncommissioned officers) are given several levels of professional training as they rise up the ranks. Additional military schools are available for specialty training in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

The Jamaica Defence Force comprises an Infantry Regiment and Reserve Corps, an Air Wing, a Coast Guard fleet and a supporting Engineering Unit. The Headquarters of JDF contains the JDF commander, the command staff, as well as intelligence, the judge advocate office, administrative and procurement sections.

In recent years the JDF has been called upon to assist the nation's police, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) in fighting drug smuggling and a rising crime rate which includes one of the highest murder rates in the world. JDF units actively conduct armed patrols with the JCF in high-crime areas and known gang neighborhoods. There has been vocal controversy as well as support of this JDF role. In early 2005, an opposition leader and former prime minister, Edward Seaga, called for the merger of the JDF and JCF. This did not garner support in either organization nor among the majority of citizens.


Fishing boats and bauxite cargo ships share the waterways near Alligator Pond, Jamaica.

Jamaica is a mixed, free-market economy with state enterprises as well as private sector businesses. Major sectors of the Jamaican economy include agriculture, mining, manufacturing, tourism, and financial and insurance services. Tourism and mining are the leading foreign exchange earners.

Supported by multilateral financial institutions, Jamaica has, since the early 1980s, sought to implement structural reforms aimed at fostering private sector activity and increasing the role of market forces in resource allocation. Since 1991, the Government has followed a program of economic liberalization and stabilization by removing exchange controls, floating the exchange rate, cutting tariffs, stabilizing the Jamaican currency, reducing inflation and removing restrictions on foreign investment. Emphasis has been placed on maintaining strict fiscal discipline, greater openness to trade and financial flows, market liberalization and reduction in the size of government. During this period, a large share of the economy was returned to private sector ownership through divestment and privatization programs.

Jamaica has a wide variety of industrial and commercial activities. The aviation industry is able to perform most routine aircraft maintenance, except for heavy structural repairs. Jamaica also has a considerable amount of light manufacturing, including metal fabrication, metal roofing, and furniture manufacturing. Food and alcohol processing, glassware manufacturing, computer software and data processing, printing and publishing, insurance underwriting, music and recording, and advanced education activities can be found in the larger urban areas.

In 2006, Jamaica became part of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) as one of the pioneering members.


Approximately 90 percent of Jamaica's population is of African descent. Other populations on the Island are: East Indian, White, Chinese, and Mixed race. Immigrants from countries such as China, Colombia, Saint Lucia, and many more areas of the Caribbean and South Asian countries have seen a steady rise.


Jamaica's language of government and education is English, although the patois form of Jamaican Creole is widely spoken. Most Jamaicans use both Patois and English depending on the circumstances and often combine the two. British English is the most obvious influence on Patois, but it includes words and syntax from various African languages, Spanish, Arawak, French, Chinese, Portuguese, and the East Indian languages, which is evidence of the long standing mixing of the people. A number of linguists classify Patois as a separate language, while others consider it to be a dialect of English.


The majority of Jamaica's population is Christian, primarily Protestant, which is primarily due to the influence of British colonialism, and the later influence of denominations from the U.S. Today, the five largest denominations in Jamaica are: Church of God, Seventh-day Adventist, Baptist, Pentecostal, and Anglican.

The largest non-Christian movement is the Rastafari, which was founded on the island and reveres the late Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. Other religions in Jamaica include: Bahai, Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism. Practitioners of Spiritism can also be found on the island.


Education in Jamaica is based primarily on the British model. The following categories of schools operate:

Early childhood—Basic, infant and privately operated pre-school. Accepting children between the ages of one and five years.

Primary—Publicly and privately owned, if it is privately owned then they are known as Preparatory Schools. Accepts children between the ages of 5 and 12 years.

Secondary—Publicly and privately owned. Accepts the ages 12 through 18 years. The secondary school in Jamaica may be either single-sex or co-educational institutions.

Tertiary—Community Colleges, Teachers’ Colleges, Vocational Training Centers, Colleges and Universities—Publicly and privately owned. There are five local universities, The University of the West Indies (Mona Campus), The University of Technology, Jamaica, formerly The College of Art Science and Technology (CAST), The Northern Caribbean University, The University College of the Caribbean, and The International University of the Caribbean. Additionally, there are many teacher training and community colleges including, Mico, Bethlehem and Shortwood Teacher training colleges and Exed, Portmore and Montego Bay Community Colleges.

There is no free education in Jamaica above the Primary Level. Despite that, there are opportunities for those who cannot afford further education in the vocational area through the Human Employment And Resource Training-National Training Agency (HEART Trust-NTA) program and through an extensive scholarship network for the various universities.


The last half of the twentieth century saw close to one million Jamaicans emigrate, especially to the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. The great number of Jamaicans living abroad has become known as the "Jamaican diaspora." Due to Commonwealth law and Jamaica's history with Great Britain, most often Jamaican emigrants have followed a path first to the UK, and if they do not remain in there, on to other Commonwealth countries such as Canada. Today that trend has changed with more Jamaican emigrants going directly to the United States, Canada, other Caribbean nations, Central and South America, and even Africa, most notably Egypt and Ethiopia, without passing through the UK first.

Concentrations of expatriate Jamaicans are large in a number of cities in the United States, including New York City, the Miami metro area, Atlanta, Orlando and Tampa, Florida, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Hartford, and Los Angeles. In Canada, the Jamaican population is centered in Toronto. In the United Kingdom, Jamaican communities exist in most large cities where they make up the larger part of the British African-Caribbean community.

New York City is home to the largest Jamaican diaspora community, with a large community in Brooklyn and significant populations in The Bronx, Queens and adjacent Westchester County. In Toronto, the Jamaican community is large and has had an influence on the culture of the city. Caribana, the celebration of Caribbean culture, is an annual event there. Jamaica Day is in July and the Jesus in the City Parade attracts many Jamaican Christians.

Nearly 4 percent of Londoners are of Jamaican heritage. Many are now at least second, if not third or fourth-generation Black British Caribbeans. An additional 2 percent of people in London are of mixed Jamaican and British origin, the largest mixed-race group of the country and the fastest-growing.

Many resort and wild-life management–skilled Jamaicans have been trending emigration toward such far-flung nations as Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia.


Jamaican sunset, 2005.

Though a small nation, Jamaica is rich in culture, and has a strong global presence. Its sandy beaches and pleasant climate make it a popular tourist destination, especially among newlyweds celebrating honeymoon.

The Institute of Jamaica, a promoter of the arts, sponsors exhibitions and awards. It administers the Cultural Training Centre, which includes schools of art, dance, drama, and music, as well as the National Library, the National Gallery, and a publishing company. The institute is also the country's museums authority. Many state and professional organizations contribute to the promotion of culture and the arts.

Christianity remains a strong influence on cultural life, particularly in music. Most people learn their music at church, and biblical references are often used in popular songs. It is not uncommon for musicians to be playing dancehall music on Saturday night, and church music on Sunday morning.

The musical genres reggae, ska, mento, rocksteady, dub and more recently dancehall and ragga (a style of music that combines reggae and rap influences with an electronic or repetitive track), all originated in the island's vibrant popular urban recording industry. Internationally known reggae musician Bob Marley was born in Jamaica and has a large following there and around the world. The birth of hip-hop in New York owed much to the city's Jamaican community.

The Rastafari movement was founded in Jamaica. This "Back to Africa" movement believes that Haile Selassie of Ethiopia is God–incarnated, the returned black messiah, came to take the lost Twelve Tribes of Israel back to live with him in Holy Mount Zion in a world of perfect peace, love and harmony. Bob Marley, a convert to the faith, spread the message of Rastafari to the world. There are now estimated to be more than a million Rastafarians throughout the world.

Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), was born in St. Ann's Bay, Saint Ann, Jamaica in June 1940. Dubbed by his admirers as the "Prophet of Africanism," he is best remembered as a key proponent of the "Back-To-Africa" movement, a socio-political awakening that encouraged people of African ancestry to strive for authentic and full equality by returning to their ancestral motherland.


Jamaicans generally have a large interest in sports. Cricket, soccer, athletics, dominoes, and horse racing are several popular sports. Dominoes is popular all over the island and is played by young and old alike.

The Jamaican National Cricket team competes regionally, and provides for players in the West Indies. The Jamaican National Football (soccer) Team qualified for the 1998 FIFA World Cup. The Jamaican Athletics Team has been well represented at the Olympics over the years with leading athletes obtaining gold medals.

The Jamaican Bobsled Team has been a serious contender in the Winter Olympics and have routed many well-established teams. In the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Alberta, Jamaica sent a national bobsled team (even thought most of them had never even seen snow prior to that). They were wildly popular at the games, and a film was made about their exploits in 1993, Cool Runnings.

Jamaica has emerged as a track and field powerhouse. In the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, Jamaica's astonishing young sprinter, Usain Bolt, broke three world records and won three gold medals, easily beating the previous mark for the 100 meter dash, then besting the formidable 200 meter record set previously by American great, Michael Johnson. 400 meter hurdler Melaine Walker won a gold medal and broke the Olympic record time in her event. Veronica Campbell-Brown successfully defended her 200 meter title when she claimed gold. Shelly-Ann Fraser won gold in the women's 100 meter sprint, with her teammates Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson both finishing second. The Jamaican men's 4 x 100 meter relay team, consisting of Asafa Powell, Bolt, Michael Frater, and Nesta Carter, finished in a world record 37.10 seconds, 0.3 seconds (a huge margin) faster than the previous mark set by the American relay team in 1992 and 1993.

National symbols

Jamaica's national symbols are;

  • National Bird—Doctor Bird (Green-and-black Streamertail, Trochilus polytmus)
  • National Flower—Lignum Vitae (Guaiacum officinale)
  • National Tree—Blue Mahoe (Hibiscus elatus)
  • National Dish—Ackee and Saltfish (dried salted Cod)
  • National Motto—"Out of Many, One People." ("Unity among many cultures and races")


  1. Languages of Jamaica Ethnologue. Retrieved November 5, 2022.
  2. 2.0 2.1 CIA, Jamaica - People and Society The World Factbook. Retrieved November 5, 2022.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 World Economic Outlook Database International Monetary Fund.
  4. CIA, Jamaica - Economy The World Factbook. Retrieved November 5, 2022.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Chapman, V.J. The Marine Algae of Jamaica. Kingston: The Institute of Jamaica, 1961. ASIN B003467ROE
  • Davis, Nick. Jamaica - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture. Kuperard, 2011. ISBN 978-1857335286
  • Sherlock, Phillip, and Hazel Bennett. The Story of the Jamaican People. Ian Randle Publishers, 1998. ISBN 978-9768100306

External links

All links retrieved November 1, 2022.


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