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Jamaica is an independent state within the Commonwealth and is the largest island in the Caribbean. It is well-known for its fascinating blend of music and culture and the unique blend of ethnic traditions. Jamaica's history is a culmination of various cultural influences that are part of its history. The country has Arawak Indian, Spanish, African, Indian, Middle Eastern, Chinese and British influences that go to make up its unique heritage.
The history of Jamaica can be divided into four general areas. These are the Pre-Columbian, Columbian and Spanish eras; the period under English control and independence. During the Pre-Columbian period the inhabitants of the Island were the Arawaks, The Arawak Indians were also called Tainos. The Spanish were later to paint a picture of the Arawaks as a primitive and disorganized people. However, this perception has been proved incorrect by "recent studies that show their life style was organized politically, economically and socially." (JAMAICA - History - Pre-Columbian) In terms of political structure the Tainos were organized and had a well defined style of government
In addition, islands were divided into districts and in some instances regional chiefdoms. (ibid)
Their economy was based on a form of conuco agriculture. They also relied heavily on fishing.
With the coming of the Spanish in 1494, the indigenous life of the inhabitants changed forever. When Columbus was on the fourth voyage to the New World, he stayed in a village called Maima in Jamaica when his ships needed repairing. He stated that this was "... The fairest isle these eyes have ever seen' (Jamaica) and stayed on the island for a year. He subsequently appointed Jaun de Esquivel as the Governor of Jamaica. The First Spanish Settlement was called New Seville and was built in 1510. (JAMAICA - History - Pre-Columbian)
The Spanish brought both disease and servitude to the island and many indigenous people died from imported diseases such as smallpox. "By 1598, less than half of the Tainos population remained." (ibid)
The island was also caught up in a power struggle between the major powers of the time, The French attacked the island in 1555, and the English invaded in 1597. The British, under the command of Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables, eventually drove the Spanish for the island in 1655. (JAMAICA - History - English)
The British occupation brought new prosperity. Cromwell issued a proclamation which granted land to those British citizens who wanted to settle in Jamaica. This encouraged occupation and settlement with about 1,600 immigrants from Britain settling in the country in 1656. The economic growth and prosperity that followed was fuelled by a number of factors, including piracy. "Great wealth was brought to the island by the buccaneers, who operated mainly from Port Royal by plundering Spanish ships which transported gold and silver from South America." (JAMAICA - History - English) In fact, by the late Seventeenth Century Port Royal "...had earned the reputation of being the richest and the wickedest city in the world." (ibid) Piracy in this region was eventuality ended by an earthquake in 1692, which devastated the town of Port Royal.
Sugar and Slavery
During the second half of the Seventeenth Century there was an emphasis on sugar cultivation and production known as the "sugar revolution." Sugar cultivation required a large slave labor force and African slaves were imported to the country for this purpose. The introduction of African slaves - mainly imported from the Gold Coast - changed the cultural and ethnic mix of the island and were soon in rebellion against their masters. Many of the slaves, known as the Maroons who had previously fled to the hills under Spanish rule, fought against the British between 1735 and 1739. This was known as the First Maroon war.
Jamaica's story is one of independence that began in the seventeenth century with the Maroons, runaway slaves who resisted the British colonizers by carrying out hit-and-run attacks from the interior."
Hudson Rex A. And Seyler.Daniel J.)
During this period the Sugar industry continued to develop although it was also plagued by problems. For example, "... wars throughout the Eighteenth Century caused a reduction in trade between the colonies and Great Britain. The lack of supplies adversely affected the health of the slaves, and ultimately lowered the production of sugar." (ibid)
The Abolition of Slavery
The end of slavery in this region began with the 1807 abolition of the slave trade and by 1833 all slavery had come to an end in West Indies. "By 1840 indentured laborers were brought in from India to replace the newly freed slaves, many of whom relocated to free settlements in central Jamaica." (Information about Jamaica) This also ushered in a new era for the Jamaican people and society.
EMANCIPATION DAY, AUGUST 1, 1834 marked the moment when chattel slavery throughout the British Empire ceased to exist. Severe limitations were initially imposed on the ex-slaves' freedom -- forty hours of unpaid labor a week were extracted from the Jamaican 'apprentices' until 1838 -- but emancipation immediately established full religious freedom and transformed the missionaries' relation with their converts.
The First World War (1914-1918) provided many Jamaicans with the opportunity to travel, which in turn altered their views about their country and government. For example, figures such Marcus Mosiah Garvey emerged who promoted ethnic and racial unity and pride. Yet, despite many reforms, black riots continued to occur. Severe riots were experienced in 1938 due to unemployment issues. There was also considerable rebellion against the British racial polices of the time.
Jamaica: The Columbia Encyclopedia)
Independence and Beyond In 1929 the worldwide economic depression also affected the economic growth of Jamaica. The resultant decline in social conditions resulted in worker's strikes. "By the end of 1932, the world was in the grip of a deep recession. Unemployment was a staggering 13.5% in Britain, 10.8% in the United States, and 27% in Jamaica." (Up the down Escalator. p 1.)
This was a critical phase of the social and economic development of the country. Politically this was a time of upheaval and Alexander Bustamante became the leaser of the new labor movement. Norman Manley formed the People's National Party and Manley was instrumental in leading the country to self rule. There was a geneal impetus within the country towards self- government. The first elections were held in 1944 with the Labor Party wining 35 of the 32 seats. (ibid) Jamaica also voted for independence when a referendum was called in 1961 to determine whether the country would become part of the Federation of the West Indies.
After the Second World War there was a slow but determined movement towards complete independence. This was a period in which the colonial influences of the past were gradually eradicated. "Jamaica's political patterns and governmental structures were shaped over a period of two decades of what was called 'constitutional decolonization', the period between 1944 and independence in 1962." (Hudson Rex A. And Seyler.Daniel J.) On the 6th of August 1962 Jamaica became a fully independent country.
Today Jamaica is a parliamentary democracy which has been modeled after the example of Britain. It is also a member of the Commonwealth. Jamaica also has a long and complex history with regard to foreign policy as this has been shaped by its unique colonial history. Jamaica has been through periods of its history when it was aligned in terms of policy to the United Stales and Britain and at other times to Cuba.
Jamaica's foreign policy orientation shifted again under Michael Manley, who decided that Jamaicans, in order to solve their economic problems, needed to break out of their traditional reliance on the United States and the Commonwealth of Nations. Jamaican-United States relations were strained after the Manley government established diplomatic relations with Cuba in late 1972, (ibid)
However, this was later to change to the present situation. "After becoming prime minister in 1980, Seaga reversed Jamaica's pro-Cuban Third World-oriented foreign policy and began close, cooperative relations with the United States administration of President Ronald. (ibid) Jamaica has become a full participant in international institutions such as the World Bank, and IMF.
In terms of economics Jamaica showed increasing growth following the Second World War and became more industrially orientated. This industrialization was mainly due to the export of bauxite in the 1950's. (ibid) As a result there occurred a shift toward the dependence on agriculture, which accounted for 30.8% of GDP in 1950, and was reduced to a figure of 6.7% in 1970. During this period "the contribution to GDP of mining increased from less than 1% in 1950 to 9.3% in 1960 and 12.6% in 1970. Manufacturing expanded from 11.3% in 1950 to 12.8% in 1960 and 15.7% in 1970. (ibid) There were also a number of economic setbacks. This was mainly due to dependence on oil and the effect of oil prices. The most important agricultural export in Jamaica is sugarcane which is used in the manufacture of molasses…[continue]
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