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Jamaica History

Originally called Xaymaca meaning “land of wood and water” by the Arawak Indians who inhabited the island, Jamaica has a bloody past. “Discovered” by Columbus in 1492 who claimed it for Spain, the peaceful Arawak island was forced to endure centuries filled with war, slavery and brutal exploitation by others. Contact with the Spaniards proved too much for the gentle Arawak people who were all but eliminated in seventy to eighty years. Having found

no gold anywhere on the island, the Spaniards used Jamaica as a base of operations as it launched its subsequent invasions of Mexico, South and eventually North America. In 1655 the British virtually walked in and took the island over claiming it as one of the jewels in the English Crown. In no time at all, Jamaica was an important part of a trading “triangle” between the British Isles which supplied manufactured goods, Africa which, against its will, provided slaves and Jamaica which provided sugar grown on its own plantations and from the surrounding islands.

Plantation life on Jamaica was everything. Growing, harvesting and shipping sugar in vast quantities to the British Isles was the only economic enterprise of any worth on the island. The rhythm of the growing seasons, mixed with the organized harvesting and shipping processes created a sense of calm and well being on the island that still exists to this day. The only problem was the slavery that was necessary to provide labor. It didn’t take too many generations of slaves to create a desire for freedom and slowly, slaves began escaping to the north and joining bands of other escaped slaves who became known as Maroons. It took almost one hundred years of bloody fighting between the Maroons and the British but finally, in 1838, looking to avoid another costly, expensive war, the slaves were emancipated.

After emancipation, just like in many other countries, the former slaves rented, bought, stole or were given small parcels of land to farm for themselves. Church groups, especially Baptists, helped out by donating church owned properties to families. Also, during this period of time, sugar began a serious, long lived decline as an economic gold mine as other producers began shipping their product all over the world. As sugar began bringing in less and less money over the years and as the cost of hiring former slaves to do all the work kept rising, the island began to suffer. Ultimately, the small, independent farmers, the former slaves, began producing bananas, coffee and logwood in ever increasing numbers, which helped to diversify the economy and to regain some prosperity. Through the mid 1900’s, with two great World Wars, the economy continued to grow and prosper, ultimately mining bauxite for the Allied Forces. In 1944 small amounts of independence and self governance were granted to the people living on the island. But it was not until 1962 that complete political independence was granted to the island nation. Even the decline in the aluminum market could not hurt Jamaica, as the growing tourism market, the millions of island hungry Americans and Europeans who came there and continue to come there, poured in and soon hotels, restaurants and attractions were being created to accommodate them.

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Jamaica Travel Guides
 Frommer's Jamaica
 Lonely Planet Jamaica
 Let's Go Jamaica
 Fodors Jamaica