A Political And Cultural History Of Jamaica

2582 words - 10 pages

Situated just south of Cuba in the Caribbean Sea, Jamaica is well known as a popular tourist spot and the birthplace of reggae music. Populated initially by native Arawak Indians, who gave the island its name, “land of wood and water (Jamaica).” However, this beautiful land’s almost pristine beauty was shattered by outbursts of violence surrounding the 1980 political elections. This fighting was sparked by the people’s mistrust of the ruling socialist party at the time. The reasons for this fighting and this mistrust are not simple, they are intrinsically tied to the island nation’s history from the beginning of its colonial period five hundred years before.
The island was first discovered by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1494 and became a colony of Spain in 1509. They founded the town now known as Spanish Town and it was the capital of the island until the 1800s. Under the Spanish, the native Arawak Indians died out because of slavery and disease, and Africans were brought in to work in their place. The Spanish ruled the country until 1655 when Sir William Penn of the British captured the colony by force. It was later tuned over legally under the Treaty of Madrid in 1670(Jamaica).
Once the British gained control of the island, development was swift. The industries of sugar cane and other agricultural resources were increased, thus creating a larger demand for African slaves. Due to this explosion of growth in the late 17th century, Jamaica became one of the largest slave trading centers in the world. The slave trade was conducted out of the city of Port Royal, made famous for being a hideout of the pirate Blackbeard, until the city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1692. The destruction of Port Royal led to the founding of the city of Kingston, the current capital of the country (Jamaica).
In 1833, Britain abolished slavery and its trade in its colonies, and Jamaica released about 310,000 slaves with about 30 million dollars in compensation for their former owners. These freed slaves left the plantations and took control of the empty lands in the interior of the country. This move had a noted negative effect on the economy, creating labor shortages, declining trade, and widespread bankruptcy. The leadership soon began to oppress the former slaves in the forms of unfair taxation, prejudiced rulings by judges, and limiting land ownership rights. This new oppression caused the blacks to riot and lead an insurrection at the city of Port Morant in 1865. Because of this and the growing economic crisis, Jamaica was made a “crown colony” which meant that the colony was stripped of much of its representation and self-governing abilities (Jamaica).
The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a vast increase in the importance of exporting bananas to the US. This increase, however, was not enough to create an effective and stable workforce, causing many Jamaicans to leave the island and search for work elsewhere. The worldwide...

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