The Pre-Columbian era represents the period during which the island was inhabited by the Tainos. Traditionally, Tainos were called Arawaks. Analysis of prehistoric languages and cultures has revealed that the Tainos and the Arawaks were two different groups and that it was the former group that resided in Jamaica.
From the view given by the Spaniards it would appear that the Tainos lived a primitive life but recent studies have shown that their lifestyle was organised politically, economically and socially.
Politically, the Tainos had an elaborate and well defined form of Government with a Chief or Cacique as the head who was supported by a group of nobles. In addition, islands were divided into districts and in some instances regional chiefdoms.
The economy was based on a form of conuco agriculture. Fields were arranged in mounds called conucos three feet high, and at times nine feet in circumference in order to improve drainage, slow the process of erosion, and allow the storage of mature tubers in the ground. The Tainos relied heavily on fishing as evidenced by shells and bones excavated from kitchen middens found around the Island. They hunted conies, birds, and iguanas with arrows tipped with sharpened stones and shells.
Shelter came in the form of the caneye and the bohio. The former was rectangular and was lived in by the ordinary Tainos while the latter, circular in shape, was occupied by the Cacique. These houses were furnished with a hammock and in some instances a stool. Pottery was used for cooking and storing water and grain. In addition, each household had its own carved, wooden or moulded clay zemis which represented one or more of their many gods.
The arrival of the Spaniards in 1494 marked the beginning of drastic changes in the lifestyle of the Tainos as they were forced into servitude. On Columbus' fourth voyage to the New World in 1503, he sought refuge near a Taino village called Maima in Jamaica. This was due to his ships being in a state of disrepair. He remained on the island for a year before returning to Spain.
In 1508, Colombus' son Diego was appointed Governor of the Indies. Diego later appointed Juan de Esquivel, Governor of Jamaica.
The first Spanish settlement was called Sevilla la Nueva, New Seville. The town was built in 1510. Among the structures erected were a fort, a fortified castle and a Catholic Church. The site was abandoned in about 1524 as it was deemed unhealthy, and a new town, Villa de la Vega was built. The Spaniards also set up a number of towns across the island. Some of these were Liguanea, Guanaboa, Esquivel (Old Harbour), Passage Fort, Oristan (Bluefields) and Ayala (Yallahs). Although there are very few Spanish structures remaining, there are a number of areas including rivers which maintain Spanish names such as the Rio Minho and the Rio Cobre.
The colony relied on passing ships for the trade of hides, and fruits. The colonists were involved in ship building and repairs. However, Jamaica never prospered as a Spanish colony. In fact it was viewed as a burden and in 1512 there was a movement towards relocating the colony in Cuba.
Under the rule of the Spaniards the Taino population dramatically declined as a result of the combination of new diseases such as smallpox, and the ill treatment meted out to them by the colonists. By 1598, less than half of the Taino population remained
Since the arrival of the Spaniards in the New World other European countries constantly vied for control of their holdings. In addition, Spanish ships were constantly under attack by the French, Dutch and English. Jamaica was not without its share. As early as 1555 the French attacked the island, then the English, in 1597 under the leadership of Sir Anthony Shirley.
was not until 1655, however, that the Spanish were driven from the island by
Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables. The Spanish were forced to
flee the island but not before freeing the slaves who took to the hills where
they remained a constant thorn in the side of the English.
In an effort to settle the island Cromwell issued his famous proclamation,
which granted land to British citizens who were willing to settle on the island.
In 1656 approximately 1,600 immigrants arrived and settled around Port Morant.
Although the Spaniards were driven out they never gave up hope of recapturing
the island of Jamaica and in 1658 another Spanish force landed but was defeated
at the decisive battle at Rio Nuevo.
The island began to prosper under the rule of the British. 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
By the late Seventeenth Century, Port Royal had earned the reputation of
being the richest and the wickedest city in the world. In 1692 this town
suffered destruction by an earthquake in which more than half of the town sank
beneath the sea. This signaled the end of piracy in the West Indies.
The second half of the Seventeenth Century saw the beginning of the "sugar
revolution". Large parcels of land were planted in sugar cane. The whole process
of making sugar required a huge labour force. The English planters sought
various groups to provide the much needed labour. African slavery was not new to
the West Indies and had been introduced by the Spanish and the Portuguese.
Later, the Dutch supplied slaves from Africa, and they taught the English the
techniques necessary for the production of sugar.
The Africans brought in were from many tribes, although the majority were
Coromantees from the Gold Coast, Eboes from the Bight of Benin and Mandingoes.
The Coromantees are described as being a strong, brave, proud and fierce race.
Most of the slave revolts in Jamaica were led by Coromantee slaves.
The slaves were divided into two main groups, the field slaves and the
domestic/house slaves. In the case of the former they were further divided into
skilled workers such as carpenters, coopers, drivers, masons, blacksmiths, and
unskilled workers, that is, those who worked in the field. Punishment was a
regular part of estate life and ranged from lashings, to maiming and ultimately
There was resistance to slavery by slaves, both passive and active. Examples
of passive resistance included poisoning of masters, destruction of property,
and infanticide. In the case of active resistance, there were open rebellions,
and many slaves ran away and joined forces with the slaves who were set free by
the Spanish or who had fled to the interior hills of the island. They were later
called Maroons. In 1735 - 1739 they fought against the British in what was
called the First Maroon War.
Although Jamaica's sugar industry continued to grow and provide England with
great wealth it was not without its problems. For instance, 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.
The abolition of the slave trade in 1807, marked the beginning of the end of
slavery and the economic power of the Jamaican planters. By 1813, the wealth of
the West Indian planters could no longer muffle the cries of the abolitionists
and humanitarians to free the slaves. Consequently, in 1833 slavery was
abolished in the British West Indies and a system of apprenticeship was adopted.
The objective of the apprenticeship system was to help the slaves adjust to
their free status and to supply the planters with a source of constant labour
until they could adjust to full wage labour. The abuses of the system brought
about a premature end to slavery and in 1838 full freedom was given.
Although taken from their country of origin the slaves retained some aspects
of their culture. In the case of their language some African words, such as
"nyam", "duckunnoo", "patoo", and language patterns which include the repetition
of a word, as in the case of "chaka chaka" meaning chaotic, and "little little" meaning very small, were retained.
The abolition of slavery saw a rise in the construction of Free Villages, and
growth in peasant farming. There was also an increase in the membership of
Nonconformist Churches and a system of education for the free blacks was
introduced. In addition, the planters' fear of mass migration of ex-slaves from
the plantation saw the introduction of other racial groups to replace slave
labour. Groups brought in included Europeans (Germans, Scots and Portuguese),
Free Africans, Chinese and East Indians.
Although many things had changed, social conditions remained more or less the
same for blacks. By the 1860's the situation had worsened and gave rise to what
was later called, the Morant Bay Rebellion. The Morant Bay Rebellion brought
about some changes in Jamaica, firstly, the system of Government changed from
Representative to Crown Colony (or direct Crown rule), secondly, the Anglican
Church was disestablished, thirdly, the Institute of Jamaica was founded to
encourage literature, science and art. By 1872 the capital was transferred from
Spanish Town to Kingston. There was an improvement in the water supply and a
number of schools were established. There was a shift from sugar to banana
The Great War (1914 - 1918) gave many Jamaicans the opportunity to travel
which in turn helped to shape their views of the system of Government. In
addition, during the early Twentieth Century, many Jamaicans left in search of
employment in the Panama Canal Zone, and in Costa Rica, Cuba and Honduras to
work on the plantations. The movement of people brought about a change in ideas
by the 1920's. Marcus Mosiah Garvey, who promoted unity among blacks and pride
in their race, became a prominent figure during this period.
the rest of the world, Jamaica in 1929 began experiencing a depression in its
economic growth. This resulted in a continuous decline in social conditions. By
1938, the workers in an effort to improve their situation went on strike and
related upheavals ended with the death of a few workers. The 1938 labour riots
was another turning point in the history of the people of Jamaica.
Alexander Bustamante who emerged as leader of the new labour movement founded
the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) later to be associated with the
Jamaica Labour Party. In 1938 Norman Manley, the island's foremost barrister,
and a cousin of Bustamante formed the People's National Party. Manley led the
country to Self Government and Bustamante later became the first Prime Minister
of Independent Jamaica.
By 1944, adult suffrage was granted giving all males and females 21 years of
age and over, the right to vote. The journey towards Self Government had
The first election under Universal Adult Suffrage was held in 1944 and the
Jamaica Labour Party won 25 out of a total of 32 seats.
The Federation of the West Indies was launched in 1959 and Jamaica was a part
of this group. In 1961, a referendum was called to determine whether or not the
people of Jamaica should remain a part of the Federation. The Jamaican people
voted for Independence.
In January 1962, a draft of the Independence Constitution was brought before
both Houses and after a full debate was unanimously approved. It was also agreed
that the 300 year old Coat of Arms would be retained and the Latin motto "Indus
Uterque Serviet Uni" changed to one in English "Out of Many One People".
At midnight 5th August 1962 the British Flag was lowered and the Jamaican
Flag was hoisted for the first time. On the 6th of August 1962 Jamaica was given
its independence. Sir Kenneth Blackburne was the last Colonial Governor and the
first Governor General. Afterwards, Sir Clifford Campbell, formerly President of
the Senate, became the first Jamaican Governor General.