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Last Update : 28/07/2015

Jamaica is an island country situated in the Caribbean Sea, comprising the third-largest island of the Greater Antilles.The island, 10,990 square kilometres (4,240 sq mi) in area, lies about 145 kilometres (90 mi) south of Cuba, and 191 kilometres (119 mi) west of Hispaniola, the island containing the nation-states of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Jamaica is the fifth-largest island country in the Caribbean. The indigenous people, the Taíno, called it Xaymaca in Arawakan.meaning the "Land of Wood and Water" or the "Land of Springs".
Once a Spanish possession known as Santiago, in 1655 it came under the rule of England (later Great Britain), and was called Jamaica. It achieved full independence from the United Kingdom on 6 August 1962.With 2.8 million people, it is the third most populous Anglophone country in the Americas, after the United States and Canada. Kingston is the country's largest city and its capital, with a population of 937,700.Jamaica has a large diaspora around the world, due to emigration from the country.
Jamaica is a Commonwealth realm with Elizabeth II as Queen of Jamaica and head of state. Her appointed representative in the country is the Governor-General of Jamaica, currently Sir Patrick Allen. The head of government and Prime Minister of Jamaica is Portia Simpson-Miller. Jamaica is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy with legislative power vested in the bicameral Parliament of Jamaica, consisting of an appointed Senate and a directly elected House of Representatives

PREHISTORY

The Arawak and Taino indigenous people, originating in South America, settled on the island between 4000 and 1000 BC.When Christopher Columbus arrived in 1494, there were more than 200 villages ruled by caciques (chiefs of villages). The south coast of Jamaica was the most populated, especially around the area now known as Old Harbour.The Taino still inhabited Jamaica when the English took control of the island in 1655.The Jamaican National Heritage Trust is attempting to locate and document any evidence of the Taino/Arawaks.

SPANISH RULE

Christopher Columbus claimed Jamaica for Spain after landing there in 1494 and his probable landing point was Dry Harbour, now called Discovery Bay.There is some debate as to whether he landed in St. Ann's Bay or in Discovery Bay. St. Ann's Bay was named "Saint Gloria" by Columbus, as the first sighting of the land. One mile west of St. Ann's Bay is the site of the first Spanish settlement on the island, Sevilla, which was established in 1509 and abandoned around 1524 because it was deemed unhealthy.The capital was moved to Spanish Town, then called St. Jago de la Vega, around 1534 (at present-day St. Catherine).

BRITISH RULE

Spanish Town has the oldest cathedral of the British colonies in the Caribbean.The Spanish were forcibly evicted by the English at Ocho Rios in St. Ann. In 1655 the English, led by Sir William Penn and General Robert Venables, took over the last Spanish fort in Jamaica.The name of Montego Bay, the capital of the parish of St. James, was derived from the Spanish name manteca bahía (or Bay of Lard), alluding to the the lard-making industry based on processing the numerous boars in the area.

Henry Morgan was a famous Caribbean pirate and privateer; he had first come to the West Indies as an indentured servant, like most of the early English colonists.
In 1660, the population of Jamaica was about 4,500 whites and 1,500 blacks,[25] but by as early as the 1670s, blacks formed a majority of the population.
In 1394, France prohibited Jews as residents. By 1660, Jamaica had become a refuge for Jews in the New World, also attracting those who had been expelled from Spain and Portugal. A settlement of Jews had arrived in 1510, soon after the son of Christopher Columbus settled on the island. Primarily merchants and traders, the Jewish community was forced to live a clandestine life, calling themselves "Portugals". After the British took over rule of Jamaica, the Jews decided the best defense against Spain's regaining control was to encourage making the colony a base for Caribbean pirates. With the pirates installed in Port Royal, the Spanish would be deterred from attacking. The British leaders agreed with the viability of this strategy to forestall outside aggression.
When the English captured Jamaica in 1655, the Spanish colonists fled after freeing their slaves. The slaves dispersed into the mountains, joining the maroons, those who had previously escaped from the Spanish to live with the Taínos.The Jamaican Maroons fought the British during the 18th century.The name is still used today for their modern descendants. During the long centuries of slavery, Maroons established free communities in the mountainous interior of Jamaica, where they maintained their freedom and independence for generations.
During its first 200 years of British rule, Jamaica became one of the world's leading sugar-exporting, slave-dependent nations, producing more than 77,000 tons of sugar annually between 1820 and 1824. After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, the British imported Indian and Chinese workers as indentured servants to supplement the labour pool. Many of their descendants continue to reside in Jamaica today.

By the beginning of the 19th century, Jamaica's dependence on slave labour and a plantation economy had resulted in blacks outnumbering whites by a ratio of almost 20 to 1. Although England had outlawed the importation of slaves, some were still smuggled into the colonies. While planning the abolition of slavery, Parliament passed laws to improve conditions for slaves. They banned the use of whips in the field and flogging of women; informed planters that slaves were to be allowed religious instruction, and required a free day during each week when slaves could sell their produce, prohibiting Sunday markets to enable slaves to attend church.
The House of Assembly in Jamaica resented and resisted the new laws. Members (then restricted to European-Jamaicans) claimed that the slaves were content and objected to Parliament's interference in island affairs. Slave owners feared possible revolts if conditions were lightened. Following a series of rebellions on the island and changing attitudes in Great Britain, the British government formally abolished slavery by an 1833 act, beginning in 1834, with full emancipation from chattel slavery declared in 1838. The population in 1834 was 371,070, of whom 15,000 were white, 5,000 free black; 40,000 ‘coloured’ or mixed race; and 311,070 slaves.

INDEPENDENCE

Jamaica slowly gained increasing independence from the United Kingdom. In 1958, it became a province in the Federation of the West Indies, a federation among the British West Indies. Jamaica attained full independence by leaving the federation in 1962.
Strong economic growth, averaging approximately 6% per annum, marked the first ten years of independence under conservative governments; they were led successively by Prime Ministers Alexander Bustamante, Donald Sangster and Hugh Shearer. The growth was fuelled by strong private investments in bauxite/alumina, tourism, manufacturing industry and, to a lesser extent, the agricultural sector.
The optimism of the first decade was accompanied by a growing sense of inequality, and concern that the benefits of growth were not being shared by the urban poor. Combined with the effects of a slowdown in the global economy in 1970, the electorate was moved to change government, electing the PNP (People's National Party) in 1972. Despite efforts to create more socially equitable policies in education and health, Jamaica continued to lag economically. By 1980, its gross national product had declined to some 25% below the 1972 level. Due to rising foreign and local debt, accompanied by large fiscal deficits, the government sought International Monetary Fund (IMF) financing from the United States and others. The international bankers imposed IMF austerity measures (with a greater than 25% interest rate per year).
Economic deterioration continued into the mid-1980s, exacerbated by a number of factors; the first and third largest alumina producers, Alpart and Alcoa, closed, and there was a significant reduction in production by the second largest producer, Alcan. In addition, tourism decreased and Reynolds Jamaica Mines, Ltd. left the Jamaican industry.

GEOGRAPHY AND ENVIRONMENT

Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean. It lies between latitudes 17° and 19°N, and longitudes 76° and 79°W. Mountains, including the Blue Mountains, dominate the inland. They are surrounded by a narrow coastal plain.Chief towns and cities include the capital Kingston on the south shore, Portmore, Spanish Town, Mandeville, Ocho Ríos, Port Antonio, Negril, and Montego Bay on the north shore.
Kingston Harbour is the seventh-largest natural harbour in the world, which contributed to the city being designated as the capital in 1872.
Tourist attractions include Dunn's River Falls in St. Ann, YS Falls in St. Elizabeth, the Blue Lagoon in Portland. Port Royal was the site of a major earthquake in 1692 that helped form the island's Palisadoes.
The climate in Jamaica is tropical, with hot and humid weather, although higher inland regions are more temperate.Some regions on the south coast, such as the Liguanea Plain and the Pedro Plains, are relatively dry rain-shadow areas.
Jamaica lies in the hurricane belt of the Atlantic Ocean and because of this, the island sometimes suffers significant storm damage.Hurricanes Charlie and Gilbert hit Jamaica directly in 1951 and 1988, respectively, causing major damage and many deaths. In the 2000s (decade), hurricanes Ivan, Dean, and Gustav also brought severe weather to the island.
Among the variety of terrestrial, aquatic and marine ecosystems are dry and wet limestone forests, rainforest, riparian woodland, wetlands, caves, rivers, seagrass beds and coral reefs. The authorities have recognized the tremendous significance and potential of the environment and have designated some of the more 'fertile' areas as 'protected'. Among the island's protected areas are the Cockpit Country, Hellshire Hills, and Litchfield forest reserves. In 1992, Jamaica's first marine park, covering nearly 6 square miles (about 15 km2), was established in Montego Bay. Portland Bight Protected Area was designated in 1999.
The following year Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park was created on roughly 300 square miles (780 km2) of wilderness, which supports thousands of tree and fern species and rare animals.

FLORA AND FOUNA

Jamaica's climate is tropical, supporting diverse ecosystems with a wealth of plants and animals.
Jamaica's plant life has changed considerably over the centuries. When the Spanish arrived in 1494, except for small agricultural clearings, the country was deeply forested. The European settlers cut down the great timber trees for building and ships' supplies, and cleared the plains, savannas, and mountain slopes for intense agricultural cultivation. Many new plants were introduced including sugarcane, bananas, and citrus trees.
Areas of heavy rainfall contain stands of bamboo, ferns, ebony, mahogany, and rosewood. Cactus and similar dry-area plants are found along the south and southwest coastal area. Parts of the west and southwest consist of large grasslands, with scattered stands of trees.
The Jamaican animal life, typical of the Caribbean, includes highly diversified wildlife with many endemic species found nowhere else on earth. As with other oceanic islands, land mammals are mostly Bats. The only non-bat native mammal extant in Jamaica is the Jamaican Hutia, locally known as the coney. Introduced mammals such as Wild Boar and the Small Asian Mongoose are also common. Jamaica is also home to about 50 species of reptiles,the largest of which is the American Crocodile; however, it is only present within the Black River and a few other areas. Lizards such as Anoles, Iguanas and snakes such as racers and the Jamaican Boa (the largest snake on the island), are common in areas such as the Cockpit Country. None of Jamaica's eight species of native snakes is venomous.One species of freshwater turtle is native to Jamaica, the Jamaican Slider. It is found only on Jamaica, Cat Island, and a few other islands in The Bahamas. In addition, many types of frogs are common on the island, especially Treefrogs. Birds are abundant, and make up the bulk of the endemic and native vertebrate species. Beautiful and exotic birds, such as the Jamaican Tody and the Doctor Bird (the national bird), can be found among a large number of others.
Jamaican waters contain considerable resources of fresh-and saltwater fish.[52] The chief varieties of saltwater fish are Kingfish, Jack, Mackerel, Whiting, Bonito, and Tuna. Fish that occasionally enter freshwater and estuarine environments include Snook, Jewfish, Mangrove snapper, and Mullets. Fish that spend the majority of their lives in Jamaica's fresh waters include many species of Livebearers, Killifish, freshwater Gobies, the Mountain Mullet, and the American Eel. Tilapia have been introduced from Africa for aquaculture, and are very common.

ETHNIC ORIGINS

According to the 2001 census, the majority of Jamaica's population is of African descent (referring to those who identify as having origins mainly in Africa). The most common ethnic groups among all Africans taken to Jamaica were the Akan (known as the "Coromantee") from present-day Ghana and the Igbo from present-day Nigeria.
Multiracial Jamaicans form the second largest racial group, many of whom also have Irish ancestry. Most mixed-race people on the island self-report simply as "Jamaican".
Jamaicans of Indian and Chinese ancestry form 2%, and 1-3% of the population, the next largest racial group after multiracial Jamaicans. Lebanese, Syrian, English, Scottish, Irish, and German Jamaicans make up a smaller racial minority but are still influential both socially and economically.
In recent years, immigration has increased, coming mainly from China, Haiti, Cuba, Colombia, and Latin American countries; 20,000 Latin Americans reside in Jamaica. About 7,000 Americans also reside in Jamaica, as well as many first-generation American, British and Canadians of Jamaican descent.
Insects and other invertebrates are abundant, including the world's largest centipede, the Amazonian Giant Centipede, and the Homerus Swallowtail, the Western Hemisphere's largest butterfly.

LANGUAGES

Jamaican Patois and Jamaican English
The official language of Jamaica is English. Jamaicans primarily speak an English-African Creole language known as Jamaican Patois, which has become known widely through the spread of Reggae music. Jamaican Patois was formed from a base of mainly English words with elements of re-formed grammar, together with a little vocabulary from African languages and Native American words. Some archaic features are reminiscent of Irish English.

NATIONAL SYMBOLS

National Bird —
Red-billed Streamertail (aka Doctor Bird) (a Hummingbird, Trochilus polytmus)

National Flower –
Lignum vitae (Guiacum officinale)

National Tree —
Blue Mahoe (Hibiscus talipariti elatum)

National Fruit —
Ackee (Blighia sapida)

National Motto —
"Out of Many, One People."

(Source Wikipedia, Read more here)