Jamaica, Land of Wood & Water

Our History

Jamaica will captivate you with its rich tapestry of history and vibrant culture. Embark on a journey through time as you explore the island's intriguing colonial past to Jamaica's vibrant present. Discover the roots of our culture as you stroll through the cobbled streets of historic towns, lose yourself in the ancestral beats of our music and taste the melding of cultural influences in the flavours of our mouthwatering cuisine.

The Tainos

Jamaica's first people were the Taínos, who came to the island from the northern coast of South America and settled in Jamaica around 600 AD. They spoke a dialect of Arawakan and named the island, "Xaymaca", meaning “land of wood and water”. This gentle tribe eventually succumbed to disease and harsh living conditions imposed by the Spanish soon after their arrival in 1494 with the introduction of slavery and sugar plantations.  Be sure to visit Konoko Falls, home to an extensive museum dedicated to the Tainos, or the mystical underground caverns of the Green Grotto Caves where multiple fragments of pottery and artifacts that have been unearthed show evidence that the Tainos first inhabited the caves.

The Spanish

Having heard Cubans describe Xaymaca as “the land of blessed gold”, the Spanish sailed to the island in search of riches but soon discovered there was none. The beauty of the island, however, captivated Spanish explorer, Christopher Columbus, who noted in his logs, “the fairest island that eyes have beheld: mountains and the land seems to touch the sky … all full of valleys and fields and plains.” Today, the beauty of our island still captivates all who come to our shores with lush rainforests, verdant mountains, scenic rivers and beautiful beaches.

The island remained under Spanish rule until an English attack on May 10, 1655 forced the Spanish to flee to Cuba after freeing their slaves, who later came to be known as the Maroons. Relics of Spanish rule remain, including place names such as Oracabessa, named after the magnificent sunsets viewed from the cliffs meaning "Golden Head" (the home of Golden Eye, where Ian Flemming wrote all James Bond novels and the James Bond Beach Club); and Ocho Rios, meaning "Eight Rivers" which refers to the number of rivers in the resort town area.

The English

During the early days of English colonization in Jamaica, lawless buccaneers plundered ships along the Spanish Main and transported their wealth from their ill-gotten gains to Port Royal, originally a Taíno fishing camp. Under their rule, the town grew rapidly, in little over a decade, to become known as one of the “richest and wickedest cities in the world”. 

Port Royal remains steeped in rich history, and what’s left of Port Royal today stands proudly as a relic of its colored past. Explore the museum, fort or old naval base or the "Giddy House”, the remains of the old Royal Artillery Store for the Victoria Battery. Today, Port Royal offers some of the best seafood, a modern cruise ship port, and is home to the famous underwater city ruins of old Port Royal, destroyed in the great earthquake of June 7, 1692, a diver's dream. 

The Africans

Under the English, sugarcane became the main crop for the island and the industry rapidly grew, with over 400 sugar estates established by 1739. To fill the need for cheap labour, colonialists entered into the slave trade to ship West Africans to the West Indies to be sold to planters who forced them to work on these sugar plantations as slaves under inhumane conditions until the abolishment of slavery. Our storied past is filled with stories of the resilience of our people as they fought for their freedom through rebellion, fighting against the British. 

The Maroons

When the English arrived, the Spaniards fled to the neighboring islands and their freed slaves escaped into the mountains and formed their own independent groups, called the Maroons. The Maroons were in time joined by other slaves who escaped from the English. For a long time, they fought against the English who sought to re-enslave them. So successful were the Maroons, fighting from their fortresses, that the English were forced to sign peace treaties granting the Maroons self-government and ceding to them the mountain lands that they inhabited.

The runaways periodically staged rebellions until the treaty in 1739 that gave them a measure of local autonomy that they still retain today. Every year on January 6, the Maroons celebrate the signing of this treaty and visitors are welcomed to partake in the lively celebrations.

Abolishment of Slavery

Slavery was abolished in 1834. In the economic chaos that followed emancipation, one event stood out: the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865. The uprising was led by a black Baptist deacon named Paul Bogle and was supported by a wealthy Kingston businessman, George William Gordon. Both were executed and are now among Jamaica’s national heroes.

Our National Heroes

Jamaica's freedom fighters, black nationalists and civil rights activists, who fought for our freedom and civil liberties, helped to pave the way for our national development. They are celebrated on National Heroes Day, every third Monday in October. Monuments to all Jamaican heroes can be viewed in the National Heroes Park in Kingston where the Jamaica Defence Force performs the ceremonial Changing of the Guards each day at noon. 

The People That Came

In the years that followed, much of modern Jamaica was forged. Migrants from India and China came as indentured workers for sugar estates and rapidly moved to become merchants and shopkeepers. Soon Jewish settlers came to Jamaica, followed by migrant traders from the Middle East.  All together these groups created the diverse people of Jamaica today, to which we owe the national motto “Out of Many, One People.’

In the 1930s, politics in Jamaica was born. Two very dissimilar men, Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante—who, in a uniquely Jamaican coincidence, happened to be cousins—founded Jamaica's two major political parties, the People's National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party, respectively. 

Emancipation & Independence

After almost 250 years of rebellion and resistance, emancipation from slavery was finally won on August 1, 1838. Today, Jamaicans continue to celebrate Emancipation Day every August 1st. After more than 300 years of British colonial rule, Jamaica became a sovereign nation on August 6, 1962 which saw the unfurling of the national flag of Jamaica in the colours of black, green and gold. The colours represent, “hardships there are (black), but the land is green (green) and the sun shineth (gold)” which gives testimony to the will, resilience and determination of our people. These words have played a strong role in encouraging the spirit of Jamaicans to succeed and overcome adversity.

Whether you are looking for your ancestral roots through generational search, to explore all things Jamaican, or go on a journey of self-discovery, you will thrive here. We are waiting to welcome you to your home away from home, and back to feeling free to be your best self.

It's time to explore all Jamaica has to offer.