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Flag of Jamaica Jamaica: Coat of Arms
( In Detail) ( In Detail)
National motto: Out of Many One People
Official language English
Capital and largest city Kingston
Monarch Queen Elizabeth II
Governor-General Kenneth Hall
Prime Minister P. J. Patterson
- Total
- % water
Ranked 159th
10,991 km²
- Total
- Density
Ranked 139th
2,731,832 (July 2005 est.))
HDI ( 2003) 0.738 ( 98th) – medium
- Date
From West Indies Federation and the UK
6 August 1962
Currency Dollar
Time zone UTC -5
National anthem Jamaica, Land We Love
Internet TLD .jm
Calling Code 1-876
Jamaica is an island nation of the Greater Antilles, 240 kilometers in length and as much as 80 kilometers in width situated in the Caribbean Sea. It is 630 kilometers from the Central American mainland, 150 kilometers from Cuba on the north, and 180 kilometers from the island of Hispaniola, on which Haiti and the Dominican Republic are situated, on the east. Its indigenous Arawakan-speaking Taíno inhabitants named the island Xaymaca, meaning either the "land of springs," or the "Land of wood and water." Formerly a Spanish possession known as Santiago, then the British West Indies Crown colony of Jamaica, the country's population is composed mainly of the descendants of former African slaves. It is the third most populous Anglophone country in the Americas, after the United States and Canada.

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Parishes and counties

History - Contents

The original Arawak or Taino people from South America, first settled on the island between 1000 and 400 BC. Although some claim they became virtually extinct following contact with Europeans, another group claim that some survived. Jamaica was claimed for Spain after Christopher Columbus first landed there in 1494. Columbus used it as his family's private estate. The British Admiral William Penn (father of William Penn of Pennsylvania) and General Venables seized the island in 1655. During its first 200 years of British rule, Jamaica became the world's largest sugar exporting nation and produced over 77,000 tons of sugar annually between 1820 - 1824, which was achieved through the massive use of imported African slave labor.By the beginning of the 19th century, the United Kingdom's heavy reliance on slavery resulted in blacks outnumbering whites by a ratio of almost 20 to one, leading to constant threat of revolt. Following a series of rebellions, slavery was formally abolished in 1834, with full emancipation from chattel slavery declared in 1838.Jamaica slowly gained increasing independence from the United Kingdom, and in 1958 Jamaica became a province in the Federation of the West Indies, a federation between all the British West Indies. Jamaica attained full independence by leaving the federations in 1962.However, the initial optimism following Jamaican independence for the next decade or so vanished as Jamaica became a victim of the international economic system. Rising foreign debt under the government of Michael Manley, who was determined to alleviate Jamaica's severe economic inequality, led to the imposition of IMF austerity measures. Deteriorating economic conditions and the involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency due to Manley's international socialism and friendship with Fidel Castro, led to a desperately fought re-election campaign between Manley's People's National Party and the main opposition, the Jamaican Labour Party. Both political parties became linked with rival gangs in Kingston which were duly armed. This policy, along with the increasing emergence of Jamaica as a smuggling point for cocaine during the 1980s, led to recurrent violence and only served to increase the impoverishment of a large section of the Jamaican populace. The ultimate result of this cycle of violence, drugs and poverty has been the brutal gun warfare seen on Kingston's streets from the mid- 1990s onwards. The Jamaican police force has also been accused of complicity in this murderous side of the island. It must be noted however that the rural sections of the island, especially in and around the resort towns of Negril, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, remain quite safe.Former capitals of Jamaica include Port Royal, where the pirate Governor Morgan held sway, and which was destroyed by a storm and earthquake, and Spanish Town, in St. Catherine parish, the site of the old Spanish colonial capital and the English capital during the 18th and 19th century.
Map of Jamaica
Map of Jamaica

Politics - Contents

Jamaica's current Constitution was drafted in 1962 by a bipartisan joint committee of the Jamaican legislature. It came into force with the Jamaica Independence Act, 1962 of the United Kingdom Parliament, which gave Jamaica political independence.The Jamaican head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who is given the title of "Queen of Jamaica". The Queen is represented by a Governor-General, nominated by the Prime Minister and appointed by the monarch. Both the Queen and the Governor-General serve largely ceremonial roles.The Jamaican Parliament is bicameral, consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Members of the House (known as 'Members of Parliament' or MPs) are directly elected, and the leader of the majority party in the House becomes the Prime Minister. Senators are appointed by the Prime Minister, and the parliamentary Leader of the Opposition.The current Prime Minister of Jamaica is P. J. Patterson who has held office since the 1992 resignation of Michael Manley. The current leader of the opposition is Bruce Golding. Patterson has been re-elected three times, the last being in 2002. Jamaica's constitution requires the Prime Minister to call the next general election by October 2007.Jamaica has traditionally had a two party system, with power often alternating between the People's National Party and Jamaica Labour Party.Jamaica is a full and participating member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Geography - Contents

The island of Jamaica has mountainous inlands surrounded by a narrow coastal plain. For this reason, most major cities are located on the coast. Chief towns include the capital Kingston, Spanish Town, Mandeville, and Montego Bay. More satellite maps which allow zoom in and zoom out are available from Google's map server. A live webcam atop the Gleaner Newspaper building on 7 North Street in Kingston is available.The climate in Jamaica is tropical, with hot and humid weather, although inland regions have a more temperate climate. Some regions on the south coast, such as the Liguanea Plain and the Pedro Plains are relatively dry rain-shadow areas.

Economy - Contents

Jamaica operates as a mixed, free-market economy with state enterprises as well as private sector businesses. Major sectors of the Jamaican economy include agriculture, mining, manufacturing, tourism and financial and insurance services. Tourism and mining are the leading foreign exchange earners.Supported by multilateral financial institutions, Jamaica has, since the early 1980's, sought to implement structural reforms aimed at fostering private sector activity and increasing the role of market forces in resource allocation. Since 1991, the Government has followed a program of economic liberalization and stabilization by removing exchange controls, floating the exchange rate, cutting tariffs, stabilizing the Jamaican currency, reducing inflation and removing restrictions on foreign investment. Emphasis has been placed on maintaining strict fiscal discipline, greater openness to trade and financial flows, market liberalization and reduction in the size of government. During this period, a large share of the economy was returned to private sector ownership through divestment and privatization programs.The macroeconomic stabilization program introduced in 1991, which focused on tight fiscal and monetary policies, has contributed to a controlled reduction in the rate of inflation. The annual inflation rate has decreased from a high of 80.2% in 1991 to 7.9% in 1998. inflation for FY1998/99 was 6.2% compared to 7.2% in the corresponding period in FY1997/98. The Government remains committed to lowering inflation, with a long-term objective of bringing it in line with that of its major trading partners.After a period of steady growth from 1985 to 1995, real GDP decreased by 1.8% and 2.4% in 1996 and 1997, respectively. The decrease in GDP in 1996 and 1997 was largely due to significant problems in the financial sector and, in 1997, a severe island-wide drought (the worst in 70 years) that drastically reduced agricultural production. In 1997, nominal GDP was approximately J0,556.2 million (US,198.9 million based on the average annual exchange rate of the period).
Fishing boats and bauxite cargo ships share the waterways near Alligator Pond, Jamaica
Fishing boats and bauxite cargo ships share the waterways near Alligator Pond, Jamaica
The economy in 1997 was marked by low levels of import growth, high levels of private capital inflows and relative stability in the foreign exchange market.Recent economic performance shows the Jamaican economy is recovering. Agricultural production, an important engine of growth increased 15.3% in third quarter of 1998 compared to the corresponding period in 1997, signaling the first positive growth rate in the sector since January 1997. Bauxite and alumina production increased 5.5% from January to December, 1998 compared to the corresponding period in 1997. January's bauxite production recorded a 7.1% increase relative to January 1998. Tourism, which is the largest foreign exchange earner, showed improvement as well. Growth in tourist arrivals accelerated in the third quarter of 1998 and tourism earnings, increased 8.5% from January to December 31, 1998 compared to the corresponding period in 1997.

Demographics - Contents

Jamaica is mainly a blend of African and Anglo-Irish cultures, with influences from the Spanish and Taino cultures, although the Tainos as a people were completely wiped out as an identifiable community by the Spanish between their settlement of the island in 1511 and the English conquest of 1655. These Tainos (sub- Arawaks) were known for archery and have left many remnants of their culture in artifacts and in at least one popular food (bammy- a small flat cake made of grated cassava).The majority of Jamaicans, at least 90%, are of primarily black ancestory (CIA Factbook). People of mixed Chinese, East Indian, and Black and white ancestry make up the second largest group. Those who are East Indian, Chinese, European (chiefly British, and Irish), and Christian Syrian and Lebanese make up a smaller but influential number.The language of government and education is English, although the patois form Jamaican Creole is widely spoken. There are also small numbers of people that speak Hindi, Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic and Spanish.According to, 80.0% of Jamaica's 2.7 million people are Christian – the vast majority of them from various Protestant denominations, which is evident of Jamaica's Anglo past. Roman Catholicism also enjoys a significant presence on the island. The top 5 denominations in Jamaica are: Church of God: 21.2%, Seventh-day Adventist: 9.0%, Baptist: 8.8%, Pentecostal: 7.6%, and Anglican: 5.0%Non-Christian religions are numerous, the largest being Rastafari, which is very strongly related to Christianity. Hinduism, and Buddhism are significant and growing due to immigration from India and China. Islam and Judaism number less than half a per cent combined.

Emigration - Contents

Over the past several decades, hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans have emigrated, especially to the United States but also to Canada and the United Kingdom. This emigration appears to have been tapering off somewhat in recent years, however the great number of Jamaicans living abroad has become known as the " Jamaican diaspora". Due to Commonwealth law and Jamaica's history with the United Kingdom, most Jamaicans that emigrate go to the UK, where laws are lax on ex-Commonwealth country citizens gaining full British Nationality.Concentrations of expatriate Jamaicans are large in the South Florida metro area of Miami/ Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, Tampa, Philadelphia, New York City, Los Angeles in the United States; Toronto in Canada, centred mostly in the borough of Scarborough, Ontario; London, as well as the area of Chapeltown in Leeds, in the United Kingdom. The largest and most famous and vibrant Jamaican community in the world is probably Brixton in South London.

Education - Contents

The emancipation of the slaves heralded in the establishment of Jamaican Education System for the masses. Prior to emancipation there were some elite schools for the plantocracy. Others sent their children off to England to access quality education.After emancipation the West Indian Commission granted a sum of money to establish Elementary Schools, now known as All Age Schools, for the children of the freed slaves. Most of these schools were established by the churches. This was the genesis of the stratified system of education that is still currently embedded in the policies of the 21st Century.Presently the following categories of schools exist: Early Childhood – Basic, Infant and privately operated pre- school. Age cohort – 2 – 4 years. Primary – Publicly and privately owned (Privately owned being called Preparatory Schools (Prep). Age cohort 4 – 11 years.Secondary – Publicly and privately owned. Age cohort 11 – 18 years.Tertiary - Community Colleges, Teachers’Colleges, Vocational Training Centres, Colleges and Universities.

Military - Contents

The Jamaican Defence Force (JDF) is the small but professional military force of Jamaica. The JDF is based upon the British military model with organisation, training, weapons and traditions closely aligned with Commonwealth Realm Countries. Once chosen, officer candidates are sent to one of several British or Canadian basic officer courses depending upon which arm of service they are slated for. Enlisted soldiers are given basic training at JDF Training Depot, Newcastle. As on the British model, NCOs are given several levels of professional training as they rise up the ranks. Additional military schools are available for specialty training in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.The JDF is directly descended from the British West Indies Regiment formed during the colonial era. The West Indies Regiment was used extensively by the British Empire in policing the empire from 1795 to 1926. Other units in the JDF heritage include the early colonial Jamaica Militia, the Kingston Infantry Volunteers of WWI and reorganised into the Jamaican Infantry Volunteers in WWII. The West Indies Regiment was reformed in 1958 as part of the West Indies Federation. The dissolution of the Federation resulted in the establishment of the JDF.The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) comprises an infantry Regiment and Reserve Corps, an Air Wing, a Coast Guard fleet and a supporting Engineering Unit. The infantry regiment contains the 1st, 2nd and 3rd (National Reserve) battalions. The JDF Air Wing is divided into three flight units, a training unit, a support unit and the JDF Air Wing (National Reserve). The Coast Guard element is divided between sea-going crews and support crews. It conducts maritime safety and maritime law enforcement as well as defence-related operations. The support battalion contains a Military Police platoon as well as vehicle, armourers and supply units. The 1st Engineer Regiment provides military engineering support to the JDF. The Headquarters JDF contains the JDF commander, command staff as well as intelligence, judge advocate office, administrative and procurement sections.In recent years the JDF has been called upon to assist the nation's police, the Jamaican Constabulary Force (JCF) in fighting drug smuggling and a rising crime rate which includes one of the highest murder rates in the world. JDF units actively conduct armed patrols with the JCF in high-crime areas and known gang neighbourhoods. There has been vocal controversy as well as support of this JDF role. In early 2005, an opposition leader, Edward Seaga, called for the merger of the JDF and JCF. This move has not garnered support in either organisation nor among the majority of citizens.

Parishes and counties - Contents

Jamaica is divided into 3 counties and 14 parishes:
  • Surrey (county) in the east, containing the parishes of:
    • Kingston
    • Portland
    • Saint Andrew
    • Saint Thomas
  • Middlesex (county) in the centre, containing the parishes of:
    • Clarendon
    • Manchester
    • Saint Ann
    • Saint Catherine
    • Saint Mary
  • Cornwall (county) in the west, containing the parishes of:
    • Hanover
    • Saint Elizabeth
    • Saint James
    • Trelawny
    • Westmoreland
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