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Coat of arms of Jamaica
Coat of arms
Motto: "Out of Many, One People"

Location of Jamaica
and largest city
Official languages English
Recognised regional languages Jamaican Patois
Demonym(s) Jamaican
Government Parliamentary democracy and Constitutional monarchy
• Monarch
Elizabeth II
Patrick Allen
Andrew Holness
• from the United Kingdom
6 August 1962
Currency Jamaican dollar (JMD)
Time zone UTC-5
Driving side left
Calling code +1-876
ISO 3166 code JM
Internet TLD .jm

Jamaica is an island country situated in the Caribbean Sea. Spanning 10,990 square kilometres (4,240 sq mi) in area, it is the third-largest island of the Greater Antilles and the fourth-largest island country in the Caribbean. Jamaica lies about 145 kilometres (90 mi) south of Cuba, and 191 kilometres (119 mi) west of Hispaniola (the island containing the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic).

Jamaica is the third-most populous english-speaking country in the Americas (after the United States and Canada), and the fourth-most populous country in the Caribbean. Kingston is the country's capital and largest city, with a population of 937,700.

Jamaicans predominately have African ancestry, with significant European, Chinese, Indian, Lebanese, and mixed-race minorities. Due to a high rate of emigration for work since the 1960s, Jamaica has a large diaspora around the world, particularly in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The official language of Jamaica is English and the population also speaks Jamaican Creole English.


The 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. Its Taíno name was Xaymaca, meaning "Land of Wood and Water" or the "Land of Springs".

Spanish rule

Christopher Columbus, during his second voyage to the Americas, claimed Jamaica for Spain after landing there on 5 May 1494 and his probable landing point was Dry Harbour, now called Discovery Bay. St. Ann's Bay was named "Saint Gloria" by Columbus, as the first sighting of the land.

In 1503, during his fourth voyage, Columbus had to spend one year on the northern coast of the island, and he named the island Isla de Santiago.

In 1509, the new Governor of the Hispaniola, sent 70 men to Jamaica to complete the conquest of that island. They first lived in the St. Ann's Bay area and soon founded a town, Sevilla La Nueva (in English, "The New Seville"). Sevilla was abandoned around 1524 because it was deemed unhealthy. The capital was moved to Spanish Town, then called Saint Jago de la Vega, in the south around 1534.

British rule

A map of Jamaica

In 1654 Oliver Cromwell decided to break the Spanish control of the West Indies and he sent a fleet in an expedition) led by William Penn and General Robert Venables. The fleet arrived to the Santo Domingo island on 13 April 1655 but the British lost in two battles on 17 and 25 April and they decided to move to Jamaica.

On 10 May 1655, Penn and Venables led a successful attack on Jamaica. The Spanish surrendered to the English, freed their slaves and then fled to Cuba. It was this set of freed slaves and their descendants living in the Jamaican mountains who became known as the Maroons.

During its first 200 years of British rule, Jamaica became one of the world's leading sugar-exporting, slave-dependent colonies, producing more than 77,000 tons of sugar annually between 1820 and 1824. After the abolition of the international slave trade in 1807, the British began to "import" indentured servants to supplement the labour pool, as many freed men resisted working on the plantations. After slavery was abolished, workers recruited from India began arriving in 1845, Chinese workers in 1854. Many South Asian and Chinese descendants continue to reside in Jamaica today.


After a long period of direct British colonial rule, Jamaica gained a degree of local political control in the late 1930s, and held its first election in 1944. Jamaica got its independence in 1962, remaining a member of the Commonwealth. The Jamaican national motto is 'Out of Many One People', based on the population's multiracial roots. The motto is represented on the Coat of Arms, showing a male and female member of the Taino Indian tribe standing on either side of a shield which bears a red cross with five golden pineapples.

Government and politics

Prime Minister of Jamaica and Parliament
Former Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller walks to Parliament while her team follows

Jamaica is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II serving as the monarch. However, as Elizabeth II is shared as head of state of fifteen other countries (the Commonwealth realm) in addition to the United Kingdom and resides mostly in the United Kingdom, she is thus often represented as Queen of Jamaica in Jamaica and abroad by the Governor-General of Jamaica.

The governor-general is nominated by the Prime Minister of Jamaica and appointed by the monarch. All the members of the Cabinet are appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the prime minister. The monarch and the governor-general serve largely ceremonial roles. The current prime minister of Jamaica is Andrew Holness, having been inaugurated on 3 March 2016.

Geography and Climate

Doctor's Cave Beach Club is a popular destination in Montego Bay.
Dunns River Falls Photo D Ramey Logan
The picturesque Dunn's River Falls in Ocho Ríos
Jamaican tody (Todus todus)
Jamaican tody
Jamaican albatross (Appias drusilla castalia) male
Jamaican albatross butterfly
Vervain hummingbird (Mellisuga minima)
Vervain hummingbird

Jamaica is the third-largest island country in the Greater Antilles, after Cuba and the Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic); it is larger than Puerto Rico. The island is 235 kilometres (146 mi) from east to west; the width, from north to south, varies between 35 kilometres (22 mi) to 82 kilometres (51 mi). The country is composed mainly of the mainland, but near the coast there are a few isolated small islands.

The Blue Mountains are the longest mountain range in Jamaica. They include the island's highest point, Blue Mountain Peak, at 2,256 metres (7,402 ft).The Black River is one of the longest rivers in Jamaica. At a length of 53.4 km (33.2 mi). It was originally called Rio Caobana.

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, believed to be the crater of an extinct volcano. 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.

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. In the 2000s, hurricanes Ivan, Dean, and Gustav also brought severe weather to the island.

Among the variety of ecosystems are dry and wet limestone forests, rainforests, woodland, wetlands, caves, rivers, seagrass beds and coral reefs. The authorities have recognised the tremendous significance and potential of the environment and have made 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 15 square kilometres (5.8 sq mi), 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.

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 agricultural cultivation. Many new plants were introduced including sugarcane, bananas, and citrus trees.

Areas of heavy rainfall contain 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 groups trees.


Bob-Marley-in-Concert Zurich 05-30-80
Bob Marley, the most famous reggae artist from Jamaica

Though a small nation, Jamaican culture has a strong global presence. The musical genres reggae, ska, mento, rocksteady, dub, and, more recently, dancehall and ragga all originated in the island's vibrant, popular urban recording industry. Jamaica also played an important role in the development of punk rock, through reggae. Reggae has also influenced American rap music, as they share roots as rhythmic, African styles of music. Some rappers, such as The Notorious B.I.G., Busta Rhymes, and Heavy D, are of Jamaican descent. Internationally known reggae musician Bob Marley and Millie Small were also Jamaican.


Usain Bolt 16082009 Berlin
Usain Bolt at the 2009 World Championships in Athletics in Berlin

Sport is an major part of life in Jamaica and the island's athletes tend to perform to a standard well above what might be expected of such a small country. While the most popular local sport is cricket, on the international stage Jamaicans have tended to do particularly well at track and field athletics.

Jamaica has produced some of the world's most famous cricketers. The country was one of the venues of 2007 Cricket World Cup. The Jamaica national cricket team competes regionally, and also provides players for the West Indies team. Sabina Park is the only Test venue in the island, but the Greenfield Stadium is also used for cricket. Chris Gayle is the most renowned batsman from Jamaica currently representing the West Indies cricket team.

Since independence Jamaica has consistently produced world class athletes in track and field. In Jamaica involvement in athletics begins at a very young age and most high schools maintain rigorous athletics programs with their top athletes competing in national competitions and international meets. In Jamaica it is not uncommon for young athletes to attain press coverage and national fame long before they arrive on the international athletics stage. Over the past six decades Jamaica has produced dozens of world class sprinters including Olympic and World Champion Usain Bolt, world record holder in the 100m for men at 9.58s, and 200m for men at 19.19s. Jamaica has several world class amateur and professional boxers.

Association football and horse-racing are other popular sports in Jamaica. The national football team qualified for the 1998 FIFA World Cup.

Sunshine girls Netball

The Jamaica national bobsled team was once a serious contender in the Winter Olympics, beating many well-established teams. Chess and basketball are widely played in Jamaica and are supported by the Jamaica Chess Federation (JCF) and the Jamaica Basketball Federation (JBF). Netball is also very popular on the island, with the Jamaica national netball team called The Sunshine Girls consistently ranking in the top five in the world.


James Bond Beach in Oracabessa

Jamaica is a mixed economy with both state and private businesses. Major parts of the Jamaican economy include agriculture, mining, manufacturing, tourism, and financial and insurance services. Tourism and mining are the leading earners of foreign exchange. Half the Jamaican economy relies on services, with its income coming from services such as tourism. An estimated 1.3 million foreign tourists visit Jamaica every year.

Owing to its location in the Caribbean Sea in the shipping lane to the Panama Canal Jamaica receives high container traffic. The container terminal at the Port of Kingston has undergone large expansion in capacity in recent years to handle growth. To aid the navigation of shipping, Jamaica operates nine lighthouses.


Kingston, WA - Port of Kingston sign 01
Kingston, WA - Port of Kingston

Jamaica depends on petroleum imports to satisfy its national energy needs. Many test sites have been explored for oil, but none have been found. The most convenient sources of imported oil and motor fuels (diesel, gasoline, and jet fuel) are from Mexico and Venezuela.

Jamaica's electrical power is produced by diesel (bunker oil) generators located in Old Harbour. Other smaller power stations support the island's electrical grid. A wind farm, owned by the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, was established at Wigton, Manchester.

Jamaica imports approximately 80,000 barrels (13,000 m3) of oil energy products per day, including asphalt and lubrication products. Just 20% of imported fuels are used for road transportation, the rest being used by the bauxite industry, electricity generation, and aviation. 30,000 barrels/day of crude imports are processed into various motor fuels and asphalt.

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