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Jamaica

Jamaica

Geography & Topography

Capital: Kingston

Population: 2,889,187

Area: 10,991 km2

Language: English, Patois

Religion: Christianity, Pentecostal, Anglican, Rastafari…

Currency: Jamaican dollar

History

 

Jamaica is an island in the Caribbean with a population of almost 3 million people and the capital city is Kingston. The official language of Jamaica is English, however Patois, a dialect, is widely spoken. The island was inhabited by indigenous people called  the Arawak and the Taino for many centuries before it was discovered by the Christopher Columbus in 1494. The Spanish settled for around 150 years and were overthrown by the British in 1655; at that time the British crown ruled most of the Caribbean territory. During the first 200 years of British colonialism, Jamaica became one of the world’s leader sugar exporting country, which led to a considerable economic growth but also to increasing enslaved population. Slavery however, was abolished in 1834 and as a result the population of Jamaica was constituted of approximately 311.000 slaves out of the total 371,070 people at that time. Jamaica finally became independent from the United Kingdom in 1958 and gained full independence in 1962. Despite a successful first ten years, inequalities rose amongst the population feeling that the economic growth was not experienced by the urban poor… Many economic and social policies were put in place to find a solution to the economic slump including  joining the IMF in 1980.

Performing Arts

Music

The most famous musician from Jamaica was Bob Marley. Jamaica’s national motto “Out of Many One People” celebrates its rich cultural heritage. Jamaican music includes folk music and many popular genres such as mento, ska, rocksteady, reggae, dub music, dance hall, reggae fusion and related styles.  Jamaica’s musical culture derives influence from the United States, Africa and neighboring Caribbean islands.

The most recognizable instruments in Jamaican music are:

culturalinfusion/soundinfusion-Marimbula

Marimbula, a folk musical instrument of the Carribean

Marimbula: A marímbula is a folk musical instrument of the Caribbean. With its roots in African instruments, the marimbulaoriginated in the province of Oriente, Cuba in the 19th Century. Eventually it spread throughout the Caribbean, the Americas and Africa, from Liberia to the Congo. By the 1930s it had made its way to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, other Caribbean islands, Mexico, and as far away as New York City. The Cubans call it marímbula, and most of the other Caribbean countries have adopted this name or some variant of it. The instrument has a number of other names, such as marimbola (Puerto Rico), bass box (also spelled Calimba or calymba), Rhumba box, Church & Clap, Jazz Jim (Jamaica), and box lamellophone.

 

culturalinfusion/soundinfusion-JamaicanDrums

Jamaican Drums

 

Drums: The drum is central to all Jamaican music, having historical ties to Africa. There are many kinds of drums, though most have goatskin heads. Several African Jamaican religious groups use a long, one-headed cylindrical drum and a square frame drum. Many village bands use maracas, mbiras (and a bass mbira called a “rhumba box”), graters (cheese graters scraped with a nail), triangles, and glass bottles (struck with a stone or any hard object). Some groups also use a bamboo stick beaten with two other sticks and a machete struck with a metal beater.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Dance

Jamaican dance styles can be classified into two families, those associated to ‘Dancehall’ music, a more recent phenomenon from the early 70’s and the other jamaican dances that can be classified under 3 categories: African derived, European derived and Creole. Over 40 dances have been identified in Jamaican culture, many of them are religious.

Examples of traditional Jamaican dances are:

 

Jonkunnu: This type  of dance is the oldest style of the island. Although Jonkonnu is usually associated with celebrations, it is also a musical and dance tradition. The dance is a blend of authentic Jamaican styles and is performed during today’s celebrations. In this type of dance, every dancer has its own role and character to portray where they enact mime-style plays. different roles include: Pitchy Patchy, Devil, Belly Woman and Cow Head.

Pukkamina:

Pukkamina dances are based in Myalism rituals, however they are not part of any Revival tradition which distinguishes it from Zion. Rituals differ from place to place, they are performed during three day festivals. The ritual uses music and improvised melodies and harmonies which are said to induce possession, meanwhile, dancers who surround the leader are moving in a manner that is similar to Turkish whirling dervishes, which suggests a certain East Indian influence in the dance.

 

 

 

Some interesting facts:

  • Jamaica has more than 200 species of birds, including a beautiful hummingbird known locally as the ‘doctor bird’ which is the national bird. Also abundant are bats, mongooses, frogs, lizards, and crocodiles. There are no venomous snakes on the island

Jamaican community in Australia:

More information on the Jamaican community: