Island History

Learn About Jamaica


The Arawaks, or Tainos, were Jamaica’s first inhabitants. They are believed to have come from South America and were a peaceful tribe. Christopher Columbus arrived in 1494 and the Spanish thrived until the 1600s. During the 1650s the British invaded Jamaica and founded profitable sugar plantations. In 1694, Jamaica was attached by the French, led by Admiral Du Casse, but they were unsuccessful in their attack.

Conflict arose between the colonists and the Maroons (descendants of former slaves living in the hills). Edward Trelawny became Governor in 1738 and successfully negotiated a treaty with the Maroons, whereby he granted the Maroons parcels of land, exempted them from taxes and allowed them to self-govern.

Traditionally, slaves had contributed a great deal to Jamaica’s success. However, the slave trade between Africa and Jamaica was abolished in 1807, with no further slaves brought to the island after 1 March 1808. The Emancipation Act 1834 was intended to progress slaves to apprenticeships and slavery was officially abolished in 1838. Many former slaves of African descent moved to other parts of the island, leaving plantations in need of workers; many of whom now came from China and India.

In the 1930s, Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante came to the fore. Bustamante founded Jamaica’s first trade union (Bustamante Industrial Trade Union), the Jamaica Labour Party and went on to become the first Prime Minister. Manley was an advocate for workers’ rights, and founder of the People’s National Party.

On 6 August 1962 Jamaica achieved independence from Britain and for the first time raised its own flag.

Jamaica is also the birthplace of Rastafarianism, which had a remarkable effect on the island. Believers such as Bob Marley made it accessible and well known to people throughout the world. The religion encourages valuing human life, respecting nature, rejecting materialism and oppression; and followers avoid meat, unprocessed foods and alcohol.

While in Jamaica, why not take a trip to Nine Mile, the birthplace and final resting place of Robert Nesta Marley.  His community here, where he lived until he was 13 years told, gave him the inspiration for many of his songs.  A visit to his home includes a tour of the property, his rock pillow where he rested his head for inspiration, and the mausoleum where Bob, his half-brother Anthony and his mother Cedella (“Mamma Marley”) are buried.  Nine Mile is located deep in the St Ann countryside, around one hour’s drive from Discovery Bay, reached through picturesque countryside.