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The past of Jamaica

Jamaica is not only an island full of magnificent and wonderful landscapes, but it also has an exciting and contested history. Jamaica’s history is riddled with many negative events, including colonization, with subsequent slavery and a long road to liberation and the Jamaica we know today. The early indigenous people of the island were the Arawaks, they are also called Tainos. They are believed to have come to Jamaica from South America about 2,500 years ago. They affectionately called the island “Xaymaca”, translated this means “land of wood and water”. The Arawaks were a simple people. They were farmers who focused on growing crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes, corn, fruits and vegetables, and tobacco as a stimulant. The Arawaks were light brown in color, with coarse short black hair. Their faces were broad with a flat nose. With the discovery of the island by Christopher Columbus and the Spaniards, their peaceful life ended. On May 5, 1494, the explorer Christopher Columbus set foot on the island of Jamaica in St. Ann’s Bay. There he met the early inhabitants of the island, who were hostile to the newcomers. Columbus was determined to claim the new land on behalf of the Spanish royal family. Columbus also needed raw materials such as wood and water and the ability to repair his ships. Christopher Columbus sailed down the coast and docked at Discovery Bay. After a fierce battle, he defeated the Arawaks and claimed Jamaica for the Spanish crown. After the conquest, things were bad for the Arawak people, as the Spanish tortured and killed the inhabitants to occupy the land and used them as labor. In addition, the mortality rate increased dramatically due to introduced diseases. Only a few of the Arawaks survived.

Jamaica served as a base for food, men and horses to support the conquest of the American mainland. In 1509, the first Spanish colonists arrived in Jamaica under the Spanish governor “Juan de Esquivel” and settled the land around St. Ann’s Bay. This gave rise to the first settlement on the north coast, which was called New Seville or “Sevilla la Nueva”. The first real city with a government, commerce and churches was called “St. Jago de la Vega” and was declared the capital of Jamaica at that time in 1534. On May 10, 1665, an attack by Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables ended the Spanish occupation, and the English took control of Jamaica. The Spaniards surrendered and fled to Cuba. The escaped slaves and their descendants became known as “Maroons”. The name “Maroons” is probably derived from the Spanish word “cimarrón”, which means wild or untamed. The settlement of the English in Jamaica was marked by an increase in the slave trade. They concentrated on agriculture and export to England. The settlers mainly cultivated sugar cane, as the sugar industry experienced strong growth. Enslaved Africans were used as cheap labor, preferred for their strength and endurance. The increasing shipping of Africans to the West Indies to be sold as planters made the slave trade a very profitable enterprise for the colonists. The transport route of slaves and trade goods from England to Africa and on to the West Indies became known henceforth as the “Middle Passage.”

In 1739 and 1740, the Maroons fought several wars against the British colonialists until they finally signed a peace treaty with the British. Although the 1740 treaty guaranteed them land and freedom, it was not accepted by all Maroons, who were expected to capture runaway slaves in exchange for their acquired rights. This led to a split among the Maroons. The imported slaves were dissatisfied with the prevailing living conditions and their status. They also led several uprisings, for example the Easter Rising (1760) led by Tacky as well as the Christmas Rising (1831) led by Sam Sharpe. Because of his efforts, Sam Sharpe was named a Jamaican national hero. Many rebels managed to escape from the plantations into the mountains, where they joined the Maroons. The uprisings of the African slaves were ultimately one of the most important factors that led to the end of slavery in Jamaica. Humanitarian organizations such as the Quakers, who were concerned with the welfare of slaves, also contributed significantly to the end of the slave trade. On January 1, 1808, the slavery bill known as the Abolition Bill was passed and the slave trade with Africans was declared illegal. Despite the ban and the newfound freedom, the immediate period after abolition remained difficult for the poorer segments of the population. This was mainly because the oligarchic system persisted and freed slaves were considered insignificant despite their new freedom. The will of the masses continued to be considered unimportant.

The period of the American Civil War in Jamaica was marked by droughts, crop failures and supply problems. It was a long and bloody road to complete freedom and emancipation in 1838. In the historically significant “Morant Bay” riot of October 1865, Paul Bogle and his men stormed a courthouse and killed several white sessionists. The result of the failed rebellion was more than 430 deaths by execution or shooting, hundreds of floggings, and 1,000 homes destroyed. Insurgent leader Paul Bogle and suspected sympathizing colored Congressman George William Gordon were blamed and hanged. Today they are celebrated as national heroes. In 1866, the British Parliament declared Jamaica a crown colony and appointed Sir John Peter Grant as governor. This gave Jamaica the chance to develop socially and economically, and it became an independent state with a police force, judiciary and medical service. Through investments in education, health care and social services, the island nation slowly flourished. The construction of roads, bridges and railroads, as well as the introduction of an island-wide savings bank system, promoted Jamaica’s positive development. Due to political discontent, growing unemployment, and global economic depression, Jamaica was dominated by further unrest and spreading violence in the 1930s. Both economic issues, such as falling sugar prices, and social issues, such as soaring population growth, fueled the unrest. For years, growing professional groups and people of mixed African and European descent lobbied for representative government. As a result, the first trade unions and major political parties were formed. After many years, the first general elections were held in December 1944. On August 6, 1962, Jamaica finally gained its independence from England. Its own constitution was promulgated, which was to ensure freedom, equality and justice for all inhabitants of the country.

The Maroons

The Maroons, an important part of Jamaican history and their essential participation in the liberation of Jamaica are unfortunately often forgotten.

The pirates

Everyone knows Port Royal and the Pirates of the Caribbean. But who knows that this wild pirate harbor from the movies is about the harbor in front of Kingston?