History Notes: Information on Jamaica's Culture & Heritage
This page covers a variety of information relating to Jamaica's culture, heritage and history.
Chinese in Jamaica
Shortly after Emancipation, the English Plantation owners realized that the African descendants having been freed from slavery were reluctant to work on the sugar estate. Based on this realization, they decided to import Chinese and East Indians to work for them.
By 1854, the first group of four hundred and seventy two (472) Chinese come toJamaica from Panama . Prior to this time there were about thirty Chinese living in Jamaica . The second batch, of about two hundred, coming from Trinidad and British Guiana arrived in Jamaica between 1864-1870. On June 12, 1884 , a third group of about six hundred and eighty arrived straight from China , all having three year contracts.
In 1905, the Jamaican Government noticed the increased population of Chinese immigrants and passed a law that restricted entry to the country if certain criteria were not met. The law passed emphasized three main areas:
Immigrants had to be registered with immigration authorities before entry.
Immigrants had to have a guarantor from a reliable shop. This guarantor should be able to prove that the immigrant is law-abiding and will not be a burden on society.
- Having arrived in Jamaica the authorities need to know their address and contact information. From this point onward the immigration law had become very strict.
By 1930, there were four thousand Chinese immigrants in Jamaica. By 1931 the government had stopped issuing passports as an effort to reduce the “Chinese Invasion” as it was called then. In another six years the figure reached to a high of six thousand. As a result of this between 1931 and 1940 they were additions to the immigration law that includes:
The immigrants having to successfully pass a written and oral English Language test;
Paying a fee before entry;
Doing a medical examination, which should prove whether or not the immigrant is physically fit and healthy.
After their contracts had expired many were reluctant to return to China as they knew what effect communism would have had on their return. Over population, drought, flood and famine were added reasons why they left China as well as why they remained in Jamaica.
In 1880, many of those who had remained in Jamaica started retail businesses trading in grocery items with a few shops set up in Kingston. They as a group developed the Chinese Benevolent Society, founded by Chung Fah Fuicon in 1890. The purpose of the society was to look after their interest and welfare, to promote charitable activities and mutual assistance among themselves, and to act as arbitrator in the settlement of their disputes.
By 1954, there were over one thousand commercial establishments owned by the Chinese. In 1970 the number amounted to .7 percent of Jamaica ’s population. In 1982, this fell to .2 percent as many migrated to Canada and the United States of America .
The Chinese, were noted for their acumen business and for the caring and nurturing of their children placing great emphasis on education and family life. To date, these characteristics have positively impacted the Jamaican society. Over the years the Chinese became integrated in many professions such as law, medicine, business, retailers, civil servants and teachers, while others remained wage earners in the banking and manufacturing sectors. Jamaican Chinese are greatly admired for being hardworking, diligent and courteous. They have added another dimension to the plurality of the cultural heritage of Jamaica . During Christmas and other special occasions one can always look forward to performances of the Dragon Dance in the floats in the city.
Chen, Julie. “The Chinese in Jamaica.” The Daily Gleaner 29 June, .:p15.
Lee, Easton. “Jamaican culture: the Chinese connection.” The Observer 31 May 1997.
Yap, Stephen. “The Chinese Community”. The West Indian Review. [ ] 1954.
Yin, Lee Tom. Chinese in Jamaica . Kingston , 1957.
Christmas Jamaican Style
The Meaning of Christmas
Christmas, observed by millions of the world over is the most widely celebrated event on the Christian calendar.
The word "Christmas" is derived from the Old English phase Crites Masse, which means "The Festival Mass of Christ." According to written records the observance has been fixed to December 25 from as early as AD 336.
The custom of sending printed cards started in England in the 1840s, John Calott Hoisley printed about 1000 cards for sale in 1843, by 1875, the custom had been spread to the United States.
In Jamaica the exchange of greeting card has been an integral part of the yuletide season for many years. European oriented illustrations were once prevalent, but in recent years the cards have featured works of Jamaican artists, local scenery and traditional Christmas symbols with a distinctly Jamaican flavour.
Christmas celebrations commemorate the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, 2000 years ago in Bethlehem, Judea. To Christians in Jamaican and around the world celebrating this occasion is a high point of the calendar of worship.
Communion services, candlelight ceremonies, concerts, all-night prayer meetings and the singing of Christmas carols are expressions of reverence and festivity of the Christmas season as celebrated by various denominations.
The Municipal Christmas Tree
The annual tree lighting ceremony in Kingston is a tradition that involves the turning on of hundreds of coloured bulbs on the tree, fire works display, singing of carols, Christmas messages and the distribution of gifts to the needy.
From 1952 the municipal Christmas tree was a gift from Saguenay Terminals Ltd. of Canada through their local agents Sprostons (JA) Ltd.
However, since 1979 the KSAC has been using locally grown trees from Clydesdale.
Before 1961 the Christmas tree was placed at Victoria Park, between 1961 and 1979 it was located in George VI Memorial Park (National Heroes Park). It is now back in the Victoria Park presently called St. William Grant Park to spread cheer.
During slavery ham was cured by smoking it in large baskets called kreng-kreng over a slow fire. Pimento was heavily used in spicing the meat.
The consumption of ham back in 1898 seemed to have been considerable, Galls Newsletter of that year states that "enormous stocks of ham and smoked tongues" were bought by Negroes during the Christmas season.
Today, ham continues to be a delicious dish on many Christmas dinner tables in Jamaica.
Sorrel - Christmas Drink
The sorrel plant like many of its relatives of the Hibiscus family is probably indigenous to Jamaica as it is to other parts of the Caribbean India and Hawaii. The sorrel drink, a refreshing drink when cool is made by steeping the red ripe calyx in boiling water. It is sweetened with sugar or syrup and flavoured with ginger, cloves, rum or brandy.
Before refrigerators became common sorrel would be cooled by standing in stone or earthenware jars from which it was lifted by long handled ladies.
Christmas pudding is a European derivation, but the use of rum in the pudding or cake seems to be of Caribbean character.
The Jamaican puddings and cakes are very rich with fruits that have been soaked in wine or rum for weeks before Christmas.
Back to top
The John Canoe or Jonkonnu has a very long tradition as a folk festival, incorporating both African and European forms. The ‘Jonkonnu’ Festival is secular in nature and its performance at Christmas time is merely historical. It was conceived as a festive opportunity afforded the slave class by the planter class, as Christmas was one of the few periods when the slaves were relieved of their duties. Hence, Christmas formed an appropriate season for festivities as all normal business activity on the island was halted by official decree and all males were called up for military service, augmenting the population in the larger towns. Therefore, ample opportunity was given to the slaves to show off their talents to the spectators who had also been given time off from work. From as early as the beginning of the 18th century masked and costumed performers have paraded the streets of Jamaica most often at Christmas time, but also at state functions, receiving money and food in return for their performances.
There is a bit of controversy as to the source of the name of the festival. While some believe that the origin of the name is unknown, others contend that the name and principal character are honourable memorials to John Conny, an active, successful black merchant near Axim along the Guinea Coast around 1720. John Conny was an important historical person. He worked for the Brandenburg Company, having command over three trading forts – Pokoso, Takrama and Akoda on the coast of Ghana. Over time, the spelling has varied, with British influenced writers spelling the name John Canoe, while the Jamaican spelling more closely resembles the pronunciation – Jonkonnu.
Traditionally, the Jonkonnu festival was held on a regional basis accounting for differences in characters, costumes and performance styles. The English influenced troupes never include animal characters. Instead their core members are usually a king and queen, courtiers and incidental characters bases on the English masquerades. The traditional and English based troupes dress differently with the latter wearing ‘fancy dress’, while the former demonstrated a strong African influence. Notwithstanding these differences to be recognized across the island, traditional Jonkonnu most often includes as core participants, the cow head, the horsehead, the devil, the different categories of warriors and Indians, as well as a character known as Pitchy-Patchy.
The more popular characters are quite worthy of further mention as their presence in the festival evoked an admixture of fear and excitement in onlookers. The Jonkonnu cowhead attire is made from a pan, or from half a shell of a coconut, with holes allowing for the insertion of real horns. The headdress is worn over a headwrap and a wire screen mask with painted facial features; a cloth tail is attached to the dancer’s backside. Meanwhile, the horsehead is made from a mule’s skull, equipped with and articulated jaw, and attached to a pole. It is painted, eyes are added, and the player covers himself with a piece of cloth. The rest of the costume is left up to the individual performer but generally consists of white tennis shoes, pants, and a shirt in contrasting colours and patterns.
Another character that may reflect an African heritage is Pitchy-Patchy. He is usually the most flamboyant and athletic troupe member and appears in both Jonkonnu and Masquerade bands. His costume is made of layered strips of brightly colored fabric. Contemporary oral tradition claims that this costume is based on a vegetal prototype (layers made up of plant leaves). The eventual transition from a costume of layered straw or palm fronds to one of layered strips reflects the increased distribution of such materials, an increase in prosperity, or merely a visual statement of an urban image rather than a rural one.
The Devil carries a pitchfork and wears a cowbell attached to his backside. His headdress is a cardboard cylinder on top of which rests a flat rectangular cardboard section. The entire costume is black. Meanwhile, another male plays Belly Woman, a pregnant lady whose antics, especially her ability to make her belly move in time to the music, are designed to amuse the onlookers.
Warrior Jonkonnu wears a foil-covered cardboard heart on his chest and strands of beads; his wooden sword is painted silver. In addition to the obligatory head cloth and mesh mask worn by all performers, warrior wears a cone-shaped headdress with feather or groups of feathers at the top of the cone, which is adorned with mirrors, cutouts and old newspaper photographs. Wild Indian wears a very similar costume with the exception that he carries a tall cane and cross-bow.
Although a tradition of the ‘common’ people, Jonkonnu has also received official recognition. In more recent times, however, Jonkonnu is mostly seen on such important state functions such as the second celebration of Carifesta, held in Jamaica in 1976. Also during the mid-1970s Michael Manley’s People’s National Party actively supported many grass-roots cultural forms, giving official sanction to Jonkonnu performances. Also the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission has hosted competitions in the field, opening up avenues for public performances.
Back to top
Jamaican traditional dances falls roughly under three categories:
African derived, European derived and Creole, that is, a mixture of both types.
The African derived dances are mainly religious ones being integral parts of ceremonies of worship. These dances take the ritualists into the realm the spiritual and heighten their readiness for possession e.g. Kumina, Myal and Pocomania.
Jamaica is indebted largely to the Maroon Communities for the preservation of these aspects of our African Heritage.
There are other African derived dances that were social in intent and which are still performed in Jamaica. These include Etu, Quadrille and Maypole which though originally of religious significance, is now largely social. The dances which accompany work songs and ring games also fall into this category are examples of social dances that are of European origin and have kept their popularity throughout the years.
The Creole dances that were created in Jamaica tend to borrow elements from both European and African cultures e.g. Johnkannu/Jonkonnu - the oldest and most popular, Bruckin's, Pukkumina and Revival.
Bruckins is a member of the creolised group of traditional dances. As with Jonkonnu, the dance reveals a unique mixture of African and European influences. The Bruckins party is a stately, dipping-gliding dance typified by the "thrust and recovery" action of the hip and leg. It was formerly done to commemorate the Emancipation of slaves on August 1, 1838. The form and content of the dance, with Red and Blue Sets competing, is reminiscent of 19th century plantation Jonkonnu and the Set Girls' parade. The movement was said to have been derived from the Pavanne, a European court dance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Pavanne originated in Italy.
In Bruckins, the pomp and ceremony of British royalty is mixed with African dance performance practices. The dance take the form of pageant - a bright processional parade of Kings, Queen, courtiers and other gentry. The movement, however, is mainly African derived; the jotting forward of the pelvis, use of bent knees, flexed foot, tilted back torso and bent arms are all elements attributable to the dances of West Africa.
Bruckins party would usually begin late in the evening. Dancers, formed in two sets, would proceed from one house to another, parading their costumes and displaying their dance skills. The set was parted into two, one in red and the other in blue, consisting a King, Queen and courtiers known as grand-sons and grand-daughters, sergeants, soldiers, pages. This was a direct imitation of what the newly-freed slaves saw as the Royal Family and their military complement.
The two sets are rivals and often kept their costumes a secret until day of the celebration. The queen of each set would first come out and have the dance competition for the duration of one song to see which would "bruck" the better. Following this there would be a Tea-Time session. This session, today, is very uncommon.
Bruckins includes music from the drum, knocking of the sticks, a fife and singing songs. The drummers and singers do not dance but move with the procession. Today Bruckin's is found mainly in Portland, the eastern section of the island. The coordinated culture is however kept alive by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission through festivals.
Dinki mini is mainly found in St. Andrew, St. Mary and St. Ann. It is a member of the Wake Complex of traditional dances. Dinki mini is performed on the second to the eighth night of the traditional ninth night observances. These sessions are primarily lively and celebratory in nature and are geared to cheering the bereaved. Dancing in couples and sing lively "mento" type of music occur for the first few nights.
By the sixth to the seventh night, Ring games, Anansi stories, riddles dominates the proceedings. The ninth night is climaxed by rituals designed to send off the "mature" spirit properly. It is related to the Gere practices best known on the western end of the island.
“Whereas an Act has been passed by the Legislator of Island of Jamaica for Terminating the Present System of Apprenticeship on the First Day of August Next, and Thereby Granting The Blessing and Privileges of Unrestricted Freedom to All Classes of its Inhabitants and Whereas It Is Incumbent On All The Inhabitants of This Our Island To Testify Their Grateful Sense of This Divine Favour.
We Do Therefore By and With The Advice of our Privy Council of this Our Said Island Direct An Appoint That Wednesday The Said First Day of August Next Be Observed In All Churches and Chapels As A Day of General Thanksgiving To Almighty God For These His Mercies and Of Humble Intercession For His Continued Blessing and Protection On This Most Important Occasion and We Do Hereby Call Upon Persons Of All Classes Within This Our Said Island To Observe This Said Day Of August Next With The Same Reverence And Respect Which Is Observed And Due To The Sabbath…”
Plantation Slavery was a system of labour exploitation to promote staple crops for the Colonial Powers. It became a mode of racial domination that formed the basis of a stratified society built on colour with the white group controlling the means of production and dominated the socio-political life of the colonies.
The Emancipation Act of 1st August 1834 declared all slave children under six years of age and any which might be born after that date free. All other enslaved persons became apprenticed to their former masters up to 1st August 1838, after which, they were made free.
While Apprenticeship lasted, the apprentices had to work on the plantations for their masters for three-quarters of every week or40 ½ hours without wages. The masters reciprocated by providing lodging, clothing, medical assiatance and food, in exchange for food provision grounds on which the apprentices could grow their own crops. For the remaining quarter 13 ½ hours, the apprentices were free to either work on the provision ground themselves, or for wages. With the money earned, the apprentices could save towards the purchase of their freedom and many did so.
Another provision of the Emancipation Act was the granting of £20,000,000 to all British slave owners. The Jamaican Assembly was the first to enact the Emancipation Laws, as without doing this they would not have qualified for the monetary compensation of £6,149,939.Apprenticeship was thought necessary for the Jamaican slaves, as this would prepare them gradually for freedom. To ensure a smooth operation the British Government appointed Stipendiary Magistrates to supervise the Apprenticeship System. The magistrates were made up of Englishmen and coloured Jamaicans. In spite of the hard work done by the Stipendiary Magistrates problems persisted in the working of the system.
Some of these are as follows:
Most planters insisted that the ex-slaves worked eight hours daily.
Many refused to continue the allowance of food and provision grounds and the newly freed people had to pay for them by working extra time.
High prices were placed on apprentices to make it more difficult for them to buy their freedom.
Masters drove and punished apprentices more brutally than in slavery. The argument to support this type of behaviour was that the newly freed people would retire to the hills, therefore the planters had to hold on to a large labour force for as long as possible. To go even further, they began preparing to strengthen the labour force by importation of indentured labourers. This scheme failed miserably as many died from local diseases and some left the estates for domestic work, some joined the Police Force, while others returned home.
The success of the Apprenticeship System was inconsistent. It worked for a while then failed. The failure came through confusion and disputes between planters and apprentices. The worst tale of Apprenticeship came out of the prisons as the conditions were harsh with some ex- slaves made to work in chains, while others were placed in solitary confinement. Other punishments were flogging, starvation and sentence to the treadmill, which was a revolving device on which the offender had to walk. If he slipped he would be hung by writs tied together and be battered by the revolving steps. These conditions somewhat helped to hasten the end of Apprenticeship.
Reports of these brutal treatments were made by William Knibb to the House of Commons. Buxton acted on these accounts and asked for an enquiry. In March 1836 a select Committee from the House of Commons was appointed to enquire into the condition and Laws of the Apprenticeship System. In November of that year, Governor Sir Lionel Smith tried to get laws passed to remedy certain abuses but the Jamaican Assembly opposed the passage of the Act. Because of this development Joseph Sturge, a Quaker along with Thomas Harvey came to Jamaica to see for themselves. Sturge and his colleagues made a point of taking evidence from the negroes themselves. The West Indies in 1837 is a result of this self appointed commission.
This had a powerful effect on the British public and helped to revive the Anti-Slavery sentiments.
With the failure of the Apprenticeship System in Jamaica Full Emancipation was in view. The granting of full freedom which ended slavery transformed the legal status of more than 80% of the population making everyone before the Law. It altered the labour base of the community by substituting a wage labour system for unpaid Apprentice labour.
The total abolition of slavery provided the principal impetus for the growth of Jamaican peasantry. This rapid expansion of peasantry during the post-slavery period came about despite the attempts of large-scale proprietors to deny the freed people and former indentured workers access to significant amounts of good land. Proprietors were intent on maintaining a landless proletariat rather than creating an independent peasantry. Where Crown land existed planters used their political powers to place several restrictions on their sale or occupation.
The planter either refused to sell surplus and marginal estate land or they charged high, even exorbitant prices for small plots.
The Legislature instituted costly licences for the sale of small quantities of manufactured sugar and coffee.
They levied taxes, which discriminated against owners of small plots.
The planters devised the system of tenancy, which compelled the freed people to work steadily and continually on the estates, in return for secure residence in the house and grounds, which they occupied as slaves. Consequently insecurity of tenure as well as relatively low wages and high rental forced these persons to seek new and better opportunities away from the estates.
The Local Legislature and the Colonial Office feared that expansion of a Jamaican peasantry would ruin the Sugar Industry by creating labour shortages, thus did little to promote development.
Despite this however, rapid expansion occurred with the number of landholdings between five and forty-nine acres increased from 13,189 in 1880 to 24,226 in 1902 and to 31,088 by 1930.
The freed people were able to overcome their challenges and with the aid of the missionaries, acquired land, which helped in the formation of a new and free society.
Back to top
Fire at Port Royal
On June 7, 1692 Port Royal known then as the "wicked" and "richest" city in the world sunk into the sea. This occurred during a great earthquake. Much has been written about this catastrophe, but little is known about the fire that caused a level of destruction similar to that experienced by the residents of Port Royal at the time of the earthquake.
On Saturday, the 9th of January 1702, about 11 o'clock Port Royal was awakened with a lamentable cry of fire. The flames spread furiously and in almost three hours most of the houses were in flames. By 10 p.m. later in the evening everything was totally destroyed except the two forts. It was reported that "14 acres of land being the richest ground ever belonged to the crown of England, was perished". Most of the provisions, silks, linens, cloths, spices and most forts of merchandize of incredible value were totally consumed by fire.
Hundreds of people who the day before were worth some thousands of pounds were reduced by this calamity to starvation.
The destruction of Port Royal by the fire of 1702 was of such magnitude, that the governor council and assembly ordered the residents to re-settle in Kingston which was seen as a "safe haven".
Port Royal remains a historical treasure chest with most of it's archaeological riches still buried beneath the sea. Because of it's legendary wealth, it has attracted many post modernist historians and has been the site of scientific, marine, and archaeological explorations.
Over the years, several artifacts have been recovered but strangely, considering that the site was once reputed to be the richest city in the world, no gold or precious stones have surfaced. Port Royal now stands as a national monument which attracts local as well as international visitors.
--Sources - Account of the Fire at Port Royal 1702
Back to top
The History of the Post Office in Jamaica
In the year 1663, the then reigning monarch King Charles II, instructed Thomas Lynch, Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica, to make all the necessary arrangements for the establishment of a Post Office in the island. The office was to be under the management of Daniel O’neil, Postmaster General of London, to whom all accounts were to be sent. This royal action ensured for Jamaica the honour of being the first British Colony to establish its own Post Office.
In connection with the proposed Post Office, masters of vessels trading with Jamaica were instructed to take good care of letters entrusted to them, and told that when a place for the receipt and dispatch of letters had been set up in the island, all private persons would be prevented by law from carrying mails.
Nonetheless, it was not until 1670, when a gentleman from Port Royal complained to London, the Secretary of the General Post Office (G.P.O.), that the conveyors of the mail were opening letters sent, that any real action was taken. Roused to action by this letter, London at once requested the authorities in the island to take action, and by order of the Council of Jamaica, which met at St. Jago de la Vega on 21 September 1671, the Marshal was ordered to go on board every vessel and receive all letters, both from master and passengers. He was further instructed to make a list of all the letters received and to give receipts for them. For this service he was empowered to charge a small fee of 3d. Later that year on the 31st October the Council appointed one Gabriel Martin as Postmaster of Jamaica with instructions that he should create a Post Office both at Passage Fort and St. Jago. However, this was short lived as Martin later disappeared and by 1673, there was again the need for a new postmaster. James Wales – Merchant Adventurer of London, whose ship the ‘James’ had just been captured off Cartegena by French privateers appeared. Wales also had close ties with the Island, having used Jamaica as his base for much of his mercantile activity. He jumped at the opportunity offered to him in England to take over the Post Office in Jamaica.
However, there was to be more trouble for the Post Office as Wales’ fellow merchants and indeed the Planters had no faith in his ability to run the enterprise. Thus, in 1688, the Duke of Albemarle, Governor of Jamaica, ordered an investigation into the operations of the Post Office. The report submitted on the 22nd July 1688 by Sir Thomas Powis, His Majesty’s Attorney General, recommended setting up a Post Office in Jamaica under the control of the Earl of Rochester, the Postmaster General of Britain.
By a patent dated 17th February 1691, a petitioner to the Crown, Thomas Neale, was granted authority for twenty-one years to erect and encourage a Post Office in the America’s. The patent besides covering the North American Colonies also took in the various islands and ports, which constituted the ‘American Plantations’. He was made responsible for the receiving and dispatching of letters and packets to and from England, and had the power to take for his own use such postage rates as were proportional to the rates established for the erection of the Jamaican Post Office. Thomas Neale therefore had a monopoly, all other persons being forbidden to erect similar offices in these lands.
By 1700, this monopoly appears to have passed into other hands, as a letter from the General Post Office to the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty’s Treasury details Mr. Neale’s death, and the assignment of his affairs to Andrew Hamilton and Robert West.
Early in the 1700s the external mail service was, for about a decade, well handled by Edward Dummer who provided a regular service from Portsmouth in England via Barbados, Antigua, Montserrat and Nevis to Jamaica. During this period it was deemed important to have mails stamped with the name of the point of origin on all letters. The earliest date where the‘Jamaica’ straight line handstamp appears is August 1746. Earlier letters bearing the Jamaican handstamp may exist but to date none have been located. It could be that many of the letters from this period never reached their destination. Dummer’s ships were one of the prime targets of the privateers who plundered and burnt many of these packets and eventually put Dummer out of business.
Jamaica was growing fast – the population moving into new areas. The sugar industry began to reach new heights emphasing the need for better communication. The failure of the Dummer Service forced the populace to revert to sending mails via whatever carrier, be it Man O’War or Merchantman, that was available. Letters often had to be duplicated or triplicated in order to ensure that correspondence reached its destination. By the mid-1700s Jamaica became Britain’s most important colony in the West Indies. Communication with Britain and the other islands was of great importance. The mail service had to be efficient. This fact was realized in Britain and Edward Dismore arrived in 1754 to take up the office as Postmaster General of Jamaica. Dismore was determined to do a good job and, while some of his actions were unpopular, he set about to create a fine postal service and network of Post Offices for the island. The Post Office profits had grown and Dismore was accused of not handing over to the Jamaican Government their full share of the revenue but, Dismore received the full support of the Crown and was in fact returning the profits to the British Post Office, he kept his position.
It was Dismore who set up what are today some of the key Post Offices of the Island. In the list of Post offices he created were Old Harbour, Vere, Black River and Savanna-la-Mar on the south west coast; Port Antonio, Annotto Bay, Port maria, St. Ann’s Bay, Falmouth and Montego Bay on the north coast and Bath, Morant Bay and Yallahs on the south east coast among many others. Dismore it was too who, it appears, insisted on the use of the “Jamaica” Straight Line and posting town handstamps which came into use in the 1770s. The foundations laid by this man speak highly of his ability and of the importance Jamaica was to Britain to have had such a fine postal system established so early.
The evidence presented by early correspondence from Chief Justice Peter Heywood to Colonel Charles Long shows that in 1708, a regular stagecoach service operated between Kingston and Spanish Town but it is not known whether it carried mail, though it would appear it did. It is debatable how long the arrangement lasted and there are no records in Jamaica of the existence of the stage.
Until the advent of the Railway in 1845, mail had been conveyed by slave, post boy or mule over a system of five post roads organized to cover all the district offices. Even though the service was extremely slow, it did ensure at least one weekly post to even the most remote parts of the island.
At first, the railway only covered a small area between Kingston, Spanish Town and later, Old Harbour, although it was responsible for an easing of postal costs and a subsequent reduction in postal rates for letters sent between any two points on the railway. The mail for the outlying districts however, continued to be carried by mule until 1873, when the state of the railway became so chaotic that the Postmaster General terminated the mail contract and spent L200 per annum on the transportation of mail by road between Kingston and Spanish Town.
The idea of a subsidized mail-coach service, with an initial capital of L6,000, had been raised some years earlier but no decision had been reached and it was not until the cessation of the conveyance contract, that public complaints of mail delays began to arrive from the northern parishes and His Excellency, the Governor, ordered two mail-carts to be manufactured in England to begin the service. Only one arrived and it was described as “a clumsy Noah’s Ark on wheels”. It first arrived at Spanish Town on August 19th 1873, when it was brought in by Mr. F. Allwood, the Post Office Inspector, having taken one and a half hours to cover the distance of thirteen miles from Kingston. Clumsiness and weight proved to an insurmountable obstacle to its correct functioning and it was soon retired and finally scrapped.
By the end of 1878, complaints regarding the slowness of the mails had reached a new height and the Government ordered the subsidization of a light mail-coach to operate between Old Harbour and Mandeville, the latter being considered a good centre for the distribution of mail for parts of the northern and western parishes.
From 1878 onwards, mail was again conveyed by rail but the services to other districts continued to be made by mule, the new mail-coach and later, by mule carts. In 1881, the first mule-drawn mail-coach was put into operation between Kingston and St. Ann’s Bay, carrying a number of fare-paying passengers and this new system immediately began to spread, being efficient, economic and well used by the public.
On April 1st 1910, mails were carried for the first time by motor transport, the vehicles being supplied by the Jamaica Motor Company under contract with the post office but the experiment was shortlived and when re-introduced in 1913, it operated under direct post office control and was used on all the island’s main post roads. Since then, the motor mail-coach service has been considerably extended and the entire island is now covered by a network of small official services, connecting with many tiny villages and larger offices. Mail between Kingston and Port Royal was then conveyed by the Harbour Master’s launch across Kingston Harbour and at Port Morant.
In the late 1950’s, in an attempt to effect certain badly needed economies and increase efficiency, the Jamaica Post Office enlisted the co-operation of British postal experts to organize a working study of the postal services and administration. Their recommendations resulted in a series of Travelling Post Offices being established from 1961 onwards, which were intended to operate between several of the larger centers of population. These T.P.O.s picked up and conveyed closed mail between agencies and main offices and did a certain amount of sorting on each journey, especially forward sorting to offices and agencies lying immediately beyond the various terminal points. Each van was equipped with letterboxes and when halted in a village where the mail had already closed, letters could be posted therein and dealt with, although none of the units offered a counter service to the public.
Perhaps few people are aware of the dynamic role the Post Office has played in the history of Jamaica. The romance of the early days where mail was so uncertain of getting to its destination that letters had to be duplicated many times and still ran the risk of being captured by the privateers, is relatively unknown to the public. With technological advances and the advent of email the Post Office has had to become more innovative in order to be more competitive and meet the challenges of modern day. They have had to offer wider and more varied services. Post Offices are now offering banking services; they are also taking advantage of modern technology and a few of the larger ones are establishing Internet Kiosks for the benefit of members of the public.
Hopwood, Stephen. ‘300 Years of Postal Service’, in Jamaica Journal vol. 5, no. 2
Foster, Thomas. Highway Travelling Post Offices in Jamaica .
Foster, Thomas. 1968. The Postal History of Jamaica 1662-1860. London : Robson Lowe Ltd.
Back to top
History of St. Mary
The Parish of St. Mary is situated on the north-eastern side of the island. It is comprised of approximately 610 square kilometres of mainly hilly terrain of shale rock and limestone. It has an intricate web of surface and under-ground drainage which contributes to the lushness of the vegetation. A Handbook of St. Mary 1897 described the parish as "possessing a wealth of agricultural resources and interesting physical and geological features".
After the English finally captured Jamaica from the Spanish in 1660, the area around the north coast town of Puerta Santa Maria became known as St. Mary and the chief town as Port Maria.
The importance of St. Mary in the history of Jamaica is in many ways un-rivalled. Significant traces of an indigenous Taino culture remain and the parish has been the scene of landmark events such as the Battle of Rio Nuevo and Tacky's Great Slave Rebellion.
Throughout the centuries the parish has undergone many social and political changes. Today it is a place of several communities at different stages of development. Agriculture forms the main base of the local economy, with tourism a fast-growing sector. Both industries have vast potential for growth and if given the required attention can contribute much to improving the lives of the people of St. Mary.
St. Mary was one of the most important plantation regions during the period of slavery and the people of the parish, like the rest of Jamaica, are mainly descendent from the Africans brought to work on the several plantations found throughout the parish. The descendents of the other peoples remain and while most slaves took the surname of their owners, names like Goffe and Marsh and the physical features of some of the persons bearing the names are strongly suggestive of an English heritage. The Silveras, another well-known St. Mary name, are descendent from Portuguese Jews and an old Jewish Cemetery can be found in Crescent.
Scott's Hall is principal home to the St. Mary Maroons and the parish has amongst the largest number of (East) Indians in the island. The "Chinese" remain the principal owners of businesses and "Syrians" and other nationalities are found in pockets throughout the parish. Since the several decades that these groups have been "thrown" together they have managed to co-exist in relative harmony producing from among them persons who have gone on to distinguish themselves within and beyond the borders of St. Mary.
Cultural and Artistic Traditions
The cultural and artistic traditions of St. Mary reflect a mixed heritage typical of Jamaica. It is a heritage that is rich and vibrant. One of the most important is the religious heritage - particularly Christian. If Jamaica can be said to have more churches per square mile than any other country then the same may be said of St. Mary among the parishes. All of the main denominations are represented in the parish with several new churches "springing up". This is what some say accounts for the reputed humble nature of the people and the low crime rate. Albany is the home of a small community of Muslims.
Other traditions prevail, some of them a mixture of sacred and secular practices. Most notable among them is an African-derived ring play or song and dance, the Dinki Mini. Indigenous to the parish, this form was originally practiced in connection with funeral ceremonies but may now be performed on other celebratory occasions. Other similar expressions such as the Kumina, Revival and Pocomania are seen in sections of the parish. Many of these practices are integral to the way of life of many communities and attempts are made to preserve them, mainly through the efforts of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission and its Annual Festival of the Arts. Many individuals and groups from St. Mary have performed with distinction in these festivals and a number of Jamaica's most well-known performing artistes have roots in St. Mary. The include balladeer Beres Hammond and actor Oliver Samuels.
St. Mary has a thriving community of painters, woodcarvers, sculptors, craftworkers and ceramists. The Clonmel Potters are among the more well-known of these artists and their high quality products have found ready markets.
On the culinary side St. Mary is said to have a taste for curry, reflective of the Indian heritage and fish (and bammy), related to the coastal location of many of the major towns. Coconut dishes and, of course, banana are also favourites.
St. Mary is a sports-loving parish. The St. Mary Cricket Association is s aid to have been at one time the best run rural club in Jamaica.
Sites, Monuments and Attractions
It can be hardly disputed that for monuments, historic buildings and ruins St. Mary is one of the richest parishes. Several Great Houses in various conditions of repair and their vast acreages speak volumes of a by-gone plantation era. These include Brimmer Hall, White Hall, Iter Boreale and Agualta Vale. Stately church buildings dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries can be found in Port Maria, Retreat, Islington, Annotto Bay and other communities.
Monuments to the memory of the slave warrior Tacky, the distinguished 18th century legislator, Sir Charles Price and those who took part in the Battle of Rio Nuevo, among others, have been established. The Port Maria Municipal building (now Civic Centre) originally constructed in 1821 is one of the parish's most impressive structures.
In addition to these historic sites, St. Mary is possessed of extreme physical beauty. The lush, green interior, winding rivers like the Wag Water, beautiful mountains and the attractive coastline are certainly sights to behold.
With all these attributes St. Mary is ripe with opportunities for development in the areas of Heritage and Nature/Eco-Tourism.
Did you know that ...
When Christopher Columbus landed in Port Maria on the fourth of May 1494 he found Taino (Indians) there?
St. Mary was first divided into two parishes? It was listed in the country of Middlesex in 1758. In 1841 the parish lost some of its acreages when the parish of Metcalfe was created out of the parishes of St. Mary and St. George?
Lookout was the name given to Firefly by the earliest recorded owner of the area the "infamous" buccaneer Henry Morgan? The area provided an excellent vantage point from which Morgan would look out for passing ships in order to conduct his many raids. These lands were later owned by famed British playwright Sir Noel Coward?
The swinging bridge that used to run across the Outrum River in Port Maria was built in 1935?
At one point Palmer's Park, Port Maria was considered one of the finest cricket grounds in the world?
Castleton Gardens was established in 1865, the year of the Morant Bay Rebellion?
The author Ian Flemming wrote some of his most well-known James Bond thrillers from his home in Goldeneye, Orcabessa?
Port Maria was first recorded in world history in the year 1516 A.D.?
-- Source: St. Mary Parish Library
The History of Spanish Town
St. Jago de la Vega or Spanish Town once the capital city of Jamaica in the parish of St. Catherine has the finest collection of historical buildings, and the country's archives. Built on the West Bank of the Rio Cobre the town lies thirteen miles from Kingston on the main road. As a site of historical importance, its history was shaped by its experiences within two significant colonial periods. These periods are the Spanish from 1534 -1655 and the English from 1655 -1782.
When the first colonists arrived in 1510 to establish "Seville la Nueva" (New Seville) in St. Ann as the capital of Jamaica, the area was found to be swampy and unhealthy. According to the King of Spain,
"Seville la Nueva was a town doomed to failure because no citizen prospered
nor kept his health for a day ... by reason of this site"
After staying a couple of years at this location, Pedro Mazuelo (Island Treasurer) decided to spearhead a search party in order to locate a more suitable site for the capital. While making his way across the island, he came upon a wide fertile plain on the banks of the Great River now Rio Cobre, which had long been cleared and cultivated by the indigenous Arawaks. Mazuelo realized the importance of this site and informed the King that it had "very good ports suitable for navigation to the provinces of Santa Maria, Cartegna, the mainland Peru and Honduras". Mazuelo also observed that the area was suitable for settlement hence his remarks to the King,
"the land is plentiful in bread beef... all who reside there have a healthy and easy life because it is a land of very good water, without mountains or ranges of hills..."
Therefore in 1534 under the direction of the King of Spain this area was declared the capital of Jamaica and named "The Villa de la Vega" (The Town on the Plain).
From its foundation Spanish Town became the center of Jamaican life and history. A lively commercial route was organized under Spanish administration, between Jamaica, Spain and other Spanish territories. In addition to the commercial activities that went on in Spanish Town, a formal political structure was established under Spanish government.
Despite these general advancements of the capital, there were systematic attacks on Jamaica and other Spanish territories by European nations to loosen Spain stronghold in the Caribbean. Privateers such as Captain William Jackson and Christopher Newport repeatedly plundered Jamaica. The result of the these attacks was a demoralized Spanish community, who according to a report made in 1644, which read.:
"[They] became so nervous and terrified that if two ships are seen off the Port,
without waiting to know where they are from, they remove the women and their
effects to the mountain..."
After experiencing repeated attacks the country finally fell to the English on May 10, 1655 under an expedition led by Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables. This marked the end of Spanish occupation in Jamaica.
After conquering the Spaniards in 1655, the British renamed Villa de la Vega, Spanish Town. On arrival the English realized that the people had loosened their cattle and fled to the neighboring Cuba. The soldiers in retaliation looted and destroyed the town, which would ironically inhibit later attempts at settlement. When the English began their attempts at settlement they were unable to completely restore the structures that were previously destroyed. To worsen their situation, they were not used to the climate and tropical diseases took an early tool on the new settlers.
They also had to contend with Maroons who were freed Negroes or slaves who had escaped from the Spaniards and had fled to the mountains. The Maroons attacked the English quarters in the capital and the other parishes consistently slaughtering soldiers and setting fire to houses occupied by the English settlers.
It took some time for Spanish Town to recover from many unfortunate circumstances. During this time Port Royal operated as the capital. Even though Spanish town was not at the forefront the first King's house, the official residence of the Governor was built in Spanish Town in 1765. During that time many distinguished visitors were welcomed to Spanish Town. Persons such as Admiral Rodney, Horatio Nelson and William Bligh spent time in the capital. The town gradually became the island's administrative centre housing The Parish Council, The House of Assembly and The Supreme Court. After Port Royal was devastated by the earthquake of June 7, 1692 Spanish Town regained its supreme position and remained that way for nearly 180 years.
By 1755, serious rivalry from lobbyists caused increasing speculation about the continued suitability of Spanish Town as the capital. By 1836, Governor Lionel Smith observed that "the capital was in ruins, with no commercial, manufacturing and agricultural concern in operation". To worsen the situation on the heels of The Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865, Sir John Peter Grant ordered the removal of the capital to Kingston (1872) which, with its spectacular harbors and major trade links had come to be considered the natural capital of the island. After the capital was removed Spanish Town lost much of its life and grandeur.
To date Spanish Town is considered as a town of significant historical value in this hemisphere. It boasts the oldest iron bridge of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, which was erected in 1801 at a cost of four thousand pounds. It also had one of the first Spanish Cathedrals to be established in the new world. This was built around 1525. Most religious denominations have churches or meeting halls in the town. Besides the Anglican Cathedral, there is a Roman Catholic Church; there are Wesleyan, Baptists and Seventh-Day Adventist chapels, as well as a Moslem Mosque, the only one of its kind in the island.
In the town standing untouched in character is an historic alms-house and a public hospital and a maximum penal institution built in the eighteenth century. There is in the town itself a factory where dyes are made from logwood, and a rice processing plant. In the neighborhood are five large sugar estates, a milk condensary and a large textile mill -- significant contributors to the changing social and economic patterns of the Old Capital.
In acknowledgement of this town's importance the Spanish Town Historic Foundation was created to assist in the refurbishing, renovating and to further the development of the town. Although "Old St. Jago" may not be the capital it remains a source for enlightenment of the world community and a living museum of international importance.
--Source: National Library of Jamaica collection
Back to top
Important dates in the History of Jamaica
1655 - The British captured Jamaica
1807 - The ending of the slave trade
1823 - The introduction of the Amelioration proposals
1831 - The Christmas rebellion or the Sam Sharpe revolt
1832 - May 23, 1832 Sam Sharpe was hanged
1834 - Apprenticeship
1838 - Emancipation
1865 - Morant Bay rebellion
1944 - Universal Adult Suffrage
1962 - August 6th 1962 Jamaica became independent
A list of some of the Free Villages established in Jamaica after Emancipation
One of the most important developments in Jamaica in the immediate post slavery period was the founding of the Free Villages. These were new communities of freed people who lived away from the estates.
Free Villages were usually large tracts of land purchased by the missionaries and then subdivided into smaller plots for sale to their members.
The church founded free villages were established after the passage of the Ejectment and Trespass acts.
For the Former, the whole population or any portion of it could be ejected at a week's notice from the homes in which they had been born and in which they had vegetated while they were slaves. The Trespass act allowed the police of any country to catch hold of and to imprison any individual who was found in his former home after he had received notice of ejectment. This was done to compel the labourer to work for whatever wages they chose to give and to perform as much work as they required.
The first village that was established was Sligoville, its founder was Rev. James Phillippo, the Baptist Minister at Spanish Town, on the 10th of July 1835.
St. Ann - Moneague, Clarksonville, Wilberforce, Buxton Bethany, Salem Brown's Town, Happy Valley, Pleasant Valley, Harmony, Philadelphia, Sturge Town and Endeavour
St. Thomas - Delvery, Airy Mount (Mount Airy), Navarino, Greenwood, Beldona, Spring Mount, Elmwood, Bachelor's Hall, Pigeon Hill, Unity Valley, Leith Hall and Bath Castle
St. Elizabeth - Spring field, Lacovia, Kilmarnock, Cairn Curran, Commer Pen, Lititz, Ipswich, Carisbrook, Cruze and Ballard's Valley
Clarendon - Rhyme's Bury, Howell's Content, Halse Hall, Hayes, Mitchell's Town, Farm Colonel's Ridge, Nairne Castle, Crofts and Cross.
St. James - Goodwill, Irwin Hill, Mount Carey, Maldon, Shortwood, Sudbury and Salters Hill
Manchester - Bethabara, Beaufort, Beulah, Vale, Porus, Hillside, Maidstone, Mizaph and Walderston.
Trelawny - New Cargen, Albert Town, Stewart's Town, Gilbraltar, Kettering, Clarkson Town, Granville and Refuge
Westmoreland - Carmel, Bethel Town and St. Leonard's Gurney
St. Catherine - Sligoville, Kitson Town, Sturge Town, Victoria Township and Clarkson Town
Portland - Cedar Valley, Belle Castle and Happy Grove
Hanover - Mount Horeb and Sandy Bay
St. Andrew - Trinityville
St. Mary - Islington
National Library of Jamaica
Back to top
Independence Day - August 6, 1962
Heralded by songs and dances and shouts of jubilation, through the streets of Kingston and all Jamaica, the independence sun dawned bright and clear on August 6, 1962. Bells swelled it out in schools and churches, children, adults and the aged gathered at schools, churches, homes, parks, community centres. There were marches, dances, concerts, bonfires, fireworks and races, parties and treats of all kinds. The younger children were given sweets and balloons. Every one received tokens and mementos of various kinds.
Eleven o'clock on this night marked the beginning of the most historic moment of Jamaica's independence celebrations. On this occassion her Royal Highness Princess Margaret, the Earl of Snowdon, the leaders of government and all the officials along with 20,000 Jamaicans came together at the National Stadium to witness the birth of a new nation. There was a parade followed by prayers of dedication offered by the various heads of churches in Jamaica. The Rt. Rev. Percival W. Gibson prayed:
"Into thy hands O Lord God our Father we commend
our nation and people at this time. Look down O Lord
upon our country and crown our independence with faith,
hope and courage. Send down thy light and thy truth that
they may lead us into paths of fellowship and peace."
Then at one half minute to midnight the lights went out and darkness descended upon the stage as the Union Jack which had flown in Jamaica for 307 years slowly slithered down the flagstaff for the last time.
In one historic moment the lights flooded the stage and for the first time in history the Black, Green and Gold flag of Jamaica proudly ascended the pole, once and for always, symbolising Jamaica's independence and nationhood. The people looked up with pride. Fireworks went up and there were cheers of jubilation as the long desired day had finally arrived. Jamaicans were no longer British subjects, but citizens of their own country.
Back to top
The indigenous inhabitants of Jamaica, the Tainos named the island 'XAYMACA', a word which possibly meant 'land of springs'. The island has numerous fast flowing rivers. The word 'Jamaica' seems to be a corruption of this original Taino name, which has survived European conquest and colonization.
Jamaica is mountainous and greatly forested in the interior, and has low coastal plains and scattered hills and plateaux. It is 235km at its greatest length and 82km at its greatest width. The Blue Mountains are in the east. The highest peak, the Blue Mountain Peak, attains 2,256m. Jamaica is the third largest of the fifty-one inhabited islands in the Caribbean archipelago. It lies just inside the rim of the western half of the this archipelago, formed by the the islands constituting the Greater Antilles.
The island has considerable strategic value, because it's central location, being 600 miles from Miami.
The island commands some of the chief sea routes of the Caribbean. The Kingston Harbour is the seventh largest natural Harbour in the world, and it is located on the southernside of the island. It has facilities to accommodate the most uo-to date methods of general and bulk cargo handling. Extensive hurricane-proof warehousing, cold storage and handling facilities support its continuous deep wharfage.
[Caribbean Handbook 1998/99 pg. 130]
There are three universities in Jamaica. They are; The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus; The University of Technology; and The Nothern Caribbean University.
There are two international airports. The Norman Manley International in Kingston and the Donald Sangster International in Montego Bay, Jamaica's second city.
Jamaica: Key Facts
4,2436.6 square miles (10,991 square km).
Approximately 2.527 million.
Kingston (Population 691,600).
English is the official language. In addition a dialect based on English is spoken by the majority of the population.
Predominantly Christian, the church of God being the largest of the mainstream churches.
The climate varies from tropical and humid at sea level to temperate in the mountain areas. Rainfall is seasonal, with marked regional variations. Mean temperatures in coastal areas are 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius ) in February and 81 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius ) in August. The wettest months are normally May and October: the hurricane season extends from July to October.
Eastern Standard Time.
Jamaican dollar(J$); US$1.00=J$45.7903 (as @ July 5th 2001)
Government: 0830-1700 Monday to Thursday; 0830-1600 Friday.
Business: 0900-1700 Monday to Friday.
Shops: 0900-1700 Monday to Saturday (half day closing Wednesday and Thursday in some areas).
Banks: 0900-1400 Monday to Thursday; 0900-1200 and 1430-1700 Friday.
[The Caribbean Handbook 1998/99 pg.130]
"Hibiscus elatus" the blue Mahoe.
"Lignum vitae" translated literally means "wood of life". Indigenous to Jamaica the plant is renowned for its medicinal quality.
"Trochiculus polytmus" ( the Doctor Bird) which lives only in Jamaica. It is a species of the Humming Bird.
The ackee an edible fruit which was brought to Jamaica from West Africa in the 18th century by Captain Bligh. Its botanical name is "Blighia sapido".
The flag is tricolour, with a simple design of crossed diagonals in gold and triangles in black and green. The colours are symbolic: Green- agriculture; Black- hardships to be overcome; Gold- sunshine.
Jamaican Motto: "Out of Many One People"
Also see our National Symbols page for more detailed information.
The Jamaican culture is rich in varied art forms, and art movements reflecting the racial and cultural mixtures of the island. The African and European aspects of our culture are dominant. This claim is evident in the religious beliefs and practices of our people, in our music and dance forms, and our works of art and our food. However, there are East Indian and Chinese descendants in our population, as many came as indentured labourers in the 1840's.
There are numerous dance companies, the National Dance Theatre Company (N.D.T.C.) is the leading one. It is highly acclaimed internationally. Jamaican art and artists are also world renowned. Of note are, Edna Manley, and sculptor Cecil Baugh. Writers, of note include Claude McKay, and H.D. Delisser.The Hon. Dr.Louise Bennett Coverley is a dramatist and writer of renowed, and is often referred to as, the "Mother of Jamaican" culture.
Rastafari and Reggae music are internationally identified with Jamaica . Bob Marley is an icon for both these concepts. Jamaica is also known for jerk, a style of cooking which has now become popular in areas where Jamaicans have migrated to, for example North America and England.
Jamaica is a well respected force in the world of sports. Jamaicans perform creditably at the major athletic meets.The Reggae Boyz, became the first English-speaking Caribbean island to reach a World Cup Finals in 1998. Courtney Walsh a retired former player for the West Indies Cricket team is the world record holder for the most number of wickets taken in Test Cricket. Merlene Ottey is noted in the world of track and field as the most durable athlete. She is able to compete at the highest level even though she is over forty years old.
Jamaica is as a popular tourist destination. The island is famed for it's beautiful scenery, and attractions. Tourism is the island's main source of foreign exchange earnings.
Bauxite mining began in 1952, presently Jamaica is the world's third largest producer of bauxite and alumina. This sector is the island's second largest foreign exchange earner.
The Jamaican economy is very dependent on agriculture. Sugar is the most important crop in terms of export value, as it occupies almost a third of the cultivated area of the island. Bananas are Jamaica's second largest export crop. Other important exports crops include coffee and cocoa.
Jamaica is a founder member of CARICOM (The Caribbean Community). It is also one of the 66 African, Caribbean and Pacific nations which has signed the third Lome Convention (Lome III) which gives member countries duty free access of manufactured and agricultural exports to the European Union.
The island is also a member of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the Caribbean Development Bank, the Organization of American States, the Commonwealth and the United Nations Organization.
[The Caribbean Handbook 1998/99 pg.136]
History - Key Dates
1494 - Christopher Columbus discovered the island.
1509 - The Spanish occupied the country and remained in possession for 146 years.
1655 - The English captured the island from the Spanish and colonised the territory.
1692 - Port Royal, which had become the focal point of the pirates plundering the Caribbean and Central America, was destroyed by earthquake and Kingston became subsequently the chief city and port.
1838 - Slaves were emancipated and the economy foundered due to the crisis on the plantations.
1848 - Britain's free trade policy led to a further deterioration in the Jamaican economy because sugar protection was lifted and Jamaican sugar was in competition with cheaper sugar from elsewhere.
1865 - The Morant Bay Rebellion broke out after prolonged disputes between the planters and the settlers.
1866 - Crown Colony Government replaced the old system of representative government.
1870 - An export Trade in Bananas replaced the predominance of sugar and restored the island's economy.
1944 - Universal adult suffrage was introduced under the new Constitution and proved to be the first step in the gradual move toward independence.
1953 - A full ministerial system was established.
1958 - Jamaica joined the federation of the West Indies which was an association of 10 British island territories in which Jamaica and Trinidad were the largest.
1959 - The country was granted full internal self-government.
1961 - Jamaica voted in a Referendum to secede from the Federation of the West Indies and to achieve Independence.
1962 - The Federation was dissolved and Jamaica became independent on August 6th.
[The Caribbean Handbook 1998/99 pg.136]
Jamaica is an independent country, and a dominion of the British Commonwealth. The Queen of Great Britain is the titular sovereign of Jamaica, a symbolic figure of unity without real powers. A new Constitution was enacted with Independence in August, 1962.
The Crown is represented by a Governor-General chosen by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Governor-General's function, in addition to the symbolic and ceremonial, is to act as a final arbiter on matters concerning appointments and discipline in the Civil Service. the Governor-General also exercises the Royal Prerogative of pardon. In all matters he is advised by a Privy Council.
The Executive comprises the Prime Minister who is the leader of the majority party, and Ministers appointed by the Prime Minister. Together they form the Cabinet which is the highest executive power.
The Legislature comprises two chambers, an elected House and a nominated Senate. The Executive is chosen from both chambers. As required by the Constitution the Leader of the minority party is Leader of the Opposition. An Attorney General appointed by the Prime Minister is legal adviser to the Cabinet.
The Judiciary consists of a Court of Appeal, a Supreme Court, and other courts. The Chief Justice is head of the judiciary. All prosecutions are initiated by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The appointment of the Auditor General is elaborately safeguarded.
The Rule of Law is practised, and political detachment from the functioning of Justice and the appointments and regulation of the Civil Service, are strictly safeguarded and observed.
Fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual are entrenched in the Constitution.
[Facts on Jamaica, No.1, Jamaica Information Service,
All Jamaicans over the age of eighteen years are eligible to vote.There are three political parties in Jamaica. The People's National Party (P.N.P) is led by Jamaica's Prime Minister, The Honorable P.J. Patterson. The Opposition party is the Jamaica Labour Party (J.L.P.) , which is led by the Honorable Edward Seaga. In October of 1995 the National Democratic Movement (N.D.M.) was formed, it is led by the first female leader of a political party in Jamaica Ms. Hyacinth Bennett.
Kumina is the most African of the cults to be found in Jamaica, with negligible European or Christian influence. Linguistic evidence cites the Kongo as a specific ethnic source for the ‘language’ and possibly the music of Kumina. There are varying theories as to whether it was brought with late African arrivals after Emancipation, or whether it was rooted in Jamaica from the 18th century, and deepened by the later African influence.
The cult is to be found primarily in St. Thomas and Portland and to a lesser extent in St. Mary, St. Catherine and Kingston. Kumina ceremonies are usually associated with wakes, entombments or memorial services, but can be performed for a whole range of human experiences (births thanksgivings, invocations for good and evil).
Kumina sessions involve singing, dancing and drumming and are of two general types: bailo the more public and less sacred form of Kumina, at which time songs are sung mainly in Jamaican dialect; and country-the more African and serious form, and at which time possession usually occurs.
Male and female leaders must exhibit great deal of strength in their control of zombies or spirits and assume their positions of leadership after careful training in the feeding habits, ritual procedures, dances, rhythms, and songs of a variety of spirits, by a previous King or ‘Captain’ and Queen, or ‘Mother’.
One is said to catch ‘Myal’ when possessed by one of the three classes of Gods-sky, earthbound, and ancestral zombies, these last being the most common form of possession. Each god can be recognized by the initiated by the particular dance style exhibited by the possessed, and by songs and drum rhythms to which it responds.
The two drums used are the Kbandu and the Playing Cast. The Kbandu (battery of drums), larger and lower pitched, on which the rhythm is played with emphasis on the first and third beats; and the Playing Cast or treble (lead drum, on which the most complicated and specific ‘spirit’ basic rhythms are played. In the centre is a bottle of rum used to anoint the players and instruments, which is usually done with an incantation before the ceremony. The drummers on the Playing Cast is afforded much respect with the cult since he must be both knowledgeable and competent in playing the variety of rhythms which invoke, repel, and control the many spirits or deities. The Queen plays a similar role in her selection of songs and often engages in call and response (with the King/Captain) type singing of both bailo and country country songs.
Other instruments employed at dance music sessions include Scrapers (which can be an ordinary grater), Shakas, gourd or tin can rattles, and Catta Sticks which keep up a steady rhythm on the back of the drum or on the centre pole of the dancing booth. The drummer sits on the body of the drum while a player behind uses the Catta Sticks (c.f. expression ‘Catta Sticks’). Hand clapping often accompanies the ‘Catta Sticks’. The group heard in the first selection, who consider themselves the most authentic, also use a gourd which they blow across and a bamboo stamping tube.
At Bailo dances, the spirits who are called, more often than not make their presence known by ‘mounting’ (i.e. possessing) a dancer; whose given dance style helps in identifying the spirit, but can span all possibilities of movement. The basic dance posture constitutes an almost erect back and propelling actions of the hips as the feet inch along the ground. The dancers move in a circular pattern around the musicians and centre pole, either singly or with a partner. The arms, shoulders, rib cage, and hips are employed, offering the dancers ample opportunity for variations and interpretation of the counter-beats or poly-rhythms. Spins, dips, and ‘breaks’ on the last beat are common dance variations.
The journey of the spirits from the ethereal to the mundane world is no less ritualized than other Kumina elements. Once invoked by music and other ritual paraphernalia (rum with blood, candles, leaves) the spirits are said to hover near the dancing booth. If successfully enticed they travel down the centre pole into the ground, then through the open end of the drum to the head of the drum, where the drummer and Queen must salute its presence. The spirit then re-enters the ground, from where it will travel up the feet of the person selected to be possessed, along the whole length of the body, culminating with full Myal possession in the head of the individual.
This recording is in two parts, from May River in St. Mary, and Tivoli in Kingston.
-- Source: Jamaica Journal Vol. 10 1976 pg. 6-7
Back to top
Public Holidays in Jamaica
New Year's Day
January 1, which marks the beginning of a new year in Jamaica, is greeted with much pomp and gallantry as elsewhere in the world. With the New Year come many expectations of better things and renewed vitality. At this time individuals make resolutions as to goals that they wish to accomplish throughout the year.
People across the island make plans and participate in lavish balls and parties as they ‘ring’ in the New Year in a spirit of togetherness. Others begin the New Year in church committing themselves to a closer relationship with their creator. However it is spent, the New Year opens up a world of opportunities for all.
Ash Wednesday, which occurs six weeks before Easter is observed as the first day of Lent, a 40-day period devoted to fasting and penitence. The Lenten season has been observed since the early centuries, but during that time, the period varied. Eventually, religious leaders sought to conform the Lenten season to exactly 40 days after the examples of the time spent in the wilderness by Moses, Elijah and Christ.
It was the practice in Rome for penitents to begin their period of public penance on the first day of Lent. As a sign of their penitence they wore sackcloth and were sprinkled with ashes. Although this form of public penance began to die out in the Ninth Century, the beginning of the penitential season of Lent was symbolized by placing ashes on the heads of the entire congregation.
Since the early centuries, fasting rules have been strict in Eastern churches, but have been gradually relaxed in the West. The strict rule of fasting among Roman Catholics have been gradually relaxed since World War II and only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are now kept as Lenten fast days.
In Jamaica worships services are held on Ash Wednesday in the Anglican, Lutheran and some other Protestant churches, but those churches generally leave the question of fasting to the consciences of individual church members.
This day marks the end of the Lenten season, a period during which Jamaicans make special efforts to cultivate good habits or do worthy deeds.
A three-hour vigil service is customary in Jamaican churches. Churchgoers may be seen hurrying to get to church by twelve o’clock. The service, though long is always interesting with guest speakers from other parishes and the building is usually packed to capacity.
The dress code for Good Friday stipulated the wearing of black, white or purple or any combination of these three basic colours. This custom used to be rigidly observed; no one would wear any other colour to service, or any place else for that matter, on Good Friday. Today, any dark colour will do – deep blues and greens while others will wear just about any colour.
In Jamaica, almost everyone attends church on Easter day. Easter weekend in Jamaica is usually a quiet time, with families going to the beach or just staying at home. The traditional bun and cheese is eaten and enjoyed.
Children enjoy Easter as kite flying immediately begins and the treasured kites can soar into the air, competing with other kites.
Easter is the most important festival in the Christian faith as it symbolizes the resurrection and confirms the divinity of Christ. Many Christians who do not go near a Church at other times of the year attend at Easter. In many churches, the magnificent Alleluia chorus is sung, as Easter is above all a time of celebration and of reconfirmation of faith. Even if not religious, one should think of the good things in life and about lucky we are to alive and to have friends and a beautiful world to live in.
The International Labour Day movement was born out of the struggle to free workers from extreme conditions of repression, exploitation and racism that generally existed in the late nineteenth century.
In 1888 the American Federation of Labour voted to fix May 1st as the day of commemoration for those who had lost their lives in Chicago for this cause. A year later leaders of organized labour movements in various countries met in Paris and accepted May 1st, 1890 as the commemoration day for the international struggle to establish the eight-hour working day.
In 1961 the Jamaican Parliament decide to abolish Empire Day, May 24th, and declared that the anniversary of the working class movement, which began in 1938 in Jamaica, be celebrated instead of May 23rd. Celebrations then evolved into a day of expression of rivalry rather than a joint celebration of victory. The greater percentage of the population was never really involved in these celebrations.
In 1972 then Prime Minister, the Hon. Michael Manley gave this National Holiday a new dimension by issuing an appeal to all Jamaicans to put some meaning into Labour Day by making it a day of voluntary labour. Mr. Manley himself spearheaded this movement by announcing that he would be working on the Palisadoes Road, clearing land and planting and generally beautifying the hitherto barren strips of land.
Since then clubs, groups, organizations, individuals as well as entire communities all over Jamaica have given free labour to beautify public areas, repair, paint or build old people’s homes, basic schools, community centres and churches. The main objectives of Labour Day were, and still are, to ‘enhance the dignity of labour’ by improving the environment, inspiring the spirit of community development, and by encouraging the principle of working together and sharing.
August 1 is celebrated as a national holiday and this marks the date of the emancipation of blacks in 1838. This is the time when apprentices finally got their freedom after the two-year apprenticeship period ended. At first suspicious and skeptical, the apprentices were watchful, prayerful and quiet until they later realized that they were truly and finally free.
Emancipation Day is celebrated across the island with all night vigils being held on the eve of Emancipation Day. These are conducted in churches and town squares throughout the island. At midnight there is drumming, pealing of bells, with celebrations continuing into the dawn of “First of August”. This is an effort to re-create the atmosphere that existed in the early days and in so doing establish a sense of feeling about August 1.
After more than 300 years of British rule it can be said that Jamaica drifted into Independence rather than by struggling, as the majority of the electorate voted in 1961 against Jamaica’s further participation in the Federation. As a result of the Referendum, a conference was held in London and the decision taken that Jamaica should receive its Independence.
On Monday, August 6, 1962, Jamaica ceased to be a colony and became a nation. Being a nation meant that Jamaica would be responsible for is own affairs. Jamaicans would travel on Jamaican passports under the protection of the Jamaican Government. The Jamaican people were finally given right and Jamaica would be responsible for its own defence and in making treaties with foreign or Commonwealth Governments.
Each year Jamaica celebrates its Independence by having various cultural presentations in which all Jamaicans can participate. These include a Culinary Arts Exposition, Fine Arts and Photography Exhibitions, a Festival Song competition, Dance, Speech and Drama contests, costume shows, Grand Gala and street parades and dances.
The Independence season draws hundreds of visitors to the island and many Jamaicans living abroad also return for the season of festivities.
National Heroes Day
This is the day in October when Jamaica takes time to acknowledge and show their appreciation for the outstanding sacrifices made by our forebears known as our National Heroes. On this day following a full week of activities throughout the island, the celebrations culminate with flag raising ceremonies usually organized by Parish Councils. There are also tree-planting ceremonies, concerts and the laying of wreaths at the foot of monuments dedicated to the nation’s heroes.
In addition awards are offered to persons said to have made outstanding contributions to nation building in their work.
This is the day when countries across the world, including Jamaica commemorate Christ’s birth. It is a time of much celebration as individuals reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ and what this event means for all Christians.
Traditionally, it has been observed as a quiet time with much emphasis being placed on the family and togetherness. Individuals usually attend an early morning church service after which they return home to prepare extravagant Christmas dinner. In recent times, however the season has become rather commercialized with great significance being placed on gift exchange. This also bears on the fact that Christ gave himself as the ultimate gift to Mankind.
Boxing Day is observed on December 26 of each year. Its English origin is uncertain. There are some who believe it evolved out of the practice of using the day following Christmas to open and distribute the contents of alms-boxes in the parish churches. Others think it is connected to the use of earthenware boxes by apprentices when collecting their master’s money.
Whatever, its origin, Boxing Day in England was the day when gift boxes or small money gifts were given to postmen, dustmen, lamp lighters, errand boys or any ‘small man’ who served the general public without being directly paid by its members. This was done as part of the idea of being generous and spreading joy at Christmas. In Jamaica this practice still continues although it is threatened by economic difficulties.
Boxing day is usually celebrated with a community fair and dance at which most members of the community will be present. It is also a time for family outings to the beach.
National Library of Jamaica
Railway Catastrophe at Kendal
September 1, 1957 represents a fateful date in the history of the Jamaica Railway Department. On that date at approximately 11:30 p.m., a train carrying some one thousand, six hundred (1600) excursionists derailed its tracks killing almost 200 persons and injuring about 500 others.
The day started out on a good note with members of the Holy Name Society of St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church in Kingston, in addition to the usual freeloaders, being transported to Montego Bay where they had a big meeting and picnic. On the way back to Kingston that night many were to realize that they were experiencing their last train ride. Reports indicate that the return trip was rather chaotic with bad behaviour being displayed by some who were on board the train. One Ainsley McKenzie who survived the crash recalled that persons “switched the lights on and off and fiddled with the cords.” Others indicate, “ that some persons walked up and down the coaches drinking, cursing and making noise.”
It is said that the train was coming to a big bend in the line at considerable speed, when there was a ‘terrific jolting and swaying likened to an earthquake’. The driver shouted ‘We dead now! We dead now!’ He made three blasts of the whistle to indicate that something was wrong before he inevitably lost control. Eight of the twelve coaches were completely wrecked – one of the coaches, its superstructure razed to the flooring, remained on the lines and ran for about a hundred yards; of the remainder, five toppled into a gully beside the track, two remained in the cutting, one mounted its bank, the other being raised up so that its body came off the undercarriage and the front wheels were lifted off the line. The last two coaches remained undamaged. Most of the passengers of the four rear coaches escaped unharmed but for shock and minor injuries such as cuts and bruises. The remaining coaches were in utter shambles, with dead and injured inside and underneath them, survivors screaming, calling for help or crying the names of relatives or friends. It is claimed that vultures in the form of thieves could be seen going through pockets and removing jewellery from the dead bodies. An injured old man was reported to have said, ‘Wait nuh, me no dead yet’, as they tried to take his watch.
The Railway Commission of Enquiry that investigated the accident attributed it to a number of causes, not excluding mismanagement and negligence by a number of top officers. According to the Commission the immediate cause of the wreck was the accidental closure of an angle (brake) cock, which had been placed incorrectly. The Commissioners emphasized the fact that the general standard of brake equipment maintenance on the train was unsatisfactory. This called into question the integrity and honesty of the Acting General Manager, Mr. Magnus and his assistant. The Report submitted could not have been more blunt: “Mr. Magnus the Acting General Manager has shown by his conduct in procuring a false brake certificate, that he lacks the integrity which one must expect of an officer occupying that position…” It was also stated that the driver had been going too fast but that could have been attributed to the fact that the brakes were not in good working condition in the first place. In addition, the Report indicated that overcrowding was also a problem on the train, as each coach should have been carrying a maximum of eighty persons yet there were up to one hundred and thirty persons in some.
In 2001, a monument in the form of a cenotaph was erected at a new cemetery (La Caridad) in Spanish Town. Inscribed in the monument are the names of the victims who had suffered that terrible fate on the night of September 1, 1957.
The Daily Gleaner - September 3, 1957
Times Magazine - September 16, 1957
The Sunday Gleaner - May 11, 1958
“ - September 6, 1987
“ - September 6, 1992The Daily Observer - January 23, 2001
National Library of Jamaica
The Trade Union Movement in Jamaica
Joint Trade Unions Research Development Centre
The modern Trade Union Movement in Jamaica had its birth in the widespread uprisings of 1938, a time of grim economic and social conditions in the island. The years preceding 1938 were marked by high unemployment, depressing living conditions and generally inhuman conditions. It was a cause for deep concern and some attempts were made to form workers groups or unions, which could speak for the thousands of people who faced increasing hardship. For the most part, however, the workers organizations and unions were not very strong. By 1919, a law was passed which sought to give legal status to trade unions, but that alone could not stem the tide of mounting difficulty. Times continued to grow harder.
By 1938 the frustration of the working class which had built up over the years, became explosive. A wave of industrial unrest swept the country, with workers on the waterfront, in the sugar industry, transportation sector and the government service taking the lead.
Out of the social upheaval of those years came a new type of trade union. Prior o 1938, the few trade unions in existence were organised largely on an industrial basis. Among them were: the Longshoreman’s Union Number 2 and the Jamaica Hotel Employees’ Association.
With the new consciousness of the working class, came the formation of general unions, representing workers in several sectors. One such union was the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, registered on January 23, 1939 . JALGO – the Jamaica Association of Local government was founded in 1940. The Trade Union Council was registered as a ‘blanket’ union on July 22, 1949 . This was followed by the Trade Union Congress. In October 1952 the National Workers Union (NWU) was registered. The BITU, NWU, TUC, and JALGO are regarded as the four major unions in Jamaica in the 1980s with a total of 72 trade unions as recorded by the Government Registry. These include a number of staff associations. Six employers’ associations, which qualify as unions, in that they perform functions of bargaining, on behalf of their members, were also recorded.
The principal item of legislation governing the conduct of trade unions in Jamaica is the Trade Union Act, which was enacted on October 25, 1919 . Its main provisions were: Registration of Trade Unions; vesting of property in trustees; submission of statements of accounts; rules of Trade Unions; withdrawal or cancellation of certificates of registration; amalgamation and dissolution of Trade Unions; and a distinction between conspiracies and combinations in pursuance of trade disputes.
By a series of amendments in 1938, 1940, 1952 and 1959, the Trade Union Law came to offer protection against intimidation of unions, provided for registration of a union, or a refusal to register a union.
The focal point of labour relations matters in Jamaica today is the Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act (LRIDA). This Act was passed in 1975 after much discussion and debate. The Act gave strength to companion Laws, which have generally assisted in improving living standards and giving more justice to workers as active participants in the Industrial relations process in the country.
The 1975 Act replaced the Public Utility Undertakings and Public Services Arbitration Law and the Trade Disputes (Arbitration and Enquiry) Law, under which, for example, strikes and lockouts were illegal in any area listed as an Essential Service.
The Industrial Disputes Tribunal
The LRIDA provided principally for the establishment of an Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IRDT) as a final arbiter of disputes; compulsory recognition and protection against discrimination in respect of union membership; recognition of trade unions; settlement of disputes in the essential services; the setting up of a Board of Enquiry; a Labour Relations Code; and vesting the Minister of Labour with authority to declare a dispute to be one which is likely to gravely endanger the national interest and give him power to have the dispute put to compulsory arbitration.
The IRDT has come under much fire for its failure to ensure continued production while a dispute is before it, in many cases. The tribunal has also faced problems in the finality of its powers as evidenced by the growing frequency with which some employers are challenging its awards in court, and the outright rejection of some of its awards by some workers.
How unions serve workers
It is known that a worker alone cannot defend his or her job security or demand improvement in working conditions. The worker must therefore organize with other workers to achieve those ends. This is done by joining a trade union. Through the Trade Union, workers can bargain from a point of strength. The Trade Union serves the worker in a variety of ways:
organizing workers into stronger units.
making negotiating skills and expertise available to
workers for bargaining
purposes, in order to secure just and proper rates for wages, better conditions of work, and protect the general interests of its members
promoting the material, social, economic and educational welfare of workers through in-house programmes
forming co-operatives among workers
mobilizing public opinion on behalf of its members when necessary
by strengthening the democratic process of governance.
The ongoing education of persons within trade unions is carried out on several levels. There are the internal programmes by which unions educate members on matters affecting administration, grievance procedures. Then, there are the programmes, which provide training in areas such as economics and social structure, politics and government, methods and techniques for workers education and trade union training. These programmes are carried out by the Trade Union Education Institute of the University of the West Indies Extra Mural Department. The TUEI was established in 1962, jointly by the UWI; the Government of Jamaica, three unions – BITU, NWU and TUC along with the American Institute for Free Labour Development. In the education scheme also, more recently the Joint Trade Unions Research Development Centre has begun conducting courses for delegates.
Where workers are not organized into a group or groups, they are generally subject to arbitrary decisions of their employers, regardless of the severity of the consequences. Matters having to do with employment, termination, wages and hours to work, as well as other matters, which directly affect the workers conditions of service can be adversely affected by the total disregard for the workers’ interest. Unionised workers are also able to influence the decision of management through the process of collective bargaining.
Law defines collective bargaining, which is the central focus of trade union activity, as “negotiations between one or more organizations representing workers and either one or more employer, one or more organizations representing employers, or a combination representing employers”.
Put more simply, collective bargaining is an exercise in which workers, through their trade unions, try to reach agreement with employers on wages and other conditions of employment and matters, which directly affect their conditions of service.
Joint Trade Unions Research Development Centre
The Joint Trade Union Research Development Centre was established in September, 1980, through the co-operation of the Government of Norway, creating a new milestone in the history of the trade union movement.
The founding unions are the BITU, NWU, TUC, and JALGO, with the United Portworkers and Seamens Union and the Jamaica Union of Public Officers and Public Employees having affiliate status.
The principal aims of the Centre are:
the education of the trade unionists
the promotion of trade union interests and activities at
all levels, with a view to making unions a part
of the social, cultural and economic framework of the
the development of trade union leadership through training
the education of the society as a whole on the role of trade
unions in the country and the workplace, and the unions
struggles for just social values and equitable economic
the undertaking of community projects in conjunction
with participating trade
unions and international organisations where possible.
the declaration of joint positions by the founding unions
on issues of national
and international importance.
Two Dominant Jamaican Trade Unions
Bustamante Industrial Trade Union: 1938 became the watershed for the emergence of unions led by a group of charismatic labour leaders, the foremost of whom was Alexander Bustamante.
In May 1938, Bustamante spent a short period in custody for leading rioting crowds through Kingston. After his release, Bustamante formed five labour unions with himself as head of each. The union represented Maritime Workers, Transport Labour, Factory Workers, Municipal Employees and General Labour. With the basic structure for his union in place Bustamante focused on recruiting members and organizing sections. A few months after the formation of the five unions, Bustamante gave up the idea of a group of unions because of organizational difficulties and instead merged them into a single all-inclusive labour organization, named after himself and having him as president for life.
In January 1939 the BITU was registered under the Trade Union law and two weeks later Bustamante called an all-island strike to protest against busting practices of employers. Although this first all-island strike was unsuccessful, the union experienced significant growth over the few years of its experience largely due to the charisma of Bustamante and his ability to gain significant benefits for the workers he represented.
During 1940, Bustamante was arrested for an inflammatory speech in which he threatened widespread strike action. For the 17 months that he was in custody, the management of the union was in the hands of his cousin Norman Manley along with many of Manley’s organizers from the PNP, such as Noel Nethersole and Florizel Glasspole. The union flourished while Bustamante was in jail and membership more than doubled over the period. Following his release in February of 1942, Bustamante broke off relations with Manley and the PNP officers and accused them of conspiring to extend his detention.
Announcements that a new and more liberal constitution was going to be introduced, which would allow for greater levels of self rule, motivate Bustamante to follow the example the Manley had set earlier and used members of the BITU as a base for a political party. In the latter part of 1943 Bustamante announced his intention to form the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). The membership of the BITU were used to form the initial membership of the party. Bustamante’s success in negotiating substantial gains for large groups for workers fueled further support for the JLP. When elections were held in December 1944 the JLP won with a land-slide victory, paving the way for Bustamante to lead the government.
By this time the BITU’s membership had grown considerably and the union was well entrenched in the sugar industry and on the wharves. The period 1945 to 1950 was one of the most turbulent in Jamaica’s history and saw unparalled levels of political and union violence. The success of the JLP, which was largely due to its connections with the BITU, led the PNP to form a general union called the Trade Union Congress (TUC), in order to mobilize working class support for the party. The rivalry between the TUC and the BITU resulted in many violent clashes. One of the more violent clashes occurred as a result of a strike among workers at the Bellevue Mental Hospital. This incident left a number of workers dead and many more injured. Most of the violent incidences were the result of the TUC’s attempts to break into BITU’s strong holds, with the ultimate intention of ensuring a PNP victory at the next polls.
Despite the efforts of the PNP and TUC, The JLP was able to win the election in 1949 but this time with a smaller margin. Following this election a truce was arrived at between BITU and TUC. This truce led to the introduction of joint bargaining in the sugar industry and for the first time the BITU and the TUC jointly represented the workers in that industry. Realizing the importance of unity in the trade union movement the BITU supported all efforts in this direction. They supported the institution of the Trade Union Education Institute during the 1960s and played a critical role in the formation of the Joint Trade Union Research Development Centre in 1980 and the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) in 1994.
The union’s membership continued to grow rapidly during the 1950’s and 1960’s passing the 100,000 mark when the JLP led the nation into independence in 1962. The BITU stands out among the unions operating in Jamaica for the fact that there have not been many changes to its leadership over the nearly 60 years of its existence. Bustamante was the president for of the union for life, however in the 1960s as his health deteriorated Bustamante handed over the reigns of the union to Hugh Shearer, who had joined the union in the 1940s as a youngster and moved progressively up its hierarchy. However, it was only after the death of Bustamante at the age of 93, in 1977 that Shearer actually became president. This was made official in 1979 at an Annual General Meeting at the National Arena.
Throughout its history, the BITU has focused on collective bargaining as the primary means of improving the working and living standards of its members. Through negotiations they have been able to secure increased job security; severance pay provisions; guaranteed call out pay; shorter working hours; premium pay for work on Sunday and public holidays; annual leave with pay; pension schemes; uniforms and many benefits. The union has also placed a special emphasis on education at all levels and has negotiated for the provision of educational scholarships for its members.
National Workers’ Union: This union was founded out of a split between the PNP and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in 1952. It began with Noel Nethersole as its president anD Florizel Glasspole as the general secretary. Michael Manley the son of Norman Manley was one of their assistants.
The NWU started its activities in labour representation by organizing and eventually controlling the bauxite industry from its inception. The union set precedence by successfully making an ability-to-pay claim on the bauxite industry. In the process of negotiation the union held a seven-week strike against Alumina Jamaica in 1953. This dispute was eventually sent to be arbitrated by an English Barrister-at-law named Honeyman.
Following on their success in the Bauxite Industry the union focused on breaking into sugar which was the stronghold of the BITU. Leading the union in this task was Michael Manley, who was the union’s first Island Supervisor. The union won polls in three estates, namely New Yarmouth, Bernard Lodge and Frome, giving itself a valuable foothold in that strategic industry in 1954.
The NWU grew rapidly and soon out-stripped the TUC and began to seriously challenge the BITU for dominance in the labour movement. With their membership growing and their success in the Bauxite Industry giving added support, the growth of the NWU assisted in the success of the PNP in the 1959 general election.
Following the PNP’s success, the NWU continued to organize and compete with the BITU or dominance in the labour scene. In 1957 the NWU established a foot-hold in the Banana Industry, another of the BITU’s domains. Throughout the 1960’s the NWU was involved in several land-mark disputes. Among these were the Jamaica Omnibus Service (JOS) strike in 1963 and Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) strike in 1964. The JBC strike in particular, under the leadership of Michael Manley, galvanized public support for the aggrieved workers. Even though the workers involved in the strike were a relatively small group of skilled persons, through the use of civil disobedience and a national go-slow, Manley was able to force concessions from a resistant government and eventually a Board of Enquiry was set up to settle the dispute.
The NWU during the 1960’s was also noted for the high level of representation they made to the many Commissions of Enquiry that were set up to settle longstanding disputes in Bauxite, Sugar and other industries.
The NWU has played an active role in promoting collaboration and cooperation of the Trade Union in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Although Michael Manley who was the first Vice President, resigned this post in 1972 to become Prime Minister, he continued to work at strengthening the unity of the labour movement. As Prime Minister, Manley laid the groundwork for the formation of the JTURDC following discussions with the Norwegian President. After his defeat at the poll in 1980, he returned to the union and became the President of the NWU, a post he held until 1989, when his party was successful at the polls and he became Prime Minister of Jamaica. Manley also played the lead role in the passage of a number of labour legislation during the 1970’s, such as the Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act; Maternity Leave Act; Redundancy and Termination Act; Equal Pay for Men and Women; Minimum Wage Act. During his administration the National Housing Trust (NHT) and the Workers Bank were also established to assist the working class.
Other Trade Unions in Jamaica
Jamaica Association of Local Government Officers (JALGO) – 1940
Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA) – 1919
Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) – 1894
Jamaica Union of Public Officers and Public Employees (JUPOPE) – 1971
Jamaica Workers Union (JWU) – 1970
Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ) – 1946
Trades Union Congress (TUC) – 1949
Union of Schools Agricultural and Allied Workers (USAAW) – 1978
Union of Technical Supervisory and Administrative Personnel (UTASP) - 1967
United Union of Jamaica (UUJ) - 1975
Traditional Foods in Jamaican Culture
The first Jamaicans, the Tainos, began arriving in the Island around
A.D. 650. A peaceful people, they enjoyed the undisturbed tranquility of the West Indies for approximately 2000 years. They feasted on over forty varieties of fish. Anthropologists have found the bones and shells of the grouper, parrotfish sturgeon shark, lobster, oyster conch, whelk, oyster and crab in their "middens" or garbage heaps.
We are also told that the Tainos enjoyed the green crabmeat in the shell. They mixed it with limejuice making a sauce called tamulin, which they ate with cassava bread. That may have been one of the first evidences of seasoning with limejuice. This is still practiced by Jamaicans today.
Besides seafood, the Tainos also ate small birds such as Parrots and water birds, Iguanas, yellow snakes and Conies. They also cultivated chili pepper, cassava, sweet potato, pumpkin, yampi, corn, arrowroot, coco, guava, star apple, pineapple and cashew.
Bammy or cassava bread was the staple of the Tainos. First, the cassava was dug from the ground, scraped and cut into small pieces. The poisonous juice was then extracted by pressing the pieces. The "trash" was moulded into cakes and baked on a griddle. The bammies later became an important part of the diet of the Spaniards and the British soldiers, as they would remain fresh for months.
The Tainos also made intoxicating drinks from cassava as well as from maize. Another of their discoveries was that meat could be made tender if wrapped in papaya (paw-paw) leaves. Today, tenderizers are made from papain, extracted from papaya. Other foods from the Tainos include boiled or roasted corn, porridge made from corn and cornmeal dumplings.
One of their methods of food preparation was with the 'barbacoa'. This is a wooden grate standing on four forked sticks placed over a slow fire. On this they spit-roasted fish and meat. This was the forerunner to the present barbecue grill. This method of meat preparation is a favourite of Jamaicans. "Jerked" meats are available at many places throughout the country.
The Contribution of Different Ethnic Groups to Jamaica's Culinary Heritage
In 1494, the Spaniards, the first Europeans to inhabit the Island arrived with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World. They brought with them sweet oranges, sour oranges, lime and lemon, tamarind, coconut, banana, grapes, sugarcane, ginger, date palm, pomegranate, plantains and figs. These are just some of the foods the Spaniards brought with them.
Our famous escovietched fish and bammies are from a combination of two cultures, escovietched fish from the Spaniards and bammy from the Tainos. The Spaniards also left with us hot country style chocolate made from roasted ground, spiced cocoa beans, gizzada (coconut tart) and the soaking of fruits in wine for Christmas pudding.
Although they came in 1494, it was not until 150 years later that they brought cattle, goats, pigs, horses and lard from pork fat.
In 1655 the British captured Jamaica from the Spaniards and controlled the Island until 1962. They introduced the breadfruit, otaheitiapples, ackee, mangoes, rose apples, turmeric, black pepper and coffee.
Evidence of the sweet-toothed English remains today in the rich pastries Jamaicans love to eat. These include Easter buns, sponge cakes, jam and pies. Other British influences include bacon and eggs, roast beef, fruit salad and corned or salted beef.
In 1514, the Asiento or import license was granted for the introduction of the Africans under Spanish rule. It was however under the British that the numbers were greatly increased.
The Africans brought with them their methods of food preparation, using their creativity to blend traditional African foods with what was made available to them by the whites. Their music, dance and religion were interwoven with European influences to create what has distinctly become a part of our rich Jamaican culture.
They came with foods such as coco. Ground provisions were used to replace part of the imported cereal. They prepared mostly one-pot meals. Their traditional cooking utensils included three legged iron pot, grater, mortar and pestle, and wooden turn stick. The plantation owners, by law had to supply the enslaved people with salted meat or fish at least once per year and they were expected to supplement their diet with the ground provisions, which they grew. A variety of foods emerged from this combination the most popular of these being ackee and salt fish which became the national dish.
Other foods such as mackerel rundown or "Dip and Fall Back" and the Stamp and Go" which is the name given to what is also known as saltfish fritters. Cuckoo and fou-fou both of African origin are still prepared in Jamaica. In Africa fou-fou is made from plantain or cassava. In Jamaica it is made from yam or breadfruit. Meals were "washed down" with crude wet sugar and water and were called black wash or "brebich" (beverage).
The concept of jerk was also introduced to us by the Africans, and this is still an important aspect of our culinary heritage. This can be traced to the pre-slavery Coromantee hunters of West Africa. These hunters would roast pork over hot coals in earthen pots that were covered patas-stands made of green pimento or other branches. The Coromantees heavily populated the northeastern area of Jamaica known today as Portland, home of the famous Boston jerk pork. Boston is a small seaside village in Portland.
The Germans influence came particularly from those who migrated in the 1960's. They gave us smoked pork, Pork Schnitzel and Wiener Schnitzel and several others such as Knockwurst, German pork sausages, frankfurters, wieners, smoked marlin as well as baked hams.
Importation of Chinese indentured labour had first been proposed to the British government by the governor of Trinidad.
Initially, the availability of some ingredients was limited because of lack of basic ingredients. Few of the necessary spices and flavourings that could have been transported would have survived the length of the journey or the heat. However, Soya sauce, dried noodles and five star powder were available by the end of the century.
Honey, an important ingredient in Chinese cookery became available in the West Indies during the 19th century as estate owners successfully learned how to keep bees. Today methods of Chinese cooking have been successfully incorporated into our Jamaican culture. These include stirred fry, deep-fried, steamed and sour foods which are skillfully cut and garnished. Ginger is frequently used in the dishes.
The East Indians
The East Indians who came to Jamaica between 1838 and 1917 were also indentured labourers. They introduced the roti, mangoes, wheat, flour, eggplant and ginger.
The Indians used a simple cast iron pot called a 'karahi' and a short handled flat griddle called a 'tawa' to prepare meals.
The original Jewish settlers were Portuguese who arrived, it is believed with Christopher Columbus. After Emancipation, the Jewish communities grew and were later joined by merchants from Syria and Lebanon.
The Jews have been credited with having introduced exotic ways of preparing aubergine or garden eggs or eggplant, as it is known in Jamaica.
The Rastafarians prepare their meals mainly from locally grown foods without the addition of salt or other preservatives. This is referred to as being "I - tal".
"Rasta" food, except for the occasional small fish, is mostly vegetarian. The rich variety of local produce is used in stir-fries and vegetable stews, which are often thickened and flovoured with coconut milk, limejuice and pepper.
Historical Facts About Some of our Foods
It is believed that the ackee 'Blighia sapida' (named in honour of Captain Bligh of the Bounty) was brought to the island by the enslaved West Africans. By 1798 it was to be found as an exotic plant in homes in St. Andrew and is now grown Island wide.
It was Captain Bligh, on his second voyage to Jamaica in 1793, who brought some 350 breadfruit trees which were planted in the Hope Botanical Gardens in Kingston, and in government botanical gardens in other parishes. Intended to provide a supply of cheap food for slaves, it was unpopular for the first fifty years and was fed to pigs. The attractive trees, which lasted for a very long time, needed little care. Their light-green broad indented leaves resemble large fingers. It is used for puddings, drinks, wines, chips and flour and used as you would use potato in salads. The blossoms are used to make tasty preserves.
Black and White Pepper
Thomas Hibbert brought the first pepper plant to Jamaica from the East Indies in 1787.
The ginger plant (Zingiber Officinale), originally from the orient was introduced by the Spanish in 1527.
Jamaica is reputed to produce the finest ginger in the world. It is used mainly to flavour puddings, cakes, sweets, sorrel drink, and to make ginger beer.
Rum is a by-product of sugar. It was in the Caribbean by the English planters in the island of Barbados early in the 17th century. The rough brew, originally called "kill devil" and rum Bullion was gradually tame and ennobled and was brought to perfection in Jamaica in the 18th century.
Created during the age piracy rum is evocative of glamour and daring romance. It has proved infinitely adaptable to the taste of different generations and is more versatile than other familiar alcoholic beverages such as whiskey, gin or vodka. There are many types and varieties of rum and Jamaica produces a wider range of rums than other country in the world.
The National Library of Jamaica