Jamaica: The Cultural History

BY Gina Hargitay

Jamaica: The Cultural History


Little is known about the island’s early history; Jamaica's native population, the Taínos Arawaks, did not survive past two hundred years of Spanish discovery and subsequent invasion in 1494. All that is left of them is the island’s original name, Xaymaca, of which Jamaica is a corruption. The British captured Jamaica from the Spanish in 1645. Both colonising powers replaced the rapidly dwindling indigenous population with African slave labour and the next two centuries saw Jamaica become one of the most important colonies in the British empire for the trading of slaves, and the production of sugar, cocoa and coffee.

The Taínos and Arawak are indigenous tribes of Jamaica and “First People”

The brutality and inhumanity of this slavery has had great impacts on the psyche of Jamaicans today, passed down in the form of transgenerational trauma. A small handful of these scars include high rates of depression, denigration of youth, distrust of authority, homophobia, colourism and a phenomenon now identified as Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.

The lack of compensation given to former slaves after slavery’s abolition directly contributed to the poverty and uneven distribution of wealth seen in the country today. Former slave-owners on the island were compensated for their loss of human property, whilst the slaves themselves were given no support or infrastructure, meaning that most had to go back to working for former masters for almost nothing.

Despite these hardships, the spirit of the Jamaican people has prevailed. What was once a population of rebellious slaves who refused to ever stop fighting for their freedom has grown into a population of resilient minds who continue to seek a better life. This hardship and hope can be heard through our music, specifically Reggae, which has touched every corner of the world and millions of hearts across it. Reggae speaks to the injustices of the past and present, but teaches us to keep fighting for a brighter future and to rise above the immorality that has haunted the region’s past. The Jamaican fighting spirit and the strength to overcome adversity is what has led to the success of our athletes and musicians and created strong voices against oppression such as Marcus Garvey, a key player in the Civil Rights Movement. It is what drove Jamaicans to fight for their independence from the British and win it in 1964. It is a spirit that is still felt throughout the island today.