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By Veront Satchell, Africana.com, 1999

Independent country in the Caribbean and a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, located south of Cuba and west of Haiti in the Caribbean Sea. Jamaica is the third largest island of the Greater Antilles (island chain in the West Indies that encompasses the nations of Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico).

Although Jamaica has a diverse population, Afro-Jamaicans constitute the overwhelming majority. The 1991 census recorded a total population of 2.3 million. Blacks accounted for 2.08 million, or 90.5 percent of the total population, while whites accounted for 5,200, or 0.2 percent. East Indians made up 1.3 percent and Chinese 0.3 percent. Other ethnic groups as well as small numbers of Syrians, Lebanese, and Jews made up 0.5 percent. People of mixed descent accounted for 7.3 percent of the population. Recognition of this diversity led the framers of Jamaica's constitution at independence, in 1962, to choose as the island's motto 'Out of Many, One People,' suggesting that despite racial and ethnic differences, all live united as one Jamaican people.

However, racism and color discrimination-the legacy of more than three centuries of slavery-persist to this day in Jamaica, although in a very subtle and suppressed way. Since slavery was abolished in 1834, blacks have achieved much upward social mobility, primarily through entrepreneurship and education. They seem to control political power, especially since Percival Patterson became prime minister in 1992, the first black man to hold that office. Economic power, however, continues to elude the black majority, and many issues concerning race have not been fully resolved in Jamaica.


Archaeological finds suggest that the Native American Tainos were the first to settle the island of Jamaica, which they called Xaymaca (meaning 'land of springs' or 'land of wood and water'). Estimates for the Taino population at the time of the Spanish arrival in the late 1400s vary widely, with the lowest estimates ranging from 6,000 to 9,000 and the highest from 60,000 to 100,000. Taino villages were distributed throughout the island, with the majority situated near the coastline and adjacent to rivers. The Tainos were a seafaring people who relied on fishing to provide a large part of their diet. They also were agriculturalists, cultivating cassava, maize, sweet potatoes, and arrowroot. They traded with Native American communities living on neighboring islands in the Greater Antilles. For administrative purposes, the Tainos divided the island into provinces that were ruled over by a cacique (chief) assisted by subchiefs.

Spanish Conquest

During his second voyage to the Americas, European explorer Christopher Columbus learned of Jamaica from the indigenous people on the island of Cuba. He set foot on the northern part of Jamaica, at present-day Saint Ann's Bay, on May 4, 1494. After defeating the Tainos' initial resistance, Columbus seized the island for Spain. Spain sent Juan de Esquivel to establish a settlement in 1509, beginning Spain's effective colonization of Jamaica. The Spanish established Sevilla la Nueva on the northern part of the island as their first administrative center but abandoned it in 1523 for Saint Jago de la Vega (now Spanish Town) in the south. Interest in Jamaica faded when it became obvious there was no gold, and the island became a backwater in the Spanish Empire. As late as the time of the English conquest in 1655, the island remained underdeveloped, poor, and sparsely populated. The Spanish lived just above subsistence level, developing a small-scale pig and cattle ranching economy. They also practiced small-scale agricultural cultivation for domestic consumption and for sale to the few Europe-bound vessels.

The Spanish colonists instituted a regime of forced labor of the Taino. Although indigenous peoples in the Spanish colonies were legally exempted from slavery by royal decree in 1542, the colonists were able to compel the Tainos to work for them under the systems of encomienda and repartimiento. Overwork in the mines and fields, combined with contact with European diseases, resulted in the annihilation of Jamaica's indigenous population by the mid-1600s.

The Spanish began importing black slaves shortly after King Ferdinand authorized the governor of Hispaniola (island encompassing present-day Haiti and Dominican Republic) to import Christian blacks (ladinos) from Spain in 1501. The first black slaves brought to Jamaica did not come directly from Africa but were either Africans, or the descendants of Africans, who had been enslaved for a time in Spain. In 1518 King Charles I of Spain (Ferdinand's successor) signed a four-year contract, or asiento, allowing an annual supply of 4,000 African slaves to enter Hispaniola, Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. Slaves then came directly from Africa. By 1611 Jamaica had a population of 558 black slaves, 107 free blacks, and between 1,200 and 1,400 Spaniards.

English Conquest

On May 10, 1655, an English expedition, commanded by Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables, landed at the present-day coastal town of Passage Fort, in the southeastern parish of Saint Catherine. This expedition, which had failed to capture Hispaniola, proceeded to claim the island of Jamaica for England. At the time of the English conquest, the Spaniards were unable to effectively resist the invasion because only about 500 of them were armed with weapons. The English ordered the Spanish colonists to deliver all of their slaves and goods and leave the island. Some followed these orders, but a group led by Don Cristabal Arnaldo de Isasi remained and put up guerrilla resistance to the English. Isasi freed the slaves, many of whom retreated with the Spanish rebels into the hills. From there, the Spanish and the freed blacks who had joined them frequently raided and waged guerrilla warfare on English settlements. Isasi, finally overwhelmed by English forces, fled to Cuba for reinforcement. Some of the blacks who had fought with Isasi, recognizing that the Spanish case was lost, defected to the English. A black regiment fighting for the English, led by the former slave Juan de Bolas, proved a decisive factor in the final defeat of the Spanish, marked by Isasi's retreat in 1660.

Jamaica's English-appointed governor Edward D'Oyley compensated the black regiment by officially recognizing their freedom and granting them landholdings. Other formerly Spanish-owned slaves remained autonomous of the colonial administration, living in their own communities as maroons. Spain officially ceded the island to England under the Treaty of Madrid in 1670. The English established a representative system of government, giving white settlers the power to make their own laws through an elected House of Assembly, which acted as a legislative body. The Legislative Council, whose members were appointed by the governor, served an advisory function and took part in legislative debates. This system lasted until it was replaced in 1866 by the crown colony system of government, which stripped the island elite of most of its political power.


The English encouraged permanent settlement through generous land grants. In 1664 Sir Thomas Modyford, a sugar plantation and slave owner in Barbados (a Caribbean island of the Lesser Antilles chain), was appointed governor of Jamaica. He brought 1,000 English settlers and black slaves with him from Barbados. Modyford immediately encouraged plantation agriculture, especially the cultivation of cacao and sugarcane. By the early 1700s sugar estates worked by black slaves were established throughout the island, and sugar and its by-products dominated the economy. Other economic activities, including livestock rearing and the cultivation of coffee and pimento (allspice), developed as well.

With the establishment of the plantation system, the slave trade grew. Slaves of both genders and every age were found in all facets of the island's economy, in both rural and urban areas. They were laborers on plantations, domestic servants, and skilled artisans (tradesmen, technicians, and itinerant traders). The wealth created in Jamaica by the labor of black slaves has been estimated at £18,000,000, more than half of the estimated total of £30,000,000 for the entire British West Indies. It has been postulated that the profit generated by the 'triangular trade' (involving sugar and tropical produce from the British Caribbean colonies, the trade in manufactured goods for slaves in Africa, and the trade of slaves in the British Caribbean) financed the Industrial Revolution in Britain.

More than 1 million slaves are estimated to have been transported directly from Africa to Jamaica during the period of slavery; of these, 200,000 were reexported to other places in the Americas. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Akan, Ga, and Adangbe from the northwestern coastal region known as the Gold Coast (around modern Ghana) dominated the slave trade to the island. Not until 1776 did slaves imported from other parts of Africa-Igbos from the Bight of Biafra (southern modern Nigeria) and Kongos from Central Africa-outnumber slaves from the Gold Coast. But slaves from these regions represented 46 percent of the total number of slaves. The demand for slaves required about 10,000 to be imported annually. Thus slaves born in Africa far outnumbered those who were born in Jamaica; on average they constituted more than 80 percent of the slave population until Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807. When Britain abolished the institution of slavery in 1834, Jamaica had a population of more than 311,000 slaves and only about 16,700 whites.

By the mid-1700s planters were distributing small plots of marginal land to their slaves, both men and women, as a way to offset the cost of providing food. However, the slaves were expected to tend their own crops only during their limited free time. Although slaves were not allotted much time to work the plots, they were able to produce enough not only for their own subsistence but also for sale. A vibrant marketing network developed among the slaves throughout the island, creating what is referred to as a proto-peasantry.

In the British mind, slaves were no more than property and merchandise to be bought and sold. On this premise, the British enacted a whole system of slave laws aimed primarily at policing slaves. In general, the premise that slaves were no more than property allowed slave owners to treat them brutally. The severity of this brutality varied. Slaves on large sugar estates generally suffered the harshest punishments, while those on smaller estates and in towns received somewhat better treatment.


White men on the island often had relations with black women (slaves or free), giving rise to a coloured population. ('Coloured' is a term in the former British colonies for people of mixed European and African descent.) Children of free women were born free, but those of slave women were born enslaved. Some coloureds who were born as slaves were freed through manumission (the formal release of a slave) by their fathers. Masters at times also manumitted black slaves for various reasons, such as in reward for a lifetime of servitude. Free coloureds formed a middle group on the social ladder, between blacks and whites. They disassociated themselves from the slaves but were not accepted by the whites. The number of free people of color (including free blacks and free coloureds) increased significantly between 1722 and 1830, from 800 individuals to 44,000. Free coloureds were principally urban dwellers, participating in several phases of economic life. They were artisans, merchants, mechanics, and professionals-lawyers, schoolteachers, and journalists. A few inherited plantations from their fathers. Free coloured women excelled as traders, shopkeepers, innkeepers, and housekeepers. Many free coloureds were well educated, as education was valued as the vehicle for upward social mobility and 'acceptance' by whites. Many coloureds attended universities in Britain, and their children outnumbered whites at the Wolmers Free School in Kingston, which was established for the white population in the 1700s. In 1837 there were 430 children of free coloureds attending this school, out of a student body of 500.

Despite their numbers and the education and wealth some obtained, free coloureds had no civil rights. Therefore they were caught up in a continuous struggle for equal rights. They protested primarily through petitions and memorials rather than open violent conflicts. In 1813 a petition, signed by more than 2,400 free coloureds, demanding rights to give evidence in court was delivered to the House of Assembly, which acceded. In 1816 free coloureds petitioned for full political and civil rights on the grounds that they were taxpayers but were not represented. They threatened to cease paying taxes until they were granted these rights. Under pressure from free coloureds, the local authorities gradually removed legal restrictions, culminating on December 21, 1830, with the Act for the Removal of All Disabilities of Persons of Free Condition.


Since their arrival on the island, blacks had resisted their enslavement. They engaged in what is referred to as atomized forms of resistance, such as foot dragging (work slowdowns, or 'go-slows'), destruction of property, theft, absenteeism from work, and the covert murder of whites. But resistance also took the forms of large-scale rebellions and establishment of maroon communities.

Maroonage, or the establishment of communities by runaway slaves, began with the slaves imported by Spain and continued throughout the period of slavery in Jamaica. The maroon communities waged relentless warfare against British colonialism. Beginning in the 18th century, two distinct groups of maroon communities emerged: the so-called Leeward Maroons in the south central, or leeward, part of the island and the so-called Windward Maroons in the north and northeast. The Leeward Maroons had an elected chief, and the villagers were divided into politico-military units. Their system was stratified based on ability, especially military ability, and a careful division of labor. Some were proficient in attacking plantations to steal provisions and free slaves, especially female slaves because men outnumbered women in the maroon communities. Others were hunters, hunting wild hogs; others made salt, necessary for meat preservation; and others cleared the ground for the women to plant crops, such as plantains, sweet corn, bananas, cacao, pineapples, cassava, and sugarcane.

The Windward Maroons did not have a central leader as did the Leeward. They developed a somewhat loose federation of communities or quasi-autonomous villages under different leadership, having a politico-military structure that made for democratic inter- and intra-group relationships. Nanny Town (named after its legendary leader, Nanny; now known as Mooretown), which was situated deep in the Blue Mountains, was reputed to have the greatest warriors among the Windward Maroons, numbering 300 in their ranks. Both the Leeward chief, Cudjoe, and Nanny were notorious for their continued and relentless attack on British colonization and slavery. Nanny fought uncompromisingly against slavery. In addition to being a feared warrior, she was said to be an obeah woman, possessing supernatural powers that she allegedly used in repelling and defeating British attacks.

For reasons of security, maroon villages were located in the relatively inaccessible mountains, giving them a commanding view of the lowlands. Guards were posted at the entrance to watch and alert communities at the approach of the British by blowing the abeng, the conch shell or cow horn, as was the practice in parts of West Africa.

The boldness of the maroons, their prowess in guerrilla warfare, and their knowledge of the terrain made them a serious threat to English colonization, the plantation economy, and slavery itself. They plundered and burned plantations, captured slaves, took arms and ammunition, and killed English soldiers who ventured into the interior. Their continued successes against English forces inspired slaves, many of whom escaped the plantations to join maroon communities or to establish new ones. The maroons were such a formidable force that the English were unable to subjugate them after 85 years of intense, bitter struggle. The English conceded defeat in 1739, ending the First Maroon War. In the peace treaties, the maroons won their independence and freedom. They were granted semiautonomous government status and land in return for halting all hostilities against whites, obligating themselves to assist in case of foreign invasion, destroying any new maroon communities, and capturing and returning future runaways. Thus, on the fringes of the slave-plantation economy established by Europeans, semiautonomous communities of free blacks developed, with their own economy and culture partially based on African traditions.

An uneasy peace prevailed until July 1795, when 580 maroons from the maroon community of Trelawny Town revolted against indignities and injustice meted out to them by the authorities. It took considerable force to suppress the revolt, known as the Second Maroon War. The British forces consisted of 1,500 soldiers supported by several thousand militiamen and 100 fierce bloodhounds imported from Cuba in December of that year. In June 1796 the government deported 568 maroons (including men, women, and children) from Trelawny Town and confiscated their land. They sent the maroons first to Nova Scotia, in what later became Canada, and subsequently to Sierra Leone. This deportation effectively deterred further maroon hostilities. Fearing deportation, they collaborated fully with the authorities, especially in suppressing slave revolts. The action of the maroons in suppressing the Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865 testifies to their full cooperation with the government. The treaties successfully reduced maroonage and the formation of new maroon communities, but some of the maroon communities that were already established have survived to this day. The surviving maroon communities are Nanny Town; Scott's Hall in the present-day northern parish of Saint Mary; and Accompong (named for Cudjoe's brother, who had distinguished himself as a military leader with the Windward Maroons) in the southwestern parish of Saint Elizabeth. However, the retention of African cultural and political practices within these communities varies.


Ethnicity was prominent in the organization and execution of slave revolts in Jamaica, especially those during the 17th and 18th centuries. Akan slaves were involved in most revolts. In 1673 about 300 Akan slaves revolted in the north central parish of Saint Ann. In 1690 another Akan rebellion involving 400 slaves broke out on Suttons Estate in the south central parish of Clarendon. After setting the plantation on fire the rebels fled to the hilly interior, from where they conducted continuous raids on nearby plantations. In 1745 Akan slaves revolted in the southeastern parish of Saint Thomas.

In 1760 a slave by the name of Tacky, an Akan who had been a chief in Africa, led the most widespread slave revolt in Jamaica's history. Beginning in the northeastern parish of Saint Mary, it soon spread to a number of parishes, including Westmoreland, Saint James, and Clarendon, and to the capital of Kingston. The rebels, inspired by the victory of the maroons in winning their liberty, fought in the same manner in an effort to win their freedom. It took the authorities six months to suppress Tacky's revolt, and by then the rebels had killed 60 whites. Tacky was shot dead by a maroon, and the authorities executed nearly 400 slaves. Other revolts broke out in 1761, 1765, and 1766, but they were quickly crushed by the authorities with the aid of maroons.

The most violent slave revolt of the 19th century was the Baptist War, also known as the Christmas Rebellion, in 1831. Led by Samuel Sharpe, a Baptist deacon and domestic slave, the revolt began in Saint James and soon engulfed much of western Jamaica. In its suppression, more than 430 blacks, including Sharpe, were executed. All who were thought to have been associated with the revolt, including white missionaries, were either imprisoned or killed. This revolt was a decisive factor in the British move toward emancipation, in addition to intensified antislavery agitation by the Quakers (Society of Friends) in Britain, led by Thomas Buxton, Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce, and Stephen Lushington.


Full emancipation was a gradual process in the British colonies. The first step occurred with an 1833 legislative act of the British Parliament that proposed a program known as apprenticeship. The act became effective in all the British colonies on August 1, 1834. All slaves' children under the age of six or born after this date were freed, while all others were required to undergo a transitional period as 'apprentices' before full emancipation. The act sought to soften the effects of abolition on slave owners by giving them monetary compensation of £6,161,927 for their loss of property in slaves. The slaves received no compensation.

The apprenticeship program tied apprentices to their former masters: praedials (field workers) for six years and nonpraedials for four years. Apprentices were obliged to work on the estates for 40.5 hours per week in exchange for food, clothing, and shelter, but not wages. They could be paid for any work done beyond those hours. Provisions were made for the appointment of 'stipendiary magistrates,' paid by Britain, as arbiters between apprentices and planters. The system, which was marred with abuses by the planters, met with strong resistance from apprentices. In the parish of Saint Ann, for instance, apprentices went on strike, refusing to work without wages. They swore that they would rather 'have their heads cut off, or [be] shot' before they would be bound apprentices. To quell the resistance, 160 well-armed soldiers were deployed throughout the parish, and many slaves were whipped and sentenced to the workhouse. Resistance to apprenticeship was also evident in Saint James and Saint Thomas-in-the-East (now part of Saint Thomas Parish).

On August 1, 1838, the British Parliament ended the apprenticeship program, which had become an enormous administrative burden, and granted full emancipation to more than 300,000 slaves in Jamaica. In the view of the planters and colonial officials, emancipation meant slaves would become a docile proletariat working on the sugar estates. For the former slaves emancipation meant freedom from planter control and a measure of independence from the estates. Serious and irreconcilable conflicts between employers and employees (former slaves) ensued. Nonconformist missionaries, especially the English Baptists, attempted to defuse disputes, especially those concerning rent, by creating 'free villages.' Under this system missionaries bought large holdings, normally located in close proximity to working estates, and subdivided them in small house lots to sell to the former slaves. The aim was to prevent the establishment of African-type communities in the interior away from white supervision. The white racist view was that blacks would lapse into barbarism if they were allowed to wander off into the interior away from the estates and white influence.

Holdings under the free village system were extremely small and could not satisfy the desire of the former slaves to become independent of the sugar estates. The inadequacy of these holdings for crop cultivation, coupled with the unresolved disputes between estate owners and their black employees, resulted in the flight of freed slaves from the estates. They established themselves as small peasant farmers on land obtained through lease, rent, purchase, or by simply squatting (settling on land without title or payment of rent). By 1860 the small farms of the black peasantry showed yields indicating they were a viable alternative to plantation agriculture. Meanwhile, the sugar plantations in Jamaica were reeling from the massive shortage of available labor and, after the 1846 Sugar Duties Act, from the elimination of Jamaica as Britain's favored supplier of sugar. Plantation owners began to import indentured servants, mostly from India but also from China. Between 1845 and 1917, when contracting of indentured labor ceased, more than 37,000 East Indians migrated to Jamaica as indentured laborers. In general, the relationship between blacks and East Indians was relatively amicable. Together, they constituted the majority of the island's lower classes.

Blacks did not meet the property qualifications to vie for political office. But through their ownership of small land holdings, many gained the franchise and constituted the majority of the electorate. Anyone seeking political office had to join forces with influential black peasant farmers to gain black votes.

Two important black peasant leaders of the 1850s and 1860s were Samuel Clarke and Paul Bogle. Clarke was a carpenter and peasant farmer who owned nearly 4 hectares (10 acres) of land in the southeastern former parish of Saint David (now part of Saint Thomas). He mobilized black voters to support the Coloured candidates in the elections of 1851, enabling them to win the two Saint David seats in the House of Assembly. Between 1853 and 1865, Clarke embarked on a program of political education among blacks, organizing public meetings in Saint David to discuss social issues. He was elected to the Saint David Vestry (which ran the parish government) in 1853.

Bogle was a peasant farmer and deacon of the Native Baptist Church from the district of Stony Gut, in Saint Thomas-in-the-East. He was a close ally and political supporter of George William Gordon, a Coloured politician, member of the House of Assembly for the parish, Native Baptist minister, and champion of the black cause. As political and racial consciousness developed among black voters, they began electing candidates who were sympathetic to their cause to the House of Assembly. But blacks lacked the direct political representation in the House of Assembly necessary to influence legislation concerning their interests. Therefore, racial discrimination, exploitation, and social injustice continued. Access to land continued to be severely restricted, and appeals for redress from the authorities were denied.


The situation came to a head in October 1865, with the Morant Bay Rebellion, led by Bogle. In this revolt, about 500 black men and women from Stony Gut marched to the town of Morant Bay, the parish capital, on October 11. There they confronted the authorities and demanded social justice following an altercation over a court case a few days earlier and an attempt by the authorities to arrest Bogle. Rioting broke out and continued for several days. The government reacted with maximum force, declaring martial law. The combined forces of the British military, Jamaican militiamen, and the maroons executed nearly 500 individuals, including Bogle, Clarke, and Gordon. Countless others were shot at random, more than 600 were whipped, and an entire black village and individual houses were razed to the ground, leaving thousands homeless.

Public outcry in Britain against the white reprisals and the brutal repression of the rebellion prompted the British government to order a formal inquiry into the causes of the rebellion and the measures used in its suppression. Britain then abolished the representative system of government and introduced the crown colony government (a system of imperial trusteeship) in 1866. This system increased the power of the British-appointed governor. The old Legislative Council and House of Assembly were replaced by a single Legislative Council, whose members were appointed by the British crown. (Reforms in 1884 and 1895 provided for the election of some council members.) By ending elected representation in government, however, direct rule from Britain actually aborted the political ascendancy of blacks and coloureds and further reinforced institutionalized racism.

With the new government, land policies were introduced to resolve land conflicts and to resuscitate the failing plantation economy. Landowners were required to produce clear titles of ownership or face eviction. Hundreds of peasants who held receipts but had no title to their land were summarily ejected as squatters.

This period marked the beginning of the decline of the Afro-Jamaican peasantry and the reemergence of the plantation economy. The sugar industry was rationalized through new production methods geared toward efficiency. The new and more lucrative banana industry, which had been developed by the peasants, came under the control of large-scale banana producers. The ownership of estates underwent revolutionary change as the old planter class gave way to corporate ownership. The Boston Fruit Company (later renamed the United Fruit Company), for example, came to control the cultivation of bananas and the banana trade. The importation of indentured immigrants intensified, creating competition for jobs. The effect was impoverishment of the island's black population. In response to the poor socioeconomic conditions, thousands of blacks and East Indians migrated to Haiti, Panama, the United States, Cuba, Costa Rica, and South America. They found work on sugar and banana estates, on the construction of railroads (and later, in the early 1900s, on the construction of the Panama Canal), and in domestic and other services.


With political recourse severely limited under the new system of government, many Jamaicans turned to religion as a way to challenge the status quo. Indeed, religion had long played a central role in Afro-Jamaican resistance to domination. For instance, the Native Baptist movement, started among Jamaican slaves by black American immigrants in the 1780s, was central in the mobilization of slaves leading to the Baptist War. One of the most popular Afro-Jamaican politico-religious movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Bedwardism, so-called after its leader Alexander Bedward, within the Native Baptist Church. Founded in August Town, Saint Andrew Parish, Bedward's church attracted thousands of followers with its call for social justice as well as its socioeconomic programs designed to aid the lower classes. Bedward fearlessly and openly challenged white racism and injustice. The government suppressed the movement by arresting Bedward and his followers during a 1921 march to Kingston and then confining him to the lunatic asylum, where he died in 1930. With Bedward confined, the movement lost its fervor.

Black mobilization in the political arena at the turn of the century was fostered by Robert Love, a Bahamian-born activist. Love edited the journal the Jamaican Advocate, which frequently challenged the colonial government, and organized voter registration campaigns. He supported the election of Alexander Dixon to the Legislative Council in 1889, the first black man to be elected to the body; Love himself won a seat in 1906. The struggle against white supremacy was continued by the radical Pan-Africanist movement led by Marcus Garvey, who founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Kingston in 1914. The Garvey movement, or Garveyism, had roots in the intellectual tradition of Pan-Africanism and its religious embodiment, Ethiopianism, a doctrine that glorified Ethiopia based on passages from the Bible, offering a spiritual basis for a common Pan-African identity. Avowedly anticolonial, Garveyism aimed to inculcate in black people worldwide a racial pride, black consciousness, black nationalism, and an acceptance of Africa as the homeland. Members and branches of the movement were located all over the world, with the most vibrant center found in Harlem, in New York City.


Garveyism and Ethiopianism provided the ideological framework for Rastafarianism, a religious movement rooted in social protest that took shape in the early 1930s in Jamaica. The movement also has important links to Bedwardism, as some early Rastafarian leaders had belonged to Bedward's church. Rastafarianism was founded by Leonard Howell and others to reject colonialism and white racism, encourage black consciousness, and protest political and sociocultural oppression. Rastafarians perceive Africa, and in particular Ethiopia, as a homeland and have persistently called for repatriation to the continent. In 1955 Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I, revered by Rastafarians as the savior foretold in the Biblical prophecies, invited all Jamaican blacks to live in Ethiopia, offering free land to those who did. Between 1963 and 1969 some Jamaicans, mainly Rastafarians, migrated to Ethiopia and settled in Shashamane, the largest group of 20 leaving in 1969. Despite the offer of free land, very few Jamaicans moved to the African nation. The Jamaican government, influenced by the Rastafari call for repatriation, sought to establish an embassy in Ethiopia in 1969. In 1972 Jamaican prime minister Michael Manley visited Ethiopia and met with the Jamaican community there.

The reggae music that originated in Jamaica in the 1960s and 1970s emerged out of a long tradition of strong resistance to white culture and domination. The Rastafari movement has been a major influential factor in the development of reggae as music of resistance. The late Bob Marley, a member of the Rastafari movement, is by far Jamaica's most popular and internationally renowned reggae star. More than any other Jamaican musician, he transformed music from just mere entertainment to philosophical discourses in political and racial consciousness.

Labor Movements

The new racial consciousness in Jamaica, from Garveyism to Rastafarianism, was apparent in the activism of the island's working class after World War I (1914-1918). After Jamaican soldiers who fought in the war with the West India Regiment of the British Army returned to Jamaica in 1919, a wave of labor strikes and riots erupted throughout the region. Strikes were quickly crushed by colonial forces. Even before the Great Depression of the 1930s, but even more so during this global economic collapse, Jamaica's lower classes suffered deplorable living conditions, significant reductions in wages, high unemployment, and virtually nonexistent workers' rights. Popular protest grew as oppressed classes-black and brown middle classes, banana and sugar plantation workers, and urban workers-fought together for reforms. The result was the formation of nationalist movements, trade unions, and grassroots political parties. Garvey founded Jamaica's first anticolonial political party, the People's Political Party, in 1929, and formed a trade association in the early 1930s. In 1935, the same year Garvey left for England, A. G. S. Coombs and Alexander Bustamante formed the Jamaica Workers and Tradesmen's Union (JWTU). In 1938 the People's National Party (PNP), led by lawyer Norman Washington Manley, and its related workers union, the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), headed by Bustamante, were formed. The party's manifesto addressed popular issues, including land settlement, adult suffrage, and social reforms. Both Manley and Bustamante, who were distant cousins, were coloured members of the middle class who sought to represent the black and coloured masses.

Also in 1938, labor and political unrest escalated throughout the West Indies, including Jamaica. Strikes and riots erupted all over the island, orchestrated in large part by Bustamante and black activist William Grant. Bustamante was jailed more than once for his activism. In 1942 he left the PNP, breaking from Manley on unfriendly terms, and in 1943 he formed the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), taking the trade union with him. This split in the leadership of the labor movement meant the two parties would have to compete for the loyalty of the workers.

A royal commission was sent from England to report on the causes of the disturbances and recommend measures to alleviate them. Among the commission's recommendations were the establishment of a Commonwealth Development Welfare Fund aimed at improving the social conditions of the people, and provisions for representative government based on universal adult suffrage. The first general elections under a new constitution that provided for universal adult suffrage were held in 1944. The JLP won the election and formed the new government. As leader of the JLP, Bustamante took office in 1945 as Jamaica's first chief minister (the preindependence title for head of government). Manley became chief minister after the PNP won a majority over the JLP in the 1955 elections.


With representative government in place, the next step was to seek political independence from Britain. Manley received assurances from Britain that independence would be granted but that it would be more practical under a collective West Indian state than for individual colonies. In January 1958 Jamaica joined nine other British territories in forming the Federation of the West Indies. It withdrew in 1961 in accordance with the majority vote in a national referendum, however, and the federation collapsed the following year.

Jamaica then opted to negotiate with Britain for its independence. An agreement was quickly reached, and Jamaica became an independent nation on August 6, 1962. The JLP, having won the elections held earlier in 1962, formed the government, and Bustamante became the first prime minister of independent Jamaica. At independence, attempts were made to diversify the island's essentially agrarian economy by inviting foreign manufacturing industries and financial institutions, especially from North America, to establish plants locally. Apart from the fact that they were given tax breaks and were allowed to repatriate profits, their racist employment policies were objectionable to the masses. The black majority of the population was allotted only the menial, nonmanagerial positions, while foreign whites were placed in supervisory and managerial posts. This intensified the already fragile racial situation. To offset open conflict, the government embarked on a policy of 'Jamaicanization' of foreign enterprises. But this did not significantly bring Jamaicans, black or coloured, into the realms of management. Nor did it address racism. Rastafarians, militant urban poor, students, and radical intellectuals protested vigorously.

Pressure groups formed to bring the conditions of the masses and racism to the attention of the government. In 1964 intellectual leaders established the New World Group, and in 1967 young lawyers formed the Jamaica Council for Human Rights. Th Black Power Movement, which engulfed the United States during the late 1960s, developed on the island in part as a direct response to white racism locally and as a show of solidarity with black liberation and anti-imperialist struggles internationally. In 1968 students of the Mona, Jamaica, campus of the University of the West Indies donated money to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the United States 'to assist its struggle against racism.'

One of Jamaica's chief advocates of Black Power was Walter Rodney, an Afro-Guyanese lecturer of African History at the University of the West Indies. He posited that Black Power was to be achieved through revolutionary activity based on black awareness, to be created by reconceptualizing economic, political, social, and cultural life in terms of blackness. He developed strong links with the poorer classes of Kingston, discussing with them the idea of black liberation through a break with imperialism and white racism, the assumption of power by the black masses, and the cultural reconstruction of society in the image of the black. The government considered Rodney and the Black Power Movement subversive. On his return from a conference in Canada in October 1968, Rodney was prevented from re-entering the island and was declared a persona non grata.

The deportation of Rodney led to mass demonstrations, which the government quickly suppressed with maximum force. This action by the government was accompanied by a ban on all African American literature, a ban on Black Power activists entering the island, and harassment of Rastafarians. Black Power was thus effectively suppressed by the government. But this only led to the alienation of the JLP from the masses. The people duly voted the party out of office in the election of 1972, casting a majority of votes for the more progressive PNP, under the leadership of Michael Manley, the son of Norman Washington Manley.

The Manley administration espoused 'democratic socialism' beginning in 1974, enacting policies to redress the socioeconomic problems concerning the people. These policies included nationalizing foreign companies and creating joint ventures between the government and privately owned foreign companies. Employment policies were revised (for instance, mandating equal pay for equal work, irrespective of gender), with the result that many more blacks gained managerial positions. Several companies dissatisfied with the government's 'socialist' policies sold out and ceased operating on the island. Local Jamaicans, including blacks and East Indians, assisted by the government, purchased or otherwise gained control of companies, thus beginning the economic empowerment of blacks.

During this era 'free education,' government-subsidized education from primary through tertiary (university) levels, was instituted. This policy enabled blacks and East Indians of the lower classes to gain access to higher education. Poor blacks entered the skilled professions-law, medicine, banking, and management-in greater numbers. An aggressive measure to eradicate illiteracy, which was high among the black population, was introduced in 1974, with the formation of the Jamaica Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL) program. Beginning in the 1970s blacks began to gain socioeconomic advancement and empowerment. This new trend complemented their dominance in the political sphere.

The socioeconomic and political changes in Jamaica met with strong resistance from the local propertied class and foreign interests. There was massive flight of capital and people, especially middle- and upper-class professionals and entrepreneurs. The country slumped into a serious economic crisis, forcing the government to borrow from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF's stringent prescription for economic growth, which included massive cuts in public spending and a sizeable currency devaluation, caused undue suffering among the lower classes. The island then became divided along a political ideological line between 'socialists' and 'labourites.' Political violence engulfed the island, culminating in the bloodiest election in Jamaica's history in 1980.

The PNP suffered a crushing defeat in the 1980 elections, losing to the JLP. Edward Seaga, a Syrian-Jamaican and head of the JLP, became prime minister. The JLP victory was perceived as a victory for big businesses and conservatism, and as a return to power of whites and coloureds. Under Seaga the government implemented a structural adjustment program of national economic reform to qualify for foreign assistance programs, and many of the social programs that the previous administration had begun were either discontinued or neglected.

In 1989 the Jamaican people again cast their votes in favor of the PNP, reinstating Manley to power, but this time the leadership assumed a more conservative position. When Manley retired in 1992, the party's vice president and deputy prime minister, Percival James Patterson, a conservative, was elevated to the office of prime minister, bringing the first black Jamaican to the post. Patterson entered his third consecutive term in 1997. He and the sizeable bloc of black members of parliament supporting him and controlling parliament indicate that blacks are gaining effective control of Jamaica's politics. However, severe economic and budgetary constraints have prevented the adequate funding of existing social services and have hindered the implementation of new social programs.


Jamaica is a member of the United Nations (UN) and its special agencies and has diplomatic relations with 50 countries. Jamaica initiated arrangements leading to the celebration of 1968 as the International Year of Human Rights. In 1969 Jamaica joined the Organization of American States, strengthening links with Latin American countries.

During the 1970s, under the leadership of Prime Minister Manley, Jamaica took a more active and aggressive role in international affairs and was seen as a leader of affairs in the developing world. The country has stood strong on issues such as colonialism, imperialism, exploitation, and racial segregation and discrimination. For example, Jamaica supported the antiapartheid struggle in South Africa led by the African National Congress (ANC). Jamaica also identified with and supported African liberation struggles in Namibia, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.

Jamaica was a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, a group of nations that sought to remain neutral during the Cold War between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Since the mid-1970s it has been at the forefront among the developing nations demanding a new international economic order, in which the prices paid for agricultural and primary products from the developing world would bear some relation to the cost of manufactured goods. In February 1999 Jamaica hosted and chaired the Group of 15 (G15) summit in which the 17 member nations from the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia, and Africa reiterated the call for changes in international trade and monetary systems that would give developing nations some leverage in the global economy.

The island is also closely involved in Caribbean regional integration. In 1968 it joined other English-speaking Caribbean nations in founding the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) to promote development and economic independence in the region. In 1973 it was a signatory to the Treaty of Chaquarmas in Trinidad, which established the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). This association, which seeks economic integration of the region by means of the common market, eventually replaced CARIFTA.

Jamaica has maintained strong relationships with many of the African nations and with the African diaspora. Many African heads of state and church leaders have visited the island since independence in 1962. Among these visiting leaders are Haile Selassie I, the last emperor of Ethiopia, in 1966; Julius Kambarage Nyerere, independence leader and then-president of Tanzania, in 1974 and 1977; Kenneth Kaunda, then-president of Zambia, in 1975; Samora Moises Machel, revolutionary leader and then-president of Mozambique, in 1977; Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa in 1986; Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa, in 1995; Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, in 1996; and Jerry Rawlings, president of Ghana, in 1997. Through these visits Jamaica has forged closer alliances with the African continent.