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123Independenceday »Jamaica » History

History of Jamaica

Jamaica, an island nation of the Greater Antilles situated in the Caribbean Sea, was named the ‘Xaymaca' by the native Arawakan-speaking Taíno people. It meant either the “Land of Springs,” or the “Land of Wood and Water”. When Christopher Columbus arrived at this largest Caribbean island, he claimed the land for Spain. The history of Jamaica can broadly be divided into the Pre-historic period, the period after the discovery of the island by other countries, the period of Spanish and English rule and the final phase of Jamaican Independence.


Pre-history and Discovery

The original Arawak or Tainos from South America first settled in the island of Jamaica between 1000 and 4000 BC. After Christopher Columbus' arrival in Jamaica in 1494, which he used as his family's private estate, the Spain took full control of the island and began occupation in 1509, naming the island Santiago or St. James. A few decades after Columbus' death, almost all Arawakans were wiped out either by disease, slavery or war with some even committing suicide apparently to escape their conditions as slaves. Though some claim they became virtually extinct following contact with Europeans, others claim that some still survived. It was the Spain who first brought the first African slaves to Jamaica in 1517.

The Spanish and the English rule

The Spanish settlers latter moved to the Villa de la Vega, now known as the Spanish Town making it the capital of Jamaica. The 1640s saw many people coming to Jamaica for its stunning beauty, especially the pirates who had a reputation of deserting their raiding parties and staying on in the island. The attacks by the pirates in the Jamaican history can be traced back to nearly 100 years, between 1555 and 1655; the final attack leaving the island in the hands of the English.

The island of Jamaica was finally seized by the British forces in the form of a joint expedition by Admiral Sir William Penn and General Robert Venables in May 1655. The buccaneers were invited by the Governor to form their base at Port Royal to prevent Spanish aggression in 1657. The Spanish were defeated in the successive battles that followed starting a long drawn British rule in the Jamaican soil. Through the Treaty of Madrid in 1670, the British gained formal recognition of possession of Jamaica. Still part of the Island remained in the hands of some of the escaped slaves called the ‘Maroons', with whom they signed a treaty on 1 March 1738. Even though much of the Spanish capital, Villa de la Vega, was burned during the English conquest, they renamed it the Spanish Town and kept it as the island's capital.

By the 19 th century, the revolt between the blacks and the whites increased with the blacks outnumbering the whites by a ratio 20 to 1. Following a series of uprisings, slavery was ultimately abolished on 1 st August, 1834 with Jamaica becoming a Crown Colony. This lead to the establishment of the growth of a middle class of low-level public officials and police officers drawn from the mass of the population, whose social and political progress was blocked by the colonial authorities. The Great Depression followed in the 1930s and then the revolt by the sugar and the dock workers in 1938 leading to significant changes including the growth of an organized labor movement and a competitive party system.

Modern history

By the mid 1940s the Jamaican gained a degree of local political control. In 1938 the People's National Party (PNP) was founded and five years latter their rival the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) came into being. Under the universal adult suffrage, the first election was held in 1944. Nine other UK territories in the Federation of the West Indies were joined by Jamaica in 1958. Finally on 6 th August 1962, Jamaica gained its independence, remaining a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. In the beginning, power switched between the two parties quite regularly. The first Prime Minister was chosen in 1972 and thus the present day government in Jamaica began to function.

 
 

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