The History of Jamaica

Published on January th, 2012

The original inhabitants of Jamaica were the hunter gatherer Arawak and Taino peoples who settled between 4000 and 1000 BC. After the Spanish arrived in 1494, they brought with them many new diseases and plundered, and killed the indigenous population which lead to the Arawaks’ near extinction within a century.

The Spanish originally used Jamaica an outpost to assist in their conquest of the Americas and as such, very few people actually lived there except for servicemen. Jamaica remained Spanish for over a century until it slowly began to lose its significance as an asset and was hence captured by the British in 1655.

Unable to use Europeans for Chattel slavery, the British then used Jamaica as the base for their importation of large amounts of captured Africans to work on the many sugar plantations around the island. Due to the immense wealth created by these plantations (over 77,000 tonnes of sugar were created annually), Jamaica became extremely important the English Monarchy and the English cities of Liverpool and Bristol benefited greatly from it.

Due to rising production costs and competition from oter sources, the close of the 18th century had seen sugar bgin to lose its economic power. The slaves were freed in 1838 nd were now paid for their labour.  Rev. Sam Sharpe was instrumental in the Christmas slave rebellion of 1831 and became a national hero for his efforts.

Many former slaves who left the plantations used their skills to become farmers and work the land in the mountains and plains and entered into various schemes that were setup by Christian organisations.

Conflict over land was rife during this period and everything came to a head with the Morant Bay rebellion in which national heroes George William Gordon and Paul Bogle were killed.

Jamaica’s movement for independence was inspired by Marcus Garvey and was spawned by the crisis that resulted from The Great Depression. Jamaica’s political power began to strengthen and the country gained self government in 1944.

During the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, tourism began to expand and the country entered into more and more trade agreements with America. There was also a large emigration of citizens to the UK and USA, both countries needing serious help to repair their economies post WW2.

Political independence was granted in 1962 as the post war economic boom continued before eventually slowing down. By the end of the decade, tourism, mining, manufacturing and construction industries were booming alongside the traditional industries of agriculture and distribution.
In order to increase Jamaica’s share of the income in the Bauxite industry the Bauxite Levy was introduced in 1974. The state then assumed command of all economic development and aimed at levelling the playing field for all citizens and instituting social reform to provide food, housing, healthcare and education for all. Jamaica began to act as the leader of the Third World, promoting unity between them in negotiations with advanced countries.

A weakening international economy, precipitated by a decline in the aluminium and bauxite industries coupled with the inflation of food and oil prices caused a decline in Jamaica’s economy. Unemployment and inflation saw the government seeking assistance from the IMF and the World Bank at the end of the 70s and formed an alliance which has seen these two organisations retain a stake in the government’s policies to this present day.

In the 80s, Jamaica received assistance from the IMF, World Bankand also the USA. A relationship that had developed between the country and Reagan’s administration saw it benefit though the economy and currency were devalued.

Trade with the US heightened in this period as the development of Free Zone manufacturing of garments, the gradual recovery of bauxite/alumina production, and the rapid growth of tourism from North America continued.

Emmigration increased during this period, mainly to the USA but also to many other countries including Canada, the UK, Cuba and more.