The original inhabitants, the Arawak Indians, did not survive the 150 year Spanish occupation and were gradually replaced by African slaves imported to provide the labour force. When the British invaded the island in 1655 a large number of slaves escaped in the mountains where they resisted all attempts of subjugation by the colonists until their independence was recognised around 1730. The "Maroons", as they were called, remained free until the abolition of slavery one century later.
Jamaica was hugely profitable for the British. In the 17th, Kingston and the naval base of served as haven for pirates like Henry Morgan who had a royal licence to plunder Spanish galleons. More importantly, Jamaica was a key element of the infamous triangular trade (slaves to the Caribbean, sugar to England and cheap trade goods to Africa), on which so many, now respectable, British fortunes were made (Barclays Bank for example).
American investments in mining (bauxite) and manufacturing grew rapidly in the last century and had become predominant by the time Jamaica became an independent member of the British Commonwealth in 1962.
In the '70s, Prime Minister Michael Manley endorsed socialist policies and developed close ties with Cuba. He was followed by the conservative Edward Seaga of the JLP (Jamaica labour Party), who held the prime office in the '80s. Manley returned in '89 but retired in '93 and was succeeded by Percival Patterson, also of the PNP (People's National Party) who is still in power. Political violence was and still is common during elections in Jamaica.
Criminal violence is also common giving the country a bad safety rating. Kingston in particular is to be avoided as much as possible.
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I have occasionally seen cruise ships like these in various parts of the world but never in such numbers as in the Caribbean where they dominate the scene in spite of all the tourist resorts.
These two medium sized boats unloaded their passengers into waiting tour busses for a day's visit of Montego Bay. Later, they will leave to repeat the same ritual in the next tourist destination.
For reasons that are beyond my understanding, these cruise ships, or so-called loveboats, are immensely popular with tourists of all ages.
If I could afford it, I would rather do my island hopping in one of the small sail boats tied up at the marina near the cruise terminal.
The Caribbean is expensive for a backpacker compared with other places in the world. I was lucky to get a dingy room at the YMCA for 15$US a night. In the fancy Ritz Carlton Hotel it would have been at least 10 times that much.
I went to see what the Ritz was like because my friend Ginette, who had won a week there in some lottery, told me that the service was great.
Even though the weather was terrible, I could imagine her playing the heiress at the pool side
She is going to have my eyes out for writing this on my website!
Everything in the tourist area of Montego Bay is oriented to satisfy the visitor's every whim. At a price of course...
There are at least a dozen such beach hotels north of town on the way to the Ritz.
It's a pity it was cold and wet for the beach would have been covered with vacationers.
Margueritaville looks dull without the body beautiful in this kind of weather.
The body beautiful were all huddling in the bars and the warmth of their hotel rooms.
The artefact market, that's the most the tourists off the cruise ships get to discover about the local population.
This interesting structure called "The Cage", on Sam Sharpe Square in the heart of Montego Bay was built in 1806 as a jail for runaway slaves and drunk seamen.
Jamaica was an avid consumer of slaves. Over a million slaves were brought to Jamaica of which about 200 000 were re-exported during the three century period of slavery. Yet, after at least 12 generations of slave reproduction, there were only 325 000 left when slavery was abolished. It was cheaper for the plantation owners to replace the slaves they had worked to death than to take proper care of them.
Naturally such harsh treatment led to resistance and numerous rebellions broke out periodically not only in Jamaica but everywhere in the Caribbean. African religions were banned by the whites who realised that they could become vehicles of resistance and revolt but the blacks adapted by disguising their traditionnal beliefs behind Christian images and rituals. In Jamaica this produced the Pocomania religion derived from the ancient Cumina faith from Africa.
Samuel Sharpe was a black Baptist lay preacher. For months, he used the cover of prayer meetings to decry the injustices of slavery and to organise the rebellion of 20 000 slaves in December 1831. The rebels managed to resist a British regiment for months but they were finally tricked into surrendering by a promise of amnesty and the false rumour that the British parliament had abolished slavery. The white vengeance was terrible, thousands of blacks were put to death. A gallows was erected in the central square that now bears the name of Sam Sharpe who was executed there in May 1832.
These dramatic events contributed to the abolition of slavery in all British holdings on August first, 1834. Slavery was over but the blacks still depended on the white landowners for their livelihood. Ruthless exploitation and unfair white laws led to sporadic strikes and rebellions in many islands like the 1865 Morant Bay uprising in Jamaica. They were all brutally repressed by the white minority.
In this picture, a preacher is extolling the virtues of being black according to the tenets of the "Twelve Tribes of Israel" branch of the Rastafarian Religion. I tried in vain to engage a sincere conversation with various members of this group. It just did not click. After a while, I realised that communication was difficult because I was perceived as just one more of the several hundred thousand curious tourists that come to Jamaica every year. That was a perfectly normal behaviour. I have found that in places where foreigners are few and far between, the local people are generally as curious about their visitors as they are about them but that familiarity breeds contempt when there are too many tourists.
There is a wide variety of Rastafarians ranging from the fundamentalist believers in the divinity of "Ras Tafari" (the Emperor Haile Selasie of Ethiopia) and of black superiority, to the drug dealers for whom dreadlocks are only an outward sign of nonconformism. The one on the left below, tolerated that I take his picture but carefully evaded my questions about the meaning of Rastafarianism. More info on Rastafarianism
Personally, I think that my failure to connect is due to the excessive number of tourists around Montego Bay. I did not get very far either in trying to communicate with this family that I found living in an improvised shelter made from an abandoned car. I got friendly smiles from the three children and from the young mother, who had a fourth one on the way, but no encouragement from the father. This was just the beginning of the frustration I experienced on this trip. I should have expected it for I knew that people get more and more remote and secretive as they get exposed to large numbers of tourists.
This is Montego Bay's main street. As mentioned above, I found the people friendly enough but somehow distant and inaccessible.
As far as I could tell, this appeared to be the image of success for the average Jamaican; a nice, well kept wooden house and a flashy car. I found that Jamaicans are very macho about their cars and I suspect them of punching holes in the mufflers of new cars just to get that "vroom vroom vroom" sound!