Caribbean / Mexico

Jamaica Some Did You Knows …

Jamaica - The land of wood, water, and sunshine! | Photo credit: The Palms Resort Negril, Jamaica

It’s all in a name

The island’s indigenous Arawakan-speaking Taíno inhabitants named the island Xaymaca, meaning the “Land of Wood and Water”, or the “Land of Springs”.

Once a Spanish possession known as Santiago, in 1655 the island became English, and later British, colony, known as “Jamaica”.

Jamaica achieved full independence in 1962. With 2.8 million people, it is the third most populous Anglophone country in the Americas, after the United States and Canada. It remains a Commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. Kingston is the country’s largest city and the capital.

The Arawak and Taino indigenous people, originating in South America, settled on the island between 4000 and 1000 BC. The Tainos / Arawaks still inhabited Jamaica when the English took control of the island. The history of the Tainos is important to the people of Jamaica. The Jamaican National Heritage Trust is attempting to locate and document any evidence of the Taino / Arawaks.

Christopher Columbus claimed Jamaica for Spain after landing there in 1494 and his probable landing point was Dry Harbour, now called Discovery Bay. There is some debate as to whether he landed in St. Ann’s Bay or in Discovery Bay. St. Ann’s Bay was the “Saint Gloria” of Columbus who first sighted Jamaica at this point.

One mile west of St. Ann’s Bay is the site of the first Spanish settlement on the island, Sevilla, which was established in 1509 and abandoned around 1524 because it was deemed unhealthy.

When Columbus arrived in 1494, there were over 200 villages ruled by caciques (chiefs of villages). The south coast of Jamaica was the most populated, especially around the area now known as Old Harbour.


Jamaican flag at sunset | Photo credit: Matt Runkle (Flickr: runkalicious)

The Jamaican flag has three colors, green, black and gold. Black stands for hardships overcome and to be faced; gold, for natural wealth and beauty of sunlight; and green stands for hope and agricultural resources.

Though a small nation, Jamaican culture has a strong global presence.

The musical genres reggae, ska, mento, rocksteady, dub, and, more recently, dancehall and ragga all originated in the island’s vibrant, popular urban recording industry.

Internationally known reggae musician Bob Marley was also Jamaican.

Many other internationally known artists were born in Jamaica including Millie Small, Lee “Scratch” Perry and Peter Tosh.

Ian Fleming, who lived in Jamaica, repeatedly used the island as a setting in the James Bond novels, including Live and Let Die, Doctor No, For Your Eyes Only, The Man with the Golden Gun and Octopussy and The Living Daylights. In addition, James Bond uses a Jamaica-based cover in Casino Royale. So far, the only James Bond film adaptation to have been set in Jamaica is Doctor No. Filming for the fictional island of San Monique in Live and Let Die took place in Jamaica.

Journalist and author H. G. de Lisser (1878–1944) used his native country as the setting for his many novels. Born at Falmouth, de Lisser worked as a reporter for the Jamaica Times at a young age and in 1920 began publishing the magazine Planters’ Punch. The White Witch of Rosehall is one of his better known novels.

The American film Cocktail, starring Tom Cruise, is one of the more popular films to depict Jamaica. Another popular Jamaican-based film is the 1993 comedy Cool Runnings which is loosely based on the true story of Jamaica’s first bobsled team trying to make it in the Winter Olympics.

Errol Flynn lived with his third wife Patrice Wymore in Port Antonio in the 1950s. He was responsible for developing tourism to this area, popularising raft trips down rivers on bamboo rafts.

The island is famous for its Jamaican jerk spice which forms a popular part of Jamaican cuisine. Jamaica is also home to Red Stripe beer and Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee.

Talk the Talk

Jamaicans speak Jamaican Creole natively, also known locally as Patois (pronounced “patwa”). Its pronunciation and vocabulary are significantly different from English, despite it being based on English.

For example, you may hear “Eberyting is ah right” to mean “Everything is all right.”

You will usually hear Jamaicans say “Waah gwan?”, “Waah appen?”, or “what tah gwan”, the Creole variation of “What’s up?” or “What’s going on?”

Eat the Eats

Ackee & Saltfish - a traditional Jamaican dish | Photo credit: Christina Xu (Flickr: Chrysaora)

Jamaican food is a mixture of Caribbean and local dishes. Although Jamaican food gets a reputation for being spicy, local trends lean towards a more versatile food variety.

The national dish is Ackee and saltfish, and MUST be tried by anyone visiting the island. It is made with a local fruit called Ackee, which looks like scrambled eggs, but has a unique taste of its own.You probably won’t get a chance to try this food anywhere else, and if you really want to say that you did something uniquely Jamaican, then this is your chance.

Another local food is called bammy, which was actually concocted by the Arawak Indians. It is a flat pancake normally eaten during breakfast that tastes like corn bread. There is also a hard-dough bread (locally called hard dough bread), which comes in both sliced and unsliced varieties. Try toasting it … it tastes better than most breads you’ll ever eat.

If you are looking for meat dishes, you can try the jerk flavoured foods. The most popular is jerk chicken, although jerk pork and jerk conch are also common. The jerk seasoning is a spice that is spread on the meat on the grill like barbeque sauce.

There are also curries such as curried chicken and curried goat which are very popular in Jamaica. The best curried goat seems to be from the male species …

You may even want to pick up a piece of sugar cane, slice off some pieces and suckle them.

Fruits and vegetables in Jamaica are plentiful, particular between April and September, when most local fruits are in season. The many mango varieties are a ‘must try’ if you are visiting during the summer months. If you have not tasted fruit ripened on the tree, then you are missing out. Fruit picked green and exported to other countries does not compare.

Try drinking ‘coconut water’ straight from the coconut. This is not the same as coconut milk. Coconut water is clear and refreshing, not to mention the fact that is has numerous health benefits. Pawpaws, star apples, guineps, pineapples, jackfruit, oranges, tangerines, ugli and ortaniques are just some of the wonderful varieties of fruit available on the island.

Chinese food is available in many areas and has a distinct Jamaican flavour.

Drink the Drink (Cautiously!)

You can try the local lager called Red Stripe (which is exported to many countries in the west) and Dragon Stout. Most beers can be found in Jamaican pubs and hotels.

A local hard drink is Jamaican Rum, which is made from sugar cane. It normally tends to be over proof and mixed with cola or fruit juice. Be cautious. It’s not for someone who is drinking for the first time.

Attractions that Attract

A human chain hikes up Dunn River Falls | Photo credit: Jim Amorin (Flickr: jim_amorin)

Dunn’s River Falls is one of Jamaica’s national treasures. There are few places where the Arawak name “Xaymaca” – land of rivers and springs – is more apt. Dunn’s falls is perhaps the most popular natural attraction on the island.

A stone’s throw from Ocho Rios, Dunn’s River Falls is described as a living and growing phenomenon; it continuously regenerates itself from deposits of travertine rock, the result of precipitation of calcium carbonate from the river, as it flows over the falls.

You can climb the falls in a human chain led by experienced Falls Guides. Take a few moments to pause at the ‘massage parlour’ and experience the soothing effects of the water as it cascades to the sea.

Nestled within a secluded valley on the less traveled South Coast of Jamaica, YS Falls is located on a working cattle and horse farm 50 miles East of Negril and 50 miles South West of Montego Bay, in the “breadbasket” Parish of St. Elizabeth.

YS Falls opened in 1990. It is a nature-based attraction offering the opportunity to experience the beauty of the waterfalls surrounded by lush gardens and magnificent trees. There are seven waterfalls, several of which cascade into natural pools. Some areas are fairly rocky and do not allow swimming.

You can, during your visit take an exhilarating canopy ride, which glides from the top of the falls to its base, or go river tubing.
If you are visiting Jamaica with kids, or you are just a kid at heart, be sure to make the time for Kool Runnings Water Park, which is a premier water-based attraction in Negril. With over 5 acres of water rides and eye-popping dry park attractions, this really is a fun place to visit.

And this is a bit different … Rafting on the Martha Brae

You can take an exhilarating river ride on a 30-foot bamboo raft and also learn of the intriguing legend of Martha’s Gold hidden away in a mysterious cave yet to be discovered. The three mile raft ride, piloted by a trained Raft Captain, relaxes your mind and body and may just renew your spirit. This is an opportunity to view nature’s beauty evidenced in picturesque snapshots during the 90-minute journey through the verdant countryside of a naturally tropical splendour.

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