Jamaica Map

Memorable Independence Day

Jamaica gained her Independence in 1962

Absolute independence, after over fourteen hundred years the Arawak Indians had inhabited the mountainous and fertile islands of the Caribbean.

At about the time of Jesus’ birth, they had left their original homes in Venezuela and had sailed up the Antilles, leaving groups to settle on each island in turn. Eventually, they reached the Greater Antilles and made their largest settlements on the islands of Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica.

The Spanish

When Christopher Columbus arrived on the Island, two other sets of people had already inhabited the island; the Ciboneyians and the Tainos otherwise called Arawak Indians.

Ruled by the Spanish and subsequently, the British, Jamaica gained independence on August 6th, 1962. The country’s motto, “Out of Many, One People” refers to the many heritages of people that make up the island.

The Arawaks

The original inhabitants were the Arawak Indians, also called Tainan. The Taino were Indigenous peoples and the first recorded inhabitants of Jamaica.

Taino is the name that they described themselves to Christopher Columbus, meaning “the good person” (people), rather than the more commonly used “Arawak”, which refers to the language still spoken by their descendants in parts of South America even today.

The Tainos of Jamaica were highly organized and peace-loving people. Due to their superior agricultural skills, they were among the best nourished primitive communities in the world.

The Arawaks lived in small scattered villages, sometimes near the sea, sometimes on a hill a few miles from the sea. Here they were ruled by their cacique, or chief, who was their law-maker, their judge, and their chief priest.

The Arawak’s had few laws.

They owned most things in common except personal possessions like stone tools, clay pots and canoes. The greatest crime among them was theft, for which the penalty was death by impalement (being pierced with a sharpened stick and left to die).

The Cacique’s main duties were to organise the work of the village. This was done on a cooperative basis, with everyone sharing in the work to provide the tribe’s needs.

An Arawak’s Caneye

Making houses was another of the men’s tasks. Some of these were very large. They were bell-shaped and housed about a hundred people. In all Arawak settlements, several families shared one house, which was called a Caneye (It is an Arawak’s house). It was round and made of wattle with a thatched roof. Sometimes it had windows, but not always, and there was almost never a smoke hole. 

Arawak Caneye

However, these houses were very sturdily built especially since they had to withstand hurricanes. Wooden posts were placed firmly in the ground to form a circle about five paces apart and laced together with withes and grass. These Arawak houses were cool, rainproof and windproof and need never be replaced if they were well built.

Christopher Columbus discovered Jamaica on his second voyage to the West Indies in 1494. He tried to land at what is now called St. Ann’s Bay but was driven off by fierce Indians. The next day he sailed down the coast to Discovery Bay, where the Indians eventually traded with him. Spanish settlers later enslaved and ill-treated the Arawak’s so that many died out quickly.

Others escape into the hilly areas of Jamaica, and to the Great Plains, hiding in caves. The unique features of the Arawak’s Indians, still evidence among the Jamaican people to this day.

Jamaican Independence

The Maroons

Spanish slaves (and should not be confused with the English and Portuguese slave trade/slavery) who were armed and freed to help attack the English; lived in the mountainous interior of Jamaica, known as Cockpit Country.

Nanny of the Maroons

Nanny was a leader of the Maroons at the beginning of the 18th century. She was known by both the Maroons and the British settlers as an outstanding military leader who became, in her lifetime and after, a symbol of unity and strength for her people during times of crisis.

Independence thanks to Nanny of the Maroons
Sketch of Nanny of the Maroons
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The historical story of Jamaica’s Hero, Nanny of the Maroons also known as Queen Nanny.

From here successful guerrilla warfare against the British was fought. Nearly 100 years later they were accorded a Treaty of Independence and, ironically, joined the authorities in hunting down runaway slaves.

Spanish Settlement

The first Spanish settlement, Seville La Nueva in St. Ann’s Bay dated 1510 was abandoned and moved to St. Jago de la Vega now known as Spanish Town. No Spanish buildings remain. Kings House was built by the English in 1761 and was the site where in 1838 the abolition of slavery was announced.

The Morant Bay Rebellion

Broke out in 1865 and ended with the hanging of George William Gordon and Paul Bogle. The English governor was dismissed as a result. 1838-1865 is called the Dark Age of Jamaica.

The island’s two-hundred-year-old constitutions were given up in exchange for a crown colony toward the end of 1865.

Road to Independence

In 1938 Alexander Bustamante led the people in revolt, protesting against extremely poor economic conditions. These upheavals resulted in lasting labour Unions and political parties. On the 6th of August 1962, Jamaica was granted a constitution making it an independent sovereign state.

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