Who are Jamaicans?

(A brief history of how Jamaicans came to be from the Arawaks to Out of Many One People)

Jamaica was originally called Xaymaca, which means Land of Wood and Water. The original inhabitants of the land called the Arawaks/Tainos gave this island the name, Xaymaca. According to research, the Tainos came to Xaymaca over 2500 years ago from South America. They are said to be gentle people. Physically, they had flat noses, broad faces, light brown in skin tone, short and well- shaped with coarse, black hair. Tainos built villages all over Xaymaca; most of them settled on the coasts and near rivers. Fish was a significant part of their diet, so they would fish. They were known for growing sweet potatoes, cassavas, corn, vegetables, fruits, tobacco, and cotton. Smoking was said to be their favorite.

So, what happened to the Tainos?

Well, so-called discovery. In 1494, European Explorer Christopher Columbus came to Jamaica. This occurred on his second voyage to the West Indies. Christopher thought Xaymaca was the land of blessed gold. But, he soon found out that there was none. So do you think he left? No sah, he and his people attacked the Tainos, destroyed their lives, overworked them, treated them badly until they all died. European diseases also contribute to their deaths. I remember learning about this in high school. It made me so sad. A whole people wiped out.

Fortunately, recent research shows Tainos do exist. After the Tainos died, the island stayed under Spanish rule. Few Spaniards settled here, and Xaymaca served as a supply base for food, arms, men, horses that were shipped here to aid in conquering the American mainland. They had slaves too. 15 years later, the first Spanish colonists came here under the Spanish governor, Juan de Esquivel. They set up in the St. Ann’s Bay area. The first town was called New Seville or Sevilla la Nueva. The only town that was developed under the Spanish Town, the old capital of Jamaica, which was then called Jago de la Vega.

So, what happened to the Spanish?

You think dem set up and would be alright, don’t? Nope, the English attacked the Spaniards on May 10, 1655. Admiral William Penn and General Venables led this attack. The Spaniards surrendered. I imagine they say in my dialect, “Lawd, tek Jamaica. Tek it!” and tek weh themselves, you know….which they did. They freed their slaves and fled to Cuba. Freed…more like left them to the fate of the English who ran them from Jamaica. It was this set of “freed slaves” and their descendants who became known as the first Maroons.

So now the English were in town. They colonized Jamaica. Within this period, Port Royal became popular. The Spaniards didn’t see Port Royal as much, but the English saw it for the greatness it became. Port Royal grew to be the wealthiest and wickedest city in the world at that time. The pirates would bring their loot of gold, silver, and jewels to Port Royal. It was said to be a sinful town. Bae things gwaan yuh know. The greatest buccaneer of all was said to be Henry Morgan. He kept the Spaniards busy defending their coasts, so they had little time to attack and recolonize Jamaica. A violent Earthquake destroyed Port Royal on June 7, 1692.

So, you may be wondering how so many Africans came to Jamaica(After all we are 90% African descendants)?

Well, English settlers were focused on growing crops that could be sold in England, such as Tobacco, Indigo, cocoa, and, shortly after, sugar. The sugar industry boomed. There were 57 sugar estates in 1673, and by 1739, there were nearly 430. So, they needed labor. So, who did they get? The Africans through the slave trade. The English were impressed with the performance and endurance of the Africans. Also, getting African slaves were cheaper and more promising. Sound away talking about people like this don’t as if they were just things and it was business as usual, don’t? Sad, I know. They continued to ship enslaved Africans to Jamaica and the West Indies through the brutal journey known as the Middle Passage. Of course, the Africans rebelled when they could, ran

away, and joined the Maroons in the mountains, which were almost inaccessible. Several slave rebellions happened through the 18th and 19th centuries, one being the Christmas Rebellion which began at Kensington Estate in 1831 led by our now national hero, Sam Sharpe. There were also Maroon Wars. The Africans just didn’t give up, even if it cost their lives. Many died in slavery and fighting against slavery. The frequent rebellions were one factor that led to the abolition of the slave trade and slavery. On Jan 1, 1808, the Abolition Bill was passed. Emancipation apprenticeship came into effect in 1843, and complete freedom was granted in 1838. It was tough for freed Africans after slavery ended, as many were starting with beyond nothing. They had so much stripped from them as a people. Jamaica remained under British rule until 1962. August 6th is our Independence Day, and we celebrate Emancipation Day on August 1st.
So who said Jamaicans aren’t black? Check again. Many groups settled here as well. The Indians came here as indentured labourers under the Indian indenture system. More than 36,000 Indians came between 1845 and 1917. The East Indians are the largest ethnic minority in Jamaica. The first Chinese arrived in 1849. They were brought here as indentured labourers to work on the sugar cane estates after the emancipation of the Africans. About 1,210 Germans came between 1834 and 1838. They also came here as indentured labourers. We also had Jews and Syrians

coming here as two notable groups. We are said to be the mixing pot of races because these groups got together and had kids. So, some of us have African, Indian, Syrian, European, German and all kind a mix up and blenda. But, we call ourselves Jamaicans. To this writer’s knowledge, there is no ethnic group – Jamaicans. No hyphens necessary but just like every country, we have our issues. So do you know understand Who Jamaicans are (at least as it relates to ethnic groups)? Feel free to represent by getting one of our vendor’s print, Kavionart, Out of Many One People print here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/620980504/jamaica-out-of-many-one- people-print?ref=shop_home_recs_11&crt=1 Subscribe to our mailing list for more info and get support our store. It keeps us going. Bless up, readers!

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