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A brief overview of Jamaica

Originally settled by the Arawak Indians, Jamaica was first visited by Christopher Columbus in 1494 on his second voyage to the New World. Jamaica's name is derived from the Arawak word "Xaymaca" which means "Land of Wood and Water." In 1655 British forces conquered the island, ousting the Spaniards. During its three centuries as a British colony, Jamaica was variously administered by a governor and a planter-controlled legislature and by Crown Colony rule from London. The island had a successful economy based of sugar production with labour supplied by slaves from Africa. Slavery was abolished in 1834. Universal adult suffrage was granted in 1944 and in 1959 internal self-government was introduced. In 1962 August 6, Jamaica became an independent country within the British Commonwealth.

Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean Sea. It is located 898 kilometres southeast of Miami, 144.8 kilometres south of Cuba and 160.9 kilometres south west of Haiti. The island has an area of 11 420 square kilometres; its highest point is the Blue Mountain Peak, which rises 2 256 metres above sea level. The capital and major commercial centre, Kingston, is situated on the southeast coast. The Kingston Harbour is the seventh largest in the world. Montego Bay, situated on the northwest coat, is the second largest city and the centre of tourism activity.

The island's population is estimated at 2 576 200. Approximately 50.4 per cent of the population lives in rural areas. The ethnic origin of Jamaicans is primarily African (over 90.0 per cent). An estimated 30.0 per cent of the population is of mixed ethnic origins - East Indian, Chinese and European. Although Christian denominations predominate, diverse religious beliefs are represented. The official language is English. However, most of the people speak an English based creole - patois.

© 1999, 2000, 2001 Copyright Brian Martin
Permission is granted to quote, reprint or redistribute provided the text is not altered, and the author and is credited. The opinions expressed in this text are not necessarily the opinion of all Attrition staff members.

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