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Flag of Jamaica
Jamaica coat of arms
flag coat of arms
Motto : Out Of Many, One People
( English "From many (peoples) one people")
Official language English
Capital Kingston
Form of government Parliamentary monarchy
Head of state Queen Elizabeth II

represented by Governor-General Patrick Allen

Head of government Prime Minister
Andrew Holness
surface 10,991 km²
population 2.9 million (2017)
Population density 270 inhabitants per km²
Population development   + 0.2% (2015)
gross domestic product
  • Total (nominal)
  • Total ( PPP )
  • GDP / inh. (nominal)
  • GDP / inh. (KKP)
  • $ 13.95 billion ( 121st )
  • $ 25.39 billion ( 134th )
  • 4,931 USD ( 98. )
  • 8,976 USD ( 112. )
Human Development Index   0.730 ( 94th ) (2016)
currency Jamaican dollar (JMD)
independence August 6, 1962
(from the UK )
National anthem Jamaica, Land We Love
Time zone UTC − 5
License Plate YES
Internet TLD .jm
Telephone code +1 (876) see NANP
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Jamaica [ jaˈmaɪ̯ka ] / [ dʒ- ] ( English Jamaica [ ʤəˈmeɪkə ]) is an island state within the Commonwealth of Nations in the Caribbean .

The name derives from arawakischen from Xaymaca or Chaymakas, which means as much as source country or wood and water land. The former British colony is known for its diverse culture, some of which exerted global influence ( reggae , ska , rum , Rastafarian ), but also for its social and economic problems (poverty, homophobia ).

Geography and nature


Jamaica south of Cuba, NASA satellite image
Jamaica and the marine area jointly administered with Colombia

Jamaica is the third largest island in the Greater Antilles . It is 145 kilometers south of Cuba and - separated by the Jamaica Channel  - 160 kilometers west of Hispaniola (Quisqueya) with the states of Haiti and Dominican Republic . The Central American mainland 635 kilometers from the western tip. With a length of 235 kilometers and a width between 35 and 82 kilometers, the main island occupies an area of ​​10,991 square kilometers.

Off the southwest coast lies the Pedro Bank , an undersea elevation that covers an area of ​​8,000 square kilometers and is less than 100 meters deep. In the bank are the Pedro Cays , a group of islands with a total area of ​​23 hectares .

In addition to the main island and the Pedro Cays, the national territory of Jamaica also includes the island group of the Morant Cays , which is about 60 kilometers southeast .

The Serranilla Bank , Bajo Nuevo and Alice Shoal atolls (the latter a submarine reef ) are located in the marine area jointly administered by Jamaica and Colombia .

Creation of the island

The Caribbean is one of the most geologically complex regions in the world. Many details of how Jamaica was formed are unknown or controversial. The most common theory assumes that the western part of Jamaica and the Blue Mountains in the east developed in different regions and only met in the Miocene , about eight million years ago.

The Blue Mountains in the east are part of a mountain range whose mountain ranges can also be found in Cuba and Hispaniola. The geological structures are identical to those there. The mountains were lifted out of the water at the end of the Eocene and have been continuously above sea level ever since. There may have been a brief land bridge to Hispaniola around 35 million years ago.

The western parts of Jamaica and the Pedrobank were originally part of the submarine Nicaragua Ridge , from which they split off 40 million years ago. In the course of the Cretaceous Period , a number of underwater volcanoes formed in the region, some of which probably broke through the sea surface for a short time. The oldest rock that can be found on the island is cooled lava from this period. The entire block was lifted above the surface in the late Eocene by tectonic movements, aided by a sharp drop in sea level. Most of the volcanic activity ended by then at the latest.

After another five million years, the rising sea level again covered large parts of the area. As a result, limestone armor several hundred meters thick was created, which today still covers almost the entire west.

There are indications that some higher-lying parts were subsequently several times above the water surface. The last major uplift began eight million years ago, coinciding with the encounter with the Blue Mountains.

Geology and landscape

Lovers' Leap, a 500 meter drop-off south of Saint Elizabeth Parish

Jamaica lies on the northern edge of the Caribbean plate , which is pushed under the North American plate just off the coast . The proximity to the plate boundary repeatedly leads to strong earthquakes, such as the one that destroyed Port Royal in 1692 .

The west and middle of the island are dominated by several hundred meters thick limestone layers that cover about two thirds of the surface. In the center they form mountain ranges up to 900 meters high. Deep valleys and caves with underground rivers have formed in the soft rock. The karstification is particularly pronounced in Cockpit County south of Montego Bay .

In some places in the north, the mountains drop steeply over 500 meters to the sea. The 7,680-meter-deep Kaiman Rift begins there just off the coast . In the south, the descent to the sea is flatter, with wide alluvial plains created by the rivers over the past eight million years. Exceptions are two mountain ranges in Westmoreland and Saint Elizabeth , which extend to the coast. In addition to lime, the subsoil is formed by cold magma , gneiss and slate . The most important mineral resource is bauxite , the deposits of which are east of Montego Bay and west of Kingston in the interior of the island. In addition, gypsum and marble are mined.

The east is shaped by the Blue Mountains , a mountain range that extends for around 100 kilometers from northwest to southeast, with numerous foothills to the north and south. Here is the highest point on the island, the Blue Mountain Peak , 2256 meters above sea level .

Jamaica is crossed by many short rivers. Due to the location of the mountains, they mostly flow north or south. The amount of water they carry fluctuates greatly during the rainy seasons. In the mostly soft rock, the rivers can easily change their course or run underground for longer stretches.

The Black River is often mentioned as the longest river in Jamaica . Over a length of 53.4 kilometers, it carries water above ground all year round and is navigable with small boats. The actually longest river is the Rio Minho with 92.6 kilometers, the upper course of which, however, regularly dries up and is only navigable in the immediate vicinity of the coast. Both rivers lie to the southwest and are separated by the Clarendon watershed . The 39.7 kilometers long Cabaritta River is also navigable in sections . The Rio Cobre , which irrigates an area of ​​73 square kilometers in Saint Catherine and supplies Spanish Town with electricity, is of particular economic importance .

Lakes rarely form in porous limestone. Moneague Lake is an exception . In normal years it only occupies a very small area or dries out completely. However, at intervals of several decades it grows to an area of ​​300 hectares, which it keeps for several months. The reason is unknown, but is probably related to changes in the underground runoff.


Climate diagram
J F. M. A. M. J J A. S. O N D.
Temperature in ° Cprecipitation in mm
Source: WMO
Average monthly temperatures and rainfall for Kingston
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Max. Temperature ( ° C ) 30.3 30.2 30.7 31.1 31.6 32.1 32.8 32.7 32.1 31.7 31.2 30.6 O 31.4
Min. Temperature (° C) 21.1 21.0 21.6 22.6 23.6 24.2 24.3 24.2 24.0 23.4 22.8 21.8 O 22.9
Precipitation ( mm ) 18th 19th 20th 39 100 74 42 98 114 177 65 47 Σ 813
Rainy days ( d ) 5 5 5 7th 8th 7th 6th 9 11 14th 10 6th Σ 93
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Source: WMO

Jamaica's climate is tropical and is characterized by the northeast trade wind. The temperature differences are small in the course of the year. In Kingston, the mean monthly temperature in January is 25 ° C and in July 27 ° C, in the central high plateau it is around three degrees lower. The Blue Mountains, some of which are over 2000 meters high, are free of snow all year round. There are two distinct rainy seasons, in May and June and from September to November.

The annual rainfall varies greatly from region to region. More than 5000 mm of rain falls in the mountains of the northeast, while in the area around Kingston, on the humid south coast, the average is around 800 mm. Storms often sweep across the island in late summer and early autumn. During this time there is a risk of hurricanes . Most recently, Hurricane Charlie in 1951 and Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 caused severe damage.

Important cities

Settlement center in southeast Jamaica. Left to Right: Spanish Town , Portmore and Kingston .

Due to the mountainous inland, most of the settlement centers are on the coast or in the great plains. The capital Kingston is the largest city with around 584,600 inhabitants. Together with the nearby planned town of Portmore with 182,000 inhabitants, it forms a metropolitan area in which a third of the total population lives. In addition to practically all government institutions, the largest university and the largest airport on the island are located here. Kingston has had big problems with crime, especially since the early 1990s. Parts of the city are ruled by gangs that have fought each other and led open clashes with the police and the military in recent years .

A few kilometers to the west is the much smaller Spanish Town with 147,152 inhabitants . The city is the center of a growing area for bananas and sugar cane, which are processed here. Spanish Town is one of the oldest cities in Jamaica, from 1535 until the conquest of England it was the island capital.

In the northwest, very close to the point where Christopher Columbus was the first European to set foot on the island, is Montego Bay . The city with 110,115 inhabitants is a tourist destination and an important export port. The island's second international airport is nearby. Tourism on the island began here around 1900.

In 2016, 55.0% of the population lived in cities or urban areas. The largest cities are (as of 2011 census):

  1. Kingston : population 584,627
  2. Portmore : 182,153 inhabitants
  3. Spanish Town : 147,152 inhabitants
  4. Montego Bay : 110,115 inhabitants
  5. May Pen : 61,548 inhabitants


fauna and Flora

A Caribbean manatee

Jamaica can be divided into three ecoregions : dry forest along the coast, wet forest in the high inland areas and mangroves along some coastal stretches . Many animal and plant species have developed on the remote island that are only found here ( i.e. are endemic ).

Before the Spanish colonization, large parts of Jamaica were covered by dense forest. Today, many of these areas are used for agricultural purposes. Only regions on the north coast, Cockpit County and Pedro Bank as well as the highest regions of the Blue Mountains have largely been preserved in their original state.

Cockpit County is an important bird refuge. Much of the species found on the island can be found here, including the endemic national bird pennant tail . Different bat species live in the numerous caves. Some colonies contain more than 50,000 animals. The Jamaican owl and the Jamaican boa , the island's largest land predator, feed on them.

In the higher elevations, mahogany trees such as Swietenia and above all cedar and mahoe grow . The rainforest is home to 28 species of birds that can only be found here. The Jamaican giant swallowtail, (zool. Pterourus homerus ; English Jamaican giant swallowtail ), a knightly butterfly endemic to Jamaica , is one of the largest butterflies in the world.

In addition to sandbanks and extensive seagrass fields , the Pedro Bank offers the country's last well-preserved coral reefs . Although the bank is an important fishing area and attracts more and more tourists, the authorities have been able to protect it from destruction through legal regulations and intensive monitoring measures. The small islands are used by masked boobies and rose terns , but also by the endangered hawksbill turtle to lay their eggs. Some of them are designated as protected areas. The rare Caribbean manatees live in the bank and along the coast .

Environmental policy

Through tourism, an increased environmental awareness developed in Jamaica. There has been an independent Ministry of the Environment since 2000. Around 9% of the land area is under nature protection, plus several marine protected areas around the Pedro Cays and on the coral reefs. In 1990, the 79 acre Crow Mountains National Park was established in the Blue Mountains. Jamaica ratified the Washington Convention and the Kyoto Protocol . It supports the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and endeavors to comply with the Convention on the Protection of the Seas from Ship Pollution.

The biggest environmental problem is the bauxite mines. On the one hand, they take up a large area and grow in areas with a previously intact environment. On the other hand, the hazardous dust produced during mining pollutes the countryside and cities, especially Kingston. The rivers are polluted by untreated sewage and inputs of fertilizers and pesticides from agriculture. The same applies to the stretches of coast near the estuaries and large industrial plants. From 2000 to 2005 the Jamaican Ridge to Reef Watershed Project was run, which was supposed to improve the quality of the water through measures at the local level. It was supported with US development aid.


Population development in 1000 inhabitants
Population pyramid Jamaica 2016.

In 2017, around 2.9 million people lived in Jamaica, around half of them in cities, and one million in the five largest alone. The average age is 23.7 years, around a third of the population is younger than 14 years. Only 7.5% have reached the age of 64. This means that the population is very young compared to most industrialized countries. For every 1000 live born children, an average of 13 die; life expectancy is currently 75.3 for women and 71.8 for men. The population growth has decreased from 1.6% in 1960 to 0.68% in 2017. It is to be expected that the average age will increase in the future, also because many young people are leaving the island.

Around 91% of the population are descended from African slaves , who were brought to the island in the 17th and 18th centuries. 1.3% came to Jamaica from other Caribbean countries, 0.2% each are of European or Chinese origin. The indigenous people, Taíno and Caribs , did not survive as separate peoples; decimated by imported diseases and by the tyranny of the European colonial powers, they mixed with the other population groups.

In addition to the official language English, Jamaican Creole (also known as Patois ) is spoken, a Creole language with English roots, which is best known in Europe through hip-hop and reggae . Many residents speak both languages ​​and mix them into regional dialects. A phrase that can be heard all over the island in almost all possible situations is Jah Mon, which can be translated as safe, clear or good .

The consumption of marijuana , which is also called ganja there, is widespread across the island. Outside the cities, a large part of the population lives in small, approx. 35 square meters, one-story, colorfully painted wooden houses.

Jamaica is predominantly a country of emigration and receives few migrants from abroad. In 2017, only 0.8% of the population was not born in the country.


As in almost all of the Caribbean, many people have been leaving the island in search of work and a better quality of life since the end of the 19th century. Emigration goes back to the 1850s, when more and more workers were attracted by better wages, for example in Trinidad and today's Guyana , where they found work on plantations. The first great wave left the country in 1881 to participate in the construction of the Panama Canal . Many workers sent parts of their wages back home. The Panama money had a noticeable effect on the economy and brought important foreign currency into the country.

Central and South America, as well as the USA, were the main destinations for emigrants until more immigration laws were enacted in the 1930s. The Immigration Act of 1924, for example, severely restricted entry into the United States. After independence, many residents of the Commonwealth used the freedom to travel to Britain, with more than a million people having left the island since then. From there, many emigrated to the North American states. Today this detour is no longer used that often, as most emigrants enter the USA and Canada directly, sometimes illegally. The development is often called the Jamaican diaspora . New York , Toronto and London in particular are now home to the largest groups of former Jamaicans. Seven percent of Toronto's 2.5 million residents are from the island.

Emigrants from Jamaica after decade
1951-1960 1961-1970 1971-1980 1981-1990 1991-2000
Migration balance −195.200 −296,500 −216,959 −181,601 −216.392
Emigrants to the USA 8,869 74.906 137,577 208.148 ?

Since the 1980s, the population loss has been partially offset by increased immigration from North America and Europe, but also from the rest of the Caribbean. In 2017, 0.8% of the population were migrants.


Almost two thirds of the population belong to a Protestant church, a result of British rule over the island.

Protestant churches

The larger Protestant communities are the Church of God (about 21.2%), the Baptists (about 8.8%), the Seventh-day Adventists (about 9%), the Pentecostals (about 7.6%), the Methodists (about 2.7%), the United Church of Christ (about 2.7%), the Plymouth Brethren (about 1.1%) and the Moravians (about 1.1%).

Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church , originally widespread by the Spaniards , now has a share of only 4%. However, there is an archdiocese in Kingston and dioceses in Mandeville and Montego Bay .

Anglican Church

The Anglican Church in Jamaica (2.8%) belongs to the Church in the Province of the West Indies , represented by Bishop Alfred Charles Reid in Kingston. The Gospel is widespread in the services.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses in Jamaica are organized into 188 congregations that are part of the United States branch. They have a share of 1.9% of the population. While the majority of the meetings are in English, some meetings are also held in American Sign Language , Chinese , Spanish, and Hindi .


The Jewish community in Spanish Town has existed since the 16th century and has had its own synagogue since 1704 . Another large Jewish community lives in Kingston. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Jamaica was home to the largest Jewish community in the Caribbean at times.


Rastaman with dreadlocks

Hardly any group has shaped or shaped the image of Jamaica abroad more than the Rastafari. It is a Christian-based community of faith with its own way of life. It originated in the 1930s among the descendants of African slaves. The followers see the former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, who died in 1975, as the new Messiah , whose name is derived from his maiden name "Tafari Makonnen" and his title of nobility "Ras". With him the hope of a liberation of Africa from colonial oppression was connected.

Rastafarian consists of different movements. Most focus on the individual, who on the one hand live free from laws and regulations, but obey the purity regulations of the Old Testament. These groups reject the consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Many of them, but not all, consume cannabis ( ganja ) together in a ritual way , which they use for meditation or for "reasoning", i. H. Think about it or debate it with others, use it. Based on the revelation of John (verse 22,2 LUT : "[...] and the leaves of the trees serve to heal the peoples"), hemp is also referred to as the healing of the nation . Many show their religious affiliation by wearing dreadlocks . Faith is often wrongly reduced to these characteristics. The movement became known abroad primarily through reggae singers such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh .

Other religions and worldviews

Some of the African religions brought to the island by slaves were able to survive. More or less they adopted elements of other cultures and religions, which led to a large number of small faith groups that are comparable to the Santería in Cuba and the Voodoo in Haiti.

There are also Islamic and Buddhist minorities.



In the 7th century BC the first Taíno (a people belonging to the Arawak ) from South America arrived on the island. They lived in tribal communities and practiced agriculture and fishing. They built their houses out of reeds and straw. Small groups of the Caribs came to Jamaica during the 15th century . In contrast to the practice on many other islands, they did not drive the Taíno out, but lived with them. When Christopher Columbus landed in Jamaica as the first European on his second voyage in 1494, around 100,000 people lived there. Caves with paintings similar to those on other Caribbean islands have been found at Pedro Bluff in Saint Elizabeth.

Spanish colony (1509–1655)

One of the first maps of Jamaica, drawn by Benedetto Bordone around 1528 .

After years of dispute between Diego Columbus , the son of Christopher Columbus, and the Spanish crown over the ownership of some Caribbean islands, he finally became viceroy of all the islands his father discovered. He was given the right to keep a share of the gold found there for himself and to collect taxes. In 1509 he had Jamaica taken by Juan Ponce de León and named it Santiago. This name was never used. The Spaniards also used the original Indian names Chaymakas or Xaymaca, which they twisted in Jamaica . In less than ten years, the indigenous culture disintegrated, decimated by diseases introduced and brutal treatment by the settlers. They have been considered extinct since the second half of the 17th century. To compensate for the lack of labor, the Spaniards brought the first African slaves to the island from 1517, mainly from the gold and slave coast . For the first time in 1611, more black African than European inhabitants were counted. The capital was Nueva Sevilla, today's Spanish Town . First, the Encomienda management system was introduced in agriculture . Spaniards received large estates, along with the indigenous people who lived on them, who they could use for work and who they evangelized. The system contributed significantly to the extinction of the Indian culture. Shortly before the conquest by England, the more humane Repartimiento was adopted, in which Indian village communities had to make two to four percent of their labor available to the colonial rulers.

With no precious metals found on the island, the Spanish crown's interest quickly shifted to Mexico . Many settlers left the island again, leaving a weak garrison.

British colony (1655–1962)

Taking possession

Due to its enormous size and difficult geographical conditions, Spain was never really able to protect its possessions in America - especially in the Caribbean. In the decades after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, but especially since the final decline of Spanish supremacy in the second half of the 17th century, the English, French and Dutch penetrated more and more into the Spanish sphere of influence.

On May 10, 1655, English troops landed under Robert Venables and Admiral William Penn Sr. at the site of today's Kingston. They had been sent by Oliver Cromwell to conquer bases in the Caribbean as part of Western design . The administration in Spanish Town surrendered the next day, and some of the remaining Spaniards fled to Cuba without a fight. In the hope of a revolt, they had previously freed their slaves and equipped them with weapons. But there was no fighting at first, as the former slaves withdrew to the inaccessible interior of the country, where they lived under the name of Maroons . Despite the surrender, the last Spanish governor, Cristobal Arnaldo de Ysassi, gathered guerrilla troops on the north coast and inland. Twice he received support from Cuba, but had to give up after two defeats by the English army in 1657 and 1658. In 1664 an elected assembly was set up to perform local administrative tasks. Jamaica formally became the property of Great Britain in 1670 through the Treaty of Madrid .

Economic boom

The goods produced in Jamaica's plantation economy ultimately made the island a valuable possession of the English crown for over 150 years. In the first two decades after the British occupation, however, the island and its newly founded capital Port Royal were primarily the contact point and base for privateers from all over the world. These were not only tolerated by the British governor, but also regarded as valuable military support in the defense of the island against possible Spanish attempts at reconquest. Thanks to the protection of the island's governor, privateers like Henry Morgan were able to launch their attacks on the Spanish colonial empire unhindered from here. This in turn benefited the economy of Jamaica, as the pirates sold and squandered a large part of their booty after their return here and thus fed it into the economic cycle. The pirate age on the island ended with the destruction of the city by an earthquake on June 7th, 1692. Spanish Town became capital again until it was replaced by Kingston in 1755.

In 1694 the French Du Casse landed with 1,500 soldiers in the north and east of Jamaica. His attempt to conquer the island failed due to the resistance of the settlers. After ten days of fighting, the French had to retreat to their ships. Du Casse destroyed several plantations and kidnapped around 1,300 slaves. The last attempt to conquer the island failed in 1782, when the French fleet intended for the invasion was defeated by the British at the Battle of Les Saintes .

Riots and riots

Harbor Street, Kingston, 1820

From the 1730s onwards, there were more and more conflicts with the Maroons. The latter refused to hand over escaped slaves to the British, and in turn made attempts to free more slaves. The First Maroon War culminated in 1734 when Nanny Town, one of the Maroon settlements in the Blue Mountains, was destroyed. The conflict lasted until the peace treaty in 1739. The treaty negotiated by Granny Nanny guaranteed the Maroon an independent colony on the condition that they returned escaped slaves and helped defend the island.

The Second Maroons War broke out in 1795 after the Maroons refused to continue extraditing people. The trigger for the fighting was the torture of two slaves. 5,000 soldiers and bloodhounds trained to hunt people put down the uprising. The Maroon leaders were captured and deported to Nova Scotia , Canada, from where they were later brought to Sierra Leone .

Statue of Samuel Sharpe in Montego Bay

In 1807 the overseas trade in slaves was forbidden, but the work system itself remained unchanged. There were several small riots, to 1831, led by Samuel Sharpe of the Christmas rebellion broke out around Montego Bay. Though quickly and bloodily dejected, it was part of a development that led to the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833 , that is, the abolition of slavery. It took another four years for the new law to be enforced in Jamaica. In the years that followed, more and more immigrants came to the island voluntarily, including a group of workers from India. They were used on the plantations, but could not stop the beginning decline of the sugar industry. Cheap sugar from Cuba flooded the market.

The living conditions of the freed slaves remained catastrophic. Although they had achieved freedom, they were mostly without possessions and were unable to participate in the administration of the island due to an election tax. The anger and despair of the population erupted in the 1865 Morant Bay uprising led by Paul Bogle and George William Gordon . The uprising was suppressed by the British on behalf of the governor with massive violence, the local administration was dissolved and Jamaica was declared a crown colony . More than 1,000 people, including Bogle and Gordon, were killed. The violence caused horror in Britain and resulted in closer surveillance of governors.

Crown Colony

With the new governor John Peter Grant , numerous reforms began in 1866. The education system was made accessible to larger sections of the population, and labor laws were improved. The infrastructure was also expanded. The railway network reached its greatest extent and an underwater cable to Europe was laid. Martial law was declared on the island in 1914, and around 10,000 Jamaican soldiers took part in the First World War on the side of the Allies.

From the 1930s onwards, partly motivated by the work of Marcus Garvey , there were riots and revolts against British rule. The residents demanded more independence and fairer taxation. In 1938 the People's National Party (PNP), the first of the two major parties, was founded by Norman Washington Manley . In 1944 a new constitution came into force, which allowed the country to regain a certain degree of self-government. Jamaica is one of the few countries where women's suffrage became law during World War II. For the first election on November 20, 1944, the general active and passive right to vote already applied. With independence on August 6, 1962, universal suffrage was confirmed. In the same year the first free, general and equal elections took place.

During the Second World War , Jamaica was used as a naval base by the United Kingdom and the United States. The country itself supported the Allies with troops and money. After the World War there were attempts to place the West Indian colonies under a common administration. In 1947 the first negotiations on the establishment of the West Indian Federation took place in Montego Bay . A year later, the University of the West Indies , a joint university for 16 Caribbean countries, was founded in Mona near Kingston. In 1958 Jamaica and nine other British territories in the Caribbean joined the West Indian Federation, but left again in 1961 after a referendum.

Souvereign state

First years (1962–1972)

Independence from Great Britain was achieved on August 6, 1962, followed by membership of the United Nations on September 18 . Jamaica has been a free member of the Commonwealth of Nations since then . The first prime minister was Alexander Bustamante of the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP), which remained in power until 1972. The first session of Parliament was opened by Princess Margaret . Jamaica joined several international organizations in the following years, including the UN Human Rights Committee .

1966 visited both Elisabeth II. And the key for the Rastafari Haile Selassie amidst great rejoicing the island, was the same year British Empire and Commonwealth Games , the largest sporting event in the history of the country instead. In October, gang wars in Kingston led to the declaration of a state of emergency. It took the police and military a month to get the situation under control. After his term in office, in February 1967, Bustamante withdrew from the leadership of his party. His successor Donald Sangster won the election with 33 to 20 seats in parliament. Only a few weeks later, he had to be flown to Canada for treatment after a stroke, where he died on April 11th. Hugh Shearer ruled until the end of the legislature. During his tenure, he switched to the metric system in 1968 and the Jamaican dollar was introduced in 1971, as well as a drought in 1967–1968 and a nationwide police strike for higher wages.

Socialism (1972–1980)

Unsuccessful measures to combat the effects of the drought and the strike made the population question Shearer's leadership qualities. The People's National Party (PNP) under Michael Manley was able to prevail in the 1972 elections with 37 to 19 seats. In the first years after independence, Jamaica pursued a pro-Western foreign policy. Manley, on the other hand, declared democratic socialism to be a form of government and established relationships with socialist states. Numerous companies were nationalized and bought, especially in the mining industry . The new policy was not directly communist - the democratic structures remained and large parts of the market were still privately owned - but it was often interpreted that way due to Manley's close friendship with Fidel Castro and a trade mission to the Soviet Union . Despite intensive negotiations, relations with the International Monetary Fund broke off in 1979 and the economy stagnated. Shortly before the election, the police exposed preparations by the Jamaican army for a coup. 24 soldiers and three civilians were arrested and sentenced to several years' imprisonment.

However, international relations did not break off completely. Jamaica joined the ACP countries through the Lomé Convention of 1975 . The agreement and its successor, the Cotonou Agreement of 2002, guaranteed the country development aid and tariff preferences, including on the European market, but also forced it to open part of its markets to foreign products. Many of the discounts, especially on the banana market, expired in 2006.

Return to pro-western politics

The increased poverty as a result of international isolation gave the JLP a clear victory with 51 to nine seats in 1980, a success that was repeated in the local elections a year later. The new Prime Minister Edward Seaga returned to a pro-Western foreign policy. Manley's domestic measures, which in addition to nationalization also included the expansion of social institutions, remained largely in place. Relations with the International Monetary Fund were resumed and those with Cuba broken off. In the same year, Jamaica received an assurance from the UN that the headquarters of the International Seabed Authority, which was to be established, would be set up in Kingston. The USA and the EU in particular have now granted loans and economic aid to strengthen the economy and improve the ailing infrastructure. Nevertheless, the Jamaican dollar depreciated so much against the US dollar by 1983 that the government was forced to order new elections. The PNP refused to participate because it felt disadvantaged by the division of the constituencies. The JLP won all 60 seats and was able to govern without opposition until 1987.

In October 1983, the one week US invasion of Grenada began . According to official reports from the USA, Jamaica, among others, had expressed the wish to the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States to overthrow the communist government there. In reality, however, the initiative came from the USA. For the first and only time since independence, the island made soldiers available for foreign assignments. Together with Antigua and Barbuda , Barbados , Dominica , St. Lucia and St. Vincent , they sent 300 men, but they were not used in combat operations.

Path of Hurricane Gilbert in 1988

On September 12, 1988, Hurricane Gilbert reached Jamaica. The eye of the storm crossed the entire length of the island and caused great damage. There was a loss of four billion US dollars, 40% of the acreage was destroyed. Kingston and Saint Andrew Parish and Hanover Parish were hardest hit, with water and electricity failing for several days. In the months that followed, there was extensive international aid, which, due to corruption and embezzlement, only partially reached the people, but stimulated the economy again.

Delays in rebuilding the destroyed infrastructure, especially in the small communities along the coast, undermined people's confidence in the government's capabilities. In the parliamentary elections in 1989 she won only 15 of the 60 seats. Michael Manley became Prime Minister again, but had to resign in 1992 for health reasons. Percival J. Patterson succeeded him and remained in office until 2006. Thanks to international aid, the economic situation was relatively favorable again in 1990 and encouraged the establishment of many banks and insurance companies that took great financial risks. In 1996, unexpectedly sharp increases in interest rates led to the collapse of the entire financial sector.

For a number of years, Jamaica has endeavored to participate in international organizations to raise awareness of its problems. In 2001 it assumed the chairmanship of the United Nations Security Council for one year .


State organization

Jamaica is a stable parliamentary representative democratic monarchy . In the 2019 Democracy Index, Jamaica ranks 50th out of 167 countries. The constitution, drawn up in 1962 by a joint committee of the parties represented in the Jamaican Parliament, is based on the United Kingdom system ( Westminster system ). Every citizen aged 18 and over is entitled to vote. Virtually all government agencies are based in the capital, Kingston.


The head of state is Elizabeth II , who bears the title of Queen of Jamaica . It is represented by a governor-general appointed by the prime minister and his cabinet. Both the Queen and the Governor General have largely ceremonial duties, including appointing the Prime Minister and Ministers. The prime minister is at the head of the government. As is usual in countries with the Westminster system, he is endowed with extensive powers and can make many important decisions without consulting Parliament. The actual administration of the country is carried out by authorities headed by a specialist minister. Prime Minister, when appointed by the Governor General, automatically becomes the chairman of the party that holds the majority in Parliament. A change in the party leadership leads to the appointment of a new prime minister within a few weeks. On March 30, 2006, Portia Simpson Miller of the PNP replaced Percival J. Patterson, who had resigned for health reasons . She thus became the first head of government in her country.

In the general election of September 3, 2007, Simpson Miller narrowly lost her majority. Her successor as Prime Minister was the previous opposition leader Bruce Golding on September 11th . After his resignation, Andrew Holness succeeded him on October 23, 2011 as the country's ninth Prime Minister - atypical for Jamaica - even before he was elected as the new party leader. Early parliamentary elections were held on December 29, 2011; the PNP won 42-21 seats ahead of the JLP, and Portia Simpson Miller was sworn in as Prime Minister for the second time on January 5, 2012. Holness became opposition leader in the House of Representatives. In the parliamentary elections on February 25, 2016, the JLP was again the strongest party and Holness was again Prime Minister of Jamaica from March 3, 2016.

legislative branch

The House of Representatives

The Parliament of Jamaica consists of two chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate . The Members of the House of Representatives ( Members of Parliament or MPs) are directly elected every five years . Jamaica traditionally has a two-party system , only the People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) are represented in parliament, both of which have appointed prime ministers several times in the past. In the parliamentary elections on September 3, 2007, the PNP lost its majority after 18 years and only had 27 of the 60 MPs. In the parliamentary elections on December 29, 2011, she won 42 of the 63 parliamentary seats and changed the JLP after four years in government. Other parties and coalitions do not play a role. The government's strong position limits the Chamber's real influence.

The Senate consists of 21 members. The senators are appointed by the governor general, 13 of them on the proposal of the prime minister and eight on the proposal of the opposition leader. A voice in political decisions is only available in a few areas.

Election of the House of Representatives of Jamaica in 2016
Political party be right % Seats +/-
Jamaica Labor Party 437.178 50.10% 32   11
People's National Party 433,629 49.69% 31   11
Marcus Garvey People's Progressive Party 260 0.03% 0 0
National Democratic Movement 223 0.03% 0 0
People's Progressive Party 91 0.01% 0 New
Independent 1,233 0.14% 0 0
Valid votes 872.614 100% 63 0
Invalid votes 9,875
Votes cast 882.489
Number of eligible voters and turnout 1,824,412 48.37%
Source: Electoral Commission (100% of votes counted)


The legal system is based on English common law . The judges are appointed by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Judiciary Committee. In the case of the court presidents, the prime minister and opposition leaders have a say.

The highest court in the country is the Court of Appeal , presided over by the Chief Justice in Kingston. It is purely a court of appeal for the subordinate courts. Like all Jamaican courts, it is responsible for both civil and criminal law. Serious offenses and civil disputes are heard in the Supreme Court . In capital crimes , decisions are made by jury . The Supreme Court is organized centrally, but the negotiations usually take place in the corresponding parishes .

To deal with minor offenses, each Parish has a Resident Magistrate's Court, divided into specialized courts. Appeals from this instance skip the Supreme Court and are directed directly to the Court of Appeal. The lowest tier of jurisdiction are the petty sessions. They are subordinate to the local magistrate's courts and act as arbitration in civil cases and negotiate fines. The Magistrate's Court is permitted as an appeal instance.

The Justice Committee of the Privy Council in London is still above the Court of Appeal . Like many other states in the Caribbean, Jamaica has revisions negotiated there for particularly serious offenses. Since 1970 Jamaica has been trying to establish a joint tribunal for the Caribbean with other states. In February 2001 an agreement was signed between twelve countries to set up the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). The Court of Justice, based in Port of Spain , Trinidad and Tobago, has been operational since 2005 , but has not yet been taken into account by Jamaican legislation, so it is not yet accessible. Bruce Golding announced shortly after his election that he wanted to make the CCJ the final instance of appeal with a referendum.

Jamaica adheres to the death penalty. However, this has rarely been carried out in recent years, as the Privy Council has always converted the sentence to life imprisonment when it was called. Opponents of the CCJ argue that it was only created to prevent these pardons. In a first decision, the court prevented an execution in Barbados .

Parties and unions

A two-party system was established even before Jamaica's independence. Both the People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaican Labor Party (JLP) have been in power several times since 1962. Other parties are insignificant and currently not represented in parliament.

Both parties are closely linked to one of the two major trade unions , Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) and Trade Union Congress (TUC). The BITU, founded by Alexander Bustamante in 1938 , became the JLP in 1943, which provided the first prime ministers after independence. Bustamante's cousin Norman Washington Manley founded the PNP in 1938, around which the TUC was formed. Both parties describe themselves as social democratic and hardly differ in their current party programs.

Many sides accuse the parties of maintaining armed gangs and of violently controlling entire districts of Kingston. In fact, there have been riots in all previous elections, mostly with several deaths.

Foreign policy

Jamaica is a member of a large number of international organizations, including the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Caribbean Development Bank , CELAC , the UN and Interpol . For many years it has been one of the spokesmen for the Caribbean countries, and in 2005 it chaired the G77 conference on developing countries . Jamaica is not involved in any international conflicts and its soldiers are not deployed outside the country. In the last few years there have been disagreements with the US government, which suspects the parties of supporting gangs in Kingston in smuggling drugs from South to North America and protecting them from police access. Apart from that, the relationship between the two states is good; in 2004 Jamaica received 18.5 million US dollars in economic aid.

Relations with the European Union (EU) deteriorated after it opened its markets to products from other countries. The increased competition is endangering the cultivation of bananas and sugar cane, which is already in crisis. Infrastructure projects funded by the EU are designed to help the country overcome the problems. Jamaica has embassies in almost all European countries. Trade traditionally plays an important role in international relations, which is why the Ministry of Commerce and Foreign Affairs are combined under Minister Anthony Hylton .

Government spending and debt

In 2001 the national debt was around ten billion US dollars. That corresponds to 147% of the gross domestic product (GDP). In the course of the 1990s, the foreign debt decreased, but the expensive domestic debt increased by a factor of 14. The reason is the collapse of the financial sector around 1995, the losses of which the government had to compensate. Interest payments currently make up around 60% of government spending, even if new debt has fallen sharply.

The financial year runs from the beginning of April to the end of March of the following year. In 2005/2006, 187 billion Jamaican dollars (around 2.2 billion euros) were spent. This contrasted with revenues of around 2.15 billion euros and new debt was around 48.4 million euros.

In the 2005/2006 financial year, the share of government spending was for


The Jamaican Army was officially formed after Jamaica's independence on July 31, 1962 and is called the Jamaica Defense Force (JDF). It emerged from the West India Regiment and consists of a 3,300-strong professional army and a reserve . There is no conscription . The main task of the JDF is to protect the country and ensure internal security . It reports to the Prime Minister, represented by the Minister for Security and Justice. The Commander-in-Chief is currently Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin .

Social problems and crime

Inflation since the 1980s and the rise in the US dollar compared to the Jamaican dollar have pushed prices up, especially for imported goods. Many jobs were lost due to lower exports, especially in agriculture. In addition, almost every resident lost at least part of their savings when the financial sector collapsed. The rural exodus increased, especially to Kingston, where there are many slum-like neighborhoods. The government went to great lengths to provide housing; Among other things, tens of thousands of cheap apartments were built in Portmore. But the basic social problems were not resolved.

The poor quality of life encourages crime, which is the island's biggest problem today. In the cities, gangs have formed through drug trafficking and extortion money. Since the 1970s, the trade unions and the parties closely related to them have also maintained armed gangs that control neighborhoods in which a particularly large number of their own supporters live. Young people in particular see gangs as the only way to get money quickly. In 2009, 1,683 people died as victims of crime, which corresponds to about 60 deaths per 100,000 population. For comparison: In 2002 the rate in the US was 5.7 per 100,000 people. In 2006, another 277 people were killed during operations by the Jamaican police. The number of murders fell to 1,124 in 2011 (40 per 100,000 population).

The crime rate is one of the highest in the world; the clearance rate is around 40%. Most of the few prisons are from colonial times and are overcrowded. The conditions of detention are mostly bad. Jamaica is a transit point for the drug trade from South to North America. The Ministry of Security estimates that around 80 tons of cocaine pass through the island every year . Smuggling is very lucrative for the middlemen. Many coastal regions are controlled by mafia-like organizations, which is partly due to the fact that the police are focused on the cities. Cooperation with the US could not affect business, which is partly due to the fact that corruption is widespread among senior officials. Transparency International ranks Jamaica 83rd out of 176 in its 2016 corruption report.


On June 2, 2014, the Jamaican government headed Portia Simpson Miller decided to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana for private, medical or scientific use . Possibly only a fine has to be paid. The appendix to the existing law defines two ounces as the minimum amount for an arrest.

"Too many of our young people have ended up with criminal convictions after being caught with a spliff, something that has affected their ability to do things like get jobs and get visas to travel overseas"

"Too many of our young people have been convicted of crime after being caught with a joint , which has affected their chances of getting a job or international visas."

- Attorney General Mark Golding

See also: Cannabis as an intoxicant


Capleton live at the Bob Marley Birthday Bash 2K6 at the MX3 in Negril

The human rights situation of homosexuals in Jamaica is poor. Article 76 of the law on criminal offenses against the person punishes anal intercourse (theoretically also between men and women) with up to ten years in prison, combined with heavy forced labor. Other acts of physical intimacy between men are punishable under Article 79 with up to two years imprisonment, combined with the possibility of being sentenced to hard labor.

More recent Jamaican dancehall songs also regularly call for homosexuals to be murdered ( bun dem chichiman = burn the gays); these include the well-known artists Beenie Man , Bounty Killer , Capleton , Elephant Man , Buju Banton , Sizzla and Vybz Kartel . Homophobic violence is quite common. According to Amnesty International , several Jamaicans have been granted asylum in the UK in recent years simply because of their homosexuality . The contempt of homosexual people is often linked to the fear of contracting the HIV virus .

Administrative division

Jamaica consists of three counties , which in turn are divided into a total of 14 historically grown parishes (counties).

Jamaica parishes numbered2.png
Parish Area
Population 2016 Capital
Cornwall County
1 Hanover Parish 450.4 70,374 Lucea
2 Saint Elizabeth Parish 1,212.4 152.074 Black River
3 Saint James Parish 594.9 185.985 Montego Bay
4th Trelawny Parish 874.6 76,099 Falmouth
5 Westmoreland Parish 807.0 145.854 Savanna-la-Mar
Middlesex County
6th Clarendon Parish 1,196.3 248.087 May Pen
7th Manchester Parish 830.1 192.178 Mandeville
8th Saint Ann Parish 1,212.6 174,473 Saint Ann's Bay
9 Saint Catherine Parish 1,192.4 522.057 Spanish Town
10 Saint Mary Parish 610.5 115.045 Port Maria
Surrey County
11 Kingston Parish 21.8 89.057 Kingston
12 Portland Parish 814.0 82,771 Port Antonio
13 Saint Andrew Parish 430.7 573,369 Half Way Tree
14th Saint Thomas Parish 742.8 95,087 Morant Bay


Total volume J $ 95.275 billion (around € 1.12 billion)
Total volume J $ 295.568 billion (around € 3.48 billion)

Jamaica is one of the more prosperous countries in the Caribbean, the human development index was 0.738 points in 2014, which corresponds to a country of medium development . Nevertheless, every fifth inhabitant lives below the poverty line. The price level for consumer goods and many groceries in supermarkets corresponds to that of some European countries (in 2011 in supermarkets 15 US dollars for a bottle of rum or 150 Jamaica dollars for a beer, 115 Jamaica dollars for a liter of gasoline). Until the 1940s, the export of agricultural products was the country's only source of income. Since then, tourism and the extraction and processing of natural resources have become the most important economic sectors.

Since the early 1980s there have been attempts to modernize the economy with the help of international funding and to build a stable infrastructure. From 1985 to 1995 the economy grew slowly but continuously. Nevertheless, inflation reached a record level of 80.2% in 1991, among other things caused by rising oil prices and financial instabilities on the island.

In the 1990s, the government succeeded in attracting more foreign investors by liberalizing the market, which particularly promoted tourism and stabilized prices. The economy performed well until 1995, when new funding problems and in 1997 the largest drought in 70 years led to four years of recession.

There has been economic growth again since 2000 and inflation hit a low of 6.1%. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the devastating hurricane season in 2005 had a negative effect, but did not stop the overall positive development. The most important trading partners are the USA, Canada, France and Trinidad and Tobago .

The unemployment rate was 13.8% in 2016. In 2006, 64% worked in the service sector, 17% in industry and 19% in agriculture. The gross domestic product , calculated on the basis of purchasing power parities , was 25.4 billion US dollars, 1.5% more than in the previous year. That is 9,000 US dollars per inhabitant (as of 2016). In the Global Competitiveness Index , which measures a country's competitiveness, Jamaica ranks 75th out of 138 countries (as of 2016). In 2017, the country ranks 41st out of 180 countries in the index for economic freedom . The economy in Jamaica suffers from the high debt burden of the state. In 2016, national debt was around 130% of economic output.

As with many other Caribbean countries, the main source of foreign currency is still money that emigrants send to relatives on the island. The US dollar is also (legally) accepted as currency on the island.


Yams , an important foundation of Jamaican cuisine

In 2004 around 200,000 people worked in agriculture. Mainly bananas , coffee , citrus fruits and sugar cane are grown for export. Jamaica is also the world's main exporter of allspice with a market share of around 65% . There are also coconuts, grains, ginger, sweet potatoes, yams , beans, peas, annatto and sisal for the local market. Some of the sugar cane is processed into sugar and alcohol directly on the island. Despite the high level of employment, the industry only contributes 4.9% to GDP. In addition to a large number of small businesses, the export goods are mainly produced on large plantations.

In recent years, competition for Jamaican products has grown. In 2001 205,000 tons of sugar were exported, in 2005 it was only 127,000. In 2007, however, sales recovered to 162,000 tons. Only the export volume of rum grew from 23.7 to 24.7 million liters during this period. The common people prefer rum of the JB variety . The products made by Appleton are also everywhere. Other rum brands also known in Europe are Myer’s and Captain Morgan .

Natural resources

The island's most important export is bauxite , an aluminum ore . It accounts for two thirds of export earnings. In 2005 3939 people were employed in this branch of industry. A processing plant was built in Nain, Saint Elizabeth, for $ 125 million. Important deep-water piers have been built in the vicinity and in Saint Ann . The bauxite is shipped unprocessed or refined to aluminum oxide . There is a lack of cheap electricity for processing it into aluminum, such as is available near the bauxite deposits in New Zealand or Iceland .

1978 1990 1999 2001 2003
Amount recovered in 1000 t 11,740 10,966 11,600 12,350 13,445
Share of world funding 13.9% ? 8.6% 9.2% 9.3%
Space according to mining volume 3. 3. 4th 4th 4th

In addition to bauxite, gypsum is also mined, but with a significantly lower yield. Attempts to build up an extensive cement industry - several large processing plants were built, including in Mona - failed due to a lack of investment from abroad and initially insufficient demand. In 2005 the import tax on cement was raised from 15 to 40 percent, but this did not lead to increased production in the country, but to a lack of raw materials in the construction industry.


Eleven kilometers long sandy beach in Negril

Banana vans brought the first tourists to the island around 1900, and large groups began arriving in 1970. Most travel to one of the two international airports in Kingston and Montego Bay or by cruise ship. The actor Errol Flynn , who bought a large property in the 1950s, contributed to the image of the tropical paradise .

In 2005 around 2.61 million tourists visited the island. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 , the number of visitors initially collapsed, but in 2006 1.7 million air tourists saw an increase of 13.5% over the previous year. The number of cruise passengers rose by 17.7% to 1.3 million. In contrast, the number of German visitors has stagnated since 2006 at around 20,000 guests. In package tourism, the vast majority of them come from North America due to the relatively short flight times of around four hours. The majority of Americans are of European or African origin from the northern and northeastern states. Most Canadians are from Ontario. The remaining contingent is made up of tourists from Germany, Great Britain and Italy. All major holiday hotel chains have corresponding properties, and all major European tour operators offer package tours to the three main holiday resorts of Negril in the west and Montego Bay in the northwest and Ocho Rios in the north. In addition to the typical beach tourism - and in connection with it - Jamaica is a preferred destination for female sex tourists from the aforementioned countries.

As another branch of tourism, ecotourism is becoming increasingly important domestically and in the Pedro Bank. The government is hoping for particularly large growth from day-trippers from cruise ships. Jamaica's Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett is pursuing the ambitious goal of having 4,600 new hotel rooms built by 2010.

The tourists are offered various excursion programs, mostly to scenic attractions, as there are few historical (colonial) buildings in Jamaica. However, one looks in vain for large shopping centers or pedestrian zones such as in the tourist centers in other countries. The markets and shops are designed to meet the needs of the local population, but there are also (handicraft) markets intended for tourists, in which, however, as everywhere else, the usual souvenirs (T-shirts and mugs with Jamaica reference, self-made Jewelry and wood carvings) can be purchased. Markets with a wide range of counterfeit branded textiles also do not exist.

In 2006 about 55,000 people were employed in the hotel industry. There were also numerous jobs in the service industry. A large part of the hotel complex belongs to foreign investors who were attracted by tax breaks in the 1970s. A large part of the income does not go to Jamaica, but leaves the island again. Much of the food used in hotels is imported.

State budget

The state budget in 2016 comprised expenditures of the equivalent of 4.033 billion US dollars , which was offset by income of the equivalent of 3.885 billion US dollars. This results in a budget deficit of 0.8% of GDP . The national debt amounted to 115.6% of GDP in 2016, making it one of the highest in the world.

In 2006, the share of government expenditure (as a percentage of GDP) was as follows:


Jamaica's infrastructure suffered significantly from the government's consolidation course and the associated austerity measures, but it is still one of the best developed in the Caribbean. In the telecommunications sector and in road construction in the tourist areas, private investments were made in addition to state investments.

Telecommunications and postal services

Jamaica has a communication system with fully automatic switching. Since 1997 the former monopoly of the Cable & Wireless provider has been eliminated. In 2001 the Irish company Digicel and Oceanic Digital received a license to operate a cellular network, the telephone lines remained in the possession of Cable & Wireless. As a result, the number of landline connections decreased from over one million to 390,700 in 2004, while the number of cell phones used increased to over 2.2 million. The mobile market is competitive among the three providers. All of them have invested large sums in the expansion of their networks in recent years, which today work almost entirely with the GSM standard. International calls are handled either via Intelsat satellites or via one of the three submarine data cables.

In 2016, around 1.2 million people used the internet (43.4% of the population). Most of the Internet cafes visited , which are mainly found in the cities. Computers are usually available in libraries and schools, and access to the Internet is usually restricted to approved sites (not suitable for minors, not glorifying violence).

The postal system was introduced by Governor Thomas Lynch in 1663 , making it the oldest in any English colony. It was restricted to Kingston and did not last long. The first postage stamps were introduced in 1846 and from 1858 control of the postal system was in the hands of the local administration. Today, the state Postal Corporation of Jamaica is responsible for mailing letters and parcels. She works in various other business areas, such as the financial sector. A postmaster general and two deputies report to 2,600 employees. There are also private business people who run agencies in their shops on behalf of the Post. For mailing to Europe, a period of two to three weeks can be expected.

Road and rail network

Rail transport

Like most of the former British colonies, Jamaica had an extensive rail network. 272 kilometers were laid out in standard gauge. The main line ran from Kingston via Spanish Town and May Pen , where a branch line branched off to Frankfield, to Montego Bay. The Jamaica Railway Corporation maintained the network until 1992 when 207 kilometers were shut down. Today, 57 kilometers are still operated by the Alcan mining company and are mainly used for bauxite transport. A short section was reopened for passenger traffic in April 2011. Further sections are planned for reactivation.

Bus transport

Frequently used means of transport is the bus. There are regular connections between all major cities. Taxi is very popular thanks to its low prices, also as a route taxi ( shared taxi). A typical fare is 100 Jamaica dollars for about ten kilometers per person.

Road traffic

The main roads are usually paved, but in some places they can be in poor condition. There are usually two (but narrow) lanes in each direction of travel. Side roads are mostly single-lane and not always paved. A total of 16,148 of the 22,121 kilometers were asphalted in 2011. The maximum speed outside urban areas is 80 km / h, left-hand traffic applies . During the heavy rainfall in autumn, the road surface is repeatedly damaged, which is often only sparingly repaired due to the poor budget situation. This also explains the travel time of around eight hours from the west to the east. Multi-lane roads are only found as arterial roads in big cities.

Signposts can be found at all major intersections, otherwise the signage is sparse. The danger signs correspond to the American system. Distance and speed information are metric.

The Highway 2000 project has been running since 1999 : a four- to six-lane road is to be built from Kingston via Spanish Town and Ocho Rios to Montego Bay. The first section to Mandeville has already been completed. Popularly, the road construction project is also called Beijing Highway after its main Chinese financier and the contractor Chinese Harbor Engineering Company . The construction project is considered to be the largest Chinese investment in Jamaica to date. In return, the Jamaican government transferred more than 1200 acres of land to the Chinese side , on which these hotels with a total of 2400 guest rooms will be built. Jamaican athletics star Usain Bolt turned down the government offer to name the street after him in 2010. The construction is mainly financed by private investors, the route will be tolled. In addition to the improved connection of the big cities, the development of the interior is to be promoted.

With the exception of the heavy trucks, the vehicle fleet consists almost exclusively of Far Eastern production. Most of the transport vehicles use light buses and light trucks, only the heavy trucks (which hardly exist in rural areas) are of North American design (there are practically no long semitrailers).

Air traffic

An Air Jamaica Airbus A340-300

The island has two international airports, Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, with around 1.7 million visitors a year, and Sangster International Airport in the northern part of Montego Bay. Almost all major airlines fly to at least one of the two airports. Since 2004, the island's only airline has been state-owned again. Air Jamaica mainly flies to destinations in North and South America and the UK. Its subsidiary Jamaica Air Express focuses on domestic flights and connections to the other Caribbean islands. Both companies together have 16 Airbus aircraft and several small De Havilland DHC-8 aircraft .

Ports and Shipping

Kingston Harbor is the seventh largest natural harbor in the world and the country's most important export port. The main shipping route to the Panama Canal is only 32 nautical miles south. The Port Authority manages the area with two modern container terminals with a capacity of around 1.3 million ISO containers and a free trade zone .

In 1960, a deep water pier was built in Port Kaiser in Saint Elizabeth Parish to remove the bauxite that was present there. Other large port facilities were built in Port Esquivel near Old Harbor , Port Rhoades and Rocky Point. The merchant navy comprises ten ships of more than 1000 GRT , all of which are owned by foreign companies.

power supply

The most important energy source is crude oil , which is being replaced by renewable energies due to the ever increasing price . In 2005 the share of wind , solar and bioenergy was around 9%. Spanish Town is partially supplied with hydropower . The island generates around 3.72  TWh of electrical energy; the aluminum industry consumes about a third of it. The mains voltage is 110 volts at 50 Hertz. In hotels it is often transformed to 220 volts. The network is considered stable.


Until the end of slavery in the 19th century there was no nationwide school system. A number of schools were built before independence; especially the poor children could not visit them. It was not until the 1970s that schools became accessible to the majority of the population.

Primary school is free, further education costs school fees . There is no general compulsory education . The education system is centralized, curricula and textbook lists are given by the Ministry of Education. The literacy rate in Jamaica is 88.7%, compared with the rest of the Caribbean rather a poor value. Most of the adults are illiterate . It is mandatory to wear a school uniform .

The education system is divided into four parts. Kindergarten and preschool are available everywhere, 86.8% of three to five year olds attend such an institution. The proportion of six to eleven year olds who attend primary school is 98.9%. After the sixth grade, there is a performance test that decides whether a secondary school can be attended. A slew of prestigious high schools and colleges have developed across the country, attended by 84.1% of a grade. Nine out of ten students graduate after five to seven years.


The most famous college on the island is the University of the West Indies , which was founded in 1948 and has one of its branches in the suburbs of Kingston. It is particularly respected for its medical school. There are also the Technical University, the Northern Caribbean University and the University College of The Caribbean. Together around 44,000 people study in the country.


Jamaican librarianship emerged at the end of the 19th century. The first public library opened in 1879. Under the leadership of the Institute of Jamaica , additional facilities and the national library were created. While this is primarily intended to collect Jamaican works and make them available to scholarship, the Jamaica Library Service is dedicated to broad education , especially in the areas outside of Kingston.


The origin of the Jamaican population from almost all parts of the world led to a cultural mix in all areas. The Jamaican culture is thus shaped to the greatest extent by the clash of different cultural influences, especially West African, European and Asian traditions. Jamaica's premier public cultural institution, the Institute of Jamaica , was founded in 1879 by British Governor Anthony Musgrave . Its most important publication is the Jamaica Journal , which has been published since 1967.

music and dance

Statue of Bob Marley, one of the island's most famous musicians

Music is an important part of Jamaica's national identity and image of the island abroad. Many styles spread from here all over the world. It is often sung in Jamaican Creole (called Patois).

The music brought from Africa by the slaves was often of a religious nature. In turn, one singer recites a text and another replies to it; the most important musical instrument is the drum. At the beginning of the 20th century, this developed into the mento , the island's first own form of music. The style was particularly popular in the 1940s and 1950s. The later musical styles and Jamaican folk dance developed from him. The direct, partly pornographic texts were often distributed in secret under pressure from the church.

In the late 1950s, the first wave of skas emerged in the poor neighborhoods of Kingston. In addition to the mento, he was influenced by American rhythm and blues and jazz , one of the first important representatives was the group The Skatalites , from which the name Ska probably comes. Originally, most of the performers were optimistic because of the country's independence in 1962 and sang about a better future. The deteriorating living conditions led to radicalization, and the interpreters began to address social problems. The line-up of a ska band usually consists of a rhythm section with guitars, bass, piano or organ and drums and wind instruments such as saxophone, trumpet or trombone. The dance belonging to ska is called skank .

At the end of the 1960s, Jamaica's most famous music genre, reggae, developed . The best known performer is Bob Marley with his band The Wailers . In addition to wind instruments and drums, electronic musical instruments and studio effects are used. Two forms have particularly established themselves in the country. Roots reggae is strongly influenced by the Rastafari . In addition to religious topics, the texts mainly deal with poverty and social injustice. The first songs, which can be described as roots reggae, were written in 1969, whereby Satta Massagana by the Abbyssinians must be mentioned above all . The popularity has now decreased noticeably, but reggae is still widespread. Dancehall is influenced by hip-hop, the lyrics are often violence-glorifying and homophobic. Some of today's most famous performers include Bounty Killer , Beenie Man , Elephant Man , Shaggy and Sean Paul .


Portrait of Francis Williams , painted around 1740

Jamaican literature can be roughly divided into three sections: colonial literature, anti-colonial literature, and post-colonial literature. The oldest literary works written in Jamaica are by British people who visited the colony from 1655. The works were mostly travel reports or poems about the conditions in the colonies, influenced by European culture. They hardly differ from works that were created at the same time in the rest of the West Indies. Many authors tried to establish the supremacy of the Europeans over the slaves in their works, others like Frances Saymore spoke out against it. Francis Williams was an exception . The son of former slaves was sent to England for training by the Duke of Montagu at the beginning of the 18th century. After his return to the island in 1738 he opened a school in Spanish Town and wrote poetry, mostly in Latin. He is considered to be one of the first writers of Caribbean origin.

It was not until 1900 that a literary scene independent of the colonial power of Great Britain developed on the island. In 1912, Claude McKay was the first to publish a work in Patois with the volume of poetry Songs of Jamaica . In his novel Banana Bottom , he describes rural Jamaica and was one of the first to establish a connection between the country and African culture. McKay left the island in 1914 and became one of the most important authors of the Harlem Renaissance and the Négritude movement in New York . A few years later, Una Marson began to publish her poems. Above all, she campaigned for Jamaican women and is considered to be one of the first feminists with dark skin. The independence movement in the 1930s increasingly produced authors who were aware of the importance of African culture for the island and saw in it a means of creating a national consciousness. One example is Roger Mais . Until 1940 he was serving a term of imprisonment for his participation in the 1938 workers' uprisings. While in prison, he wrote The Hills Were Joyful Together, a novel about the problems of the Kingston working class. In later works he sympathized with the Rastafarian movement. Marcus Garvey made the return to the African roots the focus of his poems. He also left the island for the USA, where he founded the UNIA-ACL civil rights movement .

It has always been difficult for writers to make enough money from their work in Jamaica to make a living. They find it difficult to attract attention from the Caribbean, as there are hardly any publishers who can distribute their works. Since the 1950s, many writers left the island to pursue their careers abroad. In Canada and Great Britain in particular, “colonies” of Jamaican artists have formed over time. Some authors such as Erna Brodber ( Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home 1980) have kept their ties to Jamaica abroad, while others have adapted to the local cultural scene over time. Many works from the period after independence were not made in Jamaica. Personal identity is an important topic for the younger authors, as is the social circumstances and developments in their old homeland. In The Painted Canou (1983) Anthony C. Winkler gives an insight into the life of a simple fisherman. Another recurring theme is the clever spider Anansi (mostly written Anancy in Jamaica). Originally a West African spider deity, she is a symbol of the African origin of the population. She is mostly described, among others by Louise Bennett-Coverley , as a clever animal that uses cunning to prevail against seemingly overpowering opponents.


The English brought European theater to Jamaica. The first venue was probably built in Spanish Town in 1682, others followed in Port Royal and later in Kingston. Works by English authors were performed. Visitors were initially only the wealthy white landowners, at the beginning of the 19th century also slaves in separate areas. The African and Indian traditions were suppressed, demonstrations were only allowed on individual occasions. In 1813 there were several riots at the Royal Theater in Kingston, which put an end to the separation of the seats. In 1853, Charles Shanahan, a son of former slaves, was able to perform his satire The Mysteries of Vegetarianism .

The national movements that emerged in the 1930s also increased the influence of African traditions on the theater. Marcus Garvey wrote pieces that appealed to the general public. With Edelweiss Park he founded a cultural center in which numerous pieces with an African background were performed. Building on English traditions, "pantomime" developed, the most popular form of entertainment at the time of independence. In contrast to conventional pantomime , there are dialogues here, mostly in patois, with a musical background. Sometimes passages are improvised or the audience is involved in scenes. In principle, anything can be the subject of a performance, but performances on the Anansi theme are particularly popular . In the 1960s and 1970s, theaters were well attended and attracted audiences across the island. Most of the venues are in Kingston, including the Jamaican Theater with 1750 seats and the Ward Theater, founded in 1912 .

Today the theater is suffering from the bad economic situation. It's hard to find enough spectators on the island to get professional performances off the ground. Most of those involved work on the side in another job. The Ward Theater in particular is suffering from financial bottlenecks and is in dire need of renovation. The state supports actors through the Institute of Jamaica and the University of the West Indies. In addition, training at drama schools is free.

Visual arts

As in practically all other areas of culture, it was not until the 20th century that Jamaica developed an independent art scene. Edna Manley , Norman Manley's wife, was the first to take up African traditions in her statues and pictures. Her most important work is the statue Negro Aroused, the bronze replica of which stands in Kingston today and shows a man rising in the style of African artists. Manley founded the first Junior Center at the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ) in 1941 with the aim of promoting young artists. A second center has existed in Portmore since 1996. Both are financed by the state and donations through the IOJ. The Edna Manley College of Visual And Performing Arts is named after Manley and offers degrees in various artistic fields. A documentation center for the visual arts is the National Gallery of Jamaica in Kingston. As a subsidiary organization, it is part of the IOJ.

The most famous painters include Barrington Watson , Eugene Hyde and Karl Parboosingh . All three were trained abroad and painted expressionistically . In contrast, John Dunkley (1891–1947) oriented themselves towards African traditions, as did Robert Cookhorn (called Omari Ra), Douglas Wallace (called Khalfani Ra) and Valentine Fariclough (called Tehuti Ra) since the 1980s . The artist names, which come from Africa, are intended to underline the ties to this continent.

In addition to painting, numerous artists produce wooden or stone figures according to African tradition. The motifs are mainly animals, including the spider Anansi . The production of these works is partially industrialized to serve the tourist market.


In the 2019 Press Freedom Ranking , published by Reporters Without Borders , Jamaica ranks 8th out of 180 countries. The country's press is one of the freest in the world and the freest on the American continent.

There are currently two major broadcasters in Jamaica that broadcast both television and radio programs. The main national broadcasters are CVM and Television Jamaica. There are also special interest channels such as Reggae Sun Television and Hype TV, which mainly broadcast music. In addition, many North American and British channels can be received via satellite . The BBC also has its own broadcast license for terrestrial transmissions. Some channels are also broadcast over the Internet. The choice of radio stations is wide, both locally and nationwide. The first transmitter received its license back in 1940. Today, 19 companies and organizations have a license to broadcast. Since the end of the 1990s, the state largely withdrew from the media sector and only one radio station remained in public ownership.

Despite the widespread use of television and radio, daily newspapers are still the most important source of information for the population. Four newspapers have a circulation of more than 100,000 copies, Daily Gleaner, Daily Star, Jamaica Observer and Jamaica Herald. The Daily Gleaner was founded in 1834 and is the oldest surviving newspaper in the Caribbean.


The diverse landscape of Jamaica has been used as a filming location by foreign productions since the 1950s, for example for the James Bond films Live and Let Die and James Bond Chases Dr. No . The financial means were lacking to develop a state-owned film industry. The first local production to gain international fame was The Harder They Come (1972), which tells the story of Ivanhoe “Rhygin ′” Martin, a singer and gangster. The work has been performed as a musical in London since 2006. As a result, numerous other films chose the theme of music. Probably the best-known actor in Jamaica is Paul Campbell , who played primarily with his roles in the music film Dancehall Queen and in the commercially successful police film Third World Cop .

The Jamaica Film Commission , founded in 1984, is tasked with looking for investors and coordinating projects on behalf of the government.

public holidays

date Local name German name Remarks
January 1st New Year's Day New Year Invariant holiday
February March Ash Wednesday Ash Wednesday Exact date depends on Easter
March April Good Friday Good Friday Exact date depends on Easter
March April Easter Monday Easter Monday Exact date depends on Easter
May 22 Labor Day Labor Day Invariant holiday
August 1st Emancipation Day Liberation Day (from slavery) Invariant holiday
6th of August Independence Day independence Invariant holiday
October National Heroes Day National Heroes Day The third Monday in October
25 December Christmas Day 1st Christmas Holiday Invariant holiday
December 26th Boxing Day 2nd Christmas Day Invariant holiday

The birthday of Elizabeth II , the head of state, is celebrated, but is not an official holiday.


Jerk chicken, a typical dish

The Jamaican cuisine is very diverse and characterized by African, European and Asian influences. It is known for its hot sauces and spicy dishes. It mainly uses locally grown fruit and vegetables, as well as poultry ( jerk chicken ) and saltwater fish. Although cattle and pigs are bred, especially in western Jamaica, their meat is rarely prepared, and a large part of it is exported. A traditional method of preparation is marinating and then roasting over an open fire or in cut metal barrels. A goat curry ( curried goat ) is often offered at festivals . A very common fruit is the ackee ( ackee tree ). Sweet dishes made from mango and soursopis are popular for dessert . The Rastafari, who mostly reject the consumption of pork and alcohol, maintain their own kitchen.

Various spirits are traditionally produced in Jamaica, mainly based on rum. One of the world's best-known brands is Captain Morgan , which is one of the world's best-selling rum brands. Jamaican lager is also very popular , such as Red Stripe, which is produced by two breweries on the island. The coffee, which has been increasingly grown in the Blue Mountains for a number of years, remains partly in the country and, like tea, is processed into mixed drinks and drunk directly. The word tea usually describes all kinds of hot drinks, mostly alcoholic ones too.


The most common sport in Jamaica is cricket . It came to the island with the British and spread among the population from the end of the 19th century. The country's first internationally successful athletes were cricketers who were mainly under contract in Great Britain. These successes in a sport that was originally dominated by the colonial rulers contributed to the formation of the national consciousness of the Jamaicans. Today there are two large cricket stadiums available, Sabina Park in Kingston with a capacity of 21,000 and the newly built Greenfield Stadium in Trewlany Parish with 25,000 seats. On an international level, Jamaica appears together with other Caribbean countries in the West Indies cricket team . In 2007 one of the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup 2007 was held on the island.

The athletes receive the greatest international attention. At the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, the 4 x 400 meter relay won gold against the favored Americans. There was also another gold medal over 400 meters and three silver medals. The athletes involved are still revered as heroes in Jamaica today. The runners in particular were able to prevail again and again at the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games. At the 2006 Commonwealth Games , the country finished in 7th place with ten gold medals at the 2004 Summer Olympics won Veronica Campbell gold medals in the 200-meter race, as well as the 4 x 100-meter relay team of women was successful. At both events, Jamaica was one of the most successful countries in terms of population. Jamaican runners continued to improve world records, most recently Usain Bolt over 100 and 200 meters.

The basis in athletics is great, many children and young people try to emulate their idols and, last but not least, secure a secure source of income for themselves. The biggest sporting event in Jamaica to date was the hosting of the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Kingston in 1966 , in which 1,300 athletes were involved. The largest stadium on the island, Independence Park with 36,000 seats, was built for the occasion.

There are various programs in which sport is used to get young people off the streets and thus remove them from the influence of criminal gangs.

The Reggae Boyz, the nickname of the Jamaican national soccer team , celebrated their greatest success at the 1998 World Cup in France. After the only successful qualification for the finals so far, the team was eliminated after two defeats and one victory. In 1991, 1998, 2005 , and 2007 and 2014 , she won the Caribbean Football Championship . Despite its increasing popularity, football has not yet managed to replace cricket as the most popular sport.

The Jamaican bobsleigh team became famous when she at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary participated. The film Cool Runnings tells the story.


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  • Wendelin Ettmayer: Jamaica - more than rum and reggae. Chances and problems of a developing country. Trauner Verlag, Linz 2004, ISBN 3-85487-557-6 .
  • Holger Henke: Between Self-Determination and Dependency: Jamaica's Foreign Relations, 1972–1989. University of the West Indies Press, Kingston 2000, ISBN 976-640-058-X .
  • Barry William Higman: Slave population and economy in Jamaica, 1807-1834 . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1996, ISBN 0-521-21053-4 ; 2nd, supplemented edition: University of the West Indies Press, Kingston 1995, ISBN 976-640-008-3 .
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  • Tracey Skelton (Ed.): Introduction to the Pan-Caribbean. Arnold, London 2004, ISBN 0-340-70580-9 .
  • Caroline Sullivan: Jamaican cuisine: traditional recipes from 1893. Asfahani, Hamburg 1997, ISBN 3-927459-85-2 .
  • Peter Paul Number : Jamaica. CH Beck, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-406-44788-0 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Jamaica  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Jamaica  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Jamaica  - Sources and full texts
Wikivoyage: Jamaica  Travel Guide

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Coordinates: 18 ° 9 ′  N , 77 ° 18 ′  W

This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on December 17, 2006 .