The Highlights of the Jamaican Culture – History, Food, Traditions & Music @visitjamaicanow

By Two Monkeys Travel - Contributor January 16th, 2016 Posted in Caribbean Travel Blog, Travel Blog 22 Comments

Jamaican culture is vibrant, rich and its colorful history that makes them stand out as a nation.

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Photo Credits: Jamaica Grunge Flag by Nicolas Raymond / (CC BY 2.0)

The Highlights of the Jamaican Culture

Jamaica sits in the heart of the Caribbean. The flag of Jamaica symbolizes and represents the country through its colors. The Yellow is for the sunshine and the natural wealth of the country. The Green is for hope and the luscious nature of the country. The Black represents the creative and passionate people of Jamaica.

During our recent trip to Jamaica, I have learned and experienced the amazing and rich Jamaican culture. Let me share with you the things that I have learned exploring the cultural capital of Jamaica, Kingston.

The Hotel Mockingbird Hill arranged a historical music tour of Kingston with Amilcar Lewis and Philipp Lobban of Backyard Magazine.We also did the Heritage tour in Kingston with Olde Jamaica Tours & Jessa Tours also arranged by the Hotel Mockingbird Hill.

We went to the Institute of Jamaica to see the galleries of the origins and history of Jamaica. It was really interesting to learn about the history of Jamaica, the New World and the dark colonial times. The National Gallery of Jamaica displays a lovely collection of paintings, murals, and sculptures of different Jamaican artists.Visiting the gallery is a great way to understand and appreciate the Jamaican culture.

The first inhabitants of Jamaica, The Tainos, named the country as “Xaymaca,” which meant the land of the wood and water. They were believed to be the Arawak Indians from South America, who migrated to the Caribbean around 650 A.D. They built their communities and agriculture was their main livelihood.

Photo credit: Jik-Reuben Visuals

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Colonial times

During the time of exploration to discover new lands and building empires thru force and slavery, Jamaica was also held captive by invaders. It was dark times, knowing the history of Jamaica during the colonial times was meaningful, but gloomy.

The Spanish occupation

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Photo Credit: Jamaica, Spanish Town by Christian y Sergio Velasco / (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In 1494, during the time of the explorations, Christopher Columbus sailed west to find a route to India by sailing to the west, and found the Caribbean and called it the West Indies. He landed in Discovery Bay, Jamaica with the intention to claim the island and to repair his vessel. The relationship between the Spanish and the Tainos was not easy and smooth. Resistance to the occupation was present, but the Spanish succeeded to take and claim the island. The Spanish Town was the capital of Jamaica, and this is the center of the Catholic faith on the island. The Tainos were enslaved, captured and eventually nearly wiped out by the diseases carried by the Spaniards. The Spaniards brought the first influx of captive Africans as their slaves.

The British occupation

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Photo Credit: Abolition by Wreford Miller / (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In 1655, the British invaded Jamaica with the help of the Buccaneers. They managed to take control of the island from the Spaniards. The fighting between the British and the Spaniards gave an opportunity to the plantation slaves to run away and look for shelter in the mountains called the Maroons. The British occupation also brought the Slave Trade in the Americas and the Caribbean from West Africa. The British Empire abolished the slavery throughout the British Empire on 1833. Jamaica has been a part of the British Empire for 307 years. On 1962, Jamaica finally had their Independence from the British.

The Maroons

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Photo Credits: Jik- Reuben Visuals

Maroon came from the Spanish word “cimarrones” which means the “mountaineers”. The Maroons are the slaves who escaped the plantations during the invasion of the British to occupy Jamaica. They went to seek refuge into the thick forests and mountains of Jamaica so their previous masters could not follow them. The Maroons made their settlement in the mountains and lived as free men and established their laws. Until the present days, The Maroons are a respected and independent community in Jamaica. They still have the autonomy up to this date.

Port Royal

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Photo Credit: Port Royal, Jamaica Diciembre 2005 by Christian y Sergio Velasco / (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Port Royal was once considered as the “wickedest city on earth”. At the edge of Kingston was the infamous city of the Buccaneers, where the real pirates of the Caribbean ruled and plundered galleon ships and ransacked villages and islands. The city was filled with brothels, taverns and ill – gotten wealth of the pirates. The British asked the Buccaneers to help ceased the Spaniards, and in return, the Buccaneers wanted to use Port Royal as their hub. In the devastating earthquake of 1692, the majority of Port Royal was claimed and submerged under the Caribbean sea.

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Religions

Catholicism was introduced by the Spaniards, and the Church of England (Anglican) was introduced by the British.

Rastafarianism is the one that caught my attention. The King of Reggae Music, Bob Marley is one of the famous Rastas, and he helped to spread the preachings of the religion through his songs.

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Photo Credits: Jik- Reuben Visuals

Rastafari is a young religion that originates in Jamaica during the 1930’s. They are more socially accepted now than before. Rastafari is commonly called Rasta, Ras or Natty.  The ideology of Rastafarian was empowered by the teachings of Marcus Garvey about black self-empowerment. They believed that all the black people should return to their homeland in Africa, which they refer as “Zion.” The new world and the suppression are referred to as the “Babylon.”

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Photo Credits: Jik- Reuben Visuals

Rastas worship and follow the teachings of H.I.M Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, Lords of Lords, Kings of Kings, the conquering Lion from the of the tribe of Judah. His family lineage is from the offspring of King Solomon and Queen Sheba. Rastafari came from the title and birth name of H.I.M Haile Selassie I, Ras (rank of nobility as a Duke) and Tafari Makonen is the birth name of Haile Selassie I.  He was the emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to  1974.

In the past, Rastas were considered to be the outcasts of the social system due to their beliefs and unique views of life. The smoking ritual of marijuana or what they refer to as the “holy herb” is part of their meditation and holy sacrament. They are kind, very self –reliant, they stick to a vegetarian diet and treat their body as a temple. Rastas are also known for their dreadlocks hairstyle, which signifies their identity as a Rasta. The Rasta refers to God as JAH, based on the Hebrew Bible. The vibrant colors of the Rastas are Red – signifies the blood & bravery of the martyr who fought for black freedom and equality, Green – signifies the homeland of the Rasta, Ethiopia, Yellow – signifies the wealth of Africa.

On our visit to Kingston, we went to Life Yard for lunch. It is a vibrant community of Rastas. They welcomed us with their big smiles. They grow their crops in their little garden for their food and help hungry school kids with their lunch in the nearby school.

Photo Credits: Jik- Reuben Visuals

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Food

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Typical Jamaican breakfast from Mille Fleur Restaurant of Hotel Mockingbird Hill

Ackee & Saltfish (at the center of the plate)

Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica. You can find this dish as an accompaniment to daily staple food in Jamaica. It’s is tasty and sometimes spicy.

Callaloo (left side of the plate)

This tasty green leafy vegetable is another main dish in Jamaica. Callaloo is widely served in the Caribbean. It is made from 3 vegetables called amaranth, taro or Xanthosoma. I can somehow compare it to the taste of spinach.

Fried Plantain

This is one of my favorites; I love bananas! In the Philippines, we cook plantain for an all time favorite afternoon snack called “banana cue,” fried plantain covered with caramelized brown sugar. Fried plantain is the same sort of snack / accompaniment to the main meal but without sugar.

Dumplings (at the right side of the plate)

One of the staple food in Jamaica. Made from flour, butter, and water to create a dough, they normally serve it as fried or boiled dumplings.

Bammy

It is a traditional Jamaican dish, made from grated cassava and molded as a flat bread. They normally served it fried and an alternative to bread.

Blue Mountain coffee

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One of the most expensive coffees in the world.  Only grown in the Blue Mountain of Jamaica! For all the coffee lovers out there, I need not explain how awesome this coffee is!

Jerk

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Photo Credit: Mama Jamaica’s Cafe & Grill – Jerk Chicken by Kirk K / (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Boston Bay, Jamaica is the home of Jerk food. If you love spicy food, you should try this tasty Jamaican dish. This Jamaican way of cooking and spicy spices can make chicken or pork super delicious.

Overproof rum

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Photo Credit: Wray & Nephew, the Rum That Wards Off Evil by Steve Bennett / (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Jamaica is known for their best rum. Caribbeans preferred their alcohol to be highly concentrated with high proofing. A standard rum will range about 80 – 100 proof, but this bad boy is ranging from 125 – 160 proof!

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Language

Jamaica is an English-speaking country. The locals also use their native Jamaican Patois or Patwah. Patwah is a language derived from the English language with an influence of Central and West African dialects or words.

Sample Patois words: 

Wah Gwaan  =  Greetings that translate as “What’s going on?” or “What’s up?”
Yahoo =  right here
Irie =  Rastafarian term to describe when one is feeling good; everything is alright
raggamuffin = a rebel or rugged looking
pickney = children
Back a Yard = used to refer somebody’s hometown or country.
Big Up = give respect

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Traditions

Junkanoo 

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Photo Credit: Junkanoo by Christina Spicuzza / (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A well – celebrated festival and parade in Jamaica and other Caribbean islands during Christmas period. A mixture of West African and English influenced this vibrant and colorful festival.It began back in the colonial time when the slaves got a day off working in the plantation to celebrate Christmas.

Accompong Maroon Festival

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Photo Credit: DSC_0080 by Kent MacElwee / (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
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Photo Credit: DSC_0110 by Kent MacElwee / (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Every 6th of January, the Maroons celebrates the signing of the peace treaty between the Maroons and the British Empire. Accompong Town is a “nation within a nation,” led by their elected community leader called “Colonel,”  with no police, no crimes and no taxes to pay, this autonomous town is one of the off-the-beaten places to see in Jamaica.

The celebration begins as they start blowing their Abeng horn to call all the Maroons, commemorating what they did almost 300 years ago. The Maroons will have a private ceremony to pay respect to their ancestors. The whole day is filled with loads of music, dance and tasty Jamaican food.

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Music

Music is the universal language that everyone can understand. A powerful way of expression to deliver a message to everybody. Jamaicans love music, and it is pretty evident from the works of Bob Marley and the other famous Jamaican music artists.  We went to Alpha Boys School in Kingston, an institution to Jamaican music. The alumni of this school became the pioneers and well-known artists in the music scene. Check out this awesome Alpha Boys School Radio. The Alpha Boys School is run by the nuns, so any donations that you can share are also welcome and will surely help the young Jamaican kids to reach their dreams.

Photo Credits: Jik- Reuben Visuals

Ska

A very popular music genre from Jamaica in the 50’s with a distinct sound of calypso and mento with the blend of rock, jazz and rhythm and blues. One of the known artist in this genre is the Eddie Thornton, alumni of Alpha Boys School. Listen to the sample of Ska music.

Rocksteady

Another precursor and influence of the reggae music. Rocksteady is less energetic compared to Ska. It is also a mixture of Jazz, Rhythm and Blues and a bit of Latin and African influence. Listen to the sample of Rocksteady music.

Reggae

The mixture of Ska and Rocksteady is the popular Reggae music. Reggae music took the world by storm, of course, by the King of Reggae music, Bob Marley. His powerful songs influence many music enthusiasts and still loved up to this date. Listen to Bob Marley’s Reggae music.

On our visit to Jamaica, we didn’t get the chance to visit Bob Marley’s mausoleum and birthplace in Nine Mile, St. Ann and in Hope Road, Kingston. This will be another good excuse to come back to real Jamaica.

Watch this documentary and learn more about the Jamaican music.

I hope this will inspire you to visit and discover Jamaica. 

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Special thanks to Hotel Mocking Bird Hill (Shireen & Barbara) for organizing our itinerary in Kingston. Altamont Court Hotel for our accommodation in Kingston. Great thanks and good vibes to Amilcar and  Philip of Backyard Magazine, Josh Chamberlain of Alpha Boys School, Mitch of Rockers Record Int’l, Life Yard, Olde Jamaica Tours, Jessa Tours, Mr. Basil Smith and Jik- Reuben for the awesome photos.

 

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About the Writer

Ryazan TristramRyazan Tristram is named after a Russian city near Moscow. The Miss Zan-shine of Everything Zany – A Photography, Lifestyle and Dual Citizen Travel Blog. She likes to travel, history, meet people & try exotic foods! Planning to explore more countries with her D.I.Y trips as a Dual Citizen (British – Filipina). Follow her travels on Facebook and Instagram.

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22 thoughts on “The Highlights of the Jamaican Culture – History, Food, Traditions & Music @visitjamaicanow

  1. I want to go to Jamaica so badly. And it’s so interesting that you decided to put up this highlights. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Marta! Yes, I highly recommend to visit and explore Jamaica. 🙂 If you need tips in exploring the island just drop me a line.

  2. Dear Ryazan, your trips have been really interesting lately! I love that you are able to explore Jamaica and learned about their culture. This is a destination that is not so popular and I will be taking down notes. Thanks for sharing your experience(s)!

    1. Hey Trisha, thanks for dropping by! I really appreciate it. Hope you can visit Jamaica soon. Keep up the good work too!x Girl Power! 🙂

  3. Didn’t know Rastafari was a religion. Pretty crazy! I loved the history about Port Royal! Old military places and nautical places are some
    Of my favorite things to explore

    1. Same here Joe! I love history too.. I think it’s a great way to learn and understand the culture and the country.

  4. What an awesome overview! I was happy to learn some of these aspects of Jamaican culture when I was there in November. I loved it there and hope to return to explore more….or at least to bring home some more of that delicious coffee! I’m almost finished my stash of it!

    1. Same here Lauren, Would love to re-visit Jamaica soon. Of course to get some more of the Blue Mountain coffee and Rum! lol!

  5. Its interesting how Rasta is not what you expect it to be eh, as it may be perceived outside of Jamaica and music. thats what I thought when I first learned about it

    1. Jamaica is indeed filled with surprises. Exploring the country made me understand and appreciate their culture more.

  6. Never heard about rastafari. Whenever I think about Jamaica. I immediately visualize reggae music, now rastafari is something interesting. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I agree Cai.. Rastafarianism is an interesting topic. Of course, the King of reggae, Mr. Bob Marley is a Rasta. Thanks for dropping by!x

  7. Jamaica in a post, this is really helpful as I will be on the road from the South to Central America and the Caribbean (goes without saying) 😉 . Eagerly looking forward to explore Jamaica. Thanks for sharing.

  8. It was really great reading through your post about Jamaica. It’s a no-nonsense article filled with really entertaining content about such a colorful country. I love it.

  9. Wow!!! This is the best travel blog post I have come across so far! Well done! Not only is it informative,it also has an entertaining side to it and you are a great writer. Thanks for the information,hope to visit Jamaica some day. I love reggae and what they smoke….ssshhh….. Have a gud one.

    1. Thanks Everlyne! I’m sure you will love Jamaica. Drop us a line if you are planning to visit soon, we can help you with your itinerary!

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