Whether you have visited Jamaica or not, you will probably know that it has a dynamic and vibrant culture from its music, dance and food to its arts and crafts all derived from its rich heritage. This cultural diversity probably stems from the many different nationalities that have landed on the island’s shores over the past several centuries each bringing something to add to the mix.
Located south of Cuba, Jamaica is divided into fourteen parishes and it is 4,244 square miles in area. In 1872, Kingston, with a quarter of the population, was made the capital. It is located on the South Eastern coast of the island and it is considered the cultural capital, and like many cities it is large and noisy. It is also quite modern compared to some of the other parts of Jamaica that still remain traditional, sleepy towns and villages where life moves at a different pace.
Whether they are the descendants of the colonists or recent immigrants people of many different nationalities live and work together in Jamaica. Each culture has added something to the way Jamaicans live their lives.
The Jamaican language is another way in which the blending of mixed cultures is illustrated. The language is a mixture of English, Spanish and African. Although Jamaica’s official language is English, many of its residents speak with their own linguistic style and this can be different from village to village. Most of the language comes from Spanish, African, English and Rastafarian. For example, you might hear shoes called “zapatos,” – the Spanish word and people might use the African word “nyam,” meaning “eat.”
Jamaican culture is also enriched by its flavoursome, spicy and unique food. Using the aromatic spices of the Caribbean the dishes are an unusual fusion of flavours in the world. Most popular on the menu is jerk, a spicy marinade that is added to meat, fish and chicken. However, it is the yams, bananas, plantains, corn bread, salt fish and ackee (a fruit) as well as goat curry that make up some of the most traditional dishes although seafood, which is in plentiful supply is always popular cooked fresh or in a curry.
Religion or spirituality is also important to Jamaicans and the island has churches of many different Christian denominations including Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, Seventh Day Adventists, and Presbyterians but there are also Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Bahai’s, and Rastafarians who live comfortably in Jamaica.
Music, dance and crafts are a huge area of importance to Jamaicans. The Jamaicans love to express themselves through their music and to celebrate with dance. The most popular form of Jamaican music is reggae, which has a laid back sound that has become popular worldwide. Many reggae musicians have grown to international fame, including Bob Marley… The popularity of reggae continues and has evolved into Dancehall, a variation of reggae. Jamaican dancing is unique and has changed over time from the styles of Europeans and Africans.
Jamaica is also home to many artisans who make products out of local and natural materials by hand. These can be found at local craft fairs and stalls on the street, and include glazed pottery animals, straw hats made of palm leaves, embroidered linens and batik clothing, and shell jewellery or Rastafarian wood carvings that are usually made of red hard woods.
Every country has its own style and its own culture and Jamaica is no different, however, Jamaican culture is much like its cuisine, an infusion of many different flavours and cultures evolved from its rich heritage.