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Life in Jamaica

“I was eighteen months old when my mother took me to Jamaica for the first time.”

History of Jamaica
In 1494, Christopher Columbus founded and claimed this island for Spain when it was still inhabited by indigenous people known as the Arawak and Taino. These people became slaves under spanish rule, until 1655, when the English captured Jamaica under the leadership of William Penn and General Robert Venables. Many of the slaves were freed and fled into the mountains, joining those who had previously escaped from the Spanish to live with the Tainos.
During the first 200 years of English rule, Jamaica’s reliance on slavery increased as the population of blacks began to outnumber the whites by almost 20 to 1. From 1807 to about 1838, many laws were passed in an effort to abolish slavery and improve the slaves’ way of life. After a continuous exchange of letters and Proclamations communicated between the Island and Britain, the slaves were finally granted their freedom on August 1, 1838.

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Remembering Jamaica: “Jamaica had done a lot to develop its bauxite industry, but was still a tiny players on the world economic stage. Maybe as a native son of sorts I could think of some new Jamaican enterprise to get behind… Ever since my boyhood days on the island, I’d been fascinated by New Seville, a hunk of land on the northern coast, so named by the Spanish in 1509 after Christopher Columbus shipwrecked on the southern coast. While waiting for his ships to be repaired, Columbus wrote the tenets of slavery that would guide slave traffickers for centuries. Tens of thousands of Taino Indians on Jamaica and neighboring islands dies, either from slavery or disease; the British then brought tens of thousands more slaves from Africa, unloading them right there at Ocho Rios to work the sugar trade.”

The Importance of Agriculture
Jamaica’s agriculture began with the development of tobacco, ginger, indigo, and maize, cassava and vegetables. At first, these products were grown for Jamaica’s own consumption until certain crops became more profitable as exports because of their great demand in other parts of the world. Tobacco was the first profitable export, but it soon would not be able to compete with Virginia’s better quality. However, in the 1640s, sugar from sugar cane became increasingly popular, especially in Europe and North America. Jamaica’s sugar cane production became a complete success, and the change of the island’s chief export from tobacco to sugar became key to its agricultural history.

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Loving the Jamaican Markets: “The larger market, especially for bananas, was Ocho Rios, with its deepwater pier, where the United Fruit Company boats loaded up. Bananas, sugarcane, mangoes, oranges- all these were shipped, after being tallied and paid for by the UFC tallyman. “Come, Mr. tally man, tally me banana, /Daylight come and me wan’ go home.” Not by chance did that song become my signature; I knew of what I was singing.”

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