Jamaica Culture...
An Extraordinary Cultural Medley

To understand the origin of Jamaica culture, you could go as far back as several centuries ago. The Arawaks or Tainos were the original coast-dwelling inhabitants of Jamaica who have left a trace of their culture in modern Jamaica. For instance, words such as 'hammock', 'canoe', and 'barbecue' are all thought to be derived from Taino words.

Because of its 300-year history under British rule as a stronghold of slavery, Jamaica culture is a rich mix of traditions including African, British, Spanish, Asian, and countless others, bringing their own traditions and adding it to the already eclectic pot.

And the result?

Jamaicans mainly speak English mixed with the local expressions, idioms and old-fashioned terms typically associated with the Elizabethan period. Our language or Jamaican English, known as patois enjoyed some popularity internationally, receiving treatment from Louise Bennett, Andrew Salkey and Michael Smith.

According to Jamaican folklore, Jamaica music originated from the Christian culture. In fact, the majority of Jamaicans are Christian, mainly of the Anglican and Church of God variety... and many a Jamaican musician has had his or her training in a Christian church in Jamaica.

The Rastafarian religion is typically associated with Jamaica and is heavily influenced by Ethiopian Coptic culture. However, Rastafarianism is based on Christianity but the Bible, the Holy Word, is read in accordance to Ethiopian fashion and devotees believe that the true and original descendant of Solomon is embodied in Emperor Haile Selassie. Some adherents also sport the distinctive dreadlocks that has become a mainstay for aspiring reggae artistes.

There is also a small community of Jews and a few synagogues dating from the 17th century are still present in Jamaica. Adherents of the old African religions such as Obeah, Kumina or Pocomania is still around today.

Another foundation of Jamaica culture is reggae music. This is a condensed musical genre that developed from the earlier ska beat. Reggae is typically identified with 1980s musician Bob Marley. Dancehall music is an offshoot of reggae and is gaining internal popularity thanks to artistes like Shaggy and Sean Paul.

Along with the music, 30 distinctive Jamaican cultural dances have been identified, mostly falling under Creole, the European derived and the African originated. Dances originating from Africa is further subdivided into religious and social dances. Worship ceremony dances include Kumina, Pocomania and Myal are designed to heighten the readiness for the acceptance or possession of the spiritual realm, mostly seen within the Maroon Communities. Also, social dances include the maypole, quadrille and Etu. Creole dances are Bruckin's, Pukkumina, Jonkonnu, Revival, Dinkie mini and Revival.

Theater arts and cinema are growing in importance in Jamaica. Some important theater figures are those from dance theaters such as Olive Lewin, Eddy Thomas, Garth Fagan, Edna Manley and Rex Nettleford. The first Jamaica culture-based theater was built in 1682 although more informal venues such as houses and courthouses also played host to performances.

The most popular performing art in Jamaica, however, is pantomime that fused the English form and Jamaican folk tales. "Roots". theater, which evolved in the 1960s, refers to bawdy tales that are popular in Kingston, Jamaica's capital, and performed in open-air theaters.

In literature, significant figures include Claude McKay and Louis Simpson. And it should be noted that the writer Ian Flemming wrote the famous James Bond novels while he was living here.

Jamaicans are typically interested in sports. Popular sports include football ("soccer" if you're in the USA), cricket, netball and athletics... and we've produced many world-class athletes, boxers and cricketers over the years. In addition, dominoes are played almost everywhere, much like chess in the USA.

By the way, the Jamaican Bobsled Team (yes, you read that correctly!) made their debut in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Alberta, Canada. (To grasp the significance of this achievement, learn more about Jamaica weather by clicking here.) They had a violent crash in the final run which knocked them out of the competition. However, in the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, the four man bobsled team finished in 14th place and the two man team finished in 10th place... stunning many of their critics. (The movie Cool Runnings featuring John Candy was inspired by the 1988 Jamaica bobsled team.)

Well, there you have it: a small peek at what Jamaica culture is all about. The people of Jamaica have offered much to the world... and without a doubt... much of Jamaica's allure is due to the fascination with it's culture.

But better yet...

Visit our tropical paradise. Experience our culture. You'll find it almost impossible to encounter another culture anywhere else on earth that's as dynamic... and fascinating as ours.