Jamaica, the third largest island in the Caribbean region and part of the Greater Antilles archipelago, is located to the south of Cuba in the Caribbean Sea. It was named Xaymaca, meaning either the "Land of Springs," or the "Land of Wood and Water" by the original inhabitants, the Taino people.
The island was first sighted by Europeans when Christopher Columbus “discovered” it in 1494. Columbus used the island as a base for his private estate for a time. By the early part of the 16th century, it became a Spanish colony. The English, under Admiral William Penn and General Venables, seized the island from the Spanish in 1655. The English created a plantation economy based on cultivation of sugar, coffee and cocoa, and on the importation of African slaves, as well as indentured Indian and Chinese servants, to work the plantations. As many as a quarter million slaves were emancipated at the time of Britain’s abolition of the slave trade in 1834.
Jamaica is a land in the midst of economic and social tension. It is a lush and fertile land with a rich cultural heritage exemplified by its reggae music. Yet it struggles with issues of lawlessness and poverty and has one of the world’s highest murder rates.
Most of the present population (around 91%) are descended from African slaves, with smaller numbers of people of Indian and Chinese ancestry. Most claim Christianity as their religion, and the vast majority of those adhere to various Protestant denominations. While it may be officially in the minority, Rastafarianism is also strong—having its origin in Jamaica.
English is the official language of Jamaica, but Jamaican Creole English is widely used and considered “vigorous”—and prestigious. It may be partly intelligible to speakers of Cameroon Pidgin and Krio of Sierra Leone, spoken by descendants of Jamaicans repatriated to those countries between 1787 and 1860.