If you have interacted with Jamaicans online or in person, chances are you have heard the phrase “wah gwan.” It loosely translates to “what’s up.” Jamaica is a very popular island, covering about 4,240 square miles. It is the third largest of the Caribbean countries, only behind Cuba and Hispaniola.
Apart from their distinct salutation, Jamaica is famous for its music (and musicians), sprinters, and rum. Also, did you know that the Jamaican flag is among the few with no American colors of red, white, and blue? Here are more Jamaica facts to add to your catalog.
1. It was First Known as Xaymaca
Jamaica’s first inhabitants, the Arawaks, named the island “Xaymaca,” which means the land of wood and water. Characterized by light brown complexion, black hair, broad faces, and flat noses, the country’s initial inhabitants were mainly farmers, growing corn, sweet potatoes, and cassava.
However, the country’s name changed to Jamaica between Columbus’s visit in 1494, Spanish settlement in the early 1500s, and British capture in the mid-1600s.
2. It’s Home to the World’s Fastest Sprinters
For most people, Jamaica symbolizes sprinting. On August 16, 2009, Usain Bolt set a new record for the 100-meter sprint in Berlin, Germany. Nicknamed “Lightening,” this legendary athlete completed the race in 9.58 seconds (an average of 10.4m/s), which is incredible. He is also the record holder of the 200-meter dash.
However, Bolt is not a one-off case; Jamaica boasts of producing 3 of the top 5 fastest men in history, including Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell. The same is true for the female category, with Elaine Thompson Herah, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and Shericka Jackson currently occupying the top positions.
Even though Usain Bolt has since retired from athletics, Jamaican dominance in the sprints looks set to live on. As witnessed in the recently concluded World Athletics Championship in Budapest, Hungary, the country’s supremacy will take something to overwrite.
3. Jamaica Gained Its Political Independence in 1962
Following an attack led by Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables in 1655, Jamaica became an English colony. The Brits overpowered the Spaniards, who had taken over the island since Christopher Columbus visited the region.
During their rule, slave trade and buccaneering thrived. However, an uprising led by Paul Bogle (Morant Bay Rebellion) in St. Thomas made the British government uncomfortable, mainly because they lost some of their men. Even though the movement was eventually put down, it laid an important mark on the island.
However, the natives had to wait until August 6, 1962, when Jamaica finally became politically independent. Today, the country has a constitution that governs the people, providing equality, freedom, and justice for all.
4. Kingston is Jamaica’s Capital City
Kingston is Jamaica’s capital city, known for its fine natural harbor and deep-rooted reggae culture. It is the country’s administrative center and home to a third of the country’s population.
The city also serves as a tourist attraction center. People flock to this region to visit the Bob Marley Museum, Emancipation Park, and Fort Charles.
5. James Bond Novels Were Written in Jamaica
If you are a fan of the James Bond movies, you must have noticed the stunning sceneries that the characters operate in. Of course, this is apart from the trademark tuxedos, elegant women, and high-speed vehicles. However, did you know Ian Fleming wrote the entire series while in Jamaica?
In the 1940s, Ian Fleming, the writer of the amazing James Bond novels, bought a 15-acre plot in Jamaica, where he built his home, and named the property Goldeneye. He wrote most of the James Bond and 007 fantastic plot lines here.
Today, the franchise owes Jamaica a lot, with some scenes shot on Ian Fleming’s Goldeneye property. Even after Fleming died in 1956 of heart complications, his view and love for Jamaica live on.
6. It’s Famous for its Coffee, Red Stripe Beer, and Rum
The Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee ranks among the best, thanks to its incredibly smooth and soft mouthfeel. That, coupled with its lack of bitterness and perfectly balanced acidity, explains why it’s one of the world’s most prized coffees.
Besides the coffee, Jamaica’s red stripe beer is also a product to be proud of. The beer is perfect for sunny days because of its grainy, sweet aroma. It is an award-winning drink that embodies the lively spirit of Jamaicans and their lifestyle.
If you are not a fan of beer or coffee, perhaps the Jamaican rum might interest you. Dating back to the 17th century, the drink constitutes molasses fermented in puncheons and pot stills distilled. Depending on personal preferences, distillation gives it a unique flavor, oozing wood, spices, sweet caramel, smoke, and rubber.
7. It’s Popular for Reggae Music
While the history of reggae roots traces back to the late 1940s and early 1950s, it was not until the 60s that it became popular and Jamaica’s primary music style. The growing influence of the Rastafari lifestyle played a significant role in the music genre’s growth – drumming, dreadlocks, and well-being.
Toots and the Maytals were among the first major reggae musicians to record reggae hits. With time, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, and arguably the biggest reggae star, Bob Marley, joined in. Today, reggae is a widely accepted music genre. It continues to inspire, educate, and entertain listeners from across the globe.
8. The Country’s Flag Signify Difficulties, Sunlight, and Agriculture
The flag colors of most countries signify something; the same is true for the Jamaican ones. Black means the hardships, power, and creativity that the country’s citizens have. Green represents the land and agricultural resources that the country bears. Gold symbolizes the God-given wealth and beauty associated with the sun.
Also known as “the cross,” the design of the Jamaican flag came from a bipartisan committee of the country’s House of Representatives. It was adopted on August 6, 1962, Jamaica’s Independence Day.
9. English Is Jamaica’s Official Language
Like most British colonies, English is Jamaica’s official language. However, most of the population prefers communicating in Jamaican Patois, which combines English superstrates and African substrates.
The Creole language also includes some aspects of Irish, Spanish, Hindi, Chinese, and Portuguese influences. For non-Jamaicans, the language can be very confusing but exciting to learn.
10. It Was Once a Spanish Speaking Nation
Before English became Jamaica’s official language, the natives communicated in Spanish. After Columbus visited the island, the Spaniards took over and colonized the natives. To facilitate their slave trade and other essential administrative functions, they communicated in Spanish.
When the British came and chased the Spaniards away, they also changed the official language to English to suit their needs.
11. Jamaica Has Limited Snake Species
Given that Jamaica is an island and its weather is perfect for snake habitation, you’d expect it to be infested with the reptiles. On the contrary, the country has very limited serpent species, most of which are non-venomous. The Jamaican Boa is probably the biggest one; even so, it’s harmless to humans.