Jamaica History and Culture

Jamaica History And Culture

The first inhabitants of Jamaica were the Tainos, also known as the Arawaks. They were said to be chased away or enslaved by Spaniards that came after them. There is no trace of any Tainos on the island today, but some sites that was once their communities can be found. The Tainos were said to be descendants of the Indians and are mild, peaceful and pleasure loving people.

When Christopher Columbus arrived on the island, the Tainos were found scattered all over the coastline, where they mostly settled. On his arrival, the largest Tainos community was said to be consisted of more than three thousand people. One of the important reasons for settling on the coastline was to look out for the Caribs, who were there enemies and neighbors; they were considered fierce and were also from the South America.

It was believed that the Tainos culture was actually developed on the islands and they were from the Hispaniola Mountains where they use to live in the caves.

The Tainos had a chief that was called the Cacique, he was also there political and religious head. The chief were on the advise from the healers or preist who had the abilities to speak with gods and give healing powers. The chief lived in separate shape house from the other tribes and he was the one that they paid special homage to. Tainos worship the gods called Zemis, they would have two separate gods, female and male. The tobacco was used during worship and it was believed that the gods communicated to the priest through the Zemis.

Each household had a Zemi, this was made from wood, stone, bones and cloth. They believed in life after death and their heaven was called “coyaba”. Piercings and tattoo on the body were used heavily as a manifestation of their faith, the higher up on the body it was, they believed that represented the closeness with the gods.

After the Spaniards came and took over the islands, a lot of European disease was introduced to Jamaica. These diseases include smallpox, malaria, chicken pox, gonorrhea and syphilis. There were also other problems such as mixed marriages and forced adaptation when they started bringing in the African slaves.

Tainos had a society that traced their kinship through the female line, if there is no male to inherit, it would pass to the children of the sister of deceased, son or daughter. A number of the Tainos practiced a lifestyle of polygamy, which is having more than one wife and husband at the same time. They wore limited clothing and majority of the time they wore none at all.

Tainos were sea fearers and did of fishing and hunting, but there main focus was on the agriculture where they grew crops such as corn, sweet potatoes, cassava, arrowroot, Sea Island cotton.

They use to play games and participated in sporting and festival activities, a popular ball game that they used to play was “batos” which was ceremonial. The Tainos did not have any written language but they spoke the Arawaks language. Some of the words that have linkage to Jamaican culture today are hammock (hamaca), barbecue (barbosa), canoe (canoa) hurricane (juracan) cassava (yuca) and tobacco (tabaco).

The Tainos ate a lot of meat, vegetables, fish and fruits. They would hunt the iguana, conies, agouti, fish, turtles and waterfowls as there were no larger animals available to them during this time. Because they loved fishing, they had a lot of fish that they catch in nets or with hook and lines. The primary crop that was grown was cassava, they would get intoxicated drinks from the juice and floor was then used to bake flat breads called Bammy.