The Spanish colonization of Jamaica began in
1494 and caused the indigenous people to die as a result
of slavery and disease. The Spaniards were defeated in
1655 by the English and thus a British rule over Jamaica
began for more than 300 years.
The indigenous peoples of the Caribbean began to
settle on the islands maybe 7,000 years ago. The first
groups are believed to have come from South America.
When Christofer Columbus arrived on the mission of
the Spanish crown to Jamaica in 1494, the peaceful
Arab-speaking Taino people lived on the island.
Archaeological finds show that taino was probably in
Jamaica for at least 500 years.
Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of Jamaica, covering history, economy, and social conditions.
When the Spanish colonization began in 1509, the
indigenous people were put to work as slaves. The hard
slave labor combined with illnesses that the Europeans
brought, and which the indigenous peoples lacked
protection, led to Taino soon dying out. In order to
obtain labor for their plantations, the Spaniards
instead began shipping over slaves from West Africa.
The center of the slave trade
The small group of Spanish colonizers was defeated in
1655 by an English military expedition, which became the
beginning of British rule over Jamaica. Port Royal
outside Kingston became the base for buck hunters -
pirates who, on the British crown's behalf, plundered
throughout the Caribbean. From 1672 Jamaica was also the
center of the slave trade. In the 17th century, escaped
slaves, maroons, began attacks on British colonizers.
The fighting between the British and the Maroons went on
a bit into the 18th century before peace could be
The British ran sugar plantations, among other
things. The foundations for the sugar industry were
ravaged when Britain abolished slavery in 1834.
Plantation owners found it difficult to obtain cheap
labor and began recruiting workers abroad, including
India and China. A new blow to the sugar plantations
came just over ten years later when Jamaica lost its
position as the UK's main sugar supplier. The crisis in
the economy led to violent clashes between plantation
owners and a growing number of landless and unemployed
former slaves. The turmoil culminated in a major
uprising in 1865.
Then followed a few decades of relative calm before
Jamaica suffered strikes and unrest during the global
economic crisis of the 1930s. At this time, the
foundations of the two parties that still dominate
political life were laid: Jamaica's Labor Party (JLP)
and the People's Nationalist Party (PNP) (see Political
system). Socialist PNP was led by Oxford-educated lawyer
Norman Manley, while his cousin, businessman Alexander
Bustamante, was the charismatic leader of the right-wing
party JLP. Both parties worked for independence from the
Jamaica's path to independence was smooth and
peaceful. Increased self-government was introduced
gradually after the unrest in the 1930s. In 1944,
universal suffrage was introduced. In the parliamentary
elections that year, the JLP won a majority of the seats
and Bustamante became Jamaica's first prime minister.
JLP also won in the 1949 elections.
In the 1950s it was clear that Jamaica would be free
from Britain. Like the British, the PNP wanted the
English-speaking colonies of the Caribbean to merge into
a federation, while the JLP doubted this solution. PNP
won in the 1955 elections and in 1958 the short-lived
Caribbean Federation was established. Following tensions
within the federation, Jamaica withdrew from 1961. In
the April election the following year, the JLP withdrew
power and on August 6, 1962, Jamaica became independent.