Happy Independence Day, Jamaica! The Island Enters Year 60 As A Free Nation
Photo Credit: Photo by Provisionshots

Photo Credit: Photo by Provisionshots

Happy Independence Day, Jamaica! The Island Enters Year 60 As A Free Nation

Caribbean , Jamaica
Spencer Jones
Spencer Jones Aug 5, 2022

On August 6, 2022, Jamaica celebrates its 60th year of independence, though it remains part of the British Commonwealth. The largest English-speaking island in the Caribbean has long been popular with tourists; famed for its rich culture, delicious food and lovely beaches. Jamaica’s influence is far-reaching, and its flag is the only one in the world that doesn’t include red, white or blue.

The name is a derivative of what the Arawaks called it, Xaymaca, meaning “land of wood and water.” They were Jamaica’s original inhabitants; peace-loving people who prospered off what the land provided. According to Jamaica Information Service, “they grew cassava, sweet potatoes, maize, fruits, vegetables, cotton and tobacco. They built their villages all over the island but most of them settled on the coasts and near rivers as they fished to get food.”

This life of simple bliss came to a screeching halt with the arrival of two foreign enemies: the Spanish and the British. Funded by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, Christopher Columbus and his men arrived on Jamaica’s shores. Understandably, the Arawaks didn’t care to have their space encroached on by strangers and responded accordingly. But the Spanish outmatched them, and not just in terms of weaponry. The indigenous people couldn’t combat smallpox and the other diseases the Spanish brought over. The surviving Arawaks effectively became slaves under the Spanish crown, and if disease didn’t kill them, the work conditions did.

Jamaica Information Service notes that “the island remained poor as few Spaniards settled there.” The Spanish established Spanish Town as the original capital, many years before Kingston. The British invaded next, and sent the Spanish packing to Cuba in 1655. Spain’s efforts to recapture Jamaica failed.

Britain’s grip on Jamaica was solidified by slavery. The slave trade ended in 1807, but there was no reversing the injustice. By that time, “almost 2 million slaves were traded to Jamaica,” according to the Embassy of Jamaica. “Thousands of slaves died during the brutal passage from West Africa to the Caribbean. After almost 250 years of rebellion and resistance, emancipation from slavery was finally won in 1838.”

Both Spain and Britain felt entitled to Jamaica on the grounds of needing to make its inhabitants “civilized.” The great irony was that the Europeans were the actual savages; evident in their cruelty towards the Arawaks and the African slaves.

The sun eventually set on the British Empire, at least as far as Jamaica was concerned. In 1962, Alexander Bustamante became the first Prime Minister, after serving in various areas of politics. He was the first chairman of the Jamaica Labor Party in 1943, then the Mayor of Kingston from 1947 to 1948. He held the Prime Minister position until 1967 before retiring from political life. Coincidentally, he died on August 6, 1977, the 15th year of independence.

According to Visit Jamaica, this year’s Independence Day festivities started on July 31. On August 6, the National Stadium in Kingston will host the grandest celebration in Jamaica’s history. There will be thousands of spectators, and top artists like Beenie Man and Barrington Levy will perform.

There will be celebrations elsewhere, too. The city of Birmingham in England will host a party in Victoria Square. Birmingham, like London, is home to many of the Windrush immigrants and their descendants. New York, particularly Brooklyn, is sure to mark the occasion as well.

Many have written about the resilience of Jamaicans in the face of challenge. But a common local saying describes it best: “Wi likkle but wi tallawah!

Etienne & Ivy Coco Maurice

Travel Noire, Breaking Borders & Barriers