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Beginning with Columbus’s visits to the island, Spain established political authority in Jamaica from 1509 onwards, sending out various governors appointed by the Spanish Crown. Jamaica became a Spanish royal colony in 1534. The Spanish treated the Tainos harshly, forcing them into submission under the repartimiento de Indias labour system and removing their lands under an encomienda labour regime. The Taino were also affected by a range of diseases through contact with the Spanish intruders. By 1600 there were very few Taino left living in Jamaica.
Spanish settlement in Jamaica never escalated. The population of Jamaica amounted to no more than 1,600 in the first half of the seventeenth century. Consequently, most of the island remained uncultivated. Spanish settlers supported their daily lives by growing crops and tending livestock, and they introduced numerous new foodstuffs to Jamaica, including sweet potatoes, cassava bread and cane sugar. Institutions of the Roman Catholic Church were introduced to Jamaica by Spanish settlers. The Spanish period in the island ended abruptly through an English military takeover. Cromwell’s Western Design of 1655 invaded, captured and consolidated Jamaica in English hands. The English then colonised the island as its major possession in the western Caribbean.
Jamaica’s history between the American Revolution and the Morant Bay rebellion was full of turbulent change. Sugar still dominated the island economy, though other marketable crops, livestock pens, a complex web of internal exchange and provision grounds were additional features of Jamaica’s economy. Until 1834 slaves dominated the labour force. Planters were on the back foot in dealing with the movement to abolish the British slave trade, passed by Parliament in 1807, and they faced greater challenges from abolitionists after 1823, culminating in a well-mobilised and strongly supported campaign for slave emancipation, which was granted by Britain in 1834.
During a major rebellion in 1831–2, many sugar properties were destroyed. The revolt was quashed by British military forces. Planters were compensated for the loss of their slaves, but the island’s black population received nothing. A brief period of apprenticeship was followed full freedom in 1838. Many ex-apprentices left estates and became independent peasants. But despite positive signs of progress, low wage levels, poor housing, a restricted franchise and the continuance of whites in positions of power made life problematic for Jamaicans. Difficult economic conditions influenced the violence of the Morant Bay rebellion in 1865, which the authorities put down.
A Concise History of Jamaica attempts to provide a comprehensive overview of the most populous English-speaking nation in the Caribbean, an island that has experienced tumultuous changes from the days of its first inhabitants, the Tainos, up to its present position as an independent nation. By combining political, economic, social and cultural history, this book aims to encompass the main developments in the historical trajectory of Jamaica. This is not an easy task to accomplish in a fair and balanced way because of the sheer amount of racial prejudice and social deprivation combined with highly unequal power structures that have characterised the island’s modern history. Many issues connected with Jamaica’s past are contentious and rightly so, and this book will not shirk discussion of the difficult issues. As an Englishman who has visited Jamaica for research purposes on numerous occasions and who has experienced daily life in Jamaica as an outsider, my interpretation of Jamaica’s historical evolution will undoubtedly have different emphases from approaches that might be taken by an insider, so to speak, but I hope that the book will offer judicious assessments that are not dominated by my British background.
Crown Colony government, implemented in 1865, reserved political power in the hands of British-appointed officials, but there was no representative assembly. Only towards the end of the Second World War were improvements made towards more democracy in Jamaica, with the introduction of a new constitution and a general election held in 1944. Jamaica’s social structure remained heavily dominated by a white elite, with an emerging professional brown middle class and many impoverished black Jamaicans. The late nineteenth century witnessed the growth of the Jamaican peasantry. Sugar production was largely reorganised to centre around large sugar factories, while banana cultivation became an important new economic activity.
Elementary education improved in the late nineteenth century with a growth in the number of schools, but secondary education lagged behind and tertiary education was virtually non-existent until after the Second World War. Jamaicans remained attached to Afro-Caribbean spiritual beliefs but Christian churches, chapels and revivalist preachers gained followers. In the 1920s and 1930s, Rastafarianism emerged as a new system of belief and Marcus Garvey’s organisations offered hope for Jamaicans to find a future beyond colonialism. Worsening employment conditions in the 1930s led to major labour protests in 1938, the formation of trade unions and the birth of political parties.
The two main political parties formed in the early 1940s, the Jamaica Labour Party and the People’s National Party, soon dominated electoral politics. Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante were founder-leaders of these parties, both serving as prime minister. A West Indian Federation movement in the late 1950s and 1960s collapsed on the eve of Jamaican independence in 1962. Jamaica’s political development since independence has been beset by the seemingly intractable problems of operating a successful economy and combating deprivation, poverty, violence and drugs. Polarised political, economic and social policies dominated the 1970s, under Prime Ministers Michael Manley and Edward Seaga. Relative political stability returned to Jamaica with Prime Minister P J. Patterson between 1992 and 2006.
Poverty, neglect and crime are still extensive, but Jamaica has achieved many positive objectives since the Second World War. Educational opportunities have increased rapidly. The creative arts have made their local and international imprint in music, art, dance and literature. Jamaica has become a notable contributor to different sports. Comparing 2021 with 1945, Jamaica has assumed a greater position globally with diasporic migration creating strong networks between Jamaicans in Anglophone countries, sustained pride in independent nationhood and as a magnet for large flows of tourists.
The Taino migrated to Jamaica from South America in broad waves between AD 600 and 900. They organised communities throughout Jamaica, preferring defendable hilltop settlements. Practising communal living under the leadership of caciques, the Taino forged a rich culture in which they excelled at woodcarving, pottery and making stone implements. Surviving rock art in caves testifies to their artistic skills. They undertook daily food gathering, picking fruits and seeds, fishing and planting root crops in conucos. Many crops they cultivated, including cassava, have had a lasting impact on the Jamaican diet.
The Taino believed in numerous deities and the afterlife and maintaining contact with the spirit world through possession of artefacts known as zemis and ritual cohoba ceremonies. As they left no written records and their language is extinct, knowledge of Taino culture in Jamaica is confined to knowledge of their settlements, artisan skills, rock art and religious practices. A revival of interest in the Tainos’ foundational role in Jamaican history has recently occurred. In May 2019 the Institute of Jamaica celebrated Taino Day with a series of talks and activities. In the following month a Taino cacique was installed in Jamaica for the first time in half a millennium.
Pirates and privateers used Jamaica as a base for their sea raids. By the late seventeenth century, however, sugar plantations based on slave labour had been established in Jamaica as the main form of economic activity. Jamaica failed to become a self-sustaining settler population. The slave population also suffered from heavy mortality. Life for the enslaved was completely overseen by white control. Slaves created their own family structures and practised a rich spiritual and community life. They protested by running away, by staging occasional revolts and by forming Maroon communities in more remote parts of Jamaica.
Jamaica was retained as a British possession in the American revolutionary era. Though Jamaicans disliked the Stamp Act in 1765, they remained loyal to Britain during the American War of Independence. This arose largely from their fears of being outnumbered by a large black majority on the island from whom they needed British military forces to protect their property and livelihoods. Fortunately, Jamaica was not attacked successfully by the Americans and their allies during the war years between 1775 and 1783.
The history of Jamaica comprises a long early phase of native settlement by the Tainos, a shorter period when Spain controlled Jamaica, over two centuries of British control focused around the development of slavery, a quarter century of freedom after slave emancipation, many decades of Crown Colony government and a modern era of greater political participation and cultural awareness by black Jamaicans both before and after independence. Hierarchical divisions based on race, class and degrees of bondage and freedom, with their long-drawn-out consequences, have played an essential part in Jamaica’s historical evolution with both positive and negative outcomes for Jamaicans.
Kenneth Morgan's history of Jamaica is a social, economic, political, and cultural assessment of the island's most important periods and themes over the past millennium. This includes the island's development before 1500, with detailed material on the Taino society; the two centuries of slavery and its aftermath between 1660 and 1860; the continuance of colonialism between 1860 and 1945; the background to Jamaican independence between 1945 and 1960; and the evolution of Jamaica as an independent nation since the early 1960s. Throughout, Morgan discusses important themes such as race, slavery, empire, poverty, and colonialism, and the unbalanced social structure that existed for much of Jamaica's history – the small, overwhelmingly white elite overseeing and controlling the lives of black and brown people beneath them on the social scale. Ending with an assessment of the contemporary period, this work offers an authoritative, up-to-date history of Jamaica.
This article analyses the work of Richard Daintree as Agent-General for Emigration from the United Kingdom to Queensland when he held that role between 1872 and 1876. Daintree designed exhibitions in London to attract emigrants, placed advertisements in newspapers, wrote a guide to Queensland’s resources, liaised with shipping companies for passenger berths, lectured in the provinces to potential emigrants, and cooperated with emigration sub-agents provided by Queensland’s government for Scotland and Ireland. Daintree contended with two main problems during his period as Agent-General. One involved a serious case of fraud discovered in his London office, but he was not responsible for its occurrence. The other was that a change of Queensland premier from Arthur Hunter Palmer, with whom he had worked cordially, to Arthur Macalister, with whom he had fraught relations, adversely affected his work. Overall, however, the article shows that Daintree was successful in increasing net migration to Queensland during his incumbency as Agent-General.
This article analyses the musical work of the Brisbane Musical Union (BMU) between its founding in 1872 and the consolidation of its position by 1898. During this period, the BMU benefited from the dedicated leadership of its main conductor, R. T. Jefferies, who drew upon his high standing as a violinist, ensemble player and conductor in Brisbane to present regular choral concerts, mainly comprising oratorios, with an amateur choir. Despite financial challenges, difficulties over rehearsal and concert venues, periodic problems concerning the choice of repertoire, an insufficient number of available professional musicians and competition from rival local musical societies, Jefferies’ work with the BMU promoted an important aspect of high musical culture to the public and laid the foundations for further development of classical musical performance in Brisbane.