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date: 23 October 2019


  • Olive Lewin
  • , revised by Maurice G. Gordon


The third largest of the Caribbean islands, with an area of about 11,000 km². Formerly part of the British West Indies, gained independence in 1962 and is a member of the British Commonwealth.

Columbus arrived in Jamaica on his second voyage (1494), naming the island Santiago. During the early 16th century it was colonized by the Spanish and by the time of the English conquest (1655) the indigenous Arawak Indians had been virtually exterminated. With the introduction of slaves from West Africa, beginning in the 16th century, blacks soon outnumbered Europeans, and the 20th-century population is predominantly creole or black with European, Chinese, Indian and Syrian minorities. Although English is the official language, creole (a mixture of English, Spanish and French combined with features from various African languages) is widely spoken and is often the language of folksong texts. Many Jamaicans belong to the Anglican Church but other religions include the Baptist, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Ethiopian Orthodox faiths. African and non-Christian cults (for example, the Kumina) and Afro-Christian revivalist sects (such as the Zion Way Baptist and the Pukkomina) are particularly important in rural areas....

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