|Approx. 2.7 million
91.4% of the Jamaican population
|Jamaican Patois, Jamaican English|
Minorities Practicing Atheism, Judaism or Islam
|Related ethnic groups|
|African American, Black British, Black Canadians, Afro-Trinidadian, Afro-Guyanese|
Afro-Jamaicans are Jamaicans of entirely or predominantly African descent. The first Africans to arrive came in 1513 from the Iberian Peninsula after having been taken from West Africa by the Spanish and the Portuguese. They were servants, cowboys, herders of cattle, pigs and horses, as well as hunters. When the English captured Jamaica in 1655, many of them fought with the Spanish who gave them their freedom and then fled to the mountains resisting the British for many years to maintain their freedom, becoming known as Maroons. The British in this point in time, brought with them mostly Akan slaves, some of which runaway and joined with Maroons and even took over as leaders.
Between 1500 and 1800, some eleven million Africans were moved to the Caribbean. They were captured by war, as retribution for crimes committed, or by abduction, and marched to the coast in "coffles" with their necks yoked to each other. They were placed in trading posts or forts to await the horrifying six- to twelve-week Middle Passage voyage between Africa and the Americas during which they were chained together, underfed, kept in the ship's hold in the thousands packed more like sardines than humans. Those who survived were fattened up and oiled to look healthy prior to being auctioned in public squares to the highest bidders.
Enslaved Africans mostly came from the Igbo, along with Akan, Fon, Yoruba, Efik, Bantu, and Moko people, respectively, mainly in the 1750s and after. Originally in earlier British colonization, however the island before the 1750s was in fact mainly Akan populated. But due to frequent rebellions from the then known "Coromantee" that often joined the slave rebellion group known as the Maroons, other groups were sent to Jamaica. The Akan population was still maintained because they were the preference of British planters in Jamaica because they were "better workers", according to these Planters.
Field slaves fetched £25–£75 while skilled slaves such as carpenters fetched prices as high as £300. The majority of the house slaves were Mulattoes. On reaching the plantation, the slaves underwent a "seasoning" process in which they were placed with an experienced slave who taught them the ways of the estate. Although the initial slave traders were the Portuguese and the Dutch, between 1750 and 1807 (the year in which the British Empire abolished the slave trade), Britain "dominated the buying and selling of slaves to the Americas". They were also Brown/Mulatto or mixed-race people at the time who had more privileges than the Blacks and usually held higher paying jobs and occupations. Shipbuilding flourished and manufacturing expanded: the "process of industrialization in England from the second quarter of the eighteenth century as to an important extent a response to colonial demands for rails, axes, buckets, coaches, clocks, saddles...and a thousand other things"
Atlantic slave trade
|Region of Embarkment, 1701—1800||Amount %|
|Bight of Biafra (Igbo, Ibibio)||31.9|
|Gold Coast (Asante-Akan, Fante-Akan)||27.5|
|West-central Africa (Kongo, Mbundu)||14.5|
|Bight of Benin (Yoruba, Ewe, Fon, Allada and Mahi)||11.2|
|Windward Coast (Mandé, Kru)||5.2|
|Sierra Leone (Mende, Temne)||3.5|
|Southeast Africa (Macua, Malagasy)||0.1|
The Atlantic Slave Trade began in the 15th century when the Portuguese took hold of land near Gibraltar and soon encountered Africans, whom they quickly took as prisoners. By mid-century, the first public sale of these prisoners was held. By 1455 Portugal was importing close to 800 enslaved African a year. Sugar cultivation began in the Azores islands, and as the demand for sugar grew, so did the demand for slaves to work the fields of sugar cane. By the 16th century, other countries wanted a piece of this action and the competition for the sugar and enslavement trades began.
By 1700 Jamaica was awash with sugar plantations and Jamaica's population consisted of 7,000 English to 40,000 enslaved Africans. The sugar industry grew quickly in Jamaica—in 1672 there were 70 plantations producing 772 tonnes of sugar per annum—growing in the 1770s to over 680 plantations. By 1800, it was 21,000 English to 300,000 enslaved Africans, which increased to some 500,000 enslaved Africans by the 18th century. In 1820 there were 5,349 properties in Jamaica of which 1,189 contained over 100 enslaved Africans. Each estate was its own small world, complete with an entire labour force of field workers and skilled artisans, a hospital, water supply, cattle, mules and horses as well as its own fuel source. Each plantation fuelled the wheels of British mercantilism. Sugar, molasses and rum were exported to England for sale and ships were financed to return to Africa and collect more slaves in exchange for trinkets and transport them to the West Indies as a labour source. This became known as The Triangular Trade. Money was not left in England's colonies, the financing came from Mother England, and to Mother England the profits returned.
A typical sugar estate was 900 acres (3.6 km2). This included a Great House where the owner or overseer and the domestic enslaved Africans lived, and nearby accommodation for the bookkeeper, distiller, mason, carpenter, blacksmith, cooper and wheelwright. With the exception of the bookkeeper, by the middle of the eighteenth century, skilled enslaved Africans had replaced white indentured servants in these posts. The field enslavement' quarters were usually about a half mile away, closer to the industrial sugar mill, distillery and the boiling and curing houses, as well as the blacksmiths' and carpenters' sheds and thrash houses. In addition, there was a poultry pen and a cattle yard along with a hospital for Africans. Some estates, if large enough, had accommodation for an estate doctor. Estates had estate gardens and the Africans had their own kitchen gardens as well as polnicks provision grounds found in the hills, which were required by law from as early as 1678. During enslavement, however, the enslaved Africans kept pigs and poultry and grew mangoes, plantain, ackee, okra, yam and other ground provisions. The cultivation of these lands took on greater proportions as plantations were abandoned when the island faced increasing competition from Brazil, Cuba and beet sugar, a loss in labour after emancipation in the 1830s as well as the loss of protective trade duties after the passage of the 1846 Sugar Equalization Act in England.
The workforce on each plantation was divided into gangs determined by age and fitness. On average most estates had three main field gangs. The first was made up of the strongest and most able men and women. The second, of those no longer able to serve in the first, and the third, of older enslaved Africans and older children. Some estates had four gangs, depending on the number of children living on the estate. Children started working as young as 3 or 4 years old.
Significance of sugar
To a large extent, Jamaican customs and culture were fashioned by sugar. According to John Hearne (1965), for two hundred years sugar was the only reason behind Jamaica's existence as a centre for human habitation. For centuries, sugar was Jamaica's most important crop. Jamaica was once considered the "jewel" in Britain's crown. In 1805, the island's peak of sugar production, it produced 101,600 tonnes of sugar. It was the world's leading individual sugar producer.
The cultivation of sugar was intricately intertwined with the system of African enslavement. This connection has set the course of the nation's demographics since the 18th century when enslaved Africans vastly outnumbered any other population group. The descendants of the enslaved Africans comprise the majority of Jamaica's population. They have influenced every sphere of Jamaican life and their contributions are immeasurable.
As Jamaican enslaved peoples came from Eastern, Central, and Western Africa, many of their customs survived based on memory and myths. They encompassed the life cycle, i.e. a newborn was not regarded as being of this world until nine days had passed and burial often involved libations at the graveside, and the belief that the dead body's spirit would not be at rest for some 40 days. They included forms of religion in which healing was considered an act of faith completed by obeahmen and communication with the spirits involved possession often induced by dancing and drumming. African-based religions include Kumina, Myal and Revival. Many involved recreational, ceremonial and functional use of music and dance. "Slaves," Brathwaite explains, "danced and sang at work, at play, at worship, from fear, from sorrow from joy". They recreated African musical instruments from materials found in Jamaica (calabash, conch, bamboo, etc.) and featured improvisation in song and dance. All of these customs and many more such as the Christmas street parades of Jonkonnu, were misunderstood and undervalued by Europeans with the exception of the political use of drumming to send coded messages from plantation to plantation.
Drumming of any kind was therefore often banned. Jamaican music today has emerged from the traditional musical forms of work songs sung by slaves, the ceremonial music used in religious services and the social and recreational music played on holidays and during leisure time. The cramped housing space provided to the enslaved Africans, which limited their dwellings (often made of wattle and daub) to one window and one door, meant that very little other than sleeping took place indoors. Life, as in Africa, was lived communally, outside. Similarly language, as in Africa, is considered powerful, particularly naming. Brathwaie (1971) gives an example of a woman whose child falls ill and wants her name to be changed, believing that this would allow her to be cured. Language is certainly an area where African retention is strongest. Jamaicans today move between Patois a creolised English and standard English. Jamaican patois was born from the intermixing of African slaves and English, Irish, Welsh, Scottish sailors, enslaved Africans, servants, soldiers and merchants. The enslaved African spoke many dialects, and given the need for a common tongue, Jamaican patois was born. It has been in use since the end of the 17th century by Jamaicans of all ethnicities and has been added to by the, Chinese, Indians, Lebanese, Germans, and French who also settled on the island. Some words also indicate Spanish and Taino presence in Jamaican history. Many of these traditions survive to this day, testament to the strength of West African culture despite the process of creolisation (the intermingling of peoples adjusting to a new environment) it encountered.
Jamaican Patois, known locally as Patwa, is an English–African creole language spoken primarily in Jamaica and the Jamaican diaspora. It is not to be confused with Jamaican English nor with the Rastafarian use of English. The language developed in the 17th century, when enslaved peoples from West and Central Africa were exposed to, learned and nativized the vernacular and dialectal forms of English spoken by their masters: British Englishes (including significant exposure to Scottish English) and Hiberno English. Jamaican Patwa is a post-creole speech continuum (a linguistic continuum) meaning that the variety of the language closest to the lexifier language (the acrolect) cannot be distinguished systematically from intermediate varieties (collectively referred to as the mesolect) nor even from the most divergent rural varieties (collectively referred to as the basilect). Jamaicans themselves usually refer to their use of English as patwa, a term without a precise linguistic definition.
Jamaican Patois contains many loanwords of African origin, a majority of those etymologically from Gold Coast region (particularly of the Asante-Twi dialect of the Akan language).
Recent Genetic Results
A DNA test study submitted to BMC Medicine in 2012, states that:"....despite the historical evidence that an overwhelming majority of slaves were sent from the Bight of Biafra and West-central Africa near the end of the British slave trade, the mtDNA haplogroup profile of modern Jamaicans show a greater affinity with groups found in the present day Gold Coast region....this is because Africans arriving from the Gold Coast may have thus found the acclimatization and acculturation process less stressful because of cultural and linguistic commonalities, leading ultimately to a greater chance of survivorship and a greater number of progeny.
More detailed results stated: "Using haplogroup distributions to calculate parental population contribution, the largest admixture coefficient was associated with the Gold Coast (all of which were Ashanti based on the culture) (0.477 ± 0.12 or 59.7% of the Jamaican population with a 2.7 chance of Pygmy and Sahelian mixture), suggesting that the people from this region may have been consistently prolific throughout the slave era on Jamaica. The diminutive admixture coefficients associated with the Bight of Biafra and West-central Africa (0.064 ± 0.05 and 0.089 ± 0.05, respectively) is striking considering the massive influx of individuals from these areas in the waning years of the British Slave trade. When excluding the pygmy groups, the contribution from the Bight of Biafra and West-central rise to their highest levels (0.095 ± 0.08 and 0.109 ± 0.06, respectively), though still far from a major contribution. When admixture coefficients were calculated by assessing shared haplotypes, the Gold Coast also had the largest contribution, though much less striking at 0.196, with a 95% confidence interval of 0.189 to 0.203. Interestingly, when haplotypes are allowed to differ by one base pair, the Jamaican matriline shows the greatest affinity with the Bight of Benin, though both Bight of Biafra and West-central Africa remain underrepresented. The results of the admixture analysis suggest the mtDNA haplogroup profile distribution of Jamaica more closely resembles that of aggregated populations from the modern day Gold Coast region despite an increasing influx of individuals from both the Bight of Biafra and West-central Africa during the final years of the trade."
Notable Jamaicans of African and mixed-race descent
- Bob Marley
- Ziggy Marley
- Lee "Scratch" Perry
- Peter Tosh
- Bunny Wailer
- Big Youth
- Jimmy Cliff
- Dennis Brown
- Desmond Dekker
- Beres Hammond
- Beenie Man
- Grace Jones
- Shabba Ranks
- Buju Banton
- I Wayne
- Bounty Killer
- Black Uhuru
- Third World Band
- Inner Circle
- Chalice Reggae Band
- Morgan Heritage
- Marcus Garvey
- Ricardo Gardner
- Super Cat
- Usain Bolt
- Courtney Walsh
- Naomi Campbell
- Yendi Phillipps
- Claude Mckay
- Sheryl Lee Ralph
- Heavy D
- Christopher Wallace
- Damian Marley
- Rucker, Walter C. (2006). The river flows on: Black resistance, culture, and identity formation in early America. LSU Press. p. 126. ISBN 0-8071-3109-1.
- Cassidy FG: Multiple etymologies in Jamaican Creole. Am Speech 1966, 41:211-215