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Thursday 13th June
Jamaica Information - Page 1
Jamaica (146 miles long and up to 51 miles wide) is the third largest island in the Caribbean. Much of the island is composed of limestone. Jamaica has six mountain ranges, one hundred and twenty rivers and many springs.

The capital city is Kingston. Other urban areas are Spanish Town and Montego Bay.

The climate is tropical with a rainy season between May and October. Jamaica is prone to hurricanes and earthquakes: there have been major earthquakes in 1692 when Port Royal sank below the sea, in 1907 when much of Kingston was destroyed, and in 1993.

Jamaica is particularly fertile; some of the flora and fauna of Jamaica have been introduced by colonists including the banana, the breadfruit and the mongoose.

There are no native large animals but there are reptiles inland such as crocodiles, lizards and snakes. Turtles, dolphins, tuna, marlin and barracudas are found in the surrounding sea. The coral reefs support many smaller fish but are endangered by environmentally unfriendly fishing practices.

Jamaica's forests include many colourful birds such as parrots, parakeets, and hummingbirds. Among the island's trees are cedar, coconut trees, ebony, mahoe (the national tree), mahogany, rosewood, silk cotton trees (kapok) and the lignum vitae (tree of life) whose flower is the Jamaican national flower.

Jamaica has many species of ferns, crotons and orchids. Other plants include bougainvillea, poinsettias and the cactus.

The island has suffered badly from deforestation caused by land clearing for coffee, sugar and banana plantations. The environment also suffers from the use of pesticides and fertilizers and from the mining and processing of bauxite, the source of aluminium.

Although hurricanes and earthquakes have taken their toll of Jamaica's historic buildings, examples remain from the colonial period and from the plantations and estates.

Modern Jamaica has many examples of international hotel and resort architecture.

The original inhabitants of Jamaica were Arawak Indians from South America who lived peacefully for hundreds of years until the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century. The Amerindian population soon died from diseases caught from the Spanish sailors or died in slavery.

To replace their Arawak slaves, the Spaniards brought over Africans. These slaves were released to fight a guerilla war when the British took over and became the basis of the Maroon nation in the wild lands of the Cockpit Country.

The British also brought African slaves to work on plantations - mainly from the Ashanti and Fanti tribes and the Ibo and the Yoruba.

When slavery was made illegal by the British government, indentured Indian workers were brought to Jamaica to work on sugar plantations. Today, over ninety percent of the population is of African descent (estimated population: 2,868,380 in 2011). Other nationalities which came to the island were Chinese and Europeans; more recently arrived, but also economically significant, are the Lebanese. The national motto of Jamaica is "Out of many, one people".

A small but influential Jewish community has lived in Jamaica since the Spanish colonisation.

English is the main language of Jamaica but many Jamaicans speak their own dialect or Patois which includes words of Spanish, Portuguese and West African origin.

Most Jamaicans are Christians: Baptists, Roman Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc. There are also some Hindus and Muslims and a small Jewish community.

The Rastafarian religion started in the 1930s. Rastafarians look to Africa and believe that Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was divine.

Throughout the Caribbean, some local religious beliefs draw on African roots. Shango and Santeria are two examples. In Jamaica the comparable set of beliefs is called Obeah.

Ackee and saltfish, is along with rice and peas, the best known traditional Jamaican dish. Another traditional recipe is that for jerk meat - pork or chicken seasoned in hot spices cooked over a barbecue. Fish from the rivers and the coastal waters are an important part of the national diet.

Other local foods include pepper pot soup, curried goat, plantains, patties and banana fritters. Rastafarians favour a vegetarian diet.

Shaved ice with fruit syrup is a favourite dessert. Drinks include coconut juice, Blue Mountain coffee and the traditional spirit, rum.

Jamaica is particularly rich in fruit: bananas, pineapples and papayas are well known, but also plentiful are the less familiar naseberries, ortaniques and star apples.

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