Jamaica whose name means "land of wood and water" was originally spelt "Xaymaca" but was later changed by Spanish Explorers.Historians believe that the Arawak and Taino peoples that initially inhabited the island originated in South America, and settled on the island between 4000 and 1000 BC.
Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1494, he claimed the island for Spain and over the next 40 years a few Spanish settlements were built.
When the English captured Jamaica the Spanish colonists fled after freeing their slaves. Those slaves fled into the mountains and lived with the Tainos. Those runaway slaves became known as the Jamaican Maroons.
By 1660, the population of Jamaica was about 4,500 whites and some 1,500 blacks, and in a few short years blacks formed a majority of the population.
Although Britain verbally abolished the slave trade in 1807, they continued to import Chinese and Indian workers into their colonies as indentured servants to supplement the now depleted work force. Descendants of those workers continue to reside in Jamaica today.
During its first 200 years of British rule (on the backs of slaves) Jamaica became one of the world's leading sugar-exporting nations, producing more than 77,000 tons of sugar annually by the early 19th century.
Like other islands in the Caribbean, Jamaica had its share of slave rebellions. Eventually, this forced Britain to formally abolished slavery in 1834, and in that year over 300,000 slaves still worked on the island.
In 1872, Kingston became the island's capital and Jamaica continued to gain increasing levels of independence from the United Kingdom (UK). It finally gained its full independence in 1962.
Over the first few years of independence the Jamaica economy flourished and grew significantly. Tourism, followed by a solid manufacturing base were the major contributors.
Like many countries involved in the slave industry, the poor were often left behind in these periods of growth, and this was certainly true in Jamaica.
Through the 1970s and 1980s governments came and went, debt levels increased and the economy all but cratered. To make it even worse, some major industries closed and tourism decreased.
According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, gangs affiliated with the major political parties evolved into powerful organized crime networks involved in international drug smuggling and money laundering.
Violent crime, drug trafficking, and poverty still pose significant challenges to the government today. Nonetheless, many rural and resort areas remain relatively safe and contribute substantially to the economy.
Through it all Jamaica remains an important force (actually, a major force) in the tourism economy and politics of the Caribbean.
Today Jamaica is known for many things - but certainly on top of any list are its numerous idyllic beach resorts, white-sand beaches, local pirate history, Reggae music, culture and food, and of course, delicious Blue Mountain Coffee.
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