The Culture And Traditions Of Jamaica

Spicy jerk chicken is an example of Jamaican cuisine.
Spicy jerk chicken is an example of Jamaican cuisine.

Present-day Jamaica, an island nation located in the Caribbean Sea, has been influenced over the last few hundred years by its colonial history. As a result of this history, the culture of Jamaica is unique and reflects how people from a number of backgrounds can come together and create a new social identity and culture. In fact, the motto of this country is: “Out of many, One people”. The current population of Jamaica is recorded at around 2.89 million and about one-quarter of these individuals live in Kingston, the national capital. The vast majority of the population here identifies as having African descendancy and interestingly, most individuals here simply identify as being Jamaican. They do not often consider themselves to be African-Jamaicans or European-Jamaicans, an identity practice that is commonly seen in the US and Canada, for example. Other ethnic identities include those of Asian and European descent.

The culture of Jamaica includes: social beliefs and customs, religions and festivals, music and dance, literature and arts, and cuisine. This article takes a closer look at each of these components of the culture of Jamaica.

Social Beliefs And Customs

Many of the social beliefs and customs of Jamaica are largely influenced by the tendency to exist outside of the formal economic sector. Some examples of this can be seen in the informal money savings schemes employed by the people. In one such scheme, known as pardner, a group of individuals agree to pay a fixed amount each week into a communal fund that is managed by one elected community member. Once the time period has come to an end, the sum of money is paid to one of the participants. This practice continues until all of the participants have received one payment. Other commonly held beliefs are spiritual in nature. For example, when a family moves into a new house or finishes building a new house, they often request a priest or other church leader to come to the home and bless each of its rooms. Along the same lines, before starting a construction projects, many crews will pour an offering of rum on the ground for good luck.

Religion And Festivals

The most widely practiced religion in Jamaica is Christianity, primarily the Protestant sect. Approximately two-thirds of the population identifies as a practicing Christian. This country is most commonly associated with Rastafarianism, however, which is considered a part of the Christian religion. Followers of the Rastafari religion believe in traditional Christian teachings, but also believe that the ex-Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, represented the second coming of Jesus. In addition to these two religions, traditional religions continue to be practiced across the country. It is believed that these religions have developed from traditional African beliefs and practices that were introduced to this country by enslaved people. Other minority religions practiced here include: Islam (around 5,000 followers), Buddhism (around 3,000 followers), and Hinduism (around 1,450 followers).

Music And Dance

One of the most widely recognized types of music from Jamaica is known as reggae. Reggae was first influenced by Jazz and Rhythm and Blues music, which was created and made popular by the African American population in the US. This music typically incorporates two guitars as well as drums, keyboards, and vocals. Reggae was made internationally popular by the singer Bob Marley.

Some of the traditional dance styles created in Jamaica include: bruckins, jonkonnu, and daggering. Each of these dances are influenced by a combination of European and African traditions. Bruckinds was created to celebrate the abolition of slavery. Today, it is primarily danced during Emancipation Day celebrations, which take place on August 1st of each year. Jonkonnu, also known as John Canoe and Junkanoo, is a dance that is performed on December 26th and January 1st. It is danced while incorporating colorful dress and face masks. The Daggering dance a modern day dance performed by young people in this country at dance halls and clubs. It is a sensual dance that involves close physical contact between both partners.

Literature And Arts

The residents of Jamaica have kept the tradition of oral storytelling alive in this country; this tradition has been passed down through generations of descendants of African slaves. In addition to this tradition, many Jamaicans have gone on to become successful authors. Jamaican literature can be easily recognized by its use of patois, an English-based creole language. One of the oldest published books from this country is Becka’s Buckra Baby, which is recognized as the foundation of modern Jamaican literature today. Some well-known Jamaican authors include: Nalo Hopkinson, Eliot Bliss, Claude McKay, and Velma Pollard.

In addition to its literature, Jamaica also has a thriving arts scene. Performance theater is one of the most popular arts to take place here. Its history dates back to the late 17th century, when the first theater was built. The love for live theater in this country, created a demand that extended beyond what was available in official theater halls. Performances have been carried out in churches, homes, and public spaces and over time, have developed to incorporate local dances and humor.

Another developing art in Jamaica is its movie industry. This country has been a destination for many US-produced films, but has also recently been working to increase locally produced movies. In fact, in February of every year, Jamaica celebrates The Reggae Film Festival to bring producers and performers together. Some Jamaican-produced movies include: Third World Cop, The Harder They Come, and Rockers.


The cuisine of Jamaica is another important piece of the national culture here. Jamaican food is the result of a mixture of Spanish, British, Indian, and African cooking techniques and recipes. Additionally, some of the dishes from other countries have been adapted to the fruits, vegetables, and spices available on this island. Some of the most commonly used ingredients in Jamaican cuisine include: coconut, jackfruit, allspice, tamarind, and pigeon peas. A widely recognized Jamaican dish is jerk chicken, which has been seasoned by a local marinade or dry rub. The most important meal of the day is eaten in the afternoon and in the evening, most people have a tea and a light snack.


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