Jamaica is an independent nation and a member of the British Commonwealth. After enjoying full internal self-government for a number of years Jamaica achieved independence in August of 1962. Queen Elizabeth II however, is still Queen of Jamaica by tradition and the titular head of state is her representative on the island - the Governor General. It is similar to Canada.
Geography: Jamaica is the third largest Caribbean island, measuring 146 miles at its widest point. Primarily of volcanic origin, the lush island features a mountain ridge that peaks at Blue Mountain which is 7,402 feet high. Many white-sand beaches and clear seas ring the island.
Democracy is complete, with an elected Parliament, a Prime Minister, an elected House of Representatives and a Senate. It works on similar lines to the British parliament. The constitution embodies absolute safeguards to personal liberties and democratic rule of law.
Parliament sits at Gordon House on Kingston's Duke Street and visitors can watch proceedings from the visitors gallery.
Population standing at 2,731, 832 at the end of 2005 is made up of the following approximate ethnic groups: African 76.3%, Afro-European 15.1%, European 0.8%, Chinese and Afro-Chinese 1.2%, East Indian and Afro-East Indian 3.4% and others 3.4%.
Arawak Indians were the original inhabitants exterminated by the Spanish after Columbus discovered Jamaica in 1492. The Spanish were defeated by the British in 1655.
Snakes are extremely rare. They were killed off by the mongoose, imported to exterminate canefield rats.
Climate is year-round summer with no definite rainy season, although it usually rains most in May and October. North-easterly trade winds blow continually.
Obeahism the Jamaican form of Voodoo exists but is seldom heard of. The Obeah man is supposed to marshal evil spirits to bring good or bad fortune. The practice of Obeahism is a still considered a crime punishable by imprisonment here.
Industries in order of importance are tourism bauxite, agriculture (sugar, bananas, coffee, pimento, cocoa and tobacco). No other country in the world produces pimento, also known as Allspice.
Orchids grow wild all over Jamaica - 200 species of them, 73 of which are found nowhere else. There are also 500 species of fern and 1,000 species of trees.
Blue Moons happen in Jamaica. Sapphire-coloured moons have been observed half a dozen times during the last 40 years.
The Coconut Palm is not native to Jamaica or the West Indies. Surprisingly nor are sugar cane, bananas, mangoes, breadfruit or bamboo. They were all brought to the island at various stages in its history. The original Arawak inhabitants lived mainly on corn, fish and yams.
Unexplored country still exists in the Cockpit Country, part of which is inhabited by the Maroons, slaves turned loose by the Spanish before they fled the island, and who went to this wild country to form settlements. They later harassed the British so much they were granted independence in a treaty of 1734 and still govern themselves today.
Miscellaneous Departure Tax-Most important to remember, you will be asked to pay a departure tax of US$22 unless it was already calculated into your ticket when you bought it.
Official Matter Entry Regulations- No passports are required of Canadian or U.S. Citizens/Residents entering as tourists for any period up to six months provided that they have a return ticket and identification such as a social security card or driver's license. All other visitors must carry a valid passport.
Your home country may however impose other travel requirements in order for you to leave and return. Please check with your local officials for more information and to prevent any confusion.
Marriage Licenses- Visitors can obtain a special licence after a 24-hour period on the island. You must produce your passport and two witnesses. If either party has been divorced or widowed, necessary documents must be produced to vouch for their current status. Young people under 21 years of age must produce written consent from a parent, signed by a notary public.
Bank Hours- From 9am to 2pm every day except Friday when they open 9am to noon and again from 2pm to 5pm. A few banks are open on Saturday mornings.
Currency- Jamaica's currency is the Jamaican dollar, not to be confused with the U.S. dollar. The value of the Jamaican dollar fluctuates but in November 2004 it was approximately JA$61 to US$1.
The Rastafarians are an important sect in Jamaica. The image of a Rastafarian with long hair (dreadlocks) and a marijuana spliff have long become almost an icon for Jamaica. It is, however, important to differentiate between true Rastafarians who follow their faith and those who have adopted the look as part of a fashion trend. The Rastafarian movement is a religion and a way of life and it began in the 1930s when poor black Jamaicans were looking for answers and redemption. Marcus Garvey, an activist whose central ideological theme was “back to Africa”, predicted that a “Redeemer” would be crowned King of Africa. This prophecy was realised in 1930 when Haille Selassie was crowned emperor of Abyssinnia now Ethiopia. Selassie was called the “Kings of Kings” and his supporters took his pre-coronation name Ras (prince) Tafari (to be feared), believing him to be God incarnate.
While you are in Port Antonio, stop in at Sista P’s Lioness Shop (Matthews Lane off Mannings Avenue). You can have a lovely fruit drink and perhaps one of her delicious vegetarian snacks, served in a banana leaf and let her tell you all about the Rastafarian Culture, the religion, the way of life and listen to some Nyahbinghi drumming performed by her daughter’s drumming group. Before you get here, check out the links below which provide a wealth of information about Rastafarians.