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Sat, 11.17.1500

The Afro Jamaican Community, a story

*Afro Jamaicans are celebrated on this date in 1500. They are Jamaicans of predominantly or majority of Sub-Saharan African descent.

Their origins stemmed from the Middle Passage slave trade of the 16th century. The first Africans arriving in Jamaica came in 1513 from the Iberian Peninsula. The Taino and Arawak people were the first indigenous inhabitants of most Caribbean islands. When the British Empire captured Jamaica in 1655, many 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 brought mostly Akan and Igbo slaves, some of whom ran away and joined with the Maroons and even took over as leaders.

Africans captured in wars were marched to the coast in "coffles" with their necks yoked to each other. The most common means of enslaving an African was through abduction. They were placed in trading posts or forts to await the six- to twelve-week voyage between Africa and the Americas, during which they were chained together, underfed, and kept in the ship's hold by the thousands. Those who survived were fattened and oiled to look healthy before being auctioned to the highest bidders in public squares.


Based on the Phoenix ship records, enslaved Africans mostly came from the Akan people, Ashanti, Akyem Fante, and Bono, followed by Igbo, Yoruba, Kongo, Fon people, and Ibibio people. Akan (then called Coromantee) culture was the dominant African culture in Jamaica. In 1708, a festival was dedicated to the heroism of the Akan king 'John Canoe' an Ahanta from Axim, Ghana. In earlier British colonization between 1663 and 1700, only six percent of slave ships to Jamaica listed their origin as the Gold Coast. Between 1700 and 1720, that figure went up to 27 percent. Akan slaves arriving in Jamaica from Kormantin ports only increased in the early eighteenth century.

The Akan population was the preference of British planters in Jamaica because they were "better workers." According to the Slave Voyages Archives, although the Igbo had the highest importation numbers, they were only imported to Montego Bay and St. Ann's Bay ports. At the same time, the Gold Coast (mainly Akan) were more dispersed across the island and were a majority imported to seven of 14 of the island's ports (each parish has one port). Field slaves made £25–75, while skilled slaves such as carpenters made prices as high as £300. Most of the house slaves were mulattoes. On reaching the plantation, the slaves underwent a "seasoning" process, 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, Britain "dominated the buying and selling of slaves to the Americas ."They were also Brown/Mulatto 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 an important extent a response to colonial demands for rails, axes, buckets, coaches, clocks, saddles...and a thousand other things".

To a large extent, Jamaican customs and culture were fashioned by sugar and the revenue it produced. Sugar was the only reason Jamaica existed as a center for human habitation for two hundred years. 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 produced 101,600 tons of sugar. It was the world's leading individual sugar producer. The cultivation of sugar was part of 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 most of Jamaica's population. They have influenced every sphere of Jamaican life, and their contributions are immeasurable. Also, the community has its creole language, another distinct cultural part of their heritage.

By 1963, after Jamaica's independence, political parties were paying off members of the Rudeboy subculture to engage in turf warfare with political rivals. Once the Jamaican Labor Party (JLP) came to power, they demolished a Peoples National Party (PNP) sympathizing slum and constructed Tivoli Gardens in its place, starting in 1965. Edward Seaga would monitor the project, and Tivoli Gardens would be a JLP garrison. The PNP would react by forming its garrisons, solidifying Jamaica's tradition of violent garrison communities. By the 1966 election, gunfights became common, bombings occurred, and police were routinely shot. This resulted in more than 500 people injured, 20 people dead, and 500 arrested during police raids.

Professor Verene Shepherd said, "In Jamaica's 58 years of Independence, "I don't think enough is being done to teach the children about their origins."  In the same vein, Professor Shepherd says young people need to be taught to love their black skin instead of being told that 'nothing black is no good and that it is better to be brown, adding that "we have to teach pride in our race and that can come through the teachings of Marcus Mosiah Garvey."   She contends that education must be the vehicle by which culture is passed on, adding that one way of doing so is through history, which should be mandatory in school.

Other society leaders and policymakers should emphasize studying the arts so that youth know their history to be well-rounded individuals. Another culture advocate, Professor Carolyn Cooper, concurs that the festival tradition is one of the main ways Jamaica's cultural heritage is preserved and promoted among young people. Afro Jamaicans presently represent the largest ethnic group in the country. As of 2001, about 15 hardcore garrison communities exist in Jamaica. The residents of the garrison form vigilante groups that engage in ongoing political turf wars. Initially, these groups were solely politically motivated, but eventually, they all became invested in the drug trade and became what is known as Jamaican possess.

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