Are you planning to visit Ocho Rios? I like to know about the culture and the people of the place before I visit. I wrote a little about the culture of Jamaica so that you are ready for your big adventure!
“Jamaica, like many another of the West Indian Islands, is like a woman with a history. She has had her experiences and has lived her life rapidly. She has enjoyed a fever of prosperity founded upon those incalculable treasures poured into her lap by the old time buccaneer pirates. She has suffered earthquake, famine, pestilence, fire and death: and she has been the home of cruel merciless slavery, hardly second to that practiced by the Spaniards themselves. Other countries have taken centuries to grow from their primitive life through the flower and fruit of prosperity into the seed time of picturesque decrepitude. Jamaica has lived through it all in a few years.”
– Howard Pyle, “Jamaica New and Old” in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, January 1890
Jamaica: A Little Bit of History
Jamaica is an island born and built through fire, slave rebellions, pirates, buccaneers, earthquakes and hurricanes. The island was first inhabited by the Arawaks, also called Tainos. They named the island Xaymaca, which meant “land of wood and water”. Jamaica we visit today is influenced by European conquerors, first the Spanish, then the English, but even more it is shaped by the West Africans.
On May 5, 1494 Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the West Indies landed in Jamaica. Columbus had heard about Jamaica from the Cubans who described it as “the land of blessed gold”. He soon found out that there was no gold.
Jamaica served as a supply base: food, men, arms and horse were shipped here to help conquer the American mainland.
When the British settled on the island, they turned it into a huge sugar plantation. It was the wealthiest colony in the Caribbean and the hub of slave trade in the Americas. Enslaved Africans filled the large labor force required for the industry. The performance and endurance of the Africans impressed the colonists. Plus, the African labor was cheaper. They continued to ship Africans to the West Indies to be sold to planters who forced them to work on sugar plantations.
After more than 300 years of British colonial rule, Jamaica was granted independence from England. Jamaica now has its own constitution which provides for the freedom, equality and justice for all who live in the country.
Jamaica, like its neighboring Caribbean islands has a tropical climate. There is almost no differences in humidity and temperature throughout the year, so it will be hot year round! It’s a little more humid and hot in the summer, but a lot more rainy in the winter. We visited Jamaica in January and after a short rain, the sea was a perfect temperature to swim in! While it is really hot here during the summer, it is the low season, so the cruise and hotel prices are a lot cheaper!
Jamaican cuisine is a mix of flavors, spices and influences! It is a mix of cultures of the indigenous people of Jamaica and the European colonies who have inhabited the island.
Jamaicans eat a wide variety of seafood, tropical fruits and meats. Popular Jamaican dishes include curry goat, fried dumplings, ackee and saltfish (cod) – the national dish of Jamaica – fried plantain, “jerk”, steamed cabbage and “rice and peas”.
Travel Tip: When you visit Jamaica, make sure to go to a local restaurant and order some jerk chicken. After that, enjoy a fresh coconut from a street vendor and taste some Jamaican rum.
Even though Jamaica was colonized by the British for 300 years, the island’s deepest influence is African. People of the island believe in folk magic, spiritual rituals, superstitions, and even witches and ghosts. One of the most fascinating thing about Jamaica is Rastafari. Born out of poor and black Jamaicans, they worship inner divinity. They consider smoking marijuana as a sacrament and treat their body as a temple.
In the early 1900s, Marcus Garvey prophesied that a new black king would soon come to Africa and that man would be the messiah. Not too long after this, a new king, named Haile Selassie I was crowned in Ethiopia.
The movement was started as a means of empowerment of black Jamaicans on the island. Rastafari as a belief system don’t want to take part in the system that they feel is oppressive. For this reason they refuse any processed foods.
When you go to Jamaica, you will soon find out that Jamaicans speak Patois (pronounced “patwa”). Its pronunciation and vocabulary are significantly different from modern English, it’s a combination of English, Spanish and French. They even sell little vocabularies to help you understand them!
And of course, Bob Marley. I listened to his playlist for weeks before going to Jamaica. Here is a good article from BBC about Bob. I find his music inspiring, he is a legend. There’s a museum outside Kingston for the reggae icon. He’s the myth and the mystic. Honestly, all of Jamaica is a Bob Marley museum. As you walk the streets, you will hear Bob Marley music played by the street musicians and see Bob Marley graffiti on the streets. And even more, you will feel the spirit of his land and the places that inspired him.
Ocho Rios is a former fishing village that was developed for tourism. This little village is a port of call for many cruise lines, and has some of the best resorts and spas in the Caribbean. If you decide to go walking after you get off the cruise ship, you won’t see much but a few restaurants and souvenir shops. Instead, I would recommend taking excursions. Tourism has developed a great eating scene, lively nightlife, and so many possibilities for everything from scuba diving to zip-line tours. There are also some of Jamaica’s best waterfalls, Dunn’s River Falls and Mystic Mountain rain forest adventure. And once you’ve had laid in the sun for too long, you can head out for a night of dancing and reggae music.
When we arrived to the resort city of Ocho Rios on our cruise ship, the town was bustling. People mingled on sidewalks and plazas, storefronts and markets, food stalls and at the Margaritaville.
We spent the day walking around, swimming in the sea, and shopping. I do regret not going to see the amazing Dunn’s River Falls. Definitely go and experience it for yourself!
Tell me: Are you travelling to Ocho Rios soon? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!