Sweet Mary Jane… dagga… ganja… herb… aaptwak… pappegaaislaai… more commonly known as pot, marijuana or weed. We left Dom Rep with the smell of burning plastic stuck in our nostrils and were greeted into Jamaican waters by quite a different scent…
From a distance Jamaica, the land of reggae and rastas, looked stunning with at least three different layers of blue mountains stacked on top of each other. The island has a permanent cloud enveloping it, as the moist from the jungle starts evaporating. Yet getting closer to land, you soon realize the enveloping cloud has a specific odor, which coincides with the island waking up and the rastas starting to smoke. There is the humid, flowery, earthy scent of jungle, laced with the very distinctive smell of weed. On land, it soon sinks in that you cannot go anyplace in Jamaica that doesn’t smell like pot! It makes one wonder about the effects of secondary dagga smoking. Inhaling the permanent smoke definitely created the impression we were getting high.
Like Dom Rep, Jamaica has an intricate check-in system for arriving yachts. You have to go in the marina, they hand you a bunch of documents to complete and alert the various officers to come to your boat. The first visitor on Exodus was the Health Officer, a small scrawny guy with a dry sense of humor. He welcomed us to Jamaica and scrutinized Exodus and her on board supplies. He informed us that holding tanks were a prerequisite in Port Antonio bay. Since we do not have them, he sealed our heads (toilets) with painter’s tape which he stamped several times with the Ministry of Health stamp, in case we felt the urge to tamper with the seal, and invited us to stay in the marina and make use of their facilities. We were not allowed to lie on anchor. That dampened our moods slightly, but we can understand the reasoning. Outside of the Port Antonio region, lying on anchor is not a problem. He handed us a clear health certificate and greeted us with ‘Exodus! Movement of da people’. Ya man, we are in Jamaica. Next officer was from Immigration, equally friendly, good natured, and even cheerful and chatty, checking if we completed all documents properly. Last was Customs, equally pleasant. The whole process was rather efficient and free of charge.
Errol Flynn marina owes its name to the famous movie actor, who lived in Port Antonio in the 1950s. He helped develop tourism to this area, popularising trips down rivers on bamboo rafts. The marina is government owned, but both the yachtmanager and the lady in the office are extremely efficient.
One step outside of the marina put us straight into some lush vegetation and confronted us with the sweltering climate. We have entered the tropics! Instead of high rise buildings, they have high rise trees, occupied by zillions of other creatures (plants, animals, birds, bugs, fungi) each one creating its own eco-system!
A stroll in town immediately revealed Jamaicans have a unique character. They are friendly, welcoming people, who greet you and try to interact with you. As most of the whiteys in Port Antonio are sailors, one typically gets addressed as Cap or Captain. ‘Captain, I saw you arrive this morning’.
They have a specific sense of humor and love wise cracks e.g. referring to the bad performance of their West Indies cricket team as ‘worst Indies’, calling themselves ‘Mr Famous man’ or when we were being shown around the public market ‘here is the meat market, here is the vegetable market’, an old lady intercepts our impromptu guide with a witty ‘and here is the bargain corner’ to draw attention to her tourist/ gift stall.
The Jamaican English takes some getting used to. With almost 3 million inhabitants, they are the third-most populous Anglophone country in the Americas (after the United States and Canada). But you have to strain your ears as it is the English of the reggae and ska songs ‘Whayogonnadoodafor’?
Melting pot ‘Out of Many One People’
The indigenous people of Jamaica were Arawak and Taíno. They called the island Xaymaca (land of wood and water or land of springs). Columbus claimed the island for the Spanish crown in 1494 and called it Santiago.
In 1655 England conquered it and renamed it Jamaica. In the early days, Irish made up 2/3 of the white population on the island. The majority of Irish arrived as political prisoners of war during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. They were brought in as indentured labourers and soldiers. As Jews were persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition many fled abroad or converted to Catholicism and moved to the Spanish colonies, far away from prying eyes and strict rules. Jamaica became a popular refuge for Jews in the New World.
Under British colonial rule Jamaica became a leading sugar exporter, with its plantation economy highly dependent on African slaves, chiefly from Ghana and Cameroon. To give an example, Jamaica produced more than 77 000 tons of sugar per annum between 1820 and 1824. The British fully emancipated all slaves in 1838. Many of the freedmen refused to ever work the plantations again and chose subsistence farms. The labour gap was filled with Chinese and Indian indentured labour. Many South Asian and Chinese descendants continue to reside in Jamaica today.
The island achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1962. Jamaica is a Commonwealth realm, with Queen Elizabeth II as its monarch and head of state. Her appointed representative in the country is the Governor-General of Jamaica.
Due to a high rate of emigration for work since the 1960s, Jamaica has a large diaspora around the world. Large communities can be found in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. There are almost as many Jamaicans living abroad (2.5 million) as there are on the island (2.9 million). Many of them reached great fame: Bob Marley and the Wailers, Grace Jones, Millie Small (My boy Lollipop), Jimmy Cliff (I can see clearly now), Gregory Isaacs (Night Nurse), Desmond Dekker (You can get it if you really want, Israelites), Half Pint, Shaggy, a string of cricketers, track runners, boxers, … The influence of clustered Jamaicans can always be felt in the music scene. The Jamaicans started reggae, ska, mento, rocksteady, dub, dancehall and raga on their island and influenced the development of punk rock, jungle, hiphop and American rap music.
Even though this is already an interesting mix, there is at least one missing ingredient, and that is Jamaica’s link with the Pirates of the Caribbean!