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Truly a nation “out of many, one people” Jamaica is a multifaceted mosaic of international customs and traditions. Our ancestors, from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, have helped to shape our culture, creating one that is uniquely Jamaican. When visiting our island home, take time to experience our culture… it’s what sets us apart from other Caribbean destinations. Reason with a Rastafarian about life, love or politics. Lose yourself in the rhythms and movements of a people who still refuse to be constrained. Visit one of our many theatres or stage shows and delight in our performing arts, showcasing everything from Jonkonnu to jazz. Want to dance too? Join in the wild revelry of Carnival and Augus’ Mawnin or just follow the reggae beat, pulsing from street corners and rum bars island wide. After that, share a meal with us – ackee and saltfish with roast breadfruit, escoveitched fish, bammy and festival – our epicurean feasts will tantalize your taste buds. In Jamaica, you’ll discover new worlds, and familiar ones too, lots to learn about, and even more to love. No wonder we’ve been called ‘the biggest little island in the world…’ It’s a title we can live with.
Jamaica is a natural muse. Our land gleams in Technicolor, as lofty Blue Mountains spill onto verdant plains, shimmering sands and turquoise seas. Our people are bold, brash and bubbly, hailing from around the globe to give a spectrum of skin tones, customs and traditions. Our rich history and culture provide a plethora of ideas, images and untold stories. Given all this, it’s no wonder Jamaicans pulse with a creative energy that overflows into whatever we do. It’s in the way we talk, walk, dance, dress and in the countless other nuances making up the fabric of our everyday lives. Our creativity, however, is perhaps most tangible in our visual art, which uses our country’s inspirational palette to give a physical reflection of everything we are, have been and will be.
Religion is omnipresent in Jamaica – everywhere you go it permeates academic debates, ceremonies, business and political life. We are a predominantly Christian country, with large groups of Baptists, Anglicans and Roman Catholics. Other religions, such as Islam, and Judaism are also represented on a small scale, adding to the diversity of our nation’s heritage.
On August 6, 1962, Jamaica became an independent nation. At the stroke of 12 that hot summer night, the Union Jack of Great Britain was lowered, and with much expectation, celebration and relief, the Jamaican people commemorated the rising of their own colours – black, green and gold – with dances, parades and religious ceremonies.
There is a well-known adage asserting proudly that the heart of the Jamaican people has never ceased to dance. It’s true – dancing is an integral part of everyday Jamaican life. We dance everywhere and for all occasions – for worship, cultural celebrations, formal events and social gatherings. Once there’s music, hips gyrate, hands start to clap while round buttocks roll, and everyone – old and young alike – finds himself or herself moving to the infectious rhythmic beat.
Our cuisine is as diverse as our people, as unique as our island. If there’s one thing that Jamaican people love it’s a “ likkle bickle”. We enjoy our food, and for good reason too. Here in Jamaica, Mother Nature has blessed us with fertile ground and a near perfect tropical climate. For instance, we have so many varieties of mangoes that we have run out of names and have simply started to number them. Somehow, everything that grows in Jamaica seems just a little sweeter, just a little more flavourful. Maybe it’s the sun. Maybe it’s the touch of love we put into planting, reaping and cooking.
In Jamaica, smiles beam from faces in hues ranging from rich coffee to condensed milk-sweetened cocoa. These warm faces bear physical features that are seldom duplicated. There are small noses, proud noses, strong chins, blue eyes and dark ones too, full lips, fine mouths, corkscrew curls and unruly locks. To appreciate these shapes and shades and to understand our rich history and heritage is to think on a global scale. Nearly every race is represented here – African, English, Spanish, Irish, Scottish, Indian, Chinese, German, and Syrian. They came – to conquer, colonize, unwillingly or in search of a better life, settling over time to call this island home. They’ve jumbled and fused, creating the most extraordinary racial and cultural medley, the Jamaican people.
Thumping, infectious and passionate sounds are the trademarks of Reggae, Jamaica’s most internationally recognized music and the heartbeat of our people. Everywhere you turn, hypnotic beats blare from car stereos or black boom boxes stacked high at nightclubs and street corners. Although this is Jamaica’s music, its origins are in the villages of Africa where our forefathers mourned the passing of an ancestor, heralded the birth of a son or celebrated the end of a harvest with song and dance
So much more than a means of communication, the language emerged as the expression of a people torn from their roots and oppressed. It was as much a part of them as the dark hue of their skin – their way of communicating the exclusion of others.
Centuries later what we have is not a language of defeat and depression but a colourful lingo spoken by a people with a gift for vivid imagery, ridicule and irony, down-to-earth humour and bawdy cuss-words. A creative intermingling of words which have their roots in the English of the colonizers and the African tongues of the majority.
A lot of it is quite easy to adapt to. Jamaicans tend to drop the ‘r’ at the end of words, so that dollar becomes ‘ dolla’, and water becomes ‘ wata’. Double “ t’s” within words sometimes become double “ k’s”, changing little to ‘ likkle’, and bottle to ‘ bokkle’. We often add or subtract ‘h’ at will so that when you ‘ harrive’ at your ‘ otel’, ‘ heverybody’ will tell you ‘ ello’. For simplicity, men and women alike become ‘ im’ or ‘ dem’. ‘Dem’ is quite a versatile word. It also acts as a modifier to pluralize everything, so ‘ yuh new fren dem’ will accompany you to the ‘place dem’ that you need to visit. Jamaicans also have an interesting system of adding words - your ‘frock tail’ may ‘hitch up’ under your ‘foot bottom’ causing you to ‘drop dung’ and hurt your ‘neck back’.
Many words and phrases are unique to Jamaica. When in Jamaica you ‘ nyam’ (eat) your ‘ bickle’ (food) and ‘ labrish’ (gossip) with friends. ‘Jam’ (hang out) on the beach with your ‘ likkle boonoonoonous’ (someone you love) or ‘bush-out’ (dress up), ‘touch di road’ (leave your house) and ‘go sport’ (socialize). In the market you’re sure to get ‘ brawta’ (a little extra) with any purchase. Enjoy ‘ital stew’ (salt-free rastafarian/vegetarian dish) and a good ‘reasoning’ (discussion) with your Jamaican ‘ Idren’ (friends). ‘ Skank’ (Rock to Reggae music) at a local ‘dance’ (street party) and drink a ‘stripe…well cold’ (very cold Red Stripe Beer).
At the end of it all --- “it sweet fi talk” .
A few good words to know…
Wha’appen ? (What’s up?) – Greeting used among friends.
Seen (Yes, I understand / It’s OK) – response used in the affirmative or to reassert understanding
Nuff (Plenty) – used to represent volumes…of just about anything; also to describe an overbearing personality eg. “ memba fi buy nuff tings” at the craft market (remember to buy lots of things); “how da gyal so nuff?” ( why is that girl so overbearing?)
Bashment (Excitement/Party) – used as a noun, adjective, adverb eg. “Mi a go a ‘ bashment’ (I am going to an exciting event), “ Im roll up inna one bashment car” (He arrived in an impressive vehicle), “What a bashy piece a outfit yu wearing!” (The outfit you’re wearing is gorgeous)
Rhaatid (Wow) – used as an expression, adjective or to intensify eg. “ Rhaatid, di gate drop down” (Wow, the gate fell), “she get a rhaatid lick” (she got a bad hit), “A figet di mango to rhaatid” (Oh no! I forgot the mango)
Walk Good – Departing salutation, issued with good wishes (Good-bye, Take care, Safe travel)
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