Ethnic Groups in Jamaica

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The island nation of Jamaica has a complicated history, which has impacted its current population. In this lesson we'll talk about ethnicity in Jamaica and see what this means for the modern nation.

Jamaica

''Out of many, one people.'' Can you imagine a more appropriate national motto for the Caribbean nation of Jamaica? Okay, maybe, ''Don't worry be happy,'' but next to that Jamaica really has an appropriate national motto for itself. As one of the central hubs for transatlantic colonialism for centuries, Jamaica has been home to a lot of people, people who mixed and mingled and fought and loved and in the end became the Jamaican nation. But how much do you really know about the Jamaican people? Well, naa worry bout it, mon. Let's take a look.

Jamaica
Jamaica

Black Ethnicity in Jamaica

Now, in terms of pure statistics, Jamaica seems fairly homogenous. As of 2011, 92% of the population identified as ethnically Black. However, thanks to Jamaica's history, the reality isn't quite that simple. For one, after centuries of Jamaica being one of the main transportation and trade centers of the Atlantic world, there has been an incredible amount of ethnic mixing. Very few Jamaicans today are realistically entirely of African ancestry. Most will have more diverse genetic heritage, but the fact that they identify as Black is significant. Self-identification is actually an important part of ethnicity.

African ethnicity is the dominant heritage of Jamaica
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So Jamaican ancestry is mostly African. Africa's a huge place of more than 11 million square miles and over 3,000 distinct ethnic groups. That's a wide range of people. So, what part of this continent makes up Jamaica's ethnic majority?

First, we do need to talk about how Africans got to Jamaica. Like other predominantly black Caribbean societies, Jamaica's population is almost entirely the descendants of slaves who were forcibly and violently transported to the island to work on sugar and tobacco plantations for colonial overseers. Since these people were treated with inhumane disregard, it can be hard to tell exactly where they came from, although we do have some clues.

White plantation owners in colonial Jamaica called most of their slaves Koromanti, which was a term to refer to slaves from Africa's west coast, specifically around the modern nation of Ghana. Ghana was a major slave-trading hub, so it's possible that the ancestors of Jamaicans came from elsewhere and were only traded there, but genetic studies have confirmed that most Jamaicans are ethnically connected to the people of West Africa.

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