History of Jamaica reviewed

Jamaican History - Christopher Columbus - 1492

In the late summer of 1492, Columbus and about a hundred men
set sail from Spain in three small ships in search of a new trade route to the rich lands of south-east Asia. Basing his calculations on mistaken beliefs about the size of the world, Columbus expected to arrive there after sailing only 2,500 miles. (The true distance is about 11,000 miles.) He called first at the Canary Islands. Then, helped by the favorable Trade winds, he crossed the Atlantic in only thirty-six days and landed on one of the Bahamas, which he believed to, be part of the East Indies. Guided by some of the ‘Indians’ he met there, he sailed south until he reached Cuba.
These are the same Indians that truly make up the history of Jamaica before Columbus.
Then turning east he sailed along the north coast of Hispaniola where his biggest ship ran aground on a reef and had to be abandoned. When Columbus set out for home, he was unable to take all of its crew with him and forty men were left behind in a small fort built on the shore—the first European settlers in the West Indies. In the following year Columbus set forth from Spain again, this time with a fleet of seventeen ships and over 1,200 men. Taking a more southerly course than before, he reached Dominica and then sailed to Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, where he found that his garrison had been killed by the Arawaks. These Indians are the real holders of the Jamaica history before Christopher Columbus.

Columbus spent the next two years organizing the construction of a small township and in looking for gold. He made one short cruise in 1494 when he explored most of the southern coast of Cuba and circumnavigated Jamaica. Meanwhile, the Treaty of Tordesillas had been signed by Spain and Portugal and confirmed by the Pope. This agreement gave Spain the right to exploit all newly discovered lands west of a line 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands—that is, about longitude 50°W. This explains why Brazil was colonized by Portugal and why Barbados (59° 30’W), though discovered by a Portuguese navigator in 1536, was never claimed or settled by that country. He then returned by way of Lucea Jamaica history Columbus.

Columbus travelled twice more to the Caribbean. On his third voyage he discovered Trinidad and on his fourth he explored much of the Central American Coast. Though he had failed in his original intention, Columbus had accomplished much for Spain. He had discovered a new world, the wealth from which was soon to make Spain the richest and most powerful nation in Europe. He had established the best sailing-ship routes to the Jamaica, using the Trade winds on the way out and the Westerly’s on the way back again. This set the stage for strong Jamaican history and culture Caribbean. He had also found two previously unknown peoples like the Arawaks and the Caribs.

Arawaks and Caribs in Jamaica


Partly because the resources of the islands were so meager, both of these peoples were very primitive. That did not stop an extensive history of Arawaks in Jamaica. There were no cows, pigs, sheep, goats or horses in the West Indies, so it was impossible to make a living by herding. The diet was based on fish and cassava, so most of the people lived near the sea and the interior forests were left undisturbed. There were not enough useful plants to support an advanced agricultural economy or to maintain more than village life.

Precious metals were also scarce: the few gold ornaments the Spaniards found in the possession of the Arawaks were the accumulation of generations. Jamaica history on Arawaks has always been sketchy but one clear point was that cut off as they were from any contact with the outside world, the Arawaks and Caribs had never learned to trade and there were no ports or cities. Thus, unlike the people of India and other eastern countries, the Arawaks and Caribs had neither the means nor the desire to become traders as the Spaniards had originally hoped. What they did do was to teach their European conquerors how to grow cassava, sweet potatoes, arrowroot, maize, beans, and other crops in tropical conditions.

Of the two peoples, the Arawaks were more easily overcome. They were made to work to support the early Spanish settlements in the Greater Antilles and to find all the gold they could, but within fifty years nearly all the Arawaks Indians in Jamaica history had perished. Some had been killed in battle, others had died in slavery, but most had died of various European diseases to which they succumbed in vast numbers.

The Caribs, who inhabited the Lesser Antilles and not specifically Jamaica, were a more warlike people. They fought fiercely for their freedom and prevented Europeans from colonizing the more mountainous islands for a long time. In Grenada their resistance was broken by the French in 1651. Those in St Vincent came to term with the British in 1773, but few survived the eruption of Mount Soufriere in 1812, and most of their descendants were killed by the next outburst in 1902.
The 1960 census listed only 1,265 people of Amerindian and Carib descent in St Vincent, 395 ii Dominica and 150 in St Lucia. Today only Belize and Guam have significant numbers of Amerindian inhabitant today.