Jamaica, known as the land of Bob Marley and a comic bobsled team, is a Caribbean island nation. With a population of almost 3 million, the overwhelming majority of its people are the descendants of slaves forcibly brought over from Africa. About two-thirds of the population are Christians of various denominations. Next most common is those of no religious affiliation, then followers of the Rastafarian Movement. Jamaica is a former British possession, and remains within the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Jamaicans in general are a very family oriented people, thus many of the strongest, most beloved traditions in Jamaica revolve around family.
Jamaicans believe in maintaining strong ties amongst the entire extended family. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc. tend to remain integrally involved in family life. Long before the “it takes a village” expression became commonplace, Jamaicans understood that child raising involved far more than just the parents. The extended family as a whole takes responsibility for giving a child a proper upbringing. Siblings as well are taught that they have a responsibility to look out for each other.
When a Jamaican person marries, they typically do not split from their family to establish a fully independent life. Both the husband and wife retain strong ties with their families.
The flip side of the Jamaicans’ closeness with family is a reputation as being distrustful of outsiders, and certainly distrustful of authority. Jamaicans rely heavily, both emotionally and financially, on those with whom they have close personal ties.
A common family tradition in most Jamaican families is to gather together for a big Sunday dinner. This is the opportunity for extended family to come together in a casual setting and keep involved in each other’s lives on a regular basis. Even poorer families will put on the best dinner they can and try to make Sundays a special time.
Roast beef or roast chicken are common main courses for Sunday dinner, along with popular Jamaican dishes such as baked macaroni and cheese, rice, and peas.
Many Jamaican traditions relate to holidays or religious occasions. A festive activity at Christmas is to dance along with the Jonkunnu, waving sparklers. The Jonkunnu is a West African-influenced writhing, gyrating dance done by groups of costumed Jamaican men accompanied by fife whistle and drum.
An Easter tradition is to serve Jamaican Easter buns with cheese and butter. Fried fish is a popular dish for families observing Lent.
Jamaican families and communities come together for a tradition called the “nine night” to grieve the dead, on the ninth night after the death of a loved one. Much like a wake, people gather to share songs, dancing, and food. The person’s life is celebrated, and the survivors receive condolences. The more superstitious among the Jamaicans believe that if a person dies without a nine night celebration, their soul will not be at rest and they may even haunt and harm the family for neglecting their duty.
Much traditional folklore is passed down from generation to generation in Jamaican families. Anansi stories for children are especially popular.
Anansi is a figure based on legends as far back as in Africa before slaves were brought to Jamaica and the New World. He is a trickster figure who can take the shape of a spider or a man. (Though when Anansi stories spread throughout the Caribbean and the Americas, Anansi evolved into a female figure named “Aunt Nancy” in parts of the southern United States amongst rural African Americans.)
Not only are cultural traditions strong in Jamaica, but when Jamaican people come to other countries such as the United States or England, they often retain these traditions. Remaining bound together by culture provides an important element of strength and support when making one’s way in a new country.
Margaret Bailey, “The Typical Jamaican Family.” Jamaicans.
Ryan Horns, “About Jamaican Traditions.” eHow.
“How to Study Jamaican Traditions.” eHow.
“Jamaica-Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette.” Kwintessential.