The setting

JAMAICA — AN OVERVIEW

'Out of Many, One People.'

The Jamaican motto says a lot about the people and their heritage. Quoting the Macmillan College edition of A Short History of the West Indies — 'The recorded history of the West Indies does not grow gradually, as most Old World histories grow, out of a more remote mythological or archaeological past. It begins abruptly with a definitive event; the arrival of the first European discoverers in Columbus' fleet in 1942… The peoples who inhabit the West Indies — with a dwindling handful of exceptions — migrated or were deliberately transplanted from the Old World. They came from Europe, Africa and Asia, bringing with them their religious beliefs, their language and their social habits.'

The Spanish held Jamaica from 1492 until 1655, when the English captured it, led by Sir William Pen. Jamaica finally gained its independence as a sovereign nation in 1962.

Jamaica is the fourth largest island nation in the Caribbean, behind Cuba, Dominican Republic and Haiti, but the largest English-speaking island.

Jamaica is world renown for its music, being the birthplace of reggae, and its athletes, Bob Marley and Usain Bolt being the most famous musician and athlete from our shores. Jamaica can also boast to having some of the most beautiful women in the world, producing three Miss World winners, third most in history — Carole Crawford (1963), Cindy Breakspeare (1976), and Lisa Hanna (1993).

'We lickle but we tallowah' is a Jamaican saying that speaks loudly of the resilience and perseverance of 2.7 million people who refuse to accept that size matters.

FACTS ABOUT JAMAICA

Dimensions

Point to point, Jamaica is 146 miles long and 51 miles wide, and covers an area of 4,442 square miles (10,991 square kilometres).

Putting this into some context; Florida, a US state that is well visited by Jamaicans and British, is fifteen times bigger than Jamaica.

Wow! That makes Jamaica sound really small. Driving around the island, it does not feel that small. Travelling between the two cities, Kingston, in the southeast corner of the island, and Montego Bay, in the northwest corner of the island, it takes between three and three and half hours by road. In practice, it takes even longer, because there are so many spots to stop and have some great food —

  • Bog Walk Gorge for coconut water, mangoes, sugar cane and more …
  • Ewarton for freshly baked bread and bun.
  • Faith's Pen for ackee and saltfish with roast breadfruit, manish water and much more …
  • Scotchies in Mammee Bay for jerk chicken and pork with festival.
  • And having reached Montego Bay, a trip to Pelican Grill is recommended to try their conk chowder, oxtail, steamed fish or a gut filling, calorie packed fruit melba, definitely one of my favourite deserts.

The journey is much more fun if you take your time and enjoy the sights, smells and tastes along the way.

Language

I was in Ohio, in a Red Cross crisis centre, evacuated there because of a chemical train crash that threatened the community. I was with three other Jamaican colleagues, and we sat around a table discussing this unusual dilemma that we found ourselves in. A US colleague came and sat at the table, and after listening to our conversation for a while he broke into the conversation speaking in Spanish. We all stopped and looked at him.

'What are you doing?' I asked him.
'I was joining the conversation.'
'Why are you speaking in Spanish?' Having done Spanish in High School, I can recognise it when I hear it.
'Weren't you guys speaking in Spanish?'

Why have I told this story? English is the official language of Jamaica. Honest. That being said, the majority of Jamaicans speak patois.

What is Jamaican patois? Jamaican patios is a language that has influences from West African dialects, Spanish, French and Portuguese, and is probably a natural consequence of the turbulent history of Jamaica.

Rhodes Scholarship

2012 is the 110th anniversary of the Rhodes Scholarship. Every year since 1904, Jamaica has had a Rhodes Scholar, except during World War II, when it was suspended.

Athletics

Every Jamaican is proud of what the country had achieved in the Beijing (2008) Olympics, Berlin (2009) IAAF World Championships and London (2012) Olympics.

However, I think the all-time top-10 IAAF Athletic World Championships medal table below will shock even Jamaicans.

Source :http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IAAF_World_Championships_in_Athletics#Medal_totals_since_1983
(accessed 05Dec2012)

SOME LOCAL PHRASES

While English is the official language of Jamaica, when you walk on the street, you are more likely to hear Jamaican patois then English. Jamaican patois can be difficult to understand for the uninitiated.

Although Jamaican patois is only a spoken language it does have grammatical rules that are well understood and followed, like any formal language. What it does not have is a well-defined lexicon with spelling rules. I have tried to pick out a few sayings that are used within the book, and some that are common.

RhaatidAn exclamation.

Has no particular meaning, except to express surprise or alarm. Other examples of exclamations are:

Blerdnaught!
Kissmeneck!
Backfoot!

PickneyA child.

Unlike English, the plural of pickney is NOT pickneys/picknies.
The plural of pickney is "pickney dem".
This is the normal pluralisation of nouns in Jamaican patois.

Irie

The meaning of this word changes depending on the context. For example - good; alright; hello; is that OK?

Cooyha

An expression of surprise. Something like, 'Look at you!'

Wha'ppen?

What's happening? How are you doing? What's going on?

Chuups

A small amount of something. A little bit. Also means a small kiss.

GalangGo away.

UnuYou all; everyone.

CravenGreedy.

DuppyGhost.