Jamaica is the largest English-speaking Caribbean island, and the third largest in the region. Jamaica’s 4,411 square miles of terrain boasts towering mountain ranges, expanses of lush vegetation as well as long stretches of clear, sandy beaches.
The island is divided into three counties – Cornwall, Middlesex and Surrey – which are subdivided into 14 parishes: Kingston, St. Andrew, St. Catherine, Clarendon, Manchester, St. Elizabeth, Westmoreland, Hanover, St. James, Trelawny, St. Ann, St. Mary, Portland and St. Thomas. Each parish has a capital town, which is typically the centre of commerce and two parish capitals, Montego Bay in St. James and Kingston, have city status. Kingston, located on the island’s southeast end, is Jamaica’s capital.
While Jamaica can be described as a multi-ethnic island, its population primarily comprises persons of African descent. People of European, East Indian and Chinese origin also make up a portion of the population.
Jamaica is a parliamentary democracy based on a system of representative government. The Constitution of Jamaica (1962) is primarily based on British socio-political culture and is modelled on the Westminster-Whitehall system of government.
The British monarch is the titular Head of State and is represented in the country by a Governor- General, to whom the Constitution of Jamaica grants limited powers. The incumbent plays an important role in the appointment of leading national figures including the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and Chief Justice.
The Jamaican Parliament consists of two Houses – The House of Representatives/Lower House and The Senate/ Upper House. The former comprises 60 members, who are elected by the people. The Senate consists of 21 members who are appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
Parish Councils have responsibility for the administration of infrastructure and development at the local level. The range of responsibilities includes the development and maintenance of infrastructure; management of markets, abattoirs and cemeteries; and the regulation of public facilities.
The Jamaican judicial system is based on English common law and practice, and is administered through the courts, which comprise: the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court, Gun Court, Family Court, Traffic Court, Resident Magistrate’s Courts (located in each parish), Revenue Court and Petty Sessions Courts.
The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is responsible for the maintenance of law and order, while the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) is primarily responsible for protecting the country from external threats.
The tourism industry is Jamaica’s primary contributor to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The main tourist regions in Jamaica are Negril in Westmoreland, Montego Bay in St. James, Ocho Rios in St. Ann, and, more recently, Falmouth in Trelawny.
The agricultural sector also makes significant contributions to Jamaica’s economy, with domestic farming being a steady source of employment for many locals. Coffee, cocoa, spices, sugar cane and bananas are some of the main export crops, while yams, sweet potatoes, corn and pumpkins are among the popular crops grown mainly for the domestic market.
Jamaica boasts an open and diverse economy that is supported by a commitment to free enterprise, a strong brand identity and the expansion of benefits derived from the country’s membership in the Caribbean Single Market and other trade agreements.
As outlined in the national policy document, Vision 2030 Jamaica, the Government intends to increase foreign and domestic market access through sustained investment promotion and the consolidation of global trade relations. The Government will also be implementing a development-based economic plan, geared towards creating favourable macroeconomic conditions for high and sustained growth and employment opportunities.
The most practised religion in Jamaica is Christianity, represented by over 100 denominations. Other faiths practised include Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and the indigenous Rastafarianism. Chapter III of the Jamaican Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all individuals within the country.
• The Jamaican Flag, first raised at Jamaica’s Independence on August 6, 1962, has a diagonal cross or saltire with four triangles in juxtaposition. The diagonal cross is gold, the top and bottom triangles are green while the hoist and fly triangles are black.
• The Coat of Arms shows a male and female Taino, Jamaica’s first inhabitants, standing on either side of a shield, which bears a red cross, on which are five golden pineapples. On the crest is a Jamaican crocodile mounted on the Royal Helmet of the British Monarchy and mantling. Below the shield and the Tainos is a heraldic line which displays the Jamaican national motto, “Out of Many, One People”.
• The National Bird is the indigenous ‘Doctor Bird’ or Swallow-Tail Humming Bird (Trochilus Poltmus). It is well known for its iridescent feathers and two elongated tailfeathers.
• The National Fruit is the Ackee (Blighia sapida), which originated from Africa. It grows widely in Jamaica and is usually eaten with codfish (salt-fish), roasted breadfruit, bananas, yams and dumplings.
• The National Tree is the Blue Mahoe (Hibiscus Elatus). It is known to reach heights of 60 feet in height. Its beauty and strength make it a premium wood for the manufacture of furniture and reforestation.
• The National Flower is that produced by the Lignum Vitae Tree (Guiacum officinale). The petals are light blue in colour and star-shaped. The Lignum
Vitae is found mostly along the north and south coasts of the island.