Members of the Arawak tribe, a group of the Arawakan linguistic stock of Native North Americans, were the aboriginal inhabitants of Jamaica. In fact, the country name "Jamaica " comes from the Arawakan word Xaymaca, meaning "isle of springs". Christopher Columbus sighted the island during his second voyage, and it became a Spanish colony in 1509. Saint Jago de la Vega (now Spanish Town), the first settlement and, for the ensuing 350 years, the capital, was founded about 1523. Colonization was slow under Spanish rule. The Arawak quickly died out as a result of harsh treatment and diseases. African slaves were imported to overcome the resultant labor shortage. The slave trade was slow in the beginning, but with the advent of large-scale plantation economies, Jamaica became one of the global centers of African slavery.
Jamaica was captured by an English naval force under Sir William Penn in 1655.The island was formally transferred to England in 1670 under the provisions of the Treaty of Madrid. During the final decades of the 17th century, growing numbers of English immigrants arrived; the sugar, cacao, and other agricultural and forest industries were rapidly expanded; and the consequent demand for plantation labor led to large-scale importation of African slave labor. Jamaica soon became one of the principal slave-trading centers in the world. Between 1701 and 1810 Jamaica alone imported 662,000 African slaves. By parliamentary legislation passed in 1833,slavery was abolished on August 1,1834.
The act made available $30 million as compensation to the owners of the nearly 310,000 liberated slaves. Large numbers of the freed African Jamaicans abandoned the plantations following emancipation and took possession of unoccupied lands in the interior, gravely disrupting the economy. Labor shortages, bankrupt plantations, and declining trade resulted in a protracted economic crisis. Oppressive taxation, discriminatory acts by the courts, and land-exclusion measures ultimately caused widespread unrest among the African Jamaicans.
In October 1865 an insurrection occurred at Port Morant. Imposing martial law, the government speedily quelled the uprising and inflicted brutal reprisals. Jamaica was made a crown colony, thus losing the large degree of self-government it had enjoyed since the late 17th century. Representative government was partly restored in 1884,but Jamaica remained a British Colony until nominal independence was "granted " in 1962.. Jamaica was one of the British colonies that, on January 3,1958,was united in the Federation of the West Indies.
Disagreement over the role Jamaica would play led to the breakup of the federation, and on August 6,1962, the island gained independence. The JLP won the elections of April 1962,and its leader, Sir Alexander Bustamante, became prime minister. In 1967 he retired and was succeeded by Hugh Lawson Shearer. In 1968 Jamaica was a founding member of the Caribbean Free Trade Area (CARIFTA).
Elections in 1972 brought the PNP to power under Michael N. Manley, a labor leader who promised economic growth. His leftist policies and open friendship with Cuba 's Communist leader Fidel Castro, however, polarized the population. When he proved unable to revitalize the economy, Manley was voted out in 1980 following a turbulent election campaign that left about 800 Jamaicans dead, mainly as a result of clashes between political gangs. Election-related violence remains a part of Jamaica 's political scene to this day, though never has the violence been so widespread and deadly as it was in the 1980 election. As documented in Life and Debt it was during Manley 's time in office in the 1970s that the majority of the international aid deals were signed, leading to the joke that IMF really stands for "it 's Manley 's fault."
At his election in 1980,Edward Seaga of the JLP, a former finance minister, formed a government repudiating socialism. He severed relations with Cuba, established close ties with the United States, and tried hard to attract foreign capital. However, weak prices for Jamaica 's mineral exports impeded economic recovery. In September 1988 Hurricane Gilbert caused an estimated $8 billion in property damage and left some 500,000 Jamaicans homeless.
The PNP won a large parliamentary majority in 1989, returning Manley to power. He introduced moderate free-market policies before resigning in March 1992 because of poor health. P(ercival) J.Patterson, his successor as prime minister and PNP leader, easily won reelection a year later. In 1997 the PNP won an unprecedented third consecutive electoral victory, capturing 56 percent of the vote and taking most of the 60 seats in Jamaica 's Parliament. Although sporadic violence did occur during the campaign, international observers reported that the 1997 election was one of the least violent elections in Jamaica 's recent history. In the most recent election (October 2002),PJ Patterson and the PNP were reelected in an election that saw some violence, but nothing compared to the 1980s.