Arm-stick = crutch

Bangarang = loud noise, disturbance

Belly-god = glutton

Bra = brother

Bredda =brother

Bring come = bring it here

Downpressor = oppressor

Good-belly = good-natured, kindly

Gravalishus = greedy

I-and-I = we

Irie = fine, wonderful

Ital = natural foods, natural life

Jah = Rastafarian deity

Liad = liar

Long-belly = greedy person

Nyam = eat

Ratchet = knife

Site up = see

Waters: a person “in him waters” is drunk


On October 11, 1865, Paul Bogle, a freed slave and Baptist deacon,  led a large number of freed slaves on the Morant Bay Courthouse, in the parish of St. Thomas, protesting the unfair arrest of a man the day before. The scene turned nasty, rioting broke out, a number of whites were killed, 25 of the protesters were shot and the courthouse was burned down. Rioting spread throughout the parish and the colonial authorities, under Governor Eyre, came down heavily on the rioters. Bogle and  and a legislator of mixed race named William Gordon were tried for sedition, convicted and hanged before the courthouse. Over 1000 others were executed as conspirators, hundreds were flogged and the homes of ex-slaves were burned to the ground. An outcry in England against the severity of the response led to the removal of the Governor and changes in the governance of Jamaica.  Both Bogle and Gordon are now national heros of Jamaica. A monument to Bogle now stands in front of the Morant Bay Courthouse and The Houses of Parliament sit in the building named in honor of William Gordon.

The Jamaica police force, named the Jamaica Constabulary Force, was set up in 1865.


In 1504, Christopher Columbus, on his fourth voyage to the so-called New World, was in a quandary in Jamaica. He had beached two ships, Capitana and Santiago de Palos, on the island of Jamaica for repairs. However, he was stranded there so long he ran out of food. Columbus depended on the native Taino Indians for food, but after a time his relations with them grew bad and they stopped giving him supplies. The situation was desperate. Then Columbus found a way to get his supplies again. The German almanac he had with him indicated that a lunar eclipse was due on the night of February 29, 1504. He summoned the Taino chiefs to the Capitana and told them that God was displeased with them for refusing to supply him with food and would take the moon away from them. That night, as the eclipse started and it seemed to the chiefs that they were losing the moon, they not only supplied all the food they could but begged Columbus to intercede on their behalf. Of course, Columbus did "intercede" when he knew the eclipse was about to end.


Who hasn’t heard about jerk pork and jerk chicken? The spicy-sweet jerk flavor from Jamaica is extraordinarily popular today, though some people find jerk too spicy and hot for their taste. Jerking of meat involves spicing, marinating and grilling. 

It’s the seasoning that gives jerk its distinctive flavor. Seasoning mixes are available in dry and wet forms. The main ingredients of the jerk mixture are chile pepper, allspice berry, and thyme. Other ingredients can be cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger,peppercorns, cloves, pimento, garlic and onion.

Jerk stations abound as a fast-food industry at the side of the road in Jamaica and elsewhere. Wherever there are West Indian communities, jerk is likely to be found. 

The origin of the term jerk is not certain. The following origins each has a following: (1) From the word charqui, a Spanish term for jerked or dried meat, which eventually became jerky in English. (2) From the jerking or poking of the meat with a sharp object, producing holes which were then filled with the spice mixture. 

It is widely held that jerk pork was first cooked by Maroons in Jamaica. These runaway slaves, mainly Cormantee hunters of West Africa or their descendants,  who established communities in isolated areas, preserved their meats with heavy spices. Another view is that pirates, or buccaneers, who infested the West Indies in the late 17th century were the originators of jerk. Yet another view is that  the origin lies with the Amerindians who lived in the Caribbean before the arrival of Columbus.


Jamaica’s  Remembrance Day Parade is held at the Cenotaph (War Memorial) at the  National Heroes’ Park in Kingston. The cenotaph is a memorial to the thousands of Jamaicans who died in World Wars I and II.


Can sorrel help in the treatment of cancer? A recent report (March, 2002) holds great promise for this herb, which most people of the Caribbean use in making drinks, jams, jellies, chutneys, and even herbal tea. The popular sorrel drink, a special favorite at Christmas, is made from the swollen red calyxes (calyces) of the flower of the sorrel plant (Hibiscus Sabdariffa), also called Roselle.

Dr. Juliet Penrod, a lecturer and cancer researcher at Northern Caribbean University (NCU) in Mandeville, Jamaica initiated a study in 1998 which holds the promise that sorrel could be used in treating and perhaps even as a cure for certain types of cancer. Investigation of this matter has been continued by Patrice Gordon, a lecturer in the Department of Biology, Chemistry, and Medical Technology, who has been working on her Masters thesis under the supervision of Dr. Penrod.

In Mrs. Gordon’s presentation of her findings to University members and the public on March 19, 2002, she said that lung and liver cancer cells were used in the study. Cancer cells and normal cells were treated separately with extracts from garlic, and the seed and calyx of sorrel.

The researchers observed that liver cancer cells which were treated with sorrel extracts decreased in vitality and dramatic cell death occurred. Only minimal effect on lung cancer cells and normal cells were observed, however.

According to Yvonne Chin, Staff Reporter of the Jamaica Gleaner, the head of Jamaica’s Scientific Research Council (SRC) Dr. Audia Barnett said: “The Scientific Research Council stands ready to collaborate in further research because we think sorrel is a winner."

In Jamaica, and the rest of the Caribbean, the traditional way of preparing sorrel is by putting it into an earthenware jug with some grated ginger and sugar as desired, pouring boiling water over it and letting it stand overnight. By next morning it is ready to be served, with ice, of course. Some persons add alcohol, mainly rum.

Sorrel, a prickly annual herb, is native from India to Malaysia, where it has been commonly cultivated, and must have been carried at an early date to Africa. Seeds are said to have been brought to the New World by African slaves. It is one of the more than 300 species of hibiscus can be found around the world.

Today, the use of sorrel as a colorant is attracting the attention of food and beverage manufacturers and pharmaceutical concerns as many people are uneasy with the use of synthetic dyes in food.

In India, Africa and Mexico, many parts of the sorrel plant are valued in folk medicine. Infusions of the leaves or calyxes (calyces) are used for many  conditions, notably as a diuretic or for lowering blood pressure.

The most well known variety of sorrel is blood red in color, but Jamaicans grow two other varieties as well, one of which is white.

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At about 3.30pm on Monday, January 14th 1907 a major earthquake lasting 20 to 40 seconds (reports vary), heavily damaged the city of Kingston and and also Port Royal, Jamaica. It's greatest intensity was evident along the foreshore of Kingston Harbor. Loss of life was estimated at 800 and property damage at $10,050,000. Various forms of relief came mainly from London and the United States and a significant amount of damage was repaired within the first year, but the effects of the devastation lingered for many years afterwards.



Arm-stick = crutch                                 Irie = fine, wonderful

Bangarang = loud noise,                        Ital = natural foods, natural life


Belly-god = glutton                                Jah = Rastafarian deity

Bra = brother                                         Liad = liar

Bredda = brother                                    Long-belly = greedy person

Bring come = bring it here                     Nyam = eat

Downpressor  = oppressor                     Ratchet = knife

Good-belly = good natured, kindly        Siteup = see

Gravalishus = greedy                             Waters: a person in his waters is


I-and-I = we


Both the Syrians and Lebanese in Jamaica (and indeed in many other parts of the Caribbean) were almost always called Syrians in everyday conversation. Syrians and Lebanese in Jamaica began to arrive around the turn of the century and got into the business of selling raw cloth and apparel. They have always been a small fraction of the population but their economic impact has been great. Many have built considerable business dynasties. Edward Seaga, a Syrian-Jamaican, has been Prime Minister of Jamaica.


Port Royal, called "the wickedest place in Christendom," was a seventeenth-century city of stunning wealth, but also of deep depravity. It was a virtual treasure house of the gold, silver, precious ornaments and jewelry looted from the Spaniards by buccaneers and pirates. Buccaneers and pirates gambled away much of this wealth or fought over it or expended it on favors from the women who flocked there.

In 1670, Port Royal was far more impressive than New York at that time. It had about 2000 houses and a population of 8000. Large houses belonging to wealthy merchants lined Wharf Street. On Jew Street, Jewish traders had their homes, smaller, but of fine quality. Port Royal was well fortified and had churches, taverns, brothels, cook-houses and gaming-houses.

There were also warehouses, careenage yards, quays and whatever port facilities were required.  Apart from the buccaneers and pirates, there were smiths, bricklayers, carpenters, cabinet makers, doctors, pharmacists, wig makers and other working people who provided services and goods necessary.

But Port Royal was destroyed in a great earthquake in 1692.  Much of the city went under permanently leaving only a fraction of what it once was. Today Port Royal is no more than a quiet fishing village in Jamaica.


In Jamaica, butterflies and moths are called bats. The most famous Jamaican 'bat' (butterfly) is the largest of all swallow-tailed butterflies - the rare yellow and black Papilio Homerus, found only in Jamaica. It has a wingspan of 6 inches or more. But it is the Witch Moth which makes the term 'bat' seem not so farfetched. It is a dark-colored moth with a wing span of 6 - 8 inches.

In Jamaica, bats, which in fact resemble mice with wings, are called 'rat-bats.'



       Paul Bogle  

          George William Gordon

          Nanny of the Maroons 

          Samuel Sharpe 

          Alexander Bustamante 

          Norman Manley 

          Marcus Garvey



On June 7, 1692, a terrifying earthquake destroyed Port Royal on the island of Jamaica. It came in three shockwaves and was followed by a seismic sea wave or tsunami.

Great crevasses opened up, swallowing people alive, some upside down so that their feet stuck up in the air as they went down. Buildings collapsed trapping their occupants. Cemeteries disgorged their dead. The tsunami drove ships ashore, destroying most of them as it dashed them against the remaining houses. Most of the city sank beneath the waves and was no more.

Among the few who escaped what was regarded as God's wrathful visitation upon a sinful, reckless city was Lewis Galdy. Galdy was first sucked into the earth during the earthquake, then thrown clear into the sea, then brought to land again. He lived long after the earthquake and told his story to anyone who would listen. Lewis Galdy's story is recorded on his tomb in the churchyard of St. Peter's Church.

Inscription on Galdy's Tombstone

Here lies the body of Lewis Galdy who departed this life at Port Royal on December 22, 1739 aged 80. He was born at Montpelier in France but left that country for his religion and came to settle in this island where he was swallowed up in the Great Earthquake in the year 1692 and by the providence of God was by another shock thrown into the sea and miraculously saved by swimming until a boat took him up. He lived many years after in great reputation. Beloved by all and much lamented at his Death".


When the British captured the island of Jamaica in 1655, many of the slaves held by the Spaniards escaped to the hilly areas. From there, some of the slaves initially helped their former masters in guerilla warfare against the British. Over time, time they were joined by other runaways from the plantations. These people came to be called "Maroons", which is derived from a corruption of the Spanish word "cimmaron" meaning wild or untamed. The term "Maroons" today refers to the escaped slaves of Spanish colonists or their descendants.

In order to survive, the Maroons hunted and farmed; but they also harried the British settlers. In time the Maroons came to control large areas of the interior and would descend from the hills to raid plantations and kidnap women. There were frequent encounters between the Maroons and British forces during which the local militia and the British army were often embarrassingly outwitted and outfought. Amerindian hunters and their dogs were imported from Central America to track them in the bush.

The two main groups were the Trelawny Town Maroons, led by Cudjoe (alias Kojo), and the Windward Maroons in the Blue Mountains led by Queen Nanny and later by Quao. Cudjoe was not one of the original Maroons but a plantation slave who broke away to join the Maroons at the head of the group of brave and warlike Coromantees he led. During the First Maroon War, Nanny Town, the stronghold of Queen Nanny was stormed and destroyed. Cudjoe remained strong. He sent a group led by his brother Accompong to occupy the territory now known as Accompong.

The British employed every available resource, human and material, on the island to pressure the remaining Maroons into submission. Unable to conclusively defeat them or even to control them, the British offered to sign a peace treaty with them. Cudjoe agreed and in 1739 it was signed under a large silk cotton tree.

The treaty ceded the settlements of Trelawny Town and Accompong to the Maroons and gave them certain freedoms, including freedom from taxation. In turn, they promised to cease all hostilities to the British, to recapture and return all runaway slaves and to help the British if the island were invaded. The following year, Quao, the leader of the Maroons left in the Blue Mountains, signed a similar treaty with the British. More than fifty years of peace followed.

During the Second Maroon War in 1795, only the Trelawny Town Maroons were involved. It came about following the public whipping of two Trelawnys in Montego Bay that was accompanied by mocking too embarrassing for the Trelawny Town Maroons to bear. When they heard of it, there was a great uproar during which threats were of vengeance were made against the people of Montego Bay. The magistrates became alarmed and asked for troops to reinforce the local militia. A force was sent to punish the Maroons but it was ambushed and routed. The "war" had begun.

The Maroons sued for peace only after 100 fearful dogs were imported from Cuba with their handlers to hunt them down. Male Trelawny Town Maroons were exiled or dispersed. The remnants of their families settled in a nearby location now called Maroon Town. Accompong then became the only Maroon settlement in western Jamaica. 

The Maroons retain some autonomy in Jamaica, nominally as separate states. They do not participate in the national political life of Jamaica, insisting that they are not part of Jamaica. They are governed internally and arbitrate most disputes among themselves. Traditionally, the leader and head of state of Accompong is the Colonel, who was elected for life by public acclamation. Land in the settlement is held in common but house land is regarded as privately owned.

Maroons retain certain ancient African customs, such as the use of herbs and folk medicines and communication with the "abeng" or bull's horn. They are also said to use a mystical African language known only to themselves.

Accompong and Moore Town are not open towns. At one time, only Maroons were allowed there. Later visitors were permitted. Up until about the 1980s, visitors to these towns needed a guide who must know the Colonel. It was also the practice to visit the Colonel first and then proceed on a tour of the place.

Passage of time and tourism have brought certain changes to Maroon life. The office of Colonel is now largely ceremonial. He is chosen every five years. Today, some of the younger activists Maroons are expressing concern that the government of Jamaica is nibbling away at Maroon territory. Since making a living in Maroon territory has become increasingly difficult, many have emigrated and the population continues to grow smaller.

The Maroons celebrate Treaty Day, also called Cudjoe Day, on January 6 each year. A monument at the Accompong crossroads commemorates the assenting of the leader Cudjoe to a treaty at Peace Cave. On Treaty Day, non-Maroons join Maroons in drumming, singing, dancing, feasting and other activities which could last three or four days. The Maroons make a pilgrimage to Old Town, the burial place of Accompong, and to Treaty Place where a monument put up by the National Trust is unveiled. One ritual, in which only Maroons can participate, is feeding of the dead. Only male animals are killed for the feast; all cooking is done by men; and no salt is used.


Marcus Moziah Garvey, the visionary whose Back to Africa movement made him a formidable figure, was able to attract more than 6 million followers. He early showed talent as a speaker and writer. Garvey's poetry, now available, gives insights into his mind.


Jamaica has won the ackee battle in the US. For 27 years the United States would not allow the importation of ackees, but an announcement made on July 7, 2000 said the ban has been lifted.

Ackee is a great favorite among Jamaicans, especially in the form of ackee and saltfish (codfish), regarded as the national dish.

The US Food and Drug Administration restricted its entry into the US in 1973 because of the presence of the toxin, hypoglycin, in the unripe fruit. Hypoglycin can cause severe vomiting and lower blood sugar dramatically. Meanwhile canned ackee has been exported to Britain and Canada.

Jamaican scientists were able to convince the US authorities that they could ensure that the canned fruit does not contain the poisonous hypoglycin. In fact, as the fruit ripens, the toxin disappears. Jamaicans safely eat ackee when its large black seeds split open after exposure to the sun.

With the US ban lifted, the ackee producing and processing industries in Jamaica will be able to significantly increase their output.

In the Jamaican “Banana Boat Song” or “Day-O,”

“Come, Mister tally man, tally me banana
Daylight come and me wan' go home”

“Mister Tally Man” was the man who checked the bunches of banana the workers cut and fetched from the field. The larger a bunch of banana, the better –“six foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch.” The call in the song was for the person who “tallied” the banana to do it soon so that the worker, who was toiling all night, could get his pay and go home. Naturally, “Daylight come and me wan' go home.”

Chicken Pills

Some women in Jamaica take what are called “chicken pills” in an attempt to alter their bodies to resemble more closely what they consider the best body image.  They want to have large thighs, hips and bottoms. This image appeals to men who admire large women with “meat on their bones.”  This is evidence to some men that they can afford the best to keep their mates in good condition. The ideal size by weight is between 160 and 210 pounds.

Chicken pills, sold illegally on the streets and in farm stores in Jamaica, are modeled on chicken feed formulated to help farmers quickly develop chickens for market. While all the components of chicken pills are not known, arsenic, cadmium and lead are among them, and doctors in Jamaica have been seeing patients who have been harmed by taking the pills.

Chicken pills point to a larger, universal problem: the drive to alter the body to satisfy some standard of physical beauty.

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