10 Things you Probably didn’t Know about Jamaica

I was born in Jamaica, and lived there for 25 of my 26 years. With that said, you’re likely wondering if the stereotypes are true. Am I Bob Marley’s biggest fan? Do I smoke weed? And wow… isn’t Jamaica just the most amazing little slice of paradise ever? No to the first two, and sometimes to the last.

But to share some real truths about my home country, here are ten things you probably didn’t know about Jamaica – as told by a Jamaican.

#10: Foreigners Love Bob Marley more than We Do

When most people think of Jamaica, they think of Bob Marley and reggae music, so it might surprise you to know that Bob Marley is still respected, but not a favourite on the island. A lot of non-Jamaicans find this very difficult to believe. After all, Bob Marley is a legend. Well, so is Elvis Presley. How many Americans in 2016 count him as a favourite musician?

The popularity of reggae has long been drowned out by blaring dancehall music – its violent and explicit mutation. To put dancehall into better perspective for you, here’s a fun fact:

Rap music actually began in Jamaica in the 1960s as dancehall, and then spread to the United States as rap.

Aside from dancehall, we listen to music that has become popular in America and Europe. The country’s largest music festivals have featured lineups that include musicians like Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey, Lil Wayne, and Alicia Keys.

Skrillex also frequents Jamaica for shows in Kingston. The subsequent influence of Jamaican culture is easily heard in songs like “Bangarang” (an old-school Creole word meaning “loud noise/music”), “Ragga Bomb”, and “First of the Year”.

#9: Jamaicans Can’t Swim

Smack dab in the tropics, Jamaica has some of the best white sand, pristine beaches in the world. The mere fact that the country is a tropical island also means that Jamaica is completely surrounded by the beautiful Caribbean Sea. Yet, in spite of this fact, many Jamaicans cannot swim – possibly most of us.

My expatriate friends on the island often joked that you can almost always spot the Jamaicans at the beach, when you go. We are usually on the shore, getting our feet wet and taking pictures. Swimming and snorkeling are for the tourists; not the locals. Most of the nationals are just there to enjoy the view.

Of course, that doesn’t apply to everyone. Some locals are avid swimmers at the amateur, competitive, and professional levels. Some also dive, snorkel, paddle board, and surf – myself included. However, being unable to swim is not uncommon or unusual.

#8: Jamaicans Speak English

It’s a common expectation of Jamaicans to have a heavy accent and to speak the island’s dialect, called patois. However, not only are there Jamaicans who don’t speak the island’s Creole, but there are also nationals who don’t understand it. In fact, contrary to popular opinion, the island’s official language is English.

This is owing to the fact that Jamaica is a Commonwealth country. In other words, Jamaica was once the property of Britain, and still owes its allegiance to the Queen, even though it is self-governing.

Subsequently, business and academia are all conducted in English. And although patois is a common dialect spoken by almost everyone on the island, it’s often considered inappropriate in schools and business, because it’s too informal.

#7: Cell Phone Ownership is higher in Jamaica than in the U.S.

Even in the First World, most countries can only boast a mobile subscription rate in the 80 and 90 percentile range. The United States, for instance, boasts a subscription percentage of 98% of its population. Canada boasts 83%. As of 2015, Jamaica has a mobile subscription rate of 107% of its population.

The reason for this is that many people subscribe to different carriers in order to take advantage of exclusive benefits simultaneously, or to account for an unreliable connection based on where they work or live.

#6: We have a lot of Illegal immigrants – from Asia, Europe, and America

Recently, there has been a lot of talk in the media about the large influx of illegal immigrants from other countries, into Europe and America. However, did you know that there are a lot of illegal immigrants in Jamaica as well?

Jamaica also graciously granted asylum and refugee status to runaway Haitians in 2004 and 2005, when they fled political instability in their home country. Currently, however, a large portion of illegal immigrants is made up of well-to-do expatriates from North America and Europe, who are living and working illegally on the island.

These immigrants often started off working legally on temporary projects, and then stayed on after their work visas expired. Illegal immigrants include Hungarians, Canadians, Dutch, Spanish, Chinese, Syrian, Indian, Pakistani, Italian, and American workers. I would know. I was friends with quite a few of them… and dated two.

#5: Most of us Don’t have Dreadlocks

When was the last time you saw a Jamaican in a movie that didn’t have dreadlocks? Even in the ads that the Jamaica Tourist Board uses to attract tourists to the country, we always seem to have dreads, six pack abs, and a coconut in hand.

As lovely and exotic a picture as this paints, most Jamaicans do not have dreadlocks. The hairstyle is admittedly a common sight on the island, and is chosen for religious purposes, fashion, or convenience. However, the majority of the population wears their hair differently.

In fact, dreadlocks are often frowned upon in Jamaica, in the same way that they are in many other countries. Additionally, there have been many stories of people having to cut their locs in order to work in certain industries, like banking and finance.

#4: Jamaicans are Black, White, Asian, and All of the Above

It is a common belief that all Jamaicans not only have dreadlocks, but are all Black. People forget – or perhaps don’t know – that the country’s national motto is

Out of Many – One People

Essentially, what that means is that as a people, we have come from many different backgrounds around the world.

In fact, there is a well-known German settlement on the island called Seaford Town, which is where I grew up. A significant portion of the population there is German, and Blacks are a minority. Chinese and Indians also live in this town, as well as other areas on the island.

Another fun fact: the model in the featured image is Jamaican. We attended high school together.

#3: Not all Jamaicans Smoke Weed

Of all the stereotypes Jamaica has acquired, a penchant for smoking marijuana has to be one of the most well-known. Use of marijuana is common in Jamaica, and few expect to visit without testing out the country’s legendary bush. However, a significant portion of the population neither uses the drug nor condones it.

In fact, it is a common belief in local “ganja lore” that some people should not partake of the drug, because they are too lightheaded and may end up having a negative reaction. Myself, my parents, and the vast majority of my family have never used the drug. Who needs weed, when rum is around, after all? And Jamaica does have the best rum!

#2: The Island Paradise used to be the Murder Capital of the World

Jamaica is often marketed as an island paradise and in a scenic way it is. However, one ugly truth that the island struggles to hide is its constant battle with crime and violence.

This is little helped by the corruption of politicians and law enforcement, and leads to distrust among the people. This discourages witnesses from coming forward when they have information about crimes; which in turn, worsens the problem of crime and violence.

In fact, in 2005 Jamaica ranked as the Murder Capital of the World. The country currently ranks at number 6; beating out other volatile countries, like Colombia.

Fortunately, tourists are rarely ever targeted for violent crime and are as safe as they would be at home, when in tourist areas like Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios. So if you planned on visiting, rest assured that you have nothing to worry about.

We certainly don’t have terrorists or random public shootings, which arguably makes Jamaica a far cry safer than many First World countries right now…

#1: It Snows in Jamaica

Of all the facts presented about this tropical island, this one might surprise you most. Many people probably won’t believe it, including other Jamaicans. After all, everyone knows it doesn’t snow in the tropics – or does it..?

Snow and general cold weather is a product of not just distance from the equator, but also altitude. The highest mountain on the island is the Blue Mountain. It is 7402 feet or 2256 meters tall. During the colder “winter” months on the island, the peek has been known to be covered with frost and sleet.

While this is certainly not enough snow for a ski trip or to go snowboarding, it is enough to dust the peek with white from time to time and to bust the myth that it never snows in the tropics.

I hope this educates many a curious reader about Jamaica and its people – and maybe puts our tiny island into better perspective. As a side note, if you do choose to visit, please do us a favour by not staying in an all-inclusive hotel. Find a guest house run by locals. Eat with us. Laugh with us. Chat with us. Snorkel with us.

You won’t regret it!

Featured Image courtesy of Danielle Samantha Photography. Super thanks to Alyssa and Dan for giving me permission to use it!

Originally published May 22, 2016 on Alexis Chateau.

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159 Comments Add yours

  1. bwcarey says:

    sounds very easy on the mind, thanks for the post, must visit one day

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You should visit. You won’t regret it. Thanks for dropping by!

      Like

      1. bwcarey says:

        thanks, i love reggae music, will visit one day

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Haha. I do not. That’s a stereotype. But good for you!

        Like

      3. bwcarey says:

        i listen to Bob Marley regularly, there is wisdom in it, thanks for the comment

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello, fellow Jamaican! And thanks for clearing up some of that foolishness that people believe about us.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks June. Only too happy to clear it up. I live in America and literally the first thing I have to tell people is no I do not smoke weed, and no I do not worship Bob Marley 😑

      Are you still based on the island?

      Like

      1. No, I live in Texas. Circumstances have put me here; you know how that is…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Texas! Yikes! That’s one state I don’t ever want to set foot in haha. Is it as bad as everyone says it is??

        Like

      3. It’s not bad, actually. Housing is good; weather is much nicer than Central Florida, where I was before. Family’s here… Could be worse.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Wally Fry says:

    # 11

    Blue Mountain Coffee is probably the best in the universe!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Indeed, but only when it’s genuine. There are a lot of knockoffs out there so keep your eyes peeled, even when it says “100%” 😊

      Like

      1. Wally Fry says:

        Yeah….a lot of “blends.” I bought mine when I was there off a cruise ship, so I got the real deal.

        🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Wise move! Glad you liked it 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Octopuis says:

    I like insider posts like these from a local telling her country’s story–too often we believe what media portrays and have little info about the reality. I’m sending this to my Jamaican friend 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! I hope your Jamaican friend likes it. I run into the myths all the time living in America, so I thought it would be good to dispel the myths in one post and be done with it haha. Thanks again!

      Like

    1. Thank you, Anthony!

      Like

  5. Jhunelle J says:

    #10 made me laugh out loud, sad but true. These are great points which I’m sure many (tourists and locals alike) don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d like to think the locals know all of these lol. Maybe the Blue Mountain one might stun a few people. You ever been hiking up there? I really wanted to go before I left l, but people kept canceling.

      Like

      1. Jhunelle J says:

        Purposely veered off a marked trail and hiked maybe two extra hours a few months ago near Hollywell. Never hiked to the peak. I like the idea of doing it but am scared I’ll die in the process lol, hopefully will do it one day

        Liked by 1 person

      2. LoL. Why do you think you would die in the process? I have four heart conditions and have never had trouble on the trail.

        Like

      3. Jhunelle J says:

        Not literally, just wonder if the required endurance or fitness will push me too much

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I think you’d be fine, but then I’ve always been an outdoorsy girl so maybe I’m conditioned. 😅

        Liked by 1 person

  6. smlkam says:

    What you wrote is a real eye opener on educating the whole world about Jamaica from a native of the country point of view.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! If you’re interested in learning more about our culture, here’s a good followup piece to that one, about all the ethnic groups that make up our melting pot.

      https://alexischateau.com/2017/02/10/the-6-main-ethnic-groups-that-created-jamaican-culture/

      Thanks again for dropping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. christal93blog says:

    I enjoyed this post. I’m Jamaican and I can’t swim either! I thought I was the only one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha nope. My expat friends always joked that you can tell the Jamaicans at the beach. We don’t go more than knee deep. 😂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. christal93blog says:

        Ahah I agree. When I tell my friend here I can’t swim they get so shocked like but you’re from Jamaica? What do you do when you go to the beach? Ahah

        Liked by 1 person

      2. What do we do? Sit on the sand and take pictures? Hahaha.

        I can swim, and love to go snorkeling and paddle boarding. But I didn’t bother to learn until college, so before that I just went out neck deep and “try a ting” 😂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. christal93blog says:

        It must be that lol. And that’s great. I want to learn but I don’t think I will ever be able to. I panic too much lol. Well done to you though!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Start in neck-deep water. You can’t drown, but it’s deep enough to learn to swim. Snorkeling gear also makes it real easy. 🙂

        Like

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