Fri | Dec 8, 2023

Have we misunderstood our history?

Published:Monday | June 5, 2023 | 12:54 AM


I am writing to explore Jamaica’s identity and heritage, specifically in relation to the Taino people, who were the original inhabitants of our land. While acknowledging the presence of East Indians and Chinese who arrived during the era of indentured labour after the abolition of slavery in 1865, the majority of the population, comprising individuals with black or brown skin, is believed to have African ancestry following the eradication of the Arawak Indians by the Spanish. This sets Jamaica apart from other Spanish-occupied West Indian islands like Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize, and Suriname, which retained a small native Indian population despite the Spanish invasion.

Jamaica’s history documents the replacement of the native population with African slaves brought here by the Spanish. After the English defeated the Spanish in 1655, Jamaica became a significant port for the slave trade and sugar exportation. However, there is limited information available regarding the slaves and individuals whom the Spanish had freed following their defeat. It is uncertain whether the small group of people who served the Spanish during their rule were of African or Indian origin, as the extensive trade of Africans to the island did not occur before 1655. Nonetheless, those who were freed by the Spanish sought refuge in the mountains and established Maroon communities that persist to this day. Were these the original Indians? Have we misunderstood our history?

Jamaica’s identity extends beyond ethnicity; we encompass a diverse range of people united as one. However, it is undeniable that the majority of our population has a predominant African heritage, stemming from the era of the slave trade.

The Urban Indian Heritage Society is currently challenging this narrative by presenting compelling research and data which suggest that Jamaicans have a rich history connected to the native Indians of the island. They argue that genealogical research reveals an urban American Indian root in Jamaica, providing an alternative perspective to our historical understanding.