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Jamaica’s Road To Independence


On August 6th 1962, Jamaica gained independence from Britain and was the first Caribbean island under British rule to do so.

The energy leading up to and the early years following, reverberated throughout the small island, influencing Jamaica’s culture. There was the emergence of Ska in the 1950s, with Don Drummond’s instrumental signature sounds, which had the playful melodies of pop, underscored by the rhythm of New Orleans jazz. And inspired literary writers like Sylvia Wynter’s with her book The Hills of Hebron and Roger Mais, who published a series of essays, both depicted the era as the country broke away from colonial rule. During this time, Jamaica also became the holiday destination of choice for many of the world’s wealthy.

Don Drummond

Don Drummond

However, the road to Jamaican independence was a long haul and began hundreds of years before this, with Africans being enslaved by Britain and brought over to Jamaica from 1511. Back then, Jamaica was seen as a plantation which they were forcibly brought to, rather than home.
Jamaica had been under Spanish rule for over 100 years before the British took over in 1655. By 1670, sugar and slavery became the ideal fit for the English to use enslaved Africans to produce and export from Jamaica.

From this, the island became the most important British colony and largest importer of sugar in the world. Jamaica was also seen as the most rebellious slave economy in the western hemisphere, as there were several slave rebellions. The first maroon war (maroons were a section of society who included African descendants) was in the 1690s. This led to a peace treaty signed in 1739 by British rulers. However, although this treaty gave maroons more freedom like land, and tax exemption, it came with a heavy price that set back the enslaved Africans working on the plantation in Jamaica. The treaty outlined that the maroons had to help defend Jamaica if under attack, and capture runaway slaves, which they received a monetary reward for.

On August 1st 1834, slavery was abolished in Jamaica. This was largely due to the British, recognising that sugar was no longer as treasured as it once was. Slave uprisings in Jamaica also became increasingly frequent. However, although slaves were legally free, it didn’t equate to them being equal with white counterparts or higher classes.

By the end of the 19th century, Jamaicans were still shackled by British oppressive rule. Taxes were high and wages were low. Protests arose in St Thomas, led by Paul Bogle and George William Gordon in 1865. However, this unfortunately turned into a violent massacre, known as the Morant Bay rebellion.

In the 1920s, the final rebellion between Jamaica and the British colony began. Marcus Garvey, Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley were key figures in leading this stage of gaining Jamaican Independence. Garvey empowered Jamaicans to find their racial identity. He founded a political party for the 1930 election. His influence extended to Rastafarianism that originated in the 1930s. Its afro-centric message was a great reaction against the dominant British colonial rule.

The first phase of the movement towards self-government and independence included the founding of the Jamaican Labour Party in 1943. This led to the British government granting a constitution on 20 November 1944.  This enabled Jamaicans to vote regardless of their background.

Norman Manley and Sir Alexander Bustamante

Norman Manley and Sir Alexander Bustamante

Then, the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) won election in 1944. Bustamante became Jamaica’s first chief minister and was succeeded by Manley in 1955, when the People’s National Party (PNP) won the general election. Lastly, in 1957, the executive council gave way to the council of ministers in 1958, leading to Jamaica finally becoming an independent country. JLP won the election then, taking the country into independence- with Bustamante as Jamaica’s prime minister.

Before independence, Jamaica was ruled for a combined 468 years. Celebrations paraded following independence in 1962. Happy Independence Day Jamaica!


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