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close this book Daughters of Sysiphus
close this folder Jamaica - A background
View the document Population
View the document Natural hazards and disasters
View the document Economy
View the document Politics
View the document Urban kingston
View the document Historical aspects of the household in Jamaica
View the document Shelter policies
View the document The construction labour force


Jamaica is an island in the Caribbean. It has a population of just over 2 million people, nearly half of whom are located in urban areas, the largest of which is Kingston, the capital. Originally inhabited by the Arawak Indians, the island was first colonized by the Spanish in the early sixteenth century and later by the British who took over control of the island in 1655. The Arawaks were annihilated during the rule of the Spanish who began importing slaves from Africa in 1517. After the British take-over the island developed as a plantation economy based on a primary product, sugar. Ninety per cent of the present population are descended from slaves imported from West Africa to provide the labour for the sugar plantations. The balance of the population is made up of people of East Indian, Chinese, Lebanese, Syrian and European descent. Over 50 per cent of the population is under 15 years of age.

Massive rural-urban migration which started in the mid-1940s, led to the rapid expansion of Kingston. However, in recent years the city's growth has slowed down and, during the 1970s, there was actually a net outward migration from the inner-city areas catalysed by extensive local political violence. Rural migration to the tourism areas of the North Coast and to the medium-sized towns in the centre of the island has, however, accelerated, and capturing of land by squatters in these areas has become a major concern of policymakers.