Handbook of Jamaica - The National Library of Jamaica

Handbook of Jamaica

Physical Description

Historical Map of Jamaica

Historical Map of Jamaica


Current Map of Jamaica

Current Map of Jamaica


Jamaica is the third largest island of the Greater Antilles and it is surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. Lying about 90 miles south of Cuba, it is located at an estimated latitude 180 N and longitude 770 W. Its climatic conditions are usually described as tropical, hot, humid, and temperate interior; these are sometimes affected by weather systems such as troughs, cold fronts and upper and low-level low-pressure centres. Other weather systems common to the island include: Tropical Waves, Tropical Depressions, Tropical Storms, and Hurricanes which generally develop between June and November, a period that is officially referred to as the hurricane season. Weather and climatic conditions are monitored by the Meteorological Office of Jamaica.


There are a number of rivers in Jamaica, most of which emanate in the central mountainous region of the island. They usually flow at a relatively high speed and several of them contain rapids (falls). Rivers that flow south are usually of more length than those which flow north. Rivers that flow south include: Plantain Garden – flows from the Blue Mountains; Yallahs River – flows from Silver Hill Peak; Hope River – emerges close to New Castle; Rio Pedro – flows from Above Rocks; Rio Minho – emerges near Spalding; Milk River – flows from Porus. Among the rivers which flow north are: Rio Grande – rises in the Blue Mountain; Wag Water – rises in the Blue Mountain; White River – emerges near Guys Hill, St. Mary; Martha Brae – rises near Windsor, Trelawny; Montego River – emerges in central St. James; Great River – flows from St. Elizabeth.

RiversLength (km)Parish
Hope River19.6St. Andrew
Morant River25.9St. Thomas
Plantain Garden River34.9St. Thomas
Yallahs River36.9St. Thomas
Buff Bay River22.2Portland
Hector’s River5.1Portland
Rio Grande34.3Portland
Rio Nuevo24.0St. Mary
Wag Water River36.2St. Mary
White River27.4St. Ann
Martha Brae River32.5Trelawny
Great River46.0St. James
Montego River24.1St. James
Lucea West River14.0Hanover
Lucea East River12.9Hanover
Cabaritta River39.7Westmoreland
Dean’s River17.1Westmoreland
Negril River15.3Westmoreland
Black River53.4St. Elizabeth
Milk River36.4Clarendon
Rio Minho92.5Clarendon
Rio Cobre50.9St. Catherine

Main Rivers of Jamaica by Length and Parish (Statistical Yearbook of Jamaica 1999)


These are a prominent part of the island’s surface, especially in the eastern sections. Blue Mountain Peak (2,256 metres), which is the highest of all, for instance is located at the eastern end of the island. While the main line of mountains leads off from an easterly to westerly direction. Though the mineral content of the mountains are varied, the dominant mineral is limestone.

St. AndrewCatherine’s Peak1,537 metres
St. ThomasBlue Mountain2,250 metres
PortlandJohn Crow Mountain1,140 metres
St. Mary
St. AnnAlbion839 metres
St. James
WestmorelandAmity Mountain104 metres
St. ElizabethSanta Cruz Mountains
ClarendonBull Head Mountain845 metres
HanoverDolphin Head Mountain544 metres
St. CatherineJuan de Bolas833 metres
ManchesterDon Figuerero Mountains

Parish and Height of Major Mountains in Jamaica(Statistical Yearbook of Jamaica 1999)


These are common to the island, particularly in the limestone areas. They usually penetrate the limestone formation in different directions. Among these caves are: Abbey Cave in Hatfield, Manchester; Arlington Cave in Arlington, St. Catherine; Green Grotto Caves in Salem, St. Ann; Negril Light Cave in Negril, Westmoreland; Rejoin Cave in Rejoin, Hanover; White Cave in New Hope, Trelawny; Wallingford Main Cave in Balaclava, St. Elizabeth; Ferry Cave in Ferry River, St. Andrew, Banana River Cave in Banana River, St. Thomas, Barry Cave in Welcome Hall, St. James, and White Goat Cave in Jackson’s Bay, Clarendon.

Beaches: Jamaica has many beaches extending from Negril Point in the west to Portland in the east. Some public beaches are administered by the Urban Development Corporation. Popular Jamaican beaches include:

Population and Vital Statistics

Ethnic Composition

Jamaica has a diverse population which mainly comprises people of African, Indian, Chinese, European, and Middle Eastern descent, the greater proportion is of African descent.

Demographic and Vital Statistics

The primary entities responsible for disseminating and gathering statistical information relating to the islands population and vital statistics (births, deaths, etc.) are the Statistical Institute of Jamaica and the Registrar’s Generals Department. A census is done every ten years, the last population census was conducted in 2011 (2011 census); it includes data on housing, population distribution by age, educational attainment by gender, etc.

ParishTotal   PopulationPopulation in Private DwellingsPopulation in Non-Private DwellingsPopulation enumerated on the streets
St Andrew573,369569,3953,666308
St Thomas93,90293,7051970
St Mary113,615113,12846720
St Ann172,362171,2361,04878
St James183,811182,5631,15692
St Elizabeth150,205149,1531,0466
St Catherine516,218513,1433,0235

Population Usually Resident in Jamaica, by Parish: Census 2011

History of Jamaica

Early Inhabitants

Jamaica has a very rich history, which is the foundation or roots of what may be described as the island’s diverse ethnic composition and by extension culture. The starting point of this history is often marked by the Spanish’s capture (led by Christopher Columbus) of the island in 1494. Until their arrival, Jamaica’s native population comprised mostly, if not entirely Tainos. As a result of their decimation by the Spaniards among other reasons, there exists little historical recordings on the Tainos, and most of what speaks to their way of life is artefacts and archaeological findings.

English Colonization

The Spanish ruled the island for over a century, leaving their mark on its history in different ways, but incomparable to that of the English who took the island (under commanders Vennables and Penn) from them in 1655. This is one of the major turning points in Jamaica’s history as the English would rule the island for a little over three centuries. There are several events or occurrences that were induced by the English’s rule, which not only explains, but has also, shaped Jamaica’s history.

The Slave Trade and African Enslavement

Above all, the Slave Trade and the enslavement of Africans have left indelible marks on the historical landscape of Jamaica.


In the year 1838, 31 years after the slave trade ended, full freedom was declared in the British West Indies. Emancipation was the dawn of a new era in Jamaica’s life.


Jamaica acquired independence from Britain on the 6th of August 1962. The 1938 labour rebellions and resulting labour/ trade unions, the formation of the People’s National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), the campaign for universal adult, the push for self government, and universal adult suffrage were all important factors that galvanised the Independence cause. Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante, often referred to as fathers of the nation, played very critical roles in the attainment of Independence. They were the most prominent political leaders who led the campaign.

Jamaica’s new status, Independence, translated into it being an autonomous state, completely responsible for its social, economic, and political relations. Among the changes that resulted from this status were: the creation of a new constitution, army, currency, symbols and emblems, and passport. Jamaica’s Independence is a national holiday and is celebrated annually on the 6th August.

Some of the primary agencies responsible for the preservation and articulation of Jamaica’s history include:

  • National Library of Jamaica— National Library collects,  preserves, documents and facilitates access to the nation’s cultural heritage, through the promotion, coordination and development of a network of technologically enhanced libraries and services
  • Jamaica National Heritage Trust— responsible for the preservation of historical sites and monuments in Jamaica
  • Jamaica Information Service— disseminates information about policies and programmes of the Government of Jamaica
  • Institute of Jamaica— for the encouragement of arts, science and literature, and through its museums of history showcase and preserves Jamaica’s tangible and intangible heritage
  • Jamaica Archives— the island’s records office with many historical records dating back to the 16th century

Government and Politics

Jamaica is a Constitutional Monarchy and has at its head the Queen of England, who is represented by the Governor General. Nonetheless, the style of governance which the country employs is Parliamentary Democracy.




Jamaica’s Parliament is bicameral, having an Upper and Lower House, which is also referred to as the Senate and House of Representatives respectively. While the members of the House of Representatives are elected under universal adult suffrage the Senate is appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader. The House of Representatives consists sixty three members which is equivalent to the same number of constituencies, while the senate has twenty one, thirteen chosen by the Prime Minister and eight by the Leader of Opposition. Jamaica’s parliamentary house, named Gordon House in honour of National Hero George William Gordon, is located at 81 Duke Street, Kingston. Parliamentary publication, such as Acts, Green Papers, speeches, minutes and general reports can be found on the Houses of Parliament website.

The Cabinet: is the chief body that formulates and executes government policy. Members of the Cabinet are elected as well as nominated Ministers of the ruling party. More on the Cabinet


There are fourteen (14) ministries:


Legal System

Jamaica employs the ‘Common Law’ legal system (see Supreme Court website for more information). This system is a legacy of English rule of the island. It is dictated by social customs and norms, and upheld and enforced by the courts. According to this legal framework, all members of the society, regardless of their social position, are subjected to the same set of laws and the power of government is checked by such laws.

Judicial System

The judicial system of Jamaica comprises five (5) basic tiers: the Privy Council; Court of Appeal; Supreme Court; Resident Magistrates’’ Court; and Petty Sessions Court. These courts are the official and legal bodies commissioned to address issues of different natures and levels. They are usually named according to a particular classification of issues such as: traffic, family, Coroner, gun, and revenue. The Ministry of Justice is the lead administrator of Justice in Jamaica and therefore   administers legislation, delivers justice services, and provides policy support and analysis on justice issues.


Jamaica’s economy is managed by the Ministry of Finance and Planning. It is mandated to develop the Government’s fiscal and economic policy framework; collect and allocate public revenues and facilitate the socio-economic development of the country. Jamaica employs a liberal economic system; however, there is some amount of restrictions on areas such as finance, trade and investment. Both short and long terms formal regional and international liberal economic agreements which the country has signed on to include: the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union, and the Major Infrastructure Development Programme (MIDP) with China.

Finance and Banking

The financial sector of Jamaica is regulated by the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ), Jamaica’s central bank. Its purpose is to “formulate and implement monetary and regulatory policies to safeguard the value of the domestic currency and to ensure the soundness and development of the financial system by being a strong and efficient organization.”

Trade & Investment

The Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture & Fisheries is the arm of government that oversees the country’s investment and trading relations. However, there are two subordinate entities that manage the country’s trading and investment activities, The Trade Board of Jamaica (TBJ) and Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO). The Trade Board of Jamaica serves as the “national focal point for support of modern commerce through trade regulation and being a repository for and disseminator of national, regional and international trade-related information.” While Jamaica Promotions Corporation, “is the Government Agency mandated to promote and facilitate trade, investments and promotions and to encourage and support the export of Jamaican products.”