jamaica culture ;class and power distinctions

Jamaica is the third-largest Caribbean Island, measuring 146 miles at its widest point. The population of Jamaica is approximately 2.8 million, with an average annual rate of growth of 1.1%. The people of Jamaica have a historical process in which peoples of many different continents were brought together within a well-defined social hierarchy. The vast majority are of African descent, but there are numerous small communities, Indian, Chinese, Arab, and European. Popular culture is heavily influenced by African heritage, while recognized behavior is clearly British in style.  The popular speech of Jamaicans is a distinct language from English; it was derived largely from English, which has been the official language for over 300 years. Early on in the film The Harder they come, it is easy to recognize Jamaicans distinct language.

Jamaica and the Rastafarians suffer their fair share of oppression. Rastafarians are members of a Jamaican messianic movement dating back to the 1930s; in 1974 they were likely to number at about 20,000 in Jamaica. According to Rastafarian belief, the only true God is the late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie (originally known as Ras Tafari), and Ethiopia is the true Zion. Their rituals include the use of marijuana and the chanting of revivalist rhymes. The character Pedro Ras showed us the rituals first hand, Pedro smoked marijuana out of a bong in part of Rastafarians religion. Reggae also knew as Rock steady or Ska music, is the popular music of the movement. The Rastafarians, who stress black self-rule, have exercised some political power in Jamaica.

A major cash crop of the lower class is the farming of ganja (marijuana).  Jamaican ganja farmers have a wide variety of terrain and conditions to work with. Outdoor pot growers in other parts of the world can learn from techniques used by their colleagues on this Caribbean Island. Ganja is grown primarily in “the bush,” on private property. People and livestock use traditional bush trails that transect ganja fields. Snitching has become increasingly common, as retail ganja prices have risen from $5 US an ounce 20 years ago to $40 an ounce today.  Growing in Jamaica is difficult and dangerous, but urgency pays with potent pot.

The economic conditions of Jamaica lead to a hard life for many of its citizens. It’s clear to see the degree of poverty in The Harder They Come.   The percentage of the Jamaican population below the poverty line was 34% in 1997. Like poor people all over the world, the poor people of Jamaica are oppressed, unhealthy, and worried. They do, however; know what is going on. They know who their oppressors are, who is in control, who has money, and who has power. A basic statistic used to determine the health of a country is its infant mortality rate (IMR). America has an IMR of 7; at the same time as Jamaica is 12. This means out of every 1,000 live births, children die before they turn one year old.  Jamaica has 24 hospital beds per 10,000 people (1991), and 6 doctors per 10,000 people (1993). These were some of the numbers I found surprising. I take it for granted that not only can I afford to see a doctor most of the time, but also I never have to worry about finding one.

When I think back to my trip to Jamaica I think of, white sand beaches, palm trees, coconuts, sunshine, beautiful people, waterfalls, ganja, and Reggae music. I am learning that, although Jamaica may have a landscape that looks like paradise, inside the people and the land are suffering. Why are they suffering? Money is a big reason. Simultaneously the power of the government pulls a blanket over the poor, to blind the world to the country’s problems.




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