I remember the summer my mother packed my bags and dropped me off at the airport. I remember as the waves of nervous and excited thoughts swirled through my nine-year old body. I was fascinated by practically everything; I curiously took note of the things and people around me, from the flight attendants’ uniform to the lady with the big straw hat next to me. I remember wondering where the food came from and if the lady in the straw hat offering me some ginger candy could possibly be my cousin. But as little girl traveling to Jamaica with the destination point Spanish Town, Jamaica, I was most curious as to why there was a Spanish Town in Jamaica, especially since no one there spoke Spanish or was from Spain. To add to my confusion, as my aunt took my cousins and I around Jamaica, we passed signs that read: Ocho Rios, Santa Cruz, Rio Cobre, Rio Bueno and Port Antonio. Now as a first year student at Vassar College, I am finally quenching the curiosity of my childhood observations. In this post I will explore Spain’s colonial rule in Jamaica and the legacy of that rule through the many places with Spanish names and in the Jamaican dialect patios.
Spain’s interaction with the Caribbean dates to the days of Christopher Columbus. His impact on the island was inescapable. Prior to Columbus’ “discovery” of Jamaica, the Arawak Indians inhabited the island. In between Columbus’ arrival in Jamaica and the King of Spain deeding the entire island to Columbus’ family, the Arawak Indians became extinct. However, their legacy lives on, as the name Jamaica is taken from the Arawak name, Xaymaca, which means “land of wood and water.” Soon after, Spanish Town was set up as the capital of the Spanish empire in the Caribbean along with various ports and commercial centers. It wasn’t until 1655 that the British captured Jamaica and transformed it into a “vast sugar cane empire,” importing many enslaved Africans to work on plantations. Spain’s rule in Jamaica, although short in comparison to Great Britain, had a deep impact in not only the names of places in Jamaica but also in the dialect of which many Jamaicans speak. It is seen in the pronunciation of words that begin with ‘v’ with a ‘b’ sounds and in many more words and phrases.
Today In 2011, a touch of Spain is still evident within the Jamaican culture. As the curiosity of my nine-year old self has finally been fulfilled, I can’t help but to be in awe and to feel slightly daunted by the power of a nation to have such a lasting impact over spaces, cities and countries that they have not been active in for centuries. The thought alone that Jamaica stills hold the essence of an empire that few people ever link together and are not even close in distance is mind-blowing. Which brings to mind Morocco and especially with its proximity to Spain, and how forceful its cultural push back (with some exceptions) must be and how that push-back has defined and preserved the essence of Moroccan identity. And looking through different lens, I wonder about the impact of Morocco in Spain (challenging the notion that African countries cannot impact other spaces) and how Morocco influences Spanish language and customs.
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