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Jamaica*Jamaica flag
Basic facts
The country 
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Capital: Kingston
Area: 10,991 sq km; 4,244 sq miles
Population: 2,665,636 (July 2001 est.)
Urbanisation: Urban 55 per cent (1998 Estimate); Rural 45 per cent (1998 Estimate)


Exports: Alumina, bauxite, sugar, bananas, rum, chemicals, tobacco products

Industry: Bauxite mining, tourism, textiles, food processing, light manufactured goods

Agriculture: Commercial crops: sugar cane, bananas, coffee, citrus fruits, potatoes, vegetables; livestock and livestock products include poultry, goats, milk

Currency: 1 Jamaican dollar (J$), consisting of 100 cents

Natural resources: Bauxite, gypsum, limestone, lead, salt


The people

Ethnic: African 76.3 per cent, African European 15.1 per cent, European 3.2 per cent, East Indian and African East Indian 3.0 per cent, Chinese and African Chinese 1.2 per cent, Other 1.2 per cent

Language: English (official), Creole. English is the official language of Jamaica. However, Patois (Creole), a combination of English and some African languages, is spoken in rural areas and is used increasingly in urban areas. Most Jamaicans can speak or understand Patois, but it is not a written language. Jamaican speech, even in English, has a distinctive rhythmic and melodic quality.

Religion: Protestant 55 per cent, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and other 40 per cent, Roman Catholic 5 per cent. Most Jamaicans are Christian; about 55 per cent are Anglican or other Protestant and about 5 per cent are Roman Catholic. Small groups practise forms of African, Indian and Chinese religious ceremonies and rituals and there are a number of popular sects, such as Pocomania and Rastafarianism. Most religious practices have taken on a uniquely Jamaican character and there is widespread support for ecumenism (church unity). Jamaicans of every ethnic origin and religious persuasion attend Hindu ceremonies. Similarly, Muslim celebrations are shared with Hindus and other Jamaicans. The Jewish community dates back to the arrival of the ship hands that sailed with Columbus to escape the Spanish Inquisition. Religion plays an important role in Jamaican society, although most churchgoers are women and children.


The history

Independence: Full independence from the United Kingdom was gained in 1962. The socialist PNP governed from 1972 to 1980, when the more conservative JLP, under Edward Seaga, took office. Seaga's economic reforms proved unpopular and the PNP (under Michael Manley, son of Norman Manley) was returned to power in 1989, this time promising a less socialist, more market-oriented approach to the economy and the reduction of the country's foreign debt. Manley resigned in 1992 because of ill health and was replaced as leader of the PNP by P. J. Patterson. In 1993, after growing social unrest, Patterson called an early election, which the PNP won by a large margin.

Government: Queen Elizabeth II is head of state and is represented by a governor-general; the Prime Minister is head of Government. The bicameral legislature comprises a 21-member appointed Senate and a 60-member House of Representatives, elected for five-year terms, although elections may be held more frequently. The voting age is 18. In January 1998, the country announced that it would become a republic in the next five years.

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