The Early History of Jamaica
What We Know

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There is very little we know about the early history of Jamaica - as I indicated earlier the history page, however, there is enough to give us some good insight.

early history of jamaica

Any study of the history of Jamaica would consider the three main eras, the Aboriginal, the Spanish and the English - in similar order.

So naturally, for this purpose, we'll focus on the very first group - the aborigines. The aborigines, or earliest recorded inhabitants, of Jamaica is recorded as the Arawak Indians - also called The Tainos.

Originating from the region of the Guianas and Venezuela, they sailed northwards in their dug out canoes, eventually settling in each of the island of the Antilles, from Trinidad to Cuba, and arriving in Jamaica.

It is believed that they they came in two waves - the first (the so-called 'redware people') around AD 650, and the second sometime between AD 850 and AD 900.

Early History of Jamaica - Jamaican Arawak Drinking Early History of Jamaica - arawak carvings

Possibly here in Jamaica - as well as Haiti and Cuba, the Arawaks found an even more primitive tribe than themselves called Ciboneys or 'Rock-Dwellers', who had made their way down from Florida. Very simple fisher folk, they lived primarily on the coast.

It is also believed that they became servants of the Arawaks. Unfortunately, there is not much recorded about this group.

But just as the Arawaks migrated north, a warlike tribe, The Caribs, [meaning Cannibal in Spanish] moved further up too, leaving death and misery behind. They slaughtered the Arawak men and abducted the women here.

It is not known when the Caribs started their mission but it is theorized that by the time the Spanish came in 1494 much of the Arawaks were exterminated, the Europeans had a fairy short time to complete the work of destruction- by plunder, disruption of economic activities, new diseases and migration.

Sadly, there were no written record on the aborigines of Jamaica, apart from a limited amount of information contained in the books about the era by the Spanish visitors, beginning with Columbus.

Columbus himself, in an account of his first voyage, vividly described his meeting with the Arawak Indians.

The little evidence we have of the early history of Jamaica and those early Indians, came from the refuse heaps or middens, the pottery remains, the stone implements, the idols and ornaments, the stone and rock carvings and their own skeletons!

Early History of Jamaica - Arawak Chair Early History of Jamaica - arawak ornaments

The remains also proved that they lived all across the island, from the plains and coast, to the hilly interiors to as high as the Long Mountain and Jack's Hill!

By the way, Jamaica it is said, appeared to be one of the best settled islands in the Antilles at the time Columbus' discovery in 1494.

And 1494 it was when all the action started, read the entire history of Jamaica page for more.


1) Historic Jamaica, by Frank Cundall, F.S.A., West India Committee, London 1915.
2) Jamaica - A Junior History, by Beryl M. Allen, Heinemann Publishers, Caribbean 1989
3) History of Jamaica, Clinton V. Black, Longman Group UK Ltd, 1991

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Related Pages

Return to Profile of Jamaica from Early History of Jamaica
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