If you are asked this question, “Is Jamaican an island or a country?”, what would be your answer?
The first thing that would probably come to your mind is the Caribbean islands. Then your answer most likely will be, “Jamaica is an island!”
But wait, hold on… haven’t you heard Jamaica being referred to as a country as well?
So, is it an island, or a country?
This certainly is a peculiar question? I’m sure my geography friends will find it rather appealing to solve this mystery :-).
Well for starters, we must fully understand what is meant by a “country” and an “island”. Then, we need to highlight Jamaica’s unique characteristics and see whether they classify it as a “country” or an “island”?
Are you ready? Okay… let’s go!
What is an island?
An island is defined as a land mass, smaller than a continent, that is completely surrounded by water.
Thus, the main characteristics of an island, as identified in the definition, are:
Very small land mass
Surrounded by water
And note that there are two main types of islands:
Continental islands – These islands were once connected to some continent, but they now lie on the continental shelf of a continent. These islands were formed due to a rising sea level causing parts of the continent to be cut off.
Oceanic islands- Unlike Continental islands, these islands do not sit on continental shelves. Instead they rise to the surface from the floors of the ocean basins. Oceanic islands are usually of volcanic in origin.
From the facts above, does Jamaica qualify as an island?
Despite being the largest English speaking island in the Caribbean, compared to the rest of the world, Jamaica is considered to be rather small, having an area of only 10911 km2.
Additionally, Jamaica is nested in the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea. Lastly, Jamaica is classified as an oceanic island, due to the fact that it does not sit on continental shelves and it is volcanic in origin.
So judging from the facts, Jamaica fits the criteria of being classified as an island. Don’t you agree?
But What is a country?
Firstly, you should know that another word for country is “State”. In fact, the word “State” is commonly used in political science due to the fact that the word “country” can be referred to as a rural area.
The Oxford Dictionary defines a country as “a nation with its own government occupying a particular territory”.
However, a country (or State) is truly defined by four main characteristics.
These four main characteristics are:
Population - A country must have people within its borders. The amount of people in this population has little significance.
Territory - A country must have an established territorial boundary. These territorial boundaries determine the country’s size and the area it has control over.
Sovereignty - A country must have full and absolute power to impose laws and establish foreign policy. This gives the country the right to govern activities without interference.
Government - A country must have an organized government. This government is responsible for making pertinent decisions which affect the lives of all the people living in the country.
Okay, now let’s see.
Firstly, Jamaica has a population. In fact, approximately, 2.881 million (2016) people live on this little island. Jamaica also has a territorial border, and as stated above, it has an area of 10911 km2.
In addition, Jamaica has a government that passes laws and legislations and it is independent in making decisions.
Well, Jamaica seems to satisfy the criteria of what constitutes a country.
But looking at both definitions, you will notice that Jamaica has elements of both a country and an island.
Then can it be that Jamaica is a combination of both? Well, it’s true!
Jamaica is best defined as an, drum roll please :-) ...
...An island country
An island country is defined as a country whose territory comprises of one or more islands or parts of an island.
But, Jamaica isn’t the only one. The Caribbean Islands are also referred to as island countries.
Here is a video showing more information about island countries.
So there you go, question answered!
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About The Author
A patriotic Jamaican who adores his culture, Wellesley has been using this medium to share what he calls 'the uniqueness of Jamaica with the world' - since April 2007.
To date, he serves over 8,300 unique readers / viewers per day.
His efforts have earned him featured positions in local publications, including the Jamaica Gleaner's Hospitality Jamaica, Carlong Publishers, as well as recognition from numerous prestigious international agencies and universities.