Jamaica was discovered by Cris Colombo in 1494, after which the Spanish held the island for some 150 years up until, in 1655, the British decided they could make better use of it. Time proved the British right, and whereas the Spanish were unable to meaningfully make use of the third largest Caribbean island,i the British saw a greater opportunity and were cunning enough to form a trading triangle between a) England, b) Jamaica, and c) Africa, with manufactured goods moving from a –> c, agricultural goods moving from b –> a, and labour servicesii moving from c –> b.
The result, after almost two centuries, was this :
Success ! And more success ! And more and more, largely built on the foundation of sugar plantations, to the point where the growing towns not only become prosperous, but also cultured, as manifest by the thriving Jewish community,iii the only extant remnant of which is the Shaare Shalom Synagogue, also known as the United Congregation of Israelites, seen here :
The interior of which has a sand floor, indicating Sephardim heritage.iv
Then in 1834 came emancipation. The Crown paid plantation owners £20-a-headv and the blacks were set loose. Soon, the sugar industry died, mainly because it required both organisation and significant industrial processing, only to be replaced by coffee beans and bananas, neither of which required as much, well, skill and labour.
Between then and 1962, when Jamaica gained independence from Great Britain, the African descendents of the island gained an increasing number of political positions, replacing the former aristocracy with “fairer” representation, and the people with civilised heritage and experience slowly moved away, leaving behind the bones but not the flesh.
Today, Jamaica answers the age-old questionvi : “What would Africa look like if we gave it a whack-load of European infrastructure and walked away.”
The answer looks like Kingston, the capital city of 1 mn residents. Where once neo-classical monuments stood prominently, now barbed wire fences protect the few occupied buildings (mostly churches) while most everything else from the country’s glory days lie in wasteful disuse, if it lies at all :
Note the two young men making bed frames in the back alley, a sight that I don’t recall seeing anywhere else in the world but wasn’t the least bit uncommon here.
The nation’s once-great rail system hasn’t fared much better. The trains, once the blood running through the country’s economic veins, are now inoperational and rusted over.
Of course, the West and the East haven’t walked away from this profitable little island entirely : there are Chinese grocery stores, American burger chains, and East Indian luxury retail centres, all of which not only undermine local entrepreneurs but, unlike the colonial system, in no way teach the locals to develop the skills of civilisation,vii namely refinement and organisation. As a result, the locals one finds on the street, having never been shown a better way by a patient teacher, having been used and abused by their own kind,viii and resentful as all hell about it, take on an air of superiority with would-be patrons and scrap with each other like middle school children.
It’s all really very tragic.
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- At least for the Spanish Monarchy’s original intention of gold and silver mining. So they used Jamaica as a port of call from which they relieved the Americas of all that cumbersome gold keeping them down. Y’know, like FDR. [↩]
- Read: slaves. [↩]
- This is a neat little trick that Alberta hasn’t quite figured out. The province has prosperity, even if oil prices are in a temporary lull, but culture still struggles for every little inch. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Edmonton and Calgary have hardly any jooz. [↩]
- That which is practised by the pro-polygamist Jews of the Mediterranean countries (Portugal, Spain, North Africa, Middle East, etc.), as opposed to the Ashkenazi style practised by descendents of Eastern and Northern Europe.
It’s worthwhile to note, as Pesach (aka Passover) is fast approaching, that one of the practical differences between the two is that Sephardic Jews eat corn, rice, and beans during Pesach and Ashkanazi Jews don’t. [↩]
- This works out, based on average wages at the time, to about $20,000-a-head. Probably not that far off a bitcent in 50 years, y’know. [↩]
- This’d be one that Jeffrey Sachs has spent his life trying to answer while at the same time ignoring the dead obvious examples right in front of his face. Because progress, because reasons, because that’s different or things are different or because I want to matter over here and it’s easier if I pretend like that thing over there isn’t actually relevant. Le derp. [↩]
- Jamaica once boasted some 10,000 gens de couleur libres, or free people of colour, that is, men and women who were quick and diligent studies in the ways of advanced society. [↩]
- You should see how many anti-corruption billboards there are on the highways. You know it’s a problem when… [↩]