Jamaica

Land and People

Although largely a limestone plateau more than 3,000 ft (914 m) above sea level, Jamaica has a mountainous backbone that extends across the island from the west and rises to the Blue Mts. in the east; Blue Mt. (7,402 ft/2,256 m) is the highest point. Rainfall is heavy in this region (where there are extensive timber reserves) but diminishes westward across the plateau, which is a rugged area deeply dissected by streams and underlain by subterranean rivers. The heart of the plateau, known as the Cockpits, is used mostly for livestock grazing. A narrow plain along the northern coast and several larger plains near the south shore are Jamaica's major agricultural zones. The north coast also has fine beaches and is the focus of the tourist industry. The Rio Grande and the Black River are the country's chief waterways, but neither is navigable for long distances. The coastal bands widened by broad river valleys, as well as the mountain slopes, support the bulk of Jamaica's export crops.

In addition to Kingston, important cities are Spanish Town and Montego Bay. Slightly more than one half of the population is urban, and migration to the cities continues; the greatest urban concentration is around Kingston. People of African descent predominate in Jamaica. The small upper class is largely of European descent. Afro-Europeans and such Middle Eastern and Asian groups as Lebanese, Syrians, Chinese, and Indians, make up the rest of the population. Although English is the official language, most Jamaicans also speak a creole English. The chief religion is Protestantism, although there is considerable religious variety (including Roman Catholic and spiritualist minorities) on the island.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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