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Live the Jamaican Experience: A Glimpse at 9 of Our Fascinating Traditional and Cultural Practices

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

Jamaican Experience; Jamaican Culture; Jamaican People; Jamaican Traditions; Jamaican Heritage; Jamaica Attractions

The Caribbean Island of Jamaica is known for its colorful culture and long list of traditions. If you are planning to visit, you should want to know the personality of the island which is shown through its culture and traditions. Jamaicans have a “colorful” nature which is a reflection of their unique customs and traditions. The Jamaican experience as shown in our rich cultural traditions, the food, the heritage, and the people make it a favorite destination for people around the world. The multiracial society that forms the people (and language) of Jamaica truly depicts the spirit of Jamaican culture of "Out of Many, One People."

As a Jamaican, I grew up experiencing some of our traditions. Traditions such as tasting the rum/fruit cake from Jamaican weddings that had being frozen for serving on the first anniversary of the couple; attending watchnight church service on New Year's Eve; and going to "nine night" gatherings. If you have never had rum/fruit cake, the older it gets, the better it tastes, so enjoy when in Jamaica.

Jamaican traditions help in defining the culture of our society. They are the ritualistic acts carried out over a specific period of time or at a specific event and are fundamental to our beliefs.

Take a look at 9 of our traditional and cultural practices and experience the true Jamaican life!

The National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica drawing on African, Caribbean, Folk, and modern dance promotes Caribbean Culture.
The Acclaimed National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC) in Motion!

1. The Language of Jamaica

When it comes to discovering facts about Jamaican culture, language is the first thing you might ask about. Jamaican language is a wonderful manifestation of the melting pot of cultures that make up this island’s populace. The official language of the island is English, so you’ll have no problems communicating with local people, if that's your native language. However, Jamaican residents have a distinctive linguistic style that you’ll likely have heard before.

The local dialect combines elements of other languages, from Spanish and African dialects, to Irish, British, and American phrases. If you're looking to get some more intimate knowledge of how people in Jamaica speak, look into this list of common Jamaican sayings and phrases.

Some elements of the Jamaican language can be traced back to the island’s past in slavery, where African languages mixed with the native language of slave owners.

Some Phrases That Only a Jamaican Would Understand

2. Jamaican Cuisine

The cuisine of Jamaica is well known throughout the world, and there’s a good reason why. It’s delicious! Jamaican cuisine focuses on memorable flavors, with plenty of Caribbean spices that gives an exquisite taste to the food. It consists of a wide mixture of influences reflecting our rich cultural heritage. The colonial history of the island has created a melting pot of foods influenced by countries around the globe.

One of the most famous dishes in Jamaica is jerk chicken, a fiery dish that combines the heat of scotch bonnet peppers with other spices like thyme, pepper, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Another popular dish to try while you’re in Jamaica might require a bit of courage, but if you want authentic cuisine you’ve got to sample the local goat’s head soup, and the cow foot stew. Don’t be put off by their names. These dishes are tasty!

One of the most famous dishes in Jamaica is jerk chicken, a fiery dish that combines the heat of scotch bonnet peppers with other spices like thyme, pepper, cinnamon, cloves and allspice.
World-Renowned Jamaican Jerked Chicken

3. The Arts and Cultural Institutions

The Institute of Jamaica, an early patron and promoter of the arts, sponsors exhibitions and awards. The institute administers the National Gallery, Liberty Hall, the African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica, and the Jamaica Journal. The institute is also the country’s museums authority. The Jamaica Library Service, Jamaica Archives, National Library, and University of the West Indies contribute to the promotion of the arts and culture, as do numerous commercial art galleries. The Jamaica National Heritage Trust is responsible for the protection of the material cultural heritage of Jamaica.

Local art and poetry shows are common, and the visual arts are a vigorous and productive part of Jamaican life. Well-known artistes include Barrington Watson, Edna Manley, Claude McKay, and Louise Bennett-Coverley (Miss Lou).

Jamaican theatre and musical groups are highly active. The National Dance Theatre Company, formed in 1962, has earned international recognition. Much of the country’s artistic expression finds an outlet in the annual Festival.

In the 1950s and ’60s Ernie Ranglin, Don Drummond, and other Jamaican musicians developed the ska style, based in part on a Jamaican dance music called mento. Reggae, in turn, arose from ska, and from the 1970s such renowned performers as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Lee "Scratch" Perry made it one of the island’s most-celebrated international exports. Dancehall music—which focuses on a rapping, or “toasting,” deejay—also became popular in the late 20th century. Jamaican musicians release hundreds of new recordings every year. Reggae Sumfest draws large crowds of local and overseas enthusiasts.

"Mr. Brown" by The Wailers

This song was written by Upsetters musician Glen Adams. The lyrics were inspired by a local tale of a duppy who was supposedly seen speeding around on a three-wheeled coffin with two "John Crows" (buzzards) on top, one of which would ask for "Mr. Brown." Glen was due to record it himself but Lee "Scratch" Perry suggested that the Wailers record it. Peter Tosh & Glen added spooky organ riffs.

4. Sports in Jamaica

Cricket is played throughout the island, including at Kingston’s Sabina Park and on makeshift pitches (fields). Jamaica has produced many players for the regional West Indies team, notably the Panamanian-born George Alphonso Headley and fast bowler Michael Holding. A 25,000-seat multipurpose stadium was constructed in Trelawny for the 2007 International Cricket Council World Cup.

The National Stadium in Kingston is the major venue for football (soccer) and track and field (athletics). Football has challenged cricket’s supremacy since 1998, when Jamaica’s national team, the Reggae Boyz, qualified for the World Cup finals in France. Basketball is probably the fastest-growing sport in schools and colleges, owing to television coverage of professional teams from the United States. Other sports, such as golf, tennis, and diving, have developed in tandem with the tourism industry but are beyond the financial reach of most Jamaicans. The game of dominoes is extremely popular.

The island has a distinguished Olympic record in track and field, earning gold, silver, and bronze medals since 1948 at the Olympics; with notable athletes such as George Headley, Deon Hemmings, Usain Bolt, Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson-Herah.

The island’s heroic, if unsuccessful, national bobsledding team was wildly popular at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary; the team’s unorthodox ways were later depicted in the film Cool Runnings (1993). The team continued to make appearances at subsequent Winter Games. At the 2000 World Push in Monaco the team won the gold medal.

Jamaica is usually placed among the top teams in international netball. Horse racing is popular and takes place at Caymanas Park in Kingston. A few Jamaican boxers have excelled internationally. In 1962 Jamaica hosted the Central American and Caribbean Games.

A Jamaican sprinter who specialises in the 100 metres and 200 metres. She is a five-time Olympic champion, having won gold in both the 100 and 200 metres at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and again at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Elaine Thompson-Herah, Jamaican Sprinter Overwhelmed by Her Victory

5. Daily life and social customs

Family life is central to most Jamaicans, although formal marriages are less prevalent than in most other countries. It is common for three generations to share a home. Many women earn wages, particularly in households where men are absent, and grandmothers normally take charge of preschool-age children. Wealthier Jamaican families usually employ at least one domestic helper.

The main meal is almost always in the evening because most people do not have time to prepare a midday meal and children normally eat at school. Families tend to be too busy to share most weekday dinners, but on Sundays tradition dictates that even poor families enjoy a large and sociable brunch or lunch, usually including chicken, fish, yams, fried plantains, and the ubiquitous rice and peas (rice with kidney beans or gungo (pigeon) peas.

Jamaica - Everyday Life

6. Religion in Jamaica

Religion goes hand in hand with Jamaican family culture, and you’ll notice as you travel around the island that there are churches almost everywhere you look. In fact, there are more churches per square mile in Jamaica than anywhere else in the world! (Source: Guinness Book of World Records.)

Jamaica is a Christian nation, and you’ll find that most locals are deeply religious and attend church on Sundays with the whole family. This weekly celebration is really a sight to behold, so if you’re able to attend a local church service, you should try to do so.

In Jamaica, there is a wide range of types of Christianity being practiced. You’ll find Anglicans, Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Seventh Day Adventists. Jamaica is also home to many communities of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Rastafarians.

Christmas and Easter seasons are popular with churchgoers when churches are packed, as Jamaicans celebrate the birth and resurrection of Christ.

Jamaica Noel (Jamaica BobbyG) at Riverside Community Church

7. Jamaican Birth Rituals

The people of Jamaica have several indigenous customs and beliefs. Most of them are related to the birth and the death rites of a person. Furthermore, while most of these customs are widespread and are practiced even by the Jamaicans who reside overseas, there are some others, which are practiced only in some parts of the country.

Around the world and throughout history, the birth of a child has been attended by certain rituals. Today, with most children born in hospitals and prenatal and post-partum activities conforming to western medical guidelines, many birth rituals have disappeared. Not so long ago, many Jamaican children were born at home and subject to several different traditions. In Jamaica birth rituals were overseen by nanas or midwives, and varied from place to place, depending on race and class. All, however, reflected a deep sense of connection to, and respect for, the spirit world. Today, retentions are strongest in rural areas.