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The Story of the Jamaican People

FULL TITLE: The Story of the Jamaican People

PRICE: Paperback US$22.95


The Story of the Jamaican People is the first general history of Jamaica to be written in almost forty years. It differs significantly from earlier “imperial” histories which have been written from the perspective of the coloniser and which have relegated Jamaicans to an inferior and passive role. In this book, the authors offer a new interpretation of Jamaica’s history. The central theme is the long struggle of the African-Jamaican against subjugation, injustice, economic deprivation, and the fight for full freedom. They recount the epic resistance to slavery; from the acts of sabotage on the estates, the legendary exploits of Maroon heroes Cudjoe, Nanny and Tacky, to the final blow delivered by Sam Sharpe which ended slavery in Jamaica.

An underlying theme throughout the book is the centrality of Africa, the original homeland of the African-Jamaican. The memory of Africa’s ancient civilisations, its diverse tribes, languages, cultures and religions, sustained the African-Jamaican throughout slavery and remains a positive influence on modern-day Jamaican culture.

Although the focus of the story is on African-Jamaica, the authors recognise the significant role played by other ethnic groups – East Indians, Chinese, Lebanese, Syrians and Jews – in the development of modern Jamaica.

The Story of the Jamaican People is told in a powerfully evocative and poetic style in which the images of creative writers and artists are blended with extensive quotations from anthropological, sociological and historical sources. The book is copiously illustrated and has an extensive bibliographical and reference section as well as a useful index.


Sir Phillip Sherlock is an educator, historian, poet and story teller. He is former Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies and author of some fifteen books, including A Short History of the West Indies with John Parry, which remains a classic text for undergraduate studies in Caribbean History.

Excerpt from The Story of the Jamaican People


In this book the authors tell the story of the Jamaican people from an African-Jamaican, not a European, point of view.
The story begins in West African, with many different African peoples, but chiefly with the Akan, Ashanti, Yorubas, Ibibios and with nations from the region of the Congo.

The Jamaican people have never accepted what was presented to them as the history of Jamaica. The heroes of the British Empire are not their heroes. Their battlefields are in African-America, in Palmares in Brazil, in Accompong, the Great river Valley of Hanover and St James, in Morant Bay, wherever African-American freedom fighters struggled for liberty.

By claiming Africa as the homeland, Jamaicans gain a sense of historical continuity, of identity, of roots. With this perspective they also claim a remarkable heritage of achievement on a hemispheric scale across four centuries, from the beginning of the Atlantic Slave trade in 1518. African-Jamaicans, not Europeans, built into story the love of liberty, and a passion for justice and equality-witness Cudjoe, nanny, Sam Sharpe, Gordon, Bogle, Garvey, Norman Manley and Bustamante.

Africans and their descendants, the African-Jamaican people laid the foundation for a rich national culture by retaining their sense of spiritual values, by creating a vivid creole language, preserving their natural love for drama, music, song, drumming, for laughter, sympathy and wit. They created religious cults and modes of self-expression and developed Jamaica’s internal marketing system based, in the early years, on provision grounds on marginal land, and on a network of Sunday markets and higglers.

In the nineteenth century others joined us, partners in the struggle for nationhood, from India, China, Lebanon and Syria, in addition to those who chose to make Jamaica their home when the Spanish colonists left, Loyal Jamaicans, they also treasure their own cultural heritage. They understand the need of the African-Jamaicans to do the same.

This book is a beginning. We hope it will carry further the work already begun by our artists, poets, writers, carvers, sculptors, athletes, reggae musicians, the dub poets, the Rastafarians, the scholars, members of the public and private sectors and political parties who are dedicated to building a better Jamaica. A better Jamaica will come if the African-Jamaican people know and treasure their history.

Their history confirms Norman Manley’s words, spoken towards the end of his life: “I affirm of Jamaica that we are a great people. Out of the past of fire and suffering and neglect, the human spirit has survived – patient and strong, quick to anger, quick to forgive, lusty and vigorous, but with deep reserves of loyalty and love and a deep capacity for steadiness under stress and for joy in all the things that make life good and blessed.”

Dr Hazel Bennett is a former head of the Department of Library Studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. She has written the definitive history of libraries in Jamaica entitled A History of Librarians in Jamaica, 1697-1897 (unpublished).