It’s easy to fall into clichés and stereotypes when you think about Jamaica. Even when considering taking a trip to Jamaica, the first things that generally come to mind are all-inclusive resorts and possible tourist traps. But this island nation is far more than dreadlocks, reggae and easy living – it’s also steeped in Rastafarianism, one of the world’s most interesting religions, as well as rooted in the 16th century slave culture of the Maroons. If you’re willing to look beyond the beaches and bars, you might get a glimpse at these fascinating cultures and the communities that have maintained them for centuries.
For a country that’s synonymous with kicking back and relaxing, Jamaica has a turbulent past as a central location for the African slave trade. In particular, the Jamaican Maroons are descended from escaped slaves that developed communities in Blue Mountain and Cockpit Country. These bands of Maroons fought a war of resistance against the English in 1729 and, although they lost, ten years later the Cockpit Country Maroons signed a peace treaty with the English. The Blue Mountain Maroons followed suit the next year.
Fast-forward to 2013, and you’ll still find Maroons preserving their culture slightly separate from Jamaican culture itself. (The Maroons are responsible for bringing the deliciousness that is jerk seasoning to the world.) They continue to be rather isolated from commonplace Jamaican society, which means that it’s not that easy to access these unique communities. Fortunately for you, our Jamaica Encompassed trip involves a trip to Charles Town, a Maroon village where you’ll have the chance to hike with the locals and enjoy traditional drumming and dancing. Definitely an education you won’t get by simply lying on a beach with a rum cocktail.
While the Maroons may be less well known, there’s no way you can’t think of the Rastafari when you think of Jamaica. Conversely, it’s impossible to avoid the mental image of Bob Marley, probably the most famous Rasta. The dreadlocked singer rose to popularity alongside the prominence of reggae music in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and remains iconic to this day. But if you move past “One Love” and “No Woman, No Cry,” you’ll find a religion that runs deep and rich through the soil of the island. Actually, “religion” might not be the most accurate word – “way of life” is more like it. The Rastafari philosophy encourages one to find inspiration within oneself, and to abstain from materialism, oppression, and political involvement (as well as the consumption of most meats and alcohol). As popular as Rasta culture is throughout the world, it only makes up about 5 per cent of the Jamaican population, according to the 2001 Jamaica census.
Still, it’s a way of life that many consider tantamount to the island’s culture on a whole, and an experience you can get up close and personal with in our Jamaica Encompassed trip. During a visit to an indigenous Rastafari village, you’ll have the chance to learn about their medicinal uses of native plants (no, not ganja), indulge in a delicious local vegetarian meal, and take part in traditional drumming, singing and dancing.
If getting a hands-on education into Jamaica’s storied past is up your alley, come check us out. (We promise there will also be beach time, too.)