01.01.03. Key languages, ethnic groups and minority groups | Jamaica

01.01.03. Key languages, ethnic groups and minority groups | Jamaica

23 Sep 2022

English is the official language of Jamaica. However, most Jamaicans speak a form of English Creole known as Patois, which is described as a mix between English and a variety of West African languages. Patois is spoken across all segments in Jamaica, but is particularly dominant in rural areas (JNHT, 2011).

The most recent Jamaican Census (2011) identifies the following ethnic/racial groups: Black, Chinese, Mixed, East Indian, White and Other (unspecified). Though the final draft of the questionnaire requested ethnicity information, reports on ethnicity were not published. Several attempts have been made to contact the Statistical Institute of Jamaica to provide the statistics on the distribution on ethnic/racial groups but have been unsuccessful.

Following the eradication of the indigenous Caribbean people, the transatlantic slave trade significantly increased the population with predominantly Africans (Beaubrun, 1992; Edwards, 2013; Hickling, 1988). It is estimated that over 90% of Jamaicans are of African descent. Other ethnic groups apart from Spanish and English settlers arrived on the island remain up to today part of Jamaican society and have contributed to its culture (JNHT, 2011). These groups include Jews, who fled to Jamaica following the Spanish inquisition. Following the British conquest of the island, they practiced openly and today they practice at the only Jewish house of worship in Jamaica, the Shaare Shalom Synagogue. East Indians, Chinese, and Germans  arrived as indentured (working without pay but in exchange for passage to another country) labourers following the emancipation of slavery in English colonies and have had an impact on cultural and commercial sectors.

Today, East Indian and Chinese communities can be seen integrated into African families. In the late nineteenth century, the Syrian/Lebanese community migrated to Jamaica in response to the Turkish oppression and have also made lasting contributions to industry in Jamaica (JNHT, 2011).

It is interesting to note the role of religion in Jamaican society. In 2010, Jamaica held the Guinness World Record for the country with the most churches per square mile. This is reflected in the political cache of the two main overarching religious organisations in Jamaica: the Jamaica Umbrella Group of Churches and the Jamaica Council of Churches.

Another cultural cornerstone of Jamaican culture is the Rastafarian group, an Afro-centric religious and political group which emerged in the 1930’s. Rastafarians (or Rastas) practice select Christian doctrine combined with African tradition. Socially, they have been a controversial and culturally powerful group, contributing to Jamaican art and creating reggae music, popularised by the late, great Rastafarian musician Bob Marley.

The mixing of these various groups gave rise to the country’s motto ‘Out of many, one people’ (JNHT, 2011).


Beaubrun, M. H. (1992). Caribbean psychiatry yesterday, today and tomorrow. History of Psychiatry, 3(11), 371-382. https://doi.org/10.1177/0957154X9200301108

Edwards, D.J. (2013). Psychology bridge building in the Caribbean: A proposal. Interamerican Journal of Psychology, 47(2), 265-276.

Hickling, F. W. (1988). Psychiatry in the Commonwealth Caribbean: A brief historical overview. Bulletin of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, 12(10), 434-436. https://doi.org/10.1192/pb.12.10.434

Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT). (2011). Jamaica National Heritage Trust – Jamaica. http://www.jnht.com/mission_function.php