Even though Jamaica is a small Caribbean island, with a population of a little bit less than 3 million, its unique culture (especially reggae and marijuana) brought it a worldwide fame and glory. Probably not everyone knows where Trinidad and Tobago is, but everyone knows where Jamaica is. Or if someone can’t show it on the map, at least they have an idyllic image how Jamaica should look like. I also came to Jamaica with a head full of stereotypes. But the Jamaica I found was far away from Bob Marley’s songs. Here are 12 myth busters that will completely change your idea about Jamaica.
P.S This post is completely based on my personal opinion and experience while having holidays in Jamaica. And that was quite an experience! 😀 The country has its’ charm and there are many nice people on the island! But it is different from what many westerners imagine it to be. So dear Jamaicans – don’t get offended. YA MAN 😉
1. It is the most chilled country in the world
Crystal blue Caribbean beach, Bob Marley´s songs and a joint of weed. So far I haven’t met a single person who has told me that Jamaica is not the most chilled country on Earth. Probably every single of them is picturing that idyllic picture with a joint in the hand. However, that is probably the biggest myth about Jamaica.
In the 80’s there was a huge wave of slaughter due to political reasons, when even the legendary Bob was shot, by attempting to murder him. But even up to this day Jamaica is not safe.
Kingston has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Of course, most of the violence is domestic or affects the members of gangs and police, but the streets of Kingston are not safe. There is almost no police to take care of the public order and by accident you can easily end up in the crossfire.
As a foreigner, I was strictly advised not to go out of the hostel after dark, and take a taxi wherever I go, even one kilometre from the hostel. What a bullshit I thought, and after a couple of days, and a couple of beers, 4 of us were walking on the street after midnight and laughing loudly. Suddenly one Jamaican ran to us. He seemed to be super scared:
“Guys please don’t be here. You might die,” almost begged he. Welcome to Kingston town!
Probably if you buy an all-inclusive packet and never leave the hotel, with the security guards and high-voltage fences, you will think that it is quite chilled. The real Jamaica is a little bit more spicy than that.
2. Everyone on the island is a Rasta
I’m up above the Kingston, on the mountain cliff in the colourful rasta village. People live according to the true Rastafarian doctrine – growing their eco food, praying and waiting for the return of Emperor Selassie.
“We are here. Watching day and night the Babylon over there and waiting for its silent fall,” told me a rasta with up-to-waist dreadlocks.
However there are not so many villages like this.When you think Jamaica, the first image that comes to mind is rastafarians with dreadlocks, smoking their sacred joint and praising JAH. However, that is not a true image . Only 1% of Jamaican population are followers of this Afro-Christian belief. Number one religion on the island is Christianity, and you will see many churches on the island and of course hear their emotional masses with music.
3. Everyone wears dreadlocks
Another belief that led to the dreadlocks among Rasta’s is that wearing of the Dread resembles the main of a lion. The lion is significant because he is the respected king of the animal kingdom, as well as a humble animal.
Well, it is quite a popular haircut among Afro-descendants, but it is not universal. Dreadlocks are sacred for rastafarians, because they represent transcendental connection with the absolute. One of the beliefs says, that dreadlocks remind the main of lion, the king of all animals and also a popular symbol in Rasta movement. However, there are many rastas that do not wear dreadlocks. It is harder to find a job, as some employers do not want to hire a person with dreadlocks. Or some schools don’t accept children with dreadlocks.
There are many people who wear dreadlocks for style but are not rastas. As one rastaman told me:
“Rasta is a state of the heart and mind, not the haircut.”
4. It’s all about peace, love and unity
One Love! One Heart! Let’s get together and feel all right.
I hear the legendary Bob Marley´s song in my ears while I walk on the streets in Kingston. However, I see weird looks in the Jamaicans´ faces.
“Hey, whitty, what da fuck are you doing in my country!”
I turn to the other corner and hear someone shouting from the other side of the street:
“I kill you, whitty. Go back to your country!”
Tragic history of Jamaica, slavery and exploitation by white people might give explanation to such attitude. Anyways, none of the current white visitors bear any guilt for the sins of the past, but in some situations it is easy to feel uncomfortable, as racism is quite strong. Quite a different situation than you can image from peaceful reggae songs about the worldwide unity.
Another question is women. Females are often respectfully called Queens in Jamaica. However it is just a word. Machismo is very spread among Jamaican men, and they tend to discriminate their women.
In the west, rastafarianism is often misleadingly seen as a religion which treats equally females and male. However, in Jamaica, rastas are one of the hardest in discriminating females. In a rasta family, the role of women is to serve their King (a.k.a. husband) – cook, clean and bear children. They cannot be leaders. They are regarded as subordinate to a man, which is the spiritual head of the family. Woman cannot be called Rastafari, only if her husband is one. Finally, women cannot commit infidelity or use birth control.
Men are quite opposite. It is no secret that the legendary Bob Marley had 11 children from 7 different women. It is kind of normal for men to have many women and many nonmarital children, which of course leaves many Jamaican children without a strong father figure.
I’m smoking weed with some self-called rastas in Trench Town, the slums where Bob Marley grew up. Only guys, no girls. Weird.
“Where are your girlfriends?” Suddenly everyone bursts in laughter. One older rasta, cutting enormous block of weed with a butcher’s knife replied:
Women? Their place is in the kitchen, not with men,” his words were followed by the loud supporting shouts from his gang.
Unity, peace and love? Well, not precisely.
5. Everyone smokes marijuana
Well, they do smoke a lot. A lot more than in other parts of the world. Also, marijuana plays essential role in Rastafarian religion. Next to the holy triangle of Holy Father, Holy Son and Holy Ghost, they have also the other holy triangle of Blood, Water and the Herb. However, despite its divine qualities, marijuana is ILLEGAL in Jamaica, and by smoking it or possessing it, you can (theoretically) have legal problems.
Sign on Bob Marley’s mausoleum
The fact that God allows to smoke weed for the rituals, sometimes becomes an excuse for just smoking. Not Rastafarians smoke it for recreational reasons, and mainly younger people (as everywhere in the world). Furthermore, traditionally, marijuana was smoked more by men, as part of their rituals and meditation. Up to this day, it is easier to see young men smoking weed in groups without the company of ladies, as they smoke less. And, probably, go to work, to support their lazy men, who are smoking. 🙂
6. It is a vegetarian paradise
Lunch at Rastafari Restaurant in Ocho Rios
Rastafarians are famous for their attitude to food. They don’t consume animal products and have many delicious vegetarian food recipes.Their meals are rich in vegetables and fruits, with high quantities of raw veggies, because they believe that cooked food loses its nutritional value. Also Rastafarian food is as natural as possible – they use no preservatives, chemicals, artificial colorings or flavorings. Yes, exactly, Rastafarian food! Sadly, as mentioned earlier, they are just 1% of the nation.
Eating jerk chicken
The most popular Jamaican dish is jerk chicken, which you can buy on the streets almost everywhere. The vegetables are very expensive in the shops and actually hard to find. So most of Jamaican diets are far away from balanced, as they eat a lot of precooked food lacking veggies. If you search, you can find some rastafarian restaurants or buy some fruits from an old Rasta on the beach or in small vegetable markets, but the most popular places to eat are fast-food or barbecue restaurants. They are on every corner.
7. It is a reggae country
Jamaica is famous for its music. The unique reggae style that originated on this island conquered the entire world. So Jamaica is often pictured as a country of reggae. It´s true, reggae is quite popular on the island, however that is not the only music style coming from Jamaica – you can also hear styles such as dub, ragga and dancehall. The latter seems to be even more popular than reggae, as in the taxis, buses or parties everyone is listening to dancehall.
Bus ride in Kingston with dancehall music:
8. The Jamaican music is chilled and peaceful
The chilled rhythms and lyrics of reggae seems to be the most peaceful music possible. However, not all Jamaican music is peaceful. The complete opposite is dancehall music. The songs have extremely violent lyrics about crime, murder, money, sex. The crime is idealized in the dancehall music. This music is popular in the parties and is accompanied by extremely sexual and violent dances. The dancehall artists are not sacred themselves. One of the most popular Jamaican dancehall artists, Vybz Kartel, is serving a sentence for murder. His position in music charts did not drop because of that. Art is art…
Here is my video from a dancehall party in Kingston:
9. Price of marijuana
How much do you think it could actually cost? I’m sitting outside with two Jamaican girls in Portland area. A Canadian guy gets back with a bag of weed for approximately two spliffs. Some Jamaicans by the local shop sold it to him. He paid 1000 Jamaican dollars (~10USD).
“Wow, weed is really cheap here!” The guy seemed super happy about his purchase.
I started to giggle. The Jamaican girls joined me. One of them grabbed a bag:
“Who sold it to you?! I wanna talk with that asshole.”
The bag was worth 50 Jamaican Dollars. (0.50 USD !!!). In a more popular tourist destination, Ocho Rios, the same amount of weed would cost 100 Jamaican Dollars (1 USD).
One story that I heard in a hostel also tells a bizarre event. It sounds a little bit like an urban myth, but in Jamaica it is very possible to be truth. The guys told how their friend during his first days wanted to buy some weed. He gave 40 USD to the dealer and asked to get weed for all of them. The dealer seemed a little bit confused, because he didn’t had enough weed with him. Next day he brought him a shopping bag full of herb. Then the guy was confused. Of course, he also didn’t know how cheap the weed was in Jamaica. So he spent his days in Jamaica smoking that bag of weed, inviting people over to help him, but finally had to leave the bag unfinished and fly home.
Marijuana is really really cheap in Jamaica. Probably the only cheap thing. Way more cheaper to buy weed than to buy food 😀
10. It is the backpackers’ paradise
Jamaica is known for its all-inclusive resorts on the stunningly beautiful Caribbean coast. However, there is not many alternatives for budget-travellers with backpacks.
As Jamaica normally does not get a lot of independent travellers, there is almost no hostels in Jamaica. In Kingston, there is a couple of them, in Portland or Ocho Rios – one. Such shortage of accommodation might be stressful at first, but the brightside – you meet the same travellers all over again in the other town of Jamaica. Simply because there is no other place to stay. Like the Reggae hostel brand after three weeks travelling in Jamaica seemed more like a family house, with always familiar faces.
Another problem that budget-travellers might face, is that Jamaicans don’t understand “cheap”. For them every visitor has full pockets of cash and came to spend it all. So no surprise, they don’t understand what those backpackers mean by asking for a budget options.
For the same reasons couchsurfing is not so successful. Many hosts don’t understand the couchsurfing idea of free accommodation and many of them use it as one more hotels platform.
11. It is the best place to have a holiday romance
Jamaica is famous for its male escorts for elderly rich ladies. They are obvious on this. However, Jamaican girls could be a little bit tricky. As a guy, you will definitely find Jamaican girls very attractive – they are gorgeous, know how to dance and seduce. Especially, if you are a foreigner, for sure you will get attention. You might think: “Well, I’m lucky. That’s a perfect time and place to have a holiday romance.” I am a girl, so I loved Jamaican women company 😀 But you should think twice.
If you start some kind of relation with Jamaican girls, be prepared, because they might try to benefit from you. During my visit I met one traveler, who seemed to have come to Jamaica almost on business trip – to find a Jamaican girl. And he was quite lucky. However, at the end of his trip, he seemed to a little bit disappointed:
“All of them wanted money.”
Another fellow traveller also shared his story. He met a nice girl at the airport, they started chatting and joking, and he invited her to drink coffee.
“Bring me a present,” a girl winked her eye to him. He bought her a small souvenir and went on a date.
“I thought you will buyme perfume,” the girl didn’t seem to be happy with her present.
Before their second date, the girl asked the guy to give her 70 USD.
“Don’t you want me to be pretty for the date? I will buy a nice dress.”
Of course there was no second date. Just a sad story. The best story came from a guy who said:
“No one ever had pulled a knife in front of me. It first happened in Jamaica, and it was a woman ”.
He and his friends were drinking in the hostel with some local girls, whom they were expecting to shag in the end. However, the evening ended unexpectedly, when one of the girls pulled out a knife and started to threaten. Was it an attempt to rob or defend the honor, guys were too drunk to tell. No one was killed. Except for the party of course.
So travel romance in Jamaica might be not the easiest. If you get down, watch your pockets well.
12. It is easy to be a solo female traveller
Strong independent women travellers almost nowhere face any problems of being a woman and without company of a man. However, it is definitely not the easiest task to travel alone in Jamaica. You simply get tired.
White women probably seem very exotic for the Jamaicans, and they are not shy to show their admiration. However, they do it in their own way.
A man, maybe 20 years older than me, grabs my elbow.
“Hey you, whitty. Wanna have sex with me?”
“What?!” I am convinced I haven’t heard correctly.
“Wanna have sex?” He seems to start being impatient.
“Why?!” The Don Juan seems surprised by my answer and squeezes my arm harder not letting go. “Yuh whitty, tell mi wah!?”
I slip my hand and walk away. It is funny, if it happens once, but later it becomes a nightmare.
“Mi luv yuh!”
“Mi want yuh!”
Every car beeps, men from the open car windows shout something that only they understand. 30 minute walk to the shop might get into the quest of running away from potential suitors, as if I were the last woman on earth, and every single man wants to transmit his genes to the next generation.
However, once accompanied by a man, the fuzzle goes down. A rasta wants to show me how the sign one love is made. “Hey, king can I touch your Queens hand?” Without looking at me, the man turns to my friend and asks for permission.
However, the constant presence of the “guardian” is crucial. Me and my friend we are on the beach. Some Jamaican guy approaches to have a chit-chat. The guy do not even look at me and talk straight through me to my friend. But after some minutes when Arturas is away in the water and can not see, he finally notices me and starts his simple proposal:
“Be my Queen, and you can lie in bed all days, I cook for you, I clean clothes”.
He constantly looks over the shoulder where Arturas is and pours the words with the rush. In these 2 minutes I should make a decision. Quite a hard one… Quite a hard one…
How do you imagine Jamaica? Share your thoughts in comments!
Do you liked the old rasta guy? Pin him!