Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean Sea in terms of land area behind Cuba and Hispaniola, the island which is now home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Jamaica covers 4,441 square miles. This island nation was under colonial rule from the time it was claimed for Spain by Christopher Columbus in 1494, until 1962, when it gained independence from Great Britain.

Columbus and the Taino

When Christopher Columbus arrived in Jamaica on May 4, 1494, he was met by the Taino, a subgroup of the Arawak, who populated several Caribbean Islands and parts of South America. The Taino called the island "Xamayca," which means "land of wood and water" in the Arawak language. The Taino people of Jamaica were wiped out by harsh treatment and diseases from the Spanish who claimed the island. The Spaniards, who by then had developed agricultural plantations, replaced the Taino with slaves imported from Africa. Many of Jamaica's inhabitants today are descendants of these slaves and of others later imported by the British.