Most Jamaican traditions can be traced back to hundreds or even thousands of years ago and come from all corners of the world. The beliefs of Jamaicans are just as spectacular and fascinating as the island itself and create a mystic ambiance as soon as you start talking with a local, especially an elderly one.
Jamaican Traditions and Customs
Jamaicans strongly believe spirits survive our body’s death and can become lost on their way to the other world. They are generally seen as evil or at least dangerous – even those who were good, decent people who cared for their close ones very much when they were alive.
To protect themselves from lingering spirits, Jamaicans hang corn and other items considered repelling around and above their doors and windows. To prevent spirits from following them into their homes, some natives also enter their houses backwards.
Jamaican Traditions: Pregnancy & Birth
Elders believe pregnant women who drink a lot of milk during pregnancy will give birth to a child with light complexion. In addition, craving oranges and not eating them is thought to leave an orange-shaped birthmark on the newborn.
When a baby is born in a Jamaican family, relatives will bury his or her umbilical cord. After burying it, the family will plant a tree on that site so that the baby will be connected to his or her birthplace. This tradition is deeply embedded into a Jamaican native’s mind: They often return to their homeland and support their country and people like few others do.
Parents will tie a piece of red string around their child’s arm to keep evil spirits away, and many young parents avoid cutting their child’s hair before he or she starts to speak of fear they might somehow delay this process. The christening gown is made out of the wedding dress of the baby’s mother.
Jamaican Traditions: Weddings & Marriage
A traditional Jamaican wedding is short when compared to other cultures, but this does not mean it’s cheaper. They also enjoy luxury and prosperity on their wedding day. Jamaican wedding traditions are similar to ours in many ways.
Guests often send their gifts in advance and a common one is eggs – a basic ingredient for the wedding cake. This item has a great significance and traditionally contains lots of fruits and rum. Preparations for the making of a wedding cake begin as soon as the young couple’s engagement is announced: The groom’s grandmother soaks fruits in white rum. A week before the wedding, the bride’s grandmother bakes the cake which is carried to the wedding venue on the wedding day.
Jamaicans they are known for their hospitality – which does not take a break on their wedding day. Everyone is welcome to a traditional wedding, whether they were invited or not. Asking someone to leave or not allowing them to join the party is seen as a classless and distasteful act, with some exceptions, of course.
As for the social life after the wedding, men are generally more appreciated the more children they have, and women need to give birth at least once to be considered balanced.
Traditional Jamaican Recipes
Jamaican traditional food portrays the country’s diversity and tormented history incredibly well. European and African influences lead, in time, to a multitude of spices, flavors, and cooking techniques. Traditional Jamaican dishes are usually spicy and contain plenty of aromatic herbs and seasonings.
The national dish of Jamaica is Ackee and Saltfish and contains the rare Ackee fruits and fish. This dish can be served as a traditional Jamaican breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Traditional Jamaican food generally contains plenty of exotic fruits, fish, goat meat, beef, chicken, oxtail, or seafood. Food preparation practices include air or sun drying, macerating, or soaking them in alcoholic drinks.
Jamaican Traditions: Death & Funeral
The Nine Night ceremony calls for all relatives and friends of the deceased to meet in his or her home to eat, drink, sing and perform a traditional Jamaican dance as a way to honor the life of the deceased. The first 8 nights can be seen as jolly events by foreigners. The last night, however, is much more solemn. In the ninth night, friends and relatives only sing farewell songs. They also serve the spirit a last meal, which is placed under a silk-cotton tree – a known hiding place for spirits.
Death rituals are always performed in the deceased’s home. When the body is removed, relatives or friends will often sweep behind it to make sure the spirit will not linger in this world for much longer. Moreover, relatives will also rearrange the furniture and flip the bed mattress or redecorate the house to make sure the spirit no longer recognizes the room and leaves this world.
Widows will tie a red string around their waist and/or wear red underwear to prevent their husband’s spirit from following or hurting them.
Traditional Jamaican Clothing
Jamaican traditional clothing blends African and European fashion from the last few decades. Therefore, it’s safe to say the diversity is staggering and often reflects the country’s cultural diversity. Native clothing items or habits have not been lost, but enhanced by the multiple outside influences and interferences. Traditional Jamaican clothes are usually made out of cotton, but other natural fibers that help the body stay cool are also popular.
The Jamaican traditions and customs are not very restrictive when it comes to clothing, but the warm weather does not leave many options. Men wear short-sleeved shirts and shorts most of the time, while the Rastafari movement is responsible for the typical Jamaican clothing the media has accustomed us to.
Women usually wear skirts with tops and can also be seen wearing headscarves. Also known as the bandana dress, the Jamaican traditional dress also is the folk costume of Haiti and Dominica. The most used patterns are plaid and madras, which most often come in white, red, green, or other bright colors. Also known as the Quadrille dress from the famous dance, the traditional Jamaican dress is inspired by the attire of everyday women in the 18th century’s Jamaica.