Slavery was abolished in Jamaica in 1838—a quarter of a century earlier than its abolition in the United States. But as the former arrival and distribution point for “human cargo” in the Caribbean, Jamaica still bears indelible marks of the slave-trade era.

For one thing, the planters deliberately tried to break up loyalty patterns of tribe and family—sending relatives to separate destinations. Their success is reflected throughout the Caribbean today. In Jamaica, 72.7 per cent of all children are born out of wedlock. Sexual pairing is roughly one-third on the basis of marriage, one-third concubinage, and one-third “free love.” Family dominance tends to be maternal.

Societal expectations of lavish weddings are an economic penalty of formal marriage. To counter this, Jamaican authorities have sponsored mass weddings, but with little success. Christians gauge the success of evangelistic campaigns by the number of resultant marriages as much as by the decisions recorded.

The slave-era mentality persisted in other ways. Jamaica is a mingling of many races. Indians, Chinese, and Jews were brought in to work the plantations in the late nineteenth century. Entrepreneurial and skilled artisan positions gravitated to those of lighter skin; a dark-skinned majority backlash set in with Prime Minister Michael Manley’s socialist government. “True socialism is anti-class,” runs the thinking (making the more affluent suspect); therefore, “the true Jamaican is the black Jamaican.” In this atmosphere a thinning out of nonblacks is occurring.

Christianity came to Jamaica with the colonists. Their slave-built, stone-cut churches still stand on inland hilltops. But the colonial authorities forbade preaching to slaves: Colonists that treated their ...

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