Physical Environment – Land of Wood and Water

The name Jamaica is derived from the original Taino word Xaymaca, meaning “land of wood and water”. So while popular references on Jamaica commonly invoke its culture, music, sports and personalities, Jamaica, as such, is literally defined as its physical and natural resources; everything else came afterwards.

These resources abound, and provide in a plethora of ways. Simple natural beauty come in the forms of our beaches and landscape scenery, with pristine white sand beaches, the product of erosion of limestone and composed of many shell and coral fragments; to the rugged and misty landscapes of the Blue Mountains and the Cockpit Country, the former featuring a tropical rainforest ecosystem, the latter a dry limestone forest, with both regions associated with significant water systems such as the Rio Grande, Black River and Martha Brae River.

Yallahs River Valley

The land existed before the people of Jamaica, before any of the unique and endemic flora and fauna. As such, it is very difficult to separate the land from any other discussion or reference about Jamaica, since it is so connected to the island’s ecology, archaeology, history, industry, and general society.

For over 65 million years, the island of Jamaica has evolved, from volcanic origins through to later carbonate deposition, tectonic uplift and faulting, all resulting in its present day character and form.

Jamaica’s history is intricately connected to its land.

“The first settlers of the island, the Tainos, had lifestyles and livelihoods closely connected to the land, which provided resources, but also formed the basis of their cultural evolution. The Spanish and British colonists developed agricultural systems on Jamaica’s river-formed alluvial plains, whose flat land and fertile soils allowed for easy cultivation. The Maroons originated as former slaves brought in to work the plantations escaped to the surrounding hills (in the Blue Mountains and Cockpit Country), whose rugged and impenetrable terrain prevented recapture, and where their descendants still live today, complete with a rich and vibrant culture.

Post-emancipation, former slaves formed free villages in less rugged areas (but away from the plantations on the plains), forming the first small-scale rural agricultural economies in Jamaica. Towards the 20th and 21st centuries, the land continues to provide, forming the fundamental basis for three of Jamaica’s top income-generating activities – tourism, bauxite, and agriculture. Jamaica’s scenic beaches attract thousands of tourists and direct investors in tourism, including hotel and attractions operators. Its natural harbours allow for the construction and development of cruise shipping ports, and its intrinsic natural attractions – Dunn’s River Falls,Rio Grande, Martha Brae, etc – form the basis for venturing inland from the beaches and experiencing a different side of Jamaica.”


More information on mineral wealth beneath the surface is next.