My Jamaica: A country of Christianity, not crime

APA woman reads her Bible during a service in Kingston, Jamaica.

Having travelled back to my hometown of Kingston, Jamaica, this summer after a while was an exhilarating experience. I was able to reconnect with my culture and experience the Christian side of that once again. The Island of Jamaica is a former British colony that gained independence on August 6, 1962. It is a beautiful blend of different cultures that have come together to make one culture - like our motto suggests 'Out of Many One People'.

The various West African tribes brought to Jamaica through slavery, the Europeans (mainly British and Spanish), and more recently Syrian settlers and indentured workers from China and India have all come together to form this special unique culture that stands out amongst the rest of the islands in the Caribbean.

When most people think of Jamaica they either think of the tourism - beaches, breathtaking scenery, colour and reggae music. Sadly, from my experience, some only envision the violence and crime publicised widely in the media.
Living in the United Kingdom presently and seeing the media here often portray my hometown as the 'gun capital of the world' seems like an exaggeration in my mind and I often wonder why the international media makes such an effort to focus on the negative side of my nation and demonise the capital, Kingston.

This is deeply saddening and heart breaking for me as a Kingstonian who has never come face to face with crime there. While living in the UK, a friend of mine asked me: "If I go to Jamaica will I get shot?" I had never heard such ridiculous comments until I left my country. This type of question is quite offensive and I don't see any logic behind it, but young people everywhere seem to believe what the media tells them.

Yes, there is violence but not more than some parts of the UK. Crime is a problem here like it is for many nations and city officials are working hard to reduce levels in Kingston, but any Jamaican will tell you to just be aware of your surroundings and be cautious, otherwise there is nothing to worry about.

I believe that before we judge a country, we should go and experience the culture first-hand to understand the true nature of it. Jamaican people are some of the warmest, most kind hearted people you will ever meet - always willing to give a hand any time you need it. Yes, we do have our share of problems but we look beyond this and I would still say Jamaica is a blessed nation.

In fact, Jamaica would still call itself a Christian nation. An interesting fact about Jamaica is that our national anthem is a prayer asking God to bless our land and it is still played in cinemas before every film or any cultural presentation. This is a symbol of national pride and the Christian beliefs of this small nation.

Many Jamaicans, whether practising Christians or not, do hold the Lord, Jesus Christ in very high esteem, they also have a lot of respect for their eternal Father. This can be seen throughout the country at cultural events like the national Independence Day celebrations and Emancipation Day celebrations where prayers are said at the beginning and at the end, along with the national anthem being played. Jamaicans are not shy about being Christians but are generally quite open in expressing their faith. This is a huge difference between Jamaica and many Western cultures that seem to shy away from expressing their faith out in public in a desperate attempt to not offend other religions.

The Jamaica I know, and in particular Kingston, still remains very Christian and having spent the summer there, I was able to interact with people from various age groups and backgrounds. One senior citizen I spoke to, a Mrs Michelle Beckford said: "Jamaica is the country with the most churches in the world. We have some of the most beautiful churches in this small island."

Many senior citizens in the island are still very active members in their churches, although it must be said that Christianity in Jamaica, like in so many other nations, has declined among the younger generations. As a child the churches were filled with young people every Sunday and today there are admittedly not as many.

There is, for one thing, the ever growing dancehall culture. Dancehall is a popular music form that came about in the late 70s, heavily influenced by reggae to begin with. But unlike its reggae counterpart that focuses on social injustice, repatriation and the Rastafarian movement, dancehall focuses on popular dance forms of the times that actually promote violence and shallow, free sex. Lyrics often focus on the gun culture as well. The dancehall artists are mainly men and not surprisingly therefore, the lyrics tend to degrade women. Yet remarkably the female population still enjoys it.

Dancehall is no longer just a music form though, it is a culture now, and for some Jamaicans, it is a way of life, and they feel they can relate to it. Dancehall has a large influence on many inner city youths who take pride in emulating their role models, who promote sex and violence, certainly a concern in eliminating crime in Jamaica if artists are promoting it in their music.

There is also the influence of Rastafarianism, a spiritual ideology that grew in popularity as a result of one of the nation's most famous singers, Bob Marley, who remains a legend till this day in his country. At the time of the 2001 census, there were only 24,020 Rastafarians on the island, out of a population of 2.7 million, but it is still influential.

A young Jamaican girl who identifies herself as a Christian, Christina Mclean told me: "I believe that Christianity in Jamaica has definitely declined since my parents, and grandparents time, this is because of the ever growing reggae, Rastafarian culture as well as the dancehall culture that so many youths like to engage in. I guess many young people think Christianity is boring, and they are more interested in other things, and I don't want to bring down my generation but many young people are obsessed with what is hot and what is in style. The lyrics some of these dancehall artists use have a big impact on how many of our youths behave."

The other trend I have observed is more young people who still would say they are Christians but don't feel the need to attend church.

A young inner city youth who identifies himself as a Christian but did not wish to be named, said this about not attending church: "When Sunday comes and they want me go church, I am tired. I sleep in my yard or go to the beach."

The elderly certainly do make up the majority in the pews as is the case in the UK, but there are also still active young people in the church, which is reassuring. Young Jamaicans still receive a Christian upbringing not only in their homes but also in their schools. Christianity is very present in daily routines, in the workplace or school environment through prayers and songs and so on. It is not hushed down or frowned upon or seen as offensive as it might be in the US or here in the UK, where there seems to be so much concern about over-bearing our religious values on others.

I have found myself worrying about the state of Christianity in Jamaica as it does seem to have declined over the years. However, I still have faith that Jamaica's young Christian population will pass on their values and traditions to generations to come.

Another young Christian, Michelle Harrison told me: "I am a young Christian here in Kingston and I am very proud to say it, I believe all things are possible through Jesus Christ our Saviour."

Now the fact that Michelle can openly say this is great as too many Christians in the UK are closet Christians frightened to confess their beliefs to the general public for fear of imposing their own faith on others.

As the majority of the population share similar religious beliefs - statistics show that 64% of Jamaicans are Christian - the nation respects and values Christian traditions and I would say Christianity is even raised on a pedestal. One part of Jamaican culture that I love is the fact that they still preserve their Sundays as a holy day and a day of rest. Many western countries like the UK by contrast have moved away from this and the people work or shop instead. I suppose it's 'business before belief' that is the UK mentality.

From my own experience in Jamaica, people are still quite Christian in their way of speaking. Expressions like 'Lord have Mercy', 'Praise the Lord', and 'Thank you Jesus' are part of the usual dialogue and have been for as long as I can remember. This is an aspect of Jamaican culture I truly enjoy.

Mrs Alicia Walker a member of St Andrew Parish Church in Kingston said: "I believe Jamaica on a whole was more religious in the past, but Christianity still plays an important role in our country today our culture takes a lot from Christianity, even our songs , our musicians are continuously praising God and our athletes Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann [Fraser-Pryce] are all Christians and praise God in public before and after their races, so yes Christianity is still very prominent in our society, young and old alike."

It does appear that the number of church-attending Christians has declined in Jamaica as in so many other Western nations through the years, but unlike these other countries, it is my prayer that Jamaica will not follow suit in wiping out Christianity and instead treasure and cherish the faith as a beautiful part of our national heritage and identity.

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