A Pineapple of a Relationship: The Jamaica-Cayman Ties

It might not be widely known that Jamaica and the Cayman Islands are two of the few countries in the world that have the pineapple represented on their coat of arms. The pineapple is said to be an indigenous fruit of Jamaica. However, for Cayman, it points to her ties with Jamaica.

The Jamaica-Cayman ties run deep. These ties are both explicit and submarine, cemented by blood and in history. Sighted by Columbus on 10 May, 1503, the Cayman Islands, in the era of European rivalry, were used as a calling station to replenish meats. In 1660, the British ruler Oliver Cromwell hankered for a piece of the Spanish Empire and so in his Western Design set sights on a British presence in the ‘New World.’ Cromwell’s army thereupon pounced upon Hispaniola in an attempt to wrestle it from Spain. Failing, it took the more poorly defended Jamaica as a consolation prize.

From this relatively short-lived Spanish affiliation, the relationship between Jamaica and Cayman sprang in the dawn of 1661. When Spain gave up on Jamaica, the Treaty of Madrid was signed in 1670 and Jamaica officially became British, with Cayman being ceded as part of Jamaica. In 1863, Britain passed legislation making the Cayman Islands a dependency of Jamaica.

This formal attachment to Jamaica saw Cayman becoming more like a parish of Jamaica, with locally nominated Justices of the Peace and elected Vestrymen. A Commissioner was appointed by the Governor of Jamaica to administer the islands.

Today this long and interesting history between Jamaica and Cayman measures almost 300 years. Although all administrative links were broken in 1962 with the demise of the West Indian Federation, the strength of the Jamaica-Cayman relationship continues. To wit, while separated in the legal sense of administration of the territories, the two territories continue to share many links and experiences.

From a familial level, in 1999, 38 to 40 per cent of the population of the Cayman Islands was of Jamaican origin. Many Caymanians can trace a Jamaican link among family members. The premier, for example, has said that his great-great grandfather had lived in the parish of Westmoreland back in the early 1800s before migrating to Cuba and then Cayman. So the blood links between the two islands are strong. With increased migration and travel between the two territories and intermarriages, linkages continue to strengthen.

In the early days, there was considerable trade between the two islands. The business and economic links are still very strong, with many Jamaicans who having come to Cayman for one reason or the other and at different times, established businesses of various sorts. It was not until 1972 that the Cayman Islands stopped using the Jamaican currency.

The prosperity of Cayman in the financial sector has provided employment for many Jamaicans. The economic boom experienced by the Cayman Islands fostered an even closer relationship between the territories. Jamaicans make up the largest single group of foreign workers, numbering nearly 10,000. They are to be found as domestics in private homes, in the hotels, as manual workers, tradesmen, and in the professions at the very highest levels: education, health care, law, etcetera.

Further, the last century has seen an increase in trade and travel, migration and assimilation of cultures. The two islands share deep cultural links. Cayman’s culture is hugely impacted by that of Jamaica which is not surprising given the historical ties, the geographical proximity and the sheer number of Jamaicans in Cayman combined with the vibrancy of Jamaica’s culture on the world stage. Jamaican music, from ska, to rocksteady, reggae, dancehall and gospel is readily consumed as much as such culinary delights as curry goat and mannish water, ackee and salt-fish, jerk, Jamaican patties, various pastries and breads, fruit beverages and Jamaican rum. There is even a common united church: the United Church of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

Jamaica’s withdrawal from the Federation meant that she would opt for independence. Instead of becoming independent with Jamaica, Caymanians opted to remain a dependent of Britain. Just a week or so after Jamaica celebrated its independence; the Jamaica Gleaner reported on 16 August, 1962, that a Jamaica Coat of Arms was presented to Jack Rose, the administrator of the Cayman Islands. Mr. Singh, a representative from Jamaica, expressed the hope that the close association that existed between the peoples of Cayman Islands and Jamaica would be strengthened in the future. This hope has indeed been a reality.

The nature of the relationship between the two territories is reminiscent of the pineapple fruit which is very sweet, though it itches the mouth at times. Yet it remains one we should all be proud of because it is more than pineapples; in fact it is one cemented by history, blood, culture, and economics.