Jamaica Local Custom Tips by toonsarah Top 5 Page for this destination
Jamaica Local Customs: 63 reviews and 58 photos
Drinks shack near Black River
One of the fascinating aspects to Jamaica for any English speaker is the way most locals have two languages, both of them ostensibly English. But while the language they will use when talking to you is not so different from their own, when they talk to each other they become instantly incomprehensible. That is because they are in fact talking patois, which is widely regarded as a language in its own right. It has its roots in English, and gets much of its vocabulary from there and from other European languages, but it has a rhythm and structure that owes more to the African roots of most Jamaicans. Here are some examples:
Patois: Mi belly ah gripe mi
English translation: I have a stomach ache
Patois: Mi bak ah hat mi
English translation: My back is hurting me
Patois: Gal yuh noh dead yet?
English translation: It's been a long time since I have seen you, girl
Patois: Lissen mi nuh, mi a beg yuh stap fingle-fingle up di mango dem
English translation: Why are you squeezing the mangoes like that?
Patois: A wan irie likkle place
English translation: It's a very fine place
At the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston
After just a few days in Jamaica I already knew that these three little words would sum up my experience of the island and capture the spirit of its people. This phrase is the standard reaction to a request for help or for a service; it is said tongue in cheek when you decline an invitation to browse a crafts stall or take a taxi; it epitomises their attitude to stress management – why worry about things you can’t change when the sun is shining and there’s a chilled Red Stripe waiting to be drunk?
If you’re used to a faster pace of life it can take a while to adjust to this “so laid back it’s horizontal” outlook. But if you relax and start to go with the flow, you’ll come to appreciate it and realise that maybe, for the duration of your holiday at least, there really is “No problem, mon”.
Statue of Bob Marley at museum in Kingston
Few would argue with the idea that the main contribution that Jamaica has made to international culture is its reggae music, and the man who did most to bring that to the world’s attention was Bob Marley. So perhaps it’s not surprising that he has achieved almost cult status on the island, or so it seemed to me. I don’t think a day of our stay passed without hearing the strains of “One Love”, “Stir it up” or another of his hits.
There are two must-see sights for Bob Marley fans, which I cover in more detail on other pages. These are the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, and his birthplace, and now also his burial place, in Nine Mile. Even if you’re not a big fan, the latter in particular is worth a visit as it gives you a sense of where he came from and also more generally of rural life in Jamaica. Apparently if his mother is at home you may get a chance to meet her – the best we managed was a couple of cousins there, and a glimpse of one of his sons, Stephen, at the museum.
Of course, like any celebratory these days, there are plenty of people keen to ride on the back of his fame, and not just in places most obviously associated with him. I spotted this sign (photo 4) for Mama Marley’s cakes in Ocho Rios. We were also treated to a “history of reggae” stage show one evening at the Negril Escape, complete with a Bob Marley look-alike (photo 5) who I have to say did a very good job of performing all his hits.
Ackee & saltfish
From the first evening we arrived at the Blue House and were offered curried goat for dinner (excellently cooked by Darryl!) we realised that we were going to have plenty of opportunity to sample the local dishes. Most were really delicious, including that first evening’s curry, with only a few appealing rather less to our taste-buds. In all during our stay we sampled:
Curried goat: Darryl’s version was delicious and very welcome after a long journey, washed down with some fruit punch.
Rice and peas: one of my favourite Jamaican dishes, which we had on a number of occasions and in different places. The “peas” are in fact what we would call red beans, and they give the rice a really nice flavour.
Jerk pork and chicken: best enjoyed at one of the roadside jerk centres. Although I normally prefer chicken to pork, I found the latter tastier and better at absorbing all those wonderful jerk spices. In tourist restaurants you also find other jerk dishes – I had an excellent jerked red snapper one evening in Negril, for instance.
Ackee and saltfish: the traditional Jamaican “cooked breakfast”! It sounds a little weird, being a combination of salt cod and a local fruit (the ackee) but tastes delicious – the fruit is very creamy in consistency and the resulting dish is a bit like a fishy scrambled eggs, especially when served as Darryl did it with crispy pieces of bacon on top.
Callalo: a green vegetable rather like cabbage or spinach, served for breakfast with ackee and saltfish.
Bammy: a fried pancake-like round made with cassava flour
Rundown: another breakfast dish, fish stewed in a coconut cream sauce with allspice – I liked the flavour but it seemed much more like a dinner dish than a breakfast one to me, and I would have enjoyed to eat it like that with some rice and peas rather than the rather bland and oddly named “food” that it came with at the Blue House, which was a bowl of different boiled starches such as yam and dumpling.
Festival: another type of dumpling, fried and slightly sweet (like a doughnut!), which we had several times with jerk pork at the jerk centres, and really liked.
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