Jamaica: Cannabis and Rastafari


Cannabis was initially introduced to Jamaica by some of the hundreds of thousands of slaves brought to the region from Africa between the 17th and 19th century (as described in an earlier blog ‘Cannabis in Africa’). However, the more influential importers of cannabis culture to Jamaica and other Caribbean countries were Indian indentured labourers, who were shipped to the region mostly from Kolkata and Chennai by British business men between 1843 and 1917 to work in sugarcane plantations. For this reason, cannabis is widely known in the Caribbean region as gāñjā, a Hindi term. Initially, around 5,000 Chinese labourers were imported to Jamaica, but they proved to be unsatisfactory. They were replaced by around 33,000 Indian labourers (van Solinge 1996:3), who were brought in largely to replace African slaves, who were emancipated in 1838, when slavery was abolished. As a consequence of the influence and culture of Indian labourers, by the late 1840s cannabis use had become widely established in the Caribbean. In countries neighbouring Jamaica, such as Suriname, Trinidad and Guyana, cannabis culture then gradually declined over the next few decades after the 1840s, becoming much less used by 1915. However, in the late 1960s and 1970s, in a global trend, cannabis culture then significantly revived in those countries. In Jamaica, by contrast, cannabis culture continued to flourish after the 1840s, spreading widely to both rural and urban African populations, the descendants of former slaves, who comprise around 80% of Jamaica’s 2.5 million population (Hamid 2002: x–xxxix). Cannabis use in Jamaica In Jamaica gāñjā is used as an aid for labour; it is also imbued with spiritual and religious connotations. The initial experience of smoking cannabis with others is generally regarded as a kind of ‘rite of passage’ for young men in gāñjā smoking communities (Ruben 1975:262). It was…

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Source : Jamaica: Cannabis and Rastafari

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