The place and the community

Jamaica, officially Commonwealth of Jamaica, is the 4th largest island nation of the Greater Antilles, 234 kilometers (145 mi) in length, up to 80 kilometers (50 mi) in width, and 10,990 square kilometers (4,240 sq mi) in area. It is situated in the Caribbean Sea, about 145 kilometers (90 mi) south of Cuba, and 191 kilometers (119 mi) west of Hispaniola, the island harboring the nation-states of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Jamaica is the 5th largest island country in the Caribbean (Wikipedia).

A community of Portuguese Jews began to take form after 1530 when, persecuted by the Inquisition in Portugal, they profited from the anomalous situation created by the marriage of Isabel de Colón, Marquessa of Santiago de La Vega(a Spanish fiefdom in that island) with the Count of Galvez, a nobleman of the Portuguese House of Bragança, later Kings of Portugal. This community, consisting mainly of traders established prioritarily in that town of the island, much to the disgust of Spanish settlers, most of them also escapees from the Spanish Inquisition, who used to call them «Portugales». The Lords of House Bragança-Colón offered incentives for the settling in their land of those Jews who would not practice their religion openly. Os senhores da casa Bragança-Colón ofereciam estímulos ao estabelecimento daqueles que não praticassem o judaísmo abertamente. As the «Marranos» did in Portugal, these Jews would cover the ground of their synagogues with sand. Beyond the symbolism of walking over desert’s sand, it would muffle steps on the wooden floor and keep away snakes and poisonous insects. (The Portuguese Jews Of Jamaica, Mordechai Arbell, 2000)

Currently there are still descendents of this community, even though only a few still follow Judaism and less yet can relate to their Portuguese origins. In any case, some surnames keep a vivid connection with Portugal, as is the case of DeSouza, Carvalho, Nunes, Furtado and Lindo. (Irwin M. Berg, The Jews of Jamaica - Then and Now) Brandão is also a common name in the island, connected with the Jewish community and having been amalgamated with British surname Brandon, their descendants living now near Hunt’s Bay. (Marilyn Delavante, United Congregation of Israelites)

Today it is accepted to be about 5 600 Jamaican citizens of Portuguese ascent. (Joshua Project) The Jewish community, with about 200 people, is led by Ernest de Souza. On each celebration the congregation recites in Portuguese the following words: «in grace for our brethren imprisoned by the Inquisition». (The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2012)


Litterature and references

Ø  Anthony R.D. Porter, 2006, Bricks And Stones from the Past: Jamaica's Geological Heritage, University of the West Indies Press
Ø  Mordechai Arbell, 2000, The Portuguese Jews of Jamaica, Canoe Press

 Recent news

Ø  Portugal to share energy and tourism expertise (29-01-2009)

Community celebrities

Daniel Lopez Laguna, born in Portugal on 1635, was a notable jewish poet who published the masterwork «Espejo fiel de Vidas», a conversion to poetic form of the biblical psalms in Spanish language. His work, published in London, was supported by a well-known member of the Portuguese-Jewish community in that city. (The Portuguese Jews Of Jamaica, Mordechai Arbell, 2000)

Moses Cohen Henriques Eanes was a famous pirate who, in 1628, supported the Dutch during the Eight-Year War against Spain. His support was fundamental in the Battle of the Matanzas Bay, Cuba, where the Dutch Company of the West Indies seized a major treasure of gold, silver, indigo and mealy bug being carried by the Spanish Armada. This was an all-time great victory for that Company. After Portugal reconquered Brazil in 1654, Moses escaped from South America and ended his days as an advisor to that day’s most famous pirate: Henry Morgan. (Wikipedia)

Sylvana Henriques is a top-model and actress who played one of the Bond girls (Jamaican Angel of Death) on 1969 in the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. (Mark Honeyball, Bond, James Bond, 2007)

Sean Paul Ryan Francis Henriques, a.k.a. Sean Paul or Sean P. (Kingston, January 9th 1973) is a Jamaican hip-hop and reggae singer who won the 2002 Grammy award for his album Dutty Rock in the category of best reggae album. Sean Paul was born in Kingston, Jamaica and spent his first years in the Upper Saint Andrew Parish, a few kilometers North of Kingston. His parents are Frances and Garth, his mother being a renowned painter. His grandfather was a Jew whose family emigrated from Portugal. His grandmother on his father side was an African-Caribbean. His mother is of English and Chinese. (Wikipedia)

Community’s press




Ø  Jews of Jamaica

Internet links

Ø  Jamaican Surname Origins (Jamaican Family Search)
Ø  Virtual Jewish History Tour to Jamaica (Jewish Virtual Library)

Last updated on October 2012
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