Jamaica is one of the most culturally distinctive countries in the Caribbean, and its musical, literary and artistic exports are popular throughout the globe. Jamaica was first settled by Arawakan-speaking Taíno inhabitants in the centuries before European colonisation. Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1494 and claimed it for Spain. The British captured the island from the Spanish in 1655, establishing the island as a capital of sugar production and importing slaves from Africa, until the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. The descendants of these slaves make up the majority of the current population of Jamaica. Jamaica gained independence from Britain in 1958 as a part of the Federation of the West Indies; it became fully independent in 1962 after leaving the Federation. Since independence Jamaica has been largely stable politically although it remains blighted by endemic poverty.
Culturally the island is renowned as the birthplace of Rastafarianism, a spiritual movement in which devotees worship the former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. Rastafarianism was originally seen as a political force, since it embraces Afrocentric aspirations and the conception of a Pan-African political unity. This political conception of Rastafarianism was embodied by the Jamaican Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey, who is considered a religious prophet by Rastafarians. He founded the Black Star Line, which encouraged the return of the African diaspora to the African continent and was involved in various campaigns for the self-determination of people of African descent.
Rastafarianism is now considered more of a cultural movement, which finds expression in various elements of Jamaican cultural expression, the most evident of which is music. Jamaica is world renowned as the birthplace of reggae, a genre of music which is now synonymous with the island. Bob Marley was the most influential reggae musician of his time and his pioneering brand of reggae became universally popular in the late 20th century. More than anyone he is responsible for the promotion of Jamaican culture throughout the globe. Jamaican literature, whilst not as well-known as the music of the island, is also highly acclaimed. The most prominent writers from the island are Claude McKay, Thomas MacDermot, Louise Bennett-Coverley, Una Marson and Mikey Smith. The Jamaican film industry is growing, although it is largely reliant on American investment. The most famous Jamaican film is perhaps The Harder They Come, starring reggae singer Jimmy Cliff.