Volume 26 No. 4
( December 1980
Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.
1 The Rastafari Successors of Marcus Garvey
L Jabulani Tafari
13 The Woman in Rastafari
22 Rastafari: From Religion to Social Theory
Leachcim Tufani Semaj
32 Dread Talk The Speech of the Rastafarian in Jamaica
42 The Rastafarians in the Eastern Caribbean
62 West Indian Culture through the Prism of Rastafarianism
82 Scientific Animalism (A Report)
86 Rastaman The Rastafari Movement in Britain by Ernest Cashmore
reviewed by Horace Campbell
91 Black Religions in the New World by George Eaton Simpson
reviewed by Barry Chevannes
93 Notes on Contributors
94 Books Received
95 Publications of the Department
96 Information for Contributors
VOL. 26 No. 4
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
Hon. R.M. Nettleford, O.M., Professor of Extra-Mural Studies (Editor)
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Roy Augier, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Mona, Jamaica
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Lloyd Coke, Department of Botany, Mona
Neville McMorris, Department of Physics, Mona
Janet Liu Terry, Associate Editor
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This issue of Caribbean Quarterly celebrates the fifty years of the Rastafari move-
ment. In doing this it seeks to (a) present to readers accounts, analyses, critiques and syn-
theses of the movement by persons who share the vision of Rastafari; (b) focus attention
on the force of the movement in its bold and determined assault on certain cultural
indices (e.g. language and values) that define and determine the wider society; and (c)
examine the spread of the movement beyond the borders of Jamaica where it originated
into the southern reaches of the Caribbean archipelago and to Great Britain where a large
population of West Indian migrants and their first-generation descendants now reside.
In The Rastafari Successors of Marcus Garvey, I. Jabulani Tafari invokes the
Garveyite claim that a logical correlation exists between racial dignity on the one hand
and the possession of power and authority on the other. In claiming for the Rastafarians
an unbroken line of succession in the spirit of the teachings of the great visionary, Mr.
Tafari links the movement to the long established tradition of struggle by people of
African ancestry in the Americas in their efforts to overcome the threat of continuing
denigration of the African Presence in the Western world through the advocacy of "black
consciousness, pride and power, the elimination of all social barriers, the liberation and
continental unity of Africa . ." Mr. Tafari, in enumerating the Rastafarian articles of
faith, reasserts the doctrinal coherence long given to the movement by those of the
brethren who see Rastafari as one, despite the well-known and by no means unusual fissi-
parity of the movement.
Maureen Rowe, herself a Rastawoman, is the author of The Woman in Rastafari
and offers an examination of Rastawomen "from within" and undertaken by [one] who
[has] experienced the movement as a process" (my emphasis). The patriarchal nature of
the movement, the submissive role of the woman (a role said to be supported by Holy
Writ), the body of Rastafari doctrine on females guaranteeing the dominance of the male
and the dependency of the female on her "kingman" if she is to experience "the highest
heights", are all discussed by the authoress.
Leahcim Tufani Semaj, also a Rastafarian, is the author of Rastafari: From Religion
to Social Theory. An abstract of his article reads as follows: [v] various aspects of culture
are reviewed in order to expose some of the hurdles which must be negotiated on our
path to self-determination. The African cultural heritage is described, especially as it
explains the evolution of Rastafari. A critique is provided in which limitations of Rasta-
fari and religions, in general, are highlighted. Finally, further growth of the vision of
Rastafari is shown to be contingent on the development of a Social Theory from the
mythology of Rastafari. This Social Theory is examined with regards to ten issues:
Marcus Garvey, the Bible, the Creator, Africa, foods, ganja, personal appearance, politics,
power and resources, and aggression. This synthesis is not intended to facilitate move-
ment to the left nor the right, but instead, forward as an African people." His faith in the
capacity of Rastafarian thought, sense and sensibility to transform themselves into a
coherent guide for practical action, challenges the skepticism of many progressive or
radical thinkers in the region who think that Rastafari lack the potential for the unity of
theory and praxis, Dr. Semaj is convinced that [t] he most pressing issue that we
presently face is in the area of ideological clarification as to who we are as a people and
where we ourselves are going." He is confident that "Rastafari provides the basis by
which some of these questions can be asked." But, he concludes, "unless a social theory is
developed answers at best will be long in coming."
Mark Lee's and Don Rickett's two poems Scientific Animalism and Apocalypso
complete the offerings by members of the Rastafarian faith to this issue. All these writers
would endorse the view that the movement, long investigated by outsiders, "ought [now]
to be examined from within." But this need not lead to the indulgence of epistemological
fallacy. So this issue of Caribbean Quarterly carries articles by scholars whose views from
"outside the movement" offer deep and much clearer insights into various aspects of the
movement which since the late 1960s has primed the urge for clarification among the
wider society, especially with respect to areas of life where the society's seeming certitude
is vigorously challenged and even threatened.
In Dread Talk: The Speech of the Rastafarians in Jamaica Velma Pollard not only
introduces "a discussion on the language that has evolved ... particularly on the lexical
items that have emerged as a result of the impact of the movement on the Jamaican
speech situation", but also offers what may in time prove to be a seminal work of impor-
tance to Caribbean lexical classification. If "siin aiya" translates, as she informs us it does,
"Yes brother, I agree with you", then this represents just one example of a category of
lexical items that bear new meanings for listeners from non-Rastafarian constituencies.
There are also words which bear the weight of their phonological implications though in
need of explanation for further understanding. "Downpress" which is used for "oppress"
makes more sense to the Rastaman, then, since if one is being pressed (weighted) down
by the injustice and marginality of his Babylonian captivity, this pressure cannot possibly
be "up" (sc. "op").
The play on words a Jamaican facility that extends from theatrical punning to
everyday speech is artlessly embraced by the Rastafarians in the repertoire of "I" (ai)
words which Mrs. Pollard indicates will, on closer examination, disclose that "ai" is not
merely used as a pronominal form to replace the Jamaican Creole "mi" but is also used as
prefix to some nouns as replacement for the initial sound in any number of words of
varying function in a sentence. So "declaration" in the phrase "Declaration of Human
Rights" becomes "aiklerieshan" .. according to Mrs. Pollard. The relationship of the
lexical formulations to a social context of economic deprivation, powerlessness and cul-
tural subjugation is only hinted at (this not being the main thrust of her paper) but Mrs.
Pollard rightly informs the reader that "the reaction of the class-room teacher, like the
reaction of the middle-class parent, is perhaps less a reaction to any linguistic threat than
to the social impact of a movement they fear and do not understand." The Rastafarian
movement in defiance of a society perceived as oppressive (downpressing) defies the
society's language. "Ai man a penetrat something els" is an eloquent sampling of the easy
admixture of Jamaican Creole and Dread Talk. It means in Jamaican Standard English
"I was thinking deeply about something else."
The assault on the society's established languages) is not the sole manifestation of
the rebellious spirit exhibited by the Rastaman in social protest. According to Dennis
Forsythe in West Indian Culture through the Prism of Rastafarianism, Rastafari replaces
the villainous anancy as animal totem in the cultural ethos of the traditionally powerless
lower-class Jamaican with the heroic African Lion as "the supreme international power
totem" complete with physical strength, intelligence, regal mein and authoritative hairy
mane. "The lion mask at this stage", writes Dr. Forsythe, "is for some only another
anancy disguise but for others", he concludes, "it is symbolic of a deeper emotional break
with the past and as such is equivalent to a baptism. It reflects a psychological dispo-
sition", he adds, "amounting to a willingness to change and move on". If, as Dr. Forsythe
claims, Rastafarians are successful in substituting this symbol of pride, self-assurance,
strength and sense of power for the cunning and calculated duplicity long associated with
the powerless Jamaican masses, they would have had yet another fundamental influence
on the cultural life of the Jamaican poorer classes and by extension, the deprived through-
out the Caribbean.
And well they might for their influence has spread beyond Jamaica's borders to the
Eastern Caribbean, North America and Great Britain. Horace Campbell's The Rastafarians
in the Eastern Caribbean traces the recent chequered history of the Rastafarian move-
ment in the Eastern Caribbean (St Lucia, Dominica, Grenada, St Vincent and Trinidad)
where Rastas live in poverty and suffer police harassment as ready targets of draconian
laws which reflect the unease their presence causes the power-structures in some of those
islands. An insurrection in the St Vincent Grenadines against the government in St
Vincent, participation in the overthrow of a Grenadian despot, the emergence of Rasta-
fari as a strong and vibrant force in Trinidad where Indian youths (as Chinese and Whites
have done in Jamaica) identify with the "culture of resistance" of the Black youths all
these events describe the nature and extent of the influence of the movement in the
Commonwealth Caribbean at least.
Ernest Cashmore's "Rastaman The Rastafari Movement in Britain" speaks to
the British experience and is reviewed in this issue by Dr Campbell himself. Barry
Chevannes, a student of the movement, reviews "Black Religion in the New World "by
George Eaton Simpson, a pioneer investigator into the life and religion of Rastafari.
An examination of the bibliography indicates the growing interest in the Rastafari
movement among a wide range of investigators and other interested persons. The growth
of such interest since the late 1950s is not surprising since the advent of independence
brought with it greater assertion by the popular masses for full-blooded participation in
the important dimensions of national life. The Rastafarians have been the most spectacu-
lar, and one of the most significant, manifestations of this assertion with their declaration
of Haile Selassie of Ethiopia as God on earth and of Ethiopia and Black Africa as the
Promised Land. This re-interpretation of the Old Testament (itself a staple diet for all the
Anglophone ex-colonies of the Caribbean) has thrown up a vibrant cosmology and a theo-
logy of liberation that places the Black man, long denigrated, at the centre of the cosmos.
The political implications of such an assertion are not lost on those who have inherited
power from the British raj. Widespread participation of young Caribbean men and women
in giving form and purpose to this powerful cultural expression has raised questions of
doubt in the minds of those political leaders resulting in draconian laws against 'dreads'
(the awesome designation adopted by many of the adherents of the Rastafarian faith) and
revolt against constituted authority in at least one Caribbean island. The Grenada revolu-
tion is said to have had the active support of Grenadian Rastafarians in that country.
All this points to a number of questions: Are young Caribbean youths to be
allowed to participate in this particular cultural phenomenon whose 'negative features' of
marijuana-smoking and denunciation of Western society as 'Babylon' are detested by
established elites; or once committed are they, as Rastafarians, to be allowed to be effec-
tive agents of change especially when such change is likely to disturb, in fundamental ways,
received values like the established concepts of God? Can the image of God be Black in a
society which prides itself in being multiracial and is Eurocentric in many of its essentials?
Is not the worship of Haile Selassie, only recently dead, blasphemy? Yet, would not this
have been the same argument used against the worship of a freshly crucified Jesus two
thousand years ago? Is the Rastafarian journey to the much hankered-after equality via
the notion of everyone being divine an acceptable notion in a society reared on the idea
of Original Sin and the mandatory humility of Man before God? Is there not in Rasta-
farian fundamentalism an incipient revolutionary streak of chronic disobedience to all
earthly authority unless it is sanctified by Jah the Rastaman's Jehovah?
Such are some of the deeper problems for the Caribbean's inherited cultural norms
and for political directorates who must face the 'heresies' of movements like Rastafari
with foreboding, knowing that the right to participation by their citizenries was itself
fundamental to their and their forbears' fight for self-determination, independence and
Any chronology highlighting the Rastaman's history needs to be based firstly from
within Ethiopia's history. It needs also to be based in "literate" as well as "oral sources".
Recent historical investigations done in Jamaica by E.S.P. McPherson1 have "revealed"
new dates related to the Rastaman's histography that were previously not recorded by the
literate world/sources. It is this focality of history/tradition, oral historical investigation,
that has brought to fore the Rastaman's earnest history and it is.with such a historical/
traditional tool that the Rastaman can counter Euro-oriented/Eurocentric "written
stories representing a truth what in fact derives from ignorance, error or envy". Black/
Ethiopian/Rasta history is "orally" based, and need not fear losing any of its' literal value.
The.format of the chronology is intended to reflect the historical continuity from Afri-
cans/Ethiopians at home to Africans in the Diaspora.
This edited Chronology is based on a larger work being conducted by E. S. P.
McPherson: The complete Chronology will be published later this year.
14thC Moses takes an Ethiopian wife (Numbers 22) Ethiopia is identified as Son of
lOthC Makeda, Queen of Saba (Sheba), visits Solomon and conceives Menelik I, who is
subsequently annointed King of Ethiopia by Solomon.
4thC Ethiopia converted to Christianity with the conversion of Qezanas (Ezawa) 3.
1150 Zague Dynasty come to power, claiming descent from Moses and Ethiopian wife.
1270 Zague Dynasty ejected. Solomon Dynasty re-established by Emperor Yekuno
13C Solomon-Makeda Sheba folklore written into Geez records.
1559 Emperor Meenas outlaws Roman Catholicism for Ethiopians.
1565 Queen Elizabeth 1 gives John Hawkins a Royal Charter and her personal ship the
S. S. Jesus of Lubeck to transport slaves from Africa to the West Indies.
1748 Earliest literate source showing Black African slaves in the Caribbean (Jamaica)
identifying themselves as Ethiopian.
1885 The Berlin Conference of 1885 partitioning of Africa by European powers.
1891 Alexander Bedward gets vision of "Three Crowns Mystery" foretelling Emperor
Haile Selassie advent/reign.
1896 Italians defeated by Emperor Menelik II near Adua (Adowa) (Tigre).
1916 Marcus Garvey founded the U.N.I.A. and the African Communities League
1929 Garvey formed the People's Progressive Party. In September he was arrested for
a placard of his manifesto. In October he was elected to Kingston and St.
1930 November 2nd Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned Emperor Haile Selassie I,
the 225th monarch of the Solomonic Dynasty. (*Howell attended the Corona-
1930 The Moscow Congress in Russia at which Haile Selassie I was elected head of the
Nyahbinghi Order. He was chosen/recognized as the Messiah, a Savior of Black
people and the Emperor of the Black Kingdom.
1931 Hibbert returns from Costa Rica and begins to preach Haile Selassie as the
Returned Messiah and Redeemer of Isreal.
1932 Hibbert forms the Ethiopian Coptic Faith in which the Ethiopic Bible of Saint
Sosimas was used extensively.
1932 Howell returns to Jamaica from the U.S.A. to catalyze the traditional conscious-
ness based on the divine Kingship of His Majesty Haile Selassie.
1932 Paul Earlington, Vernal Davis, Ferdinand Rickets and Robert Hinds (a former
Bedwardite) continue Rastafari doctrine.
1933 H. Archibald Dunkley formed Kings of Kings Mission. December 10, the literate
world first mention of Rastafari (in the Gleaner).
1934 L. P. Howell tells people to await ship on August 1, for redemption.
1935 Italian invasion of Ethiopia.
1937 His imperial Majesty empowered Dr. Malaku E. Bayen to establish the Ethiopian
1938 Paul Earlington forms the E. W. F. local (local 17) in Jamaica.
1939 Howell's Ethiopian Salvation Union renamed Ethiopian Salvation Benevolent
1940 (Early 1940) The House of the Youth Black Faith was founded by Ras Boanerges,
Phillip Panhandle, Breda Arthur and others.
1940 Pinnacle Estate in Sligoville, St. Catherine, was bought by L. P. Howell (Note:
this first Rasta commune was where the first free village was established after
'given emancipation' in 1938).
1941 May 5 H. I. M. re-enters Ethiopia as victor over Italians.
1941 Arrest of L. P. Howell and members of pinnacle Commune for growing ganja and
1941 J. N. Hibbert established a local branch of the Ethiopian Mystic Masons.
1942 H Y B F started the Nyahbingi drumming (Burro drums were transformed by the
43 HYBF to the heartbeat trob).
1943 L. P. Howell returned to Pinnacle after release from prison.
1953 Professor George Eaton Simpson from the U. S. A. began field study among four
Rasta groups in Kingston. The 1st academic/literate research began on the Rasta
1954 Government/Police finally breaks up the Pinnacle Commune.
1955 Henry visited Ethiopia and returned to Jamaica satisfied that H. I. M. was indeed
the returned Messiah. He then built the African Reform Church.
Continued on Page 97
THE RASTAFARI SUCCESSORS OF MARCUS GARVEY
During the period November 1980 to November 1987, the Rastafari.are celebrat-
ing the Golden Jubilee Anniversary Sabbath of their Conception. To many people, Rastas
are both a song and a riddle, a song unto the sky and a riddle unto the earth. The Nyah-
man will ever be a song but can no longer remain a riddle. Noted Guyanese Historian,
Walter Rodney, once said of the Rastafari, "... I got knowledge from them, real know-
ledge. You have to speak to Jamaican Rasta, and you will have to listen to him, listen
very carefully, and then you will hear him tell you about the word. And when you listen
to him and you go back and read Muntu, an academic text, and read about Nomo, an
African concept for the word, and you say, 'Goodness the Rastas know this,' they knew
it before Janheinz Jahn ... You have to listen to their drums to get the message of the
A very vibrant part of the Black diaspora, the Nyahman has always been in the
forefront of the Black Consciousness Movement, spawned by Marcus Mosiah Garvey. As
Rodney said, "The present Black Power Movement in the United States is a rejection of
hopelessness and the policy of doing nothing to halt the oppression of Blacks by Whites.
It recognizes the absence of Black Power on this Globe. Marcus Garvey was one of the first
advocates of Black Power, and is still today the greatest spokesman ever to have been
produced by the Movement of Black Consciousness. 'A Race without power and author-
ity is a Race without respect', wrote Garvey. He spoke to all Africans on the earth,
whether they lived in Africa, South America, the West Indies or North America, and he
made Blacks aware of their strength when united .. ."
Although Rastas endured centuries of white downpression, the dreadlocks are not
victims of white racism, for victims submit while the Nyahman and the Binghiman have
never bowed their knees to Babylon. So, to paraphrase Black American author, Sam
Greenlee, sing no Blues for the Rastaman, for the Nyahman sings his own, and to a
conscious Blackman, redemption Blues are a freedom song. Emphasizing that a free and
conscious Black Mind is a high-calibre weapon, this article was written to mark the Gold-
den Jubilee Sabbath of the Rastafari and also to commemorate the 94th anniversary of
the birth of Marcus Garvey.
TENASTILING! SALAAM ALAIKUM, which is to say, Peace Be Unto Each And Every
Man, during 1980 to 1987 the Rastafari Conception marks the 50th Anniversary of its
existence in its present form in Jamaica. To outside observers, Rastafari is virtually a
kind of mystic movement which has survived a half century of unrestrained armed aggres-
sion, political opportunism, economic strangulation, as well as social and religious intoler-
ance and discrimination, to emerge stronger than ever today. One of the main reasons for
this survival, is that the roots of the people from whom I and I, the Rastafari, emerged,
lie deeply embedded in the noteworthy history of the "Black Experience". These roots
grew up from the Hebrew History of African Peoples, in general and Ethiopian People,
in particular, can be traced through the legendary legacy of the Koramantee "Tribe",
who came to Jamaica during slavery and continued up through the epic experiences of
(especially the Eastern Blue Mountain) Maroons. These were a people in whom was
inherently embodied the self-reliant independence, versatility and creativity of those
who came to be and are still called Maroons; the nobility, fearlessness and strength of
mind and physical constitution said to be the hallmarks of the true Koramantee, in addi-
tion to the historical destiny and spiritual identity prophesied for the Hebrews of African
extract. Out of these people came Nanny the Mountain Matriarch, Tacky, Sam Sharpe,
Paul Bogle, Alexander Bedward and Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the great international Black
(African) Power Advocate, Philosopher and Organizer. These were the same people from
whom the Rastafari emerged to take over, build up and ultimately to complete the inter-
national work begun by Garvey. So it was, that in 1930 an Ancient Nation was re-born
with the emergence of I and I The Caribbean Mau-Mau, on the streets of Kingston,
coinciding with celebrations christening the Coronation in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, of Ras
Tafari as H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie the First, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the
Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Despite any real or apparent variations, I and I
held a number of concepts in common.
(a) The conviction of heart and mind that Negus-Prester Selassie I is Christ
Incarnate in his kingly character and that in this Biblical Dispensation, the
Almighty Spirit of Jehovah-Elohim, the Eternal One, is first and foremost
expressed through H.I.M., King David's Greater Son, Janhoi the Lion of
(b) That the African Peoples to be found in the Western Hemisphere are the
re-incarnation and descendants of the original Hebrew Israelites who were
already racially mixed with Jebusites, Zemarites, Amorites, Elamites, Cushites
and Nubian Egyptians, before being widely dispersed through the African
Interior after the death by Crucifixion and Resurrection to ever-living life of
the Christed Nazarite Redeemer from Galilee almost two thousand years ago.
(c) That Continental Ethiopia (Africa in General) and, in particular, modern-day
political Ethiopia (formerly Abyssinia), is part of the divine heritage of
African descendants the world over, who, if so desirous, should be re-patri-
ated to the Motherland, where their fathers loved to be. And
(d) That Jamaica and the so-called West Indies are part of a white Western Civili-
zation of corruption, which through the soon to be resurrected European-
based Holy Roman Empire, represents the iniquitous Mystery, Babylon of
antiquity and promotes its decadent devil-devised doctrine to the detriment
of deluded mankind and which sinful shitstem (system) will therefore be
destroyed in a predestinated apocalyptic judgement of volcanic eruptions,
earthquakes, lightning bolts, brimstone, molten lava, thunder, plagues, hurri-
canes, drought, famine, tidal waves, hail and heat waves ... in short, by what
could be described as a supernaturally controlled ecological backlash.
From its inception in 1930, Rastafari has been genuinely anti-imperialist, anti-
colonialist, anti-racist, as well as anti-downpression and anti-exploitation. This is typified
by the foundational Nyahbinghi Order, the basic tenet of which has always been "Death
to Black, Brown, Yellow, Red and White Downpressors." This motto makes no distinction
as to race and applies to both imperialists and colonialists, who share a common exploit-
ative class position. In Jamaica.and the Caribbean, I and I taking up the work begun by
Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), were the first
large-scale Roots Group this century to advocate black consciousness, pride and power,
the elimination of all social barriers, the liberation and continental unity of Africa, in
addition to the solidarity of all down-pressed peoples throughout the world. It should
be noted that part of the UNIA's purpose was to establish a universal confraternity
among the race, to promote the spirit of race pride and love and to reclaim the fallen of
the race. I and I preceded the 1938 Labour Movement and the present established politi-
cal parties, People's National Party and Jamaica Labour Party (PNP-JLP) by between 8
and 14 years, and thus form the oldest nation-wide and regional progressive movement
this century in Jamaica and the Caribbean today. Because of the steadfast, solo stand of
the dreadlocked Rastaman during the 30s, 40s and 50s in defence of international
morality, human rights and social justice, he was subjected to a harsh, prolonged period
One of the first to suffer was Leonard P. Howell, one of the father-figures for first
generation Garveyite Rastafarians. In 1934, Howell was charged and found guilty of sedi-
tion for proclaiming Selassie I to be the Manifestation of El Shaddai, the Mighty One of
Israel. A few years later, Howell administered a large Rastafari Community at Pinnacle
near Sligoville in the hills overlooking Spanish Town. From 1941 until 1954, Pinnacle
was subjected to a number of police raids in which the Rastas were crudely trimmed of
their locks, assaulted and hounded out of their homes like fugitives. Basically, the anta-
gonistic attitude of the Jamaican "Society" changed not a tittle through the 1950s and
early 1960s. Among the more atrocious acts accomplished during the first 36 years of
Rastafari was the killing of a number of Rasta Brethren by the security forces in an
incident at Coral Gardens, St James, in the Easter Season of 1963. This closed the
chapter of outright large-scale persecution of I and I.
In April, 1966, in the capacity of Ethiopian Head of State and Government, Selassie
I made a historic three-day visit to Jamaica and, as it were, slackened the social shackles
inhibiting the progress of I and I. Since then, an increasing number of youth, both male
and female, have bolstered the healthy ranks of the Rastafari. Today. there are Rasta
doctors, pharmacists, pilots, teachers, nurses, electricians, bus drivers, architects, agrono-
mists, biologists, technicians, photographers. farmers, journalists, mechanics, machinists,
carpenters, masons, shoe-makers, tailors, accountants, civil servants and from time-to-time
on the radio, there is a "Dread at the Controls". In addition to countless more profes-
sions and trades, there are Rasta Basic, Primary, Secondary and High School Students, as
well as Rasta University and Commercial College Graduates, Rasta footballers and athle-
tes, not to speak of Chinese, East Indian and European converts to the Rasta faith. In
contrast, for imposters and impersonators, "Turning Rasta" has now become something
of a fad, a bandwaggon fashion. The adoption of the Rasta way of dressing (which isn't
dirty or untidy), Rasta speech patterns and the use of the international herb (cannabis)
by all sections of the "Society" has served to infiltrate the Pride of Lions (Rastafari) with
wolves (criminals), goats (hypocrites), foxes (tricksters), and jackasses (fad followers).
However, it has also served to protect and camouflage the true, disciplined roots disciples
of Selassie I in a kind of safety of numbers, allowing I and I to remain relatively un-
molested up to now amongst the mass of leaves, branches and stems.
In cultural terms, the contribution of I and I to craft work, art and literature is
more than well documented. Without doubt, the single most crucial contribution of
Rastas has been in music. The fundamentally Messianic Message Music called Reggae
("To the King"), has certainly done more to unify the basically African Peoples of the
Caribbean than any, bar none, of the political "isms". This unity is typified by "Disco-
Mento-Rockers", which is a fusion of Steady-Roots-Rock, Mento, Kaiso and Calypso,
with a flavour of Soca. Reggae, the rhythmic roots of which are based in the Nyabinghi
drum-beat of I and I, is now poised to captivate the musical ear of the entire world. This
can be seen by Bob Marley's mid-1980 tour of Africa and Europe, the international
appeal of Peter Tosh, Burning Spear and Dennis Brown, to name only a few, as well as
from the recent record-breaking trip to Azania and Soweto by Jimmy Cliff the truth of
these words was graphically illustrated by the 1980 Reggae Sunsplash here in Kingston.
Most, if not all of the white visitors to the Festival came for essentially three things only:
to listen to Roots-Rock-Reggae, to smoke good Jamaican herb (which they say is the best
in the world for meditation), and to discover just who I and I, the Rastafari really are.
These people came from as far afield as Australia, Switzerland and Holland.
In regional terms, Rastafari has succeeded in fostering a genuine fraternity where
the Caribbean Federation, CARIFTA and CARICOM have all failed. Today, throughout
the Region, in the Spanish, French, English and Dutch-speaking islands, the spiritual,
social and cultural common denominator, especially among an increasing number of
youth, is Rastafari. In spite of frantic bureaucratic and paranoid establishment efforts to
counter, and indeed to stamp out I and I, Rastafari has taken deep roots. Almost beyond
the comprehension of many analysts, the conception has mushroomed to an extent that
nowhere in the Region can Rastafarian Communities be isolated, brutalized or victimized
without a world-wide howl of headline protest, instead of the usual back-page murmur of
Despite Rastafari's positive contribution to the world community at large, inter-
national imperialist political interests, transnational corporate economic entities, as well
as sectarian regional regimes in the Caribbean, all seek to promote a distorted, stereo-
typed image of the Rastaman in a vain attempt to relegate him to the rigid role reserved
for the outcasts of this world. Here in Jamaica, all the traditional Rasta-haters still scorn
and scandalize I and I. These Rasta-haters would do well to note the respect, admiration
and love that peoples of all races and nationalities have for the true Rastas. They should
note that their relatives and acquaintances in the National Dance Theatre Company base
many of their best cultural works on the epic story of I and I. They should note that
many ordinary Cubans, our nearest neighbours, recognize and admit that the Rastafari
form the largest militant grassroots movement in Jamaica and have, in fact, formed the
basis of the Island's vanguard of modern "Freedom-Fighters" since 1930. These Cubans
(not the kind that are exiled in Miami) are amazed that I and I didn't organize to take
political power in Jamaica years ago. Finally, Rasta-haters should remember that in
Grenada, dreadlocked Rastafari Brethren were in the front-line of the armed uprising to
oust the Dictator, Eric Gairy, and still, to this day, form the militant and numerical
backbone of the People's Revolutionary Army. Thus, the petty, parochial prejudices
displayed against Rastas today are undeserved, uncalled for and useless.
Despite futile attempts to involve foundation members of the Rastafari in partisan,
local 'Politricks", I and I still hold fast to the original conception that Janhoi, Selassie I
is the manifest Messiah, Jah-Rastafari, and declare that he didn't die as claimed by the
international Zionist-controlled news media. Speaking of media, I and I knew that The
Daily Gleaner and The Star newspapers were using techniques of psychological warfare,
decades before political scientist, Dr Fred Landis, came to Jamaica to prove it to those
who still required convincing. Some nine months of misleading and inaccurate Gleaner
and Star headlines about Ethiopia's "Creeping Coup" Revolution in 1974, served as yet
another case study,which adequately illustrated the Gleaner publication's role in reaction-
ary reporting. The Jamaica Daily News wasn't faultless in that episode either. And, the
now-infamous "Foreign-Press" campaign in the mid-1970s to discredit Jamaica's image
abroad, only served as another example of the view propounded by I and I, namely,
that the imperialist-orientated transnational Western mass media engaged in a calculated,
concentrated campaign of false and mischievous reporting, designed to tarnish the inte-
grity and reputation of Selassie I. This campaign culminated in the fictitious story of the
Emperor's death, a death which produced no corpse, no funeral, no grave and no ashes.
I and I also still hold fast the concept of Black Redemption in terms of repatriation
to Africa. Men and people say this is a preposterous and idle illusion, which is no nearer
reality today than 50 years ago, but what are the facts? In 1961, the administration of the
late Norman W. Manley, then Premier of Jamaica, sponsored a nine-man mission to five
African States, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone, to explore the possi-
bilities of re-settlement in Africa. The mission was led by Dr L. C. Leslie MD, who served
as adviser, along with author and journalist, Victor Reid. Other members were Filmore
Alveranga, Douglas Mack and Mortimer Planno of the Rastafari Movement, Westmore
Blackwood of the UNIA, Dr M. B. Douglas of the Afro-Caribbean League, Cecil G.
Gordon of the Ethiopian World Federation Incorporated, and Z. Munroe Scarlett of the
Afro-West Indian Welfare League. The official report of the Mission to Parliament said,
". The Mission found in all the territories, a ready acceptance of 'Repatriation of
Africans Living Abroad, to the Ancestral Land', as it was enunciated by the delegates on
the mission. Since the mission was not empowered to enter into commitments with these
African States, their Governments declared their readiness to enter into discussions with
your (N. W. Manley's) Government so as to deal with the mechanics of future migrations
... the African hosts to the Mission all observed that persons entering Africa in any
migration scheme should do so with the intention of becoming permanent residents in
the country, and not as transients. The question of citizenship would present no diffi-
culty, they pointed out, since special arrangements would be made in this connection ...
of particular significance, the mission considers, was the enthusiasm with which the
African States marked this first serious exertion in a hundred years to activate the Back-
to-Africa idea cherished in many countries. The mission found in Africa, former West
Indian, Brazilian, Mexican and American Black nationals, whose ancestors had been
taken to Brazil, Mexico, the US and the West Indies as slaves. The comment from these
and from African statesmen was laudatory of the boldness and penetration with which
the Jamaican Government had tackled the idea."
While in Ethiopia, the first official leg of the tour, the Mission visited the Sheshem-
ani Land Settlement and met James and Helen Piper, originally from Monsterrat, who
were the chief settlers in 1961. Sheshemani was part of extensive Land Grants set aside
by Janhoi over 20 years before the Mission for the purpose of settling the coloured
peoples of the West, desirous of living in Ethiopia. The Land Grants were to be adminis-
tered through the Ethiopian World Federation, which was established in 1937. And, while
in Addis, the visitors met the Venerable Ethiopian Monarch, H.I.M. Haile Selassie 1. Speak-
ing in Amharic, the Emperor told the Mission that "he knew the black peoples of the
West, and particularly Jamaica, were blood brothers to the Ethiopians and he knew that
slaves were sent from Ethiopia to Jamaica. He said that we should send the RIGHT
PEOPLE. The Emperor said Ethiopia was large enough to hold all the peoples of African
descent living outside Africa . ." In Nigeria, the second leg, an early call was paid to the
Oba (King) of Lagos, who declared that "West Indians migrating to Nigeria would be
welcome, not as immigrants, but as people returning 'to the land of their Fathers' "... A
high point of the week in Lagos was the meeting with the Governor-General, Dr Azikiwe
who spoke warmly of "the debt owed to West Indian teachers, pastors and settlers by the
West African Nations." The Nigerian Governor-General observed that his own work
towards the independence of his country was, in large measure, a result of the philoso-
phies of Marcus Garvey. And Dr Esin, then Minister of State for External Affairs, cited
and compared the "Back-to-Africa Movement with the Jewish Restoration to Israel and
advanced that Nigeria could 'absorb all the three millions in the West Indies without any
trouble' ". "The people of African origin in the West 'are bound to come home'," said the
Senator ... In Ibadan, the Chief Secretary and head of the Civil Service for Western
Nigeria, Chief Adepo, pledged that "the Civil Service would do all in its power 'to pro-
mote the Back-to-Africa Movement,' because the peoples of the West Indies were African."
And in Enugu, the Premier of Eastern Nigeria, Dr Michael Okapara said: "his Govern-
ment welcomed their African Brothers from the West Indies, particularly Jamaica, and
was very pleased, indeed, to see us all now look to Africa as our home, for Africa is the
original home of all black people". Continuing Dr Okapara said he must apologize for his
ancestors, who used to sell his brothers in slavery to America and the West Indies and
other parts of the world, but was glad to see that "all is forgotten. ."
The story was basically the same on the third leg of the tour, Ghana. Ninety-two-
year-old Chief Nii Amoo Nakwah the Second, Obtobulum Mensta, the oldest of all
Chiefs in Ghana, told the Mission from Jamaica of what happened when slaves were leav-
ing the Gold Coast, centuries ago. ". . Agreements were made between the Portuguese
and Dutch and the Chiefs to return these slaves within a given period of years, but they
never did. Seeing us now, he knew that we were some of those people (and) said that the
time had come for black peoples' return". In Accra, the Mission met Ghana's President,
Dr Kwame Nkrumah, who said, . ."How shall I put it? Our meeting is historic. It has
historic significance, not only because we're blood relations, but also because so many
attempts were previously made and failed. Marcus Garvey tried and was prevented." The
President also said that he was 'happy that there were forces at work in the Caribbean',
which were responsible for the present Mission. He expressed his agreement with the
Back-to-Africa Movement and paid tribute to Marcus Garvey, who had been his 'inspira-
tion'. He said that the Back-to-Africa desire had to be realistically approached. The two
peoples, West Indians and Africans had developed separately over the intervening years
when they were apart. There would have to be adjustments.
The next country visited was Liberia, where the door to immigrants has been left
open since 1955. President William Tubman told the Mission that ". .Liberia, ever since
the Republic was founded, had existing immigration laws which allowed for people of
African descent from the West Indies and elsewhere to settle here". The President said
that Liberia would be open to all peoples of African descent, whether they were Rasta-
farians or not".
It is noteworthy that Liberia was founded by an earlier Back-to-Africa Movement in
1820, when 88 settlers left New York in the ship "Elizabeth". As for the final territory of
the tour, Sierra Leone, this country owed its establishment partly to people from Jamaica.
In the 18th century, maroons, rebelling against the slave shitstem, stopped fighting only
to be betrayed by the Governor and banished to Nova Scotia in Canada. Reduced severely
by the harsh Canadian climate, the militant maroons were subsequently sent to Sierra
Leone. Fittingly, therefore, Freetown was the site for the Government-sponsored
Mission's final meeting with an African leader, Prime Minister, Sir Milton Margai.
"The Mission's reasons for visiting Sierra Leone were given and Sir Milton said the
principle of repatriation of West Indians, whose ancestors had been forcibly removed
from Africa, was accepted. There was no question about the desirability of having them
nor of the welcome they would receive, he said ... All the African Governments were
willing to negotiate in re-settling people in Africa. In every State that we visited, the
Rastafarian brethren expressed to each Government, our conception of His Imperial
Majesty, as the Messiah. In Ethiopia and some of the other States, this conception was
not disputed; only in Liberia was there any opposition."
During the Mission's presence in England, the brethren petitioned Jamaica's Queen,
Elizabeth the Second, seeking her financial assistance in the repatriation effort. Eliza-
beth-R. replied, through former Colonial Secretary, lan McLeod, saying she would do all
she could to help I and I re-settle in Africa but would await a report on the Mission from
the Jamaican Constitutional sub-Committee (Government) of the British Parliament.
And, brothers Alveranga and Mack of the 1961 Mission, along with Samuel Clayton, in a
self-sponsored Mission to the United Nations in 1964, met UN officials on the 33rd floor
of the UN building in the absence of the Secretary-General at the time, U Thant. The
officials explained that the UN had no power to take up the case unless the Jamaican
Government presented a case to the organization.
Today, almost 20 years after first receiving the favourable report on the possibilities
of repatriation, successive Jamaica Labour Party and People's National Party administra-
tions have done nothing to bring the matter before the UN, have done nothing to
persuade Britain to face up to its Constitutional and moral obligations to the peoples of
African origin in its former Caribbean territories, have failed to carry negotiations on
repatriation any further with African States. Skeptics should remember that it was a
large-scale nautical slave trade in human cargo that brought I and I to the West in the first
place. Remember that during this century, Jamaica has witnessed the mass migration of
I and I fathers and grandfathers to Panama, Costa Rica, Cuba, the USA, Canada and the
UK, among other places, on various labour projects. Remember that thousands of Viet-
namese and Cambodians have been transported all over the world, supposedly as "Politi-
cal refugees". Remember that just the other day, a fleet of boats was organized to
take thousands of Cubans from their homeland to Miami, among other places. Remember
that as it was always against the will of our ancestral fathers and mothers to come and
remain here, so today, it is still against the will of I and I and all Rastafari.
I and I are adamant that the Rastafari Conception, expressed, in apart, through the
ideals of what has been dubbed, "Black Power", is something for the good of all peoples
of African blood, whatever their political persuasion and whether they live in Jamaica,
the Caribbean, South, Central and North America or anywhere else in the world. And just
what is meant by Black Power? In the words of Pan-Africanist, Kwame Nkrumah: ... "by
Black Power, we mean the power of the four-fifths of the world population which has
been damned into a state of under-development by colonialism and neo-colonialism. In
other words, Black Power is the sum total of the economic, cultural and political power
which the black man must have in order to achieve his survival in a highly developed tech-
nical society and in a world ravaged by Imperialism, Colonialism, Neo-Colonialism and
Racially, the term applies specifically to the African Race, but in essence, "black"
encompasses all the non-white peoples of the world. And who is a Pan-Africanist? He or
she is one seeking: the liberation of Africa from all forms of racism, colonialism and
imperialism; the total political, economic, military and spiritual unification of the conti-
nent and the freedom from exploitation of all down-pressed peoples throughout the
world (including the white working class). However, essential to the furtherance of these
ideals, is the initial unity of blacks, whose objective condition (viz. the USA, Canada and
Britain) is actually deteriorating despite white and black-apologist-assisted propaganda to
the contrary. In the big US cities, the racial grievances that sparked the fires of the 1960s
still smoulder as the rate of black unemployment has doubled since 1969. During late
May, 1980, Miami's liberty city exploded in three days of black rage conforming to the
classic 60s pattern. "White Amerika" hasn't seen anything like it since the eruption in
the 1960s of places like Watts, Newark and Detroit, and the flammable sparks are still
flying in communities like Orlando and Chattanooga. A similar situation has developed in
places like Brixton, Birmingham and Manchester in England, where it's clear that
although the Teddy Boys, the Mods and the Rockers have given way to the Skinheads
and the Punks, nothing has really changed, for the neo-Nazi National Front is as Fascist
and racist today as it ever was. So more power to brothers like the Cimmerons, Steel
Pulse and Linton Kwesi Johnson. And in America, the Down-South Red-Neck Crackers are
still as fragile as stale biscuits and the Ofays in the paranoid Klu Klux Klan are still hiding
underneath the dirty sheets with which they cover their faces. The international common
denominatior in black resistance to all forms of institutionalized racist "White Power", is
the Rastafari. The young-bloods in Harlem will certainly never forget Bob Marley's
Concert there, neither will blacks, resident in Europe, forget the likes of the tip-top Tosh
and the conscious Congoes. And the black militants in Soweto, Azania, will always
remember the record-breaking visit there in 1980 by Jimmy Cliff (Na 'im Bashir).
So, as the time is obviously ripe for the black man's redemption, no one should
be surprised that, as a matter of survival, there has been a new black uprising. In North
America, the Twelve Tribes of Israel have now been identified, building on the base estab-
lished independently by the 'original Hebrew Israelite Nation' which was founded in
Chicago's sprawling South-Side. The Twelve Tribes of Ishmael have also re-emerged in the
West through the nation of Islam. Both Ishmael and Israel share Ibrahim (Abraham -
the Father of Many Nations) as their common progenitor, hold the Levite Moses and the
Nazarite Christ as great prophets, study basically the same Scriptures, and have substan-
tial black adherents in the West. This basis for black unity was cemented long ago by
Marcus Garvey, the 'Black Moses' whose UNIA had over two million members in some
forty countries around the world, and who established the framework on which Noble
Drew Ali, Prophet W. D. Fard and Elijah Muhammad built the nation of Islam in the early
1930s. Professor N. Hodges, a young Afro-American historian summed up the point in his
book, 'Black History', when he said, "today the Black Power or Black Movement in the US
is simply Garveyism revived. The Blacks across the United States in the 1970s recognized
that Garvey, with his drive for a spiritual, and, when practical, physical return to Africa
among the demoralized and down-trodden Blacks of the Americas, must be considered
the true Father of Black Power in the modern world. A son of the Black Masses of
Jamaica, Garvey never forgot his humble origins and he became the first Black Leader in
America, capable of mobilizing the Masses into a Protest Movement with potential, so
powerful, that one suspects both national and international forces manipulated his down-
fall ..." Historical evidence supports this latter view. President Charles Dunbar King of
Liberia was apparently impressed with Garvey's scheme for re-settlement in his Country.
This was to have begun in 1924, but the British and French Governments became alarmed
over the implications of the Garvey Movement and brought direct pressure to bear on
Liberia. Subsequently, the Liberian Government sent a diplomatic note to the United
States Government announcing that it was "irrevocably opposed, both in principle and
in fact, to the incendiary policies of the UNIA headed by Marcus Garvey". The lands
promised to Garvey were thus leased to the multi-national Firestone Rubber Corporation.
Accordingly, the British Government lauded the Liberian President for his "courage and
statesmanship", while the French Government made him a Chevalier of the French
Legion of Honour. Yet again, as always, the Cains, Jezebels, Judases, Uncle Toms, Bag
O' Wires, Mother Muschettes and the wide variety of House-Niggers, proved to be a
stumbling block in the path of progress.
I and I, as internationalists, declare that the selected speeches and utterances of
Garvey form the political framework within which the solution to the problems of the
black race can be found. One may well ask, what are some of the things that Garvey said?
In his own words, ". . no one knows when the hour of Africa's redemption cometh. It is
in the wind. It is coming. One day, like a storm, it will be here. When that day comes, all
Africa will stand together ... the political re-adjustment of the world means this that
every race must find a home; hence ... (blacks) are raising the cry of 'Africa for the
Africans', those at home and those abroad ... the only wise thing for us as ambitious
(blacks) to do, is to organize the world over and build up for the race a mighty nation of
our own in Africa ... it is hoped that when the time comes for American and West Indian
(Blacks) to settle in Africa, they will realize their responsibility and their duty ... we
want only those things that belong to the Black Race. Africa is ours. To win Africa we
will give up America, we will give up our claim in all parts of the world, but we must have
Africa . the thoughtful and industrious of our race want to go back to Africa, because
we realize it will be our only hope of permanent existence. We can not all go in a day, or a
year, even ten or twenty years. It will take time under the rule of modern economics to
entirely or largely de-populate a country of a people who have been its residents for
centuries ... we do not want all the Western Negroes in Africa. Some are no good here,
and naturally will be no good there . the thing to do is to get organized, keep separated
and you will be exploited, you will be robbed, you will be killed. Get organized, and you
will compel the world to respect you . in all life or death I shall come back to you to
serve even as I have served before. In life I shall be the same, in death I shall be terror to
the foes of (Black) Liberty. If death has power, then count on me in death to be the real
Marcus Garvey I would like to be. I may come in an earthquake, or cyclone, or plague, or
pestilence, or as (Jah) would have me, then be assured that I shall never desert you and
make your enemies triumph over you ..." These words, only some of the many uttered
by Garvey, speak for themselves.
The sentiments conveyed by Garvey's selected speeches were echoed by many of
his principal proteges. For instance, Nkrumah said, ".. real Black freedom will only
come when Africa is politically united ... to those who want to come back home and
fight for Africa's total emancipation, unity and independence, I say come home. We need
you ..." and after his epoch-making pilgrimage to Mecca, another of Garvey's disciples,
Iman Malcolm-X (El Hajj Malik El Shabazz), said, "... upon close study, one can easily
see a gigantic design to keep Africans .. and the African-Americans from getting toge-
ther . unity between the Africans of the West and the Africans of the Fatherland will
well change the course of history ... just as the (so-called) American Jew is in harmony
politically, economically and culturally with world Jewry, it is time for all African-Ameri-
cans to become an integral part of the world's Pan-Africanists .. ."
Many say Garvey is dead, yet it is clear that I and I as sons and daughters of Marcus
are still here making his philosophies a living reality in the 1980s. Garvey was the undis-
puted champion of the Black Race, of the poor, of the working class and of the down-
pressed. For this he was vigorously opposed in the land of his birth by the likes of
Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante, not to speak of the Gleaner. I and I have
been safeguarding Garvey's work for the past 50 years in an attempt to keep the predic-
ted bloodshed within limits and to help the successors of both Father Manley and Busta
to solve the host of problems they take on their heads when they assume political power
in Jamaica. These political power seekers would be well advised to be wary of advisors,
who suggest, instead, that the Rastafari are the country's real problem, for their prompt-
ing to try and eradicate I and I will surely only fan the already flickering flames of fire.
I and I are not planning a coup or storing weapons, yet I and I know that there
must be an international political, economic and social revolution, and support such a
change. Despite this, 1 and I are also clear that the fight is not against flesh and blood but
against principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high and low places. Thus the
critical and most crucial revolution still to occur is the spiritual-internal transformation of
the inner man of every man. A transformation of the heart, mind and thought of every
individual. The ultimate battle for the future is a telepathic tussle for the mind of
humanity, and in order to achieve the liberation of the soul, the latent Christ-Mind has to
be mobilized to prevent mental massacre. I and I, therefore, urge mankind to turn from
their evil ways and to seek their Creator before Mercy goes and Judgement comes, for
Alpha, the Life-Giver sent the Rastafari down into Babylon to warn the nations and to
tell them of Jah-Love. Love is the cohesive power that binds the positive and the true
together and makes them something natural for man to follow. Without love, the world
wouldn't have advanced to where it is today and, without war, (an expression of habitual
systemized thoughts and ideas of hate, envy, jealousy and greed), the world would have
advanced a hundred times further.
So greetings once again from the Rastafari, still domiciled on the former sugar,
banana and coffee slave-plantation, Isle of Jamaica. With the advent of the 1980s the
conflict has sharpened on every side and efforts to silence the spiritual voice of I and I are
increasing. Nevertheless, the Rastafari, descendants of the former field-slaves are still
chanting the same freedom song, while the heart beat of the Binghi drum throbs on. As
Marcus emphasized, ". . you cannot crucify a principle; . you cannot imprison it, you
cannot bury it. It will rise like the spirit of the Great Redeemer and take its flight down
the ages, until men far and near have taken up the cry for which the principle was
(supposedly) crucified .." The list of brothers and sisters persecuted or murdered for
advocating the principle of freedom in all its forms is long. It includes Kunta-Kinte,
Toussaint L'Ouverture, Nat Turner, Sojourner Truth, Paul Robeson, Martin Luther King,
Jnr., the Soledad Brothers, athletes Tommy Smith and John Carlos, Trinidadian-born
Stokely Carmichael, his wife Miriam Makeba, Franz Fanon, H. Rap Brown, George
Padmore, Eduardo Mondlane, Amilcar Cabral, Steve Biko, Nelson and Winnie Mandela,
and of course, Bob Marley. In addition to these, agents of the Babylonian Shitstem killed
Patrice Lumumba for his own Congolese rights, assassinated Malcolm-X for speaking the
truth and speaking it ever. And booby-bombed Walter Rodney for grounding with his
Caribbean Brothers. However, I and I won't mourn but will organize, for they'll never
succeed in exterminating the Rastafari, as one thousand of 1 and I are born every time
one life is taken. During the 1980s, therefore, I and I will continue working towards
Selassie I and Garvey's Pan-African aim of creating an All-African University, an All-
African Air Service, an All-African Highway Development Authority, an All-African
(Black-Star) Shipping Line, an All-African Telecommunications Union and an All-African
News Agency. These institutions will, hopefully, hasten the day when citizens of a free
Continent can sing the Anthem composed by a Xhosa Nationalist, "Ishe Komborera
Africa" Jah Bless Africa. In this process, the eight main mansions in which Jamaican
Rastas can be found today will naturally coalesce and forge a stronger unity. Due to the
variety and diversity of I and I, men and people presume Rastafari is disunited, but they
should remember that it's possible to have unity without uniformity. Up to now, one of
the reasons for the survival of Rastafari in Jamaica has probably been the fact that 1 and I
didn't have any formal centralized structure, but came into the faith and expressed the
Rasta Conception through the various mansions or houses.
Africans in Jamaica and abroad as well as at home in Africa itself, need and are
seeking another Prophet like Garvey, and they wonder if and where they can find another
man like him today to stand up and fight for their rights. The good news I and I bear,
glad tidings of great joy to the Black World in the Diaspora and on the Continent, is that
another Biblical Prophet has indeed arisen from amongst the Rastafari brethren ... a man
like unto the "Black Moses" Marcus, and like unto the Hebrew Moses, who crossed the
Red Sea. When he calls, obey him and when he beckons, trod-on.
So, during 1980-81, the beginning of the Golden Jubilee of Rastafari, the Concep-
tion of I and I has achieved international recognition and evoked world-wide attention.
The Brothers and Sisters of Rastafari are now ready to bring together the other sons and
daughters of Marcus in the black world, who are already prepared and waiting. Garvey
said, "... We have gradually won our way back into the confidence of the (Creator) of
Africa, and He shall speak with the Voice of Thunder, that shall shake the pillars of a
corrupt and unjust world, and once more, restore hLtiopia to her ancient glory .. hold
fast to the faith. Desert not the ranks, but as brave soldiers march on to victory. I am
happy, and shall remain so as long as you keep the flag flying .." even so great Marcus,
even so. The time has come for I and I, who have the prophetical vision of the future to
inspire African people, in particular and everyone in general, to a closer kinship and love
of self. In this struggle of right against wrong and light against darkness, I and I know that
Truth and Right, Love and Light shall win, being 'confident in the victory of good over
evil.' The Rastaman Vibration is very positive, so positive. The Rastaman is the mystic-
man (who don't drink blue, green, yellow, red bicarbonated soda-pop), the man of the
past, living in the present and stepping into the future. The Mystic Rastaman is the same
Black-heart man, who after growing, gathering and learning, has become the wise wonder
of the whole wide world.
One Creator One Aim One Destiny ..
Ethiopia Yesterday, Today and Forever More.
I. JABULANI TAFARI
THE WOMAN IN RASTAFARI
Perspectives on Females in Rastafarl
It is a well-known fact that little work has been done on the female in Rastafarl.
The positions of Nettleford (Thesis 64)' and Kitzinger (1969:252)2 suggest that this is
the case because the male more readily declares himself to be of Rastafarl. Kitzinger takes
this point further and argues that Rastafarl males do not consider females to be integral
to the movement based on her observation that 'leadership, status, prophecy and healing'
rest with the male. She also suggests that Rastafarl is a direct response to the matriarchal
relations common to the Jamaican peasantry. Hence, her view that Rastafarl social
structure is male dominated, and the dogma mother-denying (Kitzinger 260).
While Kitzinger submits evidence for her observations, her conclusions are not
generally acceptable to the Rastafarl community. Her observations of Rastafarl male/
female relationships seem based on the western theory of gender equality which requires
equal participation in the rituals of one's culture.
Perhaps it is the result of observations of the kind made by Kitzinger that has led
to the growing view among Rastafarl people that we ought to be examined from within.
Stephen G. McDonald argues that this examination should be undertaken by ones who
have experienced the movement as a process.4 Leahcim T. Semaj, in setting out the
characteristics of cultural science, which is defined as the total study of a people, argues
in favour of the following principles among others:
(1) The primacy of self-knowledge
(2) No restrictions on issues and methodology
(3) No scientific colonization i.e. research of the people should also be for the
The importance of this view should not be underrated by scholars insensitive to the
attempts of observed to become their own observers. It is a development in the field of
research which, if not articulated by traditional scholars, is recognized by them. Certainly
Owens taped recordings of Rastafarians on Rastafarl (Owens, 1976) and Yawney's
research methods, which were essentially to secure entry into Rastafarl 'livity' in order to
experience the culture from within (Yawney 197), are evidence enough.6
For my part I subscribe to this school of thought. I am therefore writing from the
base of a solid grounding into Rastafarl and a continuous Rastafarl livity.
Role of Females and the Bible
There can be no denying the fact that Rastafarl is a patriarchal movement. The
male is at the head, having responsibility for conducting rituals, interpreting events of
significance to the community, the care and protection of the family as well as the
community. Rastafarl is based on the Bible, it therefore follows that its structure and
philosophy would pattern that which unfolds in the Bible.
The Bible is a sacred Book to most Rastafarians. It is an important source of guid-
ance and inspiration (Yawney: 99).7 To understand Rastafarl attitudes to females it is
necessary to understand the role of females in the Bible.
The first female character is Eve. She it was who, tempted by the devil, in turn
became Adam's temptress. Next is Sarai, who when asked by her husband to pose as his
sister in order to safeguard his life, did so unquestioningly. Following Sarai is Rebekah,
who schemes against her husband to ensure that her favourite son would receive his blind
father's blessing. Rachel and Leah, both sisters, vied with each other for their husband's
affection, each relying on her fertility to win favour in his eyes. Potiphar's wife attempted
to seduce Joseph then, thwarted in her attempts to do so, reported that he had attempted
to rape her.
As the Bible stories unfold, a clear pattern for the role of the woman emerges. The
stories are told of the males with females on the periphery as they have relevance to a
particular event. Even Miriam, recognized by scholars of the Bible as the first prophetess,
is referred to in snatches as her actions gain significance to Moses. Perhaps Ruth, the
ancestress of David and of Jesus, and Esther, who directly affects the course of history
for the Israelites, are the only exceptions, in that entire books are devoted to them.
For the Rastafarl male, it was significant that the first female mentioned in the
Bible was unfavourably mentioned. This was interpreted as a clear warning against the
potential evil in the female. While the interpretation is widely held by Rastafarl males
their response to it differs. Some brethren are sympathetic in their response arguing that
the evil was in the devil and that Eve was the victim.
It was also natural for her to want to share with Adam. Adam is seen to have
succumbed to weakness where he should have held fast to his knowledge of what was
right. This interpretation is more protective of the female. The male is responsible for
shielding and guiding the female away from sin. Gradually with sufficient tutelage the
female can be expected to distinguish the sinful from the righteous on her own.
The other attitude is more judgemental. It argues that the female is impure and
must be kept from corrupting the male. It is also implied wherever this attitude is mani-
fested that females should not get together because of the potential for sinful thinking
and practices. The female then must be guided, instructed and retricted by the male.
It is difficult to identify the strength of these beliefs from sub-group to sub-group.
It is easier to identify as a characteristic of age groups. In general, the younger group of
Rastafarl males tend to be more understanding and do manifest behaviours associated
with the sympathetic interpretation. The elder brethren tend to manifest more of the
attitudes associated with the judgemental interpretation. An interesting point to note is
that some brethren articulate the protective interpretation but will require behaviours
associated with the judgemental approach.
Other Factors Affecting the Role of Daughters
While the Bible obviously played a large part in determining the attitude of male to
the female in Rastafarl, other factors seemed to have had a reinforcing effect on attitudes
and expectations of female behaviour.
Rastafarl, it must be noted, was first articulated by males. As it evolved, the move-
ment was regarded as a cult of outcasts, whose members bordered on the ridiculous, if
not the insane. Females would, of necessity, be wary of involvement with a male without
any obvious prospects. One of the reasons that females marry in the Jamaican culture, is
that of social and economic advancement. A woman 'advances' herself by choosing a
mate who can move her a rung or two up the social ladder. Both Dinah and Mabel make
their way out of the Dungle through the establishment of relationships with males some-
what better off than themselves (Patterson, 1971). This fact alone puts the Rastafarl
male to a disadvantage. Rastafarl adherents were drawn from the lower socio-economic
group in the society and therefore had no significant prospects. This coupled with the
belief that the individual should work for himself rather than another, made his income
unstable. The unstable economics of the Rastafarl male may well explain the temporary
nature of relationships established in the early years. The fact that researchers have
documented repeatedly the Rastaman's belief that a woman is not a Rasta "in heart"
and comes and goes as she pleases (Kitzinger, 252)9 is evidence enough.
The Doctrine on Females
Rastafarl articulates very specific views on females. These views have been trans-
lated into a code of behaviour which governs all important group rituals. In general Rasta-
farl males accept that:
Females are not called to Rastafarl except through a male. Only a man can
make a woman 'sight' Rastafarl. She therefore cannot be a leader in any
Males are the physical and spiritual head of the female as well as the family.
The female must seek the man's guidance in all things spiritual. He also
accepts the responsibility for 'balancing' her thoughts.
A female cannot experience the 'highest heights' of Rastafarl if she is without
a king-man or head.
Females are unclean whenever they have an issue of blood.
From these premises came certain behavioral restrictions or taboos:
The female cannot share the chalice of the males. This excluded her from
experiencing the Communal nature of the culture in a direct way.
The female should always have her head covered when praying (1 Corinthians
11.5-6). As she is always expected to be receptive to spiritual instruction it
follows that the head should always be covered.
An unclean female cannot approach a ritual gathering of males (e.g. Bingis,
etc) nor should she prepare meals for any males during that time.
A woman is expected to be obedient and receptive to guidance as well as have
a willingness to learn.
The male/female role in Rastafarl is further strengthened by the fact that the '1' is seen to
have come under the influence of Babylon and therefore stands in need of cleansing. The
interaction between Jah and man cleanses the male and he in turn cleanses the female.
The Rastafarl beliefs regarding the female is clearly based on the Bible and falls in
line with the premise that Rastafarl is a patriarchal movement. 'Reasonings' the traditional
way of sharing information, cementing views or interpreting the Bible, takes place prima-
rily among the males. He takes the responsibility for sharing relevant information with
the female.-The female however is not restricted from reasoning together particularly at
important rituals and/or celebrations. In this way there is intellectual stimulation and the
female is, through one means or another, every bit as informed as the male.
Not all of the doctrine on females are held by all males, furthermore how a belief
impacts on a particular family unit varies from household to household. Daughters have
reported varying degrees of freedom based on the interpretation of the family head.
It is possible that the beliefs and practices common to Rastafarl male/female
relationships do not differ so drastically from that of the Jamaican peasantry. Further
research may not only reveal this to be the case but, as Yawney suggests, may alsb reveal
traditional West Indian standards in intrasex social relations (120).10
Females and the Doctrine
( It should be noted that the beliefs and their resulting taboos cannot be realized
unless the females understand, accept and practice them. With the exception of exclusion
from the group, there are no ways of enforcing these practices. It is left to the individual
to behave in accordance with his or her understandings. This last point is very critical to
the understandings of male/female relationships in Rastafarl. The concept of male domi-
nance can have no validity where the female understands, accepts and operates within the
parameters of a prescribed role. It is only when the female resists this role that the
concept acquires significance.)
For the female initiate to Rastafarl, there has been a consistently clear pattern of
acceptance of the behaviour codes of Rastafarl. A number of daughters have indicated an
initial attraction to the way of life of Rastafarl daughters. Only a few daughters seemed
to have queried beyond the obvious restrictions on dress, and the information they un-
covered did not deter them. There seemed to have been a very definite desire to function
in that role. One daughter reports that early in her Rastafarl livity she shared a house
with several daughters and a few brethren. The constant restrictions, she said, were trying,
but willingly observed by all the daughters. There seems to have been an attraction for
this structured and disciplined way of life.(This attraction may be a factor in the
increased acceptance and popularity of Rastafarl among Jamaica's female population.
Rastafarl also elevated the woman to a very special place in her role as mother and wife.
Contrary to certain suppositions this is not a contradiction. The fact that the black
woman is regarded as Queens, Madonnas, Earth Mothers does not mean that she should
not have a clear role in relation to the man and the culture.
It must be mentioned that not every female was interested in Rastafarl, despite
an interest in the Rastafarl male. The reasons are similar to what Dinah tells Cyrus, the
Rastaman interested in her: "Just clear off you hear, ah not 'avin anything to do with
you rastas, oonoo treat you ooman too bad, oonoo seem to think dat woman only mek to
serve an slave fo you and dis is one ooman wha' nuh mek fo' dat." 1 (Patterson, P.30)
Despite her views, Dinah did eventually become Cyrus' woman for a while, before leaving,
as was mentioned earlier, to establish a union with another male. What is clear is the lack
of real interest in Rastafarl philosophy. It seems that the females attracted to Rastafarl
share similar characteristics.
Daughters who are now our elders talk to us of Bedward, Garvey and Howell. It
seems that these daughters were already 'conscious' of Afrika before their association
with Rastafarl. This made it easier to live up to Rastafarl expectations. Some of these
daughters had had a Christian upbringing and a few had had associations with revivalist
groups. Further research needs to be done in this area to identify the specific factors
which brought these daughters to Rastafarl. It seems to be the case that many of these
daughters came to Rastafarl through a specific male. It has already been observed that it
was more common in the early years of Rastafarl, to have the female partner of a
Rastafarl male being identified as a Rasta man's woman than as a Rastawoman (Sister
Llaloo: 1981:12 p. 7). Thisis consistent with the role that had been defined for females.
If the female can only 'sight' Rastafarl through the male, it follows that her legitimacy
within the movement would become dependent on him. Thus a daughter would be
known as Ras Meeshak's daughter. This identification also works in the reverse and the
brethren responsible for a daughter's place in the Rastafarl community is known as
"daughter Dinah's king-man". In this manner the claim that each has on the other in an
established union is legitimized.
Rastafarl in the Sixties
With the increased black consciousness of the sixties, Rastafarl was legitimized for
young Jamaicans. The movement picked up support from middle-class youths in the Civil
Service and on the Campus. While the outward signs of the Rastafarl lifestyle were not
always evident this new group of young people, because of their leanings, were termed
'functional Rastafarians' (Nettleford: 60).13
This group of young people, again, primarily males, made significant inroads where
the interpretation of Rastafarl doctrine was concerned. One of the most crucial areas was
that of male/female relationships. It was difficult for the young males who had had
formal schooling with females, had related to them as classmates, sharing thoughts and
debating issues, to treat the woman as secondary to him. While his attitude may have
reflected a general acceptance of Rastafarl philosophy, the behaviour was often less
restrictive. Daughters become the recipient of reasoning as the younger males assumed
the responsibility to explain and secure the females acceptance of the faith. Many of
these relationships were already long standing and had evolved with the two individuals
having more or less equal say in their decision-making process. In this atmosphere where
discussions of issues relevant to the Black Cause were occurring with a certain amount of
frequency, Rastafarl seemed to have the significant answers.
The females in this situation would be likely to accept some of the thinking of
Rastafarl, most notably, the thinking around Afrika, politics and economics. A number
of daughters have indicated problems accepting the divinity of the Emperor. Rita Marley,
in reasoning of her own experience relates the fact that she had heard and reflected upon
seemingly valid arguments for the divinity of Haile Selassie, but that she needed further
proof. This proof finally came when she saw the black spot (nail print) in the middle of
his hand. (Marley, 1979).14 It is safe to assume that the visit of the Emperor to Jamaica
affected a number of individuals both male and female in this way. Certainly among the
Twelve Tribes both male and female often recall this visit at meetings sharing the impact it
had on them personally and their resulting commitment to Rastafarl. Because of the
emphasis on political thinking in the 60s however, a number of daughters had no
problems identifying with Rastafarl, as in certain circles, it represented a level of political
For these daughters then, much of what was the elder daughters experience still
applied, in that they were females relating to males who in turn were operating from a
foundation that was Rastafarl. Because it can be argued that these males were only
marginally experiencing Rastafarl, that is to say, their lifestyles allowed them easy access
to Rastafarl as well as the Babylonian world, it can also be argued that the daughters
relating to them were also experiencing a marginal Rastafarl lifestyle.
Rastafarl in the Seventies
With the recognition early in the seventies that revolutionary political thought
alone could not liberate the minds of a people, the theorists for black liberation argued
for the inclusion of a religious component in the theory of black liberation. As Haki
Madhubuti (formerly Don L. Lee) argues, a black value system should take into account
the political, social, economic, spiritual and emotional crises faced by black peoples in the
western world (1979:79).15 With the shift in emphasis from revolutionary theory to an
integrated approach liberation movements like the nation of Islam came to the fore in the
US in the early seventies and Rastafarl continued to expand in Jamaica.
In 1972, the election campaigns were geared toward Rastafarl. The PNP campaigned
around a rod carried by it's leader which he claimed had been given to him by the
Emperor. The JLP claimed they had a better rod. That campaign stands as clear indicator
of the growth and entrenchment of Rastafarl in the Jamaican society.
Among the younger Rastafarians there appeared to have been a firmer commit-
ment made to Rastafarl. More and more of these young people started to wear the locks
and to 'trod Rastafarl' in a more traditional way. This of course meant that more daugh-
ters were being required to observe the behaviour codes as it was related to them by the
Daughters have indicated a strict observance of the behaviour codes because they
desired to do so. For some daughters it was especially difficult. Some were living with
parents and others with friends. For those in the family home they had to cope with
parental pressure as they tried to 'live up'. For those living with friends there was the
support as well as the reprimands. One sister shared the fact that she lived with several
other daughters and a few brethren and that the restrictions were trying e.g. she couldn't
prepare herself a meal at certain times, but on the whole, the rules were willingly
observed by all the daughters.
The mid-seventies seem to have been somehow important for a number of daugh-
ters. A number of daughters currently in their mid-to-late twenties indicate that it was
around this time that they first became aware of a need to commit themselves to Rasta-
farl. Quite a number of these daughters also report that there was no specific male
involved in the process of them 'sighting' Rastafarl, but that it was the direct result of
an attitude of searching. A number of these daughters were also affiliated with'Twelve
Tribes where it is easy to manifest an affiliation to Rastafarl by joining the organization.
The Twelve Tribes of Israel allows daughters a certain amount of freedom in that they
participate in the celebrations organized by the group. At official functions twenty-four
individuals are seated facing the audience, twelve males and twelve females. This is signi-
ficant of the importance attached to the female in this organization. It is more than
likely that the Twelve Tribes organization played a significant part in the spread of Rasta-
farl among daughters. Further research in this area may reveal this to be the case.
By the latter part of the seventies more and more daughters were coming into
prominence. They were easily recognized by the Rastafarl colours, head wraps, long skirts
and often dreadlocks. Many of these daughters observed the belief that a daughter had to
have a kingman and so become a part of a family unit. Their roles for the most part re-
mained unchanged. Daughters acknowledged the man as the head of the union and
themselves as the supportive members.
It was the very end of the seventies however which saw the increase in activities of
Rastafarl daughters. Daughters were beginning to assert themselves at Rastafarl gatherings.
They had begun to interpret the dress codes for themselves. This latter observation is
particularly true of daughters who were salaried employees. Of necessity, they had to
shorten their skirts, some argue, others indicate a preference for short skirts. Daughters
also began to discriminate in terms of when and where to cover their hair and some were
to be seen in public with their locks partially exposed.
By the end of the seventies, daughters had evolved into a new kind of awareness of
self. It is important to note that this evolution, occurring as it had, over time, did not
create any dis-unity in Rastafarl community. Rather, personal opinions were often
expressed by observers of changing female behaviours by males at 'Bingis' (Nyabingi) and
other gatherings. Some daughters report that they were subjected to hostilities when they
first attended a nyabingi without a head-covering. For the most part, however, once the
daughter's 'king' had no objections to the daughter's interpretation of the dress code the
expressions would become less and less hostile as a more tolerant attitude evolved on the
part of the males.
In addition to the changed appearance of Rastafarl daughters there was also an atti-
tudinal change. Daughters are speaking out more and more about their concerns and their
hopes. Even more important, daughters had begun to articulate their own perception of
Rastafarl. More and more daughters were beginning to reason together and this created a
solid base from which to approach the society in general and the Rastafarl community in
Daughters and the Golden Jubilee
November 3rd (1980) marked the 50th anniversary of the Coronation of His
Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie I. For all Rastafarians this was the golden jubilee
year. Several activities were organised to mark this year. This year was significant for
daughters. During at least one 'Bingi' (Nyabingi) the issue of daughters and their abilities
and place in Rastafarl was raised. While not resolved, the issue at least was raised. The
Brethren reiterated their love for the daughters and also that the man is the head.
While daughters are not challenging this reasoning, their behaviour is more in keep-
ing with the concept of interdependence. Daughters are manifesting more and more
commitment to Rastafarl. This was apparently strengthened in 1980 as daughters began
asking more and more what they could do for Rastafarl. This question was rooted in the
awareness that male and female are equal partners in the liberation process and must
therefore take full responsibilities for the tasks facing us. As Judy Mowatt reasons in an
interview: "We know as rasta queens and sisters that a woman is just as important as a
man in the sight of God, and we live to please God and to live with man as brothers and
sisters .. not for man as God, just sons of God. We are equal because, whatever is
revealed to a man is revealed to a woman. It's not that a man has more knowledge,
wisdom and understanding than a woman. It's the same mind that God has put in a man
that a woman has, but it's the one who develops it more and uses it wisely ... And a
woman must know what she is dealing with." 16
As confirmation that more and more daughters are becoming increasingly aware
of what they are dealing with, three groups of daughters came into being in 1980: (1)
King Alpha & Queen Omega's Theocracy Daughters a group of elder daughters from
the Theocracy. (2) International Twelve, among the twelve-tribes and (3) Dawtas United
working towards Africa (DAWTAS). This last group defines itself as a working group
committed to addressing the educational needs of Rastafarl youths, the need for Social
Services within the Rastafarl community as well as self-development activities.
As these trends continue, we can expect significant changes in Rastafarl. Already
Rastafarl males are defining positions in relation to the above developments. For the
most part the brethren are supportive and lend whatever assistance the daughters have
requested. This is most obvious among the younger males. Some males have taken
observer positions and are watching from the sidelines. There has not been much resis-
tance to this evolutionary trend among the brethren. With this kind of potential support,
daughters may well begin to address themselves to some of the issues in Rastafarl which
directly affect their bodies and their lives. When we come to that point, the method of
addressing the issues will be of far more significance perhaps than the issues themselves.
BY MAUREEN ROWE
1. Nettleford, Rex, African Redemption: The Rastafarl and the Wider Society (Bound Thesis,
West India Reference Collection U.W.I. Library)
2. Kitzinger, Shelia, 'Protest & Mysticism: The Rastafarl Cult of Jamaica' in Journal for the
Scientific Study of Religion VIII (1969) 240-262
3. Ibid. pp. 260
4. McDonald, Stephen G., Rastafarl, Cultural Transition and Psychosocial Identity (unpublished
5. Semaj, Leachcim, 'Models for a Black Psychology of Liberation' Background for the presenta-
tion "The Transformation of Black Identity" given at the 13th Annual Convention of the Asso-
ciation of Black Psychologists, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Aug. 13th, 17th, 1980.
6. Yawney, Carole D., Irons in Babylon: The Rastafarians of Jamaica as a visionary movement.
(Thesis. Dept. of Anthropology.
(Thesis. Dept. of Anthropology. McGill University 1978)
7. Ibid, p. 99
8. Patterson, Orlando, Children of Sisyphus. The Bolivar Press (Ja. 1971)
9. Kitzinger, Shelia, op cit. p. 252.
10. Yawney, Carole D., op cit. p. 120.
11. Patterson, Orlando, op. cit. p. 30
12. Sister Llaloo, 'Rastawoman as Equal' in Yard Roots Vol. 1 (no. 1) 1981, p. 7.
13. Nettleford, Rex, op cit. p. 60
14. Marley, Rita, 'Looking at Rita Marley' in The Sunday Gleamer Magazine (Aug. 5th, 1979) p. 7.
15. Madhubute, Haki R., From Plan to Planet, Life Studies: The need for African Minds and Insti-
tutions. Third World Press (1979) p. 79.
16. Yawney, Carole D., '1-threes Soaring Hearts' in Reggae News (Spr. 1980) p. 3.
RASTAFARI: FROM RELIGION TO SOCIAL THEORY
Much of what has been written about Rastafari in the last fifty years has been by
people who do not share the vision of Rastafari. Sometimes these writers have been
sympathetic to the vision, sometimes they have not been. However, since they often did
not share the vision we have not had many works which have presented critique, analysis
and synthesis that could facilitate the growth of the vision of Rastafari. This writer shares
the vision of Rastafari, and thus is attempting to provide some criticism, analysis and sub-
sequent synthesis which hopefully will help to provide some further clarifications of the
vision from inside looking out. By the process of dialectics, my conclusions will hopefully
provide the basis for subsequent critique, analysis and synthesis by others.
Rastafari is a living reality which came into being in Jamaica in 1930. It has grown
and flowered and the wind has dispersed the seeds far and wide. Various ones have chosen
different seeds to raise up in their own gardens, producing variations in the manifesta-
tions of the fruits. However, the wind still remains the primary mode by which dispersal
and propagation is achieved. In a generic sense a Rastafarian is one who is attempting to
restructure identity so that s/he can consciously live from an Africentric perspective. This
covers the physical, mental and spiritual dimensions of life. Rastafari therefore provides
a vehicle through which and by which the African in the Diaspora can recreate an African
identity. The Rastafarian way of life thus represents a conscious departure from partici-
pation in an alien culture and a reconstruction of an African cultural orientation in terms
of worldview, ethos and ideology.
The key construct that one deals with when discussing Rastafari is the concept of
culture. This concept causes many people much confusion, but not us, because Black
Uhuru has said, "My culture is getting stronger, I know I'll never surrender".1 But even as
one sets out on a path to reconstruct identity and culture, like any other segment of
society, Rastafarians have the potential of being either warriors or parasites. After fifty
years it is necessary that some closure is arrived at which will make some clear differen-
tiation as to which of these paths will be chosen. Drawing from the works of Frederick
Douglass2 we see that the warrior is one who is well aware that "power concedes nothing
without a demand". The warrior sees the deficiencies, inadequacies and limitations of his
people and then sets out to correct these to the best of his ability, be they mental, physi-
cal or spiritual. On the other hand, the parasites are those who "favor freedom yet they
depreciate the concept of agitation. They are like men who want the crops without plow-
ing up the land, like those who want rain without thunder and lightning, like those who
want the ocean without the 'awful roar of its many waters." Thus we see the parasite is
also aware that social change is necessary but they are not willing to take risks because
the little they have may be taken away from them. Incidently there is also a third type,
this is called the hypocrite. Briefly, the hypocrite is a parasite in warrior's clothing. As we
look around us at this point in history we can see that Rastafari has produced its shares of
warriors, parasites and hypocrites. Thus in this respect they are no different from the
other segments of society. Despite the presence of these contradictions it is my position
that Rastafari is still one of the most viable fronts from which we can launch a cultural
revolution for the liberation of Africans in the Diaspora.
The concept of culture presents many people with many problems, because often-
times they have been led to confuse artifacts of culture with culture itself. As a people we
must first define our culture and then the culture will define the politics, economics and
even the psychology that we need. Many times we see that when we start by seeking poli-
tical solutions or even economic solutions to problems we may choose paths which lead
us in areas that we could never have expected. Thus it is said that in politics there are no
permanent allies nor permanent enemies. However, when one starts with culture we know
that there can be permanent allies and permanent enemies. We can put it another way and
say, "Seek ye first culture, and all things will be added unto you." The question then is,
what is culture? Well, simply put, culture gives you designs for living and patterns for
interpreting your reality. Amilcar Cabral in an essay on National Liberation and Culture3
reminds us that when Goebbels, who was the brain behind Nazi propaganda heard culture
being discussed he would always pull out his revolver, thus putting an end to the argu-
ment. Today we find a symbolically similar response, especially from Black Marxists.
However, history has shown us that oppression can only be maintained by the permanent,
organized repression of the cultural life of a people. The only alternative to this would be
destroying practically all of the people. Marley has constantly reminded us that we are
the survivors.4 We survived the slave catchers, the middle passage, slavery and coloniz-
ation. (It has been estimated that over twenty million Africans perished during the middle
passage, but we are still here today continuing.) So since these acts did not wipe us out,
the only way that our oppression has been maintained is by the development of institu-
tions to constantly repress our indigenous, authentic cultural orientations. Once you have
a clear cultural orientation it is very hard for someone to move you to a position of work-
ing against your collective best interests.
The liberation of a people also depends on what happens on the level of culture.5
The first step is the development of a popular culture. This represents the indigenous
values of a people. This is an unconscious and fluid reaction which responds to everyday
life. We have achieved this. Today Rastafari is an integral part of the popular culture of
Jamaica. Similarly, reggae music is a part of the popular culture of Jamaica. The next
level is the development of a national culture. At this level one is able to consciously
promote and critique ideas based on the history and achievements so far in the struggle.
This occurs through self-conscious collective thought and practice. We have not yet
achieved this level but are working towards it. To date Rastafari has not become a part of
the national culture of Jamaica. This publication represents a step in that direction of
moving Rasta to a level of national culture. The third level then is a scientific culture, this
is a requirement for progress and is based on a critical assimilation of man's achievements.
Here one has systematic inquiry which is carefully codified, recorded, and disseminated
for all to see and understand. The final stage is the development of a universal culture.
Here one achieves what is considered humanism, respect and solidarity and devotion to
all other human beings. However, to achieve this one has to start from the first step and
work through to the final phase of universal culture. We have to be very cautious of those
who consider themselves "human beings" and do not identify themselves with some other
group orientation or some specific cultural perspective.
As we attempt to clarify our culture we have three choices. First we can choose to
focus on the alien cultural orientation which has surrounded us for the past four hundred
years, at best this will help us to see to what extent we have adopted someone elses
culture. The second option would be to focus only on the socio-economic situation in
which we find ourselves. At best, this approach would show us to what extent we have
provided cultural adaptation. However, the most important thing that we need to do is to
focus on our indigenous cultural heritage, which is African. By doing so we will be able to
identify some authentic cultural orientations which are consistent with what it means to
be an African people. It's on this foundation that we will build and clarify a culture of
African Cultural Heritage
As we explore the African cultural heritage to get some clearer understanding of
what is the African world view, it would be useful to explore the works of Cheikh Anta
Diop, such titles as African Origins of Civilization and The Cultural Unity of Black Africa.
It is also necessary that one reads Chancelor Williams', Destruction of Black Civilization.
Other books that are necessary are the works of Yosef ben-Jochannan. These include
Black Man of the Nile, and African Origins of Major Western Religions. The recommen-
ded list will also include Myth, Literature and the African World by Wole Soyinka and all
of the novels by Ayi Kwei Armah especially Two Thousand Seasons, Why Are We So
Blessed?, The Healers and The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born. One also needs to be
familiar with E. A. Wallace Budge's translation of The Egyptian Book of the Dead, espe-
cially the section containing the negative confessions. Finally, African Religions and
Philosophy by John Mbiti and Stolen Legacy by George G. M. James will complete this
short list. When one completes this list a reading of the Bible, if done with wisdom and
overstanding, may even be a useful task.
Briefly, the African world view shows us that time is an ever flowing concept.6
Time is represented by three unending archs flowing into each other, the past flows into
the present, the present flows into the future and future flows into the past. Thus time is
flowing onward, forward and backward at the same time. Space belongs to the entire
community, the dead, the living and the unborn. The yield of the land thus belongs to
those who work it, those who produce it, not just to those who have the capital. Despite
what we know from physics about the nature of the universe, the African world view will
show us that human beings are the center of the universe, thus the universe is viewed as
humanocentric. However, the most crucial element to this discussion of the African world
view is the concept of God and spirit. From the African world view we see that God is a
man-made reality. Human beings make Gods and then Gods reciprocate by making
human beings. Put another way, it can be said that man articulates the concept of God
and then this conception, this God force, now reciprocates by defining positive limits for
what it means to be human. From this perspective God becomes growth potentials, the
highest ideals that one can achieve. These are then are conveyed in myths having first
been revealed in universal symbols. The devil now becomes obstacles to one's growth.
These obstacles are to be confronted, accommodated, fought or evaded. These concep-
tions are consistent cross-culturally except in an instant where a people are under oppres-
sion. In this case, one finds that the growth potential represented by God is now expres-
sed through an alien culture, usually that of the oppressors. When the contradiction
to the growth becomes too intolerable, final struggle for liberation begins. Another way
that this process has been summed up is that when a religion is developed all one does is
deifies one's culture, thus stamping the God force on the culture. In this respect the
Honourable Marcus Garvey has been very useful in helping us to come to this understand-
ing. From his works we see that on the question on the image of God he said the follow-
"If the white man has the idea of a white God let him worship his
God as he desires. If the yellow man's God is of his race let him
worship his God as he sees fit. We as negroes have found a new
ideal, whilst our God has no color yet it is human to see every-
thing through one's own spectacles. And since the white people
have seen their God through white spectacles, we have only now
started out, late though it be, to see our God through our own
spectacles ... we shall worship Him through the spectacles of
So drawing on these thoughts as reflected from the African cultural heritage and thus the
African world view we see the evolution of Rastafari.
Critique of Rastafari8
If in the next fifty years Rasta is to significantly move from the level of popular
culture at least to the level of national culture we must begin the active process of criti-
quing and thus building. The first issue from my perspective is that Rastafari is basically
a mirror, one which we Africans in the Diaspora can use to see some of the possible solu-
tions to our problems of identity and culture. However, like all mirrors, one has problems
in that mirrors produce images with some distortion, not reality. The second issue is that
many people who call themselves Rastafarians frequently have a very myopic view of
Africa's past and present conditions. This represents a serious problem in our develop-
ment because any attempt to falsify the facts regarding the past or the present inevitably
makes the prospects for understanding the future very bleak, and many times impossible.
One may be able to fool one's self and feel good but the material reality will remain the
same. The third area we see, is that Rastafari has developed a religion, a system of myths.
However, when one sets out to replace one set of myths for another, this cannot be con-
sidered real progress. The only way one achieves real progress is if the new myth which
one has created is now in closer harmony with the material reality of one's existence,
than was the former myth by which one tried to live. Basically this means that swapping
a black dog for a monkey provides little gain. Within this reasoning then, it is almost
impossible for one to define one religion as true and another as false. At best, one can
locate a particular religion on a useful to useless continuum. Thus, the usefulness of a
religion or mythology is dependent on the extent to which it helps the people to under-
stand their reality and move forward. If it does not promote the development of warriors
and the transformation of the people then it is useless. This point therefore leads us to a
fourth critique which is that religion or mythology cannot be the primary manner by
which one goes about finding concrete solutions to social problems. At best religion or
mythology can facilitate the development and formulation of solutions to social problems.
Since Rastafari has evolved a mythology, a religion, one can criticize it from the same per-
spective that one would criticize any other mythology or religion. Maulana Karenga has
developed some interesting dimensions on which we can criticize religions, including
Rastafari.9 The negatives are as follows: Religions are often simplistic and erroneous
answers to existeicial fears. ignorance. powerlessness and alienations which people may
experience. Thus religion often represents a place to hide from the reality of life. Religion
is often a method of escape. Many times religions have been used to deny and diminish
human worth, capacity, potential and achievement. Many times this occurs by deferring
to some source of authority be it the prophet, the priest or the pope and thus justifying
some action which under any other circumstances would be considered reprehensible.
Religion and mythology have often been used to encourage and justify intellectual
closure, intolerance, and even political apathy. This we see in many places of the world
today, even in Rastafari. The final negative is that religion is often one of the most effec-
tive methods of domination and exploitation of a people. It has been frequently pointed
out that the priesthood is one of the oldest professions, and thus one of the oldest forms
of exploitation. Whenever a person sets himself up as an intermediary between man and
God the potential for exploitation is always present.
On the positive side, the work of Maulana Karenga shows us that religion can be
used to represent a source of ultimate human values. It also provides a source of commu-
nity, the basis on which we can move forward collectively. Psychosocial coping strategies
can be gained through religious perspectives, and this is especially needed for oppressed
peoples. From religions one can also achieve a sense of expansive self-concept by identify-
ing the self with a larger concentration of people and a more conscientious cosmic pur-
pose. Rastafari clearly can be identified on this dimension whereby self is more than 1,
myself and me. For Rastafari self is I and I representing a total collective. Finally on the
positive side we see that religions can be a potential support system for social change. It
can provide the backdrop, the justification behind which significant social changes can
take place. It is my position then that we need to examine the positive dimensions of the
religion which have evolved out of Rastafari and build on these positives towards creating
a social theory from the vision of Rastafari. The reason for this is that religion and myth-
ology can only move us but so far. We now need to consciously define, amplify and
propagate principles and concepts which determine our relationship to each other and to
the world. This by definition is a social theory. The development of a social theory from
the mythology and religion of Rastafari is for the purpose of neither going left nor right
but instead forward as an African people.
Religion to Social Theory
What would this social theory look like? (See Table 1) Well the evolution of this
social theory has to be a collective effort. However, I will take the liberty to now present
my perception of what it would be, thus one can see this as my contribution to the
discussion which is to come around the nature of the social theory.
We can now examine Rastafari on three levels: the foundation, the livity and the
social organization. Doing so we can contrast Rastafari as religion with Rastafari as social
theory. We begin with Marcus Garvey. Under religion one has to see Marcus Garvey as a
prophet. This however presents a number of limitations because one cannot contradict
nor critique a prophet. One either accepts or rejects, one either listens or does not listen,
thus presenting limitations. However, if you move to the level of social theory Marcus
Garvey now becomes a social activist. Now we can critique him, we can see where he
made mistakes, we can see how we need to question some of the things he said and we
can see which ideas we can use or that which we can reject. Doing this will make Marcus
Garvey human, he will now be demystified. Put another way, one cannot argue with a
prophet, however there are many grounds on which one can have disagreements with a
The second area is the Bible, the foundation of Rastafari. Much of the practices,
orientations, and perspectives are developed from careful reading of the Bible. Some
people strongly believe that one should read a chapter a day and try to understand and
live within these understandings. This would exemplify the religious perspective one gains
by looking at the Bible. However, the social theory now would take a look at the first
page of the Bible, and when one sees the inscriptions that "it was diligently revised", and
one understands that the word diligently means carefully and that revised means changed,
then there is little basis on which one can take the document literally. This issue is further
complicated by the fact that it was in 322 A. D. that the Council of Bishops 10 from the
Roman Catholic church met upon an edict from Emperor Constantine and took actions
as to the books of the Bible and also made decisions regarding the immaculate conception
of Mary and virgin birth of Christ. In the following year, 323 A.D. the bishops met again
at Nicene and on a majority vote approved the immaculate conception and the virgin
birth of Jesus Christ to Mary. At this conference Jesus Christ was declared to be God, the
Father and the Holy Ghost.
One is also aware that much of the old testament can be found in similar or revised
form in what is known as the Egyptian Book of the Dead."1 These writings precede the
earliest biblical reference by thousands of years. So, from social theory we cannot afford
to take the Bible any more seriously than we would any other book. It has some interest-
ing stories and parables and passages which one should utilize in any manner that one sees
fit, not in a manner which would dominate one's life. One has to always raise the ques-
tion as to when does a body of writing become divine revelations. Was it between 10,000
and 6,000 B.C. when the Africans of the ancient Nile Valley first organized certain value
systems which still exist today and can be found in the Bible? Was it 4,000 B.C. when the
book known as the Book of the Dead was introduced in its revised state? Or was it when
the bishops of Nicene decided to accept certain books or reject certain books? The
concept of divine revelation exists within us, meaning we have the power to determine
what we consider divinely revealed works. We can see many things around us which I
believe qualify for that title, for example, many of the works of Bob Marley, in terms of
the insight that they give to the human condition. Thus we cannot be slave to someone
elses conception of what is or is not divine revelation. We must answer those questions for
ourselves in our time.
The third factor under the issue of foundation of Rastafari is the question of the
Creator. The Creator is a myth which is present in most religions. Rastafari knows His
Imperial Majesty. Emperor Haile Selassie to be the true and living God. For one to arrive
at this conclusion one has to go through the first two issues just discussed. First, would be
the prophesies of Marcus Garvey and the second would be a specific reading and under-
standing of the Bible. On the other hand, if you move from religion to social theory and
draw from the African world view we see that man and God are one and the same and the
concept of Creator has to be a culture bound concept. We are all made in the image of
God therefore God has to look like us. When one looks in the mirror one has to see God
looking back. From social theory then one takes full credit for the creation of a concept
of God which is consistent with one's own culture without any apologies or any appeal to
any other external sources for justification. Here we see that the concept of Creator by
being culture bound means that the Creator can only be revealed to you in a manner
consistent with your own culture.
The fourth level of issues relating to Rastafari under the area of foundation is the
question of Africa. In Rastafari as a religion, Africa is dealt with specifically around the
question of repatriation. This is desirable and ultimately possible. However, moving to the
area of social theory one sees the parallel concept of global pan-Africanism. It is only
through this vehicle that one can achieve repatriation. The religious perspective by itself
does not provide a mechanism for doing so. It only provides a context for focusing atten-
tion on the concept. We even see hints of this reality in the music of Marley when he asks
Africa to unite, because her children want to come home. Here we see that repatriation is
contingent on the development of Black Nationalism and pan-Africanism. Here the meth-
odology must be specified, not just some romantic yearnings.
The second large area looking at issues relating to Rastafari is that of livity. Rough-
ly translated this means lifestyle, way of life. The first element here is the issue of food.
From the religious perspective we are often told that Rastaman does not eat many foods
common to the local diet. The justification for these practices are largely drawn from the
Bible and sometimes cosmic revelations. However, one can move this practice from the
area of religion to one of social theory and you can see that it does make sense that one
should eat natural foods and also eat lower on the food chain. One can produce much
economic and scientific evidence to justify this perspective.
The other area of livity is ganja. From religion one provides justification, largely
based on the Bible, that promotes ritualistic uses of this substance. Moving to the level of
social theory we can see that the question of ganja is a much broader issue. Here we see
that many natural substances have useful, medicinal and psychological effects. We know
today that at least ninety percent of all the medicines used are either directly made from
or synthesized from natural substances, that is substances which occur in nature. We are
subsequently discovering that many things have uses of which we were previously not
aware. The other issue then is, what gives one adult the right to tell and enforce on
another adult that a specific plant life, put here by natural processes are not to be used in
any way? This practice cannot be justified on any grounds. So, here we see that in the
area of social theory the practice would not necessarily change. However it would now be
used to encompass a wider variety of substances and to stimulate and promote inquiry
into various uses of naturally occurring substances.
The third area of livity is personal appearance. At this level we find a great deal of
agreement between the religion and social theory. On both levels we see that one rejects
the distortion of one's natural features and acknowledges that one should project one's
African features and be proud of them. However, the distinction that can be made is that
under Rastafari as religion, the wearing of dreadlocks has become an ideal seen as part of
the psychic antenna, but under Rastafari as a social theory dreadlocks is only optional.
Any manner which a person of African ancestry chooses to wear their hair which is con-
sistent with the maintenance of African features and does not entail the use of caustic
chemicals or hot combs or any substances of distortion is quite acceptable. We have
found many ways to groom ourselves even under the most harsh circumstances. Under
religion, Rastafari may downright reject the wearing ofjewellery, or makeup. However, in
the area of social theory we have to remember that African people were the first people
to develop cosmetics and that we have always adorned ourselves with gold and silver and
other creative apparels. Thus, one does not have to apologize for continuing that practice
in this time. However, we may need to go through a period of rejecting this practice until
we are able to develop the standard or should 1 say redevelop the standard of beauty and
personal aesthetics which can be clearly drawn from an African cultural orientation, as
opposed to the one which now surrounds us. Thus the religious perspective only proposes
a practice but the social theory can explain and justify that practice.
The third area in which one can provide contrast between Rastafari as religion and
social theory is the area of social organization. The first issue is one of politics. From the
religious perspective we frequently hear the concept that Rastafari does not deal in poli-
tics. However, social theory tells you that whether you deal with politics or not, politics
will deal with you. The statement that one does not deal in politics is in effect a political
statement. One is basically saying that one chooses not to participate in the system
because of the manner in which it is currently constructed. Moving to social theory shows
us that politics is but one tool for liberation, it is a means to an end, it is a mechanism for
social organization. The religious perspective merely allows one to intercede and to beg
those who are in power for favours. However, in the area of social theory one sees that
the ultimate objective should be to control state power for the building of a "new"
Following politics would be power and resources. Under Rastafari as religion we
frequently hear about the concept of social living. However, this has not been fully arti-
culated because we presently see many situations of Rastafari being as oppressive with
each other as exist in the wider society. However when one moves to the concept of
social theory one can draw on the concept of African Socialism. This we can articulate,
this we can specify and demonstrate and present as an ideal manner in which we propose
to distribute power and resources. This practice is indigenous to our cultural orientation.
Finally we have the concept of aggression. Under the area of religion we frequently
hear that Rastafari is non-violent. Rastafari does not deal with violence. The social theory
translates this concept and clarifies the issue stating that Rastafari does not deal with pre-
datory aggression. This is the practice by which one attempts to deprive another indivi-
dual or group of their life, liberty or their resources. However, social theory of Rastafari
will acknowledge a strong support for protective aggression, which is defined as a process
by which adults will protect themselves, their family, their loved ones and will also work
for the collective liberation of their people.
In concluding then, it is my position that without the evolution of a social theory
based on Rastafari the full vision and potential of Rastafari cannot be realized. However,
it is not for one individual to define the way the social theory will be operationalized. It
has to be a collective effort. Unless other individual who share the vision of Rastafari
begin to contribute to the development of a social theory we will find that the next fifty
years of Rastafari will show some trends which will be best described as backward or
stagnant. Fifty years has shown us that Rastafari has the raw materials on which to build
and clarify a perspective from which African's in the West can bring about their liberation.
However, the decision is ours to make, whether we will use the vision for liberation or
miss this opportunity.
The most pressing issue that we presently face is in the area of ideological clarifi-
cation as to who we are as a people and where we see ourselves going. Rastafari provides
the basis by which some of these questions can be asked, but unless a social theory is
developed answers at best will be long in forthcoming.
LEAHCIM TUFANI SEMAJ
RASTAFARI AS RELIGION AND AS SOCIAL THEORY
1. Marcus Garvey
2. The Bible
3. The Creator
7. Personal Appearance
9. Power and Resources
A Special Book
As Social Theory
A Social Activist
An Interesting Book
Old Testament Natural foods and low on the
Restrictions food chain
Ritualistic Uses Wider exploration of the useful
medicinal and psychological
effects of natural substances
Project African Aesthetics
Dreadlocks as Ideal Dreadlocks as Option
Tool of liberation, mechanism for
1. Black Uhuru "Leaving to Zion", from the Album Showcase, D-Roy Records DRLP 1003,
2. These quotes are drawn from Frederick Douglas's speech in 1857 on "West Indian Emancipa-
3. Amilcar Cabral, "National Liberation and Culture" in Return to the Source, New York: Africa
Information Press, 1973.
4. Bob Marley, "Survival", from the Album Survival, Island Record, ILPS 9542, New York 1980.
5. see Amilcar Cabral, op. cit.; p.55. and Maulana Karenga, Kawaida Theory: an Introductory
Outline, Inglewood, California: Kawaida Publications, 1980, pp. 18-19.
6. This synthesis of the African World View is developed in an Essay by Ayi Kwei Armah, "The
African Worldview: Counter-statements, pseudostatements, statements, presented at Cornell
7. Amy Jacques Garvey (Ed), Philosophies and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, New York: Atheneum,
8. This critique was initially developed in Leahcim Semaj's, "Race and Identity and children of
the African Diaspora: Contributions of Rastafari", Studia Africana 1:4, Fall 1981, pp. 412-419.
9. Maulana Karenga, op. cit. p. 23-26.
10. Yosef Ben-Jochannan, A Chronology of the Bible: Challenge to the Standard Version, New
York: Alkebu-lan Books, 1973.
11. This work has survived in a number of forms, two of which are: E. A. Wallis Budge (Transla-
tion) The Book of the Dead: The Papyrus of Ani, first published in 1895, New York: Dover
Publication, 1967 (ISBN 0-486-21866-X) and Evelyn Rossiter (commentaries), The Book of the
Dead: Papyri of Ani, Hunefer, Anhai, 1979 (ISBN 0-517-282836).
DREAD TALK THE SPEECH OF THE RASTAFARIAN IN JAMAICA1
The history and sociology of the Rastafarian in Jamaica has been the subject of
enough literature to date2 to legitimize the following comment in Nettleford's introduc-
tion to the recently published Dread
.. the present study by Father Joseph Owens on the
Rastafarians and the religious contour of their Move-
ment is a welcome and important addition to the
growing literature on one of the most significant
phenomena to emerge out of the modern history and
sociology of Plantation America, that New World
culture-sphere of which Jamaica and the Caribbean
are a part.
This paper will introduce a discussion on the language that has evolved and parti-
cularly on the lexical items that have emerged as a result of the impact of the Movement
on the Jamaican speech situation.4 It is necessary, however, to re-state the socio-historical
fact that the early Rastafarians were predominantly poor black urban folk since this
accounts in part for the close relationship between what emerges as Rasta Talk or Dread
Talk (DT) and Jamaica Creole (JC); a relationship that is close enough for me to view its
development as an example of lexical expansion within a Creole System.
Jamaica Creole has traditionally been the speech form of the Jamaican poor. Edu-
cation and exposure to the middle-class with its Standard English aspirations has accoun-
ted for the JC/SJE (Standard Jamaican English) continuum which has become a common-
place in describing the Jamaican language situation. But the socio-political image which
the poor black man, in this case the Rastaman, has had of himself in a society where light-
ness of skin-tone, economic competence and certain social privileges have traditionally
gone together must be included in any consideration of Rastafarian words. For the man
who is making the words is a man looking up from under; is a man pressed down econom-
ically and socially by the establishment. His speech form represents an attempt to bend
the lexicon of Jamaica Creole to reflect his social situation and his religious views.
Dread Talk and Jamaica Creole
It is to my mind a simplistic and perhaps a panic-inspired notion that Dread Talk is
replacing English as the language of the young people of Jamaica. But this has become
not only drawing-room talk but the serious reaction of some of the teachers in our
schools. Inherent in this fear is the misconception that English has ever been the language
of the Jamican youth. If it had been, then some of the more unbelievable punishments
for the use of Jamaica Creole (Patwa) in middle-class homes, suffered by children (of
parents who themselves used JC with their friends) less than a generation ago, would have
What seems to be developing is a certain lexical expansion to accommodate a parti-
cular and for some people a more accurate way of seeing life in the Jamaican society. The
structural relationship between JC and DT can be verified by the examination of any
Rastafarian speech act. The following is an extract from a taping of an open session of
"reasoning" near the University Campus at Mona:5
ai nuo se dem piipl ier nuo a I know that these people here know a
sobstanshal amownt bout empara substantial amount about Emperor Haile
iel silasi fers/yu no siit/ Selassie, don't you see? just because
jos bikaa dem piipl si tu it these people see to it that they know
se dem nuo waa gwaan eena ert/ what is going on in the world.
If we examine this speech act for some of the more common hallmarks of creole structure,
we will probably decide it falls somewhere near the middle of our hypothetical JC/SJE
continuum. Note for example that /ier/ is preferred to the JC /ya/ and note also the use
of the term "substantial" a very SJE usage. But the classical JC forms are there; there is
the auxiliary omission /yu no siit/; there is the /a/ representing the continuous marker
/waa gwaan/; there is the pluralizer /dem/ and the complimentizer /se/. A number of
points are illustrated by this quotation. One is that the DT speaker uses the continuum in
much the same way as the average JC speaker, code-shifting where he will or can; a
tendency which will become even more evident as additional quotations are examined in
this paper. Another is that the phonological rendering of the /a/ is that used at the JC end
of the continuum. My own comment on the importance of that sound in JC has already
been made elsewhere6 and if, as I believe, it is a sound that the uneducated JC speaker
imagines not to exist in Standard English then there is every reason for DT to maintain
this sound. In fact it could well be that the middle-class convert easily singles it out as a
kind of talisman of JC and so must perfect it in his speech form; alternately this may be
one sound that the SJE speaker who speaks little JC at home perfects more easily than
others. Attached hereto as Appendix I is a reading7 of Psalm II by an official of one
Rastafarian group, accompanied by the text it represents. This example will make the
point more clearly than any description I could possibly attempt.
Two items in the extract are unusual in the JC context: /siit/ as in /yu no siit/8
where JC prefers /yu no si/ and the pronominal /ai/ where JC would prefer /mi/. While
the stress in /siit/ representing the essentially SJE retention of the final consonant is re-
markable, an explanation may well be possible, similar to that advanced for the /ai/
phenomenon which will be treated in some detail later.
It is not intended to suggest that the extreme rendering of JC phonology or even
the lexical expansion of JC items is necessarily self-conscious. Language emerges to des-
cribe behaviour and eventually defines itself in certain shapes. Nettleford on the subject
of Rastafarian speech comments:
.. the relexification of African forms into the lan-
guage of the masters was a political necessity as well
as a matter of communicative convenience but this
fact of development never did deprive the slave or his
creole descendants of the memory of ancestral
language patterns or his skill to creatively forge new
means of expression using those very patterns . The
Rastafarians are inventing a language, using existing
elements to be sure, but creating a means of communi-
cation that would faithfully reflect the specificities of
their experience and perception of self, life and the
world . .9
Thus speaks the researcher, the academic commentator. Brother W, on the other hand,
one of the researched, has a more simplistic but perhaps more real explanation for the
emergence of the speech patterns:I 0
... It just arise in conversation, describing many
things, or several times you have several different
types of reasoning and you step up with the words
... so we the Rastas suppose to speak, that here, there
and anywhere we find ourselves, we suppose to speak
and no one know what we speak beside ourself.
That's how we get to start ...
What Brother W describes as steppingn) up" with the words is in my view a very
accurate comment, on what actually happens to JC words in DT. I will deal with only
three categories of these words, the latest of which is the most common and the most
complex and so will have to admit sub-categories. The first consists of a short list of
words which when juxtaposed with their JC or SJE equivalents (for the lexicon of these
two is more frequently than not, the same) will be seen to include visual perspective not
evident in JC items and requiring, in the case of SJE, modifiers to give the same impres-
sion. The second is a list of words whose phonology is made to bear the precise burden of
meaning. The final category, that of /ai/ words, will be followed by a continuous passage
meant to illustrate the effect of all these changes on the actual extended rendering of
DT. You will note that, inevitably, certain items have multiple meanings and multiple
syntactic functions. The term "Dread" for example which, with a particle simply means
a Rastafarian, is used accurately in all the following sentences:
/tingz dred iina jamdown now/ Things are very bad in Jamaica now
/bwai dat dred/ Boy that's terrible!
e/ laik yu dred op/ Hi, it seems you have allowed your beard
and hair to grow!
In which known items bear new meanings
/chant/discuss; talk about religious matters.
usually to the accompaniment of Niabinghi
/faawod/ leave, go /ai man a faawod/
I am leaving now
/riizn/ discuss; talk, synonymous with
/chant/ but without drums
/sait/ see; identify
/siin/ Yes. I agree
synonymous with /faawod/
/trad/ walk: travel
/trad/ go through, explain
/sounz/ words: not necessarily their
/baal ed/, bald: with little hair;
/.. ier tu selibriet di die di empara
.. .here to celebrate the day on which
the emperor was crowned.
/wi no kyan jos riizn/ tel enitaim yu
fain di spirit muuv/
Perhaps we can just talk till whenever
you feel the spirit moving you (to go)
/now wen ai an ai shoun di bredrin dat di
werk im saitin op tu du widin di buks/
duoz taimz av alredi paas/
Now when I show the brother that the
work he is identifying to be done in the
world of books (academic) those times
are already gone ...
Yes brother, I agree with you
/ai man a stiep/
I am leaving now
/now wat iz a itiopyan wie dong de/
a trad go a Jerusilem go wership fa/
Now why should an Ethiopian, from
way down there be going to Jerusalem
/wa di fers paat yu wud a laik ai man
fi trad iin
what is the first part you would like me
to explain to you?
/... nuo se di sounz dat jenklman now
yuuz/ nat tu ai .../
Know that the words that gentleman just
used are not seriously meant for you.
*... ai ar di dred/ an yu ar a balled/ ai
priez di livin an yu priez di ded/
I am a Rastafarian and you are not
I worship the living (God) and you worship
the dead one.
/babilan/ Babylon /dats wai jerimaia fifti wan se/ai shal sen
famin into babilan/
That is why Jeremiah fifty one says I shall
send famine into Babylon
/babilan/ Babylon; policeman /den kiem a babilan/ fi pik op ai man/
Then came a policeman to arrest me
/dred; /dredlaks/, person with See example for /baaled/ above
hair uncut; Rastafarian
The examples with asterisks are from a pop song popular on the radio and the juke
boxes. The point will later be made that the record is the medium through which much of
the sub-conscious change of lexical items takes place in the mind, then the speech of the
Note also that words like /chant/; riizn/ and /trad/ are Biblical words brought back
to current usage.
Words that bear the weight of their phonological implications with some explana-
/ublain/ the University and all the people there. Note
that the UWI was formerly a College of
London University hence UCWI. In the
eyes of Rasta they have not seen the truth
and so are blind.
/blainjaret/ cigarette. Note again the phone "see"
/a so wi kaal it yu nuo /blainjaret/.
/ovastan/ used for understand; for if you are in control
of an idea, you must stand over it.
/dounpres/ used for oppress; for if you are being pressed
down as the poor Rastaman usually sees him-
self to be, this pressure cannot be UP ...
/weda di man did blak ar wait/ an im doun-
pres mi now/ iz still siem ai a bon/
(Whether the man is black or white and he
oppresses me I am still the one suffering).
CATEGORY III /ai/ words
The pronoun "I" of SJE gives place to /mi/ in JC and is glossed as 1, my, mine, me,
according to the context. It is this "1" of SJE that has become the predominant sound in
the Rastafarian language though its implications are far more extensive than the simple
SJE pronoun "I" could ever bear. Father Owens suggests that the rejection of the JC
/mi/ is the result of a perception which sees
the pronoun 'me' as expressive of subservience, as
representative of the self-degradation that was expec-
ted of the slaves by their masters ... As a conse-
quence the pronoun 'I' has a special importance to
Rastas and is expressly opposed to the servile 'me' in
the singular (I) or the plural ('I an I') ... or the
reflexive ("I-self, 1-an 1-self . .")11
Whether Father Owens' judgement is accurate or not, what is clear from listening
to any extended Rastafarian discourse, is that the sequence /ai/ continually recurs. A
closer examination of the usage, will disclose that /ai/ is not merely used as a pronominal
form to replace the JC /mi/ but is used as well, as prefix to some nouns and as a replace-
ment for the initial sound in any number of words of varying functions in the sentence.
My own observations so far make me wary of suggesting that any rules govern the placing
of the /ai/ sound why some initial sounds remain and others are replaced, may be a
feature which time and further generalization of usage will dictate. Note for example
in some sentences offered as earlier examples that a speaker begins with his /ai/ words
and later lapses into regular JC forms. It is also true to say that both Father Owens
and Barry Chevannes who make the point that /ai an ai/ is a plural form are not complete-
ly accurate. It seems more likely to my mind that, as in JC, there is one form which corres-
ponds sometimes with the singular sometimes the plural of SJE, so in DT there is one
form which must bear the burden of the singular or the plural. It is possible that eventual-
ly an equivalent for the JC /dem/ will evolve to become the DT pluralizer. Certainly if
/ai an ai/ is accepted as plural, certain DT sentences become nonsense words.
/ai/ Pronominal Function
/ai an ai taakin tu di ai ier/ an
telin di man dat di king av kingz
liiv diiz dakument ier .../
/far ai an ai ier still av bin maaterd/
ai an ai nuo ai duo waant gon/
/denfram di taim now ai an ai
waakin wid ai an ai opan wi
shuolda/ an wi get biitn far it ../
I have been talking to this man
and telling him that the king of kings
has left these documents here.
For although I have been martyred
here, I know I don't want a gun.
Then from the time that we have been
walking with our religion on our
shoulders and we have been beaten
(made to suffer) for it ...
Other sentences cited as examples of different phenomena, will invariably involve
a number of cases in which the unmarked pronoun must be interpreted according to
context. Bear in mind also that the oral situation demands far less attention to details of
number than the written does.
Initial Consonant replacements
/aisercht/ /siin ai an ai hav alredi aisercht/ ...
(seeing that I have already been researched
/ai an ai nuo di king alredi az ailektid/
an ambasada ier we diil wid di welfier av di
(I know that the king has already selected an
ambassador here to deal with the welfare of
(aimaanz/ /ai an ai naa beg dat/ ai an ai a aimaanz it/
(I am not requesting that: 1 am demanding
/aiklerieshan/ . avuman raitz
declaration of Human Rights
/aiowa/ /iz widin aiowa now dat ai gwai get nalij
(It is in our time now that you will get
/aidrin/ /aidrin/ didn di university kom among os
(Bretheren didn't the University (represen-
tatives) come among us before?)
/aidrin/ /di uondli chaaj dat ai an ai az a rasta aidrin
av/ iz di erb/ siin/ ai duo av no mo chaaj/
(The only charge (by the police) that 1, as a
Rastafarian have. is the herb) you see I have
no other offence
/aizaya/ medicall man frii/ dem kyaa kyari eni
amount dem aizaya aa giit tu man az prisk-
(medical men are free; they can carry any
amount (of ganja) they desire and give it to
people as prescription)
/airi/ /ja se ai an ai mos tes di man wen dem kom
tu ai an ai/ an nuo wat airi dwel in dem/
Jah (Jehovah) says that I must test men
when they come to me; to see what truth is
/airi/ also used as a response to suggest that one
agrees with a speaker cf. /siin aiya/
/airi/ airi/ truu/ truu/
/aital/ used to describe Rastafarian food rather in
the way Kosher describes Jewish; prepared
in a special (and natural) way
Below is a brief extract from the chanting/reasoning
. ai an ai shuon di brejrin dat di werk
dat im saitin op tu du widin di buks/
duoz taim av alredi paas/an ai an ai av
shuon im/dal di cherch kounsl/iz dem supuoz
tu riili miit ai an ai/tu aistablish dis
ting ierso now/rait/an bai iz uon admishan/
in dem self dem duon av eni yuniti so ai an ai sait den
se soch man ai an ai man hav mongs izrel/
chaantin tu ai an ai/ai an ai wudn tern
dem we/ yet wen ai an ai dredlaks iivn
chaant/ a se/ dat di man now iz a
spai an a trieta/rait ..
so wen yu kom now tu ai an ai dredlaks/
yu hafi tek wat sounz yu get/bikaaz yu
av aan di shiep/rait/ an di fiichaz/ av
a biis/rait/ wen di man dred op widin
sertin nalij now/ den ai an ai kyan
aksep di man az a man hu tek di step
tuwaadz integriti/rait/ av di king av kingz/
av di aiternal wan av krieshan ..........
The examples used to illustrate actual usage of lexical items in the speech of the
Rastafarians, may have offered in addition, an indication of some of the contexts within
which JC/SJE words have been "stepped up". It is the context of a world in contra-
disposition to constituted religion (here symbolized by all branches of the Established
Church); to the establishment and constituted authority with its laws which, in many
instances, run contrary to the Rastafarian preferred way of life and to a society in which,
for a number of social, economic and historical reasons, Rastas feel they have little stake.
The effect of this view of life and the words which define it, on the thinking and specifi-
cally on the speech of the new generation brought up in a society of almost obscene
economic extremes and increasingly conscious of it, cannot be dealt with effectively in
It is necessary to point out, however, that the Reggae Music which is, perhaps, the
single most important and most constant influence on Jamaican young people, is music
written essentially by Rastafarians and contain lyrics, which, for them, are serious
"messages" and while the Children of Israel create words and music, the Children of Baby-
lon are by no means deaf. So that the youth, which, in earlier years, spoke Patwa (JC) for
peer group acceptance with or without their parents' assent, speaks today the same
language but deeply laced with DT phrases and lexical items, and this in a most effortless
"I-man a step" as a farewell indication; "seen" for assent or "seen?" for question
are commonplace in any youth talk. The phonological accuracy, or the ability to sustain
the items will differ from youth to youth but the forms are there. "No men allowed here"
is the legend I read on a teenager's bedroom door. Note that this sentence is an SJE
sentence but "men" (which the ignoring of the English plural in JC and DT has freed for
other meaning) signifies in DT a "bad" man, as in the comment of a rural Rasta telling his
life story /a men kil ai onkl) (A MEN killed my uncle) has come to mean for that youth
(man) a homosexual.
The reaction of the classroom teacher, like the reaction of the middle-class pal wt,
is, perhaps, less a reaction to any linguistic threat than to the social impact of a movement
they fear and do not understand. It is true, however, that it is the linguistic manifestation
that most impinges on the consciousness. One may have to leave home to see an obvious
Rasta (or look at the TV) but when the youth at home and the pupil in the class-room
simulate the man, it is a more difficult matter to treat with. It could be, that the fourth
grader's excuse for his inattentiveness: /ai man a penitriet something els/ "I was thinking
deeply about something else" elicits from his teacher a reaction less to his language than
to the social phenomenon it signifies.
Christ, the Coming King
Why do the nations rage, and
the peoples imagine a vain thing?
2 The Kings of the earth set them-
selves, and the rulers take counsel
together, against the Lord, and
against his anointed, saying,
3 Let us break their bands assunder
and cast away their cords from us.
4 He who sitteth in the heavens
shall laugh; the Lord shall have them
5 Then shall he speak unto them
in his wrath, and vex them in his
6 Yet have I set my king upon my
holy hill of Zion.
7 I will declare the decree: The
Lord hath said unto me, Thou art
my Son; this day have I begotten
8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee
the nations for thine inheritance,
and the uttermost parts of the earth
for thy possession.
9 Thou shalt break them with a
rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in
pieces like a potter's vessel.
10 Be wise now, therefore, O ye
kings; be instructed, ye judges of the
rejoice with trembling.
11 Serve the Lord with fear, and
wai duu di iiden riej/ an di piipl imajin a vien
ting/ di kingz av di ert set demself/ an di
ruulaz tiek kounsl tugyeda/ agiens di laad/
an iz anaintid sein/
let os briek dier banz asonda/ an kyaas awie
dier kaadz fram os/ii dat sitet in di evn
shal laaf/di laad shal av dem in dirijan/
den shal ii spiik tu dem in iz raat/ an veks
dem in iz suor displeja/yet av ai set mai king
opan mai oli il av zaian/ ai wil diklier dikrii/
di laad ad sed antu mii/ dow art mai son/
dis die av ai bigatn dii/ aks av mii an ai
shall giv dii di hiiden far dain ineritans
an di utamuos paat av di ert/ far dai
dow shal briek dem wit a rad av alan/dow
shal dash dem in piisiz laik a pataz vesi/bii
waiz dierfuor now o ii kingz/ bii instroktid/ii
jojiz av di ert/serv di laad wid fier an rijais
wid tremblin/ kis di son/ les ii bii angri/ an
ii perish fram di wie/an iz raat iz kingld/
bot a likl/ blesed bii aal dem dat put dier
12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry,
and ye perish from the way, when his
wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed
are all they who put their trust in
trus/ in im/
silasi ai/ dier en mai likl puoshan av riidin/
1. Most of the transcriptions used as examples of Dread Talk in this Paper are taken from tapes of
discussions between Mr. Barry Chevannes, Research Fellow ISER, UWI, Ja. and groups of
Rastafarians. Thanks are due to Mr. Chevannes and to the ISER for permission to use the tapes.
2. Perhaps the earliest and still, in some ways, the most respected of these, certainly the most
frequently referred to in the tapes at my disposal, is the Report of the Rastafari Movement in
Kingston, Jamaica, Smith, Augier and Nettleford. Institute of Social and Economic Research,
3. Dread The Rastafarians of Jamaica, Joseph Owens, Sangster 1976 p vii
4. Mention must be made here of earlier attempts to treat this aspect of the Rastafarian Movement:
i "Note on Rastafarian Language" Dread op. cit. Pp 64 68
ii In Social Origins of the Rastafarian Movement Barry Chevannes (Unpub. Pp 189-194
iii "Dread Talk" Joshua Peart; A Caribbean Study; undergraduate requirement, U.W.I.
5. For the use of this particular tape, thanks are due to Dr. E. Kamau Brathwaite of the Depart-
ment of History, U.W.I., Mona.
6. "Code Switching in Jamaica Creole Some Educational Implications" Velma Pollard Caribbean
Journal of Education Vol. 5 Nos. 1 and 2 1978 P 25.
7. See note five
8. This a very common, affirmative phrase, sometimes replaced by /no truu/ or /rait/
9. Dread op. cit. p iv
10. "Era of Dreadlocks" B. Chevannes; Paper presented at Conference on the African Diaspora.,
Hampton Institute, Virginia, 1977
11. Dread op. cit. p. 65
THE RASTAFARIANS IN THE EASTERN CARIBBEAN
When Walter Rodney was banned from grounding with his brethren and sisterin in
Jamaica in October 1968, there was a groundswell of popular resentment in the whole
Caribbean. As a regional centre, the University campus at Mona was the pivot of the
circulation and reproduction of ideas, and those ideas relating to black dignity and
respect were prominent in the discussions taking place at that time. From the University
emerged a core of students who sought to spread the ideas of black power, and they
figured prominently in the protests against the British invasion of Anguilla and the
protests against racism in Canada, particularly after the arrest of Caribbean students at
Sir George Williams University in Montreal.1 The significance of this political tendency,
which was anti-capitalist and anti-racist, was exposed to the world when the youths and
unemployed precipitated a rebellion against the perceived misrule in Trinidad in 1970.
Spontaneous protests taking the form of massive black-power demonstrations paralysed
the State, but the workers and unemployed of Trinago escaped the bloodletting, which
had become so prevalent in the underdeveloped world, because the soldiers mutinied
instead of shooting the demonstrators.
The limitations of the philosophy of black power emerged when the leaders of this
popular movement failed to link the spontaneous protest to the organized activities of
the working class and farmers. In Trinago, the leaders of National Joint Action Commit-
tee attempted to make concrete links with the trade union movements, but as long as
the question of race lay at the core of their ideology, without an understanding of the
question of class and the specific conditions of Indian and African workers, black power
as an ideology could not have a future. This was particularly so when some of the leaders
expressed open hostility to scientific ideas while the State moved to arrest and harass
the youths, while using the pacification programme called 'Special Works, to de-
mobilize and disorganize the unemployed section of the movement. The experiences of
the National Joint Action Committee and the National Union of Freedom Fighters led to
a re-examination of the all-class notion of race, and new political groupings emerged or
gathered strength as they sought clarification and answers to the pressing problems of the
people. Moko, New Beginning Movement, Union of Revolutionary Organization, and
others emerged in Trinidad; the Forum Groups in the Windward Islands, the Afro-
Caribbean Liberation Movement in Antigua; Amadala in Belize, and Ratoon in Guyana.
The rise of these popular and democratic organizations marked a new turning point, but
the failure of some of these groups to root their movement in their own historical speci-
ficity with the distorted and uneven development of the proletarian masses, led to the
growth of the Rasta movement among the youths.
The islands of the Caribbean face the social scourge of high unemployment. It is
usual to speak in terms of 30% and 40%, and even 50% unemployment. Sections of the
unemployed were the raw material for the development of a lumpen proletariat, but the
youths spurned the idea of chasing the trinkets of capitalism. They had learned from the
depressing experience of Jamaican lumpens how the politicians and the State could
distort the lives of youths by dangling 'carrots' and arming lumpens who terrorized the
society. It is significant that the 'Dreads' mushroomed in the underbelly of imperialism
where the struggle to master the natural environment took precedence over the acquisi-
tion of commodities (the modern trinkets of capitalism). The youths who call themselves
Rastafari have taken the culture of resistance to the beaches, the craggy hills, the shanties,
and to the villages of the Eastern Caribbean, while in Grenada giving notice to the world
that henceforth Rasta was to be part of the progressive movement in the Caribbean and
were not to be fooled by mercenaries. Through the medium of Reggae, the drum and a
heightened, politically tinged Calypso, they have declared themselves a la Stalin the
The Nationalist Forbears of the Rasta
The English-speaking islands of the Caribbean stretch for 2000 miles, from Trinidad
in the Southeast, including Guyana in South America and Belize in Central America, to
Jamaica in the North. These islands have been bound together for three centuries through
British Colonial Rule, the rivalry between French and British capitalism, and their specific
identities moulded by the experiences of slavery, indentureship, colonialism and white
racism. The white slave-masters were aware of the positive impact of the Haitian Revolu-
tion on the consciousness of the black masses, so they tried their best to present Africa as
a continent of barbarous subhumans so that the ex-slaves, whose forefathers had continu-
ally rebelled, would be afraid to admit that they were Africans. In this anti-African
environment, where the possessing classes promoted the stereotype of the lazy Quashie,
African culture went underground to appear in the form of Shango or Calypso.
It was to this part of the Caribbean that King Ja Ja of Opobo was exiled in 1887;
and during his period of forced exile in St. Vincent he spoke to the people about Africa.
The masses made Calypsoes on the martial and marital exploits of this African King, and
the more literate section of the community took an active interest in the European parti-
tion of Africa. Some members of this budding African middle class were determined to
return to their roots in order to contribute to the progress of their land of origin. Edward
Wylmot Blyden, who migrated from the Eastern Caribbean to Liberia towards the end of
the 19th century, was one of the early nationalists. His ideas on black dignity and affirm-
ation of the African personality had a considerable ideological and political impact on a
generation of Africans both inside and outside the African continent.
Henry Sylvester Williams from Trinidad called the First Pan African Congress of
this century in London in 1900. The significance of this conference was that for the first
time a group of Africans, motivated by the common experience of colonialism and driven
forward with the commitment of ending white plunder of Africa, had come together.
Williams was part of a generation of educated blacks who found that their scope for self-
expression and political mobility was blocked by the whites; so they looked to the libera-
tion of Africa as a source of the liberation of black people. George Padmore and CLR
James emerged in a later generation to join the growing international movement for
African redemption. Yet both these spokespersons of Pan Africanism faced the crucial
question of penetrating the nationalist form of this Pan Africanism to appreciate its class
content. Because Padmore could not identify the working class as the leading force in the
Pan African struggle, he lost his sense of direction and wallowed in bourgeois theory and
practice to the point where he propagated a false antithesis between Pan Africanism and
Communism. Significantly, Padmore's practical politics suffered a considerable decline in
spite of the fact that he once stood high in the ranks of the international working-class
movement. While Padmore was equivocal on the role of the working-class movement in
the Pan African struggle, the Caribbean workers developed their own brand of support for
the struggles in Africa while struggling to better their own living standards.
Black workers in the Caribbean were in the forefront of the opposition to the
Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935. In Jamaica the poor had opposed the invasion by
'blooding' the King of England and deepened their identification with the Ethiopian
monarch. Throughout the Caribbean the poor blacks declared that they should be
allowed to go and fight on the side of their brothers and sisters in Ethiopia. At a forth-
right meeting at Clark's Theatre in St Lucia on October 10, 1935 the 'International
Friends of Ethiopia' denounced the Foreign Enlistment Act, which provided for penalties
against British subjects serving in the armies of nations at war with which Great Britain
was at peace. They passed a resolution that
"in view of the provoked aggression of Italy against
unarmed Ethiopia, the penal clause of the above act
be waived in so far as it applies to West Indians, to
permit St Lucians who may desire to do so volunteer-
ing to go to Ethiopia".2
Similar resolutions were passed in Dominica. Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and
Antigua. So concerned were the colonialists that the British circulated the criticism being
made of the British role in Abyssinia to British Governors in thirteen African colonies,
warning them to look out for similar protests in Africa. A section of this circular read:
"In certain West Indian dependencies a very consider-
able degree of interest, amounting at times to un-
desirable excitement, has been invoked among the
local population by the Italian Abyssinia war ...
While I have no doubt that, at any rate among the
more advanced sections of native opinion in certain
African dependencies, the present Italian Abyssinian
war is followed with much interest, I have received no
reports indicating that the war has aroused in any
African dependency the same degree of excitement as
it has in certain West Indian dependencies."
Warning the Governors of what to look out for in Africa the Colonial Secretary
"Throughout the West Indies at present there is a large measure of unemployment
and economic distress, that is the background of any unrest which may exist in the
Caribbean waters today, and coupled with such economic difficulties, there is
undoubtedly a widespread feeling of resentment to the Italo-Ethiopian conflict.
The unfortunate incidents which recently occurred in St Vincent and British
Guiana bear witness that the advantage is being taken of this state of affairs by
communist agitators and by rabid racialists to stir up sectional and racial animosi-
ties at a time when the fundamental interests of the community demand that the
differences of class and colour should be buried."3
To counteract the criticisms of Britain the Colonial Office went to a two-pronged
response: one at the level of propaganda and the other at the level of coercion. To check-
mate the protest against the prevention of Caribbean blacks fighting in Africa, it was
suggested that the 'superlative' efforts to end the war being made by the British govern-
ment should be highlighted. In Jamaica. the Kingston and St Andrew Councillors
(elected on a limited franchise) passed a resolution praising the efforts of Britain to
procure peace. This was printed in the planters' voice, the Gleaner, and similar resolutions
were passed in the Eastern Caribbean, and circulated in local papers.
At the same time the police intensified their vetting of the protest meetings, and in
Trinidad Governor Hollis took away the people's right to assembly after the intelligence
report of Major Johnson on a meeting of the Citizens Committee of San Fernando. This
meeting had been attended by the working-class leaders such as Rienzi, Butler, Evelyn
and Sandford. These leaders, in particular Uriah Butler, were to emerge as champions of
the revolt of the masses during the strikes of 1937.
Meanwhile, individual Africans from the region took their own action in support
of Ethiopia. From Barbados Arnold Ford, who formed a sect of black Jews in the USA
and determined that the real Jews were the Falashas of Ethiopia, moved to settle in
Ethiopia. His wife, also from Barbados, started the first co-educational secondary school
Sin Ethiopia. Herbert Julian, from Trinidad, was the most enigmatic of the Caribbean
blacks who migrated to Ethiopia. As an airman, he had volunteered his services to help to
develop the Ethiopian airforce and served in the armed forces, rising to the rank of
Both Julian and Ford had gone to Ethiopia from the United States of America
where there was a sizeable West Indian community. They had figured prominently in the
nationalist thrust of the twenties for in the US they could organise, raise funds, speak
out and agitate in a way which was not possible in the islands. Nationalists such as Cyril
Briggs, from St Kitts, formed the African Blood Brotherhood and were involved at all
levels of the anti-racist movement, from the armed confrontations in 1919 to the massive
organization of Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) branches, Briggs
moved in and out of the Garvey movement, the dominant ideological force among the
black masses at that time. Throughout the Eastern Caribbean where there were local
branches of the UNIA, they were either proscribed by the British or put under intense
surveillance. Colonial officials quaked at the content of the Negro World, Garvey's news-
paper, and they banned its circulation in Trinidad. They also barred Garveyites from
employment because they took a leading role in the struggle for better conditions.
The problems of discrimination and the degradation of th black person also called
Iorth a religious response in the formation of the African Orthodox Church. This religious
group was started by Bishop George Alexander McGuire of Antigua. His experiences in
the Anglican Church had led him to the belief that the white christian denominations
were too infested with racism for the black person to have spiritual fulfilment in those
institutions. He presented a picture of a black God and a black Christ to his congregations
and the African Orthodox Church expanded rapidly in the African world, building upon
the nationalist foundations of Ethiopianism.5
This religious form of nationalism and anti-colonialism was soon superseded by the
massive outpourings of the broad masses in 1937 and 1938. Strikes, riots, and other
forms of worker manifestations forced the granting of democratic rights and sped up the
process of political independence. The natural quest for freedom and liberty had taken
root in the Caribbean with the kind of regional unity reflected in the experiment of the
West Indian Federation. But the ideas of Caribbean internationalists such as T A Marry-
show were to founder in the rock of petty bourgeois nationalism as the 'states' struggled
for a form of political independence which promoted the narrow island chauvinism which
later led to the banning of progressive intellectuals and trade union leaders from freedom
of movement throughout the islands. The most significant set of internal and external
socio-economic contradictions which shaped the post-independence era were those which
derived from the consolidation of the petty bourgeoisie as a class around the State. Even
in the islands where the level of autonomy took the form of 'Associate Statehood'. this
up and coming stratum -usually referred ,o in pluralist literature as the 'middle class' -
used the resources of the State to build up their level of consumption relative to the more
established commercial intermediaries of foreign capital. This political careerist stratum
had achieved such notoriety in their abusive and corrupt use of power that the people
became immune to the scandals and made songs about the more excessive cases.
The concentration of power in the hands of this stratum, the extension of political
repression, and the institutionalization of corruption were the features of political retro-
gression.6 The governments hardly bothered to legislate for social change, since they were
so preoccupied with legislation against the people, trade unions and opposition elements.
popular cultural groups, progressive intellectuals, and spending the scarce resources on the
coercive apparatus. This repression and authoritarianism took place even in the smaller
islands such as Dominica and Grenada, where the friendship and kinship ties might
normally be expected to counter tendencies towards political thuggery and obscene
brutality. Rastafarianismn developed as the cultural opposition to this political retrogres-
The conspicuous consumption and imitative nature of the petty bourgeoisie
provoked a cultural and anti-capitalist response from the youths who called themselves
Dreads and identified with the resistance of the Rastafari of Jamaica. These youths were
rendered unproductive by the inability of the society to provide meaningful employment
for them. Instead of chasing the American and Canadian embassies for visas to migrate
from their communities, the Dreads linked their destiny to the future liberation of the
region and to the liberation of Africa. Through the medium of Reggae, the sounds of
resistance were circulated and these youths identified with the force and energy of this
movement without the encumberance of the deification of Haile Selassie. By the time the
Dreads appeared as a social force, the Ethiopian monarch had been deposed into history
by the Ethiopian people. The Dreads sought to form agricultural communes in the rur?'
areas and adopted the symbols of resistance which had become so well known in Jamaica
- the locks, tam, lion, ites, green and gold; and the use of the herb for spiritual and social
communication and inspiration.
Because the anti-capitalist stance of this force made itself felt in the community,
the politicians in the Caribbean who were the transmission belt for Euro-American
cultural values were horrified at the Dreads. They perceived Rasta and Dreads as repul-
sive and subversive, and responded by arresting the brethren and violently attempting to
shave their locks. Whereas in Jamaica the State had mobilized social scientists to pene-
trate the movement and promote their version of millenarianism. the political careerists
of Dominica could only respond with brute force. Faced with the growing number of
Dreads calling for an end to colonialism and neo-colonialism the Dominican Government
of Patrick John passed a law giving every citizen the right to shoot, without fear of retri-
bution, any individual suspected of being a Dread who entered the property of the said
citizen. The law, clearly drafted from the ferocious slave laws of an earlier style of
coercion, gave the police the power to arrest any person who resembled a Rastafarian,
and a Dread could be given eighteen months in gaol merely for being a Rasta.
The effect of this law was to give the armed members of the petty bourgeoisie and
the police the right to protect property at the expense of the lives of the youths. For two
years the Patrick John government unleashed terror on the youths, murdering six and
framing two on murder charges. Desmond Trotter (Ras Kabinda) was one of those
framed;7 and the regime went all out to hang him but for the regional and international
protests. It was only after Patrick John was removed in 1979 that it was disclosed that
Trotter was indeed innocent. Yet, after the removal of Patrick John, the laws proscribing
the Dreads remain in force. Significantly those who were in the forefront of trying to
prosecute Ras Kabinda were the ones making deals with American capitalists to beat the
UN boycott of the sale of war materials to South Africa.8
Rastas, Union Island and the Sea
Because the narrow vision of development was concentrated on organizing recrea-
tion for the international bourgeoisie, as tourism, it was necessary to reinforce the incre-
dible stereotypes of islands in the sun and happy-go-lucky peoples. Rastas who lived in
the poverty and degradation hidden behind these stereotypes, opposed the mendicant and
shuffling image consistent with the romanticization of poverty and malnutrition. In the
tourist isles Dreads were arrested, shaved and killed. Faced with this terror in Antigua, St
Vincent and St Lucia, the Dreads called forums of solidarity called Nyabingis. The
St Lucian Rastas linked themselves to the opposition Labour Party in their call to end
police brutality. Their organisation the lyanola Rasta Improvement Association spoke
out, not only for the Rastas, but for the downpressed of St Lucia. Their newspaper,
Calling Rastafari, was instituting a style of radical journalism in the midst of petty-
bourgeois squabbles. No sooner had they helped the Labour Party to achieve electoral
victory than the leadership showed that the petty squabble as to who should be Prime
Minister took precedence over the question of solving the people's problems. Rastas
found that the police treated them no better than under the previous administration.
Rasta children were being discriminated against in schools, Rastas were being harassed in
the press and their independent activities as farmers and fishermen were threatened.
These brethren remained firm in their call for a new society and were in the fore-front of
the annual African Liberation Day marches, singing Bob Marley's War and Peter Tosh's
We Must Fight Against Apartheid.
From Montserrat to Nevis and from St. Vincent to Anguilla the politicians attemp-
ted to coerce the Rastas, a group of young men and women who wanted to reclaim the
freedom of the Caribbean Sea. This claim posed a direct threat to those who were in the
process of selling off the islands of the Grenadines to private developers.
The Grenadines are a chain of small islands between the islands of St Vincent and
Grenada. The St Vincent Grenadines extend from Bequia to Peti St Vincent, with the
largest of the islands being Bequia, Mustique, Carouen and Union Island. The advertise-
ments for the sale of these islands in the New York Times and the antics of Princess
Margaret at Gellixeaux Bay, Mustique were the other side to the poverty of the servants
who worked for the Queen's sister and her guests. Young Rastas who followed the deli-
berations of the Organization of African Unity had followed with interest the sale of
Diego Garcia to the USA and the subsequent removal of its citizens to provide for a US
Naval station in the Indian Ocean.9 Moreover, the livelihood of some of the islanders as
fishermen was threatened as the political careerists reserved beaches for swimming and for
Rasta youths led the protest against this form of tourist development in Union
Island in December 1979. This insurrection, which was an ambitious attempt at secession
from St Vincent. was the dramatic expression of opposition to the total disregard for the
islanders. Union Island, with a population of 2,300, was typical of the poverty, one
school, no proper medical facilities, houses, water supply or electricity, while the govern-
ment built an airstrip to land tourists. The revolt was short lived as the St Vincent
Government responded by arresting 34 of the fifty Rastas and youths who had organized
this protest. The Barbadian expeditionary force rushed to the scene to assure their
imperial overlords that all was in order.
The speed with which Barbados responded emanated from the concern in Washing-
ton, London and Paris over the growing militancy and rise of popular organizations in the
Caribbean. During 1978, while the Sandanistas were in the last stages of their battle
against Samoza in Nicaragua, Western leaders met in Guadeloupe and James Callaghan,
then the British Prime Minister, stopped off in Barbados to discuss 'security in the
region.' This new offensive by the West stemmed from British and American unease over
the pressures of the poor countries (called the Group of 77) for the United Nations Law
of the Sea Conference to set up a system of governance for the sea and the use of its
resources. As the old mercantile powers who had the technology and naval power to
exploit the rich manganese nodules under the sea, the US and Britain had become
impatient with the deliberations on territorial waters, exclusive economic zones, the
continental shelf and the high seas. Tiring of gun-boat diplomacy of the era of piracy on
the high seas and land, the poor nations wanted the former freedoms of the big powers
on the sea curtailed, with the sea zoned into coastal waters, sea bed zones and high sea
zones. Each of the various zones would have a different status under the international
law and different types of maritime use.
Island states such as Fiji, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Mauritius and Malaysia called
archipelagic states whose life blood depends on the sea pressed that the sea round their
States gains the same status as internal waters. In the Caribbean, however, the existence
of British, French, Dutch and American colonies prevented the development of a coher-
ent position. Elementary efforts by Jamaica and Trinidad in formulating a new Law of
the Sea were futile in the haste of the American companies to begin to move on the sea
bed.10 The mineral deposits, the offshore oil-wells and the protein in the sea had given
the Caribbean a new significance in both economic and environmental terms.
Before there was any agreement at the UN Conference, the United States and
Venezuela drew up their own treaty to divide the Caribbean Sea between themselves,
irrespective of the legal rights of the Caribbean peoples.' 1 The only objection which they
have countenanced so far was that of France, who wanted the demarcation lines redrawn
for her 'departments' Martinique, Guadeloupe and Cayenne.
Due to this anxiety over the sea, the international media and the International
Institute of Strategic Studies paid attention to the uprising of 34 Rastas in Union Island.
For, after the revolution in Nicaragua and in Grenada, the United States had been more
alert to the need for stemming the tide of peoples' struggles. The Grenadian Revolution
of 1979 "a big revolution in a small island" in the words of Fidel Castro, led the US to
set up a new military task force for the Caribbean the Caribbean Contingency Joint
Force, and a Caribbean Central American Action Committee. Official thinking saw the
Caribbean as a US lake, and perceived social change in the interest of the Caribbean
people as a threat to US interests. In June 1980 a National Security broadsheet
"The Caribbean is a closed sea. The Bahamas, Virgin,
Leeward and Windward Islands, along with Barbados,
Trinidad and Tobago, encircle the eastern edge.
North, Central and South America ring the rest. The
centre of the circle is dominated by the Greater
Antilles -Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Jamaica and Cuba,
which also form a barrier between North and South
America. Only three channels, Mona, Windward and
Yucatan cut through the Antillian island chain which
lies athwart the sea lines connecting the two conti-
nents. These waters also wash Mexico and Venezuela,
two of the world's major oil-exporting nations.
Seventy-five percent of the oil imported into the U.S.
some 30% of total consumption transists the
Caribbean Sea, thus the Caribbean rim and basin is a
petroleum focal point.
Through Caribbean channels, Antillian passages and
the Panama Canal pulses the petroleum of the Middle
East, Ecuador and Alaska. Super Tankers sailing from
the Persian Gulf around Africa do not dock directly
in the US Atlantic or Gulf ports. These vast vessels
transfer their cargoes at the Bahamas, Virgin Islands,
Trinidad or Aruba-Curacao into standard size tankers
which then sail to the Eastern or Southern seaboards
of the US. Venezuelan oil moves Northwards through
the Mona, Windward and Yucatan channels. Not all
of this is crude. Since the US has not completed a
refinery in over seven years much of this imported
petroleum is finished product having been processed
in off-shore locations."12
Commenting on the fact that Grenada was situated on the Northern edge of the
Tobago passage through which super tankers from Aruba and Africa move, this broad-
sheet called attention to the presence of Cuban construction workers in Grenada building
an international airport. It was this kind of sabre rattling after the National Security
Council decided that a naval blockade would not succeed that the external forces decided
to try to mobilize the Rastafarians against the Provisional Revolutionary Government.
The Rastas and the Grenadian Revolution
Forty-nine years after the first Rastas appeared in the Caribbean, young Rasta
brethren in Grenada have shown that with ideology and organization the Rasta can be
mobilized to participate in a revolution. More than 400 Rastas were involved in the
People's Liberation Army which overthrew the Eric Gairy dictatorship on March, 13
1979. The Rastas had remained very close to the New Jewel Movement and the Left in
Grenada had championed the cause of the Rastas. Maurice Bishop had defended Ras
Kabinda in Dominica and he had defended many other Rastas against ganja charges.
When Gairy ruled Grenada, the Mongoose Squad, the Grenadian equivalent of the Ton
Ton Macoute of Haiti, took s ecial pride in cutting the locks of the brethren so that when
the New Jewel MovementI moved to end the politics of retrogression, the Rastas
responded positively and took up arms to defend the revolution. That these Rastas were
not wanting to go back to Africa but were participating in the fall of 'Babylon' in the
Caribbean was not lost to those who were horrified at the sight of dreadlocks with guns.
An academic debate in Trinidad and Jamaica as to whether the change was a coup d'etat
or a revolution betrayed the anxiety of the Caribbean petty bourgeoisie who had bailed
out Gairy when the Civil Servants went on strike in Grenada. Their own Commission of
Inquiry the Duffus Commission had highlighted the levels of brutality, nepotism
and terror, but they were so wedded to the idea of parliament and elections that they
could not envisage the people making their own history.
The change in the direction of the Grenadian society offered new possibilities for
the Rastafarian Movement. Rastas were integrated into the armed forces rising to respon-
sible positions; and with the new trust and co-operation offered by the political leader-
ship, the Rastas took their proper place in the community without fear of harassment.
Young brethren from St Lucia, St Vincent and Dominica flocked to see this new society
where dreadlocks did not have to shave their locks. The euphoria of change was high and
the Rastas held their weekly meetings Nyabingis. Three different influences contended
at these sessions: the influence of the IRIA of St Lucia, the influence of the Dreads of
Dominica and the more idealistic and metaphysical variant of those who wanted to
centralise the personality of Haile Selassie. But the social reality of their need to deal with
the present situation held sway. The scope for division was limited as long as they were
disciplined in the course of carrying out their role in making Caribbean history. They
smoked at these sessions and the boundaries of their behaviour was set not by the State
but by their relationship with their own communities.
They made their own songs of freedom and one of the more popular ones was
"Dreadlocks on the PRA" by the Magnificent Six:
"Never before have the dreadlocks been so happy
since they are in the Provisional Revolutionary Army
(PRA) and serving the country and the people.
The dreadlocks have been kept down by the obeah
dictator and now they are being given a chance to
show they are fellow West Indians. Natty never been
This gaiety and openness was soon exploited by those elements apprehensive of
the experiment in Grenada. Despite external pressures the regime had organised the begin-
nings of efficient fishing, agricultural and tourism sectors. There was increased employ-
ment as the Provisional Government moved to increase agricultural output. Literacy and
school meals programmes were started and Cuban doctors assisted in providing free
medical facilities in the most remote villages. Cuban construction workers were also build-
ing an international airport to break Grenada's dependence on Barbados for its airlink
with the outside world.
In the year after the revolution the Barbadian State increased its purchase of
American weapons by 500% to act as the new spearhead to counter the 'Cuban presence'
in the region. This counter was being pushed by the US which feared actual positive
example of a Marxist-Leninist State which could give assistance not only to the Caribbean
peoples but also to the African liberation movement, as in Angola. Local intermediaries
of foreign capital were caught with fright at the positive assistance given by Cuba.
Schooled in the anti-communism of colonialism, but without the political or material
resources to mount their own opposition to the Bishop administration, they turned to
fomenting divisions in the ranks of the Rastas.
It was a strange twist of history that those who hounded the Rastas under Gairy,
as dirty and unwashed, now championed the cause of two young brethren and manipu-
lated these young brethren to stir up trouble leading to a demonstration. At the behest of
their class allies in Trinidad and Barbados, the owners of the newspaper Torchlight took
the guise of championing the cause of the Rastafarians while leading the call for elections
and opposing the assistance of Cuba to the Grenadian people, saying that Bishop was a
puppet of Cuba. Torchlight spoke for the Caribbean ruling class who understood that the
existence of a higher social order than that of capitalism in Cuba ensured the possibilities
of other societies in the hemisphere breaking out of the misery of capitalist exploitation.
The anti-communists therefore moved to exploit the idealist tendencies of the Rasta
movement, pressing two youths to denounce the PRG and Cuba. The whole process was
important and is worth recounting in some detail, for this exploitation of the Rasta
"Rastafarians in Grenada are likely soon to take to
the streets in massive numbers to protest the debar-
ment of Rasta children from schools and the arrests
and charges for ganja smoking. This was told to
Torchlight by two spokesmen for the Twelve Tribes
On Wednesday October 10, 1979, Torchlight printed the emotive picture of the
Rasta drawn by Ras Daniel Hartman of Jamaica on the front page of its newspaper, and
below this picture launched its most forthright condemnation of the Grenadian revolu-
of Israel, Ras Nna and Ras Ersto Jo Jo, when they
visited our office yesterday ...
The Rastas according to these spokesmen would like
to know why the PRG is holding on to power for so
long and what has become of the election promises.
Local Rastamen have been holding weekly Nyabingis
over the past five weeks and it was at one of these
gatherings at Gouyave Park last Saturday that they
decided that the PRG was anti-Rasta."
This long front page article, which distorted the deliberations of the Nyabingis
with deliberate lies, went on to quote the spokesmen who said:
"we are not supporters of Cuba and Russia, we see
(these countries) as enemies of Rasta, since they do
not acknowledge Rastafarian doctrine. The Twelve
Tribes of Israel congratulate Torchlight for its brave
stand in this time."14
The call by the two Rastas and Torchlight for a mass demonstration was later
revealed to be part of a wider effort to remove the regime, involving an armed invasion.
These two Rastas were being used as a front for elements who planned to assassinate the
leadership of the PRG after engineering an anti-government demonstration. Full details of
the plot were revealed after the regime arrested twelve persons, among them a black social
science professor from an American university. The two young brethren were also
arrested when the leadership revealed pamphlets which had been printed which stated the
factors leading to the eventful, bloody, ruthless overthrow of revengeful communist
Bishop regime.' 5
Rasta brethren and sisterin did not wait until the regime exposed the plot before
they organised their own demonstration against the attempt at setting Rastas against
Rastas, and against the PRG. These Rastas reminded those who went to Torchlight that
it was the same organ which had defended the outrages of Gairy and the dreaded Mon-
goose thugs. Under the heading "Rastas Against Torchlight" they wrote:
Us brethren in the region of La Digue ask in the
name of Jah that in your paper I and I brethren
would like you to publish this report for us please. Us
see that Rastafari have made headline on the reaction-
ary and backward Torchlight who early in the revolu-
tion call us brethren 'Zumbie in a PRG' and who had
nothing to say during Gairyism Terrorism.
By reading this issue us brothers brought together
views and opinions. By this we strongly criticise
Torchlight, Ras Nna, Ras Ersto Ja Ja and any of 1
brethren who form reactionary group to assist
Babylon (Euro-American) downpresser man to take
away us freedom. Us brothers see Revolution Time.
The Report states that at the Nyabingi at Gouyave
the Brethren say that the PRG is anti-Rasta, that the
PRG is holding on to power too long and are not
checking the promised election, that us brethren are
We strongly against these sentences made by the
Rastas who falling as victims to the opportunist
Baldheads and Torchlight who bring about bribery
(Blood Money). Us rasta believe in revolution
whether social or political and not no ballot Constitu-
tion (oppression) Babylonian.
From 13th March 1979 to the present there is free-
dom to move to and fro. No more discrimination, no
more Gairyism-Americanism, CIAism, Babylon. No
more police at our doors before sunrise and after
sunset. We strongly and firmly support any anti-
imperialist, anti-opportunist, anti-oppressor, anti-
Babylonian. We strongly support the PRG and all the
socialist Powers in the world for it is Cuba and Russia
who are assisting our 'Black struggles in Africa' where
our brothers and sisters are slain hourly by Racist
In the name of Jah Rastafari may our message meet
the masses. Let Jah be praised. Let correction be
Oneness Brethren, Comrades.
Roots and Herbs Ghetto.
La Digue." 16
Rasta, Ganja and Capitalism
Despite the initiative by the Rastas those forces which harangued Bishop on the
question of elections but turned a blind eye to the elections in Guyana still hoped to
foment discontent from within. The elementary initiatives towards solving the needs of
the working people were affected by the deteriorating security situation as the incidents
of bombings and shootings increased, culminating in the June 19, 1980 bombing attack at
Queens Park, St George. The Prime Ministers and the officials of the State had gathered
to celebrate Labour Day when the bomb exploded. But no one on the platform was hurt;
the force of the bomb killed three children and injured others.
Some of the elements involved in this bombing campaign were involved in the large
scale planting of ganja. This ganja was not for local consumption but for the international
capitalist market and the big planters attempted to use the centrality of the weed in the
lives of many youths as a leverage to move the Rastas after the previous attempt at
demonstrations had failed.
Ganja and its use pose a serious problem throughout the Caribbean for the way in
which the trade is now linked to international gangsterism. Those imported psychologists
and doctors who describe ganja as a dangerous narcotic forget that the British State
imported ganja into the Caribbean up until 1907 to sell to the Indian indentured workers.
The use of ganja by youths in the sixties and seventies was a principal method of social
control and as soon as a youth was perceived by the state as rebellious the charge of-
possession of ganja was always a useful weapon in the hands of the coercive apparatus of
When the PRG came to power the leaders tried to change the use of the charge of
possession, but at the same time to break the tendency for large scale ganja planters to
clear forest lands for extending the acreage under ganja. These planters affected the
ecological balance such that there was damage to food crops when the rains came. At the
same time those who were involved in this international capitalist trade raided the provi-
sion grounds of other rural farmers. The regime tried to make a distinction between those
Rastas who planted enough weed for their own consumption and those who were
dependent on external outlets for their crop. For the regime knew that they could not'
unilaterally legalise ganja but they could, and did, carry out an educational and police
campaign against the big traders. Maurice Bishop and his cabinet were unaware that the
Mafia were using the islands of the Grenadines as half-way stops between Colombia and
the USA. Even the Wall Street Journal drew attention to this trade and the livelihood of
such as Robert Vesco.17
Already in the Caribbean the experience of Jamaica, where the trade had led to a
corresponding increase in the importation and the use of the gun, lumpen elements
taking on the physical appearance of the Rastas were linked to a wide network of dealers.
A psuedo-Rasta formation called the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, the only Rasta
organisation run by whites operating from the United States of America was involved
in this trade. This 'Rasta' group printed its own paper, a slick professional tabloid called
Coptic Times. This paper was distributed throughout the world of ganja. To avoid this
development, the Chief of Police appealed to the Rastas to assist in the cutting down
of large scale ganja plantations; for there was a marked decline in food production as the
ganja traders paid ECS1000 per pound for the weed while the State paid six cents per
pound for bananas. The promise of a quick dollar appealed to the more materialist among
the young. So bold were the planters that in May 1980 they organised a demonstration in
Grenville to show their opposition to the government's measures to stamp out large-scale
plantation of ganja. Farmers and conscious youths countered with another demonstra-
tion calling for greater self-sufficiency in food production, and the planters began a quiet
campaign saying that the stamping out of the big planters was the first step towards
clamping down on smoking.
Budding exploiters always seek to disguise their activities and seek to speak on
behalf of the majority; but ultimately the progressive Rastas rallied behind the call for
greater agricultural production in the year of education and production. The initiatives
of the PRG towards self-sufficiency in food production was being mounted against the
increased crisis in the capitalist world, and Grenada is particularly vulnerable. As an island
the society exists without much of the usual trappings of national sovereignty. There is
no central bank, it cannot boast its own monetary system (the economy is still tied to the
Eastern Caribbean dollar, thus allowing for illegal export of funds by opposition
elements), its own communication system or national market. In fact, the society could
not generate, under colonialism or neo-colonialism, the general technical preconditions
which were indispensable for economic production and auto-centric development. The
New Jewel Movement has moved cautiously in the areas of agricultural diversification and
has not yet nationalised the bulk of private plantations. This caution is necessitated by
the way in which the Grenadian society was integrated into the international capitalist
economy. This integration continues though it is the long-term effort of the PRG to
slowly disengage from Western Imperialism. It is in the process of disengagement that
there will be greater tests for the future path of development than simply fomenting
divisions in the ranks of the Rastas.
The experience of the organised Left in the Caribbean territories should alert the
leaders of the PRG that contrary to the purveyors of the non-capitalist theory, the
consciousness of the working class is not the product of the consciousness of the intelle-
gentsia. The task of harmonising the State with society is a long and slow process.
Cultural initiatives and social experiments such as the Theatre Group National Youth
Organisation have embarked dramatic presentations in the hope of instilling a new social
awareness. Cultural exchanges and Calypso artists have ensured that the harmony which
began between the State and society from March 13, 1979 will continue. Grenadian
Rastas have come out in the forefront as a new force of cultural resistance in the region -
a force which links liberation to their social reality.
Rastas in Trinidad
The explosion of Rasta culture in Antigua, Barbados, St Thomas, St Kitts and
Trinidad has led to concern by the State officials who spend their energies arguing the
best methods to coerce this dynamic force. In the more homogeneous societies the
politicians have been taken back by the positive example of the Grenadian Revolution.
It is these societies which are in the forefront of the call for elections in Grenada while in
their own societies the police move to intimidate Rastas. While the Barbadian government
bulldoze the settlements of Rastas, young sisters like Janet Tafari of Barbados proclaim
that the Rastas want to move to a higher stage of society than one of shameless imitation
of Europe. '" In Antigua the police battered a youth to near death and then sent him to
a mental institution, for in the consciousness of the defenders of Europe Rastas must be
The Rasta movement in Trinidad offers a glimpse of the complex challenge of the
sort of nationalism which is sweeping the Eastern Caribbean. The emergence of the Rasta
as a strong force in Trinidad poses serious contradictions because of the complex of racial
attitudes which emerged out of the history of slavery and indentureship. Two character-
istics impart a kind of specificity to race and racial problems in Trinidad and Guyana.
First, the decisive racial contradiction is between two non-white peoples: and secondly,
both are exploited by foreign capital and local compradors. These characteristics distin-
guish the Trinidad and the Guyana situation from say the Jamaican one where the popu-
lation is more homogeneous and the oppression clearly manifested itself in racial terms.
This racial contradiction existed in Trinidad and Guyana but in the past had been
exploited by aspiring political leaders of the African and Indian petty bourgeoisie, leading
to bloodshed and violence in Guyana.
Racial identification, of which the Rastafarian movement is an essential manifesta-
tion, is a variant of black nationalism and contains the dialectic of positive and negative
ideas. Rastas in Trinidad have, in the midst of the squalor and waste, demonstrated the
potential of the movement as a movement of oppressed people, for in Trinidad it is not
uncommon now to see Indian Rastas an affirmation by Indian youths that they identi-
fy with the culture of resistance of the African youths. These young people who form
the underbelly of the chaotic capitalist society see before their very eyes the best example
of the failure of capitalism. Trinidad, unlike those societies which claim that they need
aid for development, or that they need foreign exchange, salts away US$3 billion of her
surplus in Swiss Banks, while all the major capitalist powers converge on Trinidad to
recycle the petro-dollars. The Williams Government has proved itself unable to provide
proper medical care for the people, toilets for school children, houses for the poor, food
for the needy. In area after area of the social life of Trinidad, the rot is evident while the
economy grinds to a halt in support of an apparent boom economy within an untrans-
formed colonial economic infrastructure. Road services, public transportation, the water
supply system, the electricity, sewage and drainage facilities all function spasmodically
while the petty bourgeoisie invest TT$24 million in an air-conditioned race-track with
swimming pools for the horses.
The Rastafarian movement is made up of those youths who refuse to be condem-
ned to a life of political opportunism and mediocrity through the Special Works
Programme called DEWD (Development and Environmental Works Division). Their resis-
tance forms part of the broader tradition of resistance which has been the history of the
working-class movement in Trinidad. This movement, which has struggled to defend the
democratic right of freedom of assembly, the right to industrial action, has resisted the
efforts by the different politicians to use coercion and racial manipulation to ensure the
political domination of the petty bourgeoisie. The history of revolts and working-class
activity in Trinago is only matched by the cultural outpourings of the workers in the
form of Calypso, a vehicle through which the political aspirations of the people are
expressed. People's Calypsonians, such as Chalkdust, the Mighty Stalin and Lord Valen-
tino, sing songs of discontent, exposing the class nature of the society and paling into
insignificance the Calypsoes of sex and infidelity.
With the rise of the Rastas and the increasing identification with the Reggae music
among the poor, some Calypsonians have sought to merge new musical forms. At the
forefront of this tendency is Lord Valentino who proclaimed himself to be a Rasta and
continues to send his shafts of critical commentary at the US domination of the society.
The Mighty Stalin in 1979 dedicated his Calypso to the Rasta, calling him the Caribbean
Man, saying that:
"De federation done dead
And Carifta going to dead
But de call of the Rastafari
Spreading through the Caribbean
It have Rasta now in Grenada
It have Rasta now in St Lucia
But to run Carifta, yes you getting pressure
If the Rastafarin movement spreading
and Carifta dying slow
Den is something dem Rasta done
That dem politicians don't know.
So dey pushing one common intention
For a better life in de region
For de women and de children
That must be the ambition of the
Those members of the Indian intelligentsia who feared the prospects of the kind of
unity fostered by Rasta youths launched a series of critical articles on Stalin's conception
of the Caribbean Man. Calling the Calypso racist and sexist they were exploiting the
divisions which had been sown in the society by the colonialists divisions based on race
instead of between the oppressor and oppressed.
Essentially the intelligentsia were expressing their fear of the power of Rasta for the
State had seen the potential and was busy trying to ensure that the Rastas had nothing to
do with the Left and organised working-class movement. Most of the Rastas in Trinidad
had been through the black power movement and were drawn to the Rasta movement
through Reggae music. The Rasta movement in Trinidad is poised between the example
of Grenada and the ideas of deification of the former Ethiopian monarch. This latter
tendency is linked to those activists from Jamaica who collaborated in staging a Jubilee
celebration in Trinidad, one of the few areas outside Jamaica where young blacks still
revered Haile Selassie.
Rastas, Guyana and The Left
That the cultural thrust of Reggae poses a threat to petty bourgeois politicians in
the region was best exposed in Guyana. Like the slave masters who banned the use of the
drum, the Guyanese Government banned Reggae music from the airwaves of the media in
July 1980. Socialism was seen by the leaders of the Peoples National Congress, the ruling
party, as a useful means of maintaining control over the working class. At the same time,
this regime perfected the mechanisms of oppression so that nationalisationn' of foreign
capital and support for African liberation have become dogma to disguise the real
interests and motives of the petty bourgeoisie. The pseudo-socialist imagery offered real
material advantages to the ruling party and its supporters in so far as it opened up tile
nationalised sector as a source for distributing political patronage.
The crisis of imperialism exposed the psuedo-socialist imagery of the regime as the
IMF came in to oversee the reduction of the living standards of the society, especially of
the working poor. The rise in unemployment, the impotence of old parties based on race,
the political crisis which generated the violence leading to Jonestown. and the political
activities of Rabbi Washington and the House of Israel demanded a new political force in
the society. The consolidation of divisive racial alignments at the political level worked
towards increasing the exploitation of the workers and the small farmers.
The Working Peoples Alliance was formed as a political party to respond to this
economic and political crisis in the society. Their Principles and Programmes outlined the
theoretical basis for building a new society, while in practice this party went about the
task of exposing racial insecurity as negative and working against the interests of the
workers, showing concretely how racial and ethnic factors tended to overshadow the
historical role of the working class. The presence of Pan-Africanists and Marxists like
Walter Rodney and Eusi Kwayana in the ranks of the Working Peoples Alliance meant
that tilh statements towards black consciousness were directed in a conscious manner
toward thI emancipation of not only Africans but also Indian workers. Africans in
Guyana hau been intimidated with the ideas by the PNC that they were the guardians of
the black dignity, but the regime showed that this black consciousness was a sinister
mythology which forced the people to live on their knees.
The scope for the spread of Rastafarianism was circumscribed by the nature of the
racial conflict in the society and the conscious policy of the WPA to root itself in all sec-
tions of the working poor, those employed and those unemployed. The existence of cults
such as the House of Israel and the Peoples Temple of Jonestown placed caution in the
minds of youths. Yet the Rasta movement developed among young Africans. It was
prominent in the urban working-class areas, and some Rastas petitioned the State for land
to settle in the interior. However the State was not concerned about their potential
towards farming, the political leadership responded by using the mechanisms of the
police and the law to harass the young brethren and sisterin. The main influence of the
Rasta formation were from the dreads, though a small minority wanted to centralise the
person of lHaile Selassie. But the leadership of the WPA always tried to pull out the most
progressive aspects of the movement while through patient educational work they
exposed the myths of Ethiopia and the Ethiopian monarch which were so entrenched in
The potential towards mobilising the unemployed and the Rastas was clear to
Walter Rodney who identified positively with this force in the Caribbean. In his last
public address to the Guyanese people he paid tribute to Edward Dublin. a member of
the unemployed who died in the cause of the worker's movement. He opened by saying
"As the brother would say, I man Irie, I man dread". This simply means that whatever
pressures may be coming down upon one, one's will to struggle has in no way been
lessened. He spoke of the transformation of those members of the unemployed, those
who were rendered unemployable by the nature of the system but decided not to
become a lumpen, preying on the organised workers. Edward Dublin was a youth who in
the process of working with the WPA became politicised and consequently a threat to the
regime, so that he was killed on February 29, 1980. Asserting the need to mobilise all
sections of the masses Rodney maintained:
"What I am trying to say is that the revolution is not
made by saints and angels but by ordinary people,
from all ranks of life, and more particularly by the
working class who are in the majority. And it is a sign
of the times, the sign of the power of revolutionary
transformation when a street force member is devel-
oped into a fighting cadre of a political movement."
Here Walter Rodney was leaving a lesson for the Caribbean Left, that the Rastas, the
unemployed youth, were part of the working-class movement, that revolution is not made
by saints, contrary to claims of those political movements who claim that their leaders
were revolutionaries from birth. The simple statement he was making was that the move-
ment of the people must harness the positive potential of the Rasta movement in the
process of political struggle.
Walter Rodney did not live to continue his work among the working people of the
Caribbean. He was assassinated by a young baldhead who was paid to gain his confidence.
On his death the Rastas have said that they will produce one thousand Rodneys.
The Rasta movement in the Caribbean today is the foremost Pan-African and Pan
Caribbean movement in the area. Despite the idealist and oft-times metaphysical tenets of
the movement, it is decidedly a section of the oppressed peoples of the region and
contains the history of their love for their African homeland. The movement has broken
down the big island/small island differences among the people and spread to the French
colonial territories of Martinique and Guadeloupe. In these islands the cultural forms of
expression called Cadance proclaim that black people's ancestors were not from Gaul
but from Africa.
While in Jamaica the struggle for influence over the Rastas has intensified with the
formation of the psuedo-Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, the Rastafarian movement in
Grenada has pointed a new direction for Rastas throughout the world. Proclaiming that
Rastas should never become pawns of capitalism they call out:
"It is of great significance that the progressive move-
ment included Rastas and have even placed brethren
in key governmental positions in the security forces
and other agencies and to show no prejudice to natty
dread. It is with this in mind that we deliver this
message to you as a reminder that the founding prin-
ciples of the Rastafarian faith directed that we should
at all cost serve the people in the truth and the right,
so it behoves us to state emphatically and clearly the
position of Rastafari on issues of temporal realities
such as socialism, and communism which is opposed
to capitalism, underdevelopment and imperialism.
Rastafari must take their proper place in the Third
World Revolution struggle against dictatorship and
oppression. Rastas cannot and must not become the
pawn of reactionary capitalists in their attempt to
maintain imperialism." 9
1. In 1969 Black students at Sir George Williams University in Montreal violently opposed Cana-
dian racism in the educational system. See Dennis Forsythe, Let the Niggers Burn, Our Genera-
tion Press, Montreal, Canada, 1971.
2. Fo 371/20154 in the English Public Records Office contains a full account of how serious the
British perceived these mass meetings throughout the Caribbean.
3. Fo 371/20154. See also Robert G. Weisbrod, "British West Indian Reaction to the Italian-
Ethiopian War: An Episode in Pan-Africanism", Caribbean Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 1, 1970 pp.
4. Julian has recounted his experiences and ambivalence to the Ethiopian royal household in his
autobiography, The Black Eagle, Jarrolds, London, 1964.
5. The African Orthodox Church, Reverend A. C. Terry Thompson, 1956. For a pluralist version
of the religious proclivities of blacks in the Eastern Caribbean sec G. 1. Simpson. Black Religion
in the New World, Colombia University Press, 1978.
6. Walter Rodrey, "Contemporary Political Trends in the English Speaking Caribbean", Black
Scholar, USA, September 1975.
7. See statements from the Desmond Trotter Defence Committee, Roseau. Dominica, 1976. Also
see "Trotter's Message From Prison", Caribbean Contact, March 1979.
8. The British Broadcasting Corporation's television programme Panorama in 1979 exposed the
links between leaders of the Dominican Government and South African Companies.
9. In 1976 the U.S. concluded a deal with Britain to buy the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian
Ocean. All of the inhabitants of the island were removed to Mauritius to ensure the building of
one of the biggest U.S. Naval Stations in the Indian Ocean. At present, the OAU is calling for
the return of the island to Mauritius.
10. Richard Payne, "The Caribbean and the Law of the Sea", Round Table, July 1980, pp 322.
11. See Treaty of Limitation of Marine Frontiers Between the Republic of Venezuela and the
United States of America, March 1978.
12. National Security Record, Report on the Congress and National Security Affairs, Washington,
13. JEWEL stands for the Joint Endeavor Welfare Education and Liberation. The New Jewel Move-
ment was formed in March 1973 and was in the forefront of popular demonstrations against
Gairy in 1974 when the father of Maurice Bishop was killed. For an account of the revolution
and the New Jewel Movement see: Grenada, The Road to Revolution by W. Richard and Ian
Jacobs, Casa de las Americas, 1979. Unfortunately this work presents the recent struggles of
the Grenadian working classes in a formal and eclectic manner. They minimise the role of the
working class misunderstanding how colonialism created an oppressed stratum of workers and
small farmers who had to take care of their own subsistence costs. The presence of this form
of capitalism led them to see the economy as a dual economy and hence to centralise the role
of the intelligentsia. It is the use of bourgeois theory cast in the ideological mould of the idea
of non-capitalist path, a very imprecise formulation.
14. Torchlight, October 10, 1979. It is significant that the Twelve Tribes organizations in the region
did not make a statement on the Torchlight allegations. The Twelve Tribes is an international
Rasta group with its headquarters in Jamaica. It is the most hierarchial, organised of the Rasta
Formations. They have settled about a dozen followers in Ethiopia and even there they defy
the social reality by sending to tell Rastas in the Caribbean that Haile Selassie is still alive.
15. Free West Indian, Grenada, November 3, 1979.
16. Ibid, October 20, 1979.
17. Wall Street Journal, November 19, 1980. Vesco was wanted in the US but is a fugitive in the
Bahamas. He was very close to former President Nixon.
18. The Nation, Barbados, Wednesday January 14, 1981. Interview with Janet Tafari.
19. Free West Indian, July 5, 1980.
WEST INDIAN CULTURE THROUGH THE PRISM OF RASTAFARIANISM
In this essay I will offer an integrated cultural analysis of a number of important
social processes currently affecting Jamaica and other West Indian communities at all
levels of the society. This will be done by focussing on Rastafarianism which has a great
deal of untapped relevance for highlighting these discussions.
In socio-economic terms Rastas traditionally form the indigested elements within
the present system the marginals and the dropouts those blacks who have not
succeeded in either becoming conservative peasants tied to the land-god complex, or part
of the urban proletariat securely hooked into the rhythm of some meaningful urban
employment. Most "dropped out" of the system from early school days. The "natty-
heads" of yesterday have become the "natty-dreads" of today those same black people
who were cursed and ridiculed for having hair that was farthest removed from the
"straight" hair of their white over-lords.
The rise and significance of Rastafarianism, it will be argued, lies in the definition
it gives of the dominant culture of the societies of which it is an outgrowth and reaction.
Rastafarianism is no passing cultural fad or oddity on the local or international land-
scape but a product of the intense racial and class struggles growing out of our past.
Unfortunately the real message and significance of this movement is far from being
correctly understood. Rastafarianism is the first mass movement among West Indians
preoccupied with the task of looking into themselves and asking the fundamental
question, Who Am I? or What Am I? As such it reflects the spirit of Garveyism at the
roots level, and it is now flourishing in all those areas where black West Indians are
concentrated. It is a desperate call for an alternative counterculture more suitable to the
needs of black people in these times.
The unique significance of Rastafarianism lies in the fact that it includes the most
dynamic and powerful expression of the African pulsation in the Caribbean today. It is
the voice of Africa crying out in the Caribbean. It is the only growing Pan-African Black
Power roots movement in the Caribbean today which draws together the growing
numbers of those African descendants who feel the need to identify with what they feel
to be more wholesome roots vibrations and longings. Such African vibrations express an
energy, a rhythm and a pulsation akin to those felt by our African forefathers, and which
are still reflected to this day in the capacity of most African descendants to feel the
abstract language of the African drum-beating rhythms in their sub-conscious, telling
them how to "move" and how to express their essence, their primaeval movements, their
soul, their Africa. This African rhythm and vitality in the West is still a repressed energy
and subject to all the characteristic movements of a repressed force. As such, Rastafarian-
ism is the resurgence of African revivalism and spiritualism, and hence qualifies as an
authentic mass African Renaissance movement. Its significance will become even clearer
when it is put within the historical development of African peoples in the Caribbean.
From an obscure cult which began in Jamaica in the 1930s Rastafarianism now
represents a growing force wherever sizeable West Indian communities are found in
Britain, Canada, the USA and in the Caribbean, evoking mixed feeling, of curiosity and
hostility. Here in Jamaica, as elsewhere, however, people are asking and are still waiting
for a definition of Rasta. Rastas are conspicuous because of their apartness and because
of their visible separation and alienation from the rest of society. Rastas have become a
central news item and issue in the 'foreign' as well as in the local press. For instance, the
local Gleaner, Sunday Magazine on March 9, 1978 carried a front page story concerning a
much publicized "crisis" that had occurred at Cornwall College and which had gained
considerable notoriety. The issue became a power confrontation centering around the
"locks" worn by children of the Rastafarian Brotherhood. The article reported that:
"An unkempt student was told to comb his hair or
absent himself from school. He declined, claiming to
be a Rastafarian. The acting headmaster ordered
classes closed. Some 40 fifth former were deprived
of lessons. Half of the fifth former espoused the
cause of the self-styled Rasta. The situation escalated;
a group invaded the staff room, abused and man-
handled teachers, stole chalks and defaced the walls
with obscenities, and finally staged noisy demonstra-
tions carrying placards such as "Free Up Rasta"."
Sometime also in 1978, Air Jamaica and its passengers (and later, the nation)
shuddered with fear and furor over the fact that a pilot (who was a Rastafarian)
announced jovially from the cockpit of an Air Jamaica jet that the plane was ready to
take off, "with Dread at the controls." The official reaction to this was alarming and is
itself proof that in the public mind Rastas are "evil." People do not even stop to consider
that Rastafarianism itself could conceivably be a reaction to evil. It is as if Rastas have
broken all ten of the "Lord's Commandments." This is the predicament Rastas face
locally and internationally.
The Jamaican Sunday Gleaner, January 8, 1978 reported that:
"The Trinidad Police have launched an all-out attack
on bombers and arsonists whose activities turned
downtown Port-of-Spain into a burning inferno leav-
ing damages estimated to cost J$30M and some 800
workers out of work."
What is most interesting in this report is what followed ..
"Investigations are being carried out into reports that
three men wearing locks were seen running away
from the scene of the fires ... In a reference to their
investigations and to calls for action against anyone
wearing long plaits the police said that no action
would be taken until they could secure an allegation
against any such persons."
The fear engendered by this polarisation has made Rastas "niggers" even in the land
of their birth Jamaica and where 90% of the population is black, albeit like roasted
breadfuits (black on the outside only). Here Rastas are historically shunned, dreaded and
distrusted alike by their "class-mates" (peasants and proletariat) and by their traditional
class enemies (the black and white bourgeoisie). An extrovertist culture such as ours,
must always find a nigger scapegoat to blame for the shortcomings it does not honestly
want to confront. Rastas are therefore blamed for the evils of evilmen as well as for the
evils of the capitalist system, of which they are a product. In Britain, Rastas are now
being blamed for things ranging in scope from the fall of the British lEmpire, to the shaki-
ness of the British Welfare State, to the killing of the fictional "Baby Jane"! Rastas are
convenient scapegoats in a sick world, made that way by the white capitalists who are
(the real "Dreads") at the control. The chant of the Rasta man's song is real: "Sly Mon-
goose has taken Rasta name abroad," and the baldheadss" (non-Rastas) are spreading
anti-Rasta propaganda so as to overlook and discredit their message and their condemning
criticisms of the society to which their expanaing presence is verifiable proof.
Reactionaries are against this movement because Rasta consciousness includes a
certain kind of knowledge and understanding, bred of reflective sufferation, which puts
Rastas at odds with the reigning definitions, falsifications and "worlds" of middle-class
respectabilism and values. As such this Rasta consciousness cannot be reversed or put
under "heavy manners" as it has its own built-in guarantees for movements forward in
search of self-realisations. It is a Black Power movement that is struggling to assert itself.
A Cultural Symbolic Analysis
Through the prism of a cultural analysis we will be better able to understand and
explain the fundamental antagonisms and crises faced by our people and the society at
this time. Only this cultural slant will give us the most comprehensive view of the situa-
tion. Only at this level of a total cultural analysis are we able to focus on and compre-
hend the most general effects which our common background of slavery and colonialism
has left as an heritage for its subjects.
Culture embraces much more than just economic relationships. The present social,
economic and political instabilities and confusions in the society have to be placed
squarely within the limiting context of this total heritage. But this cultural heritage has
to be adequately conceptualised.
The recent and continuing growth of Rastafarianism is itself a reflection of some
of the fundamental historical forces at work in the society. In the process of exploiting
blacks, whites have historically held up Africa as the antithesis in terms of which they
defined themselves. Africa, in terms of this white constructed symbolic imagery, was the
"dark" continent inhabited by ape-men, and incapable of creating the "arts", sciences
and the other evidence of authentic civilisation. This imagery was constructed convenient-
ly at a time when Europeans themselves were struggling to overcome the stigma and
"darkness" of their own mediaeval backwardness and stagnation. For reasons of capitalist
economic exploitation Africans were conveniently ex-communicated from the human
race and held in check by the vicious ideology of Racism. Because of the pernicious
effects arising out of this contact with Europeans blacks have now found it necessary to
ask themselves the question: What does Africa mean to me? Who am 1? This is the unique
dilemma that has emerged for black people for it involves searching for an adequate defi-
nition of Africa and the self, both in the mind and in reality.
Culture refers to the effect of the environment and of the organised system upon
the people, predisposing them to behave in one way as opposed to another. It functions
as an adaptive mechanism which man uses to adjust himself to the situation in which he
has to live. It is a cushion between man and his environment, and as such it includes all
that body of ready-made solutions (or non-solutions) to the general problems encoun-
tered by the group. It includes all the accepted and patterned ways of behaviour of a
given people. It is the sum total and organisation or arrangement of all the group's ways
of thinking, feeling and acting. In effect the culture and the people are one. To define a
people we must therefore define its culture for it is this culture which gives a people its
identity and its collective and individual image of self. This culture includes forms of art,
music, dance, song and story. But it goes way beyond these to include everything that is
socially significant. As the noted Anthropologist Ina Corinne Brown has argued:
"Our culture is our routine of sleeping, bathing,
dressing, eating and getting to work. It is our house-
hold chores and the actions we perform on the job;
the way we buy goods and services, write and mail a
letter, take a taxi or board a bus, make a telephone
call, go to the movie, or attend church. It is the way
we greet friends or address a stranger, the admoni-
tions we give our children and the way they respond,
what we consider good and bad manners and even to
a large extent what we consider right and wrong. All
these and thousands of other ways of thinking, feel-
ing and acting that seem so natural and right that we
may even wonder how else one could do it."
Defined as such, culture is all encompassing and is an important prism for those
people wanting to know themselves individually and collectively. To know a people one
has to penetrate its culture, for it is through culture that man "represents" and symbol-
ises himself. One of the earliest Greek scholars summarised this universal truism thus:
"But if oxen (and horses) and lions had hands, or
could draw with hands and create works of art like
those made by men, horses would draw pictures of
gods like horses and oxen of gods like oxen, and
they would make the bodies (of their gods) in accord-
ance with the form that each species itself possesses.
Aethiopians (Africans) have gods with snub-noses and
black hair, Thracians have gods with grey eyes and
(Xenophanes of Colophon. C. 530 B.C.)
Traditional African Culture
Above all, Rastas are Africans. And it is in the light of the African cultural back-
ground and subsequent historical experiences that Rastafarianism is best understood.
African culture tied Africans intimately to their environment and to the over-
whelming order of nature within which they lived. Their survival depended on their
adaptation to this order. Our forefathers felt themselves as much a part of the natural
forces as these "forces" were part of their being. Thus they could not act destructively
against nature any more than they could be self-destructive. If they expected nature to
provide for them, they had to respect its integrity and avoid violating the spirits that
resided in all natural phenomena.
Their religious beliefs at this time reflected this organic relationship to the world
around, and included (a) belief in Animism (b) belief in a God-head and (c) a belief in the
power of the rational mind. Animism reflected a keen respect and faith in nature, and
included the belief that all objects of nature possess a natural life or vitality, or are
endowed with in-dwelling souls. A "spirit" or "secret" force, it was believed, resided in
both animate and inanimate nature and could be manipulated by man through magic.
Thus, we find all the animals familiar to the African served at some time or other as a
sacred power totem, and the "obeah-men" to this day use the parts of these ancient
totems in their "science" of witchcraft.
Africans projected themselves through their art forms, folklore and other forms of
symbolic representations. African folklore takes the form of animal stories, reflecting the
fact that Africans saw the world very much like a forest in which men and animals are
pitted against each other in a contest for survival. The environment was conceived as one
involving diversities, scarcities, inequalities and struggles. These were system-limitations
existing between our African forbears and the balance of nature, including the animals
in the stories. The natural theatre and dramatics of the African environment was readily
available on the basis of which Africans constructed a common imagery and symbolic
folklore which reflected their common life situation and their ideals and the compro-
mises in all of their colourful details. This art-form provided Africans with an efficient
means of symbolically "representing" their lives and as a way of reflecting upon it. For us
they provide a means of collective self-analysis.
The animals in the Hausa animal-stories for instance, were made to resemble the
Hausa people in visiting, marriage, feeding their young, spinning, grinding corn, working
on the farm, marketing, fleeing from their creditors, living in houses, wrestling, seeking
revenge and even going to the next world. Africans assigned different qualities and charac-
teristics to the animals, based largely on actual knowledge of these animals. The African
then placed himself (mentally) within the context of this animal world by finding villains
and heroes among these competing animals.
Some of these animals were so well studied and admired that they worked their way
into the affection of the different tribes to become the sacred tribal totem, and their
perceived source of Power, God. Tribes often named themselves and modelled their
behaviour on that of their totem, and through certain sacred rituals worked themselves
into taking on the form and powers of their tribal or individual totem.
Following this line of reasoning, it is clear that in order to know the nature or ideals
of such a tribe one has only to know the nature of the animal (or totem) which represen-
ted their ideals. By using such collective animal-symbols like "Lion" as tribal totem,
Africans tell how they saw themselves and what they aspired to be. The symbol defined
their most sacred values and hence reflected their innermost sentiments, revealing their
collective or folk personality and folk ideals.
It is most certain that most Africans identified more commonly with those animals
that had the same kind of power relationship within the natural world which they, as
Africans, had in relationship to the total world of nature around them. In the world of
the jungle there were such big power animals like the Lion, Tiger, Elephant, Leopard, etc.
and also those much smaller in size. Some animals were gifted with physical strength and
others with cunning, while others had varying mixtures of kindliness, speed, predictability,
etc. The problem for our African ancients was the problem of selecting that animal which
ideally represented the position and strivings of Africans in a world governed by diversity,
scarcities and struggle. It is as if to say that if the African had the opportunity to be re-
incarnated into the animal world he would choose to come back in the form of his parti-
cular totemic animal.
Many animals gained the admiration of Africans and some even became heroes,
gods and "spirits' of particular tribes. But even at this stage there was a struggle as to
which animal should become the dominant totem for the larger number of African tribes.
That is, there was already a struggle of identity. There was no one totem serving to unite
all the Africans, as each of the tribes had its own totem. This was the beginning of the
struggle within the African folk (soul) as to who he was in nature and the qualities most
needed to survive in a system in which one has little power compared to others.
Brer Ananci as Hero in Africa: the Nature of Ananci
Africans realized that since they were relatively weak physically they could only
prevail against the strong and mighty forces not through use of force but through mental
alertness. Like the Ananci-spider Africans saw their major human asset to be their
cunningness and mental alertness which gave them the capacity to adjust and survive
under the most trying situation. As Africans our forefathers had faith and confidence in
their knowledge and intelligence to devise strategies for their own survival. Without
mental alertness one was derided as a "bobo" or "Quashie" or one is said to be as "dunce
as a bat". A folk tradition was thus developed around the ways of acquiring more brain
power, for instance, by the eating of garlic or other herbal potents.
Ananci became so cunning that he often "played fool to ketch wise". So much of
Ananci's power derived from his cunning and wit (brains) that he was able to win out
even against the big game animals and was capable of causing every kind of crisis imagin-
able and in getting off freely, although sometimes "fixated" or coming close to disaster
as the stories of "Tar Baby", and "Brer Ananci and his Three Daughters" illustrate so
well. Often the teller will end an "Ananci story" thus: "The wisdom of the Spider is
greater than that of all the world together." Ananci became even greedy after wisdom, for
in one popular story Ananci placed all the wisdom of the world in a calabash with the
intention of hoarding it for himself only, but as he climbed the tree to hide it, the Cala-
bash gourd fell and wisdom disseminated throughout the world and amongst all the other
Early Criticisms of Ananci
Ananci was a petty hustler and a schemer. He was an artist at psychological warfare,
the impersonation of the genius of our race as it was conceived by Africans themselves.
He was often elevated to the status of "Divine", as he was often conceived as having
supernatural powers. It was even believed by the Hausas that the slender threads of the
spider became little solar rays, and that the sun became the spider which in artful ways
ensnared the souls of mortals. The Bogos of West Africa represented the sun as a "thiev-
ish witch in the middle of the spider's web." Often Ananci is represented as the God
Exuba Elegba, "god of chaos", the forgotten African "God of the Crossroads and
Messenger of the Host." Sometimes he is Papa Legba.
Even at this early stage of African consciousness there emerged a conflict within the
African folk (soul) as the Spider was not only a hero but also a villain. Brer Ananci was
no "ideal" man in the judgement of Africans themselves. Survival took precedence over
loyalty, piety and truth. He was pragmatic rather than principled. To Ananci were
ascribed all the survival qualities most characteristic of our race at the time or those most
to be desired those that were both good and bad: cunning, toughness, love of life,
gaiety, nimbleness of spirit and mysticism. The less admirable qualities of Ananci were a
result of the imperatives of his powerlessness in a world of competition and scarcity.
Brer Ananci's Rivals Lion
Not all early Africans were, of course, approximations of Brer Ananci for other
totemic ideals competed against that of Ananci for the title of "Hero"; serpent, birds,
tigers, alligators and many others. But of all these other ideals that of the Lion was the
next most commonly respected as it elevated a major alternative "ideal" which was
indeed consciously followed by many African peoples at particular stages in their history
- the Zulus, the Kikuyu, the Maroons, the Niabingis, the Coromantees. Among the
Hausas the chief was often addressed as "Lion", or "Bull" or "Elephant", and to be refer-
red to as "son of a wild beast" was a manly compliment. Among the Hausa, for instance,
the Lion totem was the second most popular animal totem. Here Zaika (Lion) stood for
power and dignity, and was a complimentary title for a chief.
In this symbolic world of animals as was indeed reflective of what was happening
within the culture of Africa there was a conflict between those two most popular ideals
or images: that of Brer Ananci and that of Brer Lion. These two animals, were in fact
always in conflict. In one Hausa story it was a Lion who trampled a blacksmith to pieces
and these pieces later became a spider. Another Hausa story tells how the Lion, not
Ananci, was king before the arrival of man. In one Jamaican story Brer Tiger (synony-
mous to Lion (was originally king of the forest with many things named after him Tiger
lilies, Tiger moths, Tiger stories etc. He was acknowledged by all the other animals
(including Brer Ananci) as being the strongest and Brer Ananci as the weakest. Brer Dog
explained: "When Tiger whispers the trees listen. When tiger is angry and cries out the
trees tremble. But when Ananci whispers no one listens. When he shouts everyone
laughs". In order to have the stories of the forest named "Ananci stories" rather than
Tiger stories, Brer Ananci accepted the challenge set by Brer Tiger to catch Mr Snake
alive. This Ananci did by using flattery to entice and trap Mr Snake, and thus having the
stories named after him, after which the other animals could not laugh at him any longer.
Africans in the West Indies
Our African forbears who were captured and shipped off as slaves to work on the
white plantation jungles of capitalism in the New World carried with them their tradi-
tional symbolic images. The world of Nature and Man continued to be haunting, threat-
ening and exciting. Mysteries continued. To this day many aspects of nature are still
believed to be possessed by spirits or ghosts which can be manipulated through the
correct sequence. To this day the consciousness of West Indian Africans is still dominated
by animal symbolisms, even by those foreign to the West Indian environment. As a way
of deriving "morals" children are educated at home and at school, and by Louise Bennett
and other "grandparents" and culturalists into African folklore which deals with the
names, ways and actions of animals. This is institutionalized in our national pantomimes
today. The Black Jamaican peasant folklore refers to animals and insects of every kind,
including those not found in Jamaica notably tigers and lions. By far the largest number
refers to animals of lowest or common rank and status to crabs, fowl, ("peel-head")
John Crows, cows, dogs, pigs, horses, donkeys, puss (cats), rats, and monkeys. These
animals are recognized as having differing quantities of power and are ranked according to
their status and power as strugglers for survival and progress. The big animals like tigers,
bulls and horses are given greater respect and are characterized by less of the negative
biases and stereotypes associated with the other animals.
Anancism as Creole Culture
"Creole" culture is the name that has been given this culture wherein Ananci-
principles were the most appropriate rules for survival under slavery conditions, based
essentially on the limited power of Blacks at the time. Anancism became not only the
average and general response, but Blacks were forced to accelerate this Ananci character,
varying in proportion with the intensity of the hardships against them. Ananci became
the character-personality which expressed the "ideal" folk-character of African peasants
under slavery and colonialism.
Anancism, I maintain, is the inspirational source of the Jamaica National Motto -
"Out of Many One People". Ananci is indeed a combination of many things often of
contradictions. But there is no unity in Jamaica: such is only a creole nationalist myth
serving the purpose of a ruling class ideology. Liberal academicians call this system
"Pluralism". As it exists in Jamaica or elsewhere creole nationalism is, however, not
strong or deep or honest enough as it is not based upon any sound analysis and under-
standing of itself; so far no one has even been able to define the substance of "creole"
nationalism. Rex Nettleford, a man of liberal "heights", comes closest for he agrees that
Brer Ananci "expresses much of the Jamaican spirit in his ostentatious professions of
love, in his wrong and strong, brave but cowardly postures of bluffs, in his love for leisure
and corresponding dislike for work, and in his lovable rascality." Ananci became so insti-
tutionalised and personalised within the culture that it can be found at every level of
society, and across all colour, class and ethnic boundaries, but more so among the poor
Rasta Symbols, Representation and Meanings
The world of Rastafarianism (Jahdom) is a highly symbolic world. To understand
Rastafarianism we must therefore "penetrate" these symbols. It is only through these
symbolic representations that we can get a real look into the heart of Rastafarianism.
These symbols express the Rasta essence, its dreams. More than anything else they mirror
much more closely the vibrations of the Rasta man. Symbols provide a most direct way
of knowing man through an understanding of the ideals and strivings which these symbols
represent. These Rasta symbols must however be placed within the larger context of
"African" traditional symbolisms and alongside the symbolisms of the white and middle
class society. The full meaning and full implications of Rastafarianism can be obtained
only by placing their symbolisms within the symbolic world of "African meanings" as a
whole and within the context of our historical struggles.
All major Rasta symbols are awesome, "sacred" or power symbols, as Rastas are
basically united in their search for energy, for power, for "Ever-Living-Life". "Let the
Power fall on 1" is a Rasta song sung by all Rastas. The power centre of Rasta may be
gathered from the general usage of the term "Ras" in Jamaica. While the correct meaning
of this term is generally unknown to its users, "Ras!" has become one of the most power-
ful swear-word intended to "hit" hard at the emotional fiber of the "other."
The symbolic items and meanings of Rastas come from our African "ancients", but
are often re-enforced by the Jewish Bible tradition that was imposed on the African "I"
from Slavery down to now, through missionaries, parsons and Sunday schools. The follow-
ing are the major Rasta symbols:
(1) Uncut hair ("locksing") is a highly prized power totem or source. In fact the
locks worn by Rastas are directly symbolic of the Lion's hair and mane. This
belief in the power of uncut hair is encouraged by the "Holy Bible" (story of
Samson and Delilah) and is represented by the hairy locks-like feature of
Jewish scribes, and even of Jesus Christ himself.
Uncut hair was also a legacy of the African tradition. Estebeen Montejo was a
runaway African slave for 10 years in the Cuban mountains where he lived
like a Lion hairy, independent, defiant, untrusting, meditative, as he tells it
in his autobiography. But after coming out of hiding he cut his hair. He
himself explained the ensuing change:
"I felt strange with all that wool gone, tremendously cold. Negroes have this
tendency. I have never seen a bald negro not one. It was the galicians who
brought baldness to Cuba." (The Autobiography of a Runaway Slave.) One
can still, to this day, hear Jamaicans warning that "too much hair no suit lily
face" meaning that a weak person should not assume an appearance of
(2) Herbs, weed, Marijuana, pot, grass, (cannabis sativa). This is one of the most
controversial aspects of Rasta culture as this herbal plant has been made illegal
by present laws. The climate and topography of Jamaica has contributed to
making Jamaica the home of some of the "sweetest" strains of this plant.
Ganja was first introduced by the indentured Indian labourers and was used as part
of the traditional ceremonies during the period. It was akin to the role and reverence
accorded by the Chinese to the Ginseng plant which became the main ingredient in
Chinese traditional healing. They named it the "magical herb", or the "prince of plants"
or the "spirit of the earth". Even in America, herbs in the form of Hemp was the most
important plant in the American colonies from which rope, clothing, canvas and medici-
nal tea was made. The early American Indians also used herbs as the sacrament in their
PeacA Pipes during council meetings.
Rastas come together around the usage of Ganja which they use for smoking, eating,
drinking, sniffing and massaging. For them Ganja is not a drug but a "holy" herb. So
omnipotent is this ingredient of their culture and so positive is their estimation of its
value to man that they call it the "wisdom weed" and the "spiritual meat" of the move-
ment. Symbolically, Herb for Rastas grew out of the grave of King Solomon and, because
of its wholesome effects, has the power to "heal the nation" by bringing every man to the
self-knowledge appropriate and fitting for "Ever-living Life".
The Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church (with chapters in Jamaica and Miami) reveres
Ganja as their "holy" Eucharist and "spiritual intensifier" with Biblical, historical and
divine associations. Biblical justification for its usage is found on the first page of the
Bible (Genesis I vs 29). For the Brethren, Ganja is the mystical body and blood of "Jesus"
- the burnt offering unto God made by fire" which allows a member to see and know
the "living God", or the "God-in-Man". The Ethiopian Zion Coptic organisation is
fighting to get US officials as well as the Jamaican Government to "free up" the plant
on religious grounds. They derive their moral authority to use the herbs from their
personal experiences with the plant and also from the Book of Genesis which approved
the usage of "every herb bearing seed."
Rastas, through the usage of Ganja, feel themselves to be divinely inspired experi-
encing the same magnificence of spirit and oneness with Nature which Moses must have
experienced "high" on the mountain top in the form of the "burning bush" (herbs), as
did Jesus "high" on top of mount Sinai.
Every Rastaman has experienced, to varying degrees, the wholesome effects of
herbs. They talk of this all the time. That is the only reason for using it. When starting to
use "herbs" the novice might not "believe in it" and will often resist it as part of his over-
all resistance to change and self-knowledge. He starts slowly and uncertainly but gets
more confident as he learns to use his own senses to measure the "High". He learns to
define the Good for himself and this contributes to the development of his "I", for with
this goes the increasing capacity to discriminate between alternatives in the interest of the
newly unfolding "I" in its feelings. Rastas are quick to point out that the "Holy" weed
heals, protects and strengthens his body, stabilises his mind, introverts him, provides him
with new dimensions and insights, lifts his down-pressed spirit, provides him with I-
consciousness, and links him to the universal.
The brethren often say, "If you have not taken the chalice, you are still at malice,
and you will never enter the palace of King Rasta Farai". The "pulling" or "drawing" of
the chalice brings people together and thereby minimise conflict and violence in the
ghettos. I have seen this demonstrated on many occasions, when violence would have
certainly erupted had it not been for the "reasoning calm" which the chalice brought.
A small minority of the Brethren do not "draw" the chalice, while some do not
even smoke "reefers". But this is only because their personal biological systems "cannot
take it", not that they are against its usage, as this would be symptomatic of a mental
reluctance or unwillingness to change, experiment or even to explore the ways of the
ancients, much of which has been repressed out of existence.
The power of herbs comes from its effects both on body and mind: it helps to res-
tore the bio-energetic equilibrium of people suffering from the many different kinds of
stresses and strains. That is, it helps both body and mind to be restored back to its origi-
nal (African) wholesomeness. As a consciousness-heightening weed, it has increased the
Brethren's consciousness of (i) self (ii) their racial roots (iii) their economic (class) oppres-
sion and (iv) of life in general.
The "freeing up" of this plant should mean ending the persecution of people who
choose to use the herbs of their forefathers (as opposed to modern chemicals and
alcoholism) as a way of coping with modern stresses and strains. This would pave the way
for an all-out and open-minded exploration of the full potentials and possibilities of this
plant. After all, man exists on plants, either directly or indirectly. It is the "illegality"
of its usage which causes its abuse and prevents people from working out the optimal
ways of using it.
(3) The "Word": Word is power, and this power is identified as God's laws as they are
revealed in the Bible. "In the beginning was the word and the word was God .."
"Heaven and earth shall pass away but my words shall not pass away."
(4) "Names": The names chosen by each Brethren is symbolic of the things we have
been denied our lost Africa: Power, self respect, I-ness. Names like "Bull",
"Sata", "Sons of Negus", or simply "Natty" are all positive affirmation of self.
(5) "Heroes". Rasta heroes are all power totems Haile Selassie, Mau Mau, Marcus
Garvey, Patrice Lumumba, Stokely Carmichael, Nkrumah, the Maroons, Paul
Bogle and many others. The local villains for Rastas are all the local "false prophets"
(Brer Ananci Politicians) and baldheadd" Ministers who mislead the people by
telling them that the problem with Jamaica today is that we do not have "enough
God" or "enough love" in our hearts. The international villains are the imperialists,
both modern capitalist countries like Britain and America, as well as the "ancient"
Holy Roman and Catholic Imperialists. It was the Pope, it is said by the Rastas,
who blessed the troops of his Italian compatriot Mussolini at the start of his
"wicked" mission to conquer Ethiopia in 1935.
(6) The African Lion
In all of its aspects and in its total combination, the Lion is the supreme interna-
tional power totem in its roar, hair, body strength, brain power (intelligence) and
total movements. The Bible makes abundant references to the Lion from Genesis
through Psalms to Revelations in this regard. The lion has always been a challenge
to man's courage. One of the 12 labours of Hercules was the slaying of the Nemean
lion. Samson, according to the Bible, killed a lion with his bare hands. In ancient
Greece "Leo the Lion" earned the title of King of the Beasts. The Romans, too,
elevated it as a symbol of Romance, power and awe. In the popular Roman tale of
"Androcles and the Lion", the lion is portrayed as a very humane creature, one that
was both kind and fearsome.
The Lion in general is an international symbol of some of the more"ancient"
qualities which man has always cherished. He is the Emperor by Universal (popular)
consensus, the universal specimen of nature's compact wholeness and power, used by rich
and poor alike, black and white. In 1930 the British Admiralty published a book on the
Drawings of the Flags of All Nations. This book shows the Lion as the most popular
animal totem, displayed on the "Emblems", "Standards" and "Badges" of officialdom in
places that range from Britain and the British Empire (Canada and India), to Bulgaria,
Czechoslovakia, Lativia, the Netherlands, Norway, Persia, Romania, Spain and Africa
(Kenya, Southern Rhodesia, Ethiopia). Though Universal as a symbol or ideal, the Lion in
reality was and still is, most plentiful in Africa and the Third World Borneo, Iran, India.
In Northern India the Lion was King of the Beasts (with the Jackal as his Minister).
Rastafarianism and the Revival of African Lionism
While Ananci has been proclaimed informally as national hero by the mass of poor
Africans in Jamaica, Rastas have become the first Caribbean Africans attempting to break
away on such a large scale from this Ananci tradition and are attempting to develop an
alternative counter-culture and a philosophy which is distinctively its own. In Jamaican
folklore Brer Ananci is described as "a little bald-headed man with a falsetto voice and a
cringing manner in the presence of his superiors." Rastas are simply those black people
who have grown tired of playing this role as "bald-headed anancies."
Rastas thus chose the image of the African lion as representative of the alternative
Rasta ideal. The lion is symbolic of a return to Africa a return to black originality,
black creativity and to the ideals of "Everliving Life." It symbolises the resurgence of
Ancient African vibrations, ideals and definition of self. The lion becomes the emblem of
that concrete spiritual Force which expresses itself as a consciousness of the "I" or of the
African self. The African lion symbolises some of the same black ideals and hope that
Brer Ananci symbolised in our "ancient" consciousness, but the Lion is more of a fitting
ideal for a people bent on a militant march forward towards their own maximum and
ultimate self-realisation and self-discovery.
It is clear from a detailed observation of Rastafarianism that the omnipresent
symbol of the movement is in fact the dreaded lion. Rasta "dread locks" are the symbolic
reincarnation or imitation of the Lion in man form, both in face and body forms, as well
as in spirit structure. In all of their hairy and natural variations Rastas bear the face,
power, strength, and fearlessness which comes with the powerful self-realisation that
I-AM-LION-MAN, inspite of all that has happened to deprive the "I" of its natural man-
hood expression. But this is only at the symbolic level.
Lionism transcends even Haile Selassie who merely came in the name of the Lion -
as "The Conquering Lion of Judah" or as the "man-lion from Mount Zion." The face,
features and presence of the Lion have become more firmly implanted on the conscious-
ness of Rastas than the face of H.I.M. it is coming more and more openly acknow-
ledged as representing the ideals and essence of the Rasta movement. Even the non-Rasta
Jamaican population now associates lions immediately with Rastas. Since the fall of the
Emperor from his Ethiopian throne by the Military junta on September 13, 1974. The
Lion totem (by itself) has become even more prominent. Several Rasta groups make their
"hustling" from the commercial production of lion totems of all kinds. In Jamaica it is as
if The Lion has awakened and has broken out of his compound, so that everywhere in
Jamaica people are expecting it to "strike". It is as if the unchained spirit of The Lion is
all around. There was in fact a great spontaneous build-up in expectations that violence
would break out mysteriously in Jamaica "when the four sevens "clash" or "meet" -
on the date 7/7/77. People attributed this prediction to Garvey and the Government took
this expectation seriously enough to have soldiers mobilised for this eventuality the
strike of The Lion! It continues to be rumoured in Jahdom that it is a lion who will one
day light the "Niabingi flame" in Jamaica.
The picture of the Lion adorns Rasta music halls, his dwellings, his recording
studios and his record shops, his vehicles, his posters and his works of art in general. It is
always forefront in his mind. Rastas sing about the lion as a routine. It either accom-
panies the picture of the Emperor, or takes his place as the power totem of His Imperial
Majesty, Haile Selassie. Such "orthodox" Rastas like the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and
even the Haile Selassie I Theocracy Governmental Order, headed by Jah Lloyd use the
Lion as inspirational symbol. The Rastafari Movement Association headed by Gil Tucker,
publishes their magazine, Rasta Voice, using the Lion as its identification symbol.
Haile Selassie, in his person and at phases in his life exhibited some of the qualities
which made him a clear-cut example of a Rasta Lion. Haile Selassie himself saw the
African Lion as embodying a spiritual force higher than himself, and symbolising both
abstractly and concretely his ideals of African manhood. Haile Selassie tried, therefore,
to fuse his power and spirit with that of The Lion. The entrance to his Palace was guarded
by great lion totems (as pictured below), and he himself sported a tamed lion at his side.
Among Rastas there are many tales of lions roaming freely about the palace of H.I.M.
Joseph Owens even remarked in his book Dread, that: "The Rastas have even developed a
theology of the lion and the lamb, stating that the lamb, which also appears in the Book
of Revelations, is now replaced by the lion, as the appropriate symbol for the Messiah."
(p. 123). But Owens did not proceed to explore and dig beneath this "Theology of the
lion and the lamb."
In light of the importance of this lion-image to Rasta, we must view Haile Selassie
I, as part of this larger and more universal philosophy of lionism, as a servant to the
spiritual force of the lion, and in his concrete individual form, embodying some of this
The Movements Towards "Rasta"
There are at present several differing definitions of what it means and what it
involves to be a Rasta Lion. These often conflicting definitions are embodied in the
consciousness of Rastas themselves and also expressed in their varied behaviour and life
styles. As part and parcel of the Rastaman's alertness to the different "grades" and
"qualities" of herbs goes his keen awareness and sensitivity to the different "levels" of
feeling and being, as well his awareness of "vibrations," "penetrations," "heights,"
"levels", "movement," and "ranking'." Behind this overall awareness however, goes a
maturing realisation of an ultimate expression, of an ideal becoming.
There are thus levels and ranks within the Rasta world, each of which yields its own
limited definition of itself and of Rasta. Each rank gives a definition of itself depending
invariably on its particular stage within the overall movements forward towards an un-
folding "essence" that is indeed "higher than 1" and always beyond the present limita-
tions of the "I". The most penetrating definition of Rasta is therefore that which sees the
"I" from the "heights" or essence of the Rasta movement from the heights of its
logical and ultimate expression.
There are three major ingredients used in constructing the cultural "webs" or
"lines" or "rackets" used for black survival in the Caribbean and which eventually
worked their way into becoming the major ingredients in our Ananci personalities. These
(iii) African-Original Vibrations.
Most Rastas attempt to become lions by attempting to syncretise and use all of these
elements, as a means for their survival and progress. But some of these factors have ceased
to be sources of strength they have now become fetters and chains. Anancism and
Judaic-Christianity are systems within themselves, and as such have functioned, indivi-
dually and in concert, to hold back the development and expression of the more whole-
some African vibrations. Yet it is here, in this repressed sphere of African original roots
vibrations, that the enduring foundations of true lionism is to be found.
Ultimately, then, the return to Lionism means destroying or transcending major
ingredients of our inherited selves albeit our acquired (slave) selves. At the individual
level, this means a continuous struggle within every Rastafarian to overcome the limita-
tions historically imposed on the "I" (on African Original Vibrations) by Anancism and
Jewish-based Biblical teachings. The movement towards the Rasta ideal can only be inter-
preted to mean a return to the preponderance of original African Vibrations. Lions are
those who know God in the form of the unfolding power of the "I".
The vast majority of blacks who call themselves Rastas are expressing, essentially,
only an aspiration and an emotional feeling. The vast majority do not embody the Lion
Ideal in any systematic way. Many think of the outward symbols as tantamount to the
realization of the ideal itself. Yet these are merely props used in a desperate effort to
convince themselves and others that they are lionized black-men. But a Lion does not
have to wear the mask of a lion to be a lion.
Anancism In Rastafarianism
Anancies, just beginning the process of becoming lions, jump into the mask of the
lion, but may well remain basically ananci-like in their habits. All Rastas emerge out of
the Ananci tradition and may long remain under the influence of Ananci even while being
aware of it and even after developing a rebellious consciousness opposed to it. In fact, it is
true to say that as long as Rastas remain an economically marginal group, they are forced
by the necessity of survival to hustle, scuffle and develop "lines" and "rackets" of all
The Lion mask at this stage is for some, only another Ananci disguise, but for
others it is symbolic of a deeper emotional break with the past, and as such is equi-
valent to a "baptism". It reflects a psychological disposition amounting to a willingness to
change and move on.
Specific aspects of Rastas reflect the imprint of Ananci upon the movement. Rasta
speech-style, for instance, is a reflection of the Ananci pattern. Ananci was always in the
habit of "mouthing", that is, working with his mouth, of shifting his mouth and tongue,
of circumlocutive speeches, of changing accents and pronunciations, of distorting old
forms or deriving new forms from old, of "riddling" and "guessing" and exaggerating, of
deliberately creating ambivalent expressions and double meanings. Ananci uses words as
weapons or instruments in the contest for survival.
This Ananci speech pattern is the source of many patois words. That is how they
came into existence. Using this technique, Rastas have slowly evolved a semi-independent
system of verbal communication which expresses not only his apartness and his rebellious-
ness but also his emerging belief in the centrality of the "I".
Judaic-Christianity in Rastafarianism
Much of the symbolisms and mysticisms of Rastafarianism are Jewish in character
as blacks were properly cocainee" into the Judaic-Christain religion by means of the
"Holy Bible". Since words were conceived as power, blacks absorbed the only word-
power available to them. The Bible was the sole official text which blacks were permitted
to read during slavery, as it taught them to be mice, and helped in making them into
Rastas, like other blacks, have been greatly influenced by the Bible tradition. Many
identify so much with the Bible that they have come to take over the Bible tradition as
their very own, and in keeping with this notion, compile passages from the Bible to show
that all Biblical Patriarchs and even Jesus Christ himself was "black". Many of these
"Orthodox or "Theocratic" Rastas have even come to believe themselves to be the "real
Jews", some even naming themselves the "Lost Tribes of Israel", or "The Twelve Tribes
of Israel". They present Biblical passages which speak of: "When the blessings of Israel
was transferred from the old Hebrews of the Chaldees to the Ethiopian."
Such orthodox Rastas have come to see Ethiopia (or Africa) as "Zion" or "Selah",
the Atlantic ocean as the "River Jordan," and Jamaica (along with the Western World)
as Babylon or the "Valley of Joasaphat", and Haile Selassie as "Jahovah" or "the Lion
of Judah" (rather than the lion of Africa! Rastas Africanize "Judah" simply by dropping
the "h" so that it is pronounced Juda").
For the "Orthodox" and "Theocratic" Rastas Haile Selassie became the black
Messiah or deliverer. At the early Jew-maican stage, Rastas formed a messianic movement,
basing its hopes for redemption on their "Repatriation" back to Ethiopia where they
hoped to worship their black "Jahovah" Haile Selassie. Out of the racial self-pride
instilled by Garvey, the Rastas have transferred heaven from the sky to Ethiopia, and the
redeeming Christ took on the non-Jewish form of a little bearded Ethiopian descended
from the wisest and most manly Biblical patriarch King Solomon.
The lion image of the emperor was crystallized during his early militant reforms and
through his tough militancy and leadership of the Italian-Ethiopian War of the 1930s
which left some 275,000 Ethiopians killed in action and another 78,000 killed during
Mussolini's brief occupation. Haile Selassie was hailed by the world's black population as
the invincible lion against the arch-villain Mussolini.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Rasta Orthodoxy together have declared
Haile Selassie outright to be the "returned Messiah", the King of all African Kings, and a
descendant of David. The Ark of the Covenant, they say, is in his cathedral at Axum.
Their 1968 statement read:
"Every Rastafarian recognizes HIM Haile Selassie I
of Ethiopia to be the returned Messiah, the only
mediator between God and man representing Christ
... We base these beliefs on the interpretation of the
Scriptures, and can quote many passages in the Bible
which endorse these beliefs and the concept of the
Divinity of HIM. He is the 225th re-birth of Solomon
.. He is the Black Christ of this era."
The "United Orthodox" Rastas, a seven-year-old community of Brethren located at
Marcus Garvey Drive, Kingston, illustrates very well the extent to which Rastas are
cocainee" into the teachings of the Bible. But while it has helped them to survive and
struggle over the years, it has certainly become the greatest fetter on the full forward
growth towards "Rasta." The philosophy of the United Orthodox is based on the struc-
ture of the human body and is represented on that Coat of Arms as "The Five H" which
man possesses. One "H" is for the "Head"; this is to be made "Holy" by use of the Bible,
which Brother Mac of the United Orthodox, defines as their "law book" or "standard".
The second "H" is for "Hand" which is to be made "handy" in its usage of tools; the
third "H" is for "Heart" which is to be made "Happy" especially as this is the "Home" of
the "I"; the fourth "H" is for "Hip" which, as the physical centre or crossroad of the
body, must be made "healthy" through physical exercises that will ensure rhythm and
maximum body movements; the fifth "H" is for "Heel" which must be made hardy so as
to ensure balance, speed and "foundations '.
The Bible has left the Brethren partly subservient to ancient superstitions and thus
unable to deal with present realities. That was the whole point for the introduction of the
Bible to slaves in the first place. Brother Mac even believes that he is the actual re-incar-
nation of the David "spoken-of' in the Bible, for not only does he find himself in this life
with this name (by way of his mother, of course!) but like David of old he too has had six
wives and six children without any design on his part! Uncle Harry of the same orthodox
faith cannot be persuaded that he is not the re-incarnation of "Philip of the Bible",
currently acting out Philip's role on earth. These Brethren identified "number five" as
the mystical or "key" number, pointing out that we are living during the "fifth kingdom",
that man has five fingers, that many of the most important things relating to His Imperial
Majesty pertained to 'five" for instance His Majesty was born on the "fifth" of the
"fifth" month, etc.
Some of these Brethren reported seeing miracles when H.I.M. arrived in Jamaica in
1970, like the report of "one woman fastened on to burr (barb) wire at the airport"
(presumably in the rush the woman's clothing got caught in the wires!) Or reports of
changes in weather conditions when H.I.M. disembarked from the plane. All of this heavy
reliance on the Bible must lead to mystic interpretations as the Bible beseeches man to
turn his back from reality. The Rasta brethren who are up in the hills trying to control
lightning and thunder remain fastened also to this Bible mysticism. No wonder orthodox
Rastas like Brother Mac and Uncle Harry ignore the real concrete history of the Emperor,
and irrespective of the facts paint H.I.M. Haile Selassie as the "highest moral authority
in this world."
All of this Jewish identification is itself a result of economic cultural imperialism,
for there is no other reason that would predispose Africans to voluntarily drop their own
ancient identification as "African" for that of Jewish. All efforts were made by our rulers
and their Christian allies to impart their teachings of religion, and the more successful this
Jewish brain-washing process became, the more the African Vibrations receded into the
background as the Christian tradition fought against the retention and practising of
African customs and traditions which they dismissed as "savage", "barbaric" or "un-
civilized". These were regarded as too pulsating, too hot, too devilish. These included the
traditional African definition of God which served Africans wholesomely for the thou-
stands of years before white men came and imposed the Judiac-Christian Religion on us, as
one offering us a more "civilized" definition of man in relationship to the universe
The emerging Lion consciousness among the Brotherhood of Rastaman towards
Rasta is growing out of the conflict between the Jewish definition of God (as it comes
through the Bible) and that of the ancient African, as it is remembered or resurrected by
certain ranks within the Brotherhood. Rastas are not the first black rebels to have found
themselves "locked up" in religion without knowing it. For instance Marcus Garvey, in
his rebellion against "the System" recognized the central importance of the issue of God-
head but in his attempt to formulate a new religion he kept the same white orthodox
notions and definitions of God though he tried converting these notions by painting them
black. Garvey's African Orthodox Church was thus the same white religion, only that the
characters (God, angels, etc.) were now blackened on the surface. The basic assumptions
remained. But it was a start. With the temporary decline of Garveyism after 1930, the
desperation of Blacks passed into the Rastas Movement, as many of the early Rastas were
either Garveyites, Bedwardites or their children.
The "I", so central in Rasta thought and argot, is representative of that original
African personality. "Rasta" or "Ras" is the positive, the ideal, the original, African, the
black essence; it is the ideal reflection of black Becoming and black Returning, Rasta is
the original African "I" Vibrations struggling to move forward, to express itself and to re-
assert itself. The "I" is a sea of boundless (but trapped) energy, and it knows itself only
through growing, discovering and mobilizing this blocked-up energy.
As Africans, much of the consciousness of Rastas is still dominated by the pulsating
but ancient images and ideals of a half-remembered African past, however much these
have been distorted and repressed by the imposed distance, poverty and backwardness
bred on plantation, factories and ghettos for over 300 years of white down-pression.
Especially affected was the spirit of soul of black people, which has yet to recover itself
from the blythe of enslavement. It is at this level that the energy of black people is impri-
soned blocked off from within. These are internal fixations buttressed from without.
These are collective binds that have to be broken. Though buried, this spirit and these
ancient vibrations can be retrieved by a journey into the I-self, as every true Rastaman
knows through the unfolding rhythms of his own movements.
Rastas, in sharp contrast to any other segment of the Jamaican population, con-
sciously recognize their African Roots-Vibrations. Some African Orthodox (Rastas) go to
the extent of calling themselves "Ethiopians" and flying the Ethiopian flag. Some call
themselves "Africans", while others call themselves after specific African Tribes like the
"Order of the Niabingi". "Niabingi" has generally come to mean a gathering of Rasta
Brethren for the purpose of chanting, drumming and feasting in order to reach the
spiritual transcendence of our Tribal Forefathers. Rastas are much closer to these original
African Vibrations because as black peasants and workers they are the seeds of Africa.
"African" drums (Kumina) and many "African" cultural and philosophical ideas
form the rhythmic patterns of Rastas. They believe in a philosophy of "Naturalism"
which expresses their ideal relationship as it was exemplified between our African fore-
fathers and the environment in which they lived. Coming up through the peasantry
tradition Rastas continue to believe, as their ancients did, in a unitary and natural world
inhabited by diverse elements and forces that run into each other. The Rasta's belief in
Re-incarnation expresses, albeit in a crude way, the fact that things in nature transform
themselves into other things of nature. By usage of the idea of "Re-incarnation" Ananci
Rastas, however, tend to "mystify" this very scientific principle and comes out with all
kinds of weird explanations for things. But properly over-stood "Re-incarnation" expres-
ses the scientific and cyclical inter-connections of Nature.
Rastas strict preference for "Ital" (natural) foods, their stress on "physical body
culture ', their herbal culture with the practice of inhaling herbal smoke through the
water of the Chilum or chalice pipe, their taboo on pork, all attest to the Brethren's
Universal awareness and strivings for the maximum of Ever-Living Life and a soulful
Original African Youth Vibrations can be stimulated back to life under the conscious
usage of herbs. It is harmony-building as it can restore the self back under the power of
the "I". It helps in restoring the control of my person to my innermost and truest "self'.
It unleashes a flow of energy in the body by showing the "I" a glimpse of the true heights
of many splendid possibilities; all Rastas recall the workings of a powerful energy source
on their minds and bodies, restoring them back to their more wholesome originality and
potentiality, through many complex processes and inter-connections and movements. In
his imagination the beginning source after all is rekindled the picture and fire of
original vibrations which lay buried in his being. It is these pictures of distant "root"
sounds, smells, longings and remembering which have prevented his complete fixation,
forever, as an Ananci. Ananci's saving grace is that he has lurking deep within him the
idea of his own divinity and power "me little but me talla-wa".
From this elevated state of High (I) consciousness, he is able to come to a better
over-standing of himself in relationship to the categories of things around him; he
becomes better able to break away from historical fixations. As he moves in his consci-
ousness or mental imaginings, through reflection and meditation, he becomes a better
judge, for as he gets to know himself he moves much deeper into himself into the "I"
- and into his energy source, he discovers his voice and his heart and thus becomes more
able to speak in his own interest with a legitimacy which only the "I" can have. I have
seen enough to be convinced that in such a journey back to one's I-roots, one can retrieve
such lost aspects of one's natural system like voice, rhythm, and creativity. Herbs, as used
by Rastas, help to re-kindle African Original Vibrations by helping to break down the
mental and physical stumbling-blocks in our physical unconsciousness. The brown or
"white" skin Rastas are only responding to the African Vibrations within their systems
and must be judged no differently than other Rastas.
As the Rastaman experiments with herbs, using the prism of his own being and
senses as the major judge in his experimental movements forward, he learns to define the
Good for the "I" and thereby comes to know that "I". He works this new consciousness
into his physical structure. New dimensions and original vibrations of his being become
stimulated back into action and natural circulation is restored. It provides a real founda-
tion for the heightening of consciousness to the heights of understanding some of the
intricacies of the mind in interaction with the body. As one succeeds in travelling far back
into one essence, of the "I", one arrives at a sub-conscious layer of primeval energy and
creativity which links the "I" to Africa and to the Universe. No wonder the untutored
Rasta artists (poets, dramatists, painters, musicians, etc.) come up with unmistakable
African Patterns, though they are too poor to travel from their back-yards, much less to
have gone to Africa to be taught "African" art. Africa is locked-up within its seeds it
emerges with the emergence of the "I".
Rastafarianism is thus the individual and collective movement for the acquisition of
black status in a colonial society, but it is a status defined in manhood terms and not
simply in economic terms. Within Rastas' communities and within every "I" is that basic
struggle aimed at regaining that sense of Manhood and dignity which the society has
historically robbed, distorted or denied. This struggle for recognition and status so far has
been primarily at the individual level, though it has to be fought out also at the collective
level. Such an emphasis differentiates Rastas even from the "radical" working-class.
Having been locked out of "Society" and robbed of their humanity, Rastas have turned
to an alternative means of feeling like "Man" and "real people", with flesh, blood and
feelings, deserving of full respect like other human beings.
As such Rastas are the most direct descendants of Garveyism, it is Garveyism one
step closer to re-discovering the "lost" Africa which Garvey sought to re-discover. Garvey
succeeded in helping to bring Blacks closer to the Africa buried deep within the distant
memories of our subconscious. These distant memories, flashes and vibrations of Lionism
sustain the returning Prodigal "I" on his lonely homeward trip to re-possess that which is
most belonging and essential to the "I".
POEMS SCIENTIFIC ANIMALISM
A lion and
his queen captured
in the jungle,
locked up in a
cow pen, gave birth.
Their captors called
the babes 'calves'.
One day the 'calves'
weren't fed so they
The captor insisted
that they 'MOO' better
than that . or else ...
Many years later
there were some
lions who thought
they were cows but
there were also
so Frantz Fanon was
asked to study the
these lions never trimmed
their manes nor wore
Obedience school instructors
marvelled at such "religiosity
Fanon's study has concluded:
pathological reaction to
the trauma of colonialism;
quite like the Biblical
Israel in Egypt syndrome
and the more modern
England in India situation.
Meantime, the 'calves' are
We been hearing bout the Judgement Day, Judgement Day
we been warned so often
an' told an' scared
(no colour in Heaven, remember)
in half-a-thousand years since we met him,
We been hearing about whiteman's Judgement Day
We been told that
God's getting ready
in the mansion in the yonder
to judge us sinners
when we die
when we try, finally
to get some rest
from lifting the whiteman's burden
from carrying the oppressors' loads
and loads and loads
think 'bout it!
that same straw-hair-pale-eyed-wonder god
that looked down, coldly
as the north wind of winter's death-deal
that squinted at us along the iron of his sceptre
that looked so much like a musket
as He saved our souls
from the spirits of our savage'd forebears
and enlightened us in the glare of our towns
that thundered upwards, pouring
red as blood
into the black Ethiopian night
and we, minds
blacker than the night
found no place to hide from His conversion
and we accepted,
around our necks
the iron yoke of his civilizing
and learned to forget Nyankopong and Ashanti, and
Kumbi and Shaka-zulu
But, we learned.
to bury our fetishes
even if we didn't have time
to bury our dead.
We buried our culture
under the trees
of Zanj and Congo and Kumasi
we wept for our lost selves
besides the waters of a slaver's coast
that lapped the shores of new Babylonia
and we let ourselves be chained to the columns
of crumbling marble pantheons
while we sipped the sacraments
of stranger gods
and dined with mister and mistress Zeus Thor
and their hosts
and idolized their idols instead,
under our master's tables, picking off crumbs
of his cultured affections
doing adulteries on Olympus" mount,
waking, sweating and screaming at pale-limbed venuses
who rode our minds like witches' brooms
with pale-eye's whip coiled around inside our consciousness
tearing us, apart
We hugged our bosoms to our bosoms
and let our anger wail through the ruins in our souls
and let our sadness drift, moaning
like our children's hungers
as we were hellenized, pauperized
while stumbling lost
in this new land called Schizophrenia.
And we prayed to learn
for Judgement Day, Judgement Day, Judgement Day
And the missionaries
(Bless their soles)
to make the transition
from superstition to superstition
told us not to worry, not to worry
for God has had a place prepared for us
and we would be happy there
singing and worshipping god
forever and forever
nightmare without end.
So, objectingly we rise
And watch them
-praying to definitions of God
fearing the black apocalypse
dreading the days of the crocodile-dragon
at the world's end
white world's end
round time's next bend.
Rastaman the Rastafari Movement in Britain, Ernest Cashmore, George Allen and
Unwin, London 1980, 263 pages. Price: PB: UK 3.95
Ernest Cashmore's book, Rastaman, which emerged from a refurbished doctoral
thesis at Birmingham University, must be understood within the crisis of the race
relations industry of Great Britain. This crisis is a mirror of a general ideological crisis in
the face of the deepening economic depression in the United Kingdom. The social demo-
cratic formulae for State Restructuring are bypassed by the ('dog eat dog') capitalist
ideology of the Conservative Government, and the repressive agencies of the State seek to
lay the blame for the social crisis on immigrants, in particular, on those children of black
immigrants who don the symbols of resistance and call themselves Rastafari.
In April, 1980, the seething tensions generated by the social crisis exploded in an
area of Bristol, England, where many Jamaicans and other West Indians had settled after
'coming off the boat' in the 1950s. The police attack on a black social centre in Bristol
which led to the resistance called riot in the press came nearly a year after the anti-
racist activist, Blair Peach, had been killed by the police in Southhall, in April 1979.
To counter the clear resistance of the black youths who have been pushed to
defend themselves at cultural fetes (epitomized in the 1976 Carnival 'victory' for the
black youths) the police have invoked the support of the media and an ideological cam-
paign by sociologists to support their general programme of harassment of black commu-
nities throughout Britain. From the streets of Liverpool to the housing estates of Brixton
the black community have resisted and exposed the campaign of the police manifest in:
1. the over-manning of black events;
2. police raids on black clubs, centres and meeting places;
3. police concentration in predominantly black localities, including:
(a) the operation of special squads (the Special Branch);
(b) operations whose pretext is to apprehand a particular offender;
(c) information gathering and surveillance.
This last aspect of the police work is now being carried out by academics. In
Brimingham, the West Midlands Police Force has deployed a Superintendent of Police as a
student in the Social Science Research Council Ethnic Relations Unit. Ernest Cashmore's
work from the outset exposes the new overt link between the new thrust of social control
and the coercive apparatus of the State. He admitted that his first information on the
movement came from the Inspector of Intelligence Bureau, Metropolitan Police of
Toronto. By re-stating, without questions, the observations of the police that Rastas were
of a 'criminal nature' he then went on to assert that in New York City the "cult was
linked to trafficking in ganja (marijuana), extortion and murder". The author then
proceeds to paint the picture of deviancy while continually citing a police commissioned
report on the blacks in Handsworth, Birmingham, called the Shades of Grey.
At the theoretical level, Cashmore recognizes the limitations of the two principal
tendencies 'pluralism' and 'structuralism' which were the guideposts for studying Rasta.
Without an alternative theoretical foundation, and making clear his aversion to historical
materialism, Cashmore falls back on the ideas of deviancy and millenarianism. In his own
words: "overall, the methodology of the work was eclectic". His concept of 'impositional
concepts is the cover for the standard pre-occupation with locks, religion, ganja and
Haile Selassie, without an accompanying analysis of conditions giving rise to Rasta.
In invoking the worn-out ideas of bourgeois scholarship, Cashmore has presented
the most dangerous study of the Rastafarian Movement to date. It would be too chari-
table to term Cashmore's sociological analysis 'mickey mouse', for behind the obscurantist
language of 'evasion', 'truculence', 'discrepancy', 'drift', 'journey to Jah', 'need for iden-
tity' and 'millenarian vitality', and the mumbo jumbo charts of quantum leap, lay an
explicit attempt to legitimize the media conception of Rastas as criminals.
The book begins with a chapter on Jamaican History and the history of the Rastas.
This recourse was necessary in order for the tradition of resistance and struggle of the
Jamaican masses to be forced into his narrow vision of cults and religion. What Western
bourgeois scholars cannot seem to understand is that religious expression embodied early
forms of resistance. Because the slavery system was simultaneously a system of economic,
political and cultural domination, the oppressed slaves turned the religion of the masters
on its head and invoked the Bible as a tool for deliverance. Sam Sharpe and Paul Bogle,
now national heroes of Jamaica, were preachers who utilized the Bible as an instrument
for their struggles against the oppressive conditions of slavery and the complex bigoted
conditions of colonialism. This colonial system of racial and economic domination gave
rise to forms of nationalism of which Rasta was only one variant. That these Rastas were
connected to an international Pan-African Movement, Garveyism and Ethiopianism, is
lost to Cashmore. He seeks to reduce the international Garvey Movement into a simple
Back to Africa' aspiration.
Cashmore compounds his historical inaccuracies by mis-information on the 'nya-
bingi' and by comparing the first Rasta Brethren to the murderous Charles Manson Cult
of the 1960s in California. Writing on the efforts towards communal living by the Ras3a
brethren he asserted:-
"Howell's Commune was subject to periodic raids
from police and after one notable incident in 1941, in
which Howell's followers had attracted neighboring
dwellers, it was revealed that Howell had insisted
that he was Haile Selassie, an interesting acknow-
ledgement of the inherence of God in man; this idea
was to be elaborated into the principle of 'I and I',
the unity of all people. After two years' imprison-
ment, Howell decided to rigidify the Pinnacle
Commune, installing guards and watch-dogs and
exercising his leadership almost tyrannically. The
parallels with the family cult which emerged in the
1960s are irresistible. Its despotic leader, Charles
Manson, was said to wield a strange mesmeric control
over his followers, luring them with his apocalyptic
vision of Helter Skelter, the ultimate confrontation
between blacks and whites, and commanding them to
murder figures representing 'straight society'.
Manson's cult used the hallu-cinogenic drug LSD,
Howell's used ganja, a marijuana cultivated on the
estate, to which many Rastas were to attach religious
significance. Both leaders gained inspiration from
reluctant sources: in Howell's case, Garvey, and in
Mansion's, the Beatles, whom he claimed had sent him
messages through their recordings."
It was from this characterization of the first Rastas as murderous and driven to
violence through ganja that Cashmore seeks to explain the growth of the Rasta Move-
ment in the UK. Of course, this claim that the Rasta was criminal was not new. In 1975
the Globe and Mail in Toronto, Canada, carried headline stories of Rastas who carried out
murders after smoking ganja. None of this was true, but as Cashmore tells us in his intro-
duction, he "first noticed the Rastas in Canada in 1975". And to ensure that the reader
does not miss the continuities between the murderous Howell and the new purse-snatch-
ing Rastas, he underlines that British Rastas emerge from street gangs (pp 84-88). This
characterization of black youths as predominantly marauding street gang thugs emerges
from an analysis of 'evasion', which attempted to assert that the first wave of black
immigrants to Britain evaded the questions of racism and discrimination by the solace of
the Pentecostal Church. The reader who is unaware of the cultural and religious diversity
in the black community could be misled into the one-dimensional version of Cashmore.
The resistance of the black migrants to racism and violence is now history. Cash-
more is obviously unaware of the literature on this period. Blacks in Britain were part of
the international flowering of cultural and self-expression of the 1960s, which is now
referred to as the era of Black Power. At that time the press sought to reduce this inter-
national movement to the careers of prominent hustlers, and the case of Michael de
Freitas, called Michael X, is a classic example. Cashmore seeks to stamp the media-created
leader on the British Black Power Movement, but fortunately, up to the present, there
existed organizations and popular groups which drew inspiration from the world-wide
protest against the ideas of white superiority.
Social democracy in Britain always sought to integrate the worker as a 'social
partner' or as a 'citizen' in order to support the existing form of British imperialism. The
vast resources of the State were invested into integrative institutions which diverted rebel-
lions into reforms, while fomenting tensions between indigenous and immigrant workers.
This integrative exercise is carried out through the local State. The social democrats
understood the limitations of crude nationalists and were able to co-op a fair number of
leaders and grass-root organizations through grants, so that those who aspired to give
leadership to the anti-racist movement found their energies directed towards lobbying
local councillors and were involved in conflicts as the State divided the community. A
varient of neo-colonialism which had been successfully used in Africa and the Caribbean
was now being attempted at home.
To be sure, young blacks reacted against this neo-colonial thrust and sought new
awareness for self-expression and organization, it is here that the first Rasta Movement
and the clear defiance of Reggae offered promise. Young people identified with Rastas as
a clear anti-racist, anti-capitalist and popular movement. No amount of sociological
gymnastics, which attempt to portray the youths as moving from "Apprehension, loss,
drift and acceptance" (pp 139), can deny the explosion of Rasta culture which is now
taking place in the urban centres of Britain. The State recognizes this explosion and with
the failure of the social workers to direct the energies of the youths into reformist social
democratic schemes, the sociologists are unleashed into the black community to explain
the rise of these youths in wollen hats, who spurn the sterile culture of commodity
The substance of the book relates not to the currency of the British Movement, for
the writer limited his investigations to two declared Rasta institutions in Britain the
Twelve Tribes of Israel and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. There is an attempt to
unearth the substance of the language of the Rastas and the cultural impact of Reggae.
The author does not understand the changes from Rockers to Dub, and he deni-
grated the influence of Bob Marley by resurrecting a jail sentence for smoking ganja. But
the music of defiance shook the heart of Cashmore so that when Bob Marley and Peter
Tosh tells the oppressed of the world to 'Get up, Stand up for their rights' and to rise
above sectarian politics 'We are tired of the ism schism game' Cashmore translates
this to mean 'We're tired of your easing kissing game' (Preface, repeated pp 99, 116). It
is a pity he did not take the time to get his informants to clarify the root of the Rasta
language, for this kind of mistake is repeated throughout the work. For example, when he
explains to the reader the meaning of 'Nattie Dread' he asserts that: Natty is derived from
'nutty meaning weird and unstable (p 102). If the author was a patient researcher, he
would have learnt that nattie stood for the kinky hair of the black man and that in the
Caribbean the colonial project of self-hatred caused mothers to curse 'dem nattie head
pickney'. The Rastas turned this on its head and, in extolling the virtues of blackness,
allowed their hair to flow naturally and to locks.
While claiming that his purpose is to clarify and develop understanding, Cashmore
has given support to the police in their work of harassing black youths. Because the book
is by and large a theoretical treatment of Rastas, the significant chapter is Cashmore's
analysis of the attitudes of the police. At a time when the black community is sensitive
to the increased police powers and the increasing number of black youths arrested for
'Sus', there is no mention of this in his book. Black families in Britain know of the use
of the 1824 Vagrancy Act against black youths. The Home Office giving evidence to the
Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure acknowledged, "a disproportionate number of
arrests of black-skinned persons" under Section 4 of the 1824 Vagrancy Act, "the part
referring to suspected persons loitering with intent to commit an offence known as
Sus. Of the 2331 -Sus' arrests, 1016 were blacks".
In evidence submitted to the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure by the
Institute of Race Relations, the use of police powers against blacks and the ways in which
criminal procedure is being used to harass a whole community has been massively docu-
mented. The abuse of police powers, the police protection of racists of the National
Front, and the tendency to treat black victims of crime as criminals is only surmounted
by the creeping counter-insurgency techniques now practised by the para-military Special
Patrol Group. To obscure this trend towards authoritarianism, Cashmore masks the
discussion of the police by repeating the falsehoods that "members of the Rastafarian
Movement were a threat to the order of the community, that they had scant respect for
the law of the land and had no compunction in breaking it. Theft and robbery were their
principal methods of gaining income, they preached peace and love yet practised violence
and generally constituted a hazard to the community and one which had to be
checked." (pp 176)
Cashmore proceeds to later on summarize the findings of the Shades of Grey Report,
a study commissioned by the West Midlands Police and written by John Brown. This
summary is a repetition of the self-fulfilling prophecy of the police that Rastas were part
of a criminalized sub-culture. Consider this quote:
"Many of the couple hundred 'hard core' Dreadlocks
who now form a criminalized sub-culture in the area
live in squats. Almost all are unemployed. A part
from the specific crimes for which they are responsi-
ble, they constantly threaten the peace of indi-
vidual citizens, black, brown and white, whilst mak-
ing the police task both difficult and dangerous, since
every police contact with them involves a risk of con-
frontation or violence."
The reader is carried through the different scenarios of violence perpetrated by the
Rastas and buttressed by the sensational headlines of the media. Cashmore repeats these
grave lies while differing with Brown only in the exaggerations, not in the substance, of
his report. In his own words: "Now, whilst objecting to the rigid dichotomization, I
concede that a number of Rastafari adherents in the Handsworth Area (and other areas of
Birmingham) were prone to handbag snatching, pilfering and robberies of a more serious
This overt support of the Shades of Grey report by Ernest Cashmore comes at a
time when the police have embarked on the twin programme of picking up black youths
on the streets while identifying responsible Rasta groups for support in the form of grants
from the Inner City Partnership Programme. Is it a coincidence that some of the inform-
ants of Cashmore are considered 'responsible elements'?
The task remains to penetrate his conclusions on 'Repatriation and the Spell of
Africa'. That the Rastafari Brethren have a strong sentiment towards Africa, is not in
doubt. Whether this entails a physical return to Africa is in doubt as the Twelve Tribe
settlers in Shashamane Province, Ethiopia, can confirm. This concept of repatriation
which speaks of the voluntary move of Africans from the U.K. must be distinguished
from the racist call for forced repatriation of Blacks from Britain. Cashmore omitted to
discuss the dimension, but his omission of so many other key areas of State response to
the Rastas should not mislead the reader to accept the existence of those sociological
code words which could in the future support a racist project of forced repatriation. The
reader should try to grasp the full meaning of this last chapter 'The Spell of Africa'.