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VOLUME 51, No. 2 JUNE 2005
(Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden)
Subjectivity, Difference And Commonalities In The Context of Gender in The
C. Jama Adams
Preparing Union Men for Change 14
Arguing Over The "Caribbean": Tourism on Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast 31
Resisting definitive interpretation: Seeing the story of the Exodus through 53
Anna Kasafi Perkins
The many faces of Rasta: Doctrinal Diversity within the Rastafari Movement 67
The Folk Roots of Jamaican Cultural Identity 79
BOOK REVIEWS 96
Books Received 106
Notes on Contributors 112
Information for Contributors
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
The Hon. Rex Nettleford, Vice Chancellor Emeritus, UWI, and Editor.
Sir Roy Augier, Professor Emeritus, History, Mona.
Professor H. Beckles, Pro Vice Chancellor and Principal, UWI, Cave Hill.
Professor L. Carrington, PVC, Non Campus Countries and Distance Education
Professor B. Chevannes, Research Fellow, Mona School of Business, UWI, Mona
Professor K. Hall, PVC and Principal, UWI, Mona.
Professor Wayne Hunte, PVC Research, UWI, St. Augustine
Professor B.Lalla, Dept of Liberal Arts, Faculty of Arts and Education, UWI,St.Augustine
Professor the Hon. E. Morrison, PVC, Granduate Studies and Research, UWI, Mona
Dr. H Simmons-McDonald, Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Education, UWI, Cave Hill
J. R. Periera, Vice Principal and Director, Cultural Studies, UWI, Mona
Linda Speth, General Manager, UWI Press
Dr. B. Tewarie, PVC and Principal, UWI, St. Augustine
Dr. V.Salter, CSI, Managing Editor, Ex Officio
All correspondence and contributions should be addressed to: The Editor,
Caribbean Quarterly, Cultural Studies Initiative, University of the West Indies,
PO Box 130, Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica. Tel. No. and Fax 876-970-3261
Email: email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Manuscripts -We invite readers to submit manuscripts or recommend subjects
which they would like to see discussed in Caribbean Quarterly. Articles and book
reviews of relevance to the Caribbean will be gratefully received. Authors should
refer to the guidelines on this web page. Articles submitted are not returned.
Contributors are asked not to send international postal coupons for this purpose.
Exchanges: Exchanges are conducted by the Gifts and Exchanges Section,
Library, University of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica.
Back Issues and Microfilm : Information for back volumes supplied on request.
Caribbean Quarterly is available on microfilm from Xerox University Microfilms
and in book form from Kraus-Thompson Reprint Ltd.
Abstract and Index 1949-2003 Author Keyword and Subject Index available as
a hard copy and shortly on the website. The journal is abstracted by AES and
indexed by HAPI
Caribbean Quarterly, Volume 51, No.2. June 2005 contains six articles.
Two essays examine religious issues and their significance to the region. Resisting
definitive interpretation: Seeing the story of the Exodus through
Caribbean(ite) eyes, by Anna Kasafi Perkins seeks to present a reflection from
the margins. The term "Caribbean(ite)" is a deliberately constructed polyvalent
term constructed by the author in an attempt to name both herself and her reality,
(echoes of Caribbean and Canaanite). The many faces of Rasta: Doctrinal
Diversity within the Rastafari Movement, by Michael Bamett speaks to the
matter of the existence of the many doctrinal, theological and even ideological
differences between the various 'mansions' of Rastafari. The three primary
mansions of the movement that are considered in this paper are: the Nyahbinghi
mansion, the Boboshante mansion and the Twelve Tribes of Israel mansion. The
other articles address issues ofsocio-cultural significance. Edward Seaga's work in
progress gives an overall picture of the sources of 'Jamaicanness' from the cradle
in The Folk Roots of Jamaican Cultural Identity. Jama Adams examines
gender issues in the Caribbean in his thought-provoking Subjectivity, Difference
And Commonalities In The Context of Gender in The Caribbean. He
concludes by suggesting ways of thinking that permit us to build a paradigm to
understand gender in a way that would permit a more detailed understanding of the
subjective and gendered individual. In her essay, Preparing Union Men for
Change. Marva Phillips postulates that although women have been very visible
in the Trade Union Movement since the 1930s there has been no attempt on the
part of the organisation to prepare men for women's the entry into the' Movement.
On the other hand women have endeavoured to equip themselves for entry into the
male dominated Institution. This paper therefore focuses on preparing men for the
inclusion of women at the locus of power primarily within the Caribbean Trade
Moji Anderson's essay, Arguing Over The "Caribbean": Tourism on
Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast, (a reprint) examines a village on Costa Rica's
Caribbean coast, where the terms "Caribbean" and the "Rastafarian" gives insight
into a particular, ambivalent and contradictory, politics of identity at play. It also
shows the use of the tourism industry as a resource for understanding and
representing notions of the self, community and a sense of belonging. book
reviews complete this edition.
Subjectivity, Difference And Commonalities In The Context of
Gender in The Caribbean
C. JAMA ADAMS
Some Features of Subjectivity
Te are four features of the working definition of subjectivity as utilized in
this paper. The first is that the subjective speaks to a particular perspective that
excludes other perspectives; it is the individual's normative and preferred way of
understanding the world (Parfit, 1971;McClamrock, 1994)
Secondly, the individual's combined subjective perspectives are unique,
and are also reflected in the manner in which tasks such as loving, engaging in
relationships and being creative, or manifested as engaging in productive activi-
ties, are handled.
Thirdly, these perspectives are significantly informed by the cultural
space and time within which the individual is embedded. Subjectivity is therefore
inently an inter-subjective construct, developing out of an ongoing dynamic be-
tween the individual's unique combination of genetic, biological and psychologi-
cal characteristics and the cultural space and time in which he/she is located
(Benjamin, 2002). The individual is endowed with the capacity and the bias to
develop own unique subjectivity but the actual content and style of that subjectiv-
ity develops out of a dynamic between the individual and the culture. Subjectivi-
ties are before created in the context of enframing epistemologies. Such a social
framework influences the construction and expression of subjectivities, and the
degree to which the individual can influence the prevailing epistemologies.
Finally, given that dynamic, the individual constitutes both unique ways
of perceiving the world and subjectivities that have much in common with the
members of her/his particular shared cultural space. This dynamism also speaks to
the role of contingency in mediating outcomes of the dynamic interplay of multi-
ple subjectivities and multiple locales. As in any contingent situation myriad
outcomes are possible (Taylor, 1995). No one factor determines the individual's
subjectivities, or the manifestation of uniqueness. Each factor is influential, rat
than determinate and before subjectivity cannot be reduced to any essentialized
factors. So while access to food, gender and racial characteristics influence how
the individual perceives self, other factors such as parental temperament, willing-
ness to tolerate ambiguity, dominant epistemologies and cultural itage also influ-
ence how we subjectively define ourselves in the world.
In seeking to understand subjectivities a cautionary note should be inter-
jected: central to the idea of subjectivity from a Western perspective is an individ-
ual who is paradoxical (Crittenden, 1992). The individual's internal world is to
some degree known as a function of assumptions by others based on their own
subjectivities. Parallel to this is a complementary awareness that not all subjectivi-
tities are shared across all individuals, thereby creating a degree of unknowability
of the individual. The nature of the subjective renders it a potentially subversive
place as the individual has the capacity to selectively mask their true subjectivity.
So we never have direct access to the subjectivity of another and we therefore
resort to empathy and projection to create the illusory sense that we know the
subjectivities of the other. This is especially the case when the individual exists in
a social framework such as the Caribbean that routinely suppresses the individ-
ual's many attempts at self- expression, and manifestation of his/her unique
perspective of the world in the service of differentiation and individuality. We do
not yet understand the adaptive and maladaptive subversive strategies that the
individual deploys to transcend such attempts at limiting growth.
A final cautionary note is that given the contingent, and often, non-ra-
tional and inscrutable nature of subjectivities, one must be careful not to privilege
linearity, causality and adaptability as always dominant operational modes. Re-
gardless of cultural position, the individual has the potential to develop subjectivi-
ties that facilitate adaptive and dysfunctional moves. Essentialist thinking is
evident if we defend against negative essentialist thinking with positive essential-
ist thinking. Individuals who are poor do not exert control on the power structure
of the society but they can develop subjectivities that give rise to adaptive manage-
ment strategies, or dysfunctional ways of being in the world or some combination
of both. While such subjectivities may inform and are often constrained by
macro-societal factors one should not think of those factors as being determina-
tive, or as obliterating the space for individual volition.
In summary subjectivities while unique to each individual also reflect the
commonalities of a shared cultural space. The contingencies at work and the lack
of direct access to fluid and often non-rational internal processes should make us
both curious and circumspect in how we think about the subjective.
As noted earlier, subjectivities are in part social constructs. How we
think about ourselves and how ots think about us, are profoundly influenced by the
social context in which we live. A major source of theory about the subjective
lives of the peoples of the Caribbean has been from the vanguard researchers who
have worked on issues of gender in the Caribbean. (Reddock, 2001; St. Hill, 2003;
Mohamed, 2004). They in turn have built on material from folk culture and the
rich social sciences literature on the inequitable nature of Caribbean society
(Nettleford, 1978; Beckford & Witter, 1980; Ford-Smith, 1986; Best, 1997,).
These researchers have created not only a community within which to explore
these issues but have also influenced ways of thinking and acting in the larger
Caribbean community. Theory using psychoanalytically informed perspectives
on subjectivity or an emphasis on gender commonalities is not yet prominent in
Caribbean dialogues on gender and gender relations (Chodorow, 1989; 2002;
The contemporary emphasis in Caribbean research on differentiation has
as its aim an understanding and appreciation of the peoples of the Caribbean as
having subtle and complex subjectivities that cannot be essentialized around race,
gender, ethnicity and class. For most of its history there was an ambivalent and
sometimes antagonistic stance towards the subjectivities of the subordinated peo-
ples of the region. This gave rise to a negative essentialism and a lack of disaggre-
gation with its attendant denial of individuality and difference.
The structure of the contemporary Caribbean reflects an historical and
ongoing struggle to control the natural and human resources of the region. The
Euro-American elites, freed for the most part from the moral constraints of their
homelands, have historically driven this process with a particularly rapacious form
of capitalism rooted in an ideology based on minimizing costs in the service of
This ideology required a serviceable ontological argument set within a
supportive epistemological framework that would justify the exploitation of the
subordinated peoples of the region. Subjectivities were therefore constructed to
give such exploitation the veneer of moral correctness. The core element of this
model of exploitation was the denial of any subjective commonalities between the
subordinated peoples and their oppressive overlords. Such denial ran the gamut
from questioning whether peoples of African descent and peoples of European
descent belonged to the same species (Graves, Jr., 2002), to relatively less extreme
arguments which, while acknowledging a common biological root made the
infamous "chain of being" argument in which whites were considered more
advanced than blacks and furhertmore, that this evolutionary gap was unbridge-
able given the immutable nature of each group's intellectual endowment. Differ-
ence therefore was embedded in one's genetic heritage, hence the inherent
inferiority of peoples of African descent and also of women regardless of their
cultural itage (Graves, Jr, 2002).
These constructed subjectivities of "Other" reflect essentialism in its
most unvarnished form. Whites were considered inently superior and possessed
of enlightened intellects that gave rise to the capacity to be thoughtful, disciplined,
creative, productive and caring (Gossett, 1997). As a result of these capacities,
Euro-Americans saw themselves as both the creators and custodians of civiliza-
tion. Such positive essentialism was withheld from peoples of African descent
and to a lesser extent from women of European heritage. Blacks were perceived
as having negative essentialized subjectivities that resulted in their being carefree,
amoral, of limited intellectual capacity, uneducable, undisciplined, and sexually
promiscuous (Bumard, 2004).
Given such personality traits they could not be trusted to be responsible,
nor could they be custodians of scarce and valuable resources. This therefore
justified the expropriation of their resources. Their intact and complex non-nor-
mative social arrangements and the subjectivities that gave rise to them were
paradoxically acknowledged by the frequent need to deploy violence to contain
uprisings that were an expression of a quest to be acknowledged as equals and to
access power (Warner-Lewis, 2003; Burnard, 2004).
The Caribbean as a multicultural place of exploitative labour was created
out of the overwhelming violence of slavery and an aggressive coercion that saw
millions forcibly transported from Africa to other regions. Their subjugation was
maintained through the deployment, threat or fear of violence. The purpose of this
violence was to limit any attempt at individuation, any attempt at the uncontrolled
exercise of intellect, any attempt to assert a sense of humanness, and any attempt
to create a substantive community of caring. Such aspirations were a threat to the
intellectual, political and economic hegemony of the European overlords and their
sense of their subjectivities as superior to those of the subordinated groups.
This violence was also aimed at disrupting any attempts at solidarity
based upon perceived similarities in subjective perspectives among those being
exploited. Such solidarity formed the basis of ongoing attempts to change the
balance of power. So difference based on gender, shade of pigmentation and
kinship was encouraged in the service of preventing the recognition of common-
alities that could be the basis for organizing challenges to the dominant hegemony.
The deliberate disruption of family relations through sexual violence, humiliation
of authority figures and forced family separations were also a systemic feature of
this program of subjugation.
A second feature of the maladaptive institutionalization of difference is
the on-going unequal access to resources. To sustain such exploitation in a manner
that minimized the chances of rebellion specific institutional arrangements had to
be put in place to limit the development of Black and female subjectivities around
access to knowledge. Capitalizing on shared interests and the adaptive use of
aggression were discouraged while access to education was limited. Where educa-
tion was accessible the curricula offered a privileged Eurocentric worldview that
effectively marginalized, if it acknowledged at all, the experiences of the majority
oppressed population (Turner, 1987).
As noted earlier, the capacity to develop a subjective sense of self is
embedded in a social context in which the availability of resources influences the
characteristics of the subjectivities developed and those that are undeveloped. The
under-resourcing of schools and the alienating nature of school curricula were
utilized in the service of profit maximization and social control with little commit-
ment to human development. The objective has always been to limit the develop-
ment of subjectivities that would threaten the status quo, thereby dismantling the
normative model of limitation and underachievement.
Despite many attempts at exclusion or marginalization, Caribbean peo-
ples are very much participants and contributors to the centuries old Western
exploration of the contours of individualism. As postmodernist thinking with its
skepticism towards aggregates, universalizing and overarching theories has be-
come more influential it has better informed the move towards recognition of the
long-standing, but often denied differences and commonalities among subordi-
nated peoples.. We also have a better appreciation of how power among all
constituencies of a society can fuel the development and deployment of exclusion-
ary and dehumanizing epistemologies (Fanon, 1965; Freire,1970; Foucault,1982;
Some Psychological Consequences of Limiting Subjectivities
Living under such epistemological regimes has many implications for
how Caribbean peoples go about negotiating the daily challenges of relating and
working. One important consequence of oppression was the tendency of the
individual to feel that he/she had much more volition, much more responsibility
for the unsatisfactory nature of life trajectory than he/she actually did. Such a
way of thinking led the individual to believe that if she/he was unsuccessful it was
as a result of some personal failing rather than some socially facilitated institu-
tional shortcoming. Such thinking lessened the possibility that those who per-
ceived their situation in this way would challenge the existing power structure.
A classic example is the infamous Common Entrance Examination.
This was a placement exam aimed at weeding out the highest scoring students for
the relatively few available slots. A student's ability to attain a secondary school
education was however, not predicated on good enough age-appropriate academic
skills, but rather on exceptional skills and the hope that the skill level of the
competing peers in cohort was less than exceptional. Faced with the dilemma of
the limited pool of slots and a large student cohort, administrators simply raised
the scores necessary for acceptance until the number of students attaining that
score equaled the number of slots available. The travesty was that those students
who failed the examination were labeled as inferior. No attempt was made address
the woeful lack of facilities, the result of an historical under-investment in educa-
tion, and the contemporary shortage of resources to meet the demands of students
hoping to continue their education beyond the primary level. Until recently, the
influence of the fundamentally Eurocentric nature of Caribbean curricula por-
trayed what was essentially a complex socioeconomic challenge as an individual
failing with often painful consequences for the affected individuals' self-esteem.
One then has a system of socialization that often encourages ways of
thinking that are self-defeating, and often facilitates the development of subjectivi-
ties that make it difficult to grow as a human being. One often observes therefore,
subordinate peoples with awareness that some of their subjectivities are maladap-
tive or observe the generation of conflictual strategies as inevitable.
The high degree of domestic violence and peer violence as a means of
resolving differences is reflective of this. Such individuals often lack access to
resources to develop more adaptive solutions, or lack the support to deploy fragile
adaptive initiatives. (Young, Jr., 2004).
This illusion of role-appropriate authority is still enacted within gender
relations where some men, often under-educated and under-employed exercise a
brittle form of patriarchy in relation to equally under-resourced women. Such men
act as if they have authority and when challenged to live up to the responsibilities
that come with such authority are unable to do so and often react with violence,
self-abuse, or withdrawal from their families
Related to this is a paradoxical inability at times to recognize modest
strengths within the ranks of subordinated peoples. The stress on the myth of an
independent and empowered individual makes it difficult for subordinated indi-
viduals with likeminded perspectives to recognize common adaptive subjectivities
that would lead to the pooling of limited knowledge and material resources to
facilitate better outcomes. The emphasis is on their difference, on a subjectivity of
isolation in relation to each other. This is often combined with a paucity of safe
places and facilitating resources to develop commonalities and adaptive strategies
(Ford-Smith, 1986;Fox, 1999; Brown et al, 1997)
Such thinking leads one to constantly question the politics of definition;
who gains and who loses in a definitional process based on binary polarities and
zero sum formulations. This in turn has created a space in which to question the
limits of a definitional process that might differentiate to a point that is no longer
meaningful and to begin to construct formulations that are productively inclusive;
that allow one to think of differences within the context of commonalities. So for
example there is a way of defining poor women as being victims of a patriarchal
system in which men dominate and appropriate the surplus of poor women. There
is also an awareness however that one must differentiate between dominant males
who oppress not only women but also other men, and to acknowledge men who
might not necessarily be patriarchic and exploitative in their approach to gender
relations. Such men suffer in their own gender informed ways in a manner that
has much in common with the oppression/suffering of poor women.
Because the history of the human race is the history of a relatively small
group of privileged men, we lack a well-developed differentiated sense of the
multiple ways in which male subjectivities are developed and expressed. What we
do have is a sense of the hegemonic and limiting tendencies of some forms of
masculinities. And also a sense that maladaptive ways of thinking and acting can
be found across all classes of men.
Gender in the Caribbean
The ongoing work on gender has yielded a multiplicity of benefits,
including the creation of robust models for understanding the issue of gender and
gender relations within the context of Caribbean space (Barrow,1998; Chevannes,
2001). These researchers have established a place and the intellectual tools for the
dismantling of the negative essentialized models of gender subjectivities that were
constructed by the colonial overlords and their neo-colonial successors.
One important consequence of the work of disaggregating gender is the
creation of models to understand not only the construction of femininities but also
the construction of masculinities (DeMoya, 2004, Lewis, 2004; Nurse, 2004). The
understanding of femininities and masculinities in terms of differences, common-
alities and their mutual tension is essential for the development of robust theories
of gender and gender relations.
Much of this disaggregating work has been focused on femininities with
comparable work on masculinities only just beginning. It is therefore often not
possible to give a well thematized sense of the differentiated subjective senses of
men and women in the Caribbean. Essentialized constructions that firmly link
ways of thinking, of managing emotions and of responding to gender are still quite
dominant. One will read of "false femininities" -women who overly identify with
male patriarchal role definitions and also read of men who are emotionally caring
and non- patriarchal. Such differentiated assessments are usually obscured by the
more traditional portrayal of most men as oppressors and most women as op-
pressed. It is difficult to have a sense of adaptive strategies that subordinated men
and women deploy and the healthy subjectivities that generate such strategies.
Researchers in the area of Caribbean feminism have established a frame-
work that makes it possible to accept that such subjectivities do exist and that they
are often expressed in an adaptive manner if one looks beyond the traditional ways
Until recently there has been a dearth of research on men alongside a
widespread negative perception of male subjectivities.. New research is emerging
that seeks to differentiate masculinities using in part, strategies pioneered by
researchers on femininities (Brown et. al., 1997; Brodber, 2003; DeMoya, 2004).
One important feature of this work is the recognition of the mutability of
masculinities. According to Maclnnes in Petersen(2003, p58):
"Scholars often seem not to recognize that masculinity escapes
precise empirical definition and that such identified traits, at
best represent tendencies and possibilities that individuals have
more or less access to at different points in time, and coexist in
an uneasy and messy alliance"
Given that there is no essence to masculinity it can be manifested in many
different ways with social forces as a critical factor in how masculinities are
constructed and enacted. It is becoming clearer that not all men are dominant and
that many are dominated by other men. Men of power do not only have hegemony
over most women but also over most men. Therefore alongside unacceptable
levels of aggression directed at women there are also very high levels of male on
male violence. This pattern of relating is evident at all levels of society. It is also
worth noting Lewis' point that masculinities are not the exclusive domain of men
but are also generated and utilized by women (Lewis, 2004).
The vulnerability of certain classes of men is further aggravated by poor
self care, high-risk work practices and high-risk lifestyles (Petersen, 2003). Unsafe
worksites and unsafe sexual practices among working class men and punishing
working hours and poor diets among middle class men are illustrative of such
risky behaviours. These gendered approaches to masculinity speak to dominant
constructions that are generated by men and women of authority and internalized
as normative by less powerful men and women.
Another challenging issue is that ofmarginalization. A blunt version of
this concept deployed by Miller (1991) in his early work was widely interpreted as
an attempt to argue for the reinstatement of males to positions of authority denied
to them by the colonial project. This attempt at re-feudalization was rightly
rejected (Barriteau, 2003). A more thoughtful approach recognizes that gender
constructions can marginalize both men and women from constructing particular
and adaptive ways of experiencing the world. For many men, subjectivities around
the adaptive use of emotions are woefully underdeveloped. Many men can be
considered marginalized from their potential to be caring and loving individuals.
For women the comparable challenge is to be assertive. Traditional gender con-
structions leave little space for men to express tenderness and for women to be
assertive. The ongoing work of examining the construction of gender subjectivi-
ties creates a space for the thoughtful and progressive use of marginalization as a
phenomenon experienced by many men and women.
These however, are not preordained outcomes; neither should we limit
our definition of masculinities to groupings of either aggressors or victims. Com-
peting ideologies can and do generate adaptive masculinities, albeit often fragile
ones given the relative lack of social support for their development and dissemina-
tion. So we have anecdotes of men who express their love as partners and fathers
in healthy ways and struggle to manage their ambivalences around intimacy. We
hear intimations of attempts to limit men on men violence, but it is often difficult
to locate adaptive moves by men, and the progressive factors that gave rise to them
What is Possible
Theorizing about gender has traditionally emphasized gender differences
with little reference to commonalities across gender constructions. It has therefore
been easier to theorize about gender differences rather than gender commonalities.
Lacking is a sense of what Benjamin (2002) refers to as the over-inclusive, the
undifferentiated subjective potentials common to all human beings. It is from this
broadly common base that our myriad gendered subjectivities are generated.
What references there have been to commonalities across gender were
most prominent in constructions that were employed in the service of the imperial-
capitalist project of subordinating men and women or as a defence by such people
against such subordination. In the case of a subordinating community there was a
questioning of the humanity of such peoples, and a denial of individual subjectivi-
ties. Also such people were constructed as emotionally and intellectually mono-
One defence against this negating commonality was an understandable
but unsatisfactory positing of a positive commonality in which subordinated
peoples are constructed as an undifferentiated mass of innocents, victims, and
sojourners in a Babylonic place far removed from a mythical and Edenic past.
Such idealization often carries with it a specific dark gendered undertone of
fantasies of a re-feudalized state in which men rule and women obey. It is this
undertone that triggered such a sharp and disapproving response to Miller's (1991)
original male marginalization thesis.
Psychoanalytic theorists (Bassin, 2002; Benjamin, 2002) offer some
thinking that allows us to use the idea of gender commonalities, which are thought
of as over inclusive. Such an perspective allows for difference within a larger
commonality and obviates the need for zero sum formulations or archaic gender
The principle of over-inclusiveness from a psychoanalytic perspective
posits that development, including that of gender subjectivities rests on a common
undifferentiated psychic basis that informs all the multiplicities of ways in which
masculinities and femininities can be expressed. To quote Bassin (2002, p149),
"Us is other and other is us." In this formulation the developing child's subjec-
tivities are based on identification with both male and female caregivers. These
gendered subjectivities are integrated into the child's psychic structure and facili-
tate the development of crucial inter-subjective states such as empathy, relatedness
and connectedness. These over-inclusive states also permit an appreciation and
management of Self-Other tensions.
The individual's core gender identity is profoundly influenced by his or
her embodiment and its accompanying subjectivities, which from the beginning
includes the socially dominant constructions around gender. Gender identity
cannot however be reduced to a particular embodiment; such embodiments should
be thought of as being influential rather than being determinative. Thus, the
embodiments constructed as "feminine" or "masculine" are an important, but not
the only factor, influencing the development of gender identity (Benjamin,2002).
Normative practices also play an important influential rule in the devel-
opment of gender identity. Normative constructions around gender can facilitate
or inhibit healthy development as a function of what is privileged and what is
marginalized as normative. Struggle on many fronts has created the space for
gender subjectivities that are not considered the exclusive domain or defining
characteristics of any given gender (Chodorow,1989,2002). This has been espe-
cially important in supporting the softening of harsh masculinities through the
re-integration of long disavowed femininities such as emotional tenderness and
empathy.. It also allows for women to adaptively integrate disavowed masculini-
ties around aggression, thereby allowing for the deployment of assertion and
competitive strategies (Bassin, 2002). Such normative space for integrative work
is quite constrained in the Caribbean where the historical normative attempted to
obliterate over-inclusive gender space.
As a result of this legacy, healthy psychic development requires the
commitment of considerable emotional and cognitive resources to manage the
noticeable tensions between what is often promoted as normative gender behav-
iour and what is psychologically healthy. Part of this psychic challenge is to
understand the possibility for, and limitations on healthy development within the
constraints of any given normative space. This is illustrative of the fact that
psychic development while not determined by normative space is influenced and
often constrained by such space.
A further consequence of this legacy is that the demands of theory
making are quite daunting if at the same time exciting. Some factors to consider
are as follows: Many theorists have stressed the fluidity, multiplicity and the
contingent nature of subjectivities (Balkin, 1998). This is often difficult to grasp
given the human tendency to perceive the self as stable and consistent across both
time and space. Although this is probably a task more befitting philosophers of
the mind, it should give us pause to think about what are the features of any given
constellation of subjectivities that we label as "masculinities" or "femininities"
This is an important consideration, given that any definition is a joint act of
privileging and marginalizing.
Related to this is the challenge of the on-going pursuit of individuality.
Given the centuries of the denial of individual volition and the questioning of the
existence of a rich and tender interior space within the psyches of Caribbean
peoples it is necessary to undertake work that will acknowledge and understand
the importance of the exploration of such space and the healthy articulation of
unique individualities. This is not however without risk as healthy subjectivities
are always inter-subjective creations. Therefore an over preoccupation with a self-
absorbed interiority is at risk for creating isolated and despairing subjectivities cut
off from the constraints and opportunities found in a healthy community of
individuals. Theorizing about subjectivities in general and specifically about
gendered subjectivities, to be fruitful, must be in the context of the inter-subjective
space of gender relations.
Given the importance of the inter-subjective we need to have a better
appreciation of the myriad cultural locales in which subjectivities develop. This is
desirable for two reasons. The first is the paucity of knowledge in the historical
record of the lifestyles and subjectivities of the peoples of the Caribbean. We have
fragments either unearthed by researchers or nurtured across time by cultural
workers and indigenous community institutions (Ford-Smith, 1986; Carter,1989).
Little is known about the experience of the "other" across such divides as race,
(Afro vs. Indo) religion (Christian vs. Hindu), location (rural vs. urban) and sense
of history conceptualizationss of edenic origins in Africa, India and China to name
a few). We know enough to know that these perspectives, in ways that are often
not well understood, inform the construction of subjectivities among the various
constellations that comprise the peoples of the Caribbean. We are only in the
initial stage of understanding the processes and their contingent outcomes.
The second challenge is the contingent nature of these interactions. We
do not have theories that enable us to understand the operational principles that
guide which factors are privileged and which are marginalized in the individual's
construction of subjectivities. So for example, while some strands of Indo-Carib-
bean and Afro-Caribbean culture appear to integrate men well into family life,
there are suggestions that it is often at the price of women adopting subordinate
roles. It is difficult to find resilient models of gender relating based on a relation-
ship between equals who work well within such a framework and adaptively
exploit the tension between commonalities and differences.
An important feature of the effect of contingency is that it enables as
well as constrains (Taylor, 1995). So in the case of Caribbean gender relations,
new models of inquiry have made it possible to discover narratives of the practice
of gender relations; narratives obscured by the marginalizing effect of previously
dominant modes of enquiry (Beckles,2003, 2004).
An increased sensitivity to the role of contingency would require devel-
oping an appreciation of the different ways in which combinations of the norma-
tive, one's embodiment, one's cultural situatedness, and one's particular
subjective sense of gender combine to create a gendered self.
The challenge is to avoid the temptation to thoughtlessly systematize in
the service of elegance, while unwittingly obscuring the differences within the
commonalities. A converse risk would be to obscure the commonalities, in the
service of a return to an attempt to create mutually exclusive genders, a denial of
the commonalities that are the basis of both our shared humanity and our unique
Such work one suspects would reveal healthy tensions between differ-
ences and commonalities and would also reveal the underlying principles common
to the myriad ways in which we construct subjectivities gendered or otherwise.
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Christine Barrow (Ed) Caribbean Portraits: Essays on Gender Ideologies and Identities. King-
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Carter, M.(1989). Selected Poems. Georgetown, Guyana: Demerara Publiss
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Preparing Union Men for Change
Women and Labour: Some Early Contributions
Women have always engaged in various forms of work. This has been so
both in the domestic and public spheres of wage labour although the two hundred
years of labour history is not explicit in giving recognition to their contributions.
There are, however, accounts of their involvement in trade union activities from as
early as 1824 in the United Kingdom prior to the birth of the umbrella organisation
for trade unions the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) in
The end of the 18th century brought with it temporary associations of
working people designed to assist their members in times of suffering since, with
the passing of the Combination Acts of 1799 and 1800, there was severe oppres-
sion of workers. The oppression was expressed through the prosecution, convic-
tion and imprisonment of persons who sought to come together and take action
when their demands for increased wages were ignored. In 1824 Francis Place,
who is noted for his objection to women working in industry,l and his colleague
Joseph Hume manoeuvred a Bill through Parliament that rescinded the Combina-
tion Act before the Government could recognize what was being planned; the Bill
became law without delay. (Flanders, 1960)2 The view at the time was that trade
unions were a reaction to repression and would disappear as soon as workers had
the right and freedom to come together.3 In that same year, both women and men
took strike action against a levy for artificial light, which was placed on their
wages. The wages were unequal with men earning nine pence a week and women
six pence. Twenty-three persons, twelve of whom were women weavers, were
imprisoned for one month because of their refusal to accept the deduction and end
the strike.4 Women's involvement in the strike helped Unions to become less
prejudiced to women and The General Association of Weavers in Scotland, whose
policy in the main excluded women from the industry, finally relented and ex-
tended membership to those women "belonging to the weaver's own family" At
the same time, the London Union of Journeymen Bookbinders began the fight to
build trade union organizations among women.5 The printing trades were consid-
ered appropriate for women, and we are told that Mary Catherine Goddard printed
the first issue of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Beddoes, who in 1792
advocated "printing as an employment particularly suited to women" gave his
book Alexander's Expedition to a woman by the name of Madley, for printing.
In the Caribbean, women performed varying roles in the formation of
Caribbean trade unions. Some went along with the traditional roles expected of
women, while others operated outside of the designated role and "founded unions,
sometimes joining with male colleagues to establish them, but on the whole unions
tended to be patriarchal. Women were usually among the middle leadership,
chairing committees, and being secretaries of unions." There is no way that
unions could have survived without these roles. In Trinidad and Tobago the
Negro Welfare Cultural and Social Association that was formed in 1934 had
among its founders two women, Christiana King and the St. Vincent born Elma
"Was characterized by a collective organisation of work and
study which to a large extent gave women a more equitable
position. As a result, unlike many contemporary organizations,
women were able to direct the course of their group's develop-
Reddock's view is that the organisation did not come about by accident,
as the policy on the organisation of women was clear. Francois' strong personality
would no doubt have influenced adherence to the principles of trade unionism and
the exclusion of the ideas of dominance and subordination. In the United States
Cobble,9 (2002) hypothesized that between the 1920's and 1960's there "were
multiple and competing visions of how to achieve equality" among union women
who led the way towards feminism during that period. History will acknowledge
and pay tribute to these women for making trade unions more women-friendly,
thus setting the tone for an increase in the numbers of women joining unions.
Cobblelo further notes that since the 1960's there has been quite a change in the
gender balance in trade unions in the United Sates of America as the numbers of
union women have increased. The United States labour movement's commitment
to inclusion and diversity is responsible for the rise of Linda Chavez-Thompson in
1995 to Executive Vice-President within the American Federation of Labour-Con-
gress of Industrial Organisation (AFL-CIO). The position of Executive Vice
President was a new one created for the 1995 election by expanding the AFL-CIO
Executive Council from 35 to 54, thereby achieving diversity in the leadership.
The council now constitutes seven women or 13% female membership. Al-
though the progress is slow in the USA change is taking place as women leaders
there are becoming more visible. However, even in instances where there have
been attempts to bring women into the leadership of the union the imbalance has
not been addressed. Instead, the number of positions is increased to accommodate
women consequently maintaining the male dominated structure of the trade union
and the existing inequity. The continued existence of discrimination against
women brings us to the discussion on justice and equity.
"One is no longer striving to be master, only an equal participant
in the totality of the world.1
Justice has been described as "the constant and perpetual disposition to
render every man his due. Toullier12 defines justice "to be the conformity of our
actions and our will to the law,"13 law being the foundation of justice. Equity on
the other hand, as defined by The Equity Theory is essentially about "how people
decide whether they are being treated justly or unjustly and how they react to such
treatment"l4 It continues by proposing that individuals compare their outcomes
in a social encounter with their partner's outcomes and try to establish equity
between the outcomes in terms of the effort involved in achieving them. This
implies therefore that if one person puts in more effort than the other and receives
the same gain that would be inequitable and consequently, effort should be
considered in determining equity. In the absence of a measurement for 'effort'
and for the purposes of this discussion the Role Theory is being put forward as a
benchmark for monitoring 'effort' Role Theory addresses what the individual
actually does in carrying out a task.
Preparation for change requires clarity between the individuals aware-
ness of what is and the willingness to undertake the action required to make the
change to what ought to be. The move from injustice to justice is the primary
objective of the initiative toward equality and equity and is the means to creating
an inclusive centre of power. However, we must ask ourselves whether or not the
trade union is prepared for the inclusion of women at the leadership level of the
organisational structure, and more so in numbers that are representative of the
female membership. Germane to the creation of equality and equity is the impor-
tance of preparing men to accommodate women in positions of authority within
the patriarchal trade union organisation. There is no doubt that labour needs its
women as much as its men and in the face of globalisation must present a united
Although there is an imbalance in the relationship between women and
men throughout the Trade Union Movement, the ICFTU supports the work of its
Women's Committee. It encouraged the Global Unions' 3 year campaign to
organise women workers, the Campaign for the ratification of Convention 183 on
Maternity Protection and gave attention to Women's participation in the ILO
Worker's Group. Guy Ryder, General Secretary of the ICFTU, addressing the
opening ceremony of the 8th World Women's Conference confirmed the organi-
sations position and support in respect of women and their importance to the
Movement. He noted that there was:
"the need to recruit women to our movement and to assure
their full role in leadership and decision-making to work for
equality. The fact that women are concentrated in those areas
of work which are our key organising challenges -the informal
economy, part-time and other atypical work, the rural sector
-only underlines the urgency of the challenge. Which is why the
worldwide organising campaign for women launched last year
is so important, moving us on from words and good intentions
to action and results."15
The three year "Global Union's Women Campaign: Unions For Women,
Women For Unions was launched on March 7, 2002 for the purpose of increasing
women's participation in trade unions.
To facilitate the levelling of justice and create an inclusive centre of
power and authority men must be involved in the plans from the beginning, as
"nothing makes persons resistant to new ideas or approaches as the feeling that
change is being imposed upon them.16 Men are aware of the contributions made
by women and of the Global Union's Women Campaign; however the views and
perceptions of men about men and men about women, reinforced by patriarchy
obscures reality. It is for that reason that greater emphasis must be placed on
changing the generally accepted wisdom that automatically prescribes roles for
women thus supporting occupational segregation. These learned cultural and
social values influence prejudice and delay change.
Anker (2001)17 identifies three broad categories into which theories
explaining occupational segregation by sex can be placed; (a) the neoclassical and
human capital theories, (b) institutional and labour market segmentation theories,
and (c) Feminist (gender) theories.
(a)The neoclassical and human capital theories assume that:
workers and employers are rational and that labour markets
function efficiently. Workers seek out the best paying jobs
after taking into consideration their own personal endowments
(e.g. education and experience), constraints (e.g. young child to
take care of) and preferences (e.g. for a pleasant work environ-
ment. Employers try to maximize profits by maximizing pro-
ductivity and minimizing costs as much as possible. But
because of competition and efficient labour markets, employers
pay workers their marginal product.
This theory stresses the differences in human capital accumulated by women and
men. For women the perceived deficiencies in education and labour market
experience influence their choice of occupation, assumes lower productivity
thereby justifying lower wages than men. Further that globally women are almost
exclusively responsible for housework and child care.
(b) Institutional and labour market segmentation theories assume that
institutions, including the trade union determine employment, dismissals, promo-
tion and wages. Among these theories is the "dual labour market theory" which
makes a distinction between the primary and secondary sectors, noting that "since
jobs in the primary sector are more secure, firm-specific experience and low
labour turnover should be relatively highly valued by firms in this sector."
Influenced by the neoclassical and human capital theory, this advances the idea
that women bring lower levels of human capital to the firm, for example less
education and experience, and men enter with more education and in the relevant
fields of study, making it more likely that women would be the minority in this
sector. Another theory in this category, the statistical discrimination theory is also
founded on differences in productivity, skills and experiences.
"In such circumstances (which are said to be common), it is
argued that it is rational for employers to discriminate against
groups of workers...when differences on average, between the
abilities of persons from different groups (e.g. women and
men) are less than decision-making costs."
The extent to which societal norms are developed based on learned cultural social
values are further clarified by the statistical discrimination theory that shows how
perceptions continue to influence women's position in the labour market when
many women are more educated and competent than men. The theories cited
above do not explain the reasons for the continuous perceived limitations of
women; they however explain their continuous exploitation and inequity. In
(c) Feminist (gender) theories go beyond labour market variables giving
other explanations such as the significant impact of patriarchy on society and
women's subordination. Patriarchy's influence on the perceptions of men about
men, men about women, women about women, women about men has contributed
to the development of norms negative to women. Some of which are that house-
hold work, caring and nurturing, greater honesty, manual dexterity, and physical
appearance are the categories in which women fall and are their primary responsi-
bilities, all of which support their continuous discrimination and the wide spread
inequities in education, economic participation and increased poverty. The sex-
ual division of labour as designed by patriarchy:
"helps determine why women tend to accumulate less human
capital as compared to men before entering into the labour
market that is, why female children receive less education
than male children, and girls are less likely to pursue fields of
study which are relevant for the labour markets such as sci-
ences...and- why women withdraw from the labour force early
and why many other women withdraw from the labour force
Stereotyping of women, whether positive or negative, discourages flexi-
bility of choice of occupation for them. In addition it preserves inequity and
unsettling relations between women and men, particularly in the workplace, when
women challenge the male status quo. In fact stereotyping of men must also be
changed so as to integrate them into what are commonly referred to as female
"they are socialized as men, and so long as manhood is defined
not just as different from, but as opposite and opposed to wom-
anhood, the notion of a feminist man may strain most folk's
imaginations. Especially insofar as male dominance is consid-
ered integral to manhood..." 18
The challenge is for men and women to be willing to risk change by
engaging in a process of transformational leadership.
With these understandings, a process of consciousness-raising for men,
similar to that undertaken by some union women throughout the 1980's must be
compulsory to realise change. It would provide insights for men and set the stage
to formulate and put into practice alternative responses by men to women trade
union leaders. However as we challenge men to "refuse to respect the masculinity
ideals that structure the cultures, policies and practices of so many institu-
tions...women must also be prepared to "refuse feminine ideals... The rejection
of feminine ideals by women will force organizations to change the way they work
and change the nature of relationships based on domination and subordination.19
The increase in the numbers of women joining the labour market since 1975
necessitates the equal and active participation of women, and requires redefining
male-female power relations as
"women and men exert power differently. Men acquire and
exert power largely through physical and intellectual domina-
tion of their environment...women acquire and exert power
largely through their roles as mothers and house-hold manag-
The distinctions made between the worlds of women and men are artificial as
both women and men have the requisite talents to acquire and exert power.20
Given this, there is a need for the Trade Union Movement to begin the
process of Applied Strategic Planning. In this process the dominant members of
the organisation "envision its future and develop the necessary procedures and
operations to achieve that future."21 The essence of the envisioning exercise must
be to accommodate the increased participation of women in the labour market and
ensure representation of women at the leadership and decision-making and taking
level of the organisation in keeping with their numbers throughout the organisa-
tion. All nine phases of the plan must follow the prescribed sequence (Appendix
1). The model includes "two continuous functions (environmental monitoring and
application considerations), both of which are involved at each of the sequential
Environmental monitoring is the awareness of what is happening in the
various environments and their effects on the organizations activities throughout
the planning process. Application considerations are about doing what is neces-
sary to implement things that have been accomplished during that aspect of the
planning. Within the Model there are a further two discrete phases, which are
performance audit and gap analysis. The purpose of the performance audit is to
study, simultaneously, the internal strengths and weakness of the organisation, and
the positive or negative effects on external opportunities and threats on the organ-
isation. The gap analysis identifies the gaps between what is and what is desired.
It allows for the "comparison of the data generated during the performance audit
with that requisite for executing its strategic plan; that is, a reality test. 2The
inclusion of women at the centre of power requires a comprehensive strategic plan
cognisant of the realities if the Movement is to benefit from the competencies of
all its members.
As the organisation goes through the process of strategic planning the
effect on the family of the increased participation of women in the work force must
be assessed. The plan must consider the combined responsibilities of work and
family, as family responsibilities include caring for children, ageing parents and
other relatives, all of which now primarily fall to women. The meticulous nature
of Applied Strategic Planning will bring to the fore the explanations and under-
standings of the necessity for women to be at the centre of power and in repre-
For the purpose of institutional change the strategic planning process will
give support to the evaluation of the norms and values of the organisation and
explore innovations. It will, as well, recognize the expertise brought to the union
by women. Additionally, as unions prepare for the future the process will force
analyses of union methodologies so as to inform the continuous re-structuring and
modification of the organisation to include women's capabilities. Changes to the
internal structure of the organisation and an objectively defined set of goals
leading to a mission statement are paramount in order to move from injustice to
justice. The trade union, a sword of justice must remain true to that "moniker" by
eradicating injustice through fairness to all its members.
Caribbean Labour Women: Some Experiences
In preparing themselves to move to positions of authority union women
have, over the years, engaged in training and educational exercises at the local,
national, regional and international levels. The training exercises provided oppor-
tunities for women to share and at the same time gain insights into the difficulties
and struggles experienced by some, and the various coping mechanisms used by
individual women. On the other hand, the engagement by some women in educa-
tional programmes allowed for the formalisation of learningg' related to power
and dominance, powerlessness and weakness, and clarity about empowerment.
Some have surrendered personal relationships in the process and express
sadness that at the time it was difficult to have both personal relationships and be
committed to the workers movement.
My relationship with my boyfriend ended because he felt I did
not have enough time for him and he wanted to go out a lot. I
wanted to work and build the union, but he didn't understand so
we broke up. I haven't bothered since then. ('Miss April' 1990
I did not have children, as I was not married because in those
days the union was so important. And anyway in those days it
wasn't easy and it would not have been acceptable to my family.
('Miss May' 1990 interview)
Women like Antiguan born Anne Liburd who became founder and Presi-
dent of Labour Women, the political women's arm of the St. Kits Nevis Labdur
Party, President of the Postmistress Club and President of the National Council of
Women in her adopted home St. Kitts supported the development of the Antiguan
woman towards full personhood. She credited her mother for assisting her and
"my mother was alive...so she managed the house for me while
I go to meetings... I had my children early...so this means that
I was able to move around."
The mothers of many union women are praised for supporting the work
of their daughters as they work in the trade union and elsewhere by taking care of
their children while they are on the trail.
Concerning her involvement in the trade union Liburd says:
I got into the union because of the women, they were liberal and
liked what I was doing in the political part, so the trade union
women said they wanted some sort of assistance so we started.
I invited people to come and talk with them and more to come
and teach them. These were grass roots women. I never paid a
soul to teach them I remember a man stopping me and say "
Miss Liburd, me can't get nuh rest in mi house yu know, me
wife a come tell me every minute, she want machine, she want
machine. Whe me a go get (sewing) machine from, a me one a
work and she home to look afta all de pickney dem" Would
you believe that in the end he gave his wife a machine and she
lived off it by making children's clothes.
When asked if the union had done did anything that has made it easier for
her to participate in trade union activities, Liburd's response was a resounding
Nonetheless, these "womanists"25 to name a few, Liburd, Theresa Huyler
of the Bahamas and Doreen Quiros of Belize who struggled for self-actualisation
of self and others continue to be committed to supporting and empowering
women. Quiros has often expressed the view that younger women should be
encouraged, and exposed by way of participation in union activities at all levels.
She acts on her beliefs as she often finds ways to secure funding to include the
participation of younger women, particularly at overseas conferences. "Elevating
the whole community is a oal of women's leadership commonly found through-
out the African Diaspora" and understood generally by women. Despite the
work of the 'womanists' the numbers of women who have moved into the
leadership rank of the Trade Union Movement is still minimal, and not reflective
of the numbers of "dues paying" women. This is not surprising as occupational
segregation based on stereotyping keeps women in roles that are perceived to be
female including household related work, caring and nurturing, occupations where
physical appearance attract or please customers, and generally easy to learn skills.
Although the perceptions differ from reality for many women it nonetheless
influences behaviour leading to discrimination against them.2 The need to move
forward in the male dominated trade union organisation propelled some women to
examine the impact of society's perceptions on their progress. To do so required
stepping outside of the learned behaviour and engage in a process of critical
consciousness through reflection and analysis. In so doing they transcended "a
single dimension, they reach back to yesterday, recognize today, and come upon
tomorrow."28 This process freed the women to confront the factors hindering
During the 1980's a group of Caribbean union women engaged in major
educational and training exercises in preparation for entry to the centre of power
and authority in the trade union organisation. A very significant aspect of the
programme was its focus on personal growth, self-esteem in particular, power and
its sources along with empowerment. This contributed to the election of a few
women to the positions of President and General Secretary. Some have survived
because of their stamina and inclination to contest the system and have therefore
been able to retain their elected positions. Some have withdrawn and have moved
away into other occupations.
Among the survivors are Mary Ann Schmidt President of the Union of
Agricultural and Allied Workers in Guyana and Jacqueline Jack of Trinidad &
Tobago who has retained her elected position as General Secretary of the National
Union of Government and Federated Workers for several years; Evette Gibson
who is presently the personnel manager of the Barbados Workers Union has been
a member of the staff for many years and who by way of promotion has held
several senior posts in that union. Countless union women have remarkable
stories to tell of their journey through the Trade Union Movement and of their
achievements, successes and the strategies and techniques they employed to sur-
vive and those strategies used by the male leadership to stymie their progress and
More recently, Helene Davis Whyte, General Secretary of the Jamaica
Association of Local Government Officers notes that her election to the post of
general secretary in 1995 "was a sour one Davis Whyte cannot by any standard
be considered brainless, however for being young, but more than that for being
female she came under attack for daring to seek election as the general secretary of
an organisation that was led for many years by a member of the old male-guard.
She was courageous enough to take the matter to the Court. Many other union
women are not yet at that place in their lives where they find it possible to share
their disappointments, pain and struggle for continued existence and sanity with-
out the promise of confidentiality.
In retrospect and in light of the experiences shared by many women,
some of those who participated in the 1980 programme and others, it is clear that
the concept of power, its uses and currencies and the power relations between
women and men, require greater attention. A basic requirement in the discourse
on power is clearness about power sharing. In addressing the issue the Beijing
Platform of Action 1995,29 notes
"The empowerment and autonomy of women and the improvement of
women's social, economic and political status is essential for the achievement of
both transparent and accountable government and administration and sustainable
development in all areas of life."
However, today the circumstances for women at all levels of organisa-
tions suggest that the United Nations Passport To Equality which address in detail
UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against
Women (CEDAW)3 has not been widely enough disseminated. The Passport is
designed as an educational instrument and exists in ten languages to facilitate the
eradication of stereotyping and the promotion of equal rights for women and men.
Advantages and Rewards: from Patriarchy to Equality.
Today, workers are required to work harder for longer hours and under
unsatisfactory conditions, as employers seek to impose the demand for unregu-
lated flexible working conditions on them. Much as this applies to both women
and men, and although it is women who are primarily affected by these flexible
work arrangements it is in the interest of men to recognize the benefits derived
from not engaging in domination. For as men dominate women (as a group)
because of their sex, so do various groups of men dominate other groups of men
based on race, colour and class; status as gained through money and education is
an additional yard stick for domination and wielding power.
In light of the above it is to no one's advantage in the long run to maintain
systems that lead to and encourage discrimination, segregation and weakness. As
the sword of justice, the Trade Union Movement must begin to prepare men to
discard the learned archaic principles of patriarchy and undergo a process of
re-education. They will have to unlearn the cultural and social values that
influence prejudice and impede change. To do so a number of activities will have
to be embarked on to create the fundamental change. However, it is crucial that
women also have a voice in determining the changes required, as in order to
achieve equity the roles of both men and women must be considered to achieve the
requisite changes if all parties in the organisation are to survive and benefit.
The development of the programme of activities for change must be
guided by the experiences of union women and theories that address occupational
segregation by sex with explanations related to labour demand and labour supply;
the stereotyped characteristics of women and men and their anticipated effects on
job-related segregation by sex are relevant to the change process. If the intent of
the exercise is to prepare men for the entry of women into leadership of the trade
union organisation, then the programme content must include issues such as, the
reasons for low pay jobs and flexibility to be associated with typically female jobs,
while the converse applies to the typical male jobs that are not categorised as
flexible. The explanations given by both neoclassical theories and feminist (gen-
der) theories are that women's household responsibilities influence the types of
jobs many women prefer.3
The educational and training programmes should begin with exercises in
consciousness raising in all male group. These can be followed by programmes
that will address the relevant theories and concepts in all male groups followed by
male-female groups. Aspects of the applied strategic planning process can be
included as an element of the programme. Its inclusion will inform and at the
same time provide opportunities for all members of the organisation to become a
part of the change process, thus eliminating resistance and the feeling that change
is being forced on them rather than planned with them. In addition, it will also be
an opportunity to receive and give feedback from the various levels of the organi-
sation making the plan much more likely to succeed. The strategic planning
exercise will allow for focus on the development of inclusive structures and
systems to ensure that all members of the organisation are treated equally. Addi-
tionally, it will compel unions to conduct research into the norms, values and
methodologies utilised by the organisation, particularly the contribution of women
who not only help keep the organisation afloat financially, but who bring to the
organisation the management and organisational skills sharpened in the home.
The demands on workers arising from the rapid changes occurring in the
interest of a global economy require that trade unions take immediate action.
Educational and training activities will strengthen the trade unions ability to
influence the tripartite process by providing global rules that will bring equity to
income and wealth distribution along with equality and justice. Because of
women's greater experience and concern with inequity and injustice they must be
a part of all change related efforts and any debate on the development of global
The above actions will undoubtedly create changes to the existing struc-
tures and systems in order to accommodate the presence of women at the leader-
ship of the organisation. It is hoped that at this stage in the process of
re-education it will be understood that leadership is not owned by any individual
or individuals but is a multifaceted connection of variables, that bring together the
characteristics and style of the leader; the attitudes, needs and personal charac-
teristics of the followers; the characteristics of the organisation its purpose, struc-
ture, the nature of its tasks and the social, economic and political environment in
which the group operates. 31 The management and organisational skills already
honed by women will assist them in clarifying new concepts and in developing
and understanding additional leadership capabilities.
The foregoing challenges demand different responses and adaptations
from trade unions and will influence their future responses and actions. In order
to address the challenges, trade unions will first have to place high on their agenda
the feminisation of the workplace, which disguises what is really happening to
women, such as the growth in poverty. The increase in the numbers of women
entering the workforce requires an examination of their location in the structure of
the organisation and the attendant inequity. Trade unions stand to gain by
considering the ILO programme for 'More and better jobs for Women' and by
monitoring the implementation nationally of labour standards and the ILO's
Employment Policy Convention, 1964 (No. 122) and the Discrimination (Employ-
ment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No.111).
The changes that are taking place globally require new engagements
between the social partners; change and restructuring require equal adaptation by
all partners and the embracing of more cooperative relationships. None of which
will be effectively accomplished without an objective assessment of the concerns
stated earlier. The concerns identified earlier include power and power relations
which would eradicate occupational segregation and inequity generally, along
with the relationship between work and family.
Bearing in mind that there is no longer the notion of 'the job' in which
one remains until retirement, training must be continuous. The new concept of
employment is that the individual changes at least three jobs during their working
life. Given this, there is the need to emphasise adaptability, training and mobility
along with understanding the requisite responses to the emerging new health
conditions such as stress. Essential to the discourse are the consequences of the
new industrial relations system on families and the increase in poverty for women.
Applied strategic planning will advance the trade unions agenda for managing the
new issues related to families e.g. assistance for families by providing day care
centres for the aged and young and scholarships for workers' children.
Without prudent and deliberate evaluation of the issues affecting union
women and their invisibility at the centre of power justification for continued
union membership by women could become a prerequisite. The value of trade
unionism is not in question here as the organisation was born out of the need for
the protection of working people and therefore must live up to its mission as a
sword of justice notwithstanding the required modifications and adaptations rela-
tive to the time. As such it is essential for working people to continue to join trade
unions now and in the future although the structure of the organisation will change
to accommodate the various types of work arrangements. However, to deprive the
union movement of close to one half of its capacity is a dis-service to the entire
movement. The dues paying union man, in his own interest, must seek to support
equity within the organisation by joining the struggle to remove the obstacles
faced by the union woman.
The continued existence of Caribbean trade unions requires that they be
restructured into viable and modern organizations. To do so engagement in a
futuristic exercise, influenced by recognition of the differences between eras
would lead to the development of a strategic plan. Furthermore the identification
of unique Caribbean procedures from previous experiences will lay the basis for
the development of new strategies. Insight into the work of women, who contrib-
uted to the success in the formation and founding of trade unions, such as Maggie
O'Brien of St. Kitts, Lucy Stroude of Grenada, Elma Francois of Trinidad and
Aggie Bernard of Jamaica will help in dispelling the doubts surrounding the
presence of women at the centre of power. An understanding of the roles played
by women in the early development of the Trade Union Movement will under-
score their significance to the strengthening and survival of the organisation. The
analysis of their exclusion will illustrate the wastefulness of valuable resources
and lack of forethought. The development of specific training programmes for
men guided by those conducted by the TUEI in the 1980's for women will
advance the preparation of men for the entry of women into the leadership of the
trade union organisation. It will contribute to the development of effective learn-
ing methodologies and research capabilities for succession planning, along with
the training and preparation of new and emerging leaders. For the programme to
be effective in preparing men for the inclusion of women in the decision-making
process there must be emphasis on the concept of power, justice and equity.
Training must go beyond the ability to manipulate the job tasks and must include
improvement in inter-personal relations and understandings about appropriate
behaviour and shared power within the context of globalisation.
Restructuring guided by a strategic plan will identify the pertinent criteria
for making adjustments as the trade union organisation prepares itself to deal
effectively with the other partners. Matters of relevance for consideration in the
process of change demand an examination of the present state of the organisation
and its potential for growth. Envisioning of the organisation 10 years hence will
also be critical in the development of any plan.
Of added importance are questions about the relationship between the
social partners government, private sector and trade union that require effective
participation and partnerships. Among the changes required therefore is the
development of contracts or models for collaborative decision-making between
the Trade Union Movement and the other social partners for a collaborative
relationship and whatever is required to ensure effective participation. Collabo-
ration within the trade union organisation between its women and men must be the
dominant feature, thus allowing the trade union to lead by example as it makes
demands on the social partners in their relations with their employees.
Appendix 1 : The Applied Strategic Planning Model
Values Scan )
Notes and References
I. Women in the Trade Union Movement. British TUC, May 1955 p.23
2. Flanders Allan (1960) Trade Unions. Hutchinson University Library. London pp. 1-12
3. Allan Flanders (1960) noted, "Encouraged by the repeal, and an improvement in trade, new un-
ions were formed and strikes broke out in many parts of the country. Thoroughly alarmed, the
Government tried to replace the 1824 Act by a measure more drastic than the Combinations
Acts. The final result was a compromise. The new Act passed in 1825 did make it possible for
the workers to organize without committing an illegal act, but there was hardly anything which
the unions could do to carry out the purpose of their existence without coming into conflict
with the law. Nevertheless, new organizations continued to spring up, and unions of engineers,
shipwrights, miners, carpenters and joiners were formed at this time." p.12
4. Women in the Trade Union Movement op.cit.. p.34
5. Women in the Trade Union Movement p .35
6. ibid p.35
7. Shepherd, Verene (1999) Women in Caribbean History. lan Randle, Kingston p. 167
8. Reddock, E. Rhoda (1994) Women Labour & Politics in Trinidad & Tobago. lan Randle. King-
ston pp. 135-136
9. Coble, Dorothy Sue (2002) Lot Vision of Equality: The Labour Origins of the Next Women's
10. Cobble, Dorothy Sue, Monia Bielski Michal (2002) On the edge of equality" Working women
and the US labour movement in Gender, Diversity and Trade Unions: International perspec-
tives (Eds. Fiona Colgan and Sue Ledwith. Routledge. London and New York pp. 233-235
11. Grabow, Stephen and Allan Heskin (1976) Foundations for a Radical Concept of Planning in
The Planning of Change (Eds) Warren G. Bennis, Kenneth D. Benne, Robert Chin, Kenneth E.
Corey. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. New York pp. 419-420
12. Toullier, Charles Bonaventure Marie 1752-1835 wrote the first treaty of civil law, works contin-
ued by Duvergier.
13. The "Lectric Law Library's Legal Lexicon On Just/Justice lectlaw.com pl 3/10/2004
14. Oskamp, Stuart, P. Wesley Schultz (1998) Applied Social Psychology 2nd Edition Prentice
Hall, New Jersey, USA pp.38-39
15. ICFTU World Women's Conference Report 87WC/E/4(a) September 2003 p.3
16. Bennis, Warren G. (1976) The Sociology of Institutions or Who Sank the Yellow Submarine? in
The Planning of Change (Eds.) Warren G. Bennis, Kenneth D. Benne, Robert Chin, Kenneth E.
Corey. Holt Rinehart and Winston. New York p. 226.
17. Anker, Richard (2001) Gender and jobs: Sex segregation of occupations in the world. Interna-
tional Labour Office Geneva pp. 14-29
18. Digby, Tom (1998) Men Doing Feminism. Routledge, New York p.2
19. Harding, Sandra (1990) Can Men Be Subjects of Feminist Thought? in Men Doing Feminism
(ed.) Tom Digby. Routledge. New York pp. 179-183
20. TUEI (1987) Understanding Women 's Agenda: A Human Resources Development Manual for
Caribbean Trade Unionists. Department of Extra-Mural Studies. UWI. Kingston p.60
21. Goodstein, Leonard, Timothy Nolan, J. William Pfeiffer (1993) Applied Strategic Planning: How
to develop a plan that really works. McGraw-Hill, Inc. New York p.34
22. op.cit p.9
24. ibid pp. 24-19
25. Belenky Mary Field, Lynne A. Bond, Jacqueline A. Weinstock (1997) quote Alice Walker in A
Tradition That Has No Name. Basic Books, HarperCollins New York 1983 p.168
26. op. cit p.160
27. Anker, Richard (2001) Gender and jobs: Sex segregation of occupation in the world. Interna-
tional Labour Office. Geneva pp. 22-27
28. Freire, Paulo (1998) Education for Critical Consciousness. The Continuum Publishing Co. N.Y
29. Platform for Action and the Beijing Declaration (1996) Fourth World Conference on Women Bei-
jing, China 4-15 September 1995. United Nations Department of Public Information New York
30. UNESCO (United Nations Educational., Scientific and Cultural Organisation) Unit for the pro-
motion of the status of women an gender equality. Paris. September 1999.
31. Anker, Richard (2001) Gender and jobs: Sex segregation of occupations in the world. Interna-
tional Labour Office. Geneva pp. 14-29.
32. Trade Union Education Institute (1987) Understanding Women's Agenda: A Human Resources
development Manualfor Caribbean Trade Unionists. Department of Extra-Mural Studies, Uni-
versity of the West Indies. Kingston p.63
33. Lin Lean Lim (1998) More and better jobs for women: An action guide. International Labour Of-
fice. Geneva pp.105-107
Due to a serious oversight a scanned and unedited version ofthis essay appeared
in CQ, Vol.50, No.3 September 2004. Caribbean Quarterly apologises for the
embarrassment that this must have caused the author.
Arguing Over The "Caribbean": Tourism on Costa Rica's
"The place just turn Caribbean a few years ago." Cahuitan man
Tourism has pushed back the outer limits of the "Caribbean." The Central
American nation of Costa Rica now has its piece of the "Caribbean" in the part of
the country settled by Afro-Caribbean migrants. Consideration of the tourism
industry in a small village on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica shows that the
"Caribbean" goes beyond the strictly territorial or the physical towards ideational
and conflicting notions that inform notions of self and belonging.
We see this from looking at how Cahuita has been made into a tourist
destination. This article considers the "Caribbeanisation" from three perspectives:
Cahuitan "Rastas" who depend on tourist women for their livelihood; Euro-
American tourists; and tourism entrepreneurs, foreign and local. Various under-
standings of "Caribbean" are at play, meanings changing and yet retaining basic
similarities across perspectives, and are enacted though the politics of aesthetics,
food and body. The use of "Caribbean" gives us insight into the politics of
identity at play inside and outside the village, and is borne out particularly in the
contested use of the image of the "Rasta."
Cahuita's history is an important part of the story of the black presence in
Costa Rica.2 While Afro-Costa Rican history is generally thought to begin in the
late nineteenth century with the mass immigration of Afro-Caribbean workers for
the construction of a railroad from Costa Rica's Central Valley to its Atlantic
coast, and to become part of the banana industry that was to follow in the Atlantic
province of Lim6n,3 Cahuita's story of origin is determined by neither of these
important events. A village on Lim6n's Caribbean coast, bordered by coral reefs
and white sands, Cahuita was founded by Afro-Caribbean turtle fishermen in the
early nineteenth century. As the village grew (with migrants predominantly of
Jamaican origin), isolated from the rest of Costa Rica by geography and a central-
ized and discriminatory government, the inhabitants' focus turned to agriculture,
finding particular success in cacao production. In the 1970s however, a plant
fungus destroyed the chocolate trees, and Cahuitans were forced to find another
means of subsistence. The interest of North American hippies in Cahuita's white
sands, palm trees and Afro-Caribbean culture turned its inhabitants reluctantly
towards tourism as a means of survival.
Where Cahuita's story is similar to the wider Afro-Costa Rican one is in
the negotiation of discrimination in which they have had to engage. They too have
had to struggle against Costa Rica's racially exclusive national myth of origin the
"white legend" and state actions against their distinct traditions (see, for example,
Sharman 2001, Harpelle 2001, Mel6ndez &'Duncan 1972, Duncan & Powell
1988, Anderson 2002). One of the resources for this battle has been tourism.
"Rastas" in Cahuita
Cahuita's crossroads: dusty streets, a few wooden buildings on stilts,
more that are boxy-looking concrete, and two bars' sound systems shouting at
each other across the street. A hundred metres away, Cahuita's main attraction,
the National Park: the Caribbean Sea beats the white shore, while behind it a
sandy path runs through dense trees and foliage. The street is quiet, although the
bars are not: they are blaring salsa and reggae at each other. Few people on the
street: young white men and women with backpacks easily overtake dreadlocked
men who swagger slowly along the road. On the bar verandas, female tourists
chat to young dark-skinned men, while others sip their drinks and contemplate the
view. In a restaurant overlooking the sea, a mural on the main wall laden with red,
green and gold and images ofRastafarians.
A tourist alights from the San Jose bus in the crossroads and makes for
the sea. She notices the attention she is receiving from the young men at the bus
stop. When she shows that she understands neither English nor Spanish, one
dreadlocked young man asks her in German whether she would like a guided tour
of the Park. She tells him she will think about it. First, however, she stops at an
adjacent restaurant for a cool drink, she notices that he has tagged along,
ignoring the owner's pointed glares at his naked torso and feet. As she listens to
the reggae music and contemplates the Rasta-symbol-suffused mural on the res-
taurant's wall, she asks the dread why there is so much Rasta culture in Cahuita.
He grins and tells her that Cahuita isjust like Jamaica.
The exact arrival of Rastafarianism to Cahuita is hard to pinpoint. One
informant claimed that he was one of the first and only "Rastas" in the village, and
that he introduced reggae music into Cahuita in 1976, courtesy of an African-
American friend who brought him reggae tapes and posters of Bob Marley. Most
accounts point to a later arrival the early 1980s, ironically around the time that
Bob Marley died and the influence of another local man (now deceased) who
returned from a stint working on a cruise ship with a new hairstyle, music,
smoking habits, and philosophy. Fellow Cahuitans' reactions seemed to have
ranged from disinterest to shock and repulsion, especially of dreadlocks: the
apparent physical neglect evidenced in the hairstyle linked the Rasta to the reviled
"hippies." Notwithstanding the early strong adherence to Afro-Caribbean culture
their elders had brought with them, by this time the majority of young Cahuitans
were more interested in salsa and merengue, the types of music enjoyed in the rest
of Costa Rica and other countries in the region. However, a handful of young men
in Cahuita were drawn to Rastafarianism by what informants described as its
naturality, and by the music that seemed to be its soundtrack; they adopted the
hairstyle, listened to and in the case of the first informant, played the music.
Rastafarianism in its entirety may not have made the trip across the
Caribbean Sea, however. There seems to have been little profound knowledge of
or adherence to Rastafarianism in its religious sense the attraction seemed to have
been to the outward manifestations of the religion a selective appropriation of the
"style of Rasta" rather than the specificities of the doctrine upon which it was
based. A frequent visitor to Cahuita in the 1980s, himself very interested in
Rastafarianism, was disturbed by the ignorance of its tenets by the "Rastas" he met
there. When he tried to "reason" with them, he was disappointed they told him
that they knew little about the details of the religion, and noncommittally accepted
his offer to lend them reading material.
The man who claimed to have been one of the first "Rastas" in Cahuita
did indeed acquire books on the subject, learned about and believed in much Rasta
teaching, and grew his dreadlocks for eighteen years (until they reached his knees).
However, he did not call himself a "real" Rasta, as he was unwilling to sustain the
discipline required by the religion. According to him, "real" Rastas, those who live
in the jungle, grow their own food, abstain from alcohol and shun money, do not
exist in Cahuita. He was a "dreadlocks": he could not be a real Rasta because he
liked drinking and goin' crazy in the streets." Nor do contemporary self-pro-
claimed "real Rastas" follow the basic tenets of Rastafarianism. One, who made a
living selling cocaine, told me that he was one of the two real "Rastas" in Cahuita;
when challenged on the fit between the sale of cocaine and the principles of
Rastafarianism, he concluded that there was none.
In local lore (and in accounts of foreign women in Cahuita in this period)
it was the response of female (mostly European) tourists, already with some
exposure to "Rastas," that encouraged the "Rasta" presence. Locals say that the
young men noticed their attraction, and increasingly began to assume the outward
appearance of a Rastafarian in order to gain the reward of a liaison with a foreign
woman, which could lead to travel, material goods given to them as gifts, and
opportunities for sex. Cahuita's "Rasta" therefore, was in a sense elicited by
attitudes and desires of foreign, overwhelmingly white, women.
Most men who sported dreadlocks in Cahuita readily admitted to me that
they were not "real Rastas": one repeated the indiscipline defence of the older
"Rasta." A Dutch Rastafarian in Cahuita gathering data for a comparative study of
Rastafarianism in Jamaica and Costa Rica tried to engage young "Rastas" in
discussions of the significance to them of Rastafarianism, Jamaica and Africa.
Many responded defiantly, "What you mean? I am Costa Rican!" Cahuitan "Ras-
tas," then, are aware that Rasta "authenticity" lies elsewhere. The young men
called themselves "dreads," rather than "Rastas," acknowledging the primarily
visual element of their appropriation of Rastafarianism; importantly, however,
they made no effort to make this distinction to the tourist women. "iEs el
paquete!" ("It's the package!") said one cheerily, selling his dreadlocks and
himself as a commodity alongside the white sands, the coconut trees, and the
National Park's coral reef. Hence the pick-up lines of some men, who ask women
directly: "do you want to be with a Rasta?" This suggests a blithe awareness and
acceptance of the "commodification" railed against by various scholars (Crystal
1978, Ford-Smith 1995, Sanchez Taylor 2000, etc) and the need for considera-
tion of agency in complaints about "commodification" of culture and bodies (see
also Selwyn 1996, Tilley 1997, Abram & Waldren [eds.] 1997). Far from the
assumption of victimhood to which critics of the commodificatory nature of
tourism subscribe, some dreads consider themselves the creators and managers of
this attraction: not victims, but savvy "businessmen" selling a product that has
undeniable appeal to a certain set of consumers.
Central to these men's self-presentation was an adherence to Rastafarian-
ism's "naturality." While they take on naturality as it relates to the body, however,
they are less inclined to appropriate the ideas behind it. Topless dressing, the
rejection of shoes, and as one local woman observed, "the dirtier the better," are all
means men adopt to present themselves as "natural," although not all are absolute
requirements. This naturality is a contrast to most Cahuitan men, who are gener-
ally of neater appearance, dressing in trousers and shirt, wearing shoes, with
closely cropped and combed hair. However, there is no eschewal of processed
foods and material goods, or knowledge of the biblical injunctions justifying
naturality as a way of life.
Cahuitan dreads also secularise Rastafarianism's ganja consumption,
although they share the escape and comfort elements of smoking. There is an
almost constant smell of ganja in the air in Cahuita, as young men (not only
dreads) smoke in bars, on the beach, and even at the bus stop in the centre of the
village, a very public claiming of space. They smoke to "feel good." Others
complain about this public use of ganja, claiming that "first time" (ie, in the past)
use was private and limited. Nowadays, however, "we could sit right here, and one
ofdem would sit down between us and smoke," an older man at the bus stop told
In some senses, then, "Rastas" are self-consciously engaging in a mi-
metic performance of a distinct aesthetic. Their "creative imitation" (Adams 1996)
of the Jamaican Rastafarian draws on and assumes the "character and power of the
original" (Taussig 1993: xiii). What is produced is a "virtual Rasta," as Adams
(1996: 20) argues for the "not quite real" "virtual Sherpas" created in the Himala-
yas in response to and interplay with the desires of foreign visitors to Nepal.
However, it is less a case of"ontological becoming" that Adams (1996: 21) claims
it is for Sherpas than a product created for seduction and commercial purposes,
producing, in effect, a "virtual Cahuita" for the visitor, as well as a means of
enacting multiple levels of critique.
Cahuitan men's particular appropriation of Rastafarianism is not a unique
phenomenon by any means. On the one hand, it forms part of what one scholar
calls "international black culture" (Sansone 1997: 461). Young black men in
Brazil's northeastern city of Bahia have adapted the "stylistic paraphernalia"
associated with reggae and Rastafarianism (and hip-hop) (Sansone 1997: 475) to
create an identification that speaks to their experiences of marginalisation and
discrimination in contemporary Brazil by subverting racial stigma and "aestheti-
cising blackness" (Sansone 1997: 461). Indeed, Cahuitan young men also listen to
hip-hop and try to emulate the rapping and dress style of this genre; we could see
dreads as another group of young black males using Rastafarianism's style as part
of the global black culture to counter racial stigmatisation.
It could be argued that this globalised Rasta style reflects a growing sense
of common consciousness across the transnational spaces of the African diaspora.
But "Rasta" has also crossed racial lines. Indeed, Rastafarianism is not only about
blackness. Interestingly, there is a widespread and generalised link between tour-
ism and the appropriation of Rastafarian symbols, even in tourist destinations far
removed from Jamaica and its heritage. Young men in Indonesia who engage in
liaisons with female tourists, for example, adopt the dreadlocks as part of their
self-presentation (Dahles & Bras 1999). While the number of dreadlocked youth is
quite small, reggae music itself is integral to the life of these young boys, perhaps
because, "this presentation of self seems to be the most successful on the dating
scene" (1999: 283).4 This suggests a fit between the "natural" that tourism dis-
course often trumpets, and the "naturality" of Rastafarianism, which combine to
form an inexorable pull for the tourist. Pruitt & Lafont (1995) suggest a similar
intersection of travel and Rastafarianism in Jamaica. Perhaps Rastafarianism has
expanded its metaphorical bounds into being a signifier/metonym of the tourism
experience in general (or at least, those varieties of tourism based on appreciation
of the natural environment)?
While some argue that reggae's globalisation has led to the "decontextu-
alisation" of Rastafarianism, transformed from a "revolutionary code into an
aesthetic commodity" (Cushman 1991: 38), and that Rastafarianism has suffered
"the banalisation of [its] basic symbols" (Curtius 1995: 89), the most thoughtful
scholars, rather than subscribe to either/or dichotomies, point out that Rastafarian-
ism has highly variegated manifestations, globally and locally. Indeed, it has from
its very origins, owing to the possibility of "multiple readings" (Hepner 1998:
212) of its "fundamentally ambiguous symbols" (Yawney cited in Hepner 1998:
213). Therefore, while some in Cuba, for example, have adopted the "style," some
have taken on the "religion" (its beliefs and rituals), and others its "philosophy"
(oneness, equality, justice) (Hansing 2001: 737-40). In a survey of Rastafarian-
ism in the Caribbean, Europe and the Pacific, van Dijk notes that the socio-politi-
cal implications resistance to domination and materialism; pride, solidarity and
freedom have usually been of more appeal than its religious "underpinnings"
(1998: 194). Examples of its dissemination also show that greater salience lies in
its immediately visible oppositional character: its adherents mark their difference
from the status quo through the body, what Hebdige calls its "visual iconography"
Yawney best explains Rastafarianism's outernational resonance: its
"power to focalise and even mediate certain sociocultural tensions" (1994, cited in
Hepner 1998: 213). It does this in three contexts in Cahuita: between the dread and
the tourist, between the dread and Cahuita, and between the dread and the nation.
If Rastafarianism provides a "psychology of Blackness and somebodiness" (Mur-
rell 1998: 10), dreads emphasise the former for tourists, the latter vis-i-vis the
village, and both vis-a-vis the nation. Whereas vis-a-vis tourists the tension is
centred around stereotypes of the black male, in relation to the village Rastafarian-
ism as a means of social rebellion is more apt, while facing the nation, both
blackness and somebodiness are important, as the emphatic, dreadlocked, black
"Costa Rican!" Those who appropriate the visual iconography of the Rasta are
well aware of their community's and nation's distaste of it, and choose to engage
this marginality, in the knowledge that they do not have to adopt the "Rasta" style
to attract tourist women.
Dreads are also, by their bodily comportment and behaviour, negotiating
"traditional" understandings of what it is to be a man in Cahuita. What in the gaze
of the tourist identifies them with the "natural beauty" of the place, in the eyes of
older Cahuitans separates them sharply from it. The most common description of
the "Rastas" in Cahuita by other Cahuitans is "wutless" ("worthless") and "nasty"
("disgusting"). They are "nasty" because their appearance is associated with a lack
of hygiene. They and others who engage with foreign tourists have no worth
because they are not subscribing to Cahuitan notions of gender-appropriate behav-
iour. They are not engaging in productive labour as their parents did; rather, they
spend most of their time at the beach, bar, or on the street, chatting, drinking and
flirting with foreign women. Their behaviour is particularly inappropriate as men,
as they are "always running' behind' di white woman dem, looking' for them to
mantener ("keep") them," instead of being economic provider for women as
Cahuitan gender ideology dictates. The men are well aware of this scorn, and
while dreads tend to profess disinterest in the opinions of their critics, some
mitigate their responsibility and deviation from the Cahuitan norm, even as they
posit an alternative masculinity through their physical and behavioral difference.
Their opposition is actually often ambivalent, departing from but often making
recourse to longstanding village norms. In this way, it mirrors Rastafarianism's
departure from and continuity with pre-existing beliefs in Jamaica (see, for exam-
ple, Chevannes 1994, 1995).
Appropriation of the Rastafarian trope in Cahuita is also a response to
blocked opportunities, as Hebdige (1979) noted in the UK, although this is seldom
articulated explicitly. Rastafarianism's ascetism ("No one expects a Rastaman to
be rich," as Pruitt & Lafont say [1995: 432]) facilitates its adoption, since the
young men in Cahuita have few financial resources. Faced with a lack of public
services and the perceived discrimination of the nation-state in their village and
more generally in the province (see JAPDEVA 1965, Jermyn 1995), young Cahui-
tans see their chances of social mobility along conventional lines as dim and
hindered, which often leads to disenchantment with formal education and to
searches for alternatives. These boys want to accumulate at least some symbols of
prestige, and paradoxically, adopting this ascetic image is a means to this end. If
they are successful in attracting and attaching themselves to what Loke (2000)
calls the "Western currency" of affluence, mobility and prestige held by the
Euro-American tourists, they will participate in the symbols of prestige and status
that are important in Cahuita, such as travel, goods (as gifts from the women), and
so on. Therefore, while "Rasta" is a readily "readable" symbol of opposition, a
visual indicator of marginality, it is, surprisingly perhaps, also an attempt to
comply with village norms of status.
The men know too that "Rastas" are criminalized by wider Costa Rican
society. They are considered violent menaces: an embodiment of the perceived
deviance of the province. Given the uneasy relationship between the larger society
and blacks in Costa Rica this distaste is unsurprising. So strong is the association
between criminality and Rastas that a 1993 police operation to eliminate the drug
trade in Lim6n's principal city, Port Lim6n, was dubbed "Operation Rasta." It is
difficult to pinpoint the emergence of the vilification of the Rasta, but it seems to
be an almost inevitable phenomenon, at least in its initial presence (Yawney 1995,
Chevannes 1994, Cashmore 1995).6 San Jos6 could be an uncomfortable place for
Rastas: one recounted the traffic accident he caused as drivers rubbernecked at the
sight of him and his three dreadlocked friends on ajosefino street, and said that he
had been jailed "for my dreads" in the capital.
While we can see the growing of dreads and the appropriation of Rasta-
farian cultural capital as the easiest means of "gringa-chasing" (as a guidebook
described their behaviour [Blake & Blecher 1998: 215]), as in other parts of the
world (Jamaica [Pruitt & Lafont 1995], Barbados [Phillips 1999], Cuba [Hansing
2001], Indonesia [Dahles & Bras 1999]), it stems from young men's struggle for
place and identity, and achieves this through an exogenous cultural form. Pryce
noted the same among "Rastas" in late 1970s England, where the "misplaced
generation" (1979: 108; my emphasis) those born in the Caribbean and raised in
the UK adopted Rastafarianism's style and ideology as a means of challenging
the status quo, glorifying the despised, and finding a sense of identification and
purpose (1979: 151). However, in Cahuita, the attachment to local place is
stronger than the UK Rastas' Pryce's young men were more involved with
Rastafarianism's teachings, positing Africa as their spiritual home. In Cahuita
there is no mention of Africa; indeed, some will defiantly state their connection to
Costa Rica while they wear their dreadlocks thus rooting themselves while
performing a global aesthetic. "Rastas" are also mirroring the displacement inher-
ent in the philosophy itself just as it speaks to a displacement from Africa to
Jamaica, in Cahuita it speaks to the displacement from Jamaica to Costa Rica,
which has had its own ramifications for its localisation. Further, as absence and
presence are contained simultaneously, so are continuity and disjuncture in both
Cahuitan and Jamaican Rastafari.
Caribbeanising Cahuita: Tourists
Tourists are attracted to the "natural beauty" of Cahuita, but the "Rasta"
is now focal to tourists' understanding of Cahuita, although little of the complexity
of Rasta mimesis and position is visible to them. The stereotype has shifted over
the years, from a landscape of the "traditional" (or "first time") Caribbean to one
that emphasises "Rasta culture" Caribbean, a strongly androcentric, racialised and
sexualised image. While other Cahuitans see "Rastas" as nasty and wutless, the
white tourist woman has a quite different reaction. Euro-American (post)colonial
ideology has tended to link the black male with naturality and sexuality. There is
an obvious connection here between the Rastaman's naturality and sexuality, and
an equivalence among Rastafarian/Caribbean/black, which merge into a signifier
of black male sexuality.
Tourists, of course, cannot be pigeonholed: they have a multitude of
motivations for visiting a place. However, my research shows that tourists' attrac-
tion to Cahuita was indeed always based on their conceptions of a typical "Carib-
bean" that has changed over the years. For both sets of tourists, the physical
environment was the most important draw (see also Amado 1994: 2). However,
tourists who had visited Cahuita in the 1970s also stated their attraction as based
on other versions of the "typical" Cahuita: first-time houses (wooden, stilted) and
food (Afro-Caribbean staples such as yam, breadfruit, ackee and saltfish) and
knowledge (of plants and natural medicines), and an unspoilt "innocence." They
speak like Urry's "counter-tourists," visitors who find their pleasure in deviating
from the beaten track towards marginal, little-visited areas (1992: 178). Their
reminiscences focus on the difficulty of access to Cahuita, and recall the lack of
electricity, sleeping in locals' homes because of the absence of hotels, the genu-
inely warm relationships with the locals, and the customs that had to be followed.
One Canadian woman, for instance, recalled herfaux pas gently corrected by the
daughter of her host: dressed in a tank top at the family dinner table, she was
discreetly passed a long-sleeved blouse.
Interviews with contemporary tourists reveal that, as well as the appeal of
the smaller numbers of tourists in the village (Urry's  "romantic gaze"),
their appreciation of the village was based on the transnational imaginary of a
more contemporary "Caribbean": the sun, beach, mixture of peoples, reggae
music, and the relaxed atmosphere. While still a factor, less emphasis was placed
on first-time customs. Many informants explained the appeal of Cahuita as its
"Rasta culture," which collapsed all of the stereotypical imagery of the Caribbean
into that of Rastafarianism reggae, marijuana, laidback atmosphere, Rastas, and
the colours red, green, and gold. In fact, one could posit Rastafarianism's symbols
and even the Rasta body as a metonym for the Caribbean itself. Indeed, in the eyes
of tourists, Cahuita=Jamaica=Rasta. One shop owner told me: "You know how
many people ask for Bob Marley T-shirts? Plenty tourists come looking for
Jamaican things, and ask for Jamaican restaurants too." When asked whether they
preferred Costa Rica's Caribbean coast to its Pacific coast, most tourists expressed
a preference for the former: "culture" was the decisive factor for them.
No tourist ever made explicit the basis of their own attraction to Cahuita
as "physical consumption" of the "Rastas" themselves. However, from almost
accidental comments on Cahuita's dreads it is clear that the "Rasta" body is a great
attraction such as that by a young woman from the US who interrupted a cynical
conversation between myself and two elderly Canadians about the interest Euro-
American women gave to these men. She said, "but there is something about them,
you know? Something...just...sexy." There was an inexplicable, compelling and
attractive mystique to these men. Many second-hand stories were further clues,
usually concerning a "friend" who had found great interest in the "Rastas." For
instance, one tourist recalled visiting Cahuita with a group of twenty young
women from the USA (by way of San Jos6). About three of them became involved
with "Rastas," apparently: the other students were variously shocked, envious and
awed that the young women had "actually done it." One student kept in touch with
the man she had met in Cahuita, and returned from San Jose to visit him. Although
her plan to stay in Costa Rica in order to spend more time with him did not
materialise for unknown reasons, she was immortalised in a scrapbook compiled
by her fellow students as "most remembered for deepthroating a Rasta."
The desire of the tourist to consume the attractions is broadened here to
include not just a visual, romantic gaze, where the tourist wants to appreciate the
object in solitude, privacy, and sees the object as semi-spiritual (Urry 1990). Urry
only allows for experiences of "extremes of heat, [the] taste [of] unexpected
dishes...heightened passions, hearing] unusual sounds, encounter[ing] new
smells" (1992: 172). Here, the consumption is physical, so that the women have an
"embodied experience" (Abrams & Waldren 1997: 7;8 see also Veijola & Jokinen
1994, Johnston 2001). Some tourists' desire to go "backstage" (MacCannell
1973), into the private world of the native, leads them into the black man's bed (as
Meisch says, the native's bed is the ultimate "backstage" for a tourist [1995:452]).
There has been a great deal of discussion of the representation of women
in tourism discourse in order to attract tourists to countries' shores (e.g., Enloe
1989, Mullings 1999, Ford-Smith 1995). However, there has been less attention to
the representations of men as an "attraction" (Mullings 1999 is one exception).
Here, consideration of postcards made by a German couple upon their return home
and sent to a friend in Cahuita will belie Enloe's (1989) claim of the female body
as the quintessence of the exotic.
Albers & James (1988) argue that the particular meaning of travel pho-
tography lies not only in the choice of subject, but in the ways it is represented (see
also Urry 1990: 138-40). Postcards, along with photos the most widely dissemi-
nated "tourist icon" (Markwick 2001: 417), are a "multi-faceted icon of the tourist
experience" (Edwards 1996: 201), and can be semiotic clues to notions of exoti-
cism and authenticity of the expected audience. Here, the meaning is constructed
through metaphorical and metonymical interplay. In the examples discussed be-
low, the postcards made by the Germans present their notions of what Cahuita
"is," and crystallise their highly sexualised, stereotypical notions of Cahuitan
masculinity, of which Rasta symbolism is an important part.
The most popular of all the postcards produced by the Germans, selling
well among both male and female tourists, pictured three Cahuitan men straddling
a tree trunk, lined up one in front of the other. All are dark-skinned black men,
sport dreadlocks and are topless. They all smile cheerfully at the camera, and one
holds a coconut. Without delving too far into Freudian-style analysis, but in
agreement with Markwick who states that the "meaning communicated by any
given image may be multi-layered and requires systematic unpacking to reveal and
understand the messages," (2001: 435), the long, thick, brown tree trunk between
the men's legs, the coconut ready for consumption, the naked torsos, all invite a
sexual reading. The postcard, adorned with dreadlocked, semi-naked, well-mus-
cled men, could be telling the viewer that these men are ready and willing
for...anything: the classic "bio-sexual-sensual-genital-nigger" (Fanon 1986: 202).
Mullings notes that in touristic depictions of black women, connections
are made between brown-skinned and easy, black and servile (1999: 74). Here, the
association between the black man and sexual availability is clear, although the
servile element is attenuated. However, the archetypal black man with natural,
exotic masculinity noted by Mullings in her discussion of representations of
"rent-a-Dreads" in Jamaica (1999: 76) is clear here. The seemingly incongruous
juxtaposition of the coconut suggests that the man is another object to be admired
in Cahuita. This use of "natives as scenery," posits objects and people as "inter-
changeable stereotypes" (Dann 1996: 70). With the animate object, like the inani-
mate coconut, the observer can go one step further into the physical consumption
of the man. This and all the other postcards are framed by what look to be
drawings of bamboo and photographs of an array of natural life and food and
drink, ranging from butterflies to lizards to boiled lobsters. This literal frame
suggests a metaphorical one as well encouragement of the viewer to perceive the
postcards' main images within the "frame" of objectification of the people pre-
sented there. These men are smiling, possibly well aware that they are Cahuita's
Other postcards suggest more typical representations of Cahuita that
speak to the exoticisation of the village both as a natural history wonder and as a
place frozen in its Caribbean history. One consists of a "grid" (Markwick 2001:
423): four small pictures of houses in the village, all built in the tur-of-the-twen-
tieth-century Jamaican style, brightly coloured wooden houses set on stilts, and
decorated in the style associated with first time. A third postcard consists of a
photograph of Cahuitan calypso band members, juxtaposed with a picture of
Cahuita's white sand beach framed by coconut trees. Again we note the juxtaposi-
tion of animate and inanimate.
The only representation of females is of those in the calypso band and a
fourth postcard that shows three girls (the oldest appears to be about eleven years
old) who range from mestiza to light-skinned black, resting on a tree trunk. The
focus in these postcards is clearly not on female sexuality the absence of women
is an indicator of the prevalence of black male sexuality in "making" Cahuita in
the eyes of tourists. All black males presented in these postcards bore dreadlocks.
The "Rasta culture" of which these dreadlocks are a part is also suggested in the
appearance of the word "Cahuita" above the heads of the calypso band members:
the name of the village is spelt out in red, green and gold lettering.
The "Caribbean" read by the (especially) female tourist mirrors transna-
tional understandings of the contemporary Caribbean, in which there is a dash of
the "traditional" and a healthy helping of "Rasta culture." Female Cahuitans are
virtually invisible: the racialised sexuality of the "Rasta" body is the most central
aspect of this "Caribbean." He serves as what Dann (1996: 70) would call a
"cultural marker," the grand signifier of the "host culture": "Rastas," in essence,
are Cahuita. Perhaps surprisingly, tourists' desire for a mediated foray into the
exotic is not only sated by foreign-owned restaurants. It is also satisfied in the
consumption of the "Rasta," since the women already have some transnational
notion of the "Rasta." The liaison with him then may certainly be a dipping into
the new, but it is in a sense mediated by an understanding gained of "Rastas"
through transnational cultural flows
Caribbeanising Cahuita: Tourism Business Owners
The focus on the "Rasta" by tourists and "Rastas" themselves has been
problematic for tourism business owners in Cahuita, for whom this "embodied
Cahuita" should ideally be rejected. There are other processes at work here too.
Businesspeople are divided amongst themselves, most notably between Cahuitan
and Euro-American resident. The creations of the former are constructed to show
their place within the nation of Costa Rica through their own, locally relevant
understanding of the "Caribbean," which is determined by and reflects their
ongoing negotiations of place within the village and the nation. Conversely, the
Euro-Americans engage more in the transnational images of the Caribbean, easily
identifiable by tourists. These different "Caribbeans" are represented as material
embodiments of these distinct imaginaries.
The majority of business owners do not share tourists' exotic notions of
the "Rasta." They find them counter to the norms of the village; while their
complaints are less based on criminalisation than are those of the larger society, for
both groups they are beyond the bounds of acceptance. As we have seen, "Rastas"
in Cahuita are associated with inappropriate behaviour. Thus, businessmen have
been unwilling to promote their village as a place of "Rastas." The head of the
Cahuita Tourist Board (CTB), for instance, communicated his disapproval to a
European tourist magazine photographer who wanted to put a picture of a local
dread on the front page. He told the man firmly, "that is not Cahuita." Nonetheless,
much to his chagrin, he had heard rumours that that dread was mentioned specifi-
cally in German tourist guidebooks as one of Cahuita's main attractions.
Advertisements by the CTB, although making some use of the "exotic,"
focus more on the natural environment than on the people, although they do play
on Cahuitans' "natural" friendliness. The general reluctance to focus on the people
of Cahuita perhaps relates to a rejection of the association between "Rastas" and
Cahuita. A direct link is made between the Caribbean and Cahuita Cahuita is the
Caribbean and the directness of that link is echoed in the intimacy that the CTB
encourages in the tourist's experience of Cahuita ("live Cahuita"):
"Viva el Caribe: Come and live the Caribbean, our exotic
landscape, our coastal rainforest and its wildlife attractions. Our
smily [sic] locals will always receive you in the warmest and
[sic] welcoming way...Come and live Cahuita." (Advertise-
ment in Costa Rican English-language newspaper, Tico Times,
directed at tourists and foreign residents)
"Enjoy all the intensity of the Caribbean. Enjoy Cahuita. Enjoy
its National Park, and its great diversity of species...Enjoy its
pristine beach [sic] Enjoy its wonderful coral reef. Enjoy."
There are no images or mentions of the Rastafarian.
Inside the brochure, positioned to be unavoidable, is a brief history
lesson. Cahuitans have an important history, even though it is only partially
acknowledged by the wider Costa Rican population (see Duncan & Powell 1988,
Duncan & Mel6ndez 1972, Jim6nez & Oyamburu 1998, Anderson 2002). This
historical sketch locates the Cahuitans' origins outside the nation, but shows the
development of their place within it over time a place, moreover, legitimised by
"The first afrocarribeans [sic]...settled in Cahuita in 1828 in [a]
fishing camp. At that time, it happened that M. Alfredo Gon-
zilez Flores, former President of the Republic from 1914 to
1917, while sailing back from an official visit to...Talamanca,
suffered an accident at Tuba Creek; he together with his crew
then walked in the forest searching for help and thus reached
Cahuita; the inhabitants of the village then helped them with
food clothing and accommodation; to thank them for such a
noble act, M. Alfredo Gonzalez bought them a land [sic] in the
amount of 500 Colones in order that they could erect a new
village; those people then settled at that location then called the
Bluff and now known as Cahuita; that new settlement was
announced in the gazette issue of July 9, 1915."
The passage is substantially longer than the excerpt presented here an
unusual amount of detail for a tourist brochure. The length and content suggest
that this is a highly strategic, even political, move. The tourist brochure is not
usually the place to make statements of this kind however, the authors, who put
their names at the end of the passage (as another claim to visibility and presence),
have grabbed the unsuspecting tourist in a discursive ambush in order to make a
claim for a place in the nation-state, all while accepting and explaining their
cultural difference. The reader is also made aware that the establishment of this
place was endorsed and encouraged by the leader of the nation in the early
twentieth century. Their association with the country's highest representative, and
their "noble act" of saving him, creates and justifies their place. The notation of
Cahuita's founding in the July gazette confers added legitimacy to the belonging
of its inhabitants in the nation: Cahuita was codified and included in the machinery
of the state.
The atemporality ("1828...at that time...from 1914 to 1917") is only
explicit in the English version. The Spanish version does not use the equivalent of
the phrase "at that time," thereby allowing the possibility of time elapsing between
Smith's arrival and the appearance of the President. Although it is impossible to
tell whether this difference owes to translation glitches or intentional manipula-
tion, it could be an example of what Greenhouse (1996) calls a "counter-discourse
of time" in a game of time politics that presses Cahuitans' case for legitimacy
through the juxtaposition of their founder with the most powerful man in the
Cahuitan businessmen and -women fight for their distinctive definition
of the Caribbean. They want the Caribbean to include almost all the markers that
were already associated with it, the exotic environment, palm trees, friendly
natives, and even reggae music, but no "Rastas." One of the few representations of
people in Cahuita by Cahuitan businessmen and -women that did exist seemed to
explicitly reject "Rastas." A poster depicting a black man and a white woman
dancing in the moonlight was erected on Cahuita's main road as an advertisement
for one of the nightclubs (called La Vida Noctuma, or "Night Life") in town. It
was notable not only for its depiction of people, but for the type of man it
portrayed. The man was most decidedly not a "Rasta" he wore a short Afro and
was dressed in a short-sleeved shirt tucked into pants (as any respectable man
The owner of the club (not a "Rasta") chose that content because "that
happens in Cahuita." He himself was one of the most successful businessmen in
Cahuita, and had had a long-term relationship and a child with a European woman.
His sign constituted denial of the phenomenon of "gringa-chasing Rastas." The
aim was not to deny that local men became involved with foreign women in fact,
here it was celebrated but to reject the centrality of"Rastas" in the phenomenon.
A veneer of respectability was thus cast onto the phenomenon; a distancing from
the reviled version of it that had "Rastas" at its core.
Interestingly, several months later, on the new CTB website, an adver-
tisement for Cahuita's Carnival bore headshots of two "Rastas." The "Rasta"
image had been "allowed" in limited circumstances by Cahuitan business people.
Given their association with music, and the existence of a calypso band in Cahuita
of which most members are themselves dreadlocked, a "legitimate" space had
been allowed for "Rastas" in the sphere of music. They were in both cases
presented in such a way as to do minimal damage to the prevailing conceptions of
their worth and place. The "Rastas" on the website were placed in a particular way
- only their heads were shown, along with the legend advertising the Carnival.
There was no attempt to present them as sensual bodies rather as performing
musicians. The CTB's presentation of "Rastas" is a resignification of prevailing
interpretations of the "Rasta" by locals and the nation, and throws another mean-
ing of "Rasta" into the semiotic mix. "Rasta" here is used as part of a strategic
opportunism to further the financial interests of the village and the CTB. Space has
been ceded, but a degree of resistance against their representation by outsiders and
against "Rastas" themselves is maintained by their presentation in a very specific
and limited context.
Cahuitan businesspeople fight external business interests intent on pro-
moting the metaphorical association between "Rastas" and Cahuita. For example,
T-shirts and souvenirs were on sale sporting the colours red, green and gold, and
pictorial representations of "Rastas." There was even a T-shirt on sale that pro-
claimed: Cahuita Rasta Town. These items were from San Jos6 or Port Lim6n,
and show the currency of the "Rasta" in definitions of the Caribbean with which
local businesspeople are unhappy. These products are responding to a real de-
mand, as we saw in tourists' requests for Bob Marley T-shirts (etc), but there was
an inherent danger of promoting the village as the "Caribbean," as this created
expectations that all elements of the imaginary would be present.
Cahuitan tourism business owners do not form a monolith. Cahuitan
businesspeople were also engaged in a struggle amongst themselves. Individual
entrepreneurs (non-Rastas) also tended to focus on the Rasta as an emblem of
Cahuita. For instance, women involved in a T-shirt design micro-enterprise
painted Rastas onto T-shirts they intended to sell to tourists, as they joked deri-
sively about the wutless men in town who "call themselves Rastas" but were
ignorant of Rastafarianism's meaning. These women were unconvinced of the
"authenticity" of these men, but were willing to use their image as a commodity
with which to appeal to the imaginary of tourists in any case. Their rationale was
to join the potentially lucrative commodification of "Rasta" in which the men
Local Cahuitan businesspeople's reluctance to enter too deeply into the
stereotype of the "Caribbean" is also evident in some attitudes towards the sale of
Afro-Caribbean food. They were unwilling to sell food considered typical to the
region, such as rice and beans, cassava and yam, and so on, to tourists. The owners
of one cafe did not serve Afro-Caribbean food, apart from a sweet called ginger
cake (similar to Jamaican "bullah"), because the tourists wanted food with which
they were familiar. Informal surveys of tourists however, suggested a different
conclusion: they expressed a willingness to try the first-time fare. There was only
one restaurant run by a local that served Afro-Caribbean food, and it was always
well patronised by tourists.
Resident foreigner entrepreneurs' makings of Cahuita bring up pregnant
contrasts in notions of the "Caribbean." The Cahuitan businesspeople show their
resignification of the "Caribbean" in their rejection of what would be considered
by outsiders as traditional or transnationally "typical." For instance, their hotels
(called cabinas) are cement, square buildings what one guidebook called "identi-
cal concrete box[es]" (Pariser 1996: 509). The buildings erected by resident
foreigners (from Europe and North America), however, approximate the first-time
aesthetic: some are wooden, on stilts, and use palm fronds on their roofs. Cahuitan
business owners present an alternative "Caribbean" by not rooting themselves in
their own past, while the Euro-American residents, most of whom were first
attracted to the village by the first-time appeal, are more willing to dip into that
past. They indulge more in the transnational understandings of "Caribbean" too, in
naming these enterprises: "Cabinas Hibiscus, "Bananas (restaurant)," "Coco
Miko (boutique)," and "Cabinas Iguana. In contrast, locals' establishments tend
to bear the names of their owners: "Cabinas Wallace," "Cabinas Thompson,"
"Gilbert's Piscina Natural ("Natural Pool")," "Miss Mary's (restaurant)" and so
The significance of these contrasts lies in their relationship to the larger
struggle for identity and place in evidence within Cahuita and between Cahuitans
and the nation. Cahuitans' and Afro-Costa Ricans' struggle to locate themselves in
Costa Rica has taken the form of accommodations and resistances sometimes
simultaneously. Part of this struggle could arguably be said to manifest itself in
this ambivalent presentation of the "Caribbean" in Cahuita, which will speak to
exoticisation on some levels and not others. The discursive exoticisation that
seen through texts, for example is a level on which many Cahuitans can engage,
but a practical, more visible and material expression of the "typical" Caribbean is
not. Indeed, as early as 1989, officials from Costa Rica's national tourism agency
(ICT) urged Cahuitan businesses to present a more "Caribbean" image. And one
Cahuitan man declared that "the place just turn Caribbean a few years ago,"
suggesting a move away from Afro-Caribbean heritage before the advent of
tourism, and some inventiveness as a result of tourism. "Well, we lose some part
of our culture and den we get another part. We [didn't] eat the food but we get the
reggae," he said. The tastes of broader Costa Rica had been taking over Afro-Car-
ibbean practices when Cahuita "got" reggae in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Early
tourists, some of whom became today's resident foreigners, had arrived during the
shift from "traditional" Caribbean towards the mainstream, encouraged by such
development as the construction of the road to Port Lim6n and beyond in the
1970s. Locals' reconfiguration, and in some cases, re-imagination, of the "Carib-
bean" will inevitably differ from that of resident foreigners. They do not share in
the "Caribbean" aesthetic to which the resident foreigners subscribe and which
dictates palm fronds and stilted buildings. This may be part of the ongoing search
for place: too much difference from the rest of the nation-state is not desirable, as
it may keep them outside its bounds.
But there still remains a desire for distinction and difference, although
within the nation-state, as the brochure containing Cahuita's history indicates. The
bounds of Cahuita are maintained to a degree through the naming of the new
establishments. The time politics, as with the "Rastas," is ambivalent. Although
they reject the past through an "aesthetic refusal," cabina owners conjure up the
past within the present with their stamp of ownership on the new buildings they
erect in the stead of the "first time" aesthetic. Hence, the new concrete blocks are
named after the person who erected it, or after his/her family. As their ancestors
did on arrival naming natural features of the landscape Kelly Creek, Dixon Point,
etc they do now, naming unnatural, untypical, human-made creations. Both are
acts to claim ownership, to claim belonging to a place. With the contemporary
naming of buildings we again see the dialectic between rootedness and displace-
ment. They have displaced the aesthetics of old but have rooted their names -
themselves in this very displacement.
The complexity of this identity struggle is also evident in the rejection of
Afro-Caribbean food. The rejection is not just one manifested in the refusal to sell
it to foreigners, but one that has entered the kitchens of most Cahuitans. Older
Cahuitans lament younger Cahuitans's preference for Euro-American styles of
food. This is considered a clear indicator of the loss of Cahuitan culture, given that
food is one of the primary markers of Afro-Caribbean culture for Cahuitans. The
complication in the negotiation of identity is clear, however, when we consider
that this lamentation of loss also comes from the lips of those who serve their
family pasta and canned tuna.
The fact that most Cahuitans describe themselves as negro ("black")
rather than "Afro-Caribbean" also adds confusion to the mix. Some Dutch stu-
dents conducting a survey of the village asked each respondent their ethnicity.
Black respondents looked at them incredulously and pointed to their skin "can't
you see? I'm black!" was the typical response. A woman in her forties said with
emphatic pride, "Yo soy negra!" ("I am black!") when asked to describe herself.
Afro-Caribbean, or its translation, afro-caribefo, seems to be a name very closely
associated with the "outside": the tourist industry, for example.
The resident foreigners themselves show their own dialectic between the
present and the absent in their Caribbeanisation of Cahuita. They are showing their
notions of this imaginary through aesthetics which at once show their attachment
to the place that they are in, Cahuita, and their displacement from it, and allows
them to produce a different Caribbean landscape. While they show a greater link
to the first-time aesthetic, they are also evincing and responding to transnational
ideas of the "Caribbean," ideas that originated elsewhere and to whose imaginary
they have been exposed. This displacement from Cahuita serves them well on a
practical level, as they are better able to provide for the needs of tourists than
locals who do not benefit as directly from this link with Euro-American notions of
the exotic. Locals also respond to the transnational imaginary of the "Caribbean";
from all appearances, however, they are engaged in a more active negotiation of
how that relates to Cahuita than the resident foreigners.
We have seen a variety of different "Caribbeans" informing notions of
self, other, place and time. These Caribbean landscapes are sometimes in tension,
sometimes in harmony. They seem to share, however, dialectics of presence and
absence, continuity and rupture, even as they clash with each other. For locals, the
Caribbeanisation of Cahuita is part of an identity struggle aimed at the larger
nation and other Cahuitans, in which they engage in discourses that use but go
beyond tourism. Before the full-scale rush of tourism the people of Cahuita seem
to have been leaning away from their heritage towards salsa and merengue,
Spanish and so on. But, as with the Amazonian indigenous peoples of Ecuador,
tourism made certain "identity practices" attractive for the rewards they would
bring (Rogers 1996: 109). Tourism provided a means of retaining elements of their
culture that had been slipping away, most notably the English language. It also
provided a means of negotiation wherein Cahuitans could retain their distinctive-
ness from the mainstream, not as vilified "blacks," but as "Afro-Caribbean."
MacDonald (1997) demonstrates a similar phenomenon for the residents of Skye,
who used tourism to counter external images and construct alternative visions of
their history and culture. Tilley noticed the negotiations ongoing through the prism
of tourism in Vanuatu, where the engagement between tourist and local was a
dialogic encounter about self-worth and self-evaluation in which statements were
made about "who they are" and where they are (1997: 84). The dialectic of
accommodation and resistance is quite clear here: a rejection of the black in line
with dominant society, but resistance even within the appropriation of the "Carib-
bean," where they apply their own distinctive meanings. The tropes of the Carib-
bean are partly appropriated, partly reoriented to form a valuable resource that
would eventually be recognized (however awkwardly) at the national level (see
Anderson 2002, Chapter 2). This is an incomplete, contested process, however,
since many Cahuitans still identify as negro rather than Afro-Caribbean. This
dialectic continues as part of the motor of identity negotiation in the village.
The re-imagining of a place as "Caribbean" for its touristic potential has
occurred in Cartagena, Colombia. The mestizo elite drove this process, using the
"Caribbean" as a marker of peacefulness, democracy, and a place of mixture to
contest Colombia's violent image (Streicker 1997). Streicker posits the re-imagin-
ing of Cartagena as potentially liberatory, by providing opportunities for the poor
(blacks) to fashion new forms of class and race structures. Caribbeanisation in
Colombia also becomes a struggle at the national level, as it is used to challenge
the region's subordination (1997: 120-1).
Interestingly, before tourism became the mainstay of the village there
were some hints of a desire for a regional, and ethnically mixed, identification. In
Palmer's interviews in the 1970s, a Cahuitan community leader spoke to a
regional identity that would lead away from the "black" towards "mixture." He
spoke of a Talamancan identity: "here in Talamanca there's not just going to be
unity among black people, but among Indians and blacks and whites. We are all
Talamanquenos.. Unity as human beings is really important" (Palmer 1993: 224).
He seems to be speaking to Sharman's claim for the need of an identification
among Afro-Costa Ricans that speaks to their phenomenologicall experience,"
which would reflect the mixture of cultural influences in the region, and de-em-
phasise blackness (Sharman 1998: 56-7). The black Costa Rican novelist and
intellectual Quince Duncan felt the shift was necessary for all Afro-Costa Ricans
because, "blacks are losing, so we need to include the rest of Lim6n" (personal
communication). It is not clear how much of the push for lo talamanqueno was the
strategic thinking of a leader, and how much was reflected in the identifications of
Cahuitans at the time. It would seem however, that that broader identification is
represented by the "Caribbean's" metaphorical and geographical implications.
Now, Cahuitans' use of the "Caribbean" is a strategically used identifier for
particular purposes, seen as partially externally derived and oriented yet locally
relevant, and yet not accounting for all the identifications of Cahuitans. Because in
Cahuita there is still retention of the "black" that Sharman and Duncan see being
(and/or should be) eroded.
Sharman sees the shift as a potential source of strength from which
limonenses could face the central government (Sharman 1998: 57-8). He hopes too
that it will eventually lead to the elimination of "constructed racial categories"
entirely (Sharman 1998: 57). It is not clear, however, how to define the "pheno-
menological experience" he finds essential to the relevance of chosen identifica-
tions. The "flexibility" that he feels is crucial in the negotiations of identity may
have led to the appropriation of the "Caribbean," even though he could argue that
it is not Cahuitans' "lived experience." The permeability of the boundaries be-
tween the "local" and the "global" due to the diasporic imagination render the field
of phenomenological experiences perhaps too vast for the assumption of bounda-
ries between lived and otherwise.
The Cahuitan case leads us away from notions of there ever being a
unitary limonense identity what Sharman would call "a shared phenomenologi-
cal experience of the world" (1998: 56) much less one beyond constructions of
"race." Cahuita's example suggests that something is being created in a tangle of
elements that may well differ from other parts of the province. It also reveals that
the contestations and incoherences amongst and within Cahuitans themselves -
make the empowerment he speaks of neither a simple nor inevitable process. What
we can say, however, is that Cahuita's position at different poles of different
continue near the margin of the nation-state, and yet near the centre of the tourist
gaze gives Cahuitans a unique and uncertain place within the nation that provides
them the opportunity for critique but also creates those incoherences.
1. This is a substantially revised version of the paper, Arguing over the "Caribbean": Tourism and
Identities on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica, presented at the 2nd Caribbean Culture Confer-
ence, University of the West Indies, Jamaica, January 2002.
2. For more information on the history of Costa Rica's Caribbean coast, see Palmer (1993), LeFevcr
3. For Afro-Costa Rican history, see Koch (1975), Harpelle (2001), Melendez & Duncan (1972), Put-
nam (2002), inter alia.
4. It would have been interesting to know how many young boys uninvolved in the pursuit of tourists
demonstrated such an affinity to reggae music and Rastafarianism.
5. Hansing states that these are not exclusive categories.
6. Chevannes (1994) and Cashmore (1995) claim that in the USA and UK respectively this negative
image has ceded to acceptance.
7. Cohen (1997) suggests that rather than or as well as the "gaze," attention should also be paid to
the aural, the attraction of music. She claims that music's role in tourism can be an important
one, informing the place image, influencing how people identify, categorise and represent
places: in effect, a place can be produced through music. This is most certainly the case with
Cahuita and reggae music, where the music is perceived as a constituent element of the village
and "Rastafarianism," and therefore contributes to the appeal.
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Resisting Definitive Interpretation: Seeing The Story Of The
Exodus Through Caribbean(ite) Eyes
ANNA KASAFI PERKINS
To understand concrete reality, human beings require examples. Some
examples are better than others and exemplary written examples are called "clas-
sics" When examined from a hermeneutical perspective such classics can be seen
to bear an excess and permanence of meaning while resisting definitive interpreta-
tion (Tracy, 1987a: 12). Classics originate within a unique cultural context yet
possess the paradoxical capacity to be universal in their effect and appeal. In their
continued reception another paradox is also evident: their capacity to function as
classics is culturally dependent upon the instability of the receiving culture's
shifting canon of classics (Tracy, 1987a: 12). In any particular period some
classics will disappear from the canon, while others that may have previously been
forgotten or even suppressed, may reappear.
Perhaps the best-known classical text of in the Christian West is the
Bible, which has assisted in the founding and formation of Western culture.
Similarly, the Bible has an important place in the canon of classics for the
Caribbean region especially as its moral vision finds deep resonances within the
context of Caribbean history. According to Grenadian scholar of Caribbean
religion Leslie R. James:
From the turn of the fifteenth century to the present, Caribbean
people have struggled to become the subjects of their own
history. Their struggle has been fundamentally for justice and
human rights. This struggle has made the Bible a valid text and
a rich source of metaphors, images, and symbols for interpreting
Caribbean history and articulating the vision of an alternative
Caribbean future. Consequently, biblical terms such as Exodus,
Pharaoh, Wilderness, Promised Land, Babylon, and others have
had, and continue to have, deep resonances in Caribbean histori-
cal consciousness and search for authentic cultural identity
(James, 2000: 162).
The biblical story of the Exodus has been and continues to be received by
Caribbean peoples as a religious classic, a paradigm for interpreting our experi-
ences of suffering, enslavement, emancipation, struggling for self-determination
and true freedom in a modern world ruled by new masters. Often-times this
Exodus motif is conflated and interwoven with the Exile, or the Second Exodus.
This finds expression in our music:
Exodus: Movement of Jah People! Oh-oh-oh, yea-eah!
Open your eyes and look within: Are you satisfied with the life
Uh! We know where we're going, uh! We know where we're
from. We're leaving Babylon,
We're going to our Fatherland (Marley, 1977).
In our literature:
Out of the milieu of constitutional advancement, a new type of
society and a new type of leader emerged a leader with a sort
of Moses complex, who appeared to regard the local masses as
oppressed Israelites, the local Government and Colonial Office
in England being the bad-minded Pharaohs.
This 'let-my-people-go' approach to politics provided the po-
litical leader with an indispensable reservoir of profitable emo-
tionalism, and it encouraged the masses to put vague,
charismatic considerations above intelligence, solid achieve-
ment and even integrity, in estimating the worth of some of their
political leaders... The charisma of a Moses placed him above
censure for petty moral lapses (Thomas, 1977: 1).
In our theology:
For the [Caribbean] Christian, the concept of liberation is de-
rived from the biblical record of the emancipation of the people
of Israel from Egyptian bondage. Exodus is not merely the
name of one of the books of the Bible. In the Exodus, God is the
liberator and Moses the human instrument. The slavery in
Egypt is the context in which the need for liberation is felt, the
wilderness the context in which the process evolves, and the
possession of Canaan the goal of the liberated people (Smith,
No text is purely autonomous however. Exodus comes bearing with it
the history of all its former receptions, and these receptions influence us and the
way we read the text. Caribbean people therefore cannot honestly avoid the need
to face, alongside the reality of the plurality of its receptions, the ambiguity of the
reception of a classic text like the Exodus in our history as well as in the history of
Western civilization. The plurality of receptions and the accompanying ambigui-
ties are clear in the various historical events in which Exodus was formative for
interpreting self, in-group and the Other thus serving to ground action. These
events clearly paralleled the Exodus account of God's empowering of the wander-
ing band of escaped slaves to form a new nation in a Land, which they obtained by
murdering the Canaanite inhabitants.
In England, Oliver Cromwell struggled bravely for religious freedom
while unleashing a terrible fate upon the Irish Catholics who fell into his self-right-
eous path. The "noble experiment" of the New England Puritans led to the
near-destruction of the native inhabitants of America. Europeans in their coura-
geous search for "new" lands encountered the Taino and Carib populations, which
they decimated through disease, cruelty and over work. Africans were forcibly
taken from their homeland and communities, transported via the inhuman middle
passage to be cruelly used like beasts on plantations. Exodus inspired the Boers on
their long trek to "the Promised Land" that originally belonged to the Bantu
peoples from whom they stole, murdered and dehumanised. Even the contempo-
rary struggles for progress by richer countries, which engenders the impoverish-
ment and starvation of others in the process bears the stamp of an Exodus
mentality. Exodus is not an innocent text.
In this essay I attempt to heed theologian David Tracy's call for theology
to pay greater attention in all its interpretations to the pluralistic and ambiguous
reception of its classic texts, including Exodus (Tracy, 1987: 118). 1 will present
a reflection from the margins, i.e., the perspective of a woman, a descendant of
enslaved Africans from the English-speaking Caribbean a Caribbean(ite) per-
spective. "Caribbean(ite)" is a deliberately constructed polyvalent term (echoes of
Caribbean and Canaanite), part of the important task of naming myself and my
reality. I seek to present a perspective that challenges interpretations of the
Exodus that disregard or do not deal effectively with those aspects of the Scrip-
tures, which make us uncomfortable or which we cannot in all honesty name as
"liberating" or even inspired. I therefore hope to question any elitist, privileged
and definitive readings of Exodus. In so doing I locate myself in a space that has
often been at the receiving end of triumphalist interpretations of the Exodus. An
example of the arrogance of the Christian conquerors is found in the words of one
Catholic priest who argued with impunity that "The King of Spain might very
justly send men to require those idolatrous Indians to hand over their land to him
for it was given him by the Pope. If the Indians would not do this, he might justly
wage war against them, kill them and enslave those captured in war, precisely as
Joshua treated the inhabitants of the land of Canaan"(emphasis mine) (Murrell,
Ironically, this is also the space where Exodus is often read and inter-
preted somewhat naively, selectively and uncritically. As the previous quote from
Ashley Smith demonstrates, few Caribbean or Liberation theologians for that
matter seem really alert to the ambiguities of the Exodus or its plural uses. As a
result such uncritical readings from the margins have prevented us from seriously
wrestling with this religious classic in a manner that would enrich our Caribbean
theology and ethics. So while Exodus resists definitive interpretation a critical
reading of this classic from the margins, from the perspective of its victims, may
lead to a greater awareness of the limited and ambiguous nature of our own
interpretations and lead us to tread lightly in the presence of those whom it might
lead us to victimise.
A Caribbean(ite) perspective highlights also the importance and value of
doing theological reflection from the location of the Anglo-Caribbean. Too often
the Caribbean perspective is subsumed under the liberation theologies of Latin
America and is not given a chance to speak out of its own uniqueness. The
reflection is informed by and in dialogue with the feminist critique of Caribbean
Theology issued by Jamaican theologian Theresa Lowe-Ching as well as other
interpretations from the margins including representatives of the Native American,
Womanist and South African voices.
Canaanites, Cowboys and Indians:Native American appropriation
Of course, talk about the plurality and ambiguity of interpretations and
receptions of the Exodus classic should not ignore the fact that these arise from
within the narrative itself. The Conquest is the dark side of the Bible's central
liberative event, the Exodus. The truth is that there is no Exodus in the Bible
without the Conquest. Israel is liberated from bonded labour in Egypt, and made
YHWH's people in Sinai, in order to possess 'the land' (Ex. 6.8).
Native American theologian Robert Warrior argues passionately that the
story of the Exodus is an inappropriate way for Native Americans to think about
liberation (Warrior, 1989: 262). The liberationist picture of YHWH that many
find so liberating is, in his eyes, an incomplete one. YHWH the deliverer goes
before the Israelites to give them the land he promised them. He wields the same
power, which he used against the Egyptian slave masters, to defeat the innocent
indigenous inhabitants of Canaan. YHWH commands the merciless annihilation
of the indigenous population. YHWH the Deliverer becomes YHWH the Con-
queror! Native Americans identify with and read the story of the Exodus with
Canaanite eyes (as do Palestinians and South Africans). Caribbean people too
often identify themselves with the Israelites!
Warrior does not ignore scholarly research, which has made a strong case
that the actual events were much different from those presented in the narrative.
The usual scholarly consensus is that the Canaanites were not systematically
annihilated, nor were they driven from the land. Rather the Israelites may have
settled among them peacefully, and they came to make up, to a large extent, the
people of the new nation of Israel. But plausible historical reconstructions do not
change the status of the indigenes in the narrative nor the theology and politics that
grow out of it. People read the narratives as they are, not as the experts and
scholars would like them to be read and interpreted. This fact poses an additional
challenge to theologies of liberation, which emphasise empowering the poor to
read and interpret the scriptures in light of their experience while making narra-
tives like the Exodus central for theology and political action. The danger is that
the narratives will be read without attention to the history behind them. The text
cannot be altered by interpretation to fit but how it is received may be altered.
Whatever dangers are identified in the text and the god represented there will
remain as long as the text remains. Claiming Exodus as part of Christian heritage
is an honour but it as much a source of discomfort.
Further, in the Native American experience, the Exodus narratives also
tell another story the story of what happens when indigenous people put their
hope and faith in ideas and gods that were foreign to their culture. The Canaanites
trusted in the god of outsiders and their story of oppression and exploitation was
lost (this essay and the work of people like Warrior are part of the attempt at re-
membering such stories). Inter-religious praxis became betrayal and the surviving
narrative tells us nothing about it (Warrior: 263).
Rastafarians, Babylon and Black Israelites :Jamaican appropriation
Nathaniel Samuel Murrell, in discussing current Anglican Bishop of
Barbados John Holder's "Land Acquisition Solution Model" of biblical herme-
neutics for the Caribbean, describes Holder as wanting to present Caribbean
people with a Torah in one hand a Land title in the other. Holder's model rests on
the dire need for land acquisition as the solution to the colonial legacy of Carib-
bean impoverishment, underdevelopment, landlessness, identity crisis, and cul-
tural negation (Murrell, 2000: 26). Holder wants to keep Caribbean people
focused on the memory of their exodus experience of liberation from Egypt
(Slavery and colonialism), on the one hand, and, on the other hand, a title deed to
a piece of land or property from the other side of the Jordan (independent Carib-
bean countries). Holder advocates remembering a special relationship with God
and the Land. Like the Israelites we too are to cherish and share the land and
respect our neighbour's possession as a gift from YHWH.
Murrell highlights the problem of bringing Holder's dream into reality.
Giving the people the Torah is easy the people already have their Torah, their
classic the Bible. But the people must first have land for which they can be
grateful to YHWH and use it to engender hope and memory of the goodness of
God (Murrell: 26). The land must come from somewhere but there are no free
crown lands in the Caribbean. YHWH no longer owns the lands as Holder implies.
Murrell continues by making the important yet oft-forgotten connection with the
text: the ancient Israelites "hijacked" the land by slaughtering and driving out the
earlier inhabitants under the guise that YHWH commanded them to conduct a
form of "God-blessed invasion" (Murrell: 27). He then poses an important ques-
tion: Did YHWH really give Israel the land or did they take it in his name? Has
God really done all the evil things to the people and their lands that the biblical
writers ascribe to God? "Getting the people land by taking it from someone else
in the name of God creates the kind of travesty of justice and barbarism the world
witnessed in the last few decades on the West bank of Gaza with the resettlement
of landless Jews on Palestinian lands."(Murrell: 27). He therefore cautions us
against solving our economic problems in the Caribbean by "robbing Peter to pay
Paul" and discourages us from the sort of uprooting of families and destruction of
communities in the name of religion and land settlement. Murrell then goes on to
suggest that we should look towards the ideas of the Rastafarians for a workable
solution to Holder's model.
Rastafarian theology is as basically geographical as was that of their
ancient forbears, the Hebrews. The Promised Land and the land of exile, the
deportation and the return are conceptions, which work powerfully within the
Rastafarian symbol system. They sustain and animate the brethren and allow them
to survive in Jamaica, land of listless and oppressive exile, while awaiting repatria-
tion to the Kingdom of Zion.
Rastafarian religion took shape in the 1920s in Jamaica's backward
colonial society. It arose in response to a number of factors, the most salient of
which was perhaps the continuing and increasing poverty of the Black masses.
Poverty was clearly underlined in terms of colour with the Jamaican of African
descent decidedly regulated to the base of society. Despite the advances that had
been made with Emancipation (1838) the fundamental social relations in the
country had stubbornly remained the same. This could be seen most sharply in the
continued denigration of the African Presence in Jamaica, and by extension the
wider Caribbean. Two examples of this denigration are the patterns of language-
use in Jamaica, which saw the ability to speak and write British English as a
passport to success. This served to render as limited and low in status the
Jamaican language, which had been creatively crafted by the ancestors of Black
Jamaicans in the face of attempts to strip them of cultural identity and connection
to their African homeland. Creole was and continues to be the heart language of
the majority of the population, the same masses that were enmeshed in poverty.
Similarly, ideas of beauty and acceptability resided in possessing Euro-
pean features and the denigration of Africanness was given expression in curse
terms in the Creole such as "Yuh black like sin!" Patterns of kinship, which were
both matrifocal and extended rendered the masses born out of wedlock non-per-
sons, unable to inherit property and constantly needing to declare their identity for
the simplest of transactions in their own country. Rastas would describe the
situation in these terms: "If you black, stand back. If you brown, stick around. If
you white, you all right"
Rastafarians responded by re-valuing of the African Presence in Jamai-
can society and launching a prophetic critique on all aspects of Jamaica society
and the Western system of which it was a part that denigrates and impoverishes the
black man. They found within the Bible itself valuable and powerful tools of
critical analysis not only of the unjust social system but of the established religion
and the way in which it served the system/'shitstem'.
At the same time, Rastafarians are radically suspicious of the use of the
Bible because "the unscrupulous have consistently taken this great book and used
it for the most unworthy ends: to enslave people, to make money, to glorify
themselves at the expense of others; it is forever being used by business men who
hypnotise the black man into accepting the religion of white men. It is not enough
for the whites to enslave the bodies of the black slaves; their minds also had to be
enchained. This is done through the white Bible and the white religion associated
with it" (Owens, 1976: 33). They, therefore, contend that the Bible, because of its
unfortunate history in recent centuries, requires careful analysis. They consider
very few men to have the inspiration and intuitive sense that are required to
interpret the Bible correctly. They point out many confusing and contradictory
passages in the Bible, and some parts that they know must be totally discounted -
not the Exodus or Exile though. One Rasta, in recounting the process of his
conversion, told Fr. Owens how the Bible must be read: "We would have to read
it with a little more understanding and read between the lines, not understanding it
as how King James would want the English people to understand it, but by trying
to understand it as how black people should understand it" (Owens: 33).
Therefore, the Rastaman never approaches the Bible passively! He al-
ways has an inner core of wisdom and knowledge, which interacts with what he
learns from the Bible to yield an even higher truth. He reinterprets the Bible in
terms of the black man's experience and need (clearly a contextual theology). To
understand further the enthusiasm and the seriousness with which the Rastafarians
read the Scriptures, it is necessary to consider the identity, which they know exists
between themselves and the ancient Israelites. They regard black Africans as the
sole representatives of that Chosen People whose history is recounted in the Bible
(Owens: 39). They offer numerous proof-texts to prove that the Chosen People
were dark-skinned, notably Lamentations 4.8, 5.10; Joel 2.8; Habakkuk 2.10; Job
30.30; Psalms 119.83; Jeremiah 14.2, and Revelation 1.14. These texts are not
offered in isolation; more important by far is their own inner experience of the
identity between their history and that recounted in the Bible. The fate of the black
man in recent centuries, his having been scattered by force to all comers of the
earth, relates him closely to the slavery, the exile, and the Diaspora of the ancient
Rastafarians present a unique and very Caribbean appropriation of the
Biblical story of the Exodus. From their meditation on Scripture and their black
experience, Rastafarians have come to view Great Britain as especially guilty of
the crime of shuffling human beings around like livestock, and Jamaica gives
ample witness to these forced migrations. After helping wipe out the native
Amerindian population, the British proceeded to carry in thousands of Africans as
slaves. When slavery finally proved unprofitable, the British went in search of
Chinese, Indians, Syrians, and whoever else was willing to sell years of their lives
for slim hope of improvement (Owens: 234). Jamaica with its majority of people
of African descent and minorities of other races is evidence of the extravagant
means the British have taken to enrich themselves. The Rastas declare that the
arrogance of the British in taking Jamaica from the Amerindians and then import-
ing countless souls from other races as labourers will lead inevitably to their
downfall. The West, including Jamaica, and in contrast to Africa, is a land of
enslavement and damnation. "When one Rasta exclaimed, "Leave Jamaica!" an-
other agreed, "Because the greatest thing in the world is to be free" The West is a
comfortless region for the Rastafarians. They dwell as pilgrims in a strange land;
they sit mournful by the rivers of Babylon. They hope for peace but see it only in
universal repatriation: "That is the only peace that can be upon earth: if I-n-I go
back to Africa" (Owens: 232).
Repatriation or "the great exodus" for the Rastafarian means first and
foremost, of course, a physical return to their long-lost homeland, but it means
much more besides. Repatriation signifies a return to their culture, liberation from
the alienation of the West. It will deliver their destiny back into their own hands
and allow them to live at peace instead of engaging in constant war against or on
behalf of the whites. Repatriation is the earthly redemption, which the Israelites
have long sought in vain. Speaking for twenty generations of enslaved and exiled
ancestors, one of the brethren stated what return to Africa will mean to him: "I,
personally, as one who has been stole [sic] from the continent of Africa nearly 500
years ago, know that our salvation does not lie in Jamaica but in our return to a
A Question for Caribbean theologians
Caribbean theologians have attempted to be sensitive to and engage in
dialogue with the message of Rastafarianism. Rastafarian theology has presented
a striking critique of the "traditional" ways of doing theology in the Caribbean.
Strangely enough, their unique appropriation of the Exodus narratives has rarely
alerted Caribbean theologians to the ambiguities of the Exodus story, to the
non-liberating aspects of the story. Why?
African-American Womanist theologian Delores S. Williams may pro-
vide us with some insights here. According to Williams, it is possible to identify
two traditions of African-American biblical appropriation that were useful for a
construction of black theology in North America (Williams, 1993: 2). One of these
traditions of biblical appropriation emphasised liberation of the oppressed and
showed God relating to men in liberation struggles. Many African-American
spirituals, slave narratives and sermons refer to biblical stories and personalities
who were involved in liberation struggle Moses, Jesus, Paul and Silas. These
have formed the major sources of reflection for Black male theologians. "Their
validating biblical paradigm in the Hebrew Testament was the exodus event when
God delivered the oppressed Hebrew slaves from their oppressors in Egypt. Their
Christian testament paradigm was Luke 4, when Jesus described his mission and
ministry in terms of liberation. Their normative claim for biblical interpretation
was 'God the liberator of the poor and oppressed'" (Williams: 2). Williams calls
this appropriation "the liberation tradition of African-American biblical appro-
priation". A similar tradition of biblical appropriation can be seen to be at work in
the articulation of Caribbean theology and other theologies of liberation (even
Williams discovered a second exciting tradition of African-American
biblical appropriation which has emphasised female activity and de-emphasised
male authority. It is lifted from the biblical account of Hagar, the female slave of
African descent who was forced to be a surrogate mother, reproducing a child by
her slave master because the slave master's wife was barren. Williams claims that
for more than 100 years Hagar has appeared in the deposits of African-American
culture. Sculptors, writers, poets, scholars, preachers and ordinary folk have
passed along the biblical figure of Hagar from generation to generation of black
She found striking similarities in the Hagar story and the story of Afri-
can-American women (similarities that have echoes in the lives of Caribbean
women). Hagar's heritage was as African as African-American women's [and as
Caribbean as Caribbean women's]. Hagar was a slave. Black women have
emerged from a slave heritage and still lived in light of it. Hagar was brutalised by
her slave owner, the Hebrew woman Sarah. The slave narratives of African-
American women and some of the narratives of contemporary days-workers tell of
the brutal or cruel treatment black women have received from the wives of slave
masters and from contemporary white female employers (the experiences of many
modern Jamaican days-workers and helpers is no different, sadly). Hagar had no
control over her body. It belonged to her slave owner, whose husband Abraham,
ravished Hagar. A child Ishmael was born; mother and child were eventually cast
out of Abraham's and Sarah's home without resources for survival. The bodies of
African-American slave women were owned by their masters. Time after time
they were raped by their owners and bore children whom the master seldom
claimed children who were slaves. Slave-master fathers often cast out these
children and their mothers by selling them to other slave-holders. Hagar resisted
the brutality of slavery by running away. Black American women have a long
herstoryy" of resistance that includes running away from slavery in the antebellum
era. Like Hagar and her child Ishmael, African-American women slaves and their
children, after slavery, were expelled from the homes of many slave-holders and
given no resources for survival. Hagar, like many women throughout African-
American women herstoryy", was a single parent. But she had serious personal
and salvific encounters with God. These encounters aided Hagar in the survival
struggle of herself and her son. Over and over again, black women in the churches
have testified about their serious personal and salvific encounters with God en-
counters that helped them and their families survive.
A superficial reading of Genesis 16.1-16 and 21.9-21 in the Hebrew
testament revealed that Hagar's predicament involved slavery, poverty, ethnicity,
sexual and economic exploitation, surrogacy, rape, domestic violence, homeless-
ness, motherhood, single-parenting and radical encounters with God. Another
aspect of Hagar's predicament was made clear in the Christian testament when
Paul (Galatians 4.21-5.21) relegated her and her progeny to a position outside of
and antagonistic to the great promise Paul says Christ brought to humankind. Thus
in Paul's text Hagar bears only negative relation to the new creation Christ
represents. In the Christian context of Paul, then, Hagar and her descendants
represent the outsider position par excellence. Therefore alienation is also part of
the predicament of Hagar and her progeny (Williams: 4-5). The existence of Hagar
and her progeny in the position of outsider has important resonances with the some
modem appropriations of the Exodus story.
One such appropriation is that of Jewish Political Scientist, Michael
Walzer. Walzer attempts in his book Exodus and Revolution to trace a political
way of reading the story of the exodus as has been done in the writings of religious
groups like the Jewish rabbis and the Puritans as well as its survival in the Western
understanding of political change. He presents Exodus politics as a valid way of
describing political change although it is subject to certain temptations (Messian-
ism and Zionism). He maintains further that modem political readings of the
exodus are done with an intentional forward motion and that any aspect of the
story can be emphasized over the others. My own suggestion is that a reading of
the Exodus story in Anglo-Caribbean politics emphasises the role of a leader-like-
Moses (the messianic leader) (Perkins, 2001: 70). Walzer does not dwell on those
aspects of the story where there is the need to "purge counterrevolutionaries" the
killing of the worshippers of the golden calf. He brushes aside God's demand that
the inhabitants of the land be exterminated by a claim that the Canaanites were
outside of the moral concern of the Israelites thus allowing them to be killed.
Walzer's analysis is certainly suspect for what he glosses over or leaves
out. Palestinian Social theorist Edward Said levels the same critique against
Walzer that can be levelled against Caribbean theologians: Walzer reads the story
in a way that does not heed the ambiguities and terror in the text. Said questions
Walzer's use of"us" and "in the West" in his discussion. This usage highlights the
first error that interpreters of the Exodus often make. They assume that their
interpretation is privileged and universally binding or relevant. Said further ac-
cuses Walzer of avoidance:
"The great avoidance, significantly, is of history itself the
history of the text he comments on, the history of the Jews, the
history of the various people who have used Exodus, as well as
those who have not, the history of models, texts, paradigms,
utopias, in their relationship to actual events, the history of such
things as covenants and founding texts" (Said, 1986: 91).
Said will not let Walzer get away with his refusal to meet head on the fact that the
extermination of whole peoples can be seen to be sanctioned by YHWH in the
sacred literature. He, like many others, continues to forget the very existence of
this part of the text.
Warrior's analysis reminds us of the valuable contribution made to the
formation of the Jewish nation by the indigenous people of Canaan. But where is
that acknowledged? Walzer is so anxious to disconnect from, and yet connect
with, the essential parts of Exodus that he too misses the opportunity to allow the
ambiguity of the material to challenge his present context. What really happens
when we place someone on the margins, when we make them an outsider? This is
where there is a direct connection with Williams' identification of Hagar as an
outsider. Walzer dismisses the Canaanites as being outside of the world of moral
concern of the Israelites and history has shown us the results of such a reading.
Williams makes the startling claim that God's response to Hagar's pre-
dicament is not liberation, for on one occasion God instructs her to return to the
home of her oppressor Sarah, that is, return to bondage. Williams interprets God's
action here as an act on behalf of the survival of Hagar and her child. Perhaps
neither Hagar nor her child would survive the ordeal of birth in the wilderness.
When Hagar and her child were finally cast out into the wilderness without proper
resources to survive, God gave her new vision to see survival resources where she
had seen none before. "Liberation in the Hagar stories is not given by God; it finds
its source in human initiative" (Williams: 5). God's response to Hagar's situation
is survival and involvement in her development of an appropriate quality of life,
that is, appropriate to her situation and heritage. Williams concluded that the
female-centred tradition of African-American biblical appropriation could be
named the "survival/quality of life tradition of African-American biblical appro-
priation" This naming is consistent with the African-American community's way
of appropriating the Bible so that emphasis is put upon God's response to black
people's situation rather than upon what would appear to be hopeless aspects of
African-American people's existence in North America. In black consciousness,
God's response of survival and quality of life to Hagar is God's response of
survival and quality of life to African-American women and mothers of slave
descent struggling to sustain their families with God's help.
Williams' analysis reasserts a fundamental principle of contextual theol-
ogy, namely, that who you are influences both how you read Scripture and
practice theology. This is perhaps why Caribbean theologians both Rasta and
non-Rasta have so readily identified with the liberative themes in Exodus.
Until very recently, male theologians articulated most official theology in
the region. Theresa Lowe-Ching laments the total lack of references to the experi-
ence of women and women's contribution in Caribbean theological reflection.
She also calls attention to the dearth of women theologians in the region (Lowe-
Ching, 1995: 29). This is certainly clear in the Rastafarian appropriations of the
liberation themes in the Scriptures. They are blind to their own partial and limited
appropriations of the Bible and do not see who they make victims in their
interpretations. They do not see the effects of their interpretation and appropriation
as silencing as important a group as women, their queens, their "dawtas" As
demonstrated by Williams, women's lives are so much like those of the victims of
the Scriptures that focusing solely on the liberative themes is often to disregard
their experiences, experiences that are often of survival and care in a context of
oppression rather than liberation out of it. Perhaps by "befriending the dragon", as
Lowe-Ching refers to the excluded female experience and creativity, Caribbean
theology may be provided with a distinctly creative approach which could con-
tribute significantly to not only the theological enterprise itself but also to the
immediate goal of transforming persons and society (Lowe-Ching: 29).
The Word of God and the hermeneutic of struggle
Itumeleng Mosala of South Africa offers us a radical perspective on the
use of scripture/a biblical hermeneutic of scripture which provides further insights
for a Caribbean(ite) reading. Like the Rastafarians, he warns against the failure to
recognize the Bible as an ideological product. Mosala critiques Black Theology's
idea that the Bible is simply the word of God because it leads, as we have
witnessed, to a false notion that the Bible is non-ideological (Mosala, 1989: 6).
Such a false or idealist notion can cause oppressed people to become politically
'paralysed' in their reading. It also runs the risk of leaving intact the political
interpretation of the Bible by the hegemonic sectors of society, whether they be
white, male, educated, or a combination of. Such hegemonic interpretations often
do not have to strain after an explicitly political reading since the texts of the Bible
are themselves already cast in this form. Thus Black/Caribbean/Liberation theol-
ogy by colluding with a dominant epistemological view of the Bible has helped to
reproduce the status quo, in contradiction to its own goals.
Mosala further contends that the category of Word of God does not help
bring out the liberating message of the Bible because it presumes that liberation
exists everywhere and unproblematically in the Bible. This category is oblivious,
even within biblical communities themselves, to the history of ruling-class control
and co-option of the discourses and stories of the ancient Israelite people. For
example, the appropriation by the exiled community in Babylon of the exodus
story to express their yearnings for freedom to return to Zion and rebuild the
Davidic dynasty conceals with devastating ideological effects both the classsim
and the political differences between the first exodus and this second exodus. This
reuse of the exodus story goes against the invectives of the prophets and their view
of Jerusalem and Zion: "Listen to me, you rulers of Israel, you that hate justice and
turn right into wrong. You are building God's city, Jerusalem, on a foundation of
murder and injustice" (Micah 3.9-10). The ethos of the original exodus theology is
incompatible with the ideology and culture implied in the struggle for the recon-
struction of Zion and Jerusalem (Mosala: 20). Mosela argues that the category of
struggle provides the lens for reading the text in a liberating fashion as well as the
codes for unlocking the possibilities and limitations of the biblical texts.
The category of struggle also has value as a tool for reading black history
and culture in that such an approach leads to the important understanding that not
all black historical and cultural readings of the Bible are liberating. Armed with
this insight, we can clearly see a biblical hermeneutics of liberation for black
theology as liberating neither because it is black nor on the grounds simply that it
is biblical. Rather, it is a tool of struggle in the ongoing human project of liberation
Reading with Caribbean(ite) Eyes
How are we to respond to a Bible that contains such ambiguities? A
number of responses are possible. We could ignore them or "escape into the
transient pleasures of irony, or a flight into despair and cynicism or more history-
as-usual" (Tracy, 1987: 122). We must wrestle with the ambiguity of the text and
allow it to move us to hope. What we are taught as we maintain the tension
between the liberating and non-liberating texts is that:
Whoever fights for hope, fights on behalf of us all, whoever acts
on that hope in concrete historical and political struggle acts in
a manner worthy of a human being. And whoever so acts, acts
in a manner faintly suggestive of the reality and power of that
God in whose image human beings were formed to resist, to
think, and to act (Tracy, 1987: 122).
Taking seriously the plurality and ambiguity of such classical texts such
as the Exodus with its concomitant Conquest provides Caribbean theological
reflection with a number of challenges. Clearly, self-conscious and self-critical
reflections are important elements in the interpretive equation. Theological reflec-
tion and biblical interpretation must pay special attention to the interpreter as a key
feature of contextual understandings. The Bible and theological reflection must
help to make sense of the People's experience not vice versa. Paying attention to
the social location of the theologian will strip away any veneer of detached,
disinterested objectivism from academic discourse to reveal the complex web of
presuppositions, commitments and constituencies that shape the process of read-
ing. This requires a vulnerability, which renders interpreters accountable for their
readings and the Bible accountable to the world for its lack of innocence.
James, Leslie R., "Text and the Rhetoric of Change: Bible and Decolonization in Post-World War II
Caribbean Political Discourse", Religion. Culture, and Tradition in the Caribbean. Hemchand
Gossai and Nathaniel Samuel Murrell (eds.), (New York: St Martin's Press, 2000), pp. 143-166.
Lowe-Ching, Theresa, "Method in Caribbean Theology", Caribbean Theology: Preparingfor the
Challenges Ahead, Howard Gregory (ed.). (Jamaica: Canoe Press, 1995), pp. 23-33.
Marley, Bob & The Wailers. "Exodus: Movement of Jah People" on the
album Exodus: Island Records, 1977.
Mosala, Itumeleng J., Biblical Hermeneutics and Black Theology in South Africa (Grand Rapids,
Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989)
Murrell, Nathaniel Samuel, "Dangerous Memories, Underdevelopment, and the Bible in Colonial
Caribbean Experience", Religion, Culture, and Tradition in the Caribbean, Hemchand Gossai
and Nathaniel Samuel Murrell (eds.), (New York: St Martin's Press, 2000), pp. 9-36.
Owens, Joseph, Dread: The Rastafarians ofJamaica (London: Heinemann, 1976)
Perkins, Anna Kasafi, "Some Theological Reflections on exodus politics and messianic leadership in
the pre-independence English-speaking Caribbean", In Celebration of Black History: GYRO
Colloquium Papers Volume VI, (Boston College: 2001), pp. 64-77.
Said, Edward, "Michael Walzer's Exodus and Revolution: A Canaanite Reading" in Grand Street 5,
2 (Winter 1986), pp. 86-106
Smith, Ashley, Real Roots and Potted Plants: Reflections on the Caribbean Church (Williamsfield,
Jamaica: Mandeville Publishers, 1984)
Tracy, David, Plurality and Ambiguity: Hermeneutics. Religion, Hope (Chicago: University of Chi-
cago Press, 1987a)
Tracy, David, "Exodus: Theological Reflection", Concilium 1987, 189: 118-124
Tracy, David, "Reading the Bible: A Plurality of Readers and a Possibility of a Shared Vision" in On
Naming the Present: God Hermeneutics and the Church (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994),
Walzer, Michael, Exodus and Revolution (Basic Books, 1985)
Walzer, Michael, "An Exchange: Exodus and Revolution" in Grand Street 5.4 (Summer, 186), pp.
246-252. Edward Said replies to this article from pp. 252-259
Warrior, Robert, "A Native American Perspective: Canaanites, Cowboys and Indians" in Voices
from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World, ed. R.S. Sugirtharajah (Maryknoll,
NY: Orbis Books, 19991), pp. 287-296
Williams, Delores S., Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk (Maryknoll,
NY: Orbis Books, 1993)
The many faces of Rasta: Doctrinal Diversity within the
The Different Mansions or Houses of the Rastafari Movement
The Rastafari movement, it should be duly noted, is one that is charac-
terized by many different branches or houses. Key among these are the Twelve
tribes of Israel, The Ethiopian African Black International Congress (otherwise
known as the BoboShante House) and the Nyahbinghi Order.
The Twelve Tribes of Israel
The founder of the Twelve Tribes of Israel was Vernon Carrington, who
was born in the month of November in Matthews Lane, Kingston, Jamaica.
Vernon was the head of Charter 15 of the Ethiopian World Federation, which was
based in Trench Town, Kingston, thus when the Twelve Tribes house was initially
founded in 1968, it was simultaneously functioning in the name of the Federation
and in the name of the Ethiopian Orthodox Faith (Tafari 1995). The Twelve Tribes
of Israel were initially regarded as the most centralized, most disciplined Rastafari
house when they first emerged, but this is no longer the case (Tafari 1995). This
organization had shortly after its inception a complete executive body, consisting
of twelve male executive members (Firsts), twelve female executive members
(Firsts), as well as twelve male stand-in executive members (Seconds) and twelve
stand-in female executive members (Seconds). Each set of the twelve executive
members represented the twelve months of the year, the twelve Apostles of the
Messiah and the Twelve tribes of Israel (Tafari 1995).
After four or five years of operation, the organization discovered that its
charter, Charter 15, which was issued from out of Chicago, was in fact null and
void (Tafari 1995). As a result the group functioned primarily under the banner of
the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and to a lesser extent under the banner of the Ethiopian
Orthodox Faith, while still pursuing the objectives of the Ethiopian World Federa-
tion, which was the migration of New World Africans (who in this case were
Rastafarians) to Shashemane, Ethiopia (Tafari 1995).
The Twelve Tribes of Israel house is distinguished by the following
practices and beliefs:
First, that each member should read a chapter of the Bible daily, and must
finish reading the complete Bible in three and a half years.
Second, that the number twelve is pivotal. There are twelve tribes men-
tioned in the Bible, as well as twelve disciples. There are twelve signs of the
Zodiac and in fact this house believes that there are twelve human tendencies and
faculties (Barrett 1997).
Third, that each person entering the movement is given a name based on
the month in which he or she was born, and which corresponds to the tribe to
which they are associated. Thus April corresponds to the name Reuben and is
associated with the color silver. May is Simeon and is associated with the color
Gold; June is Levi whose color is purple; July is Judah, whose color is Brown;
August is Issachar, whose color is Yellow; September is Zebulun, whose color is
pink; October is Dan, whose color is blue; November is Gad, whose color is Red;
December is Asher, whose color is gray; January is Naphtali, whose color is green;
February is Joseph whose color is white; and March is Benjamin, whose color is
Fouth, that like the Jehovah's witnesses and the Unification Church,
there is a belief that the chosen (who are to live in God's kingdom) are limited to
Ffth is their foundational belief that Jesus Christ was manifested in his
second coming in the person of Jah Rastafari, Haile Selassie I'
Sixth is that repatriation is a distinct objective of the organization.
Seventh, that marijuana is a religious sacrament.
Eighth, is that (albeit to a much more limited extent) the Twelve Tribe
house still acknowledges Vernon Carrington, otherwise known as Gad-man,2 as
the founder of the house.
Ninth, members of this house unlike the other two major mansions do not
adhere to the Nazarite/ Nazarine vow, ( Numbers 6:5). 3
Tenth, unlike most of the other mansions of Rastafari, a monthly reggae
music session is almost a ritual.
Eleventh and very distinguishing characteristic is that this house has no
racial barriers. Its membership consists of all races.
Twelfth and equally distinguishing feature is that men and women have
equal roles in this house. In fact this house has been considered the trend-setter for
Rastafari in terms of women's equality within the movement (Barrett 1997).
The Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress (BoboShante) House
This house, e established and founded by the venerable Prince Emmanuel,
also has the distinction of being a highly organized and disciplined house. When
its Shanty-Town head-quarters on Spanish Town road was bull-dozed during the
destruction of Back-O-Wall in 1966, the congress relocated to Davis Lane in
Trench Town, Kingston (Tafari 1995; Barrett 1997; Chevannes 1994). They were
then forced to move elsewhere in Trench Town until finally in 1972, in the face of
more bulldozing, they moved to Bull Bay in the Parish of St. Thomas where this
their main camp (often referred to as Zion Hill) still remains today. Boboshante
camps outside of Jamaica are located in Trinidad, the Bahamas and the United
The Boboshante are outwardly easily distinguishable from other Rastas,
by the wearing of tightly wrapped turbans, long flowing black or white robes and
sandals (Chevannes 1994). Generally speaking all male Bobos are either "proph-
ets" or "priests." The function of the prophets is to reason, while the function of the
priests is to conduct the services. Their religious services are arguably closer to
revivalism than those of other Rastafari houses in terms of the greater exuberance
that goes into the singing, drumming and dancing (Chevannes 1994) The women
and the children are seen to be subordinate to men, (Chevannes 1994). In fact
according to Chevannes (1994) the place of all females is below that of males,
regardless of age. As a "King-man" the male child is held up as being superior to
all females, even though they are referred to as "empresses." For Chevannes
(1994) any subordination of women that exists in the Rastafari movement is
greatest in the Boboshante house. He writes that:"women are confined to looking
after children and performing other household chores such as cleaning and wash-
The BoboShante belief system is cenered on the Holy Trinity which for
them consists of Prophet, Priest and King. The Prophet is Marcus Garvey, while
the "High Priest" is Prince Emmanuel, and the King is Haile Selassic I. Interest-
ingly enough, however, Prince Emmanuel is perceived as divine by his followers,
referred to by many as being Jesus himself, while Haile Selassic is regarded as the
father ( Chevannes 1994). In fact the researcher was further informed that Prince
Emmanuel had previously been King Menelik II of Ethiopia and therefore the
grandfather of Haile Selassie (Priest X, 2000). Tafari (1995) writes: "the Bobos
promote the spiritual supremacy of Selassie I the King, the Pan-African philoso-
phies of Garvey the prophet, and the ceremonial churchical continuity of Em-
manuel the High Priest."
Another belief firmly entrenched in the Boboshante house is that of
Black Supremacy (Chevannes 1994). According to Chevannes (1994:179) Prince
Emmanuel in one of his discourses remarked that Black supremacy was a must, for
this was one race that no other could produce. In addition that the white man was
evil, for any book you picked up depicted Lucifer as white and that white philoso-
phy could carry the Black man nowhere. In an account of one of Prince Em-
manuel's sermons, Chevannes (1994) writes that the Priest exclaimed: Esau and
Jacob represent Black and white. The Black man is God.....So you see only we is
savior of the world." Then the High Priest went on to discuss Jeremiah, Chapter 8,
"It refer to great Britain, America, all of them. We used to
leave Jerusalem and go to the Gold Coast to pick up Gold just
like that. When the White man come and saw it, oh my! They
would kill us out!..The white man is Satan. Satan is able to
create images, but his images do not have life like God's."
Generally speaking this mansion is regarded as being the most structured,
organized and disciplined in comparison to the other major mansions in the
The Nyahbinghi Order
This Mansion is the oldest of the previously mentioned in that it has its
roots strongly connected to those of the vintage Rastafari (Tafari 1995). The
Nyahbinghi order is generally regarded as the most orthodox mansion within the
broader Rasta movement and is variously known as the House of Nyabinghi,
Theocracy Reign Ancient Order of Nyahbinghi, the Theocratic Government of
Rastafari, Haile Selassie I, and even the Theocratic assembly (Barnett 2000).
The term Nyahbinghi according to Campbell (1987:72) came from the
anti-colonialist movement of Kigezi in Uganda which called for death to Black
and white oppressors. The University of the West Indies Report, (Smith et al
1960) details that on the 7th December 1935 the Jamaica Times published an
account of the Nyahbinghi Order in Ethiopia and the Congo. According to this
account in the Times, the Ethiopian Emperor was head of the Nyahbinghi Order,
the purpose of which was to overthrow the white (Italian) domination of Ethiopia,
by racial war. According to the University Report (Smith et al, 1960) the term
Nyahbingi came to mean in Jamaica, for many Rastafari, death to Black and white
oppressors. Those who were in accord with this ideology quickly adopted the title,
Nyah-men (alternatively spelt as Niyamen). What is clear from the University
Report (Smith et al 1960) is that Leonard Howell's followers at Pinnacle were
perceived by the researchers to be the most prone to violence of all the Rastas in
Jamaica; they further argue that from1933 Howell had been preaching violence,
thus they surmise that it was mainly Howell's followers who adopted the name,
Nyahmen, and who appropriated a countenance that was consistent with the name.
Howell's followers are also credited by the University Report (Smith et al 1960)
to have been the first dreadlocked Rastamen (locksmen) in the history of the
movement, appearing on the scene with the second installation of the Pinnacle
camp in 1943. However, according to Chevannes (1995), the first dreadlocked
Rastamen were those of the Youth Black Faith movement, who took on this
appearance in about 1947. In weighing both accounts this researcher proposes that
there is validity in both, on the basis that it is highly possible that both the Youth
Black faith Movement and the Howellites were inspired by the Mau Mau who
spearheaded the revolt against the British colonial powers in Kenya. This perspec-
tive takes into account that much of the early history of Rastafari is derived from
oral testimonies and is thus subject to distortion, as Chevannes so astutely points
out.(1995) However, while Ras Boanerges (Bongo Wato), one of the founders of
the Youth Black Faith has given testimony that his organization was the first to
start wearing dreadlocks, this writer feels that there are too many accounts of
Howellites who used to stand guard over the second installation of the pinnacle
camp, having dreadlocks, to be discounted. What we do know is that by the early
1950s the wearing of dreadlocks starts to become visible among the Jamaican
Rastafarian community and this very noticeably coincides with the prominence of
the Mau Mau in Kenya. Was this merely a coincidence? I think not is the simple
answer here. Chevannes (1995) in his account of the origin of Dreadlocks posits
that the adoption of dreadlocks for the early Rastafari Brethren was in keeping
with the lunatic image of the outcast or derelict. This author disagrees for two
reasons: 1) the Youth Black Faith Movement was based in Kingston, the most
congested part of Jamaica and therefore not an area that was conducive to being an
outcast or derelict. 2) The YBF members were characterized as being revolution-
ary, aggressive and militant, which was more consistent with the warrior symboli-
zation of dreadlocks that was being actively propagated by the Mau Mau. Early
accounts of the YBF show none of the retreatist or reclusive traits exhibited by
In terms of the structural significance of the YBF mansion to the Rasta-
fari movement as a whole, McPherson (1996) details the historical beginnings of
the Youth Black Faith Movement which he clearly posits as the birth house of the
Nyahbinghi house or mansion. According to McPherson (1996), it was the early
1940s when a relatively young Ras Boanerges (a.k.a. Bongo Watu or Sons of
Thunder) came to Kingston for work and initiated with his brethrens, Brother
Philip (Pan-handle) and Brother Arthur, the Youth Black Faith house. The YBF
sought to revolutionize the Rastafari movement of that time, and orient it in a
direction other than what they saw as the wayward direction of the older leaders
(Leonard Howell, Joseph Hibbert, Hinds, Dunkley). They were critical of Hib-
bert's Masonic orientation, Howell's Kumina cosmological orientation,
Dunkley's somewhat orthodox Christian slant, and particularly critical of Lovell
Williams'(Brother Louv's) Coptic mansion, whom openly scorned the wearing of
dreadlocks, (Mc Pherson 1996). Most importantly, they went beyond previous
popular conceptions of Haile Selassie I being the second coming of Christ,
declaring him as the Almighty himself. The YBF movement went even further
than the Howellites who declared Haile Selassie to be God in the flesh, by
declaring him as the entire Trinity, (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) all embodied in
one. (In fact much is made of Haile Selassie's name by the present Nyahbinghi
mansion, which translated means power of the Trinity.) I. Jabulani Tafari (1995),
Interestingly enough, connects the Nyahbinghi mansion indirectly to the Howel-
lites, writing: "with each scattering of the Pinnacle camp, (the first occurred in
1941, while the second occurred in 1954), many new Roots groups with their own
leaders sprung up. The largest and most enduring of these roots groups evolved
into the mansion of Rastafari that is known today as the Theocracy Reign
The Nyahbinghi house in general terms has rules of conduct which are
determined by the theocratic laws of the Bible. Because Nyahbinghi Rasta identify
as Israelites, the laws for behavior prescribed through much of the Old Testament
apply (Nicholas 1979). For instance the wearing of uncut, unkempt locks for
instance is prescribed by Leviticus 21:5 which reads:
They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they
shave off the corer of their beard, nor make any cuttings in
It is also supported by the Nazarite vow which is detailed in Numbers 6:5 which
All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor
come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in which he
separateth himself unto the lord, he shall be holy, and shall let
the locks of the hair of his head grow.
The vegetarian diet of the Nyahbinghi is also determined by Leviticus 11:41-42
And every creeping thing that creepth upon the earth shall be
an abomination; it shall not be eaten. Whatsoever goeth upon
the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all four, or whatsoever
have more feet among all creeping things that creep upon the
earth, them ye shall not eat; for they are an abomination.
The Nazerite vow from Numbers 6 is also considered such that Nyabinghi do not
eat grapes, dried or moist, or anything else that grows from the vine tree. For
instance Numbers 6: 3-4 reads:
He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall
drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither
shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or
dried. All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is
made of the vine Tree, from the kernels even to the husk.
A controversial practice among the brethren and the sistren of the Nyahbinghi
house is that they do not attend funerals, even if it is their close kin such as their
mother or father, and in general do not concern themselves with matters of the
dead. This is justified by that part of the Nazarite vow which corresponds to
Numbers 6:6-7 which reads:
All the days that he separateth himself unto the lord he shall
come at no dead body. He shall not make himself unclean for
his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister
when they die, because the consecration of his God is upon his
In genera, the laws of the book of Leviticus coupled with the Nazarite vow of
Numbers 6 determine the laws of conduct in the Nyahbinghi house. Living a
lifestyle in which one strictly adheres to these biblical (Mosaic) laws of conduct is
known as livity in the Nyahbinghi house, and is the ideal way of conducting
oneself. In fact some brethren ague that one's commitment to livity should super-
cede all other considerations, that is, as a person who has taken on the vow of the
Nazarite, a holy lifestyle is of utmost importance; a lifestyle which engenders
separation from the ways of the west, and to the Lord, God, Jah Rastafari (Barrett
1997). This has created some disagreement in the house in terms of the degree that
one should be disconnected from the mainstream society of the West (Babylon).
The Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church
The Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church emerged in Jamaica as one of the
splinter groups of the Ethiopian World Federation (Barrett 1997:238) during the
1940s. The founder of the movement was Louva Williams a carpenter's son, who
devised the theology and doctrines of the church. Affectionately referred to as
Brother Love by the Coptics, Louva Williams was well known for his estab-
lishment of theological dialogues among men of his church accompanied by Ganja
smoking. He also participated in reasoning sessions with Rastafari outside his
church such as at the Count Ossie Rastafari congregation of December 1949,
which took place at Wareika Hill in Jamaica. The Coptic church started at Moun-
tain View Avenue in Kingston and drifted from one place to another in Kingston
until 1976, at which time it moved to White Horses, in the Parish of St Thomas.
When Louva Williams died in 1969, there was a temporary break up of the church
until the arrival of a young Jamaican, George Baker Ivy who struggled to reassem-
ble the scattered brethren. Ivy was the first elder to admit Whites into the Camp,
and in fact encouraged disaffected Americans to come to Jamaica and learn the
ways of the church (Hiaasen 1981). Ivy died mysteriously in 1970, at which time
Laurenton Dickens, Keith Gordon and Walter Wells came on the scene. When
the church was formally incorporated, Keith Gordon served as its Bishop, Lauren-
ton Dickens as its chief elder and Walter Wells as an elder.
A key characteristic of the Coptic Church was that it had adopted
Rastafarian-like-beliefs without accepting the divinity of Haile Selassie I (Barrett
1997). For the Coptics, the Rastafari Holy Trinity is that of man, the herb and the
word (Respondant, Olsen 2000). Rastafari for the Coptics means Prince of Peace
and in their opinion this was the Ethiopian title bestowed upon the first Christ. The
fact that Haile Selassie had this title before he was crowned does not for them link
him to Christ except for lineage. They recognize that Haile Selassie is of a
Solomonic dynasty that links him to King David, and therefore to Christ, but for
them he is not divine, he is not the second coming of Christ. Other key charac-
teristics of the doctrine are beliefs that Zion is actually located in Jamaica, as
opposed to Ethiopia; that Jesus which they pronounce Jes-us is a living God,
embodied within all men and that attaining this state of self-perfection requires
constant prayer and the smoking of herb. For many of the Coptics (particularly the
white ones) Christ came back in the form of George Baker Ivy, a Black man who
was crucified a victim of his teachings in Jamaica, not in Jerusalem. Marcus
Garvey is a pivotal figure for the church and is regarded as a prophet that paved the
way for the development of the Coptic movement through his influence on Louv
A continuous stream of hippies, primarily from South Florida, visited
this church ever since the leadership of George Ivy and underwent a conversion
process. These hippies returned to South Florida as priests of the movement and
set up a branch of the church at Star Island, Miami Beach, Miami. Thus the church
now had two headquarters, one in St Thomas, Jamaica, the other at Star Island,
Miami Beach. In the late 1970s the Star Island group had risen from rags to riches
and were thus able to return to Jamaica as an entrepreneurial group, buying up
large amounts of land all over the island. They became large farmers, growing
primarily marijuana and employing many Jamaicans. On some of these large
properties airstrips were built to receive the planes of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic
officials who flew from Miami to visit their farms in Jamaica. Interestingly enough
the original Jamaican founders of the church have faded into the background, as
the American branch have garnered all the media attention, both in Jamaica and
the United States, in response to their their more visible association with the'holy
weed' Of key note was the newspaper that the Miami based movement used to
publish known as the Coptic Times, distributed both in South Florida and Jamaica
in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Of key interest is that the church's most dominant doctrine was the
sacredness of marijuana, as opposed to the divinity of Haile Selassie I, as is
expected for Rastafari houses (Barrett 1997). Although the church, just as mem-
bers of the Ethiopian World Federation, believe in the kingship of H.I.M. Haile
Selassie I, recognition and respect from the other Rastafari houses has not been
forthcoming because they do not uphold the divinity of H.I.M. (Barrett 1997). In
fact Barrett (1997:240) writes that although this movement has close doctrinal ties
with the Rastafari movement, it is not a true Rastafarian organization, as true
Rastafari believe in the divinity of Ras Tafari. This writer agrees with this assess-
ment. At the time of writing the movement continues in the U.S. and Jamaica
(Brian Olsen 2000), but with a decidedly low profile. Many of the original
American members of the Coptics are now dispersed all over the United States;
many are presently residing in Iowa.
Doctrinal Diversity within the Rastafari Movement
In the Rastafari movement there is a significant amount of diversity in
terms of doctrine and philosophy because of the various mansions (or houses) that
exist. This arguably is due to the individualistically oriented mode of self presen-
tation and outlook for the Rastafari members (Edmonds 1998). Because of the
diversity within the Rastafari movement there is much debate concerning, what
determines whether one is Rasta or not? Even the most popular Rasta symbol,
dreadlocks, has become a source of contention in the movement, in terms of
whether one must have dreadlocks to be considered a Rasta (Morgan Heritage,
1999). It is worth noting that for some houses such as the Nyabinghi house, the
Boboshante house, dreadlocks are compulsory, whilst in the case of the Twelve
Tribes of Israel house dreadlocks are not compulsory. In fact this house in particu-
lar is known for its open door policy (Tafari 1995). Thus there are Indian, Chinese
and White members (Tafari 1995: 139), besides the Black membership. There are
dread-locked members, beardmen members and comb-headed members (those
who wear neither beard or locks); there are Ital members who do not eat meat or
use salt or dairy products and low-tal members who do (Tafari 1995). Because of
the extreme amount of diversity within the Rastafari movement, it is hard for the
movement to obtain consensus on any issues. An illuminating example is that of
the politically charged issue of reparations. The Boboshante House put a great deal
of emphasis on repatriation, they are adamant in fact that repatriation should come
before reparations. That is that the prioritization of effort should be towards
repatriation. For them the focus should be on traveling to the Motherland (Africa)
above and before anything else. (If there is anything approaching consensus
among Rastafarians it is regarding the notion of repatriation.) Reparations then,
although not completely dismissed by the Bobos, is regarded as potentially a
diluting force, in terms of its application of energies towards achieving particular
goals. One Boboshante respondent, priest-X, remarked to me, man shall live by
the sweat of his brow, in response to the whole issue of reparations. The implica-
tion here for the ethnographer, was that reparations represented to priest-X a
handout/dependent mentality, one that he thought was not well suited to the
In the case of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, things seem to have turned
around completely. Although they were probably the most politically active man-
sion of the Rastafari movement in the 1970s, they have now become the most
apolitical by not being actively involved in any major political, social or economic
projects. (Tafari 2000, Mutabaruka 2001). For instance though some members
empathize with the idea of reparations they are not actively agitating for them
(Barnett 2000). According to one former Twelve tribe member they have effec-
tively been watered down to a one-love, peace and love, don't worry be happy,
type of organization, (Mutabaruka 2001).
Close inspection of the Coptic mansion reveals their focus being mainly
spiritual, with little or no concern for political matters, (Forsythe 1995). In fact it
seems that their only political concern is the legalization of marijuana. This should
be of no surprise as the herb is essentially the focal point of this organization
In the case of the Nyahbinghi house, one need only refer to the recent
Rastafari initiative on reparations that was executed by Rastafari legal council in
Jamaica. (A letter demanding Reparations was submitted to the Queen care of the
Jamaican Government in 2002. Despite the non-commital response from the
Queen's office in early 2003, this political initiative by the Nyahbinghi mansion
should be duly noted. The Rastafari legal council is headed by, Ras Miguel Lorne,
attorney at law and one of the leading councilperson of the Nyabinghi house in
Jamaica. What seems to be apparent to this author is that defacto it is the Ny-
abinghi house which is heading the reparations struggle in Jamaica.
Where things get particularly interesting as regards the Rastafari move-
ment, is in the matter of the divergence in theological doctrine that exists between
the various mansions. For the Boboshante House, there is a Trinity conception in
which H.I.M. Haile Selassie I is considered to be the Almighty, Prince Emmanuel,
the founder of the mansion, is considered to be the Black Christ, and Marcus
Garvey (otherwise known as the prophet) is seen to be the reincarnation of John
the Baptist. For the Nyahbinghi mansion, the entire Trinity, (Father, Son, Holy
Spirit), is embodied by Haile Selassie I. Much is made here of the translation of
Haile Selassie I's name, 'The Power of the Trinity.' For the Twelve Tribes of
Israel there are two competing perspectives at present: 1) Haile Selassie I is the
second coming of Christ that the Bible refers to in the Book of Revelations, 2)
Haile Selassie I is the comforter, the Holy Spirit, or as popularly conceived by
many of the brethren as having the same spirit coursing through him as Jesus
Christ of Nazareth did 2000 odd years ago. This argument has been posited,
interestingly enough, with an implicit collusion with orthodox Christianity,
namely that the Rapture alluded to in the Book of Revelations has not occurred
yet. In the case of the Coptics, only the Kingship of Haile Selassie I is recognized;
there is no notion of him being divine.
Having explored the diversity within the Rastafari movement in terms of
the various doctrines and ideologies of the various mansions, it should be noted
that there are still some features that give the movement a semblance of cohesive-
ness. One obvious feature of all the seriously regarded mansions of Rastafari is the
belief in the divinity of Haile Selassie I. (The Coptic mansion is considered by
many to be marginal to the Rastafari movement.) Another feature is the centrality
of Africa in their world conception; that is the notion that Africa is the source or
origin of all humanity; or at the very least the acceptance that all Black people are
African (Ethiopian), despite their ethnic origins. What leads from this is the notion
of repatriation; that is the concept that as an African one should strive to get to
one's original homeland, "Mother Africa." Significantly Rastas see their life in the
West as identical with ancient Israel's deportation and exile in ancient Babylon.
Most Rastas argue that the new Zion is in Africa, specifically Ethiopia, because it
is there that the Ark of the Covenant is located (Forsythe 1995; Tafari 1995).
Rastas often explain that originally the Ark of the Covenant was kept in Jerusalem,
but that Jah, (God) through Solomon's first born Ethiopian son, Menelik I, ran off
with the Ark back to Ethiopia (Forsythe 1995). Rasta folklore has it that King
Solomon had long had a vision, in which he told his priest Zobok, of how god
would depart from Jerusalem to Ethiopia (Forsythe 1995). Summarily, Repatria-
tion for Rastafari means going to Africa to settle; going to the promised land,
considered to be Zion. Having said this, there does exist within the movement
disagreement regarding the location of Zion. Some Rastas locate Zion in Jamaica,
others do not associate Zion with any particular physical place, but rather with a
spiritual and psychological condition of being redeemed; or to put it another way
a condition of restored peace and wholesomeness. In other words finding one's
true self as a result of following the path of Rasta (Forsythe 1995).
It should be clear to see at this point that the Rastafari movement is a
multi-faceted one, and not the uniform, homogeneous movement many people
conceive it to be. Because of the polycephalous, decentralized, and multi-man-
sional structure of the movement there is little consensus on many things, but there
does remain a common core, that of Haile Selassie I and Ethiopia as an important
place on the globe. An additional note should also be made of Marcus Garvey who
although not as revered to the same extent as Haile Selassie I by the various
mansions of the movement, save for the Boboshante mansion, is still held un-
doubtedly in high esteem, (even by the Coptic mansion). For this author a central
driving force that runs throughout the whole Rastafari movement and effectively
binds it together, is the desire or need to reconnect or stay connected to that
African essence that lies within all of us.
1. There presently exists differing perspectives among twelve tribe brethren with regards to Haile Se-
lassie's divinity. Some now consider Haile Selassie to be the comforter, that is the Holy Spirit
or of the same spirit as Christ rather than the second coming of Christ. The argument here be-
ing that the rapture of which the book of Revelations in the Bible talks about, has not transpired
2. It should be pointed out that Gad-man is not presently as revered and respected as he once was in
the past, when he was considered to be the undisputed leader and prophet of the mansion.
3 Wwe find members who do not have Dreadlocks ( regarded as a covenant) upon their head. (Mor-
gan Heritage who are firmly entrenched in the Twelve Tribe tradition distinctly expressed this
dimension of the movement in their hit tune, "You don't have to be Dread to be Rasta," re-
leased in 1998).
4. Because of their strong attachment to reggae music, it should be no surprise that many of the promi-
nent Rastafari Reggae musicians are and were members of this house. Bob Marley and Dennis
Brown, for instance, were some of their most revered members.
5. A special point should be made regarding the term Nyahbinghi, pronounced (Ni uh bin gee) as it is
presently used in the contemporary Rastafari movement. This term in fact has a series of over-
lapping meanings in that it refers variously to the island wide religious gatherings of Rasta
brethren and sistren at which communicants "praise Jah" and "chant down Babylon," as well as
the three part drum ensemble on which the chants are composed, to the African derived dance
drumming style performed at these events, and to the corpus of chants themselves (Nicholas
Barnett, Michael. 2000. Rastafarianism and the Nation of Islam as Institutions for Group-Identity
Formation among Blacks in the United States: A Case Study Comparing Their Approaches.Dis-
sertation. Florida International University.
Barrett, Sr., Leonard E. 1997. The Rastafarians. Boston: Beacon Press.
Campbell, Horace. 1987. Rasta and Resistance: From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney.Trenton,
NJ: Africa New World Press, Inc.
Chevannes, Barry. 1994. Rastafari: Roots and Ideology. New York: Syracuse University Press.
Chevannes, Barry. 1995. The origin of the Dreadlocks. In Rastafari and other African-Caribbean
Worldviews. Ed. Chevannes Barry. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Edmonds, Ennis. 1998. The Structure and Ethos of Rastafari. In Chanting Down Babylon. Eds. Mur-
rell, Nathaniel S., Spencer, William D. & McFarlane, Adrian D. Philadelphia: Temple Univer-
Forsythe, Dennis. 1995. Rastafari. For the Healing of the Nation. New York: One Drop Books.
McPherson, E.S.P. 1996. Account for the Spread of the Rastafari Religion Throughout the World. In
The Culture-History and Universal Spread of Rastafari: Two Essays. Ed. McPherson, E.S.P.
New York: Black International lyahbinghi Press
Nicholas, Tracy. 1979. Rastafari: A Way of Life. New York: Anchor Press. Doubleday.
Owens, Joseph. 1976. Dread: The Rastafarians ofJamaica. Kingston, Jamaica: Sangster.
Smith, M.G., Augier, Roy. & Nettleford, Rex. 1960. The Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica.
(University Report). Mona, Kingston, JA.: University of the West Indies.
Tafari, I. Jabulani. 1995. A Rastafari View of Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Kingston, Jamaica: Great
Company JA. Ltd.
Morgan Heritage (Reggae Group). January 29,1999. Lecture Event. F.I.U. Miami, Florida.
Mutabaruka (Rastafari Dub Poet) April 21, 2001. Lecture Event. Ft Lauderdale, Florida.
Olsen, Brian. January 19, 2000. Telephone Interview.
Priest-X. March 21 2000. Liberty City, Miami, Florida.
The Folk Roots of Jamaican Cultural Identity*
In young nations, such as Jamaica, history is a mix of cultures which have
been stratified in layers of society, shaped by the experiences of folk life and
modem society, moulded by metropolitan influences. Jamaica is a well-defined
model of a dual society: two Jamaicas blending at points of contact.
Traditional identities are created from the perceptions and realities which
characterise Jamaican folk life. This presentation will deal with both perceptions
and realities, tracing dominant influences from birth to mature periods of life,
outlining the experiences which shape, and the characteristics which define the
cultural identity, as influenced by Jamaican folk culture.
Care and Discipline
The journey of these experiences begins with birth.
Folk wisdom creates its own traditional technology characterized as a
mix of pseudo-scientific and ethno-religious lore. Food and drink are widely
applied categories of traditional beliefs and practices throughout the many stages
Traditional cultural practices, for instance, do not promote the use of
fresh milk from the cow for essential protein content to assist brain development
in feeding infants. To compensate, there are substitutes in the form of milk powder
and soya in packaged form. However, the use of "bush" teas, lacking protein
value, is still practiced, although declining.
Health clinics are addressing this problem for expectant and nursing
mothers by some distribution of milk powder. To the extent that milk powder is
available through small sachets distributed commercially and, to some degree, in
public clinics, the nutritional requirements for brain development in the formative
stage of infancy, are now more adequately covered. The alternative to milk is soya
which is becoming more widely available and provides essential proteins and is
reasonably affordable to mothers in low-income households. Cornmeal porridge
is still the traditional complementary food for young infants, though declining.
The optimal option, exclusive breastfeeding, falls victim to traditional
theories of child nutrition. Breastfed infants are less likely to suffer from gastroen-
teritis and more likely to acquire a healthy body weight. However, many Jamaican
mothers supplement breastfeeding with water, formula or porridge quite early.2
Only 47% of mothers still exclusively breastfeed at six weeks in 2003.3 Supple-
mentation of breastfeed often begins in the second week of life, and is linked to
lower rates of weight and height gain. Recent studies associate poor growth in
infancy with lower levels of cognitive functioning, particularly in language devel-
Moreover, commercial baby food has ceased to be a viable option to
low-income purchasers in the traditional society. Public clinics can only afford to
provide the most malnourished with nutritional supplementation, including for-
mula. It is no wonder that a familiar failing in the nutritional practices of early
childhood is the use of half-measure portions of commercial brands of feeding to
save money. This becomes one part solution, one part problem, at a time when full
provision for nutritional needs is required.
Certainly, the possibility for a fully productive education is impaired
when the brain is unable to reach its full potential. From this weak beginning, 75%
of graduates from secondary schools become educationally lost, failing the school-
leaving examination,5 graduating without any base to build a career and unpre-
pared for participating in a fulfilling life. The consequential impact in terms of
inadequate brain development begins from this primary stage setting the base for
educational underachievement and behaviourial problems in childhood years and
beyond. A trait of cultural identity begins to take form.
Early infant training the over-indulged, demand satisfaction child
The newly born infant begins life in traditional folk society with a pattern
of indulgence in feeding, whether breast or bottle. Suckling is on demand. Feed-
ing schedules are not practiced by nursing mothers. An expectation of satisfaction
on impulse as a personality characteristic is fostered by this feeding regime.
Weaning, particularly in poor rural areas, extends well beyond the cus-
tomary term. Urban mothers observe the more rigid scientifically prescribed
standards for child rearing. In some cases, it is possible for infants to be suckled for
1 /2 to 2 years in the rural areas to supplement other feeding, particularly where
there is less pressure on time. On the other hand, in inner city settings, where there
is more demand for time, earlier weaning from the breast or bottle is more widely
Toilet training too is unregimented. Bed wetting and diaper soiling are
indulged for longer periods than the regular course in more regimented societies,
until naturally developing body functions and growing social rebuke establish
appropriate habits over a gradual period of time.
This lack of regimentation contributes to another personality trait, satis-
faction on demand, impulsiveness, which begins to emerge in the early mould of
The Aggression Trauma
The over-indulgence of affection lavished on the infant in early child-
hood, is in sharp contrast to the realities of the more aggressive world into which
young children are introduced in the post-weaning, pre-school period when the
infant now becomes recognized as a more responsible being, able to know better
and to understand more.
Aggressive reactions to misconduct involve corporal punishment as part
of the harsh training regime at this stage, based on the parental view: "him fi learn
better now" (he should know better now). This implies that the young child is now
of age to do better.
An ambivalence emerges at this stage. The earlier relationship of lavish
affection and over-indulgence in the training of primary functions which charac-
terised infancy, is now subject to sharp rebukes, rejection and even harsh treat-
ment. The family is no longer only a source of love but suddenly, an agent of
discipline and, at times, tear. The recently released UNICEF report The Situation
Analysis of Jamaican Children highlights the widespread nature of Jamaican
corporal punishment, both physically and psychologically: 72% of Jamaican par-
ents use methods to discipline their children which are characterized by some form
The confidence of self and the security with which children should be
building at this stage, is weakened. This shapes insecurity in the maturing adult
leading to submissiveness and lower levels of achievement, or alternatively,
hyper-aggressive, "ignorant" responses.
Scarcity and Struggle
Space as a Competitive Influence
As the child advances beyond the stage of constant parental care and
observation, it is introduced to a competitive environment in a wide range of
Whether rural or urban, household space is limited. One large bed
generally accommodates several family members in the poor households. Even
space under the bed, or on the floor, is used for sleeping at times, in some very
poor households. In less basic conditions, enjoyed by most, space is still tight.
There is a lack of adequate rest on over-crowded beds where protruding elbows
and knees make sound sleep difficult. This lack of adequate physical rest reduces
energy levels in the day leading to low productivity and irritable responses, which
prejudice family and social relations.
Insufficient household space is no different from insufficient food, par-
ticularly in poor inner city households. The position is openly stated: "is one time
a day pot cook a yard" (cooking is done once daily). In both farming communities
and inner-city homes this is usually a heavy evening meal after returning from the
field or work; in urban life, the early evening meal is the most certain.
Inner city children face a struggle for yard space, which spills out on to
the streets. Insufficient food, overcrowded schools and inadequate desk space add
to the competing demands of an aggressive environment producing aggressive
responses. Rural environments, which have less struggle for food and yard space,
show less aggression than inner city areas where competition for scarce benefits
generates on-going aggressive responses.
The aggressiveness of this competitive environment is tempered only by
the widespread recognition that there is a need to share. The generosity of sprit of
the poor, who, in Jamaica, are truly "their brother's keepers", is legendary. In
rural Jamaica, gifts of food are available; and in inner-city communities, neigh-
bours adopt the helpless poor. Generally, distressed persons are sheltered even by
storing personal belongings in cramped quarters on traumatic occasions, such as,
the loss of a home by fire or other means.
Determination to aggressively and competitively overcome the odds of
scarcity with challenging responses, particularly in inner-city settings in which the
odds of encounters are higher, portray another cultural trait in the making, tem-
pered only by a tradition of caring.
The School Experience: the 'Sufferers' vs. the 'Strugglers'
The continuing indulgence of children dictates a relaxed approach to
school attendance. Appreciation that every day in school counts is limited by the
economic necessity for children to abstain from school on certain days of the week
to take care of younger ones while the older ones gather "loads" of produce to sell
at weekly markets. Mostly, the realities of poverty contribute to abstentions
because of the inability to find school fees and the cost of lunch, school books,
transport, and other items.
Greater abstention yet, results from a factor, which has no justification
economically. Attendance records indicate a well-established pattern of approach
to attendance. At the beginning of the week, attendance is low. On a weekly
basis, the pattern shows maximum attendance on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with
some decline on Thursdays and a dramatic fall off on Fridays, particularly in rural
schools. Urban schools have overcome much of the Friday fall-out as parents
prefer to see children in the safety of a regulated school environment than unsuper-
vised at home. The same pattern prevails for the term and the year, growing from
a low level, peaking towards the mid-period and tapering off as the end ap-
The basis for this pattern, which reduces average annual attendance to
some 70%, or less, of enrolment, is a continuation of the indifferent approach to
formal regimes of conduct, which are rationalised strictly on the basis of situ-
ational needs and impulse satisfaction.
The rationalisation is:
at the beginning of the week, term or year: "school jus' open. Dem don haf to go
after the mid-period peak:"school soon finish. Mek dem stay home and do
And "is de las' day. Them can wait til Monday," or next term, or next year.
This same pattern prevails through working life for workers who are not
in an enforced work regime. Monday are used to "mark out de work", Tuesdays
and Wednesdays for full work days. Thursday show reduced output because
Friday is "pay bill" and there is little work at all. Another trait of cultural identity
becomes clearer the indifference to regimes of conduct continues beyond the
earlier relaxed pattern of indulgence in early childhood training.
Children who perform, despite this crucible test of indifferent attendance,
go on to be achievers. Parents recognize by 11 years of age whether the child's
"head can tek learning" Every sacrifice is made to encourage and support those
performers identified in this category, even to the greater neglect of the others.
After secondary school graduation, many of these achievers, particularly
females, if not able to afford tertiary education immediately, will work for years to
accumulate funds to enable them to satisfy their ambition to complete a tertiary
course. This is testimony to the assertiveness and determined approach learned
earlier in the competitive environment.
The obstacles experienced in the development of the child, screens out
those with capability by a process of survival of the fittest. The consequence is a
comparatively small, but qualified, segment of the labour force, who survive the
trauma of contrasts in the child rearing experiences of love, hostility and lack of
regimentation, able to cope with the competitive environment of growth. They
become part of the cadre of upwardly mobile achievers who will merge into the
growing middle class, evidencing another trait of cultural identity which shapes
the strugglerr", compared to the non-achiever, from which evolves the "sufferer"
Impulse and Individualism
The Creative Being and the Individual
Consistent with the indulgent nature of child rearing practices and the
informal pattern of family life, the corresponding absence of regimentation allows
creative forces to blossom. Indeed, creativity becomes an essential skill in the
wider arena of daily life and contributes to the "individualism" of Jamaicans in
The arts are the most widely recognized area of folk talent in Jamaica, but
so too are the stylistic flourishes evident in sports, religious form, trading patterns
and, overall, the individualistic lifestyle of the traditional culture.
Jamaica's contemporary music is a product of the raw talent that enables
untrained, unlettered composers to produce an impressive range of rhythms, lyrics
and melodies that have achieved excellence and international recognition. Jamaica
is one of the few countries in which the artiste is singer and, almost without
exception, the composer.
Although borrowing from the storehouse of traditional rhythms and even
some of the folk music repertoire, Jamaican contemporary music began as an
indigenous version of boogie and rhythm and blues popular in the southern United
States, 50 years ago. From these origins, unique Jamaican rhythms emerged the
ska, rocksteady, reggae and, more recently, deejay and dancehall music. They
created new beats, which, while fitting easily into international musical forms, still
retained a Jamaican identity. Jamaican popular music, as a result, is no longer
treated as ethnic or "world" music. It has crossed over into the mainstream in its
own right, as reggae. Four years ago, in assessing the outstanding achievements in
popular music for the 20th century, the BBC selected Bob Marley's album,
Exodus, as the "Album of the Century" and Time Magazine, Marley's One Love
as the "Song of the Century" No greater tribute could be paid to the creative
talents of Jamaican traditional society.
In fact, hip-hop music, which is dominant in areas of North American
popular music today, owes its origin to impromptu interjections of rhythmic
rhymes in pop songs popular in Jamaica. This emerged as an art form in Jamaican
folk culture 35 years ago, as deejay and dub music. King Tubby, U-Roy, and King
Stitch popularised the style in the 1960s, which was later introduced to North
America, where it became hip-hop.
Jamaican religious cult music is also a significant influence on Jamaican
contemporary music, particularly with the current popularity of the 'One Drop'
rhythm. African dance and musical heritage, fused with the songs of fundamental-
ist religious groups in the United States, provide the musical setting of the
Afro-Christian spiritual religions which exist in Jamaica. Their unique form
provides for creative, improvised, personalised self-expression, rather than regi-
mented worship. They believe that the individual can communicate directly with
the supernatural through spiritual possession. This liberation of expression un-
leashes creative ritual dancing, a unique spiritual language of self-expression by
speaking in tongues peculiar to each individual, and the ability to improvise
melodies while in a state of spiritual possession.
Indigenous Jamaican creativity also manifests itself in painting, ceram-
ics, sculpture, dance, poetry, culinary and other art forms.
Malachi Reynolds, "Kapo", the renowned intuitive sculptor and one of
the earliest exponents of intuitive painting, drew heavily on the experiences of the
indigenous religious cults of which he was one of the most prominent leaders.
Others painted landscapes and people, all focusing their creativity on indigenous
settings related in artistic styles that would have been at home in Africa, although
they had no real experience of Africa.
The artistry continues in sports, and is most evident in cricket and
football. In cricket, the batsman who exhibits a stylistic poetry in motion with the
bat, is a true-to-form Jamaican version of orthodox cricket in classical play. The
stroke play nurtured in a creative culture, carries a stylistic stamp that almost
commands applause for the stroke play, moreso than the runs.
Jamaican footballers are somewhat reluctant team players, except at the
most professional level. They are moreso individual artistes capable of a ballet
exhibition with the ball, weaving a path through bewildered opponents. These
stylisations have been bequeathed and extended over the decades, from "Fairy
Boots" Alcock sixty years ago, to Ricardo "Wily Boo" Fuller today.
The Jamaican tradition of excellence in sports is supported by local
studies which assert that permissive child-rearing practices often result in motor
precocity, or, in other words, superior muscular coordination.8 This superiority
sets the stage for achievers to participate in sports as the arena for overcoming the
challenges of a relaxed upbringing and the assertiveness acquired in dealing with
a competitive environment.
The flurry of creative exhibitionism and pattern of excellence in achieve-
ment, which characterises Jamaican players, is a well-recognized symptom of the
cavalier treatment and permissiveness often accorded serious matters. Sometimes
this is referred to as a lack of professionalism. But generally, it is moreso recog-
nised as the lack of a regimented approach that reflects a need for the gratification
of uninhibited self-expression in response to the urge for individualism to "free-
up" the creative man and the drive to overcome the competitive challenges of
sports. These traits permeate other areas of traditional life.
Creative individualism is so enshrined in the cultural identity of Jamaican
folk society that central to the folklore is the hero of all individualists: Brer
Anancy, the spider, the Ashanti folk hero. Brer Anancy is a small spider, who
continually 'battles' with the physically imposing Brer Tiger and wins! He uses
his brain and his conmanship. The creative resourcefulness and trickery of Anancy
is legendary not only in lore, but in the broad reality of folk life and has penetrated
the national psyche. Dr. Rebecca Tortello summarises it well "The fertility of
Anancy's mind contradicts the popular depiction of the slave as the good-for-noth-
ing "Sambo" Identification with Ananse counteracts the stereotype of blacks as
lazy, docile and irresponsible characters given to lying and stealing" 9 Analysis of
folktales from other Caribbean islands confirms the distinction of Anancy's status.
In Haiti, one of the most popular folk heroes is Bouki, who is the tricked one, often
falling prey to the antics of his brother, Malis.10 Jamaicans, on the other hand,
emulate the trickster.
Anancy's influence is readily recognized in business practices too. Take
the Jamaican music industry. Prior to the emergence of an industry, labels were
often removed from imported records for use on sound systems to hide their true
identities. The records without labels were given Jamaican names and a limited
number were sold for exorbitant prices to individual sound system operators.
Sound systems are highly amplified music sets operating mostly, but not exclu-
sively, in inner city yards for dances. They are the forerunners of today's discos.
These unidentifiable records were sourced and imported by a few large sound
system operators who held exclusivity through anonymity of the source and the
label. A good catalogue of exclusive hits enhanced the reputation of the sound
system. Tom the Great Sebastian, Duke Reid, and Coxsone, were among the
sound system pioneers who built exclusive catalogues of hits and their own
reputation in popularity by promoting the element of mystique.
After the tunes had their exclusive runs, they were re-introduced on the
same or original labels and sold to the general public at reduced prices. Where
else would such a creative scheme be devised from an every day trading transac-
tion?! Beating regulations of every type with creative ingenuity is a national
pastime with the stamp of approval of the folk hero role model, Brer Anancy.
Individualism is the resource base and the crucible by which, in many
forms and many ways, self-expression is shaped into successful art, spiritual
liberation, athletic elegance, ingenuous trade practices and cunning devices of all
Pride & Prejudice
Respect is due to man. The individual need for respect is a compelling
characteristic of the cultural identity of Jamaican traditional society. The memory
of slavery and colonialism shows itself in the growing demand for respect. The
social order, itself derived from the plantation, prescribes the elements of respect
projected to the slave:
These are some of the distinctive attributes, which prevail in folk society. But it is,
in fact, in urban life that the dynamics of interpersonal relationships are undergo-
ing the most radical change, in the lanes and on the corners downtown and,
correspondingly, in the corridors of influence uptown.
'Respect due" is highlighted in the narrow circle of "corner youth" (yard
gangs) and their dons (community leaders). But is also a broader protest in
defiance of the traditional exclusivity of the forces of rank, privilege and oppres-
sion. It is an expression of black consciousness promoting self-worth and racial
pride. This process is still emerging, with growing momentum. Yet, there co-exists
with the respect for blackness, the celebration of a paradoxical version which has
its own proverbial dynamic. Buju Banton best expresses the retention of the
centuries-old immutable order: "Mi love mi car, mi love mi bike, mi love mi
money and ting, but most of all, mi love mi browning."'l
Shade-ism is a reality in Jamaica. The colour of one's skin is a marker for
jobs, beauty, intelligence and the list goes on and on. The preoccupation with skin
shades is a legacy of slavery and colonialism. This legacy, or historical memory,
has greatly affected the definition of Jamaica. The phenomenon of lightening skin
colour by "marrying-up" or bleaching, terms like "pretty" hair, stem from a system
of slavery and colonialism that saw everything associated with the master and,
therefore, everything European, as better.
The understanding of colour sometimes gets confused in the eyes of the
beholder. A little four year old boy encountered my wife at a Christmas treat she
was giving, two years ago:
"Yu come from China?" he asked.
"No", she replied, "I am from Jamaica, just like you. I was born in St.
He studied her quizzically and responded in awe, "Lawd, a so dem do yu
Underlying the terms established by plantation society of wealth, learn-
ing, occupation, class, colour and marital status is the finality of the deeper
understanding that ultimately it is the respect that they bring which is of value.
In a narrow sense, respect is a powerful dynamic, so powerful indeed,
that an act of "disrespect" can bring death. Male power rests on the power to
demand respect, particularly from peers and women. The style of dress, forceful-
ness of language, 'bling-bling' adornments, possessions of wealth, "ranking"
status and number of children are symbols of respect among inner city youth.
Rural men are far less conspicuous and dominant.
Recall the use of aggression in the training of young children and as a tool
in the struggle for space. They learned from then that strength and power com-
mand respect and create success in the competitive environment of traditional
No profile of the psyche of Jamaican youth and young adults, particularly
in the inner city, can ignore the demand and struggle for respect as one of the most
dynamic feature of cultural identity.
A sense of justice is also fundamental to the Jamaican psyche. There is
good reason for this. Respect and justice generally go hand-in-hand. "Is injus-
tice"; "is disadvantage", "is disrespect" are familiar cries. There is a sense of a
natural law defining justice in Jamaican folk society which demands that "respect
The strength of this pervasive sense of justice is one of the true stabilizers
in Jamaican life as well as an effective dynamic which guarantees the democratic
process, for though the crime be unjust the penalty must be just. Extreme anger
often determines otherwise, but a deep sense of justice is moreso the rule than the
exception, in the Jamaican psyche.
This natural law of justice incorporates a legal basis, but also involves a
wider concept of social justice which itself includes all manner of wrongs: bad
roads, lack of water, poor schools, uncaring medical attention are as much an
injustice as a violation by the state, because it is an offence against those who have
neither wealth nor privilege to protect themselves.
Through the eyes of folk society, the concept of injustice does not fully
include the plight of the rich and powerful. It is felt that they must fend for
themselves. In under-privileged Jamaica where crossing over to a better life is an
obstacle course of shackles, injustice is anything that makes things harder, while
so many enjoy life. This sets the tone for the wide gap between the two Jamaicas.
Faith and Order
Stability and the Informal Family
Family structure envelops all these experiences. Characteristically, the
family, in the traditional setting of folk society, is a loosely structured extended
network, generally with matriarchal leadership.
Rural households are more cohesive than their inner city counterparts.
Residentially, "family land" often provides availability of space for many mem-
bers. Where there is no male grandparent, "granny" is the household head; often
she is "mama" to young grandchildren for whom she cared when the biological
mother, often called "sister" by her young offspring, was freed to continue school,
obtain work, or find a better partner. It is not unusual for uncles and aunts to
substitute for grandparents, depending on circumstances.
The matrifocal family, in its nuclear and extended form, accounted for a
significant portion of slave households.12 Within this loose, extended family
structure, members come and go but the family remains a strong bond of affiliation
and security. M.G. Smith defines this as its own family type the extra-residential
family unit.13 This ubiquitous desire for stability, especially regarding family
relations, can be considered one of the core characteristics of traditional culture.
The extended network provides a means of creatively and flexibly responding to
crises. When the husband or male friend leaves, the matrifocal network fills the
gap, money and time-wise. It is also often the case that no family is present. In
2001, over 117 thousand children (under 20) were living in households where they
were either a distant relative or no relation to the head of the household.14
The greatest test of family stability is coping with the reproductive
prowess of the itinerant father, which continues to uphold an illegitimacy rate of
more than 70% of all births. He was the tactical weapon of the slave masters who
wanted profligate men to increase their numbers of slaves and did not encourage
settled families. This pattern has become socially imbedded. Men continue in
practice what they were encouraged to do for over 300 years. Profligacy has been
adopted by men as a sign of endorsement from the past, and measure of Jamaican
The large extended rural family is wider than its inner city counterpart
which is narrower and less cohesive. But the structure, rural or urban, is loose
enough to accommodate the rearing of children by different family members,
including informal adoptions. The concept allows many Jamaicans to informally
categorise themselves as being "raised" by a particular person or family.
The family pattern is symptomatic of the informal folk life which can
respond creatively to the crises of itinerant fathers, part-time adolescent mothers
and the shifting mix of family members. The matrifocal authority of the female
head of the household maintains an order which speaks to the strength and
stability, rather than to the weakness of family life, a strong characteristic of
Women the Backbone of Society
Mothers hold more than a very important place in matriarchal Jamaican
culture. The female-headed household is almost dominant in Jamaica. It is esti-
mated that about 45% of all households are headed by females.16 Moreover, these
women continue to provide support to their children and relatives throughout their
lives. According to one recent study by Dr. Joan Rawlins, the "empty nest" is a
rarity among working-class and middle-class women. Ms. Rawlins found that over
50% of the middle-aged women in her sample had adult children living with
them.7 Sizzla emotes it well: "Thank you Mama, for the nine months you carry
me through the pain and suffering..."8 But it is not just nine months, it is often
all her life.
Such long-term commitment to the family, points not only to a commit-
ment to stability, but represents an aggressive coping strategy, which is carried
even further. The burden of domestic pressures does not prevent many women
from pursuing careers which often require further academic study. The core
determination to achieve is part of the assertive coping strategies of the challeng-
ing and competitive upbringing which make many women symbols of achieve-
ment in Jamaican folk society: as bastions of the church, backbone of political
support, determined players in civic organizations, achievers in scholarship and a
source of great stability at any work place. As such, they are more than women or
mothers; they are a resource base of cultural identity.
Religion and Faith
Folk culture is truly manifest in religious experiences. Folk culture is also
testament to the long historical retentions of Africa moulded by slavery and
colonialism in Jamaica. African ancestors came to the Caribbean involuntarily
and without cultural artefacts. The culture that survived was intangible music and
ideas of the spirit world. Much of folk culture stems from this memory and an
attempt to understand and cope with the new situation.
To older folk, in particular, faith in traditional forms is the guiding factor
in many areas of life. Particularly, religious faith is a fundamental guiding princi-
ple in character formation from infancy. The role of religion is both a stabiliser
and base strength to meet challenges and overcome problems. It is one of the given
bedrocks of established traditional folk life.
Faith is of medicinal value also, whether pharmacologically or spiritu-
ally. Although scientific medicine has been displacing traditional healing prac-
tices, there still remains a body of prevailing wisdom which prefers the "doctor
shop", or home remedies, concocted from herbs or medicinal plants, compared to
the scientific mysteries of contemporary medicine.19
In the 1950-1960 period, seemingly innocuous little pills or injections
introduced by medical doctors made little headway against the more robust tradi-
tional formulae of folk medicine, although, with time, they have become far more
widely accepted. In recent years, folk medicine has begun to establish its own
bonafides. Pharmacological companies are beginning to recognize the value of
ancient medicinal wisdom with the result that biotechnology has isolated a number
of medicinal herbs of great value which are now the base of accepted prescriptions
for the treatment of medical ailments. Notwithstanding the success of scientific
treatments, the strength of recognition of folk medicine reinforces an abiding faith
that, "belief kills and belief cures"
Resting on this article of faith is the effectiveness of spiritual therapy in
folk society. Widely different applications exist among Jamaica's spiritual
churches and practitioners from the laying of hands by faith healers; the use of
spirits to do good and evil; the "tables", "baths" and balmss" of the balm yard; the
potions, charms and "guard rings" of the obeah man (witch doctor); the wisdom of
the secret and forbidden Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, to the prescriptions of
"high science" in the outlawed publications of de Lawrence, are all testament to
the varieties of faith in traditional Jamaican society.
A friend of mine, an attorney, who was very pleased with the outcome of
a very difficult case on which he had used his best legal skills, was gratified to hear
the accused, on being freed, proclaim the genius of the "man" responsible for his
release. But the attorney's pride was utterly deflated when the accused ventured
further. "If me mother nevah go 'a country' (obeahman) fe me, I would a nevah get
Faith dwells both in Jehovah God as well as in the African spirits of the
balm yard. Sunday morning is Jehovah's time; on Sunday nights, some of the
same believers "jump revival" Revival is the most widespread indigenous cult
group. There is no conflict: different spiritual powers are needed to deal with the
different problems of life and in Jamaican folk culture, there are more than enough
justifiable reasons to embrace God, the Trinity, Archangels and Prophets, as well
as the spirits of the dead.
Religion is more than faith. To the victims of slavery, religion was the
glue pasted over different tribal beliefs, practices and languages. Christian mis-
sionaries zealously uprooted the people and re-planted them in Christian society.
From the Christian values, beliefs and rituals, came a new order which fitted
compatibly with the subservient experience of colonialism and the role of the
messianic leader as saviour. None express this fatalism and subservience as
incisively as Lloyd Best, one of the deep thinkers of Caribbean society.
"It is a kind or irony that through the part which Western
Christianity played after Emancipation, the New Testament
should have become so potent an instrument in recreating here
in the West Indies, the chiliastic spirit of dependence and expec-
tation. The explanation lies in the fact that the total West Indian
experience of slavery, colonialism and other forms of exploita-
tion parallels with old Jewish experiences, which have led to the
call not for leaders, but for prophets. The infallibility of the
Prophet has the most serious implications. By the principles of
the prevailing mythology he can never be wrong. Since in real
life men do make mistakes, this view of reality must then be
mystique. The manipulation of men implies the manipulation
of the truth. The practice of Prophecy breeds Orwellian dou-
blethink. It becomes increasingly difficult to apprehend reality,
and finally the people are confirmed in an endless nightmare in
which they are led blind from despair to despair. In their delu-
sion, they keep up the wail for a messiah; but in fact they are in
Babylon for good."
This characterisation has not deterred traditional Jamaicans who, after generations,
continue to hope that there is a better life to come and that it will descend from
above. It is testimony to the dominant base of stability in the pattern of life in
Jamaican folk society in which believers will wait and wait for the promised day
and entry into the promised land. There is no more powerful characterisation of
Jamaican folk culture than this expression of abiding faith.
Juxtaposed with the solemnity of Jamaican folk culture is its humour. No
analysis of the Jamaican identity as it prevails in folk culture, is adequate without
acknowledging the light-heartedness, often mistaken for happiness, the sense of
humour that portrays the cultural characteristics of earthy folk life.
It may arise in the descriptive names of people and places: a one-eye
man is known as "ace-blank"; a short man as "drop short" Some pet names are
too descriptive for polite references; some places, too frankly described for com-
fort. A surveyor asked a farmer through whose hut, high in the Blue Mountain, the
line separating the Parishes of St. Thomas and Portland passed, in which Parish
would he prefer to be recorded as a resident? "Put me eena St. Thomas", the
farmer replied, "too much rain deh eena Portland".
Those who live in traditional Jamaica have never had the assertiveness of
a free people able to re-define their identity. Indeed, since emancipation, apart
from the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865 which tried to define new entitlements for
the poor, the assertiveness of re-defined concepts of race, colour, workers' rights
and nationhood, had to await the strident advocacy of black consciousness of
Marcus Garvey 50 years later, followed by the island-wide protests for workers'
rights led by Alexander Bustamante and the struggle for political reforms cham-
pioned by Norman Manley, to peel away some of the layers of self-denial and
The role of folk culture in defining the traditional society of Jamaica has
been an unwitting social statement of being, a celebration of the African aesthetic
in religion, medicinal practices, food and drink, song and dance, gestated under
slavery, which characterises downtown as different from uptown, differentiates
urban and rural and defines the difference between a more Eurocentric culture and
an African heritage, mirroring the split between the traditional and modem socie-
ties of the two Jamaicas.
The traditional society is a cultural well-spring of historic wisdom, a
cradle of heritage, the crucible of an entrapment of poverty out of which has
emerged artistic and athletic giants and the rewarding achievements of those who
were forged by determination to overcome the hardships of life's experiences.
Others seek respect from learning and earning, despite the shortcomings
of a society which has never succeeded in educating the poor. They commit
themselves to achievement and self-pride through work. Their success have
stamped the identity of Jamaicans as able to achieve, capable of rising with
excellence to the top in the arts and entertainment, athletics, scholarship, enter-
prise, science, politics and almost a candidate for the Presidency of the United
States. The creativity and achievements of many have imprinted the face of
Jamaica on the map of the world. To them, every "respect is due"
But most Jamaicans in traditional society stamp their characteristics of
cultural identity as a people of deep and abiding faith in the ancient wisdom of the
roots of their heritage and the divine guidance of their Christian God, securing a
stable space in life where they live with respect and in respect. It is they who have
planted the strongest, deepest roots of all in the culture of folk society.
The wealth of religious denominations in Jamaica indicates a wish of folk
society to have a religious experience that respects who they are, whether it be the
black monarchical God of Rastafari, a personalised liturgy as in the "spiritual"
churches, or as even an indicator of high social status as is demonstrated by
membership in the "established" churches. It should be no surprise that the 2001
World Christian Encyclopaedia lists Jamaica as having approximately 173 de-
nominations, operating in 5000 congregations, excluding the indigenous revival
cults numbering over 50,000 members. Jamaica could qualify as one of the most
'churched' countries in the world!
But there is a counter culture of growing depth and strength. It is com-
posed of those who have strayed from the stabilization of their families and have
abandoned the faith of their fathers. They have become rootless and, therefore,
ruthless, relying only on their upbringing to guide them in the use of might to
secure respect and right at any cost because in their isolation some see themselves
as "done de'd already"
This dynamic segment is to be found among young people who have
shallow religious roots, detached from civil society, distanced from the traditions
of the family, impatient with frustrating economic barriers and deprived of social
space, creating their own order rooted in their own values and imperatives. They
translate this into a way of life honouring respect, power, money and sex and,
where necessary, the retribution of violence. They exist in a counter-culture which
has broad support without theology, ideology, or even social commitment. It is
individualistic and impulsive, deeply grounded in an expressive and creative self.
As such, it carries a powerful base of cultural release which has solidly captivated
a generation of youth as a renegade route to respect. The indicators of success
emphasise material wealth. This culture allows those with few resources to access
the "bling-bling" indicators of material success, ensuring that they can never be
ignored. Dancehall is the musical expression of these realities.
In a broader sense, there is another lifestyle which is identified as the
"Jamaican way", it compels every Jamaican overseas to long for the day of return
to the "rock" to enjoy greater leisure, even indolence, as an escape from hardship.
And if everything else fails, there is always the cunning of Brer Anancy
or the fighting spirit of Brer Tiger, to struggle for space and a way out.
Jack Mandoora, the sooth sayer of Jamaican folklore, says, "me no
choose none" Jack Mandoora is wrong. In all this mix of many traits that identify
folk Jamaica culturally, many Jamaicans will be identifiable because they chose
one which mirrors them or attaches them to the strong and persuasive roots
embracing the traditional folk society; in this, they will find their true cultural
Notes and References
NOTE This paper was delivered as the Inaugural Lecture of The Most Honorable Edward Seaga,
O.N., P.C., Distinguished Fellow, School of Graduate Studies and Research, May 12, 2005,
The University of the West Indies Mona Campus. This is a work in progress. It is a much ex-
panded version of an earlier presentation entitled The Contribution of Folk Culture to Cultural
Identity which appeared in Caribbean Quarterly, Special Issue : The Plenaries Conference on
Caribbean culture in Honour of Rex Nettleford, Vol.43, Nos. 1&2, March-June 1997. The pa-
per presented at the Inaugural Lecture continues to be a work in progress to be expanded to
I. Kirsten Kurzewski and Julie Meeks-Gardner, "Breastfeeding Patterns Among 6 Week Old Term
Infants at the University Hospital of the West Indies", unpublished.
2. The University Hospital of the West Indies even banned 'milk-nurses' in an effort to 'de-pro-
mote' formula feed and promote better ante-natal education. Kirsten Kurzewski and Julie
Meeks-Gardner, "Breastfeeding Pattems Among 6-Week Old Infants at the University Hospital
of the West Indies", Unpublished.
3. Ministry of Health, Summary Report of Clinical Activities -Breastfeeding Status, Kingston, Ja-
4. Sally Grantham-McGregor, "Developmental Assessment of Jamaican Infants", Developmental
Medical Child Neurology, 1971, Volume 13, pages 582-589
5. Statistical Institute of Jamaica, 200 Population Census Jamaica, 2001. Kingston, Jamaica.
8. Sally Grantham-McGregor, ibid..
9. Dr. Rebecca Tortello, "Is Ananse Mek It", The Magical Spider-Man: The Metamorphoses of
Bredda Anansi, Unpublished Dissertation, Harvard University, 1991.
10. Liliane N6rette-Lewis, When Night Falls. Kric! Krac! Haitian Folktales. Edited by Fred Hay. Li-
braries Unlimited: Englewood (Colorado, USA), 1991.
11. Buju Banton, "Love Mi Browning", Mr. Mention, Penthouse Records, 2001.
12. The term "slave households" excludes single person households. In the sample used by B.W.
Higman from the Old Montpelier, New Montpelier, and Shettlewood, out of 130 families (with
children), 70 were some version of the matrifocal family. See B.W. Higman, "Household Struc-
ture and Fertility on Jamaican Slave Plantations: A Nineteenth-Century Example", Caribbean
Slave Society and Economy: A Student Reader, New York: New Press, 1993.
13. M.G. Smith. "Introduction" in My Mother Who Fathered Me: A Study of the Families in Three
Selected Communities in Jamaica by Edith Clarke. Reprint. Jamaica: University of the West In-
dies Press, 1999. xxi.
14. Statistical Institute of Jamaica, 2001, ibid.
15. Patricia Anderson, Janet Brown, Barry Chevannes and Arthur Newland. "Caribbean Father-
hood: Underresearched, Misunderstood", Caribbean Families. Diversity Among Ethnic
Groups, Edited by Janet Brown and Jaipaul Roopnarine, Westport (Connecticut): Ablex Pub-
16. Table A-3 Percentage Distribution of Households by Household Size, By Region, By Quintile,
and Sex of Head of Household 2002, Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions 2002. Planning In-
stitute of Jamaica & Statistical Institute of Jamaica, 2003.
17. Joan Rawlins. Mid-life and Older Women: Coping with Family Life in Jamaica. St. Augustine,
University of the West Indies 1997.
18. Sizzla, "Thank You Mama", Da Real Thing, New York: VP Records, 2002
19. Julie Meeks-Gardner, D.Grant et.al, "The Use of Herbal Teas and Remedies in Jamaica", West
Indian Medical Journal, Volume 49, No. 4, 2000.
Sone, Thomas H. Rasta IsCuss A Dictionary of Rastafarlan Cursng. Oak-
land: Masala Press 2003, pp. 96.
Thomas Slone's Rasta is Cuss begins with a 19 page introduction which
gives a brief but useful history of Rastafari[anism] and places Rasta cursing within
its proper historical, religious, and social contexts. The dictionary proper takes up
some 58 pages and covers the treatment of approximately 218 entries ranging from
common words, to proper nouns, to phrases. In the words of the compiler, the
lists those words and phrases which have been transformed into
maledicta by the Rastafarians, rather than those that have been
transformed from perceived maledicta [...] Also listed are those
Jamaican Creole maledicta, which have been used against Ras-
tafarians. Some of these have been turned into benedicta by the
Rastafarians (p. 13).
Slone states that: 'With the exception of quotations, I have attempted to
use the same orthography as Cassidy and Le Page (1980)' (p. 18) Even a cursory
examination of the entries will reveal that the author is not really aware of what is
referred to as the Cassidy/Le Page orthography, since the head items appear not in
the writing system developed and used by Cassidy in his Jamaica Talk (p. 433)
which was later employed in the Dictionary ofJamaican English (DJE) to record
the forms for which they had only oral attestation. The reader may consult the
'General Introduction' to the DJE to get a detailed outline of the orthography in
question. What Slone actually uses is what is referred to as "eye dialect" where the
words of the "non-standard" language are written based on the orthography of the
standard and some words are spelt slightly different to signal to the reader that they
While the compiler makes use of the second edition of Cassidy and Le
Page's Dictionary ofJamaican English (1980), blatantly absent is any reference to
Allsopp's Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage (1996) which is much more
recent and includes more Rasta related terms than Cassidy & Le Page.
Variations in spelling and pronunciation are often subsumed under one
form such as in the case of politicians / politicks / polytricks/ /polytricks /
politricksians / polytricksters. The compiler makes no distinction between the
forms which mean 'bad and corrupt politics' and those which denote 'the per-
son(s) who practice this kind of politics' The dictionary would have been im-
proved if the author had listed all of the forms separately in their own alphabetic
order and had cross-referenced them to one main entry where the item in question