Natty Dreadlocks: A Study of the Youth Black Faith and the Bobo Dreads
Rebecca Eschert - 4/22/98
The most outstanding characteristic of the Rastafarians is then- hair. Although other people view dreadlocks as disgusting, smelly, and as a symbol of craziness, the Rastas see the dreadlocks as part of who they are and what they stand for. The longer and more developed their dreads are represents their status and their faith. They think of their hair as a crown, like the crown of their king, Halle Selassie, or to the main of the lion symbolizing male strength. The Rastas' crowns let people know they are rebelling against oppression and do not want to"fit in"with the people that view them as freaks. They started this trend to go against organizational life and challenge the social and religious norms that were implicated at the time. The Youth Black Faith and later the Bobo Dreadlocks made great contributions to implementing the Dreadlock trend and helped break away from the oppression they endured.
In the late 1940's, five brethren, guided by their love for the Rastafarian doctrine. got together to start what would become the Youth Black Faith. These five leaders held their own on the streets. They called themselves Brother Taf, Pete, Brother Firsop, Badaman and Watson. Kingston was expanding rapidly due to peasants leaving the rustic for urban poverty. Back-o-Wall had already entered into Ackee Walk next to the large May Pen cemetery and stretched farther south all the way to the seaside except for an intervening portion that the water commission owned. In Trench Town, also, slums filled up the area with footpaths and alleyways connecting them.
It was at one of these slums in Trench Town, Ninth Street to be exacts that Brother Taf and Pete lived. Brother Watson or Wato met with them there and they decided to work together. They began preaching and reached people in as far away places as St. Ann and Clarendon. They made their yard a camp where brethren came to hang out and stayed to listen and discuss. It was also said that the ganja, the holy herb, was sold and smoked here also. Places like Ninth Street were called herb yards and the idea of them had been around for a while. Ninth Street helped to start, however, a subculture that grew up around this particular one.
These camps had certain codes of conduct. First, one could not leave the camp before the herbs were consumed. Second, one had to pass the"kutchie"or cup from left to right. Third, one had to grace the cup before taking one's draw. Fourth, one emptied the cup when all the herbs were burnt out and NEVER BEFORE. Last, one had to have ,good behavior while in camp. Some of these rules were there to avoid attention from the police. Other African-Jamaican religions and East Indians probably influenced some of them. Wato helped organize the rules because lie had already spent time in another camp run by a Rastafarian named Gorgon before Joining Pete and the others. Wato's camp was the beginning of the Youth Black Faith.
The Youth Black Faith started in 1949. Its members were young and fiercely supportive of the doctrine. They revolted against the Revival tradition and obeahmen who burned candles and oils. The Youth Black Faith were against that since the Apostle John had declared Christ"the only golden candlestick". These young brethren respected their elder leaders but were looking for more active reform. They wanted to eliminate practices related to those of the Revival tradition. They wanted to distinguish themselves.
They were most passionate in denouncing traditional practices related to those of the earlier Revival traditions and upholding the right to wear a beard. The beards were quite an issue because, at that time, non-Rastas were afraid of bearded men. Wato wanted to go deeper into the prophetic doctrine.
As the Youth Black Faith grew in numbers, a new structure consisting of a chairman and a tableman replaced the leader, chaplain, and the secretary as they had previously had running the group. The chairman had the duty of the chief spokesman to .make statement as to whatsoever aim and office we have, to administrate to the congregation."In other words, he was the organizer and jah guide of all their meetings. The tableman read all the books that needed to be read because the literacy rate was not high within the group. Although they were under-educated, their organization made them well aware of what they needed to do and what they needed to know. They reinforced the Rastafari idea of being free to come and go based on one's conviction. Warrior or Dreadful were the names given to Youth Black Faith members who purged themselves of old Revivalist ways.
Every Wednesday night was prayer night. This was a duty and an obligation. Punctuality and conduct were taken into consideration and duties of Youth Black Faith members. In order to be in this group, one's faith had to be pure. If one was given the name of Warrior, it meant that their conviction was noticed and they were an accepted member of the Youth Black Faith. The title was earned.
Then"Bonogee"took the place of the title of Warrior. Bonogee was the name Jesus gave to the brothers James and John. It meant"sons of thunder". One who earned that name would be allowed to make critical remarks and inspire other members. He was one who was respected and looked up to within the Youth Black Faith. A Bonogee defended Youth Black Faith principles with conviction.
The Youth Black Faith helped to make ganja a central part of the whole Rastafarian movement. This was quite a risky and bold project to take under their control since the police activity had risen against it and it was more of a danger to be caught with it. The police looked to use ganja as a way to imprison the Rastafarians. Members were instructed not to carry their ganja on them. The Youth Black Faith looked at the situation with the police as oppression. The way they looked at it, ganja smoking was not a Crime. The Youth Black Faith's act of the institutionalization of ganja was in essence a battle against oppression and colonialism. (Chevannes pg. 157)
The Youth Black Faith were now starting to grow dreadlocks. At the beginnings of the group, while it was forming, dreads were not widespread. However, the members of the Youth Black Faith encouraged locks and bearded men were even thought to be the chosen ones who would repatriate to Africa. The biblical reference of the Nazarite vow of Samson they thought to justify it. It became an issue within the group members whether they should comb their hair or not. Non -Rastafarians considered dreadlocks a statement of declaring oneself an outcast and in opposition to Jamaican society. Some decided that they were essentially not like"combed men"in society so there was no reason to try and look like them. As their hair grew, Youth Black Faith members became more belligerent and argumentative. They lived for the doctrine and against existing society under any circumstances. They had no desire to blend in with the rest of Jamaica. Some members could not devote themselves that much to the Youth Black Faith and kept their hair combed. Thus the Youth Black Faith was divided into two different groups: the"House of Dreadlocks"and the"House of the Combsomes". (Chevannes pg. 158) In 1961, the leader of an unofficial government movement mission to Africa to investigate the possibility of repatriation was a Dreadlock. Before a decade had passed, the Combsomes were gone.
Now the group's leadership turned more open and democratic. They stood up for principles and spread the doctrine of the faith with more determination. The Bonogees or Dreadlocks had more enthusiasm in their quest against oppression by the whites in Jamaica. They had more of an interest in their purpose based on moral authority. They were getting stronger and together than ever before.
The Dreadlocks were also more aggressive in the way that they approached society. They also looked for confrontation. They were not afraid of the police or the law and seemed happy to show this. They were prepared to combat the law and anything else that got in the way of their goals to go against society, as they knew it.
An example of this new conviction happened in 1954 when three members of the Youth Black Faith were arrested in Trench Town for indecent language and refusing to give the constable their names. The case was tried at the Half-Way-Tree Court where the whole group was there behind the three that had been arrested to support them. During the court proceedings, two Youth Black Faith members called out"Hoop, Back them up!", and"Burn them! Fire! Burn!"When police surrounded the supporting members, they were beaten and locked up for contempt of court. Eighteen Dreadlocks were said to be arrested and when asked their names, they replied"Ras Rasses". (The Star, October 6,2021) The eighteen were detained for medical observation, and when they returned ,crave their names, this time as,"Ras Tafari". This time they were detained for eight days. Their final sentence was thirty days in jail or the fine of ten pounds. They all chose the thirty days and were said to have gone off cheerfully to start their sentences. (The Star, October 6, 2021)
This incident made the sounds such as the Rastas made incorporated into the Dreadlocks' ways of resisting the authorities."Fire"actually became one of the symbols of defiance in the Youth Black Faith movement and played a critical part in their ritual death dance. To call out"Fire!"was to signify hostile behavior. A moral victory was won in 1954. The Dreadlocks showed the authorities that they were not scared of them and would not back down.
Brother Anton had a vision that the Youth Black Faith should go on a march and on April 14, 1954, they did. They really had no concrete reason of protesting anything but they were always ready and even eager to come upon a confrontation. Three members carrying the red, green and gold banner and a woman carrying a picture of Selassie led them. All were told to carry a Bible. The police tried to stop them but the march would not let up. They ended up being hauled in to the station, all thirty of them.
The Dreadlocks' ways of dealing with their aim to go against the state was not always thought out to the fullest extent. They pushed on driven by their undying faith and determination to show their opposition to the political situation in the 1940s. They chose to be outcasts through their style, behavior, and way of life. Their battle was a spiritual one; they were fighting for freedom mostly of their hearts and souls.
The ritual of the"nyabinghi"came out of their spiritualness. The ritual dance, at first, was said to mean"death to white oppressors"but by the 1960s had changed its meaning to"death to black and white oppressors". (Smith et al. 1960, 7; my emphasis) (Chevannes pg. 164). This dance was actually introduced to the Youth Black Faith by a Combsome. It is a ritual for death-by-magic where the victim is represented by something consumed by fire while everyone who is there dances around it to drumming, This ritual was started around 1952 and would only be done in the presence of Rastafarians and nobody else. The chosen victims were always public individuals labeled as oppressors.
The Youth Black Faith viewed women in a peculiar way. They thought of women having evil sides. The women seemed to be more obsolete the higher up a Warrior got. Celibacy was encouraged by the Dreadlocks; they were against promiscuous behavior like Revivalistic traditions exhibited. Women were not even allowed to cook meals that Youth Black Faith members ate or participate in ritual smoking. The time when women were avoided all together was during menstruation. This is very much like primitive cultures such as Native Americans who were afraid of women during menstruation because they thought that the woman was not right at that time.
The Youth Black Faith, according to Wato, began the idea of placing value on the spoken word. They recognized how so many other people from different lands could speak and not be understood. They could not tell if a person from another origin was shooting them down in words because they could not understand what they were saying. Hence, the rastas came up with their own dialect so that it would be hard for others to understand them. This new dialect came out of a subculture that was undereducated and. to me, that is an amazing accomplishment. The Rastafarians were an amazing group of people who were led by their hearts. They advanced through their spirit and accomplished the unthinkable. Some examples of their way of speaking are"seen"meaning"yes"and"overstand"meaning"understand". They did not speak an entirely different language; they just added or subtracted on or from words. They wanted to retrieve or make new the lost African language that was taken from the slaves. Urban youths in particular spoke in this subdialect that the Youth Black Faith supposedly started. A lot of their way of speaking carries religious implications. The use of"I"is used in place of me or mine and is also the Roman numeral seen after Halle Selassie. The religious definition is that the Rastafari is part of God who is Selassie. Since Selassie was alive, the Rastafari is a living part of God or another"I". The"I"is substituted into many words also such as brethren being changed to"bredrin". You is translated to"the I"so as not to confuse you with me. Much of the Rastafarian way of speaking substitutes letters in words. It has a How to it and when hearing Jamaicans talk, I smile. It is such a unique dialect and for some reason sounds soothing to my ears.
The Youth Black Faith accomplished much in their creation. However, they resembled much of the Revivalistic traditions they were so against. They were more mainstream than they had planned to be and did not diverge as far from the existing traditions from the past as they had originally planned. They did contribute much to the Rasta way of life and developing a subculture against oppression. The Youth Black Faith added a new beginning and a new outlook to Rastafarianism but also had continuity without trying to with some of the Revivalistic traditions.
The group called the Bobo Dread show the most correlation with Revivalism, however. They are Dreadlocks but are different from the Youth Black Faith and other mainstream groups. Most Bobo live together in a commune. They are organized like Howell was and give rituals great importance.
Leonard Percual Howell has been said to be the first Rastafarian to appear in Jamaica. He started preaching that Jamaican loyalty should lie with the emperor of Ethiopia instead of with the English king. He moved back and forth from Kingston to St. Thomas urging that their one true king was Halle Selassie.
The Bobos' wear tightly wrapped turbans around their head-, and dress in black or white robes with sandals on usually. The Bobo respect other Rastafarian groups like the Youth Black Faith but aggressiveness is alien to them and they do their best to get along with surrounding communities.
They live in a small utopian society nine miles east of Kingston in Bull Bay. The Bobo call their community"the City on a Hill". The view of the sea is beautiful from their commune and buildings are painted red, green and gold. They are squatters on these lands.
Every Bobo says a prayer as he enters into the commune. Ethiopian National Congress is printed on the archway to the entrance. Right inside is a guardhouse where all material possessions are stored. Queen Rachel, the wife of Prince Emmanuel, and her son Jesus live among the Bobo. There is a temple in between the houses of Queen Rachel and Prince Emmanuel. The Bobo call Prince Emmanuel"dada". There is a meeting yard, a guest hut, and an area where women are sent when they are menstruating. There is also a circular shed where a table and benches are set up. In front of it a basin of water is raised above a patch of basil mint. There is also a towel that hangs on a post. This area is very much similar to a Revival seal and is sacred. Nobody is allowed to use the basin or the towel. All other buildings in the area are houses. Gungu peas are grown all over the area, which is the only plant except the calalu that the% plant in the rainy season. They plant the gungu peas because they are rich in protein and do not require much water.
Their leader, Prince Emmanuel, became the central figure in the Bobo Dread movement In the 1950s by setting up his camp in Ackee Walk. People that Joined him there were so inspired, that, after a week marched to Victoria Park where they planted a red, gold, and green flag. The Bobos remained at Ackee Walk until 1968 when they were bulldozed out. They were forced to three different places before finally settling In Bull Bay.
All male Bobos are called"prophets"or"priests"because they believe Prince Emmanuel to be their God. Prophets are the ones to have reason and priests are the ones to conduct services or"move around the altar". There is also a guard, keepers of the stores, cooks, managers of the delco plant and the comptroller who purchases supplies for the community in the Bobo commune. The women are subordinate to men.
The children attend school where they learn to read and write. When they misbehave the teacher threatens to tell Dada. This makes the children confess to what they did wrong and change their mischievous behavior. Dada is the moral authority and keeps social control. He is Just like his name signifies he is the father of the community. All adults look after all of the children in the community whether they are their children or not. It is not unusual for any adult to discipline any child. Strangers can discipline children, even, without their parents' getting upset. Children do not really have any rights in the Bobo community. The Bobo have reinstalled old rural values that have been lost in the urban life of Jamaica.
Females in the Bobo society are beneath all males in status and rights regardless of age. Women are required to cover their legs and arms. Their lives strictly consist of looking after the children and performing other domestic duties. Women also have to go into menstrual recluse when they are menstruating as I mentioned earlier. A woman is allowed to serve guests but never Bobo males. The males cook and serve. Women are allowed only to cook for themselves.
One Bobo, Prophet Stanley and his wife Gladys live a short distance away below the compound. He has been a Bobo for seven years and has never slept in the same bed or room as his wife. He will just have sexual intercourse with her and then leave. (Chevannes pg. 177)
A Bobo can be sexually active with his wife twelve out of twenty eight days and for the other sixteen days, she must hide away from other men. This is when women go to the"sick house"where other women tend to her domestic chores and take care of her needs. Women in the Bobo community are thought to be unclean for three months after they give birth to their babies and only a nurse attends to them at this time. Their husbands will usually leave the house during this"uncleanness". When something goes wrong in a Bobo man's life, it is usually blamed on his woman. Women are scapegoats in their society. Dreadlocks treat their women almost as bad as the Bobo, it is Just that the Bobo have more rituals concerning the evil side of women. Those who can resist temptation and remain celibate do so, because women are thought to be contaminating.
The Bobos believe in a Prophet, a Priest, and a King. Selassie is the King, the Prophet is Marcus Garvey, and the Priest is Prince Emmanuel. The Bobo believed the white man to be evil because they believed Lucifer to be white. They were aiming for black supremacy and believed the white man gave the name of Africa to Ethiopia or Jerusalem. They believed the black man to be the superior to all other races genetically.
They greet everyone by bowing with the right hand touching the left breast and saying"Blessed my lord". They also substitute the same saying, sometimes, for goodbye'' or excuse me". At sunrise, noon, and sunset. each Bobo prays facing east towards Jamaica and their King.
Services begin with drumming and everyone who attends must dress in a black robe. The altar faces east. There are songs and later ovations to their King, Prophet, and Priest. Every ovation ends with"Holy Emmanuel I Selassie I Jah Rastafari"'. (Chevannes pg. 181) There are then readings from the Bible and Emmanuel then shows up to bring the service to the end. After, dancing and singing fills the open yard.
The Bobo fast twice a week and on the first Saturday of each month. During this time, nothing passes through the lips and service is conducted from noon to six inside the temple. Males are on the right of the temple and women and children are on the left. The service consists of a lot of singing to the beat of the drums then scripture then singing again. Everyone is dressed in white. At six o'clock, Dada comes out to the left of the altar and breaks his fast by a morsel of bread. Everyone in the service then in turn breaks his or her fast. When everyone has done so, Dada comes out again and everyone faces east while singing and saying prayers. (Chevannes pg. 185)
The Bobo have a great relationship with the outside world for the most part. They have a special relationship with the local community. The Bobo invite people who live around them to come to all their festivities and celebrations. When visitors come to the Bobo commune, they are first seated in the hut and given fruits or supper if it is time for it. Flour dumplings, rice and peas, oranges, and ripe bananas are offered as well as bush teas, beer, and soft drinks. The Bobo do not drink the beer or soft drinks themselves because they do not drink out of bottles. The Bobo go out of their way to invite their neighbors over to eat and Join in their celebrations. Their neighbors, in turn, let the Bobo get water from their source so that the Bobo do not have to walk miles for it. The Bobo are respected, generally, more so than other Dreadlocks. The Bobo are hospitable, have manners, trouble nobody, and are a peaceful group of people. The Dreadlocks are not disliked; people just do not feel as positive about them on the whole as they do about the Bobo. The Dreadlocks say more indecent things and are more aggressive than the Bobo. The Dreadlocks appeared more wild and crazy than the Bobo. Many think that their flowing dreadlocks make them more radical. Some think that the Dreadlocks look indecent where as the Bobos are more refined. It is especially nice of the Bobo to be so hospitable to other people because their only legitimate form of an income is a broom manufacturing plant. However, they have been thought to grow ganja a also. There are many artisans and other talented Bobos but the only trade in their community is making brooms. This is because they regard themselves as Israel and when Israel was in captivity in Egypt, they only did one trade. The Bobo have a sense of being connected to each other.
In order to sustain their community, everyone does their part. Everyone has a place and everyone accepts his or her place. There is no envy that would corrupt their faith. Everyone accepts Prince Emmanuel and the word of him. It is a patriarchal society that keeps going on because everyone accepts that. Almost every one of the Bobos was Dreadlocks at one time. The fact that the Bobo society works so well must mean that all the Bobos are just so happy too not be in so much opposition with the outside community anymore. The Bobo are not aggressive at all like the Dreadlocks. They seem to remind me of the Combsomes that separated out of the Youth Black Faith. Many of the Bobo may be hiding from danger also. This would not be possible if they were still aggressive Dreadlocks. They would still be in the midst of all that tension that goes along with being a Dreadlock. There is not even an instance of a Bobo being arrested. The Bobo seemed to be the"saved"or the"born again"of the Rastafarian faith.
Although very different, the Youth Black Faith and the Bobo Dreads both have characteristics that amaze me. I respect The Youth Black Faith for going after their beliefs aggressively but at the same time, respect the Bobo for keeping to themselves. Both groups are going outside of societal norms and living a life that is meaningful to them. That, I believe, is very important and not easy to do. Neither group places much if any value on material possessions. There are so many people in this world that have almost lost their own soul. What I mean by that is that there are a lot of people who live their lives to get money. They do not even have their own beliefs because they will get a murderer off if it means that they can earn a quick buck. I have learned a lot about Jamaica, Reggae music, and Rastafarianism this semester. I have to say that I can understand why so many Rastas hated and probably still do hate white people. We have treated other races and cultures incredibly horrible in the past. I am glad that I at least have a chance to have taken this class and educate myself a little hit The only aspect of the Rastafarian faith that I do not agree with is the way women are regarded in their culture. Especially in the Bobo commune, women are treated like they are practically worthless and that they are servants. I do not understand how a culture that has lived through oppression can turn around and do it to their own people. It seems ironic to me. I do not understand the way that their heads work, however, so I guess I have no reason to pass judgement.
The Rastas have more faith than a lot of people in this world. Even though they were uneducated and made slaves by the white man, they fought back and lived their own ways of life outside of the white oppressive society. They were pushed around to the point where they fought back. I love how the Youth Black Faith members stuck together and gave their names as"Ras Tafari". That instance shows how they are all in it together. They are all Rastafarians and their real names do not really matter in their subculture
Rastafarians do not drink or use poisonous drugs for the most part. They smoke their sacred herb and hurt nobody in doing so. Ganja, to them, brings them closer to Jah. They do not smoke it to get all "fucked up"like people who use alcohol every weekend. Ganja is spiritual to the Rastas. It comes up from the earth and helps them to feel their true feelings. I think that we could all learn from the Rastafarians in some ways. I know that I have.
Ahkell, Jah, Rasta : Emperor Haile Selassie and the Rastafarians, Frontline
Barrett, Sr., Leonard E., The Rastafarians , Beacon Press, 1997
Barrow, Steve, the Rough Guide to Reggae , Rough Guides Ltd., 1997
Campbell, Horace, Rasta-and Resistance : From Marcus Garvey to Walter
Rodney , Africa World Press Inc., 1987
Chevannes, Barry, Rastafari : Roots and Ideology
Hausman, Gerald, the Kebra Negast - The-Book-of-Rastafarian Falth--fromEthiopia and Jamaica , St. Martin's Press, 1997
The Twelve Tribes of Israel: An Organizational Movement
The Rastafarian Movement has been one of the most important movements of our time. It has proved to us that it is possible to make lemonade out of the lemons that are dealt to us, and that violence is not the only way to deal with troubles or get what you feel you deserve. It has also provided a system of faith and following for over 700,000 loyal people. A Social, political and religious explosion with as few negative connotations as possible, Rasta is just about as good as it gets.
Like all religious trees, Rasta has branched out into a variety of sub-movements, such as Nyabinghi, the Ethiopian National Congress or Bobo dreads, and the Twelve Tribes of Israel, just to name a few. The Twelve Tribes are especially interesting because they believe in salvation for all races, whereas the doctrines of other Rastas are exclusive to Blacks, primarily because of the very roots of the religion: Whites making slaves out of them. While this idea may seem quite revolutionary, there are other aspects of this movement that are completely receded. Frankly, the faith resembles its influences of Christianity and Judaism more than Rastafarianism, in a lot of instances.
The purpose of this paper is to shed a little bit of light on the widely unknown subject of this interesting and persistent movement. First I will discuss the history of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, an ideal embraced primarily and whole-heartedly by the Jews.
The name 'Israel' comes from heaven. Most of us, when we hear the word ‘Israel’ think only of the Jews. But from the beginning they have had to share this title with a great many others, because in scripture the House of Israel consists of twelve tribes and the Jews are just one of those twelve.
Jacob was just an ordinary guy, living long before the birth of Jesus Christ. He had 2 wives who were sisters, and two slave-wives. Between them were born 12 boys. One night while these kids were young, an angel came to Jacob and they spent the entire evening wrestling. The angel was God. Suprisingly, God didn’t annihilate this mere human, and the match ended in a stalemate. God then changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which means, "rebel". Who else but a rebel would physically fight with the angel of God? He then told Israel about how important his twelve sons would soon come to be. Lo and behold, God was right. The sons grew to form large families, and so were to be entitled each a section of Israel’s land, as the way of the times went. However, two of Israel’s kids were not granted land-holding privileges. Israel adopted two sons of Joseph, making him one of the fathers of the future "Twelve Tribes", and Levi’s tribe was given the task of caring for the Israeli priesthood. After this little bout of mix-up, the Twelve Tribes were settled. The final roundup included Reuben, Judah, Simeon, Naphtali, Dan, Gad, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim, Manesseh, Asher, and Benjamin.
For a while, the tribes were flourishing in Palestine, but political and family drama, coupled with the horrors of "sin" (sin is a religious term meaning the act of doing something against God, or anything that is right) caused the nation of Israel to divide and eventually crumble. Attacked and taken away into foreign captivity by Assyria, ten of the twelve Hebrew tribes vanished from history. Soon, only a small remnant of two tribes remained in the Holy Land. The others had all disappeared -- melded into the genetic infrastructure of the human race. It is written that they were scattered to the four corners of the earth, awaiting a prophet to reunite them someday.
Then, a man named Vernon Carrington, a Rasta living in Jamaica, got a big idea. He happened to be a member of the local Jamaican chapter of the Ethiopian World Federation, Inc. This was not a sect of the Rasta religion, just a way of organizing the locals in Jamaica, Cuba, and Central America. He realized that he was the reincarnation of Gad, one of the original sons of Israel, and that his duty was to reunite the lost Twelve Tribes.
"I was being converted in 1961 and I read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation twice. But I was being sent, I was called and sent, resurrected and sent to do this work and when I read the Bible I strongly see that there is a gap that is there to be filled and I believe that I am one of them that send to do it Do the work." -Carrington
Now known as the Prophet Gad (Gad was one of the original sons of Israel), he proceeded to read a chapter a day from his copy of the Bible, The Scofield Study Bible. Scofield was an "alcoholic lawyer turned preacher", and a faithful one at that, but he and Gad both receive much criticism for his traits. Gad began to live his life in a different way, attracting attention from everyone around. When he was bothered about his new actions, he kept telling people to read a chapter of the Bible a day, and that they would see if what he was doing was right or wrong. He began to gain followers, but instead of declaring his new life a new religion, he claimed to be just trying to organize Rastas together and prepare them for repatriation.
Rastafarians had always used the Bible as the holy book of their faith, but not as intensively as this. Other Rastas use it for guidance, but Gad and his followers are using it to dictate their whole way of life. In fact, they believe that the way to salvation is through reading the Bible, a chapter a day, and recognizing Jesus Christ. Sounds pretty Christian, doesn’t it? A whole new way of life was formed from the same history, the same holy book, only from a different perspective.
Gad was influenced by few religions, mainly Christianity, Christian Science, Theosophy, Unity, Judaism, and Rastafarianism. He left the EWF but organized the Twelve Tribes in similar terms, such as Executive Bench, collecting dues, "bodies" such as Sewing, Food, Music, etc.
Repatriation is the hopeful return of all Blacks to Africa, specifically Ethiopia, where Haile Selassie I was the king. Ethiopia became the term used to describe all of Africa. It is in line with the reuniting of the twelve lost tribes, as written in the scriptures. In 1949 the Emperor granted the EWF lands at Malcoda, Shashamane, Ethiopia to aid in this much-anticipated homecoming. Gad told his followers that by being members of his Twelve Tribes that they were entitled to return to this place as well. There has been much fighting over this, and some members feel EWF is taking from Twelve Tribes of Israel when in actuality it is the other way around.
Today, groups of the Twelve Tribes exist all over the place:
"Well, at least we are organizing for a good while now, we have the organ, the 12 Tribes of Israel, in Jamaica, it start here, it is in Ethiopia, it is in the United States, it is in United Kingdom, Sweden, it is Germany, New Zealand, Tobago, Ghana, Australia, Kenya, and Grenada." - Carrington
That is twelve places where they have organized. It seems that organization is the key word for these people, as organization is the way for them all to return to Ethiopia together. Truly their goals are to create happiness for themselves, while not necessarily bothering those around them, despite the conflict that they have caused with the EWF about Shashamane.
What is life like for a member of the Twelve Tribes? How does one become a member, anyway? What are their doctrines, their system of beliefs? Many people wonder about this, and information regarding them is pretty hard to find, because of the fact that the groups of Tribes in America mostly keep to themselves. They definitely don’t come knocking on our doors every so often to try and convert people into being one of them. Instead they focus on the group that they have formed, working like dogs for their common goal: repatriation.
Here is a little bit about the doctrine of the Twelve Tribes as an organization:
Vernon Carrington, of course, is the leader of the entire body, being the prophet that he is. He doesn’t do it all alone, though. He’s got overseer-type "shepherds" that "watch over" tribes that are not in Gad’s presence. There are 49 Executive Members who each hold a "seat on the bench." The 49 is comprised of 12 First brethren and 12 Second brethren, 12 First sistren and 12 Second sistren, and Sister Dinah, who represents Dinah, daughter of Jacob. Altogether, they split into Twelve Tribes, each one standing for a Tribe of Israel, a month, a color, a body part, and an apostle of Jesus. See chart !
Month of Birth
Mouth and Heart
Order and Compassion
James Son of Alpheus|
James Son Of Zebedee|
Simon the Zealot
This is a table that Gad Man made up himself. Sometime after he realized that he was the incarnation of the Prophet, he had a vision that led to the formation of this table. It resembles astrology, with people being split up and assigned different tribes and attributes depending on whichever month they were born.
The reason why the number twelve comes up so often is a mystery. For some reason there are a few numbers that always seem to reoccur in the Bible. First is the number three. Three kings traveled from afar to celebrate Jesus’ birth with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Thomas was asked three times if he doubted Jesus, and three times he denied his holiness. The creative and destructive force of God is a trinity of a father, a son, and a Holy Spirit. There is also the number seven, as in the seven deadly sins, and the number twelve, of course. There are twelve apostles, twelve stations of the cross, twelve Tribes of Israel. It has not only an implication for posterity, but also has a genealogical, spiritual, and metaphysical significance. Perhaps the writers of the Bible were gamblers. Who knows? (God probably does) Numbers were always symbolic and events happening in any sort of series were common and creepily significant in the days of the Bible’s birth.
If there is one flaw in the doctrine of the Twelve Tribes, it is God. In the Bible, God is described as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus was born unto a virgin mother, therefore without original sin. (Original sin was the act of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit which caused their getting kicked out of Eden, and every baby conceived realistically is born with this sin in their hearts) Jesus, conceived by an angel of God and put into Mary, did not sin one time in his life. He was the Son of God, and therefore God Himself. It is written that he died on the cross at the hands of the Jews in order to save the sins of the Earth. It is also written that He will come again to the Earth and unite all people and sort of save us again. (We haven’t been in exactly awesome shape since he died, anyway.) This is probably going to be at the end of time.
Haile Selassie was born on July 23, 2021 as Tafari Makonnen. He was given this title when he assumed the position of Emperor of Ethiopia. Members of the Twelve Tribes believe that he is "Christ in His Kingly Character", a phrase coined by C. I. Scofield in his Scofield Reference Bible which apparently contradicts the original Bible in a couple of ways, including this one. Haile Selassie can’t be Christ because he was born with sin and continues to be just a regular guy. The only reason that they think he is Christ is because he claims to be of the descendenacy of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheeba, giving him blood relation directly to the original Twelve Tribes. He is also a black king, finally a leader who is right with history (Israel and Jesus were "black") While these qualities make him a cool human being with a nice résumé, they still conflict with the scriptures. To take it a step further, Gad himself believes that Christ will reincarnate yet again and again, as long as there is an Emperor who is a descendant of Selassie:
"Well, His Majesty won't be the final king, cause he is not here now, and we have other kings to come, right, so, as for me, I strongly believe, that the monarchy will establish, when, due time." - Carrington
There are two main staples to their faith, the reading of the Bible and the greatness of Jesus Christ. When Gad Man had his first revelation, he began to read the Bible every day, and so the very first of the few dead-set rules is to read a chapter of the Bible daily, and that one must finish reading the whole Bible in three and a half years.
The second staple is Jesus Christ, the only way to salvation. The first thing you must do is realize that you are a sinner, and then you must realize that Jesus died to save all of our sins:
God's simple plan of salvation is: You are a sinner. Therefore, unless you believe on Jesus Who died in your place, you will spend eternity in Hell. If you believe on Him as your crucified, buried, and risen Savior, you receive forgiveness for all of your sins and His gift of eternal salvation by faith.
For the fact that the two basic beliefs of the Twelve Tribes come straight from the Christian Bible, they are criticized extensively by other Rastas. The Whites, who enslaved the Africans, were Catholic and therefore their entire system of beliefs is said to be the root of all evil. There are two reasons that Twelve Tribes members aren’t completely hated. All Rastas use the bible as their reference book, and the Tribes also point out the fact that they regard Jesus differently than Catholics do. They believe that there have been more incarnations of God, slightly diminishing the "quality" of Jesus (the classic comparison saying that more quantity probably equals less quality). Even this is not conducive to their own belief system, regarding Jesus in the highest. It’s such a tiny difference that it’s really hard to tell exactly what the difference is. From an interview with Gad himself:
The 12 Tribes of Israel is seen as closer to Christianity than other Rastafarian groups. Is there a basic difference in the doctrine?
"Yes there is a basic difference because we see Christ, and that die and rose again, and that die for our sin, we see that person. So that is, you know, a different teaching, because is not many see this teaching, that Christ is the person."
He sounds pretty vague, doesn’t he? Let’s move on.
One of the most prominent aspects of the Rastafarian religion is the possession of dreadlocks. The idea comes from one of the original "commandments" of the Rastas: "Thou shall not take any sharp objects to thy face or head", basically meaning that you can’t cut or comb your hair. Dreadlocks form when the hair would get matted down and tangled up by sleeping on it and living in the hot weather, the day-to-day wear and tear of the hair caused it to dread up into knots. The Jamaicans embraced this, as it was the opposite of the blonde, straight, neat hair as worn by the Whites that were oppressing them so.
The most heated of differences between Tribe members and other Rastas is based around this concept. There is not one set doctrine for most Rastas, "vintage Rastas", but dreadlocks and hate of the Whites is pretty much consistent. As Gad argues, there is no place in the Bible that says that you must dread your hair, and that Jesus Christ died for all of our sins, not just the sins of the Blacks. He doesn’t even wear dreads himself. This is a pretty big deal in some Rasta communities. Plus, the Tribe of Benjamin Headquarters in New York City is led by a white American.
"We read in the Bible that out of one blood all nation, so it would be wrong for us to say only one race, we wouldn't survive that way, God make all of us, so, that is where I stand."
"There is not a hair doctrine. You see, by grace through Christ, so hair can't save you."
There is reading material besides the Scofield Reference Bible that is highly suggested to Twelve Tribes members. Among this material are the King James Bible, The Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, and a work by a man named Herbert W. Armstrong. He wrote a book entitled "Mystery of the Ages" which pretty much takes all of the questions that one can think of to ask about why we are here, who is God, and so forth, and gives long-winded, Bible-quoting, negative, catastrophic answers to them. Why did Carrington so highly suggest that followers read this material? Others have wondered this also, and their seeking of the answer has led them in circles.
One thing Vernon Carrington has said was that left was right and right was left, meaning the true meaning of things was twisted and reversed. In other words, what we know to be true is really a lie - good being evil and evil being good. Could this then be the reason we were instructed to read and study doctrines and books (Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, "Mystery of the Ages," etc) that the Bible expressly speaks against?
The funny thing is the guy who said this also said that he had asked Gad himself if he read the Bible and the answer had been no. But if you will refer to footnote IV on page 3 of this account, you will see Gad’s own words saying that he read it at least twice. Who is lying? The doctrines, the followers, even the leaders of this organization seem to thrive in confusion and contradiction.
While they share with other Rastas the belief that the "holy weed " is central to the movement, yet another aspect is very different, and that is the event of monthly meetings. For a while shortly following their foundation, they held these meetings as soon as there were at least 49 Tribe members living in vicinity of each other (they meet weekly till 49 finally join), but the meetings have stopped for times and restarted again.
The meetings move locations, but are primarily held at what is called the "HQ," the place of centralization for the members of each house. They generally last a duration of 3-4 hours. Each one starts out with a prayer, which seems to be not much more than a long prayer that Catholics say at their religious services called the Apostle’s creed with a little Rasta spice added to it. They all scream, "Jah Rastafari!" at the end of it. Then they sing a few hymns. Their songbook is called "Redemption songs: 1,000 Hymns and Choruses". Next is a session of Bible readings by a few brethren, called the Devotion. They always start with the same Bible reading, chapter 37 from the book of Ezekiel. Now people take turns Testifying, telling the whole place what they are thinking about God, although they are allowed to say other things as well. Then another song is sung, probably celebrating the conversation about House Mail and Finances, which is to follow. At the close of the meeting, another Bible chapter is read, and "Blest Be the Ties That Bind" is sung. Everyone faces North and says the closing prayer and sings the anthem of the Ethiopian National Anthem. They shout in unison, "Jah Rastafari Selassie I!" once more and go home. It’s easy to see why the meetings would stop after a short time, surely the Rastas might get bored of such an affair that is the same over and over.
One source said that salvation is based on virtue of membership to a Tribe. What determines your membership is your attendance at the meetings, and your paying of dues. Feel like becoming a member? The first step is acceptance by the Tribe members in town. They must have the power to not allow people that might pose anything but a positive vibe to the community. People aren’t just allowed to join up, either. The house in your town must be at a time when they are accepting new members, which is also contradicting the Bible itself:
"And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." - Mark 16:15
Meetings don’t even preach the gospel at all. They just read any random passage of the Bible, whichever one seems to fit the day.
Once lucky enough to be allowed into the house, the new member is assigned the astrological-type tribe to which he now belongs depending upon what month he was born. Then he is required to "pay dues" and "do the work" or else he will be pretty much kicked out of the house.
The paying of the dues is simple and inexpensive. There is an entrance fee of $2 and 20? is due each week. A separate get together is held weekly where refreshments are sold for fund-raising, but everyone has to put in their 20? whether or not they buy the food and drinks. There is music and dancing, with reggae artists who belong to the house providing entertainment. Bob Marley was a prominent member of the Twelve Tribes, and their favorite performer. He was their "chief singer and player of music," thereby he was enshrined in a biblical context.
Along with the dues nights, there are other fund raising events. People celebrate the month and tribe that their house represents, and sometimes they celebrate for no reason at all. All funds are sent to Vernon Carrington. What does he do with all this money? He’s rich these days. Sometimes the fund-raisers get pretty rowdy as some of the refreshments are alcoholic; they are more parties than anything else. This is a religious organization that parties all the time and really doesn’t pay much attention to what they claim to be so devoted to.
Fortunately, they are civil to their women; the Twelve Tribes organization is used as an example of equal treatment of sexes and ages. They don’t discriminate on the basis of race, age, or sex. Apparently, they don’t really discriminate on the basis of religion, either, judging from the fact that all you have to do to be a member is to pay $2. Is all this a ploy to be user-friendly so Vern can grab our money? At least it all sounds like fun.
It’s time to move a little closer to home. There is a house of the Twelve Tribes of Israel in the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont. They mostly keep to themselves; they even home-school their children. A few years ago, there were allegations of them abusing their kids. A squadron of non-tribe members snuck in and took them all away! This was pretty much against the law, because there was no proof of this abuse, and so the children were returned safely home to their tribe. Just because they had a different way of doing things, people assumed the worst and wrongly intruded upon them. But they are very secretive about their beliefs and their lifestyles, anyway.
The only time they are more open is when a crowd of them jumps into a painted up school bus and travels around the country stopping at Phish concerts. Then they make and hand out fliers and try and lure wide-eyed kids into their bus so they can preach at them. They are mostly intimidating in these situations, especially when the "convertees" are under influences of psychedelics. Luckily, they are harmless.
In conclusion, that seems to be just what the Twelve Tribes of Israel organization is: harmless. They have their roots deeply imbedded in history, and they are true both to the religion they are modeled after and also to that which they claim to be an organization of. While their doctrines and beliefs often contradict each other and their practices seem to have nothing to do with either, their goals are pure (repatriation!) and fun (weekly reggae parties!). They are accepting and open, and not violent. They seem like an all right group of people, if you can get past their odd and confusing belief foundation.
The Mirroring Lives of a Jamaican and a Rastafarian
This paper is a series of two interviews that I had over the course of the semester. I used both of the interviews as a series of research. I then used this research and supported it with published work. The first interview occurred when I was in Jamaica. I randomly crossed paths with Peter. He informed my friends and I that he was a Rastafarian. We spoke with him for about two hours on the beach. He informed us about his religion and his lifestyle. Unaware at the time that I would use this knowledge in my paper I am pleasantly surprised that I was able to transgress this information.
The second interview was with Marie Debal. She is one of my sister’s clients. Upon informing my sister about this class and the paper that was due she suggested that I speak with Marie to get information. Marie was the perfect contrast to Peter. She grew up on the island and was raised as a Jamaican woman. Her family traveled a lot with in the island so Marie was very informative about her home land. She came to the United States for college and then stayed to work in New York City working for the Jamaican tourist board.
From the interesting aspects that Peter had spoken about I decided to get Marie’s opinion on some of the same topics. I thought these two people would create an interesting contrast to my paper. Today they both live two very different lives but they share very similar backgrounds.
Interviewee A background:
Home: Jamaica Blue Mountains
Marital status: none and lives alone
Education: self educated by other Rastafarians with in his village
Interviewee B background:
Name: Marie Debal
Home: Jamaica but now lives in New York City
Occupation: Jamaican tourist board sales representative
Marital Status: Married to American for two years
Education: private elementary-high schools in Jamaica followed by United States four year college education
**note: all answers to questions are not exact words
What is the difference between a Rastafarian and a Jamaican?
"I do not come down here to Negril very often any more. When I was younger my friends and I would come down and enjoy the beaches. Now this place is such a tourist trap. Jamaicans are dressed like Rastafarians with their long dreads and try to pretend that they are like us. They try and sell tourist anything from drugs to crafts. Please do not take what I am saying the wrong way. It just makes me so frustrated when Jamaicans try to imitate the Rastafarian lifestyle. These Jamaicans may have long dreads and look like a Rastafarians but they do not know what it is like to truly live and be a Rastafarian. Rastafarian culture is very different from a Jamaican. We live in the mountains away from the tourist area. I spend all my days and nights waiting for the signs of Haile Selassie. I understand that these Jamaicans have to make a living I just wished that they did not mimic our lifestyle."
The difference between a Jamaican and a Rastafarian is probably similar to asking what is the difference between an American and a Catholic. Rastafarians are people who reside in the mountains of Jamaica and practice the Rastafari religion. The Rastafarian leader is Haile Selassie just like Jesus is for the Catholics. Rastafarians are peace loving and charismatic people. On average, Jamaicans do not have much contact with Rastafarians. They stay in the Blue Mountains and are often very secluded."
The difference between a Jamaican and a Rastafarian is very similar to the difference between an American and a Catholic. Except there are many different distinct characteristic that represent Rastafarianism that make it possible to differentiate between a true Rastafarian and a Jamaican unlike Catholicism. "It is most often associated with dreadlocks, smoking of marijuana and reggae music, the Rastafarian religion is much more than simply a religion of Jamaica. With its beginnings in the Jamaican slums, Rastafarianism has spread throughout the world and currently has membership of over 700,000" (Barrett, viii). Although Rastafarianism is a wide spread religion it’s associations have over come it’s faith. The casual dread locks and marijuana smoking are often abused but outsiders that have adopted the look and enjoy the high. Although there is nothing wrong with borrowing and adapting cultures to your own the problem exists when individuals attempt to plagiarize and misrepresent the Rastafarian religion. "The Jamaican psychological and sociological problems arise out of two culture patterns with ideologies which conflict in certain important aspects leaving the individual bewildered and insecure. This insecurity naturally has a potent effect on the determination of which aspects of personality will be culturally focused. In the individual the cultural dilemma is reflected in personality difficulties and in some cases it exercises a partial inhibition of the development of psychological maturity" (Kerr, 165). The disconnection between Jamaicans and their culture leads to the adoption of Rastafarian characteristics. Jamaicans have little culture and characteristics that represent their lifestyle. They feel that the only culture they had was stolen away from them when they became indentured servants. In response, they have borrowed several Rastafari associations.
Do you feel that tourism has taken over your country and ruined it? How has reggae changed over time?
"Personally for me since I do not come down from the mountains very much the tourist do not bother me. Most of the time I do not see them unless I go where I know they will be. Tourism bring a lot of money to the island and I do not mind. I know that people need to make money. The sad thing is that reggae has changed. I do not even know popular reggae music today. Since I live up in the mountains I do not hear the new sounds. People in my village make music at gatherings that we have in order to praise Haile Selassie and to chant down Babylon. We spent time creating Rastafarian religious drumming. It is called Nyabingi. The people in my village do not even consider the music we listen to be reggae."
"I believe that the majority of Rastafarians are not offended by the tourism since they are outside the area and away from mainstream. I know that they understand that the Jamaican economy needs the tourists in order be profitable. Since the Rastafarians are such a peace loving community I would find it hard to believe that they disagree with the tourism."
"Rastafarianism represents two different groups of people the first is the dyeing breed that are traditionally Rastafarians who I talked about before and the second are the benefits who represent reggae today. Reggae is a combination of music. Reggae music today has followed the second group of musicians. Bob Marley opened the road for several musicians. He brought reggae to it’s main stream musical phenomenon. Reggae stresses themes about racism, color, homosexuality. People began to hear the sounds of reggae and they wanted more. They wanted the dreadlocks and the easy going lifestyle themes. The reggae artist like Shabba shifted to a hip hop style in order to please the mass media. Other artists like Buju Bantot brought about new phenomenon’s with his bald head. The bald head contradicted the Rastafarian fear of oppression of Babylon. Today artists like Luciano are taking over the stage and alternating the voice of reggae."
"Jamaica needs tourism in order to keep it’s economy growing. The white sandy beaches, clear blue water, sweet sunsets and the non-stop Red Stripe creates a reality to a forgotten paradise" (Charlie, 21). Jamaica’s tourism is essential to the countries wealth. Two-thirds of the population works in tourism. Jamaican’s need tourist to keep the economy in their country affluent. "When I asked a Jamaican-born friend what I’d find in Negril, she told me to expect three things: a rustic, laid-back atmosphere, seven miles of whites and beaches and sunsets that put the most hectic lives (like mine) into perspective" (Pinkey). People from all over the world want to come to Jamaica where "no problem" becomes the main theme and the care-free sound of reggae overcomes the land. "For the first time, a peripheral style of music was able to achieve a breakthrough in the market for popular music. The big music from the small island pioneered what is now called "World Music" (Zips, 291). Reggae lyrics contextually represented the experiences of slavery, oppression and resistance.
Reggae music has created a sweet melody across the world that has influenced all kinds of people. "The island has produced some 100,000 records over the last 45 years-an extraordinary output for a population of little more than two million. Although few of these recordings have crossed over to audiences beyond the Jamaican community, it’s hard to think of any genre of popular music- other than the blues-that has had a greater influence in the past couple of decades" (Barrow and Dalton, 1). Many people commonly mistake reggae music and think that it is directly linked with the Rastafari religion. Several Rastafarians believe that, ‘Reggae music is some sort of mix-up, mix-up business. Only Nyabingi music is divine and pure Rastafari music" (Winston, 86). In actuality it is an imitation of Nyabingi music that is drummed and composed by reggae artists. "Reggae emerged from the secular beats of Ska and Rock Steady, which were imitations of American rhythm and blues in the 1960s, and it later took on the African drum rhythm of Count Ossie of Mystic Revelation, a Rastafarian group in Rock Fort" (Barrett, 245). Bob Marley is still one of the originators of reggae. Although he was a singer of reggae before he embraced the Rastafarian religion.
Bob Marley, has the most influence on the world through reggae music. His group "The Wailers" represented the continual sadness that Rastafari experience. During a tour in England a reporter asked Bob Marley to explain the term "Wailers," to which he replied, "In those days we were always crying" (Barrett, 215). Bob’s songs spread the word of Rastafarianism more than he could ever imagine. His songs focused on Rastafari culture with the sweet melody of island music that still is popular reggae today.
"To the outside world he was a reggae superstar. Few knew that his songs were "songs of sorrow, pleading for redemption", and only a few knew that the majority of his songs were praises to
his God-figure, Jah Rastafari. To the oppressed youths of the Caribbean and to Jamaican youths in England who were able to penetrate the symbols of the message, his songs were revelations,
and many translated his message into a way of life and joined the Rastafari movement. Soon even Whites began to be identified with the movement from America to Europe" (Barrett, 213).
Bob Marley set the stage for reggae artists to spread the word about Rastafarianism. Today, the majority of popular reggae music has revolutionized into a new message that represents hip hop and media. Artists like Buju Banton and Shabba feed into pop culture by playing songs about homophobia, sex, and racism songs that addressed culture today and did not always represent Rastafarianism.
"Ragga’s international icon, Shabba Ranks, occupies a position not dissimilar to that of Bob Marley in a pervious decade, but his reception outside Jamaica has been rather different. His contribution to the row stirred by the homophobia of Buju Banton’s "Boom Bye Bye" was ill-considered, and was immediately seized upon by the international media, who are not usually concerned with what Jamaican performers have to say" (Barrow and Dalton,302). Ragga today has shifted the reggae message of the decades before. Ragga has been in Jamaican dancehall only since 1985 but has made major revolutions in the sounds of traditional reggae music. Ragga music covers a vast range of reggae today. "Ragga is also the most populist of all forms of Jamaican music. Drawing freely from practically every aspect of Jamaican popular culture, including spirituals and hymns, it ranges from rougher-than-rough deejay music, through romantic crooning, on to a generation of cultural wailers" (Barrow and Dalton, 273). Ragga musicians like Buju Banton, challenge society by making music about AIDS, guns, and hard drugs and singing lyrics about issues that people do not want to think about. Buju Banton’s song "Operation Willy" promotes safe sex all the proceeds went to a charity assisting in the aid of children with AIDS. Buju Banton along with Luciano are popular reggae artists have created the modern roots of today.
Luciano has followed the a similar path of his favorite musicians- Dennis Brown, Frankie Paul and Stevie Wonder. Luciano is one of the fastest growing artists in the music world today. His easy going lyrics and non-stop contagious melody make it easy to spread his sound into today’s reggae classics. "Most of his material has been modern cultural music with a pronounced spirituality" (Barrow and Dalton, 321). Luciano’s combination of strong spirituality and acknowledgment of hip hop has made his music a powerful model in today’s reggae world. Reggae keeps evolving in order to keep it’s popularity with the mass media.
What Rastafari traditions, beliefs and rituals have Jamaicans assimilated into their culture?
"Jamaicans have borrowed several of our religious traditions but they may not practice them the same way we do. For example, I have never done drugs and I have never been intoxicated. I fear that if I might I may miss the visit of Haile Selassie and he will see me and be ashamed. When I smoke herb I do it to mediate. Before I go to bed at night I roll a joint. In the morning, I smoke half of it and then travel out to my fields to work. I take care of my ganja and treat it like my child. At lunch time I will smoke the other half of my joint from the morning. When I smoke with a group of Rastafarians we all sit in a circle and we have our own joints. We do not pass the joint around but we all take turns smoking- one at a time and the circle travels to the right. Each person takes a puff of their own joint and prays. Each Rastafari mediates and feels the soothing of the smoke take over their insides. After the first time around the circle, the praying is over but the routine continues. We always smoke ganja while we listen or sing along with Nyabingi. Personally, I feel that Jamaicans may not agree with the same methods we have about ganja smoking. It’s similar to dreadlocks.
I have grown my dreads for my entire life. I grow them because I believe they goes against Babylon and the white world. I grow them because of what I believe in not because of the way they look. The females grow their hair in dreads too. It is part of our culture.
Unlike Jamaicans, I will not eat any meat, poultry or sea creatures. I eat only food that I grow like vegetables, some fruits and grains. I may cook it but only to heat it up a little. I understand that Jamaicans eat a lot of lobster, fish, chicken and stuff like that. I have never had that.
Overall, Jamaicans have borrowed a lot of our traditions they have assimilated them into their own. Some may think that they are crazy and they are misrepresenting Rastafarianism but they are representing themselves.
"Cultures are a combination of traditions. Whether or not Jamaicans borrowed some Rastafarian traditions doesn’t make it wrong. I know that several Jamaicans have dreadlocks and they may not have as much significance as Rastafarians may believe but Jamaicans and other people for that matter have dreadlocks.
Jamaicans may chant down Babylon because they are mad at the police or something. I even catch myself on the streets of New York City saying, "oh great here comes Babylon." It is just a phrase to break establishment.
I know that people abuse drugs and alcohol. Pot smoking is virtually everywhere. People don’t use pot to mediate and talk to Jah like the Rastafarians. People use drugs to feel the high and to get into an altered state. Rastafarians don’t even drink alcohol.
There is a vast difference between the two cultures but it doesn’t make one better than the other they are just different."
"Early in the history of the movement, Leonard Howell gave the Rastafarians six principles. 1) Hatred for the White race; 2)the complete superiority of the Black race; 3)revenge on Whites for their wickedness; 4)the negation, persecution, and humiliation of the government and legal bodies of Jamaica; 5)preparation to go back to Africa; and 6) acknowledging Emperor Haile Selassie as the Supreme Being and only ruler of Black people. This first glimpse of the new doctrine that launched the Rastafarian movement has not changed significantly over the years" (Barrett,85).
Rastafarianism is only a religion but their believers hold it’s faith with the utmost superiority. Their believers have a lot of faith in their God Haile Selassie. He was the black emperor of Ethiopia whose pervious name was Ras Tafari. It is believed that a group of Rastas went to Ethiopia to honor him, and an official of the palace told them to go away or they might upset the king because he himself was a devout Christian. Instead of making the Rastas question their belief, this only made it stronger–for as they believe their God isn’t suppose to know he is a God. Upon the death of Haile Selassie, Rastas did not believe it. True Rastas believe that they are immortal. On August 27, 1975, Haile Selassie died. With his death came various forms of rationalization from many Rastafarians. The Rastafarians believed that, "his death was inconsequential because Haile Selassie was merely a ‘personification’ of God" (Cashmore, 59-60). In order to compensate for Haile Selassie’s death they believe that his atoms are spread throughout the world therefore, his life is never ending. In order to commit yourself entirely to Rastafarianism and not only believe in Haile Selassie, it is essential to grow dreadlocks and to mediate daily.
Marijuana is used for religious mediation by the Rastafarians. Ganja, as the Jamaicans and Rastafarians refer to it "has become an inseparable part of the movement’s worship and a ritual aid for mediation" (Barrett, 128). They find it’s use written in the Bible in the Psalms 104:14, "He causeth the grass for the cattle, and herb for the service of man." The use of herb is not only used in a spiritual mediation but also in their Nyabingi celebration and also for medical purposes. Rastafarians believe that the Bible embraces herb and therefore gives them permission and insists that they smoke it.
"…thou shalt eat the herb of the field" (Genesis 3:18)
‘…eat every herb of the land" (Exodus 10:12)
"Better is a dinner of herb where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith" (Proverbs 15:17)
"Although the use of ganja was prohibited very early in Jamaica, most of the peasants were unaware of it; the Rastfarians, who were mostly urban dwellers, knew of its illegality. It would therefore be right to assume that as a protest against society, ganja smoking was the first instrument of protest engaged in by the movement to show its freedom from the laws of "Babylon"’(Barrett, 129). To smoke and mediate just like growing dreadlocks symbolizes the fight against white superiority. To "chant down Babylon" is the ultimate goal of Rastafarianism."
Babylon is the Rastafarian term used to describe white power. Rastafarians believe that this white political power has been holding them down for centuries first through slavery and today through poverty, inequality and illiteracy. One of the main goals of the Rastas is to stand tall and spread the word about their heritage and to make sure that Blacks stand up against this Babylon.
During 1959 and the period between the destruction of the Pinnacle Rastafarians stood up against white political power. The intense hatred of police and establishment took control and the Rastas rose up to meet the challenge. "Their wild behavior attracted large audiences and their Rastafarian rhetoric of defiance made their presence felt in Kingston" (Barrett, 89). Their methods were quite tragic and their appearance was shocking but they did disperse their message across Jamaica. "To chant down Babylon" means to participate peacefully, but effectively in the essential struggle against the white power. It is believed that having dreadlocks is a continuous symbol of the fight against oppression. While many of the songs of reggae ultimately represent the Rastafari message against Babylon. "Even if many Rastas of the theocratic Nyabingi Order, which worships Haile Selassie I as the immortal, secular, and divine ruler, do not see reggae music as their medium of expression, countless reggae compositions point to Nyabingi to reveal the true roots of their creativity in both their music and lyrics"(Brown, 77). Music isn’t the only thing that symbolizes the white man’s oppression. Rastafarians will only eat as vegetarians.
I-tal food is what true Rastas eat. This food is completely natural. The food is cooked but it is served in it’s rawest form with out salts or any condiments. Drinks are usually anything herbal like tea. Fish are eaten by Rastas but crabs, lobsters and shrimp are forbidden. Large fish are not allowed to be eaten. "All larger fish are predators and represent the establishment- Babylon- where men eat men" (Barrett, 141). Rastas grow there own food and are essentially vegetarians.
Through each of these symbols, beliefs and rituals Jamaicans, Rastafarians and reggae music all have similar goals in life. Each Rastafarian wants to be represented as an equal with in the world. They ultimately use the sound of Nyabingi to spread the words of their beliefs. Jamaicans and other reggae artists take the Rastafarian sounds and send it to the next level in order to gain support. They have revolutionized the world about their own beliefs in combination with the Rastafari religion. "Chance has never yet satisfied the hope of a suffering people. Action, self-reliance, the vision of self and the future have been the only means by which the oppressed have seen and realized the light of their own freedom" (Garvey,1). These reggae artists have spread the word about the Rastafari heritage…which ultimately represents freedom to all.
After writing this paper I am pleased with it’s outcome. I feel that I have chosen selective questions from the interview process and supported them with research. It was interesting to me to compare and contrast both Peter and Marie’s background and yet be surprised at their similar opinions on issues regarding Rastafarianism. It strikes me that Marie even admitted that she commonly uses the phrase "Babylon" to represent authority figure in New York. In many ways she seems so Americanized and removed from Jamaica and Rastafari culture. Marie was educated in the United States and she is now a dual citizen of both countries.
In many ways Peter and Marie mirror each other. Before I had spoken with Peter I also stereotyped him into believing that he is so isolated from the world that he must not even know what is going on in the world. He too surprised me. Peter is very aware of current events. It is interesting to me that he always seems to have theories to solve these problems that always relate back to his Rastafari religion.
These two interviews gave me insight to research that I could never have learned through reading a book. Listening to their voices and hearing the passion that each of them transgressed into my understanding makes me feel privilege to have even spoken with them.
Barrow, Steve & Dalton, Peter, Reggae: The Rough Guide
New York: Penguin, 1997.
Barrett, Leonard, The Rastafarians
Boston: Beacon, 1997.
Manely, Michael, The Politics of Change
New York: Natural History Press, 1992. Ie: Garvey,1
Kerr, Madeline, Personality and Conflict in Jamaica
London: Collins Pub, 1961.
Charlie, Susan, Tourism Continues in Jamaica
Zips, Robert, Rastafari
New York: Natural History Press, 1993.
Winston, Phillip "Revitalization Movements"
London: Associated Press, 1995.
Cashmore, Ernest, Rastaman: The Rastafarian Movement in England London, Penguin, 1996.
Brown, Samuel E., "The Truth About Rastafarians,"
The Liberator, vol. 3, no.9 Kingston, 1963.
Repatriation: Africa in the Horizon
The idea of the repatriation of Blacks to Africa is a theme that runs deeply within Rastafarian beliefs. Although the concept of Ethiopia being the true and glorious home of all Blacks is imbedded in Rastafarian beliefs, the idea dates much farther back in history. Dating back to the African slave trade beginning in the eighteenth century, Ethiopianism has influenced the Black race dramatically. People such as Marcus Garvey have raised the world’s awareness of the oppression of the Black race and his solution of repatriation. Garvey believed that if Blacks could have a land of their own, where they could prosper and gain power then the world would have to respect this nation and it’s people. (Barrett, 1997, P.68-69)
Contrary to the original idea of actual movement to Africa, recently a new idea has surfaced about repatriation. This idea is that repatriation should begin with internal liberation and a connection with Africa. Therefore, instead of a literal movement to Africa it is a mental connection to Africa. (Barrett, 1997, P.172) Repatriation is a complex idea that is understood in several different ways. The underlying principle of repatriation is that Blacks have faith and hope in overcoming centuries of oppression by reconnecting to their roots and a time of prosperity. Repatriation is not only a religious belief for Rastafarians but it also has served as a worldwide theme of Black Nationalism and unification.
Not all Africans that were taken from Africa and sold in "The New World" were from Ethiopia, but that is the designated destination of the repatriation movements. The most obvious reason for this is because it was in Ethiopia that Haile Selassie ruled. This would explain why Rastafarians would desire to repatriate to Ethiopia. The following quote explains the Rastafarian connection to Ethiopia.
Ithiopia represents a tangible reality within the transitory flesh; spirit more powerful than flesh, the reality of the indestructible Irit, the umbilical chord of creation rooted in the core of the personality, the illusive link with Jah and the breaking asunder of the psychosociological bonds of mental slavery which have pauperised and plagued West Indian psyche for 400 years in the Diaspora.
Another reason why Ethiopia is the destination for repatriation is that historically it is revered as the home of one of the most advanced civilizations. Historians believe that Ethiopians and Egyptians were the same people and that they were members of the Black race. "It was the vision of a golden past–and the promise that Ethiopia should once more stretch forth its hands to God–that revitalized the hope of an oppressed people." (Barrett, 1997, P.75) The Hebrew translation of the Greek word "Ethiopia" is Blacks. The history of Ethiopia internalizes a sense of pride in Blacks. (Barrett, 1997, P.72-74) For the Rastafarians, Ethiopia offers a promise of redemption. The Rastas simply claim that they want to go home, back to their roots. (Boot, Thomas, 1976, P.78-79)
An American Baptist slave preacher, George Liele, used the ideas of Ethiopianism within his church in Jamaica during the late eighteenth century. Despite his efforts to start a movement, George Liele, was not the person that sparked the Back-to-Africa Movement, it was Marcus Garvey. (Barrett, 1997, P.76) Garvey was born in Jamaica August 17, 1887. During Garvey’s early life J. Albert Thorne introduced the Back-to-Africa idea to Jamaica. Thorne was born in Barbados in 1860 where he worked as a schoolteacher. His goal was for Blacks to settle in parts of Africa that were ruled by Britain because he felt that the British owed them something. To accomplish his goals Thorne started the African Colonial Enterprise and distributed pamphlets with information about the Back-to-Africa movement. Thorne was unsuccessful for several reasons, the most influential one being the time-period. The European powers in Africa were extremely protective of their spheres of influence due to their constant struggle to stay in power. Thus, the Europeans were not prepared or in any condition to offer settlement to repatriated Blacks. Despite Thorne’s failure to succeed, he did set the stage for Garvey’s rise to power. (Clarke, Garvey, 1974, P.27-28) Marcus Garvey had similar goals as Thorne, but he also had the advantage of timing and persuasion. Not only did he lead the Back-to-Africa Movement but he also was dedicated to raising the Black position in society. (Faristzaddi)
His message centered round the reality of all Black people throughout the world unifying and reacquainting themselves with their hidden heritage and the culture out of which their forefathers were wrestled and cast into slavery.
Garvey witnessed as well as fell victim to the oppression of the Black race. Garvey noticed a pattern of discrimination in Jamaica. The opportunities for the more appealing employment were given to the white young people, which left the Black youth with little option for work besides laborers. (Erskine, 1998, P.156) In 1914, Garvey started the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) that eventually would grow to be the "largest mass movement among Black people this century, with 996 branches in 43 countries and over five million members." (Erskine, 1998, P.28) Garvey attracted people to the UNIA by creating catchy as well as powerful slogans. Two of these slogans included "One God, One Aim, One Destiny!" and "Africa for the Africans." (Erskine, 1998, P.28) His vision for the UNIA was to join Blacks all around the world to pursue the formation of a Black Nation. (Erskine, 1998, P.158) In Marcus Garvey’s own words, he simplifies his opinion of repatriation.
The great white man has fought for the preservation of Europe, the great yellow and brown races are fighting for the preservation of Asia, and four hundred million Negroes shall shed, if needs be, the last drop of blood for the redemption of Africa and the emancipation of the race everywhere.
(Erskine, 1998, P.157)
The Back-to-Africa concept, Garvey believed, would eventually end the oppression of Blacks forever. Other Black leaders such as W.E.B. DuBois disagreed with this solution completely. DuBois believed that Blacks could only rise in status by assimilating to the rest of society so eventually there would be no Black and white races, just one mixture. (Clarke, Garvey, 1974, P.249) Marcus Garvey firmly believed that Blacks should be focused on forming their own nation "where the race will be given the fullest opportunity to develop itself, such as we may not expect in countries where we form but a minority in a majority Government of other races." (Clarke, Garvey, 1974, P.152) He fervently believed that the future of the Black race rested in a land where they were the majority. One of Garvey’s slogans exemplifies his ambitions and excitement is "Up you mighty race! You can accomplish what you will!" (Clarke, Garvey, 1974, P.186)
Garvey’s success revolved around his ability to appeal to peoples’ sense of "national pride, dignity, hope and power." (Clarke, Garvey, 1974, P.415) He tapped into the Blacks historical desire for land and freedom that was deprived of them for so long. (Clarke, Garvey, 1974, P.416) Timing worked to Garvey’s advantage as well. Following World War I the world was in upheaval and the struggle of the masses against their oppressors was a worldwide theme. This also was a time of the "New Negro" which was portrayed by magazines and books such as the Messenger and the New Emancipator. The "New Negro" was described as someone who "stood for "absolute social equality, education, physical action in self-defense, freedom of speech, press and assembly, and the right of Russia to self-determination."(Clarke, Garvey, 1974, P.416) Marcus Garvey provided leadership to a mass of people in need of mobilization and unification.
The Black Star Line was created by Garvey to advance the Back-to-Africa movement. Ideally, he wanted this company to transport Blacks back to Africa as well as act as a shipping company to enhance the Black race in the economy. Unfortunately, The Black Star Line was incredibly mismanaged by crooks. Despite Garvey’s high hopes for his fleet, the reality was that the company only amounted to four inferior ships. The Black Star Line left Garvey in a financial and legal mess. He jailed for mail fraud and was eventually deported back to Jamaica. (Van Deburg, 1997, P.12) Although Garvey did not accomplish the ultimate goal of repatriation, he was successful at spreading hope and his message to hundreds of thousands of people.
The Rastafarians were dramatically affected by Marcus Garvey’s message. Before he departed for the United States in 1916 in his farewell address he stated, "Look to Africa for the crowning of a Black King, he shall be the Redeemer." (Barrett, 1997, P.67) This prophecy was fulfilled with the crowning of Haile Selassie, the King of Ethiopia. Rastafarians now believe that repatriation is the ultimate goal, whether mentally or physically. Marcus Garvey had a profound influence on the Back-to-Africa movement.
When Garvey’s prediction of the crowning of a Black King was validated, four Jamaican men became extremely active in the Back-to-Africa movement. These four men included Leonard Howell, Joseph Hibbert, Archibald Dunkley, and Robert Hinds. (Barrett, 1997, P.81) All four were ministers who set up separate groups declaring that Haile Selassie was the redeemer of the Black people. Eventually Howell, Dunkley, and Hinds joined forces around 1934, which proved to be the heart of the Rastafarian leadership. (Barrett, 1997, P.84) Howell’s plan was to spread the Rastafarian message to the entire island of Jamaica, but he lacked sufficient funds for his mission. He allegedly made photographs of Haile Selassie and sold them as passports to Ethiopia. Although Howell advocated repatriation, he had no plans to actually transport the five thousand people who bought these pictures to Ethiopia. In 1934, all four men were jailed for disturbing the peace and instigating hostility and discontent for the government. After their release, Howell setup the "Ethiopian Salvation Society" in 1940 where he and his followers lived as the maroons lived in the hills of Jamaica. (Barrett, 1997, P.85-86) The Rastafarian movement spread underground throughout Jamaica.
The Ethiopian World Federation, Inc. established in 1937 "to unify, solidify, liberate, and free the Black people of the world in order to achieve self-determination, justice, and to maintain the integrity of Ethiopia–which is the divine heritage of the Black race." (Barrett, 1997, P.89) The EWF held similar goals as Marcus Garvey, Howell, and other repatriation leaders. It is believed that Howell may have been a part of the EWF. In 1955, the EWF came to Jamaica to portray a message that would help raise participation and belief in the repatriation of the Black race. The Rastafarians were so moved by the EWF’s message because repatriation is one of the principle beliefs in the religion. They claimed that Haile Selassie was building a navy that would eventually reach Jamaica. This concept was extremely uplifting but in conjunction with the EWF’s next announcement, repatriation seemed to have become a reality for the Rastafarians. (Barrett, 1997, P.89-90)
The EWF announced that Haile Selassie was giving five hundred acres of land to Blacks who had helped Ethiopia during the war with Mussolini. This land was called the Shasemani. (Barrett, 1997, P.228) The Rastafarian movement practically doubled as a result of this land grant that portrayed repatriation as a reality. Members of the movement anticipated that any day ships would come for them and take them to Ethiopia to their King. (Barrett, 1997, P.91) The Rastafarian movement was growing rapidly but not in a unified manner.
In an effort to unify the Rastifarian movement in March of 1958, the Rastafarian "Universal Convention" occurred in Kingston under the leadership of Prince Edward Emanuel. The response was overwhelming. An estimated three hundred men gathered with their families prepared for repatriation. (Barrett, 1997, P.92-94) "Rastamen from all over the island dropped everything, gave away their last possessions because they wouldn’t need them anymore, and came to town expecting to go on board." (Boot, Thomas, 1976, P.78) Unfortunately, though after twenty-one days of dancing, smoking, praying, etc. there were no ships docked for the Rastas to go "home." (Boot, Thomas, 1976, P.78) Prince Emanuel invited Claudius Henry to the convention. Henry was a Jamaican who was living in New York at the time. Although he was not a Rastafarian, Henry was a major influence on the Rastafarian repatriation movement. (Barrett, 1997, P.95)
In 1959, Claudius Henry followed his predecessor, Leonard Howell, by selling tickets to Ethiopia to desperate and faithful people. This "passport" to Ethiopia attracted more than just Rastafarians and EWF members. It also was purchased by a number of people who celebrate the emancipation of slavery on August 1st because the ticket stated that there would be an Emancipation jubilee on that date. Another group that was attracted the Henry’s ticket were the Black Jews because the word "Israel" was printed on the ticket. On October 5th thousands of people flocked to 78 Rosalie Avenue expecting to leave for Africa but only found thousands of other disappointed people who were going no where. (Barrett, 1997, P.96)
Unfortunately, Henry had expected that on October 5th the government would have created a plan to address the condition of the Jamaican African population. He had never planned a literal movement to Africa on this date, as so many people had believed. Barrett explains Henry Claudius’ predicament as "what is known in social movement theory as "revolutionary judo," that is, the contradiction between symbolic declaration and real intention." (Barrett, 1997, P.97) Despite the fact that Henry tricked people and caused hundreds of people to disrupt their lives the government merely gave him a fine and instructed him to keep the peace for a year. (Barrett, 1997, P.97) Shortly after his release, Henry’s Headquarters were invaded. There they discovered a collection of weapons as well as a letter asking Fidel Castro to help him take over Jamaica. The government was far less lenient to Henry this time. For six years, Henry was jailed for treason. (Edwards, 1999, P.2)
Claudius Henry’s arrest forced Jamaicans to pay attention to the Rastafarians and the concept of repatriation. In order for the government to understand and even attempt to aid in the Rastafarian movement Dr. Arthur Lewis, 1993, had three scholars research and create suggestions for the Premier of Jamaica. The first recommendation stated that, "The government should send a mission to African countries to arrange for immigration of Jamaicans. Representatives of Ras Tafari brethren should be included in the mission." (Barrett, 1997, P.100) Norman Manley instigated plans to make the changes suggested. The government did send selected Rastafarian leaders to Africa as suggested. This did not spark any immediate repatriation though it did greatly heighten awareness of the realities of Africa, which temporarily subdued the movement. (Barrett, 1997, P.100)
While in Africa the Rastafarian leaders visited the Shasemani land that was granted by the Emperor. This land was reported to be fertile and an opportune place to live. On this mission, Haile Selassie supposedly said to one of the Rastafarian leaders that he should "tell the Brethren be not dismayed, I personally will give my assistance in the matter of their repatriation." (Barrett, 1997, P.118) This message renewed faith in the eventual repatriation to Ethiopia. The University Report also indirectly caused Ras Samuel Brown to run for political office in 1961.
Sam Brown went against his Rastafarian beliefs by running for political office. He believed that the only way to rise from oppression was to become powerful. Brown failed to get even one hundred votes, but he did succeed in getting his message to the people. He ran using a platform of "Twenty-One Points." His campaign drew attention to the Rastafarian movement and especially its potential. (Garrett P.148) Within his "Twenty-One Points" he used to word "liberation" in conjunction with "power." This idea foreshadowed the way that some Rastafarians look at repatriation today which is the idea of "liberation before repatriation." (Garrett P.152) Haile Selassie confirmed Sam Brown’s ideas while visiting Jamaica.
April 21, 2022 an estimated one hundred thousand people greeted Haile Selassie when he landed in Jamaica. Leading Rastafarians had opportunities to converse with the Emperor. He stated "that the brethren should not seek to immigrate to Ethiopia until they had liberated the people of Jamaica." (Garrett P.160) Some Rastafarians now believe that instead of immediate repatriation that first there must be liberation.
A more contemporary concept is an internal migration to African roots rather than a literal move to Africa. Contrary to Garvey’s teachings, Rastafarians have turned the Back-to-Africa movement into a spiritual change. (Erskine, 1998, P.163) In the 1960’s, efforts were made to prepare people for their return to Africa such as classes in Africanization. These classes focused on the Ethiopian language as well as religion. Films were also shown to portray the culture. (Barrett, 1997, P.117) More recently though organizations such as the Rastafarian Movement Association have focused on "liberation before migration."
The RMA has made many efforts to help the Black people of Jamaica. The RMA oversees a youth program that provides food and activities to poor children. They also print a monthly paper full of current events, Ethiopian history, African art, Rastafarian information, etc. The RMA is consciously attempting to educate and liberate Jamaican Blacks in hopes of a later migration to Africa. (Barrett, 1997, P.117)
The concept of "liberation before migration" has been widely accepted by many Rastafarians though there are people who believe that actual movement to Africa is the solution to Black oppression. Some Rastafarians migrated to Shasemani such as a Rastafarian by the name of Antonio. Antonio left Jamaica to free himself of Babylon and reconnect with his homeland. In Shasemani Rastafarians live in traditional houses made from straw, clay, mud, and concrete. There are branches the Twelve Tribes of Israel as well. The Rastas are self-sufficient in Shasemani because they are not forced to live on wage labor to survive. (Lewis, 1993, P.100) Some Rastafarians also believe that the end is near and that repatriation is their only hope. Antonio expressed that belief in this statement.
This is no longer a time for discussion on this or that perspective on the Rastafari. Time is short. By the year 2000 all things will be destroyed in the West. The talks on nuclear disarmament are useless. Satan sits at the conference table. Only repatriation makes sense.
(Lewis, 1993, P.100)
Antonio spoke about the Rastafarian commune and their accomplishments, but there is another side to repatriation. An Amharic woman who formerly was married to a repatriated Rasta living in Shasemani had a different view of repatriation. Living in Shasemani, she experienced the Rastas’ ill treatment of women, exploitation of new Rastas, and the differences in Ethiopians and Rastafarians. She has scars from beatings by her husband because she was not used to such a male dominated lifestyle. The Rastas do not eat Ethiopian foods such as meat, coffee, and tea. She recalls how newly repatriated people would be overworked and received little in return. This Amharic woman gave many examples of how repatriated Rastas were not a part of Ethiopian culture. (Lewis, 1993, P.112-113) She eloquently stated the reality of repatriation in this quote.
When my several months’ sojourn among the Rastafari in Shashemene ended, I concluded that the Rastafari were alone in this ancient land. Their symbolic world which spoke of African roots, blackness and rejection of the white Jesus and racism appeared muted in this Christian and Muslim community of Shashemene.
(Lewis, 1993, P.113)
The reality of the repatriation movement is that people imagined Africa opening its arms to Blacks so they could live without oppression forever. Some Rastas do not even know geographically where Ethiopia is, but that is immaterial, to them Ethiopia is the future. (Boot, Thomas, 1976, P.79) According to Gregory Stephens "there was some conflict between the African Zion of faith, and the African reality. But the truth is that the geographical Africa had very little to do with what Garvey imagined, or with what most Rastas projected onto it." (Stephens Interview, 1998) Marcus Garvey barely spoke in detail about Africa. He based most of his knowledge of Africa from the bible instead of facts. The picture of Africa that has been painted by repatriation (physical or mental) supporters such as Marcus Garvey, Leonard Howell, and artists such as Bob Marley serves as a hope for a brighter future for the Black race.
There is no easy solution to overcoming hundreds of years of oppression. Repatriation was and still is believed by many to be the answer. Marcus Garvey believed that by forming a Black Nation where they were the majority race would eventually raise Blacks’ status in the world. (Barrett, 1997, P.68) Others believe that as Sam Brown did that liberation must occur before any form of mass migration would be possible or beneficial. (Garrett P.148) There are also those who hold firm to the idea of mental repatriation. They believe that a literal migration is not necessary because internally Blacks can get back to their roots. The Rastafarian religion revolves around repatriation to Ethiopia, but even today some Rastas feel like migration may not be best. The Back-to-Africa movement has had many different leaders, as well as followers, but to date there have been no mass migrations. Africa will forever be in the minds and hearts of Rastafarians and Blacks as a way out of Babylon and oppression.
1.) Barrett, Leonard. The Rastafarians. Boston: Beacon Press, 1997.
2.) Boot, Adrian, Thomas, Michael. Jamaica Babylon on a Thin Wire. New York: Schocken Books, 1976.
3.) Clarke, John, Garvey, Amy. Marcus Garvey and the Vision of Africa. New York: Vintage Books, 1974.
4.) Edwards, Roanne, www.africana.com/tt_010.htm, 1999, Harvard Square Netcasting LLC, 4/16/00.
5.) Erskine, Noel. Decolonizing Theology. Trenton: African World Press, 1998.
6.) Faristzaddi, Millard. Itations of Jamaica and I Rastafari.
7.) Lewis, William, F. Soul Rebels The Rastafari. Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc. 1993.
8.) Stephens, Gregory, www.bobmarley.com/blackhistory/stephens3.html, 1998, Island Life,4/16/00.
9.) Van Deburg, William. Modern Black Nationalism From Marcus Garvey to Louis Farrakhan. New York: New York University Press, 1997.