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
Taken from http://debate.uvm.edu/dreadlibrary/dreadlibrary.html