Rastafarians have as common parlance the philosophy that word sound is power! After the 1960s, one can identify the development of a fraternity of Rastafari faithful, taking their message into musical expression. In much the same way perhaps that the Psalms are constructed as sacred records of the ‘livity’ of the Old Testament patriarchs. The philosophy of the Movement moved to some extent (but not entirely) off the street corners, due partly to colonial repression and police brutality, into ‘the mixing lab-Oratory’ to create music that would teach the lessons of Redemption of the African. Planno, in philosophizing to his students who would congregate in his yard in Trench town, West Kingston (including ones such as Don Drummond, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus, Alton Ellis and Jimmy Cliff ) taught them to ‘tell out King Rasta doctrine around the whole world . . . Get your bible and read it, read it with understanding’ as his basic guide and teaching on liberating the individual. He would conduct his class room in the informal gatherings in his yard as together they built verses animating the experiences, ideals and aspirations of the Movement. The King James Bible consisting of its 66 books, the laws, Prophets, wisdom songs into the Revelation provided a source of reading, reasoning – analysis and interpretation. It was from this source that the Knowledge of liberation was to come, in particular from the Revelations in the Bible – revealing the identity of the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Sellassie I, the Power of the Trinity as the returned Messiah. Planno and a number of other brethren were to develop on the earliest teachings brought by the elders of the 1930s, a multifaceted cultural approach, and a network of over 60 bases in the west Kingston and the surrounding corporate area.
At these bases, the hitherto wayward – brothers in particular – became transformed, they could ﬁnd hope, a receptive environment to mould and teach themselves about their identity, their history, the politics of the time, self-sufﬁciency and most importantly in the context of their survival how to develop a habit of industry – mostly focused on the development of self-employment ideas, and especially music that when it hit ‘yu feel no pain’. Music has been the product emanating from what has been described as the business of hardship resulting out of the Poverty Laboratory.
These bases provided vibrant centres for debates on life, philosophy, the politics of Jamaica and the globe especially as far as it affected the people of Africa, some centres even provided training in Amharic, the ofﬁcial language of Ethiopia. The community bases also provided shelter, humble though this may have been, where warm meals (often a one pot of porridge or ‘a sip’/soup) for all who came, books and newspapers, instruments, recording devices and of course the Wisdom Herb as sacrament to inspire the meditation and reasoning a way forward.
Soon west Kingston was to develop a reputation as a Mecca for musicians and scholars from all across Jamaica and surely enough became a fascination for researchers from around the world, the attraction being the Rastafarians and secondarily their cultural panacea – the emerging institution/industry of reggae music.
Excerpt from: Jalani Niaah (2003) Poverty (lab) oratory:Rastafari and cultural studies, Cultural Studies.
Reggae is not unlike “highlife,” the most popular form of Ghanaian music, which mixes both African and Caribbean inﬂuences and can be traced to the 1920s and 1930s.
While the South African singer Lucky Dube pioneered reggae in places like Ghana during the 1970s, and still ranks as one of the most sought-after performers throughout contemporary Africa, other “imports,” such as Don Carlos, Jimmy Cliff, and Bob Marley, not forgetting more recent acts such as Black Uhuru, Steel Pulse, and Buju Banton, have emerged to create and deﬁne a certain ethos that, at least from one perspective, may be seen as “Rasta.”
In all likelihood, “Rasta” as a religious-cultural import inﬂuenced a few Ghanaian youth to practice Rastafarianism in the 1970s and 1980s. Its social message, often wrapped in musical garb, would have been appealing, for instance, to disenfranchised youth during those long years of economic mismanagement and domestic privation.
Reggae was, and remains, an important “Rasta fashion,” and so too is the general appearance of “the Rastaman,” particularly the dreadlocks, which seem to carry enormous appeal in Ghana. It seems highly likely that some of these early Rastas noted the similarity between the appearance of Rasta celebrities like Bob Marley, with his long matted hair, and traditional African fetish priests and, therefore, perceived Rastafarianism as an authentically African way of life. Okomfo Anokye is worth noting here, as a truly legendary ﬁgure in Ghanaian religion and culture. According to Ashanti mythology, he established the Ashanti Kingdom by calling forth its sacred Golden Stool from the sky. In addition, Ashantis claim that one of the three palm nuts Anokye threw on the ground marks the spot that would later become Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti kingdom.
Furthermore, they link him to a legendary sword, observable today in a small room behind Kumasi’s Okomfo Anokye Hospital. According to Ashanti tradition, this sword was mysteriously placed at the exact spot where Okomfo Anoyke called forth the Golden Stool. Royal lore claims that the Ashanti dynasty will suffer unspeakable tragedies should the sword ever be removed.
Not only do Ashantis treat Okomfo Anoyke as their founder and protector, they hold him as one of their highest fetish priests, mysteriously born as a locksman with fully-grown, matted hair. This arresting detail is not lost on current Ghanaian Rastafarians. While it is difﬁcult to prove that early Ghanaian Rastafarians made any kind of solid connection between their faith and the ﬁgure of Okomfo Anokye, from my perspective, the link seems obvious. More than a few non-Rastafarian Ghanaians remarked to me that with the emergence of Rastafarianism among Ghanaian youth in the mid-to-late 1970s, fetish priests found a wider audience for their words and deeds.
Excerpt from: AS IT IS IN ZION:SEEKING THE RASTAFARI IN GHANA,WEST AFRICA Darren J. N. Middleton, Black Theology: An International Journal, 2006.
How have the protest anthems of the classic era of reggae been transformed into support for Jamaica’s tourist industry? Stephen King tackles such general questions of co-optation in his monograph a revision of his dissertation that at times suffers from an overly academic presentation, particularly when he attempts to fit data to the categories of his particular social movement theory.
The study attempts to “comprehensively trace how Jamaica’s protest music has changed both lyrically and musically over a twenty-one year period, and how the Jamaican government has attempted to silence or co-opt these voices of protest”. King concludes with a look at how Rastafari claims for social justice in reggae have been co-opted first in the service of the island’s emergent nationalism and then to assist Jamaican tourism.
King locates the roots of reggae in ska (1959-65) and rocksteady (1966-67), the two musical forms that preceded it. It was ska, a music that blended mento , the indigenous Jamaican version of calypso, with American jazz and rhythm and blues, that reflected the optimistic mood of the country during the run-up to Jamaican independence. As economic conditions worsened for the majority of Jamaica’s blacks during the mid-1960s, the more aggressive lyrics of rocksteady gave voice to the frustrations and alienation of the island’s under- and unemployed ghetto dwellers. And then there was the advent of reggae in the late 1960s and through the 1970s, the period that is remembered as the high- water mark of Rastafari influence on an emergent Jamaican nationalism. Reggae, of course, began as a Rasta-inspired music that not only articulated the pan- African vision of the movement and its demands for social justice, but that celebrated the cultural practices and symbols of Rastafari.
King does a credible job in mapping the general contours and themes of these musical developments against the backdrop of a changing Jamaican society. In the course of this he shows how the roots of Rastafari musical protest are organically intertwined with the development of both preceding forms. While this is hardly newsworthy to many aficionados of Jamaican music, King provides some interesting examples that illustrate how critical commentary and protest themes, however restrained, existed within ska lyrics from the outset. The occasional presence of Rastafari drumming, biblical references (e.g., River Jordan, Mount Zion), and allusions to repatriation through the idiom of the “promised land” were all important resonances in this music that portended the development of popular music as an important communicative medium for the Rasta movement.
King describes rocksteady as a music that is more aggressive, that speaks more directly to the collective frustrations and suffering experienced by the island’s lower classes. Frequently, this music celebrates the “Rude Boy” or new male ghetto rebel as he has been memorialized in popular discourse. Prince Buster’s “Too Hot” and Derrick Morgan’s “Tougher Than Tough” are both examples of this figure, an individual who sought social and political justice with a ratchet (knife) or a gun. King points out that rocksteady lyrics tended to condone more aggressive protest against the oppression of the “sufferah” class, while in specific cases evoking linkages with the general Rastafari critique of the “Babylonian” neocolonial system.
Of critical importance to the dissemination and popularization of this music, King notes, were “sound systems” developed to carry high-fidelity playback equipment to rural and urban dances throughout the island. This portable technology, he argues, enabled the development of a community of dissent by transporting music to sites where “the voice of the poor could be heard without interference by local authorities”, a development that continued from the era of ska through reggae to the present. It is certainly true that sound systems served to strengthen an already extant discourse of protest, but King fails to recognize that long before sound systems, the Rasta movement itself was about creating alternative spaces for face-to-face communication in which counter-hegemonic discourse was reproduced and disseminated.
Review: UNDERSTANDING A MODERN ANTIQUE: CHALLENGES TO REPRESENTING RASTAFARI IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY Author: John P. Homiak Source: NWIG: New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids, Vol. 79, No. 1/2 (2005)
Religiously, the Rastafari are committed to the belief in theliving God : God living in and among his people. Accordingly, such a belief throws cold water on anyone who claims leadership status. The living God, which according to the Rastafari is Haile Selassie, the former emperor of Ethiopia, is not only the ultimate decision maker, but there is no distinction between him and his followers. Thus, every member is an autonomous person whose obligation is to nothing but the convictions of his or her inner self. In this sense, the Rastafari is antihierarchical through and through.
As the Rastafari is a movement where flat hierarchy prevails, every member is a professional activist, none of whom has grounds to claim a distinct and sumptuous posture. Thus, insofar as a symmetrical relationship between the leaders and the led is integral to the philosophy of the Rastafari, it is of no avail to have a formal hierarchical organization. …
Structural versatility is also manifest in the religious dimension of the movement. The Rastafari is what a sociologist of religion calls an emergent religion. The absence of formal organizations, leadership, and official creeds is what differentiates emergent religions from traditional ones. Hence, the Rastafari as an emergent religion differs from traditional religions such as Christianity. The absence of churches and leaders, and the perspective of movement participants about the Bible, is what makes the Rastafari unique. Because the Rastafarians consider each member as a church unto him- or herself, the existence of a separate Rastafarian church is considered redundant and superfluous.
Prayers and other religious rituals can be conducted in any place as long as there is a group of Rastafarians. Consequently, among the Rastafari there is no professional staff of ministers who provide leadership and disseminate the doctrines of the movement. Unlike mainstream religions, the Rastafari does not have an established institution that formally trains a set of religious experts whose purpose is to disseminate the message of the movement. Even the Rastafarians do not refer to the teaching of Haile Selassie as do Christians and Muslims to the teachings of Christ and Mohammed. This is simply because Haile Selassie did not have a set of religious principles that he set out for his followers, nor did he at any time declare himself leader of the movement. This is one of the reasons why the Rastafari are at liberty in interpreting the messages of the Bible.
Title: DECENTERED MOVEMENTS: THE CASE OF THE STRUCTURAL AND PRECEPTUAL VERSATILITY OF THE RASTAFARI Author: Alemseghed Kebede Published: Sociological Spectrum. 2001. https://doi.org/10.1080/02732170118234
“Regarding the body as a temple, which must be loved, respected and well looked after, is another Rastafarian mantra. And contrary to popular belief, not all Rastafarians smoke marijuana, and if they do, they don’t simply smoke to get high.
However, this happens today within the context of an ever-increasing amount of anti-smoking campaigns highlighting the negative effects smoking has on the body, which are being taken more seriously now and are much more chronicled and echoed from the rooftops.
The reasons Rastas give up smoking marijuana are the same reasons why tobacco users kick the habit. Although there are many Rastafarians who still smoke, others, especially those who follow a stringent orthodox lifestyle, advise smokers to respect their body.
“Most people think all Rastafarians smoke marijuana, but I don’t smoke because I view my body as a temple,” says Zephaniah, who lectures at Brunel University.
“I came to the conclusion that I didn’t need ganja to get high and I didn’t like the habit I developed. So I have been getting high from not being high for the last 30 years.
Agreeing, Priest adds: “You get one chance to live and you must learn to preserve it so that you can live a longer life with meaning, caring and understanding.
“I had a heart attack, and even before the heart attack, I wanted to stop smoking. But when I had the heart attack – that made me realise how precious and delicate my temple is.
“The biggest myth about Rastafarians in terms of stereotypes is weed, but you don’t have to smoke weed. There is more to the understanding and the faith of being a Rastafarian than just weed.”
Verses, names, symbols, and concepts from ancient Judah can come to figure centrally in a religious movement of modern Jamaica only through an unusually varied and extensive series of religious and cultural transmissions. This process of conceptual transformation and confluence has been the object of interest and inquiry in its own right, as scholars have attempted to trace “the twisted path to a Rastafari hermeneutics as the movement ‘hijacked’ Judeo-Christian Scriptures and converted them into vehicles for identity, ‘ideation,’ and liberation”. Rastafari reggae involves orders of intertextuality, multiple reconfigurations of language, meaning, names, and symbols, and the continual development and accrual of layers of additional semantic content and commentary. At one time literally grounded in concrete geopolitical and historical actualities, “Babylon” and “Zion” go on to become abstract concepts that pass themselves on like “memes” through modulating traditions, practices, and translations, eventually to occupy a crucial position in the religious art form of an Afro-Caribbean heterodoxy. The complex path of influences and inheritances by which the Psalms become Rastafari reggae songs goes back, according to tradition, all the way to the time of David, to whom some of the original psalms are ascribed. Evidence to place and date the Psalms historically is almost completely lacking, however, and thus there is room for considerable disagreement about these texts especially, as compared for example to many of the prophetic writings. Still, in broad terms, the path of migration may be said to extend from pre-exile Israel and Judah, to the first waves of Assyrian deportations of the northern kingdom in the eighth century BCE; to the sixth century Babylonian captivity and destruction of the Temple, and then the return and restoration; to the flourishing and fixation of the Hebrew scriptural tradition in the Persian or Second Temple period; to the Roman occupation, the watershed destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, and the diaspora. Meanwhile the Septuagint, already in Koiné Greek for centuries, is taken up in the rise and spread of early Christianity in the Hellenized Roman Empire, to be Latinized, Europeanized, handed down through a thousand years of medieval, Renaissance, and Reformation developments in the West, ultimately to become the “Old Testament” of the 1611 “Authorized” or King James version (KJV) of the Bible, making its way to the “New World.”
It was thus in the classic English translation of the Bible that Jamaicans discovered the Judaic texts, but even then the reception was further modulated, mediated by resistance and interference. One may have expected missionary efforts to have been undertaken on the part of eighteenth-century British colonialists to convert indigenous and slave populations and spread Anglican Christianity, as had been done with Catholicism in Haiti and elsewhere in the Caribbean. Instead, according to Barrett, “the English planters in Jamaica adamantly refused to share their religion with the slave population”; for the Africans of Jamaica, “the Church of England and its high liturgy was considered too sophisticated”.
“After England took over Jamaica and established the slave trade, no attempt had been made to Christianize the slaves” for nearly two centuries. It was only through later “nonconformist” denominations like Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians that black Jamaicans were introduced to Judeo-Christian religion and the King James Bible. It is plainly the King James version that reggae psalmists take up and adapt to their own revolutionary purposes, as a number of characteristic examples will show. The language of the “Old Testament,” and especially of the Psalms, appears frequently in Bob Marley’s lyrics and in other reggae songs, notably the classic anthem “Rivers of Babylon,” which is an extended quotation of KJV Psalm 137 (and some of Psalm 19). This song deserves close analysis, as it is emblematic of the Rastafari reggae tradition, and both song and psalm have been the subject of singular attention in the scholarship. Rastafari identify especially with the ancient symbolism of “Zion”—under- stood not to be in contemporary Israel or the Middle East, but in Africa, and particularly Ethiopia—and they live in “Babylon,” which refers to realities of oppression far from Mesopotamia, which is (as Peter Tosh says) “everywhere”. For Rastafari, “two systems exist: Zion and Babylon, the good and the evil.” Babylon is both “the embodiment of evil in biblical literature” and also “a symbol of bondage, not only for ancient Israelites but for all people held in slavery and oppression, especially black people”.
Through an imaginative and highly subversive reinterpretation, Rastafari read themselves as portrayed in the texts and symbols of the Babylonian exile and the pre- and postexilic periods. In their “free-style approach” to the texts, making such an identification is not difficult: Rastafari are said to “hijack biblical materials and concepts and relate them to any situation or problem when their language and imagery fit the categories and ideology of the interpreter or movement”. Judaic biblical verses thus provide many lyrical and conceptual points of departure for religious reggae songs, just as they offer symbols (like the Lion of Judah) that become badges of Rastafari cultural and religious identity. The core religious vocabulary of Rastafari reggae originates in the King James version, but nearly all the names, places, and words have undergone extensive and creative deformation of language into Jamaicans’ own distinctive idiom. Key words and phrases are retained, but almost never strictly verbatim; reggae songs freely adapt and inflect the anglicized texts in a highly stylized vernacular that is unique to Jamaican and reggae culture. “I-an-I,” for example, is a preferred pronominal form; according to Stefffens, the expression “means ‘you and I’ or ‘I and the Creator who lives within I,’ indicating that there is no separation, that disunity is an illusion” , and affirming Rastafari union and identity with “the Divine, who indwells ‘I-an-I’ ”. These innovations notwithstanding, the overarching religious themes of Rastafari reggae are recognizably, indeed unmistakably Judaic: captivity, oppression, exile, diaspora, longing for freedom and return. “Rastafari reggae” thus designates a specific subset: reggae music is only one form of Rastafari religious expression—i.e. not all Rastafari is reggae— and certainly not all reggae is Rastafari.
Representing far more than mere entertainment, this now classic form of reggae is not, as it were, “just music”—any more than the original psalms were; whether at the First or Second Temple, or by the rivers of Babylon. Insofar as they are derived from particular biblical verses set to music, many Rastafari songs—at least in what has been called reggae’s “churchical” mode —may be considered distant but direct descendants of the psalm form itself. Reggae songs and themes have resonated even with indigenous peoples who have been colonized on their own land (“Reggae on the Rez”) rather than being carried away into captivity or driven into exile.
From Judah to Jamaica: The Psalms in Rastafari Reggae Thompson, J. (2012). Religion and the Arts
By 1960, several Jamaican institutions had begun to show an interest in the counterculture, and to contribute to the demarginalisation of the Rastafari movement which had previously been repressed. One such institution was the University of the West Indies, which put the Rastafari on its agenda. In the course of these trajectories, Jamaican public opinion, which had predominantly perceived the Rastafari movement to be a crowd of violent criminals, fools and outcasts, changed successfully.
Particularly, reggae music (as the emancipation of Jamaican popular music) was co-opted. The result of the blending of Afro-Jamaican Burru and Kumina drum techniques and folk traditions with Afro-American musical styles (including jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, soul and swing) led to the creation of mento, ska, rocksteady and reggae styles like dancehall, dub, lovers, raggamuffin, rockers and roots, which ‘exerted a tremendous influence on the development of post- World War II popular music globally’. The musical film The harder they come (1972), starring Jimmy Cliff, contributed enormously to the transnationalisation, popularisation and commercialisation of roots reggae. Not until this style developed, did reggae lyrics exhibit the spirituality and socio-political engagement that came to be seen as the hallmark of roots reggae. And, clearly no one represented the Rastafari rhetoric and feelings of this genre to the world more ably and persuasively than Bob Marley.
In fact, conscious reggae music, with its recreational, critical and inspirational dimensions, would soon transcend the Rastafari milieu and succeed in conquering a global audience. Today, Rastafari not only has observer status in the United Nations, but even more importantly it has become part of everyday culture in Jamaica, and even abroad. However, the various Rastafari mansions relate differently to reggae music: whereas Boboshanti reject reggae as part of their culture and only consider drumming and chanting as true Rastafari music, the Theocracy Reign Order of the Nyahbinghi describes its relationship to reggae through the metaphor:
The dynamics of herbal medicine are complex within the Western Cape and are typically sectored into different groupings based upon cultural background. In contemporary Western Cape culture, particularly in urban Cape Town, a hybridization of cultures and healers has led to the development of neo–traditional healers, Rastafari bush doctors.
This group draws from the practices and herbal treatments used by other cultures including: herbalists called inyanga (Zulu) and amaxwhele (Xhosa); spiritual diviners, who communicate largely with ancestral spirits, called izangoma (Zulu) and amagqirha (Xhosa); faith healers called umthandazi (Xhosa), Christians who heal through prayer; and traditional birth attendants. In the Western Cape, bossiedokters (in English, bush doctors), healers with knowledge of bush herbs, are recognized as the oldest healers in this area.
Rastafarian herbalists acknowledge their KhoiSan history as the basis for their botanical medical knowledge.
There is evidence that medicinal plant knowledge was shared between KhoiSan and Xhosa cultures from the 16th century onwards; where KhoiSan peoples used highly advanced nomenclature, distinguishing between species and sub–species levels, while Xhosa folk taxonomy discriminates typically to the family or genus level and include flora from a wider geographical range.
Investigations reveal that the growing subculture of Rastafarians promotes and trades medicinal species in most towns, city centers, and rural areas in the Western Cape.
Rastafari, a socio–political religion, has been a growing phenomenon in South Africa since its introduction in the 1970s. Its tenets promote racial equality, ecological sustainability and, for those in the Western Cape, availability of traditional medicines. The most visible leaders of this group are their healers who have adopted the Afrikaans name: bossiedokters.
Contemporary Rasta bush doctors state that their mission is to reintroduce KhoiSan healing traditions to the disadvantaged people living in townships, housing settlements for people of color that were provided by the Apartheid government. Bush doctors are an important element to revitalizing a culture of healing and preserving indigenous knowledge specifically for urbanized Coloured communities, a mixed race group descendant from KhoiSan people and other cultures.
Key participants consistently create, or transcend boundaries, notably, in the form of categories, spaces and material reality. The phenomenon of Dancehall queen is a crucial example. Dancehall queens emerged as informal community celebrities and have existed since the 1970s. Since Poochiloo and other less acknowledged queens of the Dancehall, Carlene Smith (the 1992 media proclaimed queen) in particular, and Stacey (crowned queen in 1999), have ushered in a new era in Dancehall: the rise of image, style, appeal, and a ‘narrative of queen’.
However, this was an old phenomenon that featured in such traditional forms (both secular and religious) as Kumina, a Congo-derived Afro-Jamaican religion (with Mrs Imogene ‘Queenie’ Kennedy as the most popular), Jonkonnu, Bruckins Party and Queen Party.
This is paralleled by the ‘Mother’ or chief spiritual arbiter in Revival and Burru’s ‘Mother Lundy’. Additionally, there are Carnivals in the wider Caribbean (and its diaspora) where carnival queens are crowned based on authenticity, appropriate movements, mannerisms and dress. The ways in which the presence of ‘queen’ within both secular and religious settings mimics the status and symbol of great African queens, especially queen mothers of the Akan tradition such as Yaa Asantewa, Queen Mother of Ejisu whose war against the British is a well-known fact of West African history,
Ras Tafari’s Empress Menen, as well as the colonial legacy of the British Queen, is noteworthy.
The idea of ‘queen’ as a category, once simpliﬁed, reveals the consistently elevated place of woman as a key counterpart of the male ‘king’, in both the popular and religious realms. In this sense, within the Diaspora, the pervasiveness of a central female persona is consistent with African popular and sacred traditions as well as the kinship patterns that are matrilineal and/or matriarchal in character. …
For the dancer and the queen in particular, Dancehall is a stage, a status granting institution outside the socially constricting everyday, a space to emerge and maintain stardom on the basis of physical attributes and/or ability. It is also platform through which women deﬁne the terms and conditions of success, style, contest, while creating place and space for other women beyond constricting social conditions.
Sonjah Stanley Niaah (2004) Making space: Kingston’s Dancehall culture and its philosophy of ‘boundarylessness’ , African Identities, 2:2
Reggae is a key expression of the Rastafarian inner landscape. As a product which stands on its own merit, reggae is often conceived as divorced from the core Rastafari space and purpose. However, Nettleford reminded us that reggae exists because of Rastafari. He stated:
I keep telling people that reggae or ska right through to dancehall appropriated the Rastafarian movement, not the other way around. People don’t understand this; that in fact reggae has taken to itself an ontology, a way of being, a cosmology, a way of thinking about the world, and an epistemology – a way of knowing, getting to know things – through the Rastafarian movement . . . Mr Marley . . . decided that he had to employ not only the outward signs but also the inward grace of the movement. The inner landscape is very much dependent on the belief, faith of the Rastafarian movement . . .
Reggae is therefore in and of itself a landscape dependent on the belief of the Rastafari. In reggae, the Rastafarian has a medium through which to represent the issues, identities and aesthetic of an experience which would otherwise be a subaltern voice. Planno, in support of the reggae medium, said, “We [Rastafari] take the V off ‘pope’ and create ‘pop’ music.” This medium, now world music, has become a quintessential Voice’ and Vision’ of the Rastafari’s landscape, as it seeks to proselytise, conscientise and, in the idiom of Rastafari, ‘chant down Babylon’. The landscape that reggae provides as a national site for converging the experiences and aspirations of the Jamaican people significantly supports the thesis of Nettleford about the centrality of Rastafari as a cultural treasure for humanity. The potential in reggae is therefore not only in its manifested unification of the inner and outer landscapes of the Rastafari and the African Jamaican experience, but also in its humane qualities that provide an empathetic potential for all who hold the need for liberation, equity and dignity. To this extent the society has been typecast within the Rastafari scenery or landscape of reggae. It is this landscape that scholars such as Kwame Dawes identify not only as the spirit of Jamaica but also as the aesthetic of the Caribbean people and, I would add, perhaps even the African diaspora.
This idea of the reggae machinery as one of the chief expressions of the spirit of the Caribbean peoples links us back to Sir Arthur Lewis’s statement, “We are all Rastas”, as the music has been imbued and mandated to speak for us to break the silence. This, of course, brings into focus the social contradictions: reggae, a highly commercialised and successful music genre, has out-stripped in prominence its own inventors, the Rastafari. Additionally, reggae, which is a testimony of the Rastafari inner landscape, has increasingly been channelled away from its core producers’ ideological anxieties to represent seemingly the less germane aspects of the African experience. Nettleford realised this contradiction, and it was this that he identified as an appropriation of Rastafari by some reggae musicians who, he implied, are like wolves in sheep’s clothing, without a genuine appreciation for the inner grace.
Nettleford and Rastafari’s Inner Landscape by JAHLANI NIAAH Source: Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 57, No. 3/4, (December 2011)
The doctrine that Ras Tafari known to the world as the Emperor Haile Sellassie I of Ethiopia, is the Living God, was developed by several persons independently.
Of these Mr. Leonard P. Howell is genuinely regarded as being the first to preach the divinity of Ras Tafari in Kingston. Howell is said to have fought against King Prempeh of Ashanti (1896), and claimed to speak an African language.
‘The Promised Key’, a basic Ras Tafari text, published in Accra, Ghana around 1930, shows clear evidence of Jamaican authorship. (Jamaica Times 28th May 1938).
Howell also spent several years in the north-eastern U.S., where he came into contact with black and white racism.
Another early preacher was Mr. Joseph Nathaniel Hibbert. Mr. Hibbert was born in Jamaica in 1894, but went with his adopted father to Costa Rica in 1911, returning to Jamaica in 1931. In Costa Rica Mr. Hibbert had leased 28 acres, which he put in bananas. In 1924 he had joined the Ancient Mystic Order of Ethiopia, a Masonic society the constitution of which was revised in 1888, and which became incorporated in 1928 in Panama. Mr. Hibbert became a Master Mason of this Order, and, returning to Jamaica, began to preach Haile Sellassie as the King of Kings, the returned Messiah and the Redeemer of Israel.
This was at Benoah District, St. Andrew, from whence he moved to Kingston to find Howell already preaching Ras Tafari as God at the Redemption Market. Mr. H. Archibald Dunkley is another man who may claim to have brought the doctrine to Jamaica. Mr. Dunkley was a Jamaican seaman on the Atlantic Fruit Company’s boats, and finally quit the sea on the 8th December 1930, when he landed at Port Antonio off the s.S. St. Mary. Coining to Kingston, Dunkley studied the Bible for two-and-a half years on his own, to determine whether Haile Sellassie was the Messiah whom Garvey had prophesied. Ezekiel 30, I Timothy 6, Revelation 17 and 19 and Isaiah 43 finally convinced him.
In 1933 Dunkley opened his Mission, preaching Ras Tafari as the King of Kings, the Root of David, the Son of the Living God, but not the Father Himself. Other early preachers include Robert Hinds, who joined Howell, and Altamont Read who turned his following over to one Mr. Johnson when he became Mr. N. W. Manley’s bodyguard about 1940.
Found in: HISTORY OF THE MOVEMENT, from:
The Rastafari Movement In Kingston, Jamaica. PART 1
Authors: M. G. SMITH, ROY AUGIER and REX NETTLEFORD
Source: Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 3 (September 1967)