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Author Topic: Rastafari: An Ethos of Black Resistance  (Read 7610 times)
selassieilive
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« on: April 10, 2003, 09:49:18 PM »

Posted By: Palo
Date: Monday, 31 March 2003, at 3:06 a.m.

I-stories of the African/Black Diaspora are dotted with narratives and movements of Black insurrection. Resistance and resilience have been hallmarks of the African experience in the West. Radical discourses emerged organically from grassroots communities whose popular definitions of Blackness challenged Western notions of assimilation. Pan-Africanism, Black Nationalism and Rastafari developed various critiques of hyphenated Black identities. Pan-Africanism highlighted the unity of struggle and displaced Africans in the West and Africans on the continent. Black Nationalism wove connections between identity, nation and liberation. However it is Rastafari that powerfully articulates a metaphysical and revolutionary Blackness. Rastafari, as a form of critical Black thought integrates the politics of the body, mind and spirit into a perspective of transformation.

At its most fundamental level Rastafari asserts the divinity of Blackness. The embrace of the ital/natural life/livity and the critiques of Babylon/Western civilization mark Rastafari as a transgressive movement. The anchor of Rastafari is the exaltation of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie as the Almighty. The recognition of Haile Selassie as King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah is an acknowledgement that the Godhead and King are one. The foundation of Rastafari is the Nyahbinghi order, whose central principle “death to all white and Black oppressors” is firmly in the anti-colonialist tradition. The centrality of the “heartbeat” of the harps/drums to Nyahbinghi chants and praises/I-zes reaffirms the “cosmic power” of African percussion. Nyahbinghi culture consistently reasserts the reciprocity between African culture and Black dissidence. All Rastafarian “houses” commemorate the coronation of H.I.M. Haile Selassie on November 2, 1930 and his birth on July 23, in 1892. However the celebrations of the Battle of Adowa where Ethiopians defeated the Italians in 1896, African liberation Day on May 25th and Marcus Garvey’s birthday on August 17th demonstrate how the symbolic mapping of Black rebellion is integral to Rastafari culture.

The Rastafarian houses of Bobo Ashanti, Twelve Tribes and Orthodox manifest different interpretations of the Rastafarian philosophy. Bobo Ashanti, the robe and turban order strongly espouses Black supremacy and the god and goddess nature in Black man and Black woman. Bobo Ashanti encourage Black people to “talk Black, live Black, and eat Black”. Whereas Twelve Tribes hold on to the idea that Rastafari is not “writs and rights but a function of the heart”. In spite of lifestyle differences, there is a core ideology that Rastafari upholds: an egalitarianism that is the antithesis of the capitalist social relations promoted by Western culture.
Historically Rastafari has been an eclectic blend of discourse, lifestyle and ideas entrenched in the philosophy of Black defiance. One of the first Rastafarian communes, Pinnacle, established in 1940 in St. Catherine, Jamaica under the leadership of Leonard Powell set a precedent for the kinds of “camps” and “hills” where brethren and sistren built collective enterprises and communities. The police raid of Pinnacle opened the door to the criminalization of Rastafarians and the public labeling of them as seditious lunatics blinded by a cultic movement. In spite of state brutality Rastafari continued to burgeon in the Caribbean and by the 1970’s the Rastafari was a “leading force of Black consciousness.” However Rastafari proclaimed that Black was more than beautiful, it was an open statement that Black identity had to be grounded in resistance.

The commercialization of Rastafarian culture has lead to a dissociation of Rastafari from its revolutionary roots. The oversimplification of Rastafari to vegetarianism, dreadlocks, and free-spiritedness wrongly portrays the Rastafarian community as solely anti-establishment. By focusing on the aesthetics of Rastafari, the class struggles behind forms of cultural resistance are camouflaged. Rastafari continues to be an uprising of subversive ideas. The activist legacy of Rastafari persists and the vibrancy of the movement lies in the everyday struggles of Black people worldwide.

In the Caribbean Rastafarians challenged neo-colonialism and capitalism in diverse ways. Rastafarians made ideological contributions to the African liberation struggle and to radical struggles in the Eastern Caribbean made to the African liberation movement and to radical struggles in the Eastern Caribbean. African liberation movements such as in Zimbabwe used reggae music to mobilize people and reggae music appropriated the themes of African liberation into its lyrics. Rastafarians in Jamaica were active in trade union and labor struggles. The icons of Rastafari and the popularity of reggae music were instrumental in the progressive politics preached by Michael Manley in the 1970’s. Rastafarians were actively engaged in the Grenadian revolution, linking Rastafari culture with socialist politics. The Grenadian revolution gave Rastafarians from all over the Caribbean an opportunity to be a part of progressive revolutionary movement. Rastafarians were also part of the Black Power movement in Trinidad during the 1970’s adding their voices to critiques against race and class oppression.

Throughout the eighties and nineties Rastafarians have followed the dictum “organize and centralize”. Nyahbinghi Houses, Bobo Ashanti tabernacles and Twelve Tribes organizations have emerged in the US, Canada and England. Organizations like the Rastafari Centralization Organization (R.C.O.) formed in 1995 work on the "question of human rights as they relate to Rastafari in particular”. The Ichirouganaim Council for the Advancement of Rastafari, a NGO that represented Rastafarians at the World Conference Against Racism, formulated proposals on reparations, the cancellations of Africa debt, and legislation that “promotes respect for and protects the religious identities of Africas descendants.” Rastafarian activists are now committed to agendas that are not solely focused on the legalization of marijuana but around issues that affect the survival of all Black communities.

The commercialization of Rastafarian culture has lead to a dissociation of Rastafari from its revolutionary roots. The oversimplification of Rastafari to vegetarianism, dreadlocks, and free-spiritedness wrongly portrays the Rastafarian community as solely anti-establishment. By focusing on the aesthetics of Rastafari, the class struggles behind forms of cultural resistance are camouflaged. Rastafari continues to be an uprising of subversive ideas. The activist legacy of Rastafari persists and the vibrancy of the movement lies in the everyday struggles of Black people worldwide. At a Nyahbinghi in 1959, brethren and sistren proclaimed to the Jamaican government “repatriation or rebellion”. Rastafarians were warning of an impending revolution if they couldn’t go “home.” Now the nation building aspects of Rastafari are coming full circle with more brethren and sistren embracing the cornerstone of the Rastafarian ideology, repatriation. Rastafarians are slowly making the exodus out of Babylon and forwarding to countries such as Ghana, Ethiopia, South Africa and Botswana. Now Rastafarians face a choice, remain insular or follow our activist traditions and agitate for justice side by side with fellow Africans in the continuing struggle over Black life.

As taken from kush.co.ga


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