Dread Rastafari & Ethiopia: An overview of the Rastafari Movement in Dominica by Albert Williams. (First published in the New Chronicle October/November, 1991)
Undoubtedly, the most controversial social trend to evolve on the Dominica social landscape was the ever increasing, fascination of the way of life of the Rastafari movement among young people and it’s continued thrust towards acceptance by wider society.
Rastafari has proven by his steady contribution to mainstream entertainment, and the success of RASTAFARIANS in fields, ranging from law to agriculture, to sports to politics, that there is a deep and abiding philosophy to the movement, and that RASTAFARIANS and Rastafari are indigenous to the Caribbean.
The first RASTAFARIANS to appear in Dominica was somewhere around 1972-73 when a generation of young persons sought to express their African heritage. There are differing accounts as to who was responsible for introducing the Dead philosophy to this country. Some on-lookers hold the view that graduates coming home from the University of the West Indies in Jamaica were foremost among those who introduced the doctrine of Rastafari. Today, the Rastafari Movement is making giant strides. The 1970's were a period of intense soul-searching and reasoning for the brothers and sisters who had already been exposed to the fundamentals of black struggle as expounded by one trade unionist and black activist, Marcus Garvey of Jamaica. The brethren adopted natural life-styles to fortify their commitment to the motherland. They took to living on abandoned estates, crown lands and personal holdings deep in the interior of the island, allowing their hair to coil and matt, cascading over their shoulders towards the waist, and even the knees. The fruits, vegetables and ground provisions that they cultivated, and which were in abundance from the surrounding hinterland were their staples diet. Reggae music had just begun to make its impact on the island and the cover designs of Bob Marley's 'Catch a Fire' and Natty Dread, inspired the brethren, as they listened to the dreadful lament, and cries of burning and looting, much to the dismay of conventional society; whose rely was one of disgust and amazement to this strange phenomena that was to take its place in the social fabric of the country through to the 1980's, the 1990's and beyond.
DREADS COME HOME
Whilst the brothers and the sisters were busy building agricultural bases in the hills to support their I-tal ideology, certain persons were unhappy about their motives. Confrontation broke out between the 'dreads as they were called, identified by their woolly tams and afro-centric hairs styles, as members of the public called on the government of the Premier Patrick John to exterminate what they called the 'Dread Menace'. A massive propaganda campaign geared towards eliminating the dreads was launched. The prohibited and Unlawful Societies Act, commonly called The Dread Act, was rushed through parliament following a 38-day, amnesty, giving the police power to arrest any member of the unlawful association, and above all a license to shoot on sight.
The above events came against the backdrop of the overthrow of Emperor of Ethiopia by young militant army officers on the international scene,
Meanwhile back home in the Caribbean, Jamaican reggae superstar, Bob Marley and condemned black activist, the young Desmond Trotter were at the centre of affairs, at least in the minds of the media and human rights organisations who mounted a world-wide campaign to save the life of’ Destrot’ who in spite of pleading ‘not guilty’ was condemned to hang in 1974 for the murder of an American tourist in. One writer described the Trotter affair as, "one that is rooted deeply in humanism and Christian understanding," and that Desmond Trotter had developed an ethnic philosophy which was in direct response to our ailing society which made him a popular figure with the dread brethren, and an obvious target for the agents of ‘Babylon’ whose intention it was to eradicate the movement and its chief proponent.
An article appearing in the New Chronicle issue of July 19, 1975, captioned, "Dreads Come Home" was a direct letter to the young persons in the hills to encourage and initiate dialogue with them to discuss problems facing the dreads.
The Patrick John-led, Labour government promised vocational training to the dreads to enable the young persons to avail themselves of job opportunities in the state, and to reconcile their differences. This was hailed by the establishment as the first step, by the government to come to grips with ‘dread problem’ Up until then, the name, Rastafari was not yet part of the vocabulary to describe the dreads. It is important to not, that from an historical stand point, that the general disgust by society due in part to the total lack of understanding of the outlook of the dreads cannot be solely attributed to the association of crime and violence to the group. It is unfortunate that a movement, which through its chief proponents exposed doctrines of love for humanity and dignity of cultural ethics, had violent elements creeping into its rank and file. The groups continued use of and cultivation of the ‘holy weed ‘ was a constant cause of consternation between the dreads and the lawmen, with increased cases of police brutality, shoot-outs and kidnappings that virtually put the country in a permanent state of shock and insecurity.
In a subsequent issue, the reasons and circumstances surrounding this dark chapter of the movement will be dealt with, But not all the roped-hair, anti- social, peace and love adherents, call them what you may, were criminals. By 1977 a new generation of fresh blood had joined the struggle and sympathisers grew by the hundreds; more and more turned to craft and artistic careers in music and poetry, and some who had been allowed to settle on a portion of government land had formed themselves in the RASTAFARIAN CO-OPERATIVE COMMUNITY. In part two we look at Rastafarian culture, post independence period, and how Rastafari sought to adjust its self to the task of building, repairing, educating a general public who still long to under (over)stand, and know the truth about RASTAFARIANS in Dominica.
WHAT THEN OF THE STATE OF RASTAFARI MOVEMENT TODAY, WHAT OF THE FUTURE?
A pre-requisite for the success of any movement is an imaginative leadership. RASTAS demand a Rastafarian intelligentsia that will take on that challenge to articulate a Rasta social theory. To design a body of organised values which explain who you are, what you stand for, what is your main program of development and how you intend to carry out that program.
The future of Rastafari lies in the ultimate divine revelation and mystic manifestation, of the reappearance of the Power of the Trinity who alone holds the answers to all of Rasta’s concerns and problems. Babylonian life as a concept has to be rejected out rightly to be replaced with values that re-integrate the African-Ethiopian with his creator, gradually withering out crime, poverty, violence and disease, until complete security is achieved with in the oneness experienced in the God-man divine union.
Needless to say, the RASTAS constant hope is repatriation: to be at the foot of the throne of HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY. In this part two, I continue to present a brief overview of the conditions that led to dreadism, which in turn evolved into Rastafarianism then Ethiopianism hence the title of this essay.
The true RASTA man will never be content with life in the Caribbean (Carry Beyond). The creed of ‘least resistance’ is not easily applicable here, RASTAFARIANS and DREADLOCKS do not submit to any ideology or institution or set of values whose attitude reminds them of aspects from which they have developed ‘psychic resistance.’ The mission of the RASTAFARIAN is strictly religious. RASTAFARI supplies that new way of life through the oldest way of life: "divine theocracy" (RASTAFARI-Away of Life, page 47. Political convictions are centred on events as they happen on the continent: AFRICAETHIOPIA.
Activities of the Pan-African Congress (PAN), African National Congress (ANC) and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) are of particular interest. Rastafari is correct in saying that he has a claim to contribute to the development of black civilisations. Countries like Dominica like ‘Babylon’ and are nor conducive towards the unfolding of the full potential of the Rastaman, that ‘NATURAL MYSTIC’.
THE RASTA scene in Dominica today is one of an uneasy truce. A spirit of conditional peace prevails, punctuated by occasional mishap and ganja busts. How many RASTAFARIANS are there in Dominica? Nobody knows. Government agencies do not recognise RASTAFARIANS and to date no register of members has been devised that will give a true picture. Many RASTAFARIANS do not wear dreadlocks although they share in other aspects of the ideology, and a head count of visible RASTAFARIANS would not be a reliable ground on which to base a count on, as many dreadlocks do not claim the divinity of HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY.
The outlook towards the establishment continues to be one of suspicion and distrust. "Natty Dread" however, realises that even in captivity 21,000 miles away from home, that he must get his culture and seek to live peaceably among all men. A few dreads can be seen among white-collar workers indicating a slow, but gradual acceptance of the state towards RASTA. Especially in the high schools where several RASTA children have been enrolled, and are reported to be exemplary students befitting a child of the Emperor, Haile Sellassie. I
In some respects, the full impact of RASTAFARI cannot be ascertained, as a RASTAFARIAN. As surely as the subject begins with EMPEROR HAILE SELLASSIE I as the visible representative of God. This is old and New Treatment theology, known as RASTA THEOLOGY, RASTAFARIANISM, as the object identifies a physical development in man, through man, with aims and objectives as end results: the base of self reliance. (The Imperial Chronicle)
ETHIOPIAN WORLD FEDERATION INCORPORATED
The formation of a local charter of the Ethiopian World Federation Incorporated (EWF) signalled a new chapter in the history (I-story) of the RASTAFARI movement in the Commonwealth of Dominica with offices located at 34A Potters Street, Pottersville. The EWF, in its preamble to its constitution, sets the standard for positive interaction between the federation and the general public. The aims of the EWF are to promote love and goodwill among Ethiopians at home and abroad, and to usher in the teaching and practice of the fatherhood of God, and the brotherhood of man.
"We the black peoples of the world," quoting from the preamble, "in order to effect unity, solidarity, liberty freedom and self-determination, to secure justice and maintain the integrity of Ethiopia, which is I and I divine Heritage do establish and ordain this constitution for the Ethiopian World Federation." Membership is open to all blacks. For more information on the Ethiopian world Federation Incorporated, please write to EWF Headquarters or call 001-767-448-88671.
Since its inauguration last, the EWF has been instrumental in honouring a former Garveyite in Dominica. As well as presenting African literature and education through various activities, including African liberation Day observances, Marcus Garvey Day and the birthday of Emperor Haile Sellassie. Recently we have seen more sisters coming to the fore, engaging in various needlework and garment manufacturing endeavours. Whilst others run restaurants and snackettes providing a range of tasty soya product, juices and other vegetarian meals.
Another area of Rastafarian achievement is Blow’s Agro Products Limited, manufacturers of herb teas and spices nicely packaged and run by several deadlocked Rastafarian brothers. The emphasis is on economic well being. As the present recession worldwide, the uncertainty of trading agreements with Europe after 1992, as well as other world happenings tend to apply a certain anguish among citizens. An anguish that rubs off deep down in to the heart of the social pyramid where RASTA is both first and last, and the silent witness to the final downfall of ‘Babylon.
As the walls that separate RASTAFARIANS from the rest of society disintegrate, we can expect to see more and more young people, as well as older citizens embrace the doctrine. Lifetime vocations appear to be more attractive. The local minds begin to place this uniquely indigenous truth perspective. To date, no other group can claim to have contributed more to the overall development of a singular unifying Caribbean consciousness