Africa Speaks Reasoning Forum

GENERAL => Rastafari => Topic started by: Makini on January 08, 2014, 07:25:52 PM

Title: Let’s discuss the period of the Dread Act
Post by: Makini on January 08, 2014, 07:25:52 PM
Let’s discuss the period of the Dread Act – Henry Shillingford

Dominica News Online - Monday, November 19th, 2012

Thirty-eight years ago today, Parliament passed the Prohibited and Unlawful Societies and Associations Act,  which many argued started one of the worst chapters in Dominica’s history.

The brunt of the Act was felt by the Rastafarian community on the island, who wore their hair long and matted, commonly known as dreads. Hence the Act was infamously known as The Dread Act.

Under the Dread Act, individuals wearing dread locks and who appeared in public were guilty of an offense and subject to an arrest without warrant. The Act protected from civil or criminal liability, any civilian who killed or injured a member of the Dreads who was found illegally inside a dwelling house. Additionally, the security forces received immunity from the law for killing members of the rastafarian movement.

The act was passed in 1974 by the Patrick John-led Labour Party administration following violent attacks by certain members of the group against tourists and farmers, particularly in the southern part of the island. The legislation was enacted in response to a mode of panic that had hit the island.

There are many reports of atrocities committed against the rastafarian community with the House of Nyabingh in Dominica estimating that at least 21 members of that community were killed during the period of  the Dread Act.

Although the Act was repealed in 1985, outspoken attorney and rastafarian, Henry Shillingford, believes more should be done to  educate the public on the period surrounding its implementation and enforcement.

At minimum, he is calling for an apology from officialdom for the Act which according to him, was passed in the highest office in the land. “Up to now there is not one paper, assessment, no atonement for the passing of the Dread Act,” he  told Dominica News Online.

He said apologies should come from the Dominica Labour Party and the Dominica Freedom Party since the Act was passed by the Labour Party with no opposition from the Freedom Party.

But most importantly, Shillingford is calling for what he described as “an intellectual discussion and assessment” of the Act and the period surrounding it. “The University of the West Indies, the media houses and so on should come together to discuss, debate, and assess the period of the Dread Act,” he argued...

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Title: Re: Let’s discuss the period of the Dread Act
Post by: Makini on January 08, 2014, 08:30:52 PM
This is generally interesting reading, but I just selected the part related to Dominica's dreads.

A New Radicalism: The Dreads

from In Times Crucial: (Radical Politics in Dominica 1970-1980) by Gabriel Christian

Not many people consider that Dominica fought a small, undeclared and semi-secret internal war between 1975 and 1980, which continued somewhat into the 1980's. That conflict was to continue into the reign of Ms. Charles' government because the root causes which gave it birth were not resolved. The war pitted the machinery of the state against Dominican dreads who had resorted to guerrilla methods to secure their rights and/or autonomy from traditional society.

Though "dread" as a term is associated with pejorative establishment designation, it was to become commonly accepted to describe those who accepted some tenets of rastafarianism as practiced in Jamaica. The distinction was that a Dominican dread would violently resist any attempt by babylon to arrest or curtail his/her activities. Whereas, a classic rasta in the Jamaican mold, is not known to favor armed resistance but rather await the judgement of Jah4 upon babylon. Essentially, the Dominican dread of the 1970's was a youthful (primarily male) adherent of black power thought, who at the time claimed distinct christian virtues, affection for nature (and unprocessed foods), and an Afrocentric view and faith, separate and apart from the organized religion of babylon system. An obligatory bow was made towards Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, as most rastas of Jamaica and elsewhere are known to do. Dread notables, in the mold of Tumba, Peter Alleyne or Pokosion were more like modern day variants of the escaped slaves who had earlier founded guerilla camps in Dominica's mountain fastness in the 1700's and early 1800's. In contrast to Jamaica, where the rastas are primarily an urban phenomena, not known to occupy the mountain fastness of cockpit country . Unemployed, mostly literate, youth for whom the social reforms of Labor had fostered greater expectations those who became dread, had opted out of established society when those expectations for jobs, higher education, a respected and meaningful role in contemporary Dominican society, went unmet. Many had attended M.N.D meetings and had felt a need to go beyond mere mouthings of black nationalist jargon. A need was felt to go back to the land, to nature, to create an entirely new and pure social alternative to babylon. Yet, dreads, as a group, were never organized in any manner adequate to push their agenda. Rather, groups would coalesce among certain leaders, in certain geographic spots, at certain times. Only rarely did they petition government, but then with no clearly definable aim than to "reason out". Witness one such missive: come let us reason-out in which time time we will provide you with plenty itals, brother man...

Overall, dreads felt that contemporary Dominican society had failed them. Yet, they did not seek to engage in organizing the masses, issuing a program or printing pamphlets as the M.N.D had done.

In rejecting babylon's dress codes (to the degree of using loin clothes, or grass skirts on occasion), its iron implements (sometimes fashioning knives out of coconut shell) and Western values, dreads placed themselves outside the societal mainstream, and as such prone to attacks from the establishment, without any base of support which would mitigate such attacks . Dreads, for their sustenance, relied on "itals" or natural foods; those who touched pork were deemed "swine" or "swine-ish". They, would also engaged in craft making, or small-time subsistence agriculture where possible. Mostly though, for cash income necessary to maintain contact with the money economy, they traded in marijuana. In so doing they came into conflict with small farmers with whom they competed (for increasingly scarce land) upon the difficult-to-farm foothills of Dominica's mountainous crown (i.e. government) lands. Most fatally, the dreads came up against anti-drug legislation and a local security conscious regime swift to enforce it.

Unorganized, without a political leadership or program, dreads represented political alienation at its worst and most self-destructive. For such, the price would be paid with blood. In November 1974, The Prohibited and Unlawful Societies Act , better known as the Dread Act was passed by the Labor government under Patrick John. Its aim was to weed out the dreads and at the same time garner support among small farmers (a traditional Labor Party base) who felt threatened. The Act drew the outrage of some in the political opposition, Twavay, and newspapers further afield when it made the killing of dreads a lawful act. However, dreads were to be killed, or have their locks forcibly cut, in many cases for no better reason than being classified as a member of an "unlawful society". In what was commonly perceived as retaliation, a few farmers were threatened or killed . Such only brought stronger measures from the Dominica Defence Force and the Special Service Unit (SSU) of the Royal Dominica Police Force. In several gun battles between 1975-1981 at Fond Figues, Fond Cole, Belles, and Giraudel several dreads were to be killed. About two or three members of the security forces lost their lives in a conflict which could have been avoided. It is commonly thought that many more dreads were slain in the woods, their deaths left unannounced. The remainder, with the woods now being thoroughly combed by roving patrols of joint defence force/police expeditions, fled the hills and took to the city. Meanwhile, Patrick John's anti-dread campaign had helped his March 24, 1975 election victory over Freedom.

The old radicalism, centered around M.N.D, had splintered. Alienation, as epitomized by the dreads retreat into the mountains, away from political struggle, did not suffice as an alternative. When the crack-down came none in the Labor Party were strong or wise enough to compel a national debate on the issue of state sanctioned and/or societal violence (or the reformist alternatives thereto), so that government and dread oppositionist could meet face to face. It did not matter that those who were killed were, for the most part, the sons and daughters of the "roots" people that Labor had sworn to protect. In the anti-dread hysteria, the Freedom Party allied itself with Labor, even though individual members (as members of the Dominica Human Rights Society ) sometimes condemned a government too quick to resort to the mailed fist. The old M.N.D.'s voice, though shrill in opposition to the unslaught on human rights, was ineffective; its members searched, harassed, harrried. With new tactics, Dominica's radical thinkers and adherents would soon regroup and build new strength.

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