#“I hair they do not like…I words the cannot hear.”
Dread, though not recognised as a separate mansion within the Rastafarian movement, but rather one of the idiomatic expressions used by Rastafarians in Jamaica referring to the knotted-hair--dread locks of which has become synonymous with the movement since the 1940’s# when dreadlocks were cultivated and adopted by guardsmen of the early Rastafarian evangelist, Leonard Howell at his Pinnacle estate. The record states that early Rastafarians were also inspired images of African tribe in National Geographic magazine that depicted Jomo Kenyatta’s freedom fighters wearing locks. Rastafarians also adopted the Biblical Nazarite vow enshrined in the book of Numbers: #chapter 6, verse 5...all the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in which he seperateth himself unto the Lord, he shall be Holy and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.
The word dread is mentioned in the #King James version of the Holy Bible no less than 10 times: Genesis 9, verse 2: And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air. Exodus Chapter 28 , verse 17: Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm…Deuteronomy Chapter 1, verse 29: Then I said unto you, dread not, neither be afraid of them. Deuteronomy Chapter 2, verse 25: This day will I begin to put the dread of thee and the fear of thee upon the nations that are under the whole heaven. Deuteronomy Chapter 11, verse 25:There shall no man be able to stand before you: for the Lord your God shall lay fear of you and the dread you upon all the land that ye shall tread upon… Chronicle chapter 22, verse 13: …be strong, and of good courage; dread not, nor be dismayed. Job Chapter 13, verse 11 shall not his excellency make you afraid? And his dread fall upon you. And finally, Job chapter 13, verse 2: Withdraw thine hand far from me: and let not thy dread make me afraid. It is this association with reverence and awe to the divine that may have inspired the conjoining of the words dread and locks.
Word dread and its literal dictionary meaning: Profound fear; terror.
Fearful or distasteful anticipation. An object of fear, awe, or reverence.
is of use archaic dating back to old English usage of the 12 century. It therefore little surprise that in the 1611 dedicatory epistle to King James, he is hailed with the words, Great and manifold were the blessings, most dread Sovereign, which Almighty God, the Father of all mercies, bestowed upon us the people of England…
Another associative meaning of the word dread worth looking at is explanation of 19th century Danish philosopher, #Soren Kierkegaard that dread is a fundamental category of existentialism, and that dread or angst , is a desire for what one fears and is central to his conception of #original sin. According #to Mike Johnduff a graduate student in English at Princeton in his paper ‘Dread in Kierkegaard’ the story of Adam and Eve and the eating of forbidden fruit, it is the prohibition that alarms Adam or induces a state of dread, and because of this prohibition awakens in him the possibility of freedom...
#D.R.E.A.D is also the acronym for DREAD: Risk assessment model
a computer convention used for assessing security risks at Microsoft. The package rates the threats in five groups: Damage - how bad would an attack be; Reproducibility - how easy it is to reproduce the attack; Exploitability - how much work is it to launch the attack; Affected users - how many people will be impacted and Discoverability - how easy it is to discover the threat;
Now we see how Dreadlocks as a religious tenet within RastafarI, and the outlawing of the Dreads in Dominica under the Dread Act both are in keeping with a desire to rid themselves of the legacy and the effects of colonialism. Indeed other fundamental tents of the Rastafarian faith: the worship and divinity of Emperor Haile Sellassie of Ethiopia; the ritual use of marijuana and the repatriation to Africa are all inspired by the yearning to be free: the feeling of dreadness.
Dominican, historian, Lennox Honychurch’s explanation of the word dread is, a violent group of disaffected youth who branched away from mainstream Rastafarianism in Dominica during the 70‘s. According to Honychurch, the term dread described individuals whose lifestyle included living in the woods, raiding estates and farmers holdings and “were responsible for the deaths of a number of citizens in isolated areas.” when the Dread Act was passed, many who were advocates of Black power and who participated in the four corner discussions and African Liberation Day marches, fled to the hills to escape police brutality and the forcible shaving of their locks as was sanctioned by the Johns administration.
MAN IN THE HILLS
If the utopian vision of the Dread brethren had been given a chance to take root, and had not been beset with the bloody clashes between radical elements and the authorities, what would have emerged would have been the result was a return to ways of our ancestors. A modern day re-emergence of the early African society before the encounter with the ‘white man’ . A sort of modern day maroon village, run by its own internal code of conduct, and driven by its own innovative technology utilizing the resources of the forests and the creative minds of the Idren.
Despite the witch-hunting men, women and children lived off the land and for the land. Babylon (society) implements were scorned. Individuals dressed in various designs of grass skirts made of vertiver grass, and barefoot was the norm. Brethren squatted on crown lands or in some instances occupied estates deep in the forest. They would cultivate dreadlocks by washing and rubbing their coarse, kinky hair with various natural ingredients made from the young, crushed cocoa pods, cactus leaves or hibiscus leaves. The herbs would be grinded on a flat river stone by the side of a flowing river of fresh water, that over time would be beaten down to appear to be a small sink.
The end product would be rubbed in all directions of the wet hair, then rinsed off, in fast flowing currents of the river shaking the head violently from left to right, and back to front, and even in a circular motion. in a few months the hair would turn copper-brown, from the resin of the cocoa pods would twist and coil into knots and over time would lengthen and matt into clusters each head producing its own unique style. Some who lived in villages and towns near the sea would soak the dreads in the salty water and the Caribbean sun would starch the tresses
For detergents, the dreads would make caster and coconut oil and use it to oil their bodies and grease their locks. Lime was a popular detergent to ward off under arm odours. Man-made implements, like cups and plates, and other cutlery would be replaced with gadgets made from bamboo stems, pipes for smoking the herb, spoons, beds and shingles and sidings for the houses that may consist also of palm leaves. Coconut shells were also used to make graters to grind the coconut from which they extracted the milk to add to food. The scooped out shell of the calabash fruit would be used as a bowl for eating or drinking. The ubiquitous fire of dried timber would always be alight. Fire would travel between camps on smouldering bwa flo.
The clay pot replaced the iron saucepan, which facilitated the one-pot holds-recipes of vegetables, cabbage, chive, okra, radish and ground provisions like dasheen, Tanya yams, Cush-cush and green bananas and spices. It was a common meal to simply roast breadfruit, banana, plantains or corn and eat this with a drink of pepper mint tea sweetened with freshly squeezed cane juice from the dried out shell of a calabash fruit. Many brethren cultivated marijuana near their farms or secretly in the forest.
Yet there were clear distinctions between town and country dreads. Those dreads or Rastas who leaned more towards a religious outlook and worshiped Emperor Haile Sellassie, like their Jamaican counterparts adopted a language system called Iyaric-a substitution of words in the English language with words prefaced with the pronoun I and other modifications such I and I, and I man, favoured language from the extremists would be a form of dread patwa. A type of modified language patterned on the patwa spoken by the Dominicans since the days of the French settlers.
During that period of intense social upheaval, the quiet peasantry lifestyle of Roseau and environs had undergone a transformation. The leftist/communist rhetoric; the Black Power world-view and the introduction of RastafarI, whose central belief was that Emperor Haile Sellassie of Ethiopia of was the Almighty God and returned Messiah, spawned a new youth sub-culture that in Dominica its adherents would be widely known as The Dreads.
The military coup against Haile Sellassie that took place in Ethiopia in August of 1975 by militant soldiers led by Haile Miriam Mengustu did nothing to aid the Dreads in their struggle. Ironically, Rastafarian Bob Marley and his band The Wailers were just about beginning to enjoy world wide acclaim and in 1975 had produced their third studio album for Chris Blackwell’s Island Records: Natty Dread. One cannot say for sure, but only summarise that Bob knew of events that were taking in this tiny eastern Caribbean island south of Jamaica. The title track Natty Dread was almost a war cry, as the Dreads of whom, Destrot was among their number, afros turned into cork-screwed dreadlocks and their voices and herb-induced apocalyptic protest for new world order against the unjust capitalist system took ever increasing violent forms of protest. Bob in ‘Three O’clock, Road block’ captured the hostilities that were none to similar to what early Rastafarians in Jamaica had experienced. “Oh why can’t we roam this open country. Why can’t we be, what we want to be, we want to be free. Free O’clock, Road block….”
The dreads reciprocated by turning the social norms expected of genteel youth on its head. Not only dreading the hair but by wearing dishevelled clothing, shirt tails out side of their trousers, wearing vests with anti establishment wording and wearing the discarded black rubber rings from oil drums as a protest thing. They used coconut oil to polish their skin and castor oil to thicken the hair. Those who were more financial able perhaps returning from the USA or the US Virgin islands, donned wrangler jeans and shirts, and flashed the ubiquitous ratchet.
Despite the Act, the Dreads continue to grow. Areas of New Town, River Street, Fond Cole were notorious. The pungent scent of marijuana smuggled in from Jamaica found its way into the dread circles and the young men and women could bee seen walking through the streets of Roseau with a spring in their step, eyes red and fiery. A division would arise eventually between who was Dread and who was Rastafarian. A dread living in the town or a dread in the bush. The debate continued even among bald heads(comb some)
By 1976 I had completed my study of the Bible-reading the shorter books first, those of the new testament, then the larger books of the old testament. I searched intently for passages that I had heard that were used by Rastafarians in Jamaica to support their precepts and practices. Particularly those that supported the divinity of Emperor Haile Sellassie found in the book of revelation: 5:5...But one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.’’ Again here in black and white in Revelation 19: 16...And He has on his robe and on his thigh a name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords. AS a teenager, I was fascinated that such coincidences could exist in the very same Bible that the colonialists had used to enslave us. Rastas used Revelation chapter22: 2 to identify the herb as the Tree of life. It all started to make sense to me: I and I were the true Israelites, and that all the prophets were black. The King James Bible was just an attempt to try to hid the truth from us the descendents of Africans brought to the West Indies as slaves, but from a glorious heritage which Babylon had tried to hide from us, and was now being revealed to us through RastafarI.
That year I was introduced to a Vivian Trotter through one of my study partners, Errol Thomas. Vivian was a newly graduated engineer, having left Dominica in October 1970 to study natural sciences, eventually switched to engineering, at the St. Augustine campus, University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad. ‘Trog’ as he is affectionately called by his close brethren had returned to Dominica just when the Dread Act was at a lull. Errol and I would visit him at Franklyn Lane Goodwill and spend long hours reasoning on various aspects of Rastafari. He is Desmond Trotter’s eldest brother, and like Garner and Desmond were all dreadlocked Rastafarians. He always had on hand a tray of sweet smelling marijuana and we would smoke and reason, and he would share publication on Rastafari such as Dread written by a Jesuit priest Joseph Owens who had studied the Rastafarians in the early seventies, and the Report on the Rastafari in Kingston Jamaica published in 1960 by a group of eminent scholars from the then University College of the West Indies now (UWI) including M.G. Smith, Roy Augier and Rex Nettleford who at request of Elder Jamaican, Rastafarian, Mortimo Planno and others suggested that a study be conducted with the aim of explaining what the movement stood for.
Trog used to visit Dominica regularly during the holiday seasons of Christmas and Easter, However during the trial of his little brother, Desmond Trotter he was tipped of that certain elements in the police force were waiting to interrogate him, or perhaps worse at the port… “about them time there they were enforcing the Dread Act.,” he recalled to this author,
“ Because when they first started, they did some enforcement, then they cooled out. Then other times they came back again, you know, so it might have been one of those subsequent enforcements, so to speak.. Different phases you know. They would just bring it our and arrest man at any time and make an issue. So on one of those visits, on my way down by boat, I got the word that those secret police who ever they were, were just waiting for me to come, so I was advised , just to stay away for the time, you know. I think that even in ‘74 that happened as well because I didn’t come home from the beginning of the holidays. I had to stay away for a while, then I came.
Another strong influence upon me was my participation in the drumming Group ‘I’ A grouping of drummers, singers and musicians who used to assemble at the home of Lionel ‘Ras Lion’ Leslie at downtown Roseau on King’s Lane. Ras Lion or ‘Lio’, a graduate of the St. Mary’s Academy, and who had witnessed and participated in much of the black power happenings which started at that secondary school. We would meet at his home and the strains of Nyabinghi drums could be heard for some distance. Members at the time were Lio’s brother Derek Rah Peters who played the repeater, Ras Algie and Gregs, Elvis ‘Roots’ Gachette would accompany Rah’s intricate licks with rhythm, Andre Adawah Joseph and my self would play flute and other percussion instruments. Murthy and others would play an assortment of guitars and sister Rosemond and all of us would back up Lio as he sang songs like:
Iration, Iration Iration
talking ‘bout Jah, Jah, creation
beauty in the highest degree
behold check what I see
And Rasta choruses like By the ‘Rivers of Babylon’ and ‘Holy Mount Zion’
I spoke with Lion Les, formerly Ras Lion when he spent a few weeks in the United kingdom in December in 2009. My wife and I drove up to meet him in London. It must have been at least ten years since we had met face to face. What follows here is an extract of a video interview I conducted with him and he begins by giving praises to Rastafari. #“ Right now I am based in Queens New York, pretty much, you know working out there with the Department of Environmental Protection. Pretty strong feeling strong representing Rastafari in that privilege position, man. Also still involved in the arts right now and poetry doing my t-shirt printing, drawings paintings, you know. So still working, persevering , and representing to the fullest.” Lion who is also a member of the Dominica Diaspora social networking group continued by drawing on his memories of the early days of Dread in Dominica. “ On the question of Rastafari, you know, well, from SMA [Saint Mary’s Academy] days, as you know SMA guys being pioneers in advocating blackness and stretching forward their black power and positiveness…erm .. from way back in those times, man, we, you know, on a whole were pretty conscious. I mean I was in class with persons like the ambassador, Crispin Gregoire, you know, guys like Giftus John who is a writer; guys like Maxime St. Hillaire who is a professor at one of the universities, I believe he is the dean of the college where he works at and a number of other guys, you know, on a whole we pretty much read a lot, man: Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, you know a lot of that stuff. We on a whole exchanged books and pretty much educated ourselves and you know, read a lot of West Indian history…” Speaking about his days before the formation of his drumming ensemble, Group I, Lion les credited Sister Nats as being on of the persons who had a nurturing influence on him. “ Another person who pretty influential in that was Sister Nathalie Charles. She was a sister in terms of closeness growing up and she being the age of my older sister, she pretty much grew up around and looked out for us and coming back from Canada she taught us a lot, man. We had a group,, the Harambee Theatre Workshop , and we had our performance poetry section. My brother Rah, as you know, formerly of WCK. Rah was pretty much instrumental in that he was our drummer, at that time he was perhaps, ten, eleven years old, he was already a drummer. We had people like Marti wed, who is a Muslim right now, Yusef Ali. We had a couple of other people like Hephlaine and later Judith Joseph, she was also part of that group, and we pretty much did performance poetry. Group also had a dance section, we had a drama section. We had training from people like Lennox Honychurch, we also attended a number of workshops. I remember attending a workshop that Rex Nettleford from Jamaica held. We also had Carl Ishmael from St Lucia helping us.” ￼
Lion Les (left) meets author in London 2010
Lion recalled that later he was to form his own group of which I as a teenager was a part of. #“we had various amount of people like Charlo, Pierre Charles, Ras Mo , there were a number of people. Rah, my brother, Ras Algi, Murphy.” There was no stopping him now as memories of the days of Group I flooded back to him, “while we were not out there as a group trying to make money, we pretty much enjoyed ourselves. At one time I remember we had as much as 12 to 14 members who were involved in that [Group I]. Roots: Elvis, Carlty his partner with him, Gregs, Ras Algi, Murphy, another guy, Wada who left, I haven‘t seen this guy for 20 years, he was a gutarist…we went through different phases, but erm…we pretty much did a lot of Nyabinghi stuff.” At this point, I reminded Lion that the Group had performed at St. Joseph at a festival during which I had played flute and percussion. He picked up the thread enthusiastically and added, “with Grammacks. Yes we did that and I believe that was on of our best reception. Because that was a huge crowd, and that was a number of years going back. Yeah! So we pretty much help to bring that type of music on the scene. I think one of the influences I had was the fact that I had the opportunity to go to Trinidad in the early 70’s and Barbados and I was able to see a couple groups of that type perform. One group in particular was Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus from Jamaica. They were pretty much into that Nyabinghi stuff. Also I listen to a lot of Count Ossie and the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari. I had the opportunity to get their albums in Trinidad. In fact I also had light of Saba, which was another Jamaican group in that area. So that was pretty much my early influence into that area.”
THE RIVER CLEAR REVELATION
It was and still is the practice for brethren who desire to live closer to nature and want to work on the land (live in the hills) to team up with an Idren who had access to family land, his own land or simply squatted on any available public or private land. My first taste of going up to the hills was with an Idren called Toss. He had a parcel of land on a hillside up the river Duce. I would go with him occasionally to help with the weeding and harvesting of sorrel and other small crops, and he showed me a small ganja tree ripe with sweet-smelling pods and brown leaves and we would pluck a few and gather some that had fallen and dry these in calabash in the sun to smoke. One day, somewhere around 1981, I was cooling out with some more Idren from Kennedy Avenue, Walo, Ras Daley and Cephas on a bench outside Ras Toss’s shack when Cephas told me, “ let us go by Mwata.” I didn’t know who Mwata was, or what was his significance in the movement at that time. He lived in a two-room shack deep inside ‘pong’ and was a jovial character, dark-skinned and his locks were short and a few of them stuck out leaning to one side at the top of his head. He had a wide smile as he greeted us and instantly pushed a calabash of chopped weed towards us inviting us to roll a spliff. Painted on the divider between the room as the image of a Rastaman leaning against a tree and the words, “ Dem want to kill I why? Will I death bring them the satisfaction that that seek for so long” Also up on the walls were photos of Marcus Garvey and Emperor Haile Sellassie and an assortment of books and other papers were strewn on a desk. Reggae number emanated from a stereo set somewhere in the bedroom.
Cephas introduced me to #Mwata, what was to be the beginning of a long friendship and comradeship in the struggle until his passing way in 2000. Mwata, whose Babylon name was Henry Jno Baptist I would later find out was a close lieutenant of Desmond Trotter, (Ras Kabinda) in the black power struggle of the past decade. He was an avid sportsman and worked for the government as a prison officer during the days of the Dread act. He sympathised with us youth, as we simply spent our days hanging around reasoning and going from Idren to Idren’s homes. Eventually, Mwata announced that he had been given permission to occupy a piece of land in the River Clear area. This was the area that Mwata himself planted his crops and his ganja. He would resort to his hills, during the week, and usually came to the Babylon on weekends to purchase supplies in the market and to meet the many Idren that would come to see him. Mwata was a wise dread and very positive about the movement and His Imperial Majesty. The benefactor was a man named ,Mr Kelly. A red skimmed man from Goodwill, who was coming on in years and consented that Mwata occupy a savannah in the heights of River Clear. It was about a 40 minute to an hour treak up the river, from the starting point at Palm grove. Like the river Duce the river Clear was one of the tributries that emptied themselves in the the Roseau river. We set off with our back packs, tools and foodstuffs for the first sightings of our promised land. Along precarious rocky paths, up and up until we finally met a plateau on which the savannah stretched out for about five acres. The soil was sandy and had a number of coconut trees still on it, that had survived the onslaught of Hurricane David. It was between the cool running waters of the River clear and another stream that sprang up somewhere in the bush.