DREAD OUTA BABYLON
By the 1970s, Dominica had attained Associative Statehood. Under the Dominica Constitution Order of 1967, #“the executive authority of Dominica was in the hands of a Governor who acted on the advice of a cabinet made up of the Premiere and ministers of government drawn from members of the House of Assembly.” This arrangement gave the government total self-governance, while matters of defence and foreign affairs were under the direction of the British government.
The period between 1970 and 1980 in Dominica was one of intense political upheaval, social unrest and the rise in social consciousness. If the political consciousness of the late 40’s and 50 gave rise to the trade unions and early political parties, then it was the civil rights struggle in the United States of America, and the fight against apartheid in South Africa that spurred this generation to action. Not since the days of Jamaica’s pan Africanist, Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) had self-belief become so predominate a preoccupation for Afro-Americans and Black people the world over. Black was now beautiful: It was BLACK POWER. Yet, in the late 50’s and early 60s, it was Dominican-born, Pan Africanist Joseph Raphael Ralph Casimir# who was also a prolific poet, writer, and dedicated promoter of our indigenous literature, creativity and culture and who was one of founding member of the Universal Negro Improvement Association led by Marcus Garvey, who was to fan the flames of black pride, Pan Africanism and social justice in Dominica. He served as organizer and General Secretary of the Dominican branch from1919-1922. and served as an agent for Garvey's shipping line, the Black Star Line. Casimir, who was honoured with a plaque in 1990 by the Ethiopian World Federation, for his work during the Garvey movement also served as a Roseau Town Councillor, and secretary of several political organizations including the famous West Indian Conference of 1932. He contributed articles and poems to many local regional and U.S magazines. He contributed many articles to the Negro World and he was a correspondent for several publications including the Pittsburgh Courier. Between 1943 and the latest in 1975, Casimir edited four anthropologies of poems and five collections of his own work. He showcased local recitals songs and Creole speeches at UNIA gatherings. He also founded the first literary society in Dominica.
Herein are the answers to the questions, of what angered scores of young men and women to unequivocally challenge the status quo of Dominica. The underlying societal problems that spurred them to risk life and limb in face of the draconian Dread Act and caused the Dreads to want to get out of Babylon the system. This chapter will examine the above questions in detail, drawing on the experiences of a few of the adherents of Rastafari today who will enlighten you with their testimonies and anecdotes. This chapter will also continue our study of the evolution of a people descended from enslaved Africans who were plucked from the western shores of the African continent and address what they see as the legacy of an unjust system handed down to us from colonial times.
It is commonly agreed that forerunner of the establishment of Rastafari in Dominica was the black power movement. The phrase was first used by Trinidadian, Black power activist, Stokely Carmicheal. But it can be said that sentiments of national pride and blackness were first institutionalised in Dominica in the early 60s by Former Premier Edward Leblanc, who was responsible for the raising of awareness of national identity. His political ideal was pro-working class. He instituted National day on November 3rd, and was even accused of being a sympathizer of the Black power theory. Leblanc encouraged the wearing of the shirt jacks, instead of the jacket and tie. He wrote poetry. He actively encouraged local arts and culture. In the 1960’s the Caribbean was hit by a wave of radical thought that challenged the colonial political structures inherited from their colonial past. Many African states had attained independence from their colonial masters. In 1960 these African states became republics: Cameroon Togo, Mali, Senegal, Madagascar, Congo Somalia, Benin, Niger, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivory, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, Nigeria, Mauritania, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. In 1961 Burundi, In 1962 Rwanda, Algeria and Uganda. In 1963,Kenya. In 1964 Malawi and Zambia. Gambia, in 1965. Botswana and Lesotho, in 1966. Mauritius, Swaziland and Equatorial Guinea, 1968.
The flames of Independence were also beginning to burn in the Americas, as well. Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago were granted independence 1962 and Barbados followed, and Guyana located on the South America mainland was granted Independence in 1966. Emperor Haile Sellassie I, of Ethiopia, the only African state never to know European domination, and who was the 225th in the unbroken line of Ethiopian sovereigns, who trace their ancestry back to the union of Queen Sheba and King Solomon, visited the West Indian islands of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago that year.. Meantime, growing discontent with the system had coalesced into the formation of several lobbying groups protesting the despicable state of affairs under the Premier Patrick John. #Patrick L. Baker writing in his book, Centring the periphery: Chaos, Order, and the Ethno history of Dominica, noted that comparative studies on the population from 1946 to 1980 indicated that 50 percent of the population was aged under 15 years. Baker also mentions that in 1970, 5.9 percent of those over fifteen years had received no education. 83.6 percent had attended primary school; 9.2 percent had attended secondary school, and 0.8 percent had attended university. Unemployment was rife, and when returning graduates with degrees from universities abroad, with high hopes of self fulfilment realized the dismal opportunities in Dominica, the situation was volatile. “ There were virtually no openings for university graduates outside of teaching or the civil service, and when the university graduates took these jobs, their potential was usually under-utilized.” Barker summarized adding, “ these persons formed a young educated category critical of both government and opposition, and of neo colonialism in general.”
The black power movement in Dominica took the shape in the form of reactions to a number of incidents locally, regionally and worldwide. The race riots in Notting hill in the united kingdom; the continued fight for the release of south African, antiapartheid campaigner, Nelson Mandela; The rise of the Black Panther movement and the Nation of Islam, the civil rights struggles which saw the assassination of Malcolm x and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, in the USA. In February 1970 the Black Power movement in Trinidad exploded as thousands of young people took to the streets in massive demonstrations that rocked the island. Meanwhile, in Dominica at the St. Mary’s Academy, in March 1972, there was the students protest over the dress and hair length regulations sought to be enforced by the Canadian Christian Brothers. The there was the incident of one of the brothers having kicked a student. That year, Hilroy Thomas, a teacher at the school, was fired because he refused to wear a tie. In the summer of 1972 the MND, Movement for a new Dominica which was comprised of young graduates such as Julian Johnson and Gordon Moreau was formed. Another incendiary incident was the transferring of popular disc jocky and news caster at Radio Dominica, 590 Radio, Daniel Caudeiron, popularly known as Papa Dee, to a desk job. The civil service were called out on strike. The reason for removal were “allegations of involvement with black power and sending disguised messages in the course of his programs.” Allegations which he denied saying, he did not know what black power meant. Yet another incident of international importance was to launch another Dominican on the pantheon of black power activists. A young, militant Rosie Douglas, the son of Robert Douglas, a political dynasty from Portsmouth, was said to be the ring leader in a 1973 sit-in by Caribbean students at the computer centre of Sir George William University in Montreal, Canada. The students were said to destroy the school‘s computers, throwing them out of the windows and setting the place on fire. “The students contended that they were being failed because they were black.” Douglas would serve an 18 month term in prison, and would spend his time writing his book, From Chains to Change. Douglas became renown for his commitment to” Black solidarity, and would fulfil his self prophesy that he uttered on the day of his deportation form Canada at the end of his prison term, that he would return to that country as Prime Minister of Dominica.
With the new thrust of radicals in the MND, the African dashikis, weekly discussions at the Botanic Gardens and on the four corners, on any thing from local politics to the struggles for independence on the African continent, to interpretations of the civil rights movement in the USA. Both men and women , students and civil servants alike began to allow their kinky black hair to grow into afros, and the afro comb its self became a ￼symbol of the revolution. #Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert, writing in her biography of Phyllis Shand Allfrey, Phyllis Shand Allfrey: a Caribbean life sums up social tensions that existed in those years. Allfrey, a Creole, Born to a prominent family of formerly wealthy sugar planters in Dominica, novelists and founder of the Dominica Labour party, said to the biographer, “There was a problem when I returned home [after the collapse of the Federation] The black power movement had taken root. There were people in the past who had given me support. Now they looked on me as a white person, and you know I didn’t like that much.”
Taking note of the Black uprising that was taking place worldwide, was a 22- year-old civil servant, Desmond Trotter. Trotter who had an intuitive insight into the black struggle and was one of the chief advocates of social change. Speaking to this author by telephone on November 29th, 2009 from his home in Shashemane, Ethiopia, Trotter now known as Ras Kabinda Haber Sellassie recollected how he was influenced into the struggle. #“ Well in the early days, from when I was about 15...16 years old, I and I were inspired from reading history books, and reading some of the writings of Kwame Nkrumah and Cabral, and His Majesty, and Castro who were the thinkers of the time, you understand and the black power struggle in America had start to manifest in Trinidad in the 70s. Those were real revolutionary days there. All those things kind a stirred up little vibes within man’s spirit, and as man began to get conscious of what is really going on with the youth. The spirit just interest man , like black consciousness is the path that I and I people supposed to be pursuing. At a young age, the movement was really at the St. Mary’s Academy where they had kick a youth. A brother [Christian brother] had kick a youth. Think I had just come out [left high school] of school at that time.”
Ras Kabinda who repatriated to Ethiopia in the early nineties remembers those early days of Black power in Dominica. As a youth, he branched out from the Movement for a New Dominica, founded by persons such as Julian Johnson, Para Riviere, Ron Green, Swinburn Lestrade and others, and started to publish his own newsletters from his home at 28 Great Marlborough Street, Roseau. “I used to publish two little pamphlets, small papers that was the main reason that led to me being condemned because these were the papers I and I used to produce: Black Cray and Twavay. You know there was different things we used to produce. We used to distributed that all in the ghetto. That was our ways and means we used to raise consciousness. We used to adapt writing from man Walter Rodney, especially Walter Rodney from his book ‘Grounding with our Brothers.’ We used to se a lot of his reasoning on African history and things like that. Enlighten the youth and them.
Rastafarian poet and cultural activist, Delamance Moses, otherwise known as Ras Mo who has been at the forefront of the Rastafari Movement in Dominica since its inception in the 70’s, spoke with the author via telephone on Sunday, 23 August, 2009 and he shared some of his insights on the subject of the early days Rastafari in Dominica