Debating Total Decolonization:
The Rastafari Movement in Jamaica
By Dylan Ramos
In a figurative, yet for some a very literal sense, above is the Rastafarian ‘Holy Trinity.’ If you could name all three without the captions–impressive. If you could name two–not too shabby. But if you could only name one, and I’m guessing it was Bob Marley–don’t feel bad, you’re probably in the majority … for now …
Rastafari as a Rebuke of British Imperialism
The Rastafarian movement — in its totality and very existence — is a public representation of history directly related to the Afro-Jamaican experience of British imperialism. It is a religion, philosophy, and lifestyle, with its own Ital diet, Iyaric language, and nyabinghi ceremonial music, which mixed with Jamaican rhythms to produce roots, or spiritual reggae (Olsen; Barrett 245; Fr. McIsaac, SJ).
The Rasta flag has the same tricolor as Ethiopia’s, but the colors mean different things (though many Rastas also wave the former Ethiopian flag). The red, instead of power, stands for the persecution faced by Rastas and other members of the African diaspora. The gold, instead of just peace, stands for Africa’s riches and is a reminder of the wealth taken from the continent. Lastly, the green still stands for the lands of Ethiopia, but of course in Ethiopia this is patriotism, in Jamaica this is an anti-colonial protest (Symbols; “Pan-African Colors”).
There is so much more to Rastafari than the average observer usually catches, and if you noticed, I haven’t used the term “Rastafarianism.” That’s because many Rastas reject ‘-isms,‘ like racism, imperialism, capitalism — they are the institutions of Babylon, or the oppressive West (The Herald).
That said, what does it mean for the movement’s role in decolonization when its most eminent public face–the King of Reggae–actively tried to bridge the gaps between his African and British heritage?
Does utilizing or benefiting from the colonizing forces lose people credibility/legitimacy? In many physical decolonization movements, it did. Other places, those “traitors” had all the power post-independence and became authoritarians or oligarchic elites.
Map of the British Empire in 1937
Great Britain, Jamaica, Italy, and Ethiopia are pictured in the North Atlantic for comparison
thetruesize.com allows you to drag countries so that they remain proportional in size on this commonly used Mercator Projection (other ports in Asia and Britain’s Antarctic territories are not reflected, but note how the British surround Ethiopia in East Africa)
In the context of Jamaica — which like much of the former empire-turned-commonwealth did little to address the social and economic disparities left behind by colonization — it is not hard to understand the persistence of political violence and extreme poverty. These are among the circumstances that Rastas set out to change (Henry).
The exocentric nature of Rastafari, meaning its proponents follow non-Rastas, as well as their persecution and commodification of their culture, has kept Rastafarians struggling to control the narratives about them.
Though public and media reception of Rastas has evolved considerably over the years, superficial consumers often critically miss the cultural depth and historic social movement behind Rastafari needed to contextualize its significance past secular reggae, ‘weed’ (a term Rastas would not use), dreadlocks, and the tricolor. Such neglect has helped facilitate their persecution by creating a superficial public narrative about the movement.
Finally in the 21st century, it seems Rastas are gaining the means and desire to tell their own stories, contextualizing themselves as both missionaries and revolutionaries in a global decolonization movement. However, the question remaining is if they will be listened to and how they are understood, or ‘overstood,’ as a Rasta might say.
As I discuss later, Bob’s ascendance to the position of a Rastafarian ‘prophet’ is a key point of contention both in and outside the movement. How has Bob’s willingness to adapt to Western audiences and seek fame, even if in the name of Rastafari, affect his legacy as an anti-colonial figure? How do lesser known facts and narratives affect this?
Hopefully more people can think about this after seeing this website.
“Denigrated Africans in Exile”
Even though Selassie, Garvey, and Marley were respected for their anti-imperial credentials, the religion calling them holy has had its members discriminated against and persecuted, their grievances neglected and ignored.
Newsreel footage of Selassie’s April 1966 visit to Jamaica, heralded by the Rastafarians as a visit from God, is quoted saying, “To some, he was the ‘King of kings,’ the ‘Lion of Judah,’ even a god. Members of a local cult, the Rastafarians, who worship this figure as a deity, were present in full force.”
Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga recalls the police being “powerless” to do anything about the massive crowd that charged the tarmac and surrounded the emperor’s plane, smoking, drumming, and cheering (Marley).
This image of the powerful Rastas making prime time news contrasts starkly with the average experience of most Rastas throughout (public) history.
In a groundbreaking report sent to the Jamaican parliament in Dec. 2015, Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry recommended apologies and reparations be made from the current Jamaican government to the Rastafarian community (click for parts two and six).
In her report, Henry gave the example of Leonard “The Gong” Percival Howell, colleague of Marcus Garvey in New York said to have become the “first Rasta” upon his return home. She noted that both pre- and post-independence, Rastas faced institutional discrimination. The example of Howell, “one of the most persecuted men in the history of Jamaica,” showed a need for reconciliation (Henry; Moyston).
The original Rastafarian community of Pinnacle he established in St. Catherine was a success, agriculturally self-sustaining, at times even profitable in the local markets.
That was, at least, until the government and police harassed the community, raided it for growing cannabis and destroyed it in 1953. Rastafarians, though no longer called a “dangerous cult” as they were by the Daily Gleaner in 1934, are still denied access to Pinnacle to this very day (Henry; Teague; Howell).
This is a common issue with controversial colonized places, often considered “evocative objects” with powerful intrinsic value, as Sherry Turkle said, though it seems ‘provocative’ is how governments view them (Turkle; McLaughlin).
Joseph Hibbert, another key voice to develop the movement, founded the Ethiopian World Federation after working with Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. Here they publish a letter from Howell. In Jamaica, Hibbert worked closely with another of the movement’s founders, Archibald Dunkley (Spencer 14; Grant; Henry; UNIA-ACL).
With racial and economic disparity persisting well into the 20th and 21st centuries, it’s logical that members of Jamaica’s predominantly black population began advocating Afrocentric political activism. More strictly religious Rastas uphold their stance against participation in Babylonian politics, while others view involvement as necessary to achieving their goals of repatriation and community-building (“Dread Jesus”; Comitas).
As you can see in this newspaper, Jamaica maintained close ties to Britain even after independence in 1962.
Jamaicans increasingly traversed the world, often as cheap laborers. It was when black Jamaicans traveled, like when the UK invited Commonwealth members to Britain, that they realized it was because of their skin color, and for Rastas their faith, that they were still being discriminated against. Within Rasta culture are recurrent themes of subjection to historical, modern, physical, and mental oppression. Repatriation, Selassie said, should be prefaced by the uplifting of African-Jamaicans’ socio-economic status. Considering such circumstances, it seems easy to explain the creation of practices meant for escaping Western confinement and declaring one’s self a citizen of Jah’s kingdom (Barrett 160; King 34).
For example, some Rastas like Bob Marley practice polyamory, as seen in the clip above. Some also refuse to pay taxes, and many of course smoke cannabis, which Rastas have tried to decriminalize for their religious use across the globe (Grant).
The Diaspora ‘Looks to Africa’
Analyzing Rastafarian life without cross-referencing its ethno-political influences would be near impossible, but public perception often continues to focus on the more Western commodification of Rasta culture, neglecting such rich, complex narratives.
Marcus Garvey, famous for his black nationalist, Pan-Africanist, and repatriation efforts, is a national hero in his birth country of Jamaica. It’s said that when he left for Harlem in 1916 and elsewhere, Garvey would say, “Look to Africa for the crowning of a Black King; he shall be the Redeemer.” It was mostly a hopeful sentiment at the time, but for the soon-to-be Rastas, it was the message of a prophet (Barrett 67; Jeans; Smithsonian).
If you listen to Rasta elder Mortimo Planno, it is clear that it was British imperialism and persecution by Jamaica’s colonial government that first prompted Rastas to set their sights on Ethiopia. It is also clear that decades after Howell, Hibbert, and Dunkley, the Rastas still felt misunderstood and discriminated against, if not outright persecuted.
CIFAS: Comitas: “Rastafari Rituals 1”
But at least they were gaining some attention (Solomon; Smith, et al.). The video’s opening song, the “Universal Ethiopian Anthem,” was written in 1918 by Arnold Josiah Ford, one of the first black rabbis in America. It was adopted in 1920 by Garvey’s followers as the official anthem of the UNIA-ACL (Rabbi Levy).
Next they recite Psalm 68:31. This is like the Rasta Lord’s Prayer; a variation is commonly said at the start of a reasoning or nyabinghi. Immediately after (at 3:52), Planno makes some introductory remarks that speak to the heart of this public history debate. Note his points starting at 6:47, and at 7:54: “Notwithstanding, it is prophesied that oppression make the wise man mad. And ‘who is madder than my servant?’ said the Lord, our God, Rastafari.” He is responding to memories of a psychiatric conference, and the universal right to “own God.”
Later, Planno goes on to lead a reading of Psalm 9 as well, saying in reference to the Ethiopian emperor that they read it “with the understanding that this is a coronation psalm.” In 1938 Tafari Makonnen fulfilled Garvey’s prophecy, becoming one of, if not, the only black ruler in Africa at the time. He was crowned His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie, “Power of the Trinity,” and received the traditional titles of Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christian emperors, “King of Kings, Root of David, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and Defender of the Faith.” To Rastas and many other Pan-Africanists, Ethiopia symbolized African righteousness, but it was only the Rastas who called Selassie “Jah,” short for Jehovah (Mulder; Hierarchy, EOTC).
The Rastafari movement and its strains of religious, black nationalist, and Ethiopianist fervor are interesting public examples of decolonization efforts. To Rastafarians, ‘reversing the negative binary,’ as Edward Said might say, meant both declaring all things Babylon as bad and anything African as good, and also that Rastas and Africans are the true representations of Babylonian ideals of Christian society and power (Moosavinia, et al.). For example, the organized, dictatorial Church is Babylonian, but Christianity is good because to Rastas, Christ and the Holy Land are African.
Just listen to the lyrics of the song Planno leads at 12: 47:
… “We will rally with the Red, Black, and Green [UNIA-ACL]. Away with this Red, White, and Blue [UK]. We gon’ take down the Stars and the Stripes [usa], and set up our Red, Gold, and Green.”
The emperors cited the Kebra Nagast (“Glory of the Kings”) to claim heritage from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, making them successors to Jesus and the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:12-13) promising David’s family authority over God’s kingdom on earth (Kebra Nagast 30).
Ethiopia is home to one of the oldest Christian populations outside of Judea (Pringle; APEPI). The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) is very accepting: it uses the largest Biblical canon in all of Christendom (Wanger).
They defeated the Italians in the First Italo-Ethiopian War, survived Mussolini’s Fascist invasion, and Haile Selassie spearheaded the Pan-Africanist campaign to form what became today’s African Union, centered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Jones 1; Henry; Selassie “Towards African Unity”).
Below is Emperor Haile Selassie addressing the United Nations in 1963. He urged them to do better than their predecessor, the League of Nations, to which the emperor had unsuccessfully appealed for help against Mussolini’s Fascist invasion.
Start the audio clip at 9:07.
Sound familiar? See Bob Marley and the Wailers’ 1976 song, “War.”
The late Dr. Rex Nettleford of the University of the West Indies became one of the first prominent academics to defend the Rastafari movement in the 1960s and ’70s. In a 60 Minutes interview filmed in 1979 (below at 3:56), Nettleford described Rastafarians as “denigrated Africans in exile.” This was an acknowledgment of Rastas’ logical identification with the African diaspora, even then still uncommon in the ‘professional world.’
The same 60 Minutes episode features an interview with Dr. Frederick Hickling, then-senior medical officer at Bellevue Mental Hospital (12:55). He was responsible for stopping the practice of committing Rastafarians as insane: Rastafari “is even more than a national liberation movement. It’s a national liberation movement in a global sense, a national liberation movement perhaps for black people around the world” (Solomon).
Reggae, Religion & Brother Bob
Bob Marley’s rise to international stardom paved the way for serious analysis of Rastafari. Marley (2012) — the critically acclaimed documentary directed by Kevin Macdonald and contributed to by friends and family of the late artist — offers a saliently comprehensive narrative of the life of history’s most famous Rasta. It is an excellent public history example that tells the story of Bob Marley from birth to death within the multifaceted context of British imperialism, African diaspora, Jamaican society, politics, pop culture, family, Western philosophy, and Rastafari.
I used the film’s candid interviews, which included plenty of Rastas and support from Tuff Gong Pictures, the Marley family brand, to represent one side of the competing narratives about the movement. The full movie is here, but feel free to come back and watch it. Shorter clips are featured below.
Marley (2012) – Dir. Kevin MacDonald
Shangri-La Entertainment, Tuff Gong Pictures, and Cowboy Films
In the case of Rastafari, special attention should be paid to roots reggae. As a form of musical protest, evangelism, and entertainment, roots reggae united and propelled Rastafari into mainstream media, most prominently through Bob Marley and the Wailers. Rastafari owes much of its advocacy base to roots reggae artists, but though they may sing reggae when they meet, it should be noted that music played during traditional ceremonies is not reggae. These drums and songs are called nyabinghi, and influenced reggae with traditional African rhythms (Barrett 245).
Lyrics reflecting a message of universal salvation have popularized Rastafari’s peaceable nature, though the exact process by which salvation occurs is a point of conflict between the movement and the Church.
Bob Marley, undoubtedly the most influential contemporary factor to have unified the otherwise decentralized Rastafari movement, proved this all too well. His beliefs, reflected in his work, interviews, and general lifestyle, are an invaluable and well-archived source of insight into the life of a dedicated Rastafarian.
After moving from the hills of St. Ann, Marley grew up amid the slums of Trench Town. Music became his passion, a path out of poverty. But Marley struggled with the recording artist’s life, receiving small sums as his producers lived large. Much occurred in between, but for brevity’s sake, let’s just say this led Marley to create his own label, later joining with a devout Rasta as his producer, the famous Lee “Scratch” Perry.
Yet despite attaining success in Jamaica and touring the US, Marley didn’t become “a household name” until one of his girlfriends, Cindy Breakspeare, became Miss World 1976 (Marley). She is the mother of Damien Marley, and was among the few to see Bob’s changing worldviews in his last months.
The contemporary image of Rastafari has largely been informed by reggae and pop culture. While this began with Bob Marley and The Wailers, an apparent drifting from the main idea of roots reggae evangelist campaigns is an issue brought up by devout Rastas like Neville “Bunny Wailer” Livingston (Buchanan).
Marley’s persona and hits continue to typify the public face of the movement well after his passing in 1981, but during his time and ever since, black artists in general have struggled to reach past their large white audiences and engage colonized peoples, likely a symptom of socio-economic conditions (Marley; Martin, “The New Struggle”).
The media has and continues to play a role in shaping the narrative around the movement, as seen in the difference between the treatment of Rastafarians
before and after the success of Bob Marley was covered by the press. Even when Bob made it big, he was uniquely famous and successful, not the Rasta norm. This free concert he tried to give was co-opted by the prime minister during a re-election campaign. Political violence led to Bob being shot the night before, but he still performed the next day.
Still, after the concert he immediately flew to Nassau en route to the United Kingdom, where he lived and worked for a couple years. “After the shooting, he was, I wouldn’t say scared, but just hurt,” said his wife, Rita, “too hurt to face Jamaica” (Marley).
When he finally did return, it was only after being begged to do so by “enforcers,” or political gangsters of both the Jamaica Labour Party and the People’s National Party who he had visit him in London. It was at the 1978 One Leave Peace concert when he famously got the two rival party heads to shake hands on stage (Marley).
In many ways Marley’s life embodied the process of Jamaican decolonization. Teased for being half-black by his mother and half-white through his British father, Marley had trouble feeling accepted as a child. When he asked his uncle and other white relatives who owned the successful Marley & Plant construction company for help buying a car to distribute records, Marley was rejected. His second cousin Peter Marley is quoted saying, “In those days, Rastafarians weren’t as socially accepted as they are now.”
While the term “socially accepted” is certainly debatable, it speaks to the crux of the debate: would Bob Marley and Rastafari have been as digestible to Western audiences if he didn’t adapt to them? What role has the media played in commodifying Marley? Would he have shot into the spotlight were it not for his relationship with Miss World 1976? Have the complexity, religiosity, and Pan-African identity of Rastafari been forgotten?
As previously mentioned, Garvey had a large influence on the formation of Rastafari. It was he who first said in his Black Man magazine to “emancipate yourself from mental slavery” (Garvey). These words would not reach their peak audience for another 40 years, when they were featured in Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.”
Redemption Song (1980)
Either way the sentiment is remembered, it is a sure reminder of the Rastafarian goal to escape oppressive bondage. But the song itself is indicative of Marley’s coming to terms with his mortality. Bob wrote this in 1979, after being told his cancer had metastasized and would take his life. It’s said he accepted Christianity while hospitalized (“Redemption Song;” Stefanick; Beginning and End).
As the next clip describes, even into the’80s and on, Bob and Rastas never really got much credit in Jamaica for their decolonization efforts. The main evidence of Rastas’ revolutionary nature was their persecution. They were considered “dangerous” specifically because of their potential to influence others.
Keep in mind the Wailers were huge. They toured the world, which at the time included many countries going through decolonization movements of their own. Marley’s song about Zimbabwe was adopted as a freedom fighter anthem. Bob was eventually invited to play at Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, and he did so spending his own money.
Freedom of Conscience: The TTI & EOTC
As the 2012 documentary shows, most of Marley’s life has been broadcasted in mainstream media, serving as the driving force behind the Rastafari’s global diffusion. Yet even this extensively researched documentary appears to rewrite a key part of the artist’s late life — part of the movement’s past and Marley’s story that many both in and outside the movement are either unaware of or willfully ignore.
Bob Marley, along with thousands of other Rastas like him who are members of the Twelve Tribes of Israel (TTI) — a sub-sect or “Mansion” of Rastafari that emphasizes individualism — chose to be baptized into the Ethiopian Church (Mulder; Itations, Messian Dread; Spencer 158). They respected Selassie so much that they listened to the priest he sent to Jamaica to convert them, Laike Mandefro, later called Abuna Yesehaq, EOTC archbishop of the Western hemisphere (Profile; Waters; Stefanick; ToZion-TTI #7).
Ironically, in the case of the Twelve Tribes, an Ethiopianist desire for ecumenism between Rastafari and the EOTC has prompted backlash from more orthodox Rastafarians and Christians. To the former, dual membership can be viewed as inconsistent with Rastafarian dissociation from institutionalized bodies like the Church (Simpson). To the latter, continued praise of Selassie as the returned Christ is heretical (Confirmation, EOTC). Individualism, it seems, can be perceived as volatile in both structured institutions and grassroots movements.
This gives Bob’s life — one of seeking acceptance after being rejected by both the white and black societies that gave birth to him — so much more nuance than it already had. In moving on from his revolutionary faith, Bob became revolutionarily traditional, spurring competition between narratives each with their own motivations to claim relation to the late artist.
Marley’s late life conversion to Christianity is already often left out of public narratives. Abuna Yesehaq claimed that Marley wished to be baptized for a while but was hesitant to turn back personally and publicly on Rastafari. Interviews not long before his death record Marley evoking the titles of Haile Selassie, though his last interview on record was around nine months before his death, two months before Abuna Yesehaq remembers baptizing Marley. Priests of the EOTC later served at Marley’s funeral (Profile; Noble; Waters).
The late artist was conferred Jamaica’s Order of Merit and received a state funeral (video below). The presence of so many Rastas led to occasional interjections during Ethiopian Church services, another point glossed over by the documentary.
As you can see on the funeral program for Bob Marley, the day actually began at the Ethiopian Church. It was a small gathering of close family (Fr. Damick).
At the state funeral in the National Arena, there was quite a bit of tension between attending Twelve Tribes Rastas and Church officials. There were occasional outbursts when either side defended their version of Christ. So it appears competing public representations of history exist even outside the narrative of colonial legacies (Williams; Funeral).
This clip was very interesting to me when I compared it to write-ups and footage of the actual funeral. Instead of showing any of the tension, mentioning Bob’s conversion (his daughter Cedella makes quick mention of an Ethiopian priest), or even playing any of the actual audio, the film mostly plays footage of the thousands of faces at Marley’s funeral and then procession to his burial site in his birthplace of St. Ann. The Wailers’ first Rastafarian song and the only one produced for them by Mortimo Planno plays in the background (Marley).
Some could say this causes even this inclusive and comprehensive documentary to fall short in showing the true extent to which Marley’s legacy shaped public history. But it could also be said that in doing this, the film accomplishes two things: 1) removes an unsavory memory of division at Marley’s funeral, and 2) replaces it with a song representative of Marley’s life mission to spread messages of liberty and spiritual decolonization through Rastafari.
Support from Marley’s family and Tuff Gong Pictures for a profitable film which reduces the role of the EOTC in the artist’s late life may be telling of a desire to keep control of the Bob Marley narrative within Rastafari as much as possible. However, and perhaps more importantly, the final production released to audiences may just be the narrative the director and contributors felt was crucial.
While this reminds us to be wary of authenticity versus truth, family and oral history, it also allows us insight into the way Rastas and other formerly colonized peoples may view and value what ties to their precolonial pasts they have left.
Whatever the case may be, it seems that in the 21st century, Rastafarians may finally be getting the chance at the historical rewrite and credit for decolonization their movement deserves.
- The Rastafari movement in Jamaica provides a poignant contemporary example of how parts of the African diaspora responded to British imperialism. Whereas the movement has at times been likened to a cult, that classification appears the result of institutional forces labeling many new religions as such, ignoring the decentralized and flexible nature of Rastafarian faith (Marley; Henry; Fauset, et al.). And, though political scientists would probably argue Rasta ideology generally falls somewhere on the left, like the largely Marxist négritude movement developed by francophone Pan-Africanists, they also often reject socialism, since they’ve been oppressed under socialist governments in Jamaica and know of British socialism as well (Diagne).
- From Korea to Kenya, India to Iran, South Africa to Haiti, and Ireland to Vietnam, so-called ‘collaborators’ and ‘conspirators’ with imperial powers were branded as traitors. Some were imprisoned, tortured, ostracized or killed.
- For example, from the movement’s inception to this very day, the practice of “reasoning,” sacramental smoking of the “holy herb” (cannabis or “ganja,” an entheogen) to reason God’s will, has come under immense legal and social scrutiny, as has the wearing of locks — though ‘dreadful’ is said to refer to Rastas’ God-fearing Nazarite vow, like the biblical Samson, and be similar to the warriors of East Africa. Police brutality, job rejections, and other forms of institutional discrimination have historically targeted Rastas for the outward signs of their faith. Today, despite their contributions to decolonization and community building, Rastas continue to deal with such challenges as Western-led globalization commodifies their music and fashion (Olsen; Teague; Henry; Cape Argus; Mulder; Savishinsky; Marley).
- Universal Ethiopian Anthem
Led by Mortimo Planno (1969), transcribed by Dylan Ramos:
“Ethiopia the land of our fathers / The land where our God loved to be / As swift bee to hive sudden gathers / Thy children shall gather to thee / With our Red, Gold and Green floating o’er us / With our Emperor to shield us from wrong / As our God and our future before us, / We hail them with shout and with song / God give our Negus, Negus I who keep Ethiopia free, / To advance, to advance with truth and right, truth and right / To advance with love and might, love and might / With righteousness leading, / We haste to your call, / Humanity pleading, / One God for us all.”
“Princes has come out of Egypt, Ethiopians now stretches forth their hands unto God. O Thou God of Ethiopia, our Divine Majesty, Thy Spirit have come into our hearts, to dwell into the paths of righteousness and lead us. Help us to forgive, that we must be forgiven. Teach us love, loyalty on earth as it is in Zion, Endow us with Thy wisdom, knowledge and understanding to do thy will, thy blessings to you, that the hungry be fed, the naked be clothed, the sick be nourished, the aged protected, and the infants cared for. Deliver us from the hands of our enemies, that we must be prove fruitful for these Last Days, when our enemies are passed and decayed in the depths of the sea, in the depths of the earth, or in the bowel of a beast. O give us all a place in Thy Kingdom forever and ever.”
- It reached a considerable audience, being livestreamed on Facebook in the U.S. alongside theater showings and featured on Netflix for over a year (Obenson).
- In both historical and technical contexts, reggae is more of a Jamaican rather than Rastafarian music, born and kept alive by the charismatic fervor of Baptist slave spirituality, Pentecostalism and Afro-Caribbean rhythms, including mento, calypso, jazz, and ska (Marley; Fr. McIsaac, SJ).
- Overall, historical scholarship, with its inherent need to thoroughly contextualize, has tended to treat Rastafari much kinder than most governments and news outlets of the past, though the movement’s historiographical and controversial nature has unsurprisingly led to difficulties in pinning down its full history (Smith, et al.; Henry; Kalela).
- Carl Gayle: Could the Government help musicians in any way?
Bob Marley: “To tell you the truth I don’t like talking about Jamaica. I can say good things about the people, but the people who run it, I don’t wanna say anything because they might charge me with treason when I go back.”
- Individualism, or freedom of conscience, is what leads some members of the nebulous and decentralized Rastafarian faith to make a messiah out of Selassie and, as with the TTI’s so-called ‘Rasta-Christians,’ simultaneously look to Christianity in which the emperor is not thought of as Jesus or his incarnate (ToZion). It is also the principle so decried by the Catholic Church in its criticism of herb smoking. Rastas are in turn critical of the Catholic Church, a symbol of Babylon, though the EOTC maintains ecumenical ties with the Vatican as part of the ‘Universal Church’ (Profile; Tamerat).
- Of course Bob couldn’t have predicted Robert Mugabe’s future consolidation of power (nor his recent drawn out departure from office after 37 years), but maybe it was foreshadowing when police shot tear gas into the independence concert, Wailers included. Freedom fighters who were locked out of the stadium had flooded in to see Marley. Video footage (included in Marley documentary at 1:57:20) shows Bob continuing to perform solo on stage despite the gas. His fellow band members, inspired, soon rejoined him.
- Though Rastas generally saw former Prime Minister Michael Manley as a friend of the oppressed, an unusual surprise led to Rastas cheering the eulogy given by the newly elected prime minister, Edward Seaga: “[Marley’s] message was a protest against injustice, a comfort to the oppressed, a search for peace, and a cry for hope … May his soul find contentment in the achievements of his life, and rejoice in the embrace of Jah Rastafari.”
Surprise readings from Corinthians and Isaiah meaningful to Rastas caused some further derision between Christian and Rasta attendees. The passages were read by Marley’s close friend, Rasta and famed footballer Allan “Skill” Cole. They speak of Israel’s liberation and worshiping the true Christ (Williams; Funeral).
- “Selassie is the Chapel” (1968) invokes the traditional titles of Ethiopia’s emperor for help and guidance.