By Lesroy W. Williams
(Basseterre, St. Kitts)—Bob Marley, internationally acclaimed reggae icon, in his Redemption Song, said “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds”.
Rastafarians throughout the world identify with what Bob Marley sang in his Redemption Song. They know that mental slavery is the worst form of slavery; it is even worse than being bound physically with chains.
Hence, Rastafarians have always fought against systematic oppression and domination within our society (Babylon) that shackles the mind.
Rastafarians believe that the shackles of colonialism continue in our society today. It is this bondage that they rebel against; a bondage that deprives our people of their true identity as proud black people.
Ras Dabo Penny, a Rastafarian of the Nyabinghi Theocracy Order is a proud Rastafarian who firmly believes in the Rastafarian faith. He has been a Rastafarian since 1981. He started out in life selling newspapers. Presently, he is the Public Relations Officer and one of the head organizers of his order.
His order has traveled extensively to such places as Jamaica, Barbados, Nevis, Antigua and St. Eustatius. In 1999, members of his order attended a Nyabinghi gathering in Ethiopia where they were able to establish vital links.
Ras Dabo Penny is a Rastafarian extraordinaire. He is deeply immersed in the development of his country and community. He is a qualified sports commentator and has been commentating football for 16 years. He is the coach for the McKnight Trotters Basketball Team. He is deeply involved in organizing Rastafarian gatherings and sharing the Rastafarian point of view to many different conferences for the past nineteen to twenty years. He is involved in protecting and defending the rights of Rastafarians. His order cooperates with the National AIDS program and contributes to many charitable organizations.
Ras Dabo attended the Irish Town Primary School, Basseterre Junior High School and Basseterre Senior High School. Presently, he is involved in farming and operates a restaurant.
The Rastafari Movement emerged in Jamaica among Jamaicans in the early 1930’s, arising from an interpretation of Biblical prophecy partly based on the status of Ethiopian Emperor Hallie Selassie’s status as the only African monarch of a fully independent state with the titles, “King of Kings” and “Conquering Lion of Judah” found in the Book of Revelation (5:5).
According to Wikipedia Encyclopedia, Rastafari as a social group has been viewed as a response to racist negation of black people as it was experienced, both in the world as a whole (where Selassie was the only black monarch recognized in international circles), and in Jamaica — where in the 1930s, black people were at the bottom of the social order, while white people, their religion and system of government, were at the top.
Marcus Garvey’s encouragement of black people to take pride in themselves and their African heritage inspired the Rastas to embrace all things African.
In retaliation against a Eurocentric view of the world, Rastas adopted an Afrocentric view of the world by inculcating into their culture certain rituals, beliefs and practices that they can call their own. Some of these are dreadlocks, Ital food, marijuana, and the colours of red, green and gold of the Ethiopian flag with the addition of black. The Ital diet is representative of natural food but also essentially means living by the dietary laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. In the Ethiopian flag, the red stands for the blood of the martyrs, green stands for the vegetation of Africa, gold stands for the wealth and prosperity Africa has to offer and the sun which gives everything while black represents the race of the people. These are the colours of “Pan-African Unity” for Marcus Garvey.
Marijuana is seen as a sacrament for uplifting spirituality and prophecies. Rastas see no moral basis for the prohibition of marijuana use.
Messages expounded by Rastas include love and respect for all living things; the importance of human dignity and self-respect; freedom from colonial oppression and peace and justice.
The “way of life” is not merely to be assented to intellectually, or “belief” as the term is often used; it is used for the finding and knowledge of one’s true identity.
Ras Dabo Penny said that the Rastafarian population in St. Kitts is about 13,000 persons, that is, all those who associate with the faith and its spirituality even though they don’t have dreadlocks. Ras Dabo said that people are drawn to Rastafarianism in “their struggle for liberation and redemption.”
“In being a proud people we have sought to identify with our past and with our Gods and Goddesses and establish our proud black identity,” Ras Dabo said.
He said that the God that the Europeans presented to us doesn’t resemble us and neither does their religious icons. Because of this he said, they have had to look to their ancestral homeland, Ethiopia, for a redeemer who could deliver them from their mental and physical chains.
Ras Dabo said that in the beginning of the Rastafari Movement, “The Back to Africa” movement exemplified the desire to look to the ancestral homeland to discover one’s black roots and identity. He said that the Back to Africa Movement meant repatriation to Ethiopia. However, he said that the media has done a lot of damage in portraying Africa in a negative light, resulting in many people being disillusioned about Africa. Ras Dabo has been to Africa and he said that the media’s portrayal of the African continent is propaganda.
“Our greatness cannot be equaled with any other civilization, not even the ones that exist today with computers and all that. The aim to cut us off from who we are and our people is quite negative to us,” he said.
Ras Dabo said that an important aspect of Rastafarianism is that of black consciousness which is really black pride.
“Psychologists have always claimed that what a person becomes is as a result of how they perceive themselves,” Ras Dabo stated.
“The churches and educational institutions didn’t instill black pride in our people and so those on the fringes of the society had to take up the mantle of instilling black pride into our people,” Ras Dabo said.
He said that the growing of dreadlocks came about as a form of identity where the black man/woman could be proud of the naturalness of their hair. Growing dreadlocks also became a form of rebellion against the comb and the scissors that were introduced through the European system according to Ras Dabo.
Ras Dabo emphasized that Rastafarians believe in the land and taking care of it. He said that the earth was created to be shared but that through systematic oppression the black man/woman has been disadvantaged.
We see this most on the African continent with the lack food and fuel.
Ras Dabo stated that once ago Rastafarians based their beliefs heavily on the Bible. However, Rastafarians are now more suspicious of the Bible because the Bible originated from the hearts of people who once held the black person in slavery, he said. He also said that polarity governed the lives of our black ancestors who not only had a male spiritual head but a female spiritual head as well. He said that European spirituality and culture relegated women to an inferior position in the society. However, Rastas take a different view by upholding the dignity of women. He said that in 1930, Haile Selassie was the first Ethiopian Monarch to have his Empress coronated on the same day as himself. By doing so, he restored what was removed from Ethiopian culture, i.e. that women should have an equal and balanced place in the society.
Ras Dabo said that the Rastas in St. Kitts and Nevis are working towards some kind of national unity. Hence, they have formed a National Association to promote this end. There are three orders of Rastafarians in St. Kitts: the Nyabinghi Theocracy, The Bobo Shanti and the House of David or the House of Judah. Ras Dabo said that envy and jealousy threatens to keep them divided but they are working on keeping united.
Ras Dabo thinks that the Rastafarian Movement is having a positive impact on the society by helping people to capture their black heritage which is not done enough in the school’s curriculum. He hopes that Rastafarians will be more accepted by the society and that the cloud of suspicion surrounding Rastas would be removed. He hopes that they be treated as equals.
Ras Dabo believes that crime and violence is on the increase in St. Kitts and Nevis because of family breakdown. Parents are not supervising their children, leaving them to be raised by the television.
Ras Dabo said that for the past five years the Rastafarian Movement in St. Kitts has been contemplating entering into politics. However, he doesn’t think that they are ready structurally. He thinks that the most important role for them to play is to give advice and bring about political reform. He would like to see more interest groups having a say in policy making. Also he would like to see some decentralization in Government by the implementation of parish councils.
When asked what the Rastafarian creed is, Ras Dabo said: “That the aged be protected, the infant cared for, the sick nourished, the hungry fed, the naked clothed and the shelter-less sheltered. We hope to be free from the hands of our oppressors and to return to our ancestral homeland to be one with our people.”