Rastafari @ the X roads

RastafariAbout a year ago, I was interviewed by Darren Middleton, who uses my book, Benjamin, My Son, as part of a religion course at Texas Christian University, about the influence of Rastafari on my work. The interview became part of an article, "Dreadlocked Dante," which will be published in an upcoming issue of Caribbean Quarterly. I was reminded about the interview by a recent post in Yannick's Misadventures regarding a group of Rastafari and their attempts to sue dancehall artist, Munga over his "Gangsta Ras" image:

No one has copyrights, or ownership of Rasta. Did this group invent Rasta, muchless to claim ownership? And are we to stay stagnant? No Rasta will evolve, does evolve and has evolved and will not remain what confined to anyone individuals ideas or and one group.

I agree especially with the idea," No one has copyrights, or ownership of Rasta." Rastafari belongs to no one or if it does, it belongs to InI. But here's the section that really caught my eyes:

Especially with a generational baton pass at hand, even in the Rasta community we see a generational ideological battle

This generational crisis within Rastafari matches a part of the interview in which Professor Middleton (DJNM) asked me (GP) the following:

DJNM: My own research convinces me that Rastafarians, especially those in Africa, are revising their Christology these days, in that they either downplay or deny Haile Selassie’s divinity. Jason/Benjamin certainly seems to symbolize this trend, no? At one point, he champions the Rastafari for their moral values – unity and oneness – and not for their Christology (p.124). Thoughts?

GP: Jason is what I would call a secular Rasta – he accepts the unity and oneness, but not the divinity of Haile Selassie. All religions adapt and change, but in changing they face the issue of remaining true to their core ideas. If Rastafari can perhaps come to a compromise – Haile Selassie represented the kingly aspect of the Christ nature and preserve InI, the indwelling god connected to God, they could survive.

My interest in the survival and the meaning of Rastafari is not casual. I have been fascinated by Rastafari since my adolescence and this interest was enhanced by the music of Bob Marley and the Wailers. The last part of Yannick's observations also paralleled some of the generational issues in Jamaican/ Caribbean writing. As a young writer growing up during the seventies and interested in the theme of identity, I had to ask myself, how is my work similar to and different from these writers:

The Colonials (writers born in the thirties) preoccupied with the creation of a regional identity with work that demonstrated that they were equal or if not better than their counterparts from England, Spain, France, and the Netherlands.

The Postcolonials (writers born in the forties) who were interested in creating a national identity out of the experience of a particular island.

The Independence/Reggae Generation (writers born in the fifties/early sixties) who came of age during the seventies and began creating work that sometimes focused on the disillusionment with national independence and the Caribbean diaspora.

The influence of Rastafari and Reggae were very important in my development as a writer for the following reasons:

Music in my own tongue, in my own voice and about my experiences to which I could sing and dance.

Creation of values to contradict the racist, postcolonial attitudes that were prevalent in Jamaica and the Caribbean.

Creation of aesthetics that gave me the confidence to create out of my experience works such as Benjamin, My Son, "Sister Faye and the Dreadlocked Vampire," and Uncle Obadiah and the Alien.

Replacement of a racial/national/ identity with a based on wholeness and grounded in the metaphysical identity of InI

As the main character in Benjamin in, My Son says,

Although I could never accept Haile Selassie as the reincarnated Christ, it [Rastafarianism] helped me overcome my woundedness over my wealth, my colour, and my class. I saw the oneness in things – like the light the Impressionists said suffused all things (124).

For it has always been my contention the central tenet of Rastafari, InI, that embraces diversity while at the same time engaging the moral imagination of its adherents and the artists who have been influenced by Reggae (a sonic representation of the experience of Rastafari) provides a basis for aesthetics, the creation of identity, and prophetic discourse within the struggle for personal and national liberation. I've also realized that Rastafari contains the solutions for psychic wholeness, especially for people of African descent who have survived the Atlantic Holocaust.

It will be interesting to see how the temporal and geographical isolation of Rastafari as a memeplex will manifest itself in the upcoming years.


Previous Posts on Rastafari

"Get up, Stand up": The Nobel Truth of Rastafari

Rastafari and Renaming: A Model for Freedom

Reggae, Rastafari & Aesthetics

Retelling I-Story: "Redemption Song


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