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Rasta and the Caribbean
Posted: Monday, November 15, 2004

By Ayinde

Dreadlocks did not first enter Trinidad via Jamaican Rastafarians; it entered with Indian indentured servants; some grassroots Indians also carry dreadlocks. (This can be developed at a later time.) It is these same Indians who first introduced many Africans in Trinidad to Marijuana as it was legally available and used as part of their religious practices. This was taking place long before the 1930s. Indians in India also have a long continuous history of dreadlocks and marijuana that goes back thousands of years. The world recognized Jamaica as its birthplace and that is no big thing.

Most Rastas on the Internet understand very little about life in the Caribbean (Jamaica and even Trinidad) where the resurgence of Rasta played out in its early stages.

They unwittingly try to impose changes on something without understanding the context that gave rise to it, so they inadvertently walk around with ideas that do not serve the Rastafarian Movement's original intention.

The movement was about dealing with the social neglect of mostly dark-skinned Black Africans who were enslaved and robbed. The original issues are still around, and people who cannot identify with the issues just do not get it. The resurgence of African dreadlocked Rastas was in a Jamaican/Caribbean context where whites were not the majority in terms of numbers, but maintained control of the education, media and financial institutions. The dynamics that Caribbean people have to deal with are not the same for many people in other countries. Caribbean people have to deal with many variants of racism because of the diverse people who were either brought in as indentured servants or later on migrated here, while Blacks still maintained the sizable majority. This is the context.

Light-skinned ones did not experience what dark-skinned Blacks did back then. Most of them got jobs in the banks and other places, being the first pick of whites. It is true some suffered, but there were many social advantages for them. In no way did they have the kind of social invisibility as poor dark-skinned Blacks. But many dark-skinned Blacks do continue to feel the truth of what caused the Rasta resurgence today. Even if they never heard of Rasta, they can easily come in and identify with all the issues.

Everyone wants to associate, but reading about Rasta and chatting with a few elders does not on its own qualify them as spokespeople or leaders for Africans, especially the Africans who suffer the worst in the system.

Even today in many parts of the Caribbean, to call oneself African invites ridicule, and people are denied opportunities for that. Claiming an African name can place one in a very disadvantageous position. Blacks in these islands are not the minority, so there were no special programs to address these social issues. Most people casually accepted that because they had black governments that they were in control. Many are now realizing that their governments have been announcing policies that were given or dictated to them by imperial powers.

It is obvious that people who have withstood denial of rights from whites, colonized Blacks and all others for 40, 50, 60 years, would resent someone who does not have a long history of struggling for those rights being suddenly placed in a position of authority in an organization that is supposed to be primarily dealing with their issues, and worst yet, someone who symbolizes all that Blacks, who remained resisting the system, were fighting to remove. Therefore, Black Rastas in Barbados, being upset because their government appointed a 'white' or near-white Rasta to the post of Director of the Commission for Pan African Affairs, should be understood in this context.

People who want to associate with Rasta should get a better understanding of the environment and conditions that spawned its resurgence. If they feel they are somehow above Caribbean people then they just cannot get it.

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