Wed | Sep 19, 2018

'Lessons from Rastafari' - Indigenous village to be displayed at global tourism conference

Published:Sunday | November 19, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Presentation of 'Ital' food at inside the RIV.
Visitors to RIV listening intently to Rastafari philosophy from a resident of the village.
Visitors being taught how to play drums during a tour of the Rastafari Indigenous Village.
General manager of the Rastafari Indigenous Village Arlene McKenzie.

After almost 10 years in operation, the Rastafari Indigenous Village (RIV) in Montego River Gardens, St James, has emerged as one of the island's premier sustainable attractions, having already hosted more than 11,000 visitors.

The village has also been visited by some 2,000 cruise passengers from five cruise lines with scores more headed there.

RIV is a community-tourism enterprise, which displays the biological diversity of the natural Jamaican environment with its rich history and culture. It is based on a concept as old as the Rastafari movement in Jamaica.

This attraction will be highlighted during the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Government of Jamaica, World Bank Group and Inter-American Development Bank Global Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism, scheduled for the Montego Bay Convention Centre from November 27 to 29, 2017.

According to Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett, the conference will be an opportunity to showcase Jamaica's sustainable tourism development practices and demonstrate how tourism contributes to the economic well-being of every Jamaican.

During the conference, the general manager of RIV, Arlene Alberga-McKenzie, will participate in the discussion 'Current Trends in Indigenous Tourism' specifically speaking about 'Package the tourist not the people. Case Study: the Rastafari Indigenous Village'.

Delegates will also be able to visit RIV as part of the technical tours to showcase sustainable community tourism enterprises.

"It could be said that the first Rastafari village was the 'Pannicle,' which was established by Lennard P. Howell at Sligoville, St Catherine, in 1940. It was destroyed by the Government in 1954, as it was viewed as a threat to the social and economic fabric of the island," said Alberga-McKenzie, as she noted that RIV is one of many Rastafari camps in Jamaica and other parts of the world.

"These camps are places where Rastafari have gathered to support each other in their philosophy of living (livity), with the central focus being conservation, preservation, creative innovation, and self-sustainable development.

"These campsites rally around the principles of the right to repatriation to Africa, the right and recognition to be paid reparations for the damage done during forced migration, and recognition of the divinity of the His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie," added Alberga-McKenzie.

She argued that "When the events in Sligoville took place in 1954, Jamaica was a striving country, moving to separate itself from its colonial masters. A dissenting group with such strong demands and a philosophy advocating a different lifestyle was not seen as acceptable."

Alberga-McKenzie noted that attitudes changed somewhat with the rise of Bob Marley as a global ambassador, spreading the Rastafari philosophy through his music and message.

"This planted the seeds for the birth of global Rastafari Villages rooted in Rastafari music, language, food, livity, adornment, creativity, philosophy, and religion," said Alberga-McKenzie.




The RIV emerged out of a group of Rastafari in the tourist capital of Montego Bay. "These were street Rastafari - dread and terrible looking ... fresh from the bush, bare feet, crocus (bag) wearing, flag waving, loudly chanting their philosophy in the centre of the city.

"Their dramatic appearance brought them into constant contact with tourists wanting information. Locals also sought them out for healing, education, enlightenment and entertainment. This interest resulted in a partnership with the Nelson family, who owned the Montego River Gardens, which led to the establishment of the RIV in 2007," said Alberga-McKenzie.

The RIV mission was to create a single community from approximately 15 to 20 artisans, musicians, poets, and farmers.

The community members would use tourism as a vehicle to develop their individual cottage enterprises, creating a ready market for products and income to strengthen resources. The model was simply to create a space within a geographical community, which would create and support interdependent enterprises, with a management team working to develop the tourism interface.

In 2007, RIV was registered as a company. Two years later, tour partnerships were established with CARIBIC VACATIONS and that same year RIV received assistance from the Tourism Enhancement Fund.

In 2012, the RIV joined the Country Style Community Tourism Network, a membership organisation focused on developing local communities as sustainable business enterprises, offering a wide range of products and services.

As business continued to grow, contracts were signed with Nexus Tours and Thomson TUI, the biggest travel company in Britain. Last year, the RIV was added to the itinerary of cruise ships visiting Montego Bay.

"Despite its success today, this was not an easy journey for a group of people who historically retreated from established society; and did not want to become involved in the 'Babylon System'.

"On the other hand, it is because of RIV's bold public presentation and representation of Rastafari that the State has reached out to support its productivity and embrace its offerings as a part of 'Jamaica to the world'," Alberga-McKenzie stressed.