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Spotlight on Rastafarian sects


- Norman Grindley photos

A miniature replica of a Twelve Tribe village in the exhibition on Rastafarians currently on at the African-Caribbean Institute of Jamaica (ACIJ) in downtown Kingston. It shows the "reasoning ground", music room, and "brethren" and "sistren" in respective colours at a ball.

Georgia Hemmings, Staff Reporter

AN INTERESTING exhibition on Rastafarian sects and lifestyle is currently on at the African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica (ACIJ)on Ocean Boulevard in downtown Kingston.

Mounted as part of the Institute's annual "February Programme", the exhibition seeks to "give Jamaicans a better understanding of this remarkable and powerful movement which has crawled out of the 'dungle' into the far corners of the earth," according to director, David Brown.

So, through a combined use of artefacts, posters, photographs, musical instruments, and other paraphernalia, the beliefs and practices of Rastafarians are now up for viewing.

As Dr. Brown pointed out at the opening ceremony on February 18, "We see the natty dread in a tam and his red, green and gold oftentimes with a beard and spliff not far removed from his lips. You hear about the Bobo Shanti, Nyabinghi, and Twelve Tribes, and, if you ever mistakenly call a Rastaman, a 'dread', him vex. But that is because, we - as outsiders, onlookers - cannot properly understand (or 'overstand') the 'livity' that is Rastafari."

We still might not fully understand after viewing the show, but it should go a far way towards enlightening us about the intrigue of Rastafarianism.

The first thing is that, as with all other religions, there are different Rastafarian sects. The ACIJ's exhibition focuses on three major sects - the Nyabinghi Order, the Bobo Shanti, and the Twelve Tribes of Israel - highlighting their similarities and differences.

Research officers, Nicole Patrick and Jasmine Everett, told The Sunday Gleaner that since the information was gathered from primary sources, (observation and interviews with Rastafarians at all levels), it was much easier to obtain information from these three major groups.

From the exhibition, we learn that the Nyabinghi Order is the oldest Rastafarian grouping, and the primary sect from which other "houses" have emerged. His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, is the focal point of this order, and he is proclaimed as the incarnation of the supreme deity.

"Brethren" and "sistren" are guided by elders or priests, and they observe the Sabbath on Tuesdays.

Among their lifestyle habits are a diet of organic products (i.e. grains, legumes, herbs, barks, vegetables and nuts), taken with no salt; no alcoholic beverages; and "binghi' celebrations on special occasions. The Nyabinghis place emphasis on Ethiopia and their chief desire is for repatriation, as they believe this is where all Black people originated. The significance of Ethiopia is evident in their flag, unlike other groupings which have red as the first colour, the Nyabinghi flag is composed as follows:

Green (top) ­ the vegetation of Ethiopia

Gold (middle) ­ mineral wealth of Ethiopia

Red (bottom) ­ the blood of Ethiopians.

Distinctly different and dressed in long robes and tightly wrapped turbans, the Bobo Shanti Rastas (or "Bobo dreads") live separately from all other Rastafarians and the rest of society. Their commune (currently based in Nine Miles, Bull Bay) is operated like a small independent society , "Government within a Government", the exhibition says.

They have their own constitution, and reject the lifestyle, values and mores of general society for their own which is based largely on Old Testament teachings. They produce and manufacture their own products, selling brooms and mats for income-generation which, in turn, benefits the entire commune.

The "Bobos" do not smoke in public, they have a special way to greet each other and visitors; and have a period of recluse and "cleansing" for menstruating women. Their Sabbath runs from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, and they do not cook or clean in this period (just like the Seventh-Day Adventists).

The group was founded by Prince Emanuel Charles Edward 7th in the early 1950s, and the "Bobos" embrace Haile Selassie, Marcus Garvey, and descendants of Prince Emanuel as gods. They emphasise the need for black supremacy, reimbursement for slavery, and the need for repatriation of all black people to Africa.

Since the mid-1980s, the original "Bobo" camp has split into a Middlesex and Surrey group, each with fundamental differences from the initial camp.

Twelve Tribes

Unlike the other two, the Twelve Tribes of Israel is a more liberal order and its members are free to worship in the church of his/her choice or within the privacy of their home.

Twelve Tribes members consider themselves the descendants of the 12 sons of David, and are divided into 12 houses that are determined by the month of one's birth.

So there is Napthali (January), Joseph (February), Benjamin (March), Reuben (April), Simeon (May); Levi (June), Judah (July), Issachar (August), Zebulon (September), Dan (October), Gad (November), and Asher (December), matched by their respective colours of green, white, black, silver, gold, purple, brown, yellow, pink, blue, red and grey.

Can you imagine the colourful combination when members meet for the series of "balls" and dances they hold as fund-raising events?

The Tribe was founded in 1968 by Dr. Vernon Carrington (Prophet Gad), and, while Jamaica remains the international headquarters, groups have been formed in the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, Europe, Canada, United States, even as far away as Australia.

Robert (Bob) Marley, was a famous member of the Twelve Tribes. Members are found in almost every occupational niche in Jamaica, and are usually affluent. The organisation is largely financed by these members, through collection of dues and donations from fund-raising events, organised as a group or by individuals.

Other interesting facts emerging from the exhibition are the "sewing body" which sews clothing for members at reduced rates; the regular "financial meetings" which focus on the finances of the group; their heavy involvement in music; and the optional wearing of "locks".

Elsewhere, the exhibition showcases some musical instruments, and three drums (made of wood and goat skin) used at Nyabinghi celebrations - the bass, repeater and funde. A steam chillum pipe and another made from coconut shell can be examined close up, while Rasta belts, bags and ceremonial items are on display.

Books and publications are also on show, including a children's text titled A Fe Wi Sinting, and the Rastafari Ible.

The exhibition is a colourful one, with red, green, and black banners everywhere.

It should be viewed for the understanding it provides about Rastafarians as an ethnic group. Many people tend to dismiss them because of their outrageous claim about the immor- tality of Haile Selassie I, but the ACIJ exhibition attempts to examine their values and lifestyle with more rational scrutiny, despite limitations of space and material.

It is also timely, coinciding with the recent visit by the British Queen, and the Rasta's formal request for reparation and repatriation.

Dr. Brown concludes that "Rastafari is more than a religion, more than a philosophy. It is more than red, green and gold beads, and brooms and chillum pipes. It inspired, but is much more than, regaae music.

"For Rastafari is a protest. It is a sifting of the sands of Western propaganda and indoctrination in a search for truth. It is a rejection of materialism, of spite and malice, and weakness. It is the embracing and promotion of 'one love' of brotherhood of mankind, a unity, an 'inity'."

The exhibition will run until Friday, March 1, and researchers are on hand to guide visitors. Additional information and research material can be obtained from ACIJ's library.

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