By Keith Noel
ONCE, IN the Jamaican countryside, one found the true 'salt of the earth'. Honest, hard-working, friendly, strong folk who, exuding a 'love-thy-neighbour' spirit, pursued true happiness - and found it.
They found it in the spirit they brought with them from Africa: In their folk wisdom, in their social interaction, in an innate sense of justice and fair play. There was a communalism that led each man to be his brother's keeper. An individual task, if it was too big to handle, became the village's task. As a child, one belonged to the village - to be hugged and praised by all when you did well, advised when you had a big decision to make, to be remonstrated with, even punished when you did wrong. They also found happiness in a deep earthy sense of humour through which they found laughter and merriment in simple things.
These attitudes and this world view were the foundation of a lifestyle, of a way of seeing themselves that made researchers declare that, despite widespread poverty and a history of oppression, Jamaicans were among the happiest people in the world.
In the towns, it was a bit different and you could meet 'strangers', as people minded their own business more. But in the bowels of the city and towns, Rastafarian ideology developed. Despite its apparent 'strangeness', some of its basic tenets resonated deeply inside all black people as they recognised the truths inherent in it.
'livity' of rasta
When the poor in society began to realise that Independence did not bring relief from the poverty they were so eager to escape, it was the folk wisdom of the countryman and the 'livity' of Rasta that gave youth focus. Rastafari identified the capitalist system and the local and international power brokers as 'the enemy' who must be overcome. Because of the role of the Church in our history, the Pope came to represent the western capitalist system that kept us in persistent poverty.
Rastafari, by now an underpinning of working-class world view, felt that for us to succeed, we had to fully accept Africa and reject racism. The 'I and I' concept led to the idea that others were an extension of one's own personhood - the 'I' out there. 'Peace and love' became a general greeting as one would always want to be at peace with oneself!
Being a working-class movement, it was not dominated by effete intellectualisation, but by a hard-nosed practicality which became an anchor that kept youth grounded. It gave youth a livity that was positive and an intellectual attitude that guarded against the growing rational humanist semi-intellectualism.
Reggae, the music of the Rasta, became Jamaica's gift to the world. Their iconoclastic reggae star, Bob Marley, led a 'revolution' that ended, ironically, with him becoming an icon himself.
And then it began to slip away.
Clever young people, including journalists, started scoffing at aspects of the struggle against racism. They claimed, for example, that the way to combat racist chanting and behaviour was simply to ignore it. This 'bramble' argument, coming from bright minds, displays a worrisome ignorance of the entire history of the struggle.
Reggae and its conscious, 'grounding' self-assurance, began to give way to dancehall. Dancehall, not being Rasta music, would have at its centre 'gyal' songs, vulgarity, badman lyrics and, among its stars, persons who openly expoused 'demonic' culture.
Dancehall and demonism seemed to represent the opening of a fissure in our now-fragile ground. Out of this has come an outpouring of hateful, hating outbursts passing for performance, and a frightening level of self-loathing. We now have young men, who should be our finest flowering, raping pre-teen girls and old women, snatching teenage girls and murdering them and disposing of their bodies like garbage. We have a young man saying to a family, "mi gwine com back an kill unnu, dung to de baby,"
And then doing so!
But God, whoever you perceive Him to be, nah sleep. A couple weeks ago at Rebel Salute I heard a number of young singers, empowered by Rastafarian self-knowledge, proclaiming a conscious message for all who want to hear. From the heart of the inner city, there is a stirring. Lift up your hearts. A change is on its way!
Keith Noel is an educator. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.