Don't trivialise Rastafari

Published: Sunday | February 10, 2013 Comments 0
Herbie Miller (left), curator of the Jamaica Music Museum and moderator of the Grounation series, smiles with Brother Ras Michael. -photos by Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer
Herbie Miller (left), curator of the Jamaica Music Museum and moderator of the Grounation series, smiles with Brother Ras Michael. -photos by Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer
From left: Pekka Vvorinen shows Herbie Miller sections of his book during the second staging of Grounation at the Institute of Jamaica last Sunday.
From left: Pekka Vvorinen shows Herbie Miller sections of his book during the second staging of Grounation at the Institute of Jamaica last Sunday.

Chester Francis-Jackson, Contributor

One of my favourite African sayings is: "If you stand by the riverbanks long enough, you will soon see the bodies of your enemies floating by." This saying is one that is most applicable to Jamaica, and its many policy prescriptions and positions over the years, as those elected or appointed to lead have not necessarily done so, but have followed.

When it comes to our culture, those leading would serve the country better if they internalised their prescriptive policy framework by looking at the Rastafarian faith - its history and evolution on the national and international stage and its achievements and contribution, as against adopting a foreign module in the hope of finding that panacea.

Rural Jamaican folk have a term that is applicable to our current set of 'ideas' and references, the way it has been, and is been promoted and postulated: "Fallow-Fashin".

I never did 'cotton' to the idea that we as a people, born out of our own struggles and social and cultural fights, should embrace the concept of a Black History Month. Apart from reinforcing the marginalisation it was intended to prevent. The experience of Jamaicans and Jamaica is vastly different in scope and essence from that of the American Negro, and hence what was a necessary tool for the American Negro in the fight for recognition and or equality is foreign to the Jamaican national identity and experience.

slap in the face

That the month of February is embraced and endorsed as black history month is a slap in the face of all the other ethnic minorities, who compose the Jamaican national fabric from which our national motto 'Out of Many, One People' arose. Even Jamaicans of the darkest hue sometimes have a heritage that belies that complexion, and any in-depth genealogical study would reveal a far more interesting family tree than one would supposed by face value.

And so it was, that last Sunday, the Jamaica Music Museum, under the baton of its director, musicologist and cultural historian Herbie Miller, hosted its second 'Grounation' - musical and cultural exposition at the Institute of Jamaica in celebration of Reggae/Black History Month. The event, which has the potential for a very rich and interesting discourse, did not attract hordes, but a studious group, deeply interested in the evolution of our music and its impact on our evolution; our history, and the role of Rastafari, in that journey to date.

Staging such an auspicious event, under the banner of Black History Month, is to trivialise the history and contribution of Rastafarians in the evolution of Jamaica's national and international identity, and the intellectual and social revolutions they have embraced and engineered since the 50s and 60s. The days when the 'establishment' openly frowned upon them denounced Rastafarianism using the most unkind and unflattering language.

To say that Rastafarians have come a long way would be putting it mildly. That one of this country's best known international citizens, our gift to the world, is the late Bob Marley, now embraced by the Jamaican 'establishment', speaks to the force of the faith and perseverance of Rasta.

returning to our roots

As the name implies, Grounation is a call to return to our roots. The cerebral event was a most interesting interlude, and its value to our still evolving nation, quite invaluable. Instead of being relegated to the 'fringe' under the banner of Black History Month, it should be incorporated in our secondary curriculum in the hope of fostering and/or promoting a better understanding of us, as a people.

Grounation, as a concept is worthy of national support and this it received last Sunday, as Youth and Culture minister Lisa Hanna was among the notables out. In her address, she was emphatic in her embrace of the precepts and understanding behind Grounation.

The panel included some pre-eminent members of Rastafari, Sister Audrey Wallace; Brother Samuel 'Sam' Clayton; Brother Samuel 'Tune' Williams; Brother Herman 'Woody' King; Brother Philmore Alvaranga; Brother Douglas 'Dougie' Mack; and Brother Uriah 'King Royo' Smith. They shared their travels and insights into the evolution from the early days of the music and faith. From the days of Bongo Herman in Wareika Hills, and the Brethrens of Nine Miles. The second invocation of Grounation made for a most rewarding Sunday afternoon outing. Among those who were out sharing in the cultural expo were ambassador Burchell Whiteman; Ainsley and Marjorie Henriques; Sydney Bartley; Anne-Marie Bonner; Carl Bliss; the very elegant Karen Neita and her sibling, the lovely Michelle Neita; Sheldon Bailey; Edmund Smith, visiting from Bermuda; plus several scores more.




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