Paul H. Williams, Contributor
Since July 21, the National Museum Jamaica has been hosting RASTAFARI, A National Museum Jamaica Exhibition at its Water Lane Gallery in downtown Kingston. It is a showcase of the Rastafari movement, and all things it encompasses.
"The exhibition will explore, celebrate and document one of the world's most significant social and religious movements," National Museum Jamaica says. "Our exhibition Rastafari incorporates elements of the first Smithsonian exhibition and expands on other aspects, notably the Mansions and Livity of Rastafari."
The first Smithsonian exhibition was called Discovering Rastafari and was held at The Smithsonian in Washington, DC, from 2007 to 2011.
"Rastafari is very much a Jamaican development, so people felt that if they started out in Washington, why not Jamaica? Why not a major exhibition in Jamaica?" Dr Jonathan Greenland, director of the National Museum, explained to Arts & Education recently.
After the exhibition closed, the Smithsonian gave National Museum Jamaica some of the material from the exhibition. "And then we expanded it. We took certain elements of it and developed it to be much larger because the Jamaican people know a lot more about Rastafari than the average American," Dr Greenland said.
Some of the information panels from the Smithsonian exhibition are a part of the media at the Water Lane Gallery. They are complemented by those created by the National Museum and the Rastafari's Millennium Council. The exhibition was done in consultation with members of the Rastafari community, whose voices are heard in the recorded presentations projected on big screens, which are part of the audio-visual treatment of the showcase.
"What we wanted to do was to have the voices of the Rastas. As much as we have created text, along with those texts, there are voices giving the direct feelings and experiences of Rastafari over the years," David Stimpson, curator of the exhibition, said.
SHOWCASING RICH HERITAGE
And while the visually appealing panels give very interesting information on the genesis, evolution and other major elements of Rastafari, it is the art-and-craft exhibits that speak eloquently of the ethos of the Rastafari movement and its rich heritage and intuitive creativity.
Paintings and pictures of HIM Haile Selassie are all over, in addition to many others. But the standouts are Ras Ibrak's surrealistic piece called 'The Universe is I', and Bongo Hugh's 'Divine Council Against Demonocracy'. Ras Ibrak depicts Rastafari, holding the world in his left hand, as being one and the same as the universe.
And in a world of negative forces, Bongo Hugh paints HIM Haile Selassie "as an all-conquering dreadlocks Rastaman smiting down the threefold demon of Church, commerce and State".
Other interesting depictions are embedded in wood and clay sculptures viz the 'Lion of Judah'; Winston 'Ras Ruggles' Green's wood carving of 'Mortimo Planno', the 'Wailers and Rita Marley'; and Everald Brown's cedar wood 'Drummer'.
The drums, central to Rastafari rituals and ceremonies, are loud in the space in which they are gathered in the museum. There are the double head repeater drum, which is played during the Nyahbinghi ceremony; the Little Bop repeater drum and stool, used by Little Bop of the group Mystic Revelation of Rastafari, from whose collection there is also the bass drum.
As distinct as the sounds of the Rasta drums are, their attire, emblazoned with badges and pins, also tell the stories of Rastafari. Some of these accessories form part of the exhibition, along with two burlap ensembles, 'Priestly Gown With Crown, Bag and Sash', and 'Nyabinghi Warrior Garb with Breast Plate and Crown' created by Empress Gloria 'Mama G' Simms.FIRE KEY
And with the attire go the staff (rods), such as Priest Dermot Fagan's 'Tertagrammaton'. It is said to represent the four sacred elements of earth, water, wind and fire, thus the name. The fire key, a high pile of stones with a wood fire on top, is essential to the Nyahbinghi ceremony. The fire key man is in charge of the fire. Bongo Eddie was once a fire key man and his pimento wood fire key staff is on display.
Within the hall, also, is a real-life, dirt-floor, circular bamboo tabernacle, which has a thatch roof decorated with images of Rastafarian elements. Inside it are a few drums, benches and a wide-screen television. Not far from it is a fire key, waiting to be lit.
With Rastafari, everything revolves around the tabernacle, which is a very important part of Rastafari. It's about their faith and beliefs, a place where they have their meetings, 'groundations', 'reasonings', etc.
"The tabernacle that we set up gives that space for an understanding to the public of the kind of venue that they meet in," Stimpson said.
A walk-through lecture tour of the show lasts about 45 minutes. It is open Monday to Friday, as well as on select Saturdays, when there are special activities for the entire family. These activities include Rastafari musicians giving talks and demonstrations, art and craft, and treasure hunts for the children, who get to keep their 'treasures' as memorabilia of their experience.
Rastafari at the National Museum Jamaica is an excellent learning experience, one that is bound to initiate and resurrect debates, but it is also big on the aesthetics of Rastafari.