Put right to natural hair in Constitution, says Rasta elder
Lobbyist condemns alleged police haircut of Clarendon teen
Prominent Montego Bay-based religious elder Bongo Manny, the first Rastafarian to legally wear dreadlocks in the Jamaican prison system, is calling for the right to sport natural hair to be specifically inscribed in the Constitution to offer greater protection against state abuse.
Bongo Manny’s advocacy comes against the backdrop of a woman cop’s alleged forcible haircut of a Rastafarian teenager, Nzinga King, at the Four Paths Police Station in Clarendon on July 22.
The incident is being investigated by the Inspectorate and Professional Standards Oversight Bureau and the Independent Commission of Investigations.
In 1992, Bongo Manny launched a successful court challenge to prevent prison authorities from trimming his dreadlocks after he was convicted and incarcerated on ganja charges. Almost 30 years later, he is disappointed that there is still no clear policy to protect Rastafarians against overzealous state agents who have no respect for their religious and civil rights.
“It is full time that this foolishness stop!” said Bongo Manny, who is often seen with his hair proudly tossed over his shoulder like a towel.
“It must be written into our Constitution. If it is not yet written, and it must be put up in every police station so the abusive police officers will know that the rights of Rastafarians must not be disturbed.”
Bongo Manny, one of the elders of the Pitfour Nyahbinghi Centre in Granville, St James, is urging King to seek legal redress through the courts against the police. King has retained the services of attorney-at-law Isat Buchanan, who has indicated an intention to sue the State.
Hair has remained key to concepts of identity in modern-day Jamaica, where Eurocentric cultural influence still holds sway in the grooming policy of schools and many workplaces.
As one of the many elders who were at the forefront of the fight to get the Government to apologise for the 1963 Coral Gardens Incident in Montego Bay, Bongo Manny believes that additional steps ought to be taken to protect the rights of Rastafarians.
The Coral Gardens Incident involved the slaying of several Rastafarians and police in a crackdown on civil protest. The hair of many Rastafarians was reportedly forcibly cut.
“It is good that the Government has apologised for the atrocities of Coral Gardens but we also need to have the other atrocities taking place against Rastafari to end,” said Bongo Manny.
“We and this Government need to sit and revise or create new constitutional provisions to protect Rastafarians because we have some jumpy new police and some jumpy new Rasta, and in the absence of clear laws, they are going to have problems.”
Like Bongo Manny, Queen I, of the Montego Bay-based Rastafari Indigenous Village, thinks the rights of Rastafarians should be documented and issued to all state agents, particularly the police and nurses.
Queen I said that the Four Paths incident has painful resonance for her because her children also wear dreadlocks.
“What took place was more than just a violation of the empress’ (King’s) human rights. It could also affect her mental health,” she said.