(the images above are of reggae artists Sizzla and Capleton)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dem Bobo Dreads

By Mark Porter Sperry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like all major religions, Rastafarianism has evolved since its formation. It has thus far split into three separate factions, each with varying degrees of devotion, varying degrees of emphasis placed upon different aspects of the religion, and certain independent beliefs unique to each sect. The Bobo Ashanti order is one of the three factions of Rastafarianism. These rastas, who are also referred to as Bobo Dreads, tend to live separate from society and its regulations, while following their own religious code as a way of life. While Bobo Shantis generally share the fundamental beliefs of Rastafarianism with the other two sects, for example that Haille Sellassie is god, they remain distinct in ways as simple as they way they dress to as controversial as their radical avocation of black supremacy. However, while some of their philosophy may seem radical, Bobo Dreads generally conduct their day-to-day life with a tranquil and passive disposition and are often described as friendly and courteous by those who have interacted with them. Finally, like the other two mansions of Rastafarianism, the message of the Bobo Shanti has a strong foothold in reggae music due to the success of artists such as Sizzla, Capleton, and Anthony B, and while certain areas of the Bobo Shanti ideology may be controversial to some, it is undeniable that their message is important and that it should be heard throughout the world.

Similar to the Maroons, members of the Bobo Ashanti order live together in a community, which exists apart from society. They rely on their religion to provide them with a code of ethics and to guide their behavior, rather than the laws put in place by the Jamaican government. However, this relative independence does not suggest that Bobo Shantis behave in a way that the Jamaican government would not condone, and I am sure that it is for this reason their relative independence has been allowed to persist. This communal and tight knit way of life is very different from the other Mansions of Rastafarianism, whose followers tend not to place so much emphasis on community and are organized much more loosely[1](pg. 70). The Bobo Ashanti compound is located nine miles east of Kingston at bull bay, and is situated atop a hill often referred to as “Bobo Hill”. However, this sanctuary was not immediately present for the Bobo Shantis in the initial years preceding the orders formation, and Dem Bobo Dreads had to endure minor tribulations before settling there. “The Bobo remained at Ackee Walk until 1968 when they were finally bulldozed. They then settled at Harris Street in Rose Town, where they were forced out to Eighth Street in Trench Town, then to Ninth Street, and finally, to Bull Bay where they have remained ever since on the rocky government lands overlooking the town[2](pg. 174).” In order to enter this secluded commune one must pass through an “arched gateway,” under which each person who is recognized as a Bobo Shanti is required to utter a prayer, whether it be spoken aloud or internally[3](pg. 172). This signifies that although Bobo Dreads still reside in Babylon, the land that they have atop Bobo Hill, is believed by them to be sacred. Even though the Bobo Ashanti may be the most organized and community oriented sect of Rastafarianism, the inside of their compound is by no means a bustling metropolis. Extensive fields of Gungu peas cover the majority of the land within the compound[4](pg. 173). Buildings are almost primarily houses with certain exceptions being a visitors hut, a sick bay, and a temple[5](pg. 173). From what I can ascertain through various descriptions of the Bobo Ashanti compound, the lifestyle there is a modest one, valuing simplicity, and with religion being regarded as what is most important in life. In ending, while the secluded, organized, and self-governing features of the Bobo Shanti community set it apart from the other two mansions, core Rastafarian values are certainly present as well, such as simplicity in life.

While the Bobo Ashanti ideology promotes black Supremacy to the extent that Caucasians are considered to embody what is most evil in the world, it would be entirely false to assume that this belief entirely engulfs the character of a Bobo Shanti. After all they are people, not vessels of hatred, but they are people of a race who have been made to endure much suffering, and unfairness over many years.  On the contrary Bobo Dreads are a frequently described as hospitable, friendly, and courteous people. A simple, but notable indication of this is that two of my sources for this paper are written accounts by social scientists that were let into the commune, allowed to observe the lifestyle, customs, and religious ceremonies that took place there, and then publish these observations. One of the two researchers, whose name is Georgia Scott, is even a white woman! While this may seem insignificant, one should not underestimate the patience and understanding that I can only imagine is required when dealing with an outsider who is constantly scrutinizing your life for an extended period of time. However this is not to say that this community is open to anyone who desires to venture inside. A Bobo priest had to interview Georgia Scott before she could enter[6](pg. 171). Upon entering she was asked if she was currently menstruating or had in the past twenty-two days, because if so, she would be considered unclean and would be denied entrance[7](pg. 172). Finally once she assured them that the last time she menstruated fell within the acceptable time constraints, she was required to dress herself in clothes that satisfied the standard dress expected of Bobo Shanti Women[8](pg. 173). After these conditions were met she was accepted as a visitor within the village. While these formalities may appear to be strict and selective when allowing who gets in, one must remember that this is a religious community whose religious code is a way of life that must be upheld.  As long as visitors satisfy these requirements the Bobo Shanti will welcome most of if not all outsiders. “Out of a sample of ninety one households there was not a single head of household or spouse living in the area for more than six months who had not been invited to visit the commune[9](pg. 185).”While it is safe to assume that this benevolent disposition towards outsiders is primarily incited by what Bobo Shantis believe to be proper conduct, their actions are not entirely selfless. For example, due to their location atop the hill, there may be times where their wellbeing may rely on the generosity of neighboring communities, or at least instances where it is more convenient to ask neighbors for help. One particular instance of this is that water is scarce where the compound is located.  Therefore, by cultivating friendly relationships with neighboring communities Bobo Dreads can rely on outsiders to assist them in acquiring water[10](pg. 184). Another reason that generosity could benefit the Bobo Ashanti is that will set them apart from other Rastas who are viewed negatively or neutrally. The results of this will not only propagate a positive stereotype towards Bobo Shantis, as a group, as being kind or hospitable or neat, but having a distinguishable positive identity may very well endow their religion and way of life with an inherent merit in the eyes of outsiders. Although, the Bobo Shanti do not let anyone, at anytime, into their community it is undeniable that they deal with outsiders in an upstanding fashion.

A unique practice of Bobo Shanti, which is probably, the most immediately noticeable distinction from other sects of Rastafarianism is the way in which they dress. Every recognized member of this order wears long robes and a turban wrapped around their heads. The turban is arguably the most important part of the outfit. Just as all Rastafarians wear their hair in dreadlocks in representation of their religious beliefs, Bobo Dreads wear turbans on their head in order to signify that they are a member of the Bobo Ashanti order. However it is not merely worn as an a form of identification. Women must wear their head ties not only atop their head, but have it draped over the nape of their necks until it fully covers their hair. A Bobo Shanti woman explains the significance saying, “Mary, mother of Jesus, wore a scarf, and so should we. We wear our head ties simply like Mary did…. It’s not about fashion and new styles, it’s about paying respect to Jah[11](pg. 172).” Similarly Bobo Shanti Men, whose turbans symbolize their devotion to Haile Sellassie - who wore the turban during his coronation in 1930 – and to Jah[12](pg. 172).” While it is true that members of the Nyabinghis, another of the three sects of Rastafarianism occasionally choose to wear headdresses there are two major differences between the two practices. The first is that while women in the Nyabinghis order are required to wear headdresses, only few men wear them[13](pg. 171). The second difference is that the practice of wearing head wraps amongst the Nyabinghis can be a fashion or style for many[14](pg. 171). While the representation of the head wraps may hold similar meaning for both sects, the Bobo Ashanti approach is much more orthodox.

While Bobo Ashanti’s, like all other Rastas, believe Haille Sellassie is god himself they are also unique in that they revere Prince Emmanuel Charles Edwards as another holy figure. Prince Emmanuel Charles Edwards founded the Bobo Ashanti order in the 1950’s. “According to prince Emmanuel the holy trinity comprises the three sprits: prophet, priest and king…and the priest is prince Emmanuel himself[15](pg. 179).” This belief is justified by citing revelation 5 in the Christian bible. Revelation 5 essentially is a story of the one who is worthy to sit upon the throne above all, and who has the ability to open the book of wisdom. “And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth[16].” Above all else, this reverence for priest Emmanuel truly exhibits how vastly different the three factions of Rastafari can be. This could be argued to be as poles apart as Christians believing Jesus to be the Messiah, and Jews believing Moses to be the Messiah. 

Another particularly noticeable way in which Bobo Dreads are unique from other sects of Rastafarianism is the treatment towards women in their community. While it is true that women are generally regarded as inferior to men throughout the entire Rastafarian religion, their repressed social status within the Bobo Shanti sect consists of even stricter regulations. One example of the mistreatment of women in Rastafarian culture is negligence or inability for men to commit to women they are romantically involved with. Our class witnessed this in the movie “Rockers” where Horsemouth chooses to pursue his music career and flirt with other women rather than invest his time and commitment to his wife and children. At one point in the movie his wife tries to coerce Horsemouth into being a more committed father by saying, “what about dem youths?” implying that they need a him to be more present in their life; he merely replies “I teach dem youths culture” implying that he does enough just by living his life.  Along with this theme of negligence are more rigid and seemingly subjugating rules towards women in Rastafarianism. For example a woman’s main duty in life is housekeeping and child rearing, they cannot use birth control or have an abortion, they cannot wear makeup or dress promiscuously, they cannot commit infidelity and so on[17]. “Bobo treatment of their women does not differ essentially from the treatment most dreadlocks accord their women. The main difference lies in the Bob’s greater ritualization of woman’s “evil” nature[18](pg. 179).” In line with this more negative perception in which women are viewed stricter rules are implemented dictating their conduct within the community. Firstly, along with the robes and turbans all Bobo Shantis must wear, women must constantly cover their arms and legs. Secondly, the rules governing menstruation stringent then the other two sects of Rastafarianism. During menstruation a women must withdraw herself from society and reside in the “sick bay,” where she can be considered unclean and therefore unfit to leave for up to sixteen day and sometimes even longer[19](pg. 177). In their daily routine and interactions, women must display and quiet and unquestioned obedience to men in the community. While these practices may seem despicable from an outsider’s perspective, and may even be held with contempt by some Rastafarian women who must endure these rules, there are certainly Rastafarian women who accept and defend them. A study was done which essentially consisted of interviewing Rastafarian women on their apparent social predicament. When these women were asked about their feelings on the topic the general response was that they lived in a fair and equal system. “While they think that a woman should look up to her man (nature set it that way), they do not see their roles within the movement as oppressive or subservient[20](pg. 262).” When researchers posed the same question to Rastafarian men the response was the same. Therefore while woman’s roles in Rastafarian culture, and especially in Bobo Shanti culture where the attitude towards women is even more conservative and stricter rules are implemented, outsiders must refrain from interpreting this through the eyes of their own culture and realize that in most cases Rastafarian women do not feel oppressed.

            Although concepts of black power, repatriation, and struggle against the white mans tyranny can be found in all three Mansions of Rastafarianism, the Bobo Ashanti tend to have a more radical approach on these matters. On matters of Repatriation most Rastafarians, regardless of their Affiliation to whichever Mansion, would agree that those people, or nations, who profited from the black mans enslavement should be willing to repay black people by returning them to Africa. However the Bobo Shantis perception of this, as well as their attempts to bringing it to fruition, are more extreme. “The Bobo Ashanti only differ from other Rastafari in their relentless endeavor to ventilate the claim on the basis of international law, namely the universal declaration of human rights and other UN conventions[21](pg. 74).” Bobo Shanti do not only believe repatriation to be a morally binding obligation, but a legal one. Just as all Rastafarians hold Africa as a holy land that is their home from which they have been exiled, they also view the black race as a strong, admirable, and even hallowed people. This perception in the black race was first asserted by Marcus Garvey, and is now a prevalent theme in Rastafarianism. “Not only do Bobos believe that black skin, skin blessed by the sun, is original they also consider black women as mothers of creation[22].” However Bobo Ashanti do not merely exercise pride in their black race, they believe black people to be the embodiment of what is god and white people to be the embodiment of what is evil or Satan. A sociologist by the name of Barry Chevannes, who observed a religious ceremony that took the Bobo Shanti commune, reflects upon some things, which the preacher touched upon. “The white man, he explained as the reading continued, is Satan is able to create images but his images do not have life like god[23](pg. 179).” Bobo Shantis do not just view black people in a favorable light, they perceive white people as the devil incarnate and therefore all that is evil.

            In conclusion, The Bobo Ashanti, like the other two sects of Rastafarianism, remain unique in many ways, whether it be their community, their style of clothing, or even some of their radical beliefs. The most important theme that I think can be extracted from this paper is that the Bobo Ashanti theology is not simply comprised of hatred towards white people, which was the only fact I heard about them prior to doing research. It is true that it is certainly an important part of the religion, but not the only important part. For example, SIzzla has a song “Wicked Nah Gon’ Prosper” which essentially is a song saying that white people cannot prosper because they don’t know how to love. On the other hand he has a song called “Thank you Mamma,” talking about how much he loves his mother, or “Rejoice” which is all about praising Jah. So while the Bobo Ashanti may have a radical and perhaps violent attitude towards white people, their religion, like almost all other organized religions, is comprised of many values, codes of conduct, and contrasting ideas and stories.

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

  1. Chevannes, Barry Rastafari Roots and Ideology New York: Syracuse university press, 1994. Print.
  2. Jacques-Garvey, Amy Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey New York: Arno press and the New York Times, 1968. Print.
  3. Garvey, Amy Jacques. More Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. Bournemouth: Frank Cass and Company Limited , 1977. Print.
  4. "Mansions of Rastafari” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mansions_of_Rastafari#Bobo_Ashanti. WikimediaFoundation, Inc., 22 Nov. 2009. Web. 29 Nov. 2009.
  5. Barret, Leanard E. The Rastafarians. Boston: Beacon Press, 1977. Print.
  6. Alemseghed Kebede, J. David Knottnerus Beyond the Pales of Babylon: The Ideational Components and Social Psychological Foundations of Rastafari Sociological Perspectives, Vol. 41, No. 3 (1998), pp. 499-517Published by: University of California Press. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1389561
  7. Anita M. Barrow Reviewed work(s): Rastafari: Conversations concerning Women. American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 89, No. 1 (Mar., 1987), pp. 262-263 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/678865
  8. Scott, Georgia. Headwraps A Global Journey. New York: PublicAffairs, 2003. Print.
  9. "BBC - Religions - Rastafari: Women in Rastafari." BBC - Homepage. 10 Oct. 09. Web. 30 Nov. 2009. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/rastafari/beliefs/women.shtml
  10. Bentley, Sarah. "21st century Rasta 9 Features HUCK Magazine." HUCK Magazine Surf, skate, snow, travel, music, film, art, fashion. Web. 01 Dec. 2009. <http://www.huckmagazine.com/features/21st-century-rasta/>.
  11. Benda-Beckmann, Franz Von, Keebet Von Benda-Beckman, and Anne Griffiths, eds. Mobile People, Mobile Law Expanding Legal Relations In A Contracting World (Law, Justice and Power). Grand Rapids: Ashgate, 2005. Print.
  12. "Revelation 5 - Passage." BibleGateway.com: A searchable online Bible in over 100 versions and 50 languages. Web. 02 Dec. 2009. <http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+5&version=KJV>.


[1] Benda-Beckmann, Franz Von, Keebet Von Benda-Beckman, and Anne Griffiths, eds. Mobile People, Mobile Law Expanding Legal Relations In A Contracting World (Law, Justice and Power). Grand Rapids: Ashgate, 2005. Print.

[2] Chevannes, Barry Rastafari Roots and Ideology New York: Syracuse university press, 1994. Print.

[3] Chevannes, Barry Rastafari Roots and Ideology New York: Syracuse university press, 1994. Print.

[4] Chevannes, Barry Rastafari Roots and Ideology New York: Syracuse university press, 1994. Print.

[5] Chevannes, Barry Rastafari Roots and Ideology New York: Syracuse university press, 1994. Print.

[6] Scott, Georgia. Headwraps A Global Journey. New York: PublicAffairs, 2003. Print

[7] Scott, Georgia. Headwraps A Global Journey. New York: PublicAffairs, 2003. Print

[8] Scott, Georgia. Headwraps A Global Journey. New York: PublicAffairs, 2003. Print

[9] Chevannes, Barry Rastafari Roots and Ideology New York: Syracuse university press, 1994. Print.

[10] Chevannes, Barry Rastafari Roots and Ideology New York: Syracuse university press, 1994. Print.

[11] Scott, Georgia. Headwraps A Global Journey. New York: PublicAffairs, 2003. Print

[12] Scott, Georgia. Headwraps A Global Journey. New York: PublicAffairs, 2003. Print

[13] Scott, Georgia. Headwraps A Global Journey. New York: PublicAffairs, 2003. Print

[14] Scott, Georgia. Headwraps A Global Journey. New York: PublicAffairs, 2003. Print

[15] Chevannes, Barry Rastafari Roots and Ideology New York: Syracuse university press, 1994. Print

[16] "Revelation 5 - Passage." BibleGateway.com: A searchable online Bible in over 100 versions and 50 languages. Web. 02 Dec. 2009. <http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+5&version=KJV>.

[17] "BBC - Religions - Rastafari: Women in Rastafari." BBC - Homepage. 10 Oct. 09. Web. 30 Nov. 2009. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/rastafari/beliefs/women.shtml>

[18] Chevannes, Barry Rastafari Roots and Ideology New York: Syracuse university press, 1994. Print

[19] Chevannes, Barry Rastafari Roots and Ideology New York: Syracuse university press, 1994. Print

[20] Anita M. Barrow Reviewed work(s): Rastafari: Conversations concerning Women. American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 89, No. 1 (Mar., 1987), pp. 262-263 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/678865

[21] Benda-Beckmann, Franz Von, Keebet Von Benda-Beckman, and Anne Griffiths, eds. Mobile People, Mobile Law Expanding Legal Relations In A Contracting World (Law, Justice and Power). Grand Rapids: Ashgate, 2005. Print.

[22] "Mansions of Rastafari” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mansions_of_Rastafari#Bobo_Ashanti. WikimediaFoundation, Inc., 22 Nov. 2009. Web. 29 Nov. 2009.

[23] Chevannes, Barry Rastafari Roots and Ideology New York: Syracuse university press, 1994. Print.