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Ras Political: The Emergence of the Political Rastafarian through Ras Samuel L Brown

John Tarver Bailey


In the 1920s, Marcus Mosiah Garvey preached a rhetoric of pan-Africanism, and of a Jamaican exodus to the homeland of Africa. One young and impressionable Jamaican, Samuel Brown was touched and motivated by Garveyism, and his self-taught schooling eventually laid a great foundation for a cohesive Rastafarian sect through political action. Although Rastafarians are a typically non-political group of people, some followers are schooled in the science of the Political, and some Rastas even hold elected positions in local, state, and national legislatures. Rastas, as citizens of any nation, are subject to those nations’ laws and regulations, in many cases there are laws specifically regarding their rights and freedoms both positively and negatively. Reggae, the oft-adopted audio/visual representation of Rastafarianism, is rooted in the political; with cries for freedom, demands of reform, and the call to action, and has been an important aspect of many of the last four decades’ of Jamaican elections. Over the last seventy years, the Movement has been drastically shaped by many factors, some of which were both externally and internally political. The last seventy years, with these many influences, Rastafarianism has evolved into a reality far removed from the expectations of, and possibly desires of its founding leaders. Samuel Brown, touched by Marcus Garvey was one of these founding leaders, an inherently political and important early Rasta.

Ras Sam, as he was known to the brethren was born into the Rastafarian movement, in the Trelawny area in 1925, and was reported to have been met by Marcus Mosiah Garvey at the age of five, while little Samuel Brown was attending a political rally with his mother. His mother’s political activities embedded in Sam an understanding of the importance of politically derived power, and although not formally trained due to his family’s extreme poverty, he was apparently ‘brilliant’. A devout Rasta, Sam Brown was also a powerful and provocative speaker, and over his forty-year career Ras Sam made speeches at the Smithsonian, the University of Vermont, and many Rastafarian International Conferences. During the 1960s Ras Sam lead a group of Rastas at the Back-o-Wall Rastafarian Movement Recruitment Center camp near Denham Town, near his friend Prince Emmanuel’s African National Congress camp. Both were subsequently raided and destroyed by the police in 1966, a move which resulted in negative impacts towards the Rastas by the neighboring squatters, whose homes were also destroyed in the raid. This general feeling of negativity is opposite the popularity previously won by Brown, after Ras Sam ran for the Western Kingston electoral seat for Jamaica’s Parliament position as an independent candidate for the Black Man’s Party in the 1961 elections. This was the first real foray by a practicing Rasta into the fast paced, all-important social realm of the political, and finally, after nearly thirty years of being, the Rastafarians had a politically minded spokesman who unfortunately only one about a hundred votes in that election. Ras Sam, with his Twenty-One Points foundation brought attention to the movement, positive political attention, and forced the government to appreciate Rastas as a real minority part of Jamaica’s population. Although Brown lost that election, his attempt showcased the minority Rasta population and provided for outsiders an example of the purpose, power, and importance of the Rastafarian cult.

These Twenty-One Points became the very bedrock of the political aspect of the Rastafarian movement throughout the 1960s, a period of time marked by transition of Jamaica from status as a Crown Colony of the United Kingdom to an independent nation. Barrett’s The Rastafarians goes so far as to say that these points, the "Foundation for the Rastafarian Movement" are an important hallmark of the ‘ambivalent routinization’ period that the movement was in during the decade of 1961-1971. (Barrett, 146-148) According to Barrett, the Points, some of which are detailed below, became the foundation of the movement because they were both public and the rhetoric of Ras Sam the political Rasta. This decade, marked in no small part by Ras Sam’s unsuccessful electoral bid, was a crucial time for the movement, as were two other major formative events. Firstly, Barrett explains that the early 60s, following Jamaica’s liberation from Britain, there became a new sense of "imminent repatriation" (Barrett, p 146) to Africa, one which failed as a grand scheme, a result of which was the coalescing of certain Rasta organizations, a "pruning" if you will. The disappointment and disorganization following the non-repatriation of the Rastas eliminated some groups and forced others to combine into more centralized and therefore successful entities. This was part of the "routinization" process that the Rastafarian sect underwent, when the movement became less radical, less on the fringe, and more fully implanted into Jamaican society as a reality. Ras Sam’s Twenty-One Points helped the movement evolve into a more real, more accepted and understood minority in Jamaica. Some of these Points, which made up the Foundation of the Movement,

Members of the Rastafarian Movement are an inseparable part of

the Black people of Jamaica.

The Rastafarian Movement consists of the most advanced, determined

      and uncompromising fighters against discrimination, ostracism, and

      oppression of Black people in Jamaica.

      The Rastafarian Movement stands for freedom in the fullest sense

and for the recovery of the dignity, self-respect of the Sovereignty of

the Black people of Jamaica.

Time has removed some of the grosser aspects of white and brown

man supremacy; but discrimination, disrespect and abuse of the Black

person are still here in many forms.

The Rastafarian Movement, for the furtherance of these ends, must

have the backing of its support to, or lead, a political movement of its


The Rastafarian Movement therefore has decided to actively join

the political struggle and create a political movement with the aim of

taking power and implement measures for the uplift of the poor and


Suffering Black people of Jamaica, let us unite and set up and righteous Government, under the slogan of Repatriation and Power.

(Barrett, p 148-150)

Ras Sam’s aims were not the ‘routinization’ of the Movement, but the empowerment of the discriminated against Black majority, and the formation of an equal, non discriminatory government for all the people of the island. Other declarations of the Twenty-One Points include specific attacks at governmental housing and employment policies, attacks against the general stratified and discriminatory society found in Jamaica, and proclamations of Rastafarian intent and purpose. Talk of repatriation is met with talk of racial supremacy destruction, of a united Jamaica and Rastafarian Movement regardless of color, with only intent and absence of evil as paramount importance. Importantly though, are Ras Sam’s writings regarding the absence, but importance of, a politically based power source. He understood that without a political force the true aims of the Rastafarian sect could not be met, and history has shown that the real goals of Rasta (repatriation, black empowerment) have not been totally won by the group, and this can possibly be attributed to the traditionally non-political aspects of Rastafarianism.

"My son, you will read from the big book someday. And someday you will do great things for your people."

-M. Garvey to Samuel Brown 1930-

Who though, was Sam Brown — it is apparent he was a brilliant politically minded Rasta, but who was the actual person, someone I would consider to be as important to Rasta as either Garvey or Bob Marley. As mentioned earlier, Ras Sam was influenced by the power of the politics that surrounded his childhood, as well as the Rastafarianism he grew up around. With no formal school training, it is doubly impressive to realize that Brown is in no little part one of the most important and influential figures related to Rasta. He began his real career as a Rasta on the heels of the second World War with various trips to the Pinnacle compound of Rastafarians, which was constantly under siege from Jamaica’s colonial forces for its Rastafarian connections. The Pinnacle was an expansive rural commune governed by Leonard Howell, another of the first and more important Rasta figures. On nearly two hundred hectares of prime growing land, the Pinnacle boasted a fluctuating population of nearly 1,000, and was considered to be one of "the biggest ganja growers in Kingston at the time." (Campbell, 1998)

In the early 1950s Ras Sam, Prince Edward Emmanuel and others became involved in the Youth Black Faith Group of Rastafari. Living in a camp on Hope Street in the Rose Town section of Kingston, Sam continued his Rastafarian activities, began painting and working seriously towards the betterment of his fellow Rastas. It is interesting to note that Ras Sam’s Rastafarian activities strongly diverged at this point, on one hand Sam was meeting with PM Norman Manley and working towards repatriation, but on the other hand, his and his followers’ camps were repeatedly overwhelmed and sometimes destroyed by the Jamaican police.

Following the release of the 1960 Report on the Rastafari Movement (written by some University of West Indies professors) Sam was elected spokesman for a delegation to explore the possibility of the reparative movement to Africa. This delegation urged the government to send an official mission to Ethiopia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Nigeria with the authority to explore the possibility of pan-Caribbean repatriation to Africa. Prime Minister Manley was in agreement with Ras Sam and the delegation, but the intricacies of the mission became too muddled for it to become feasible. In actuality, the mission went off, but only one member of the original delegation (not Ras Sam but Mortimo Planno) made the trip, because Brown and the other seven members of the delegation were upset that the delegation was not solely composed of Rastas and that the delegation would not have unlimited power to negotiate terms of repatriation. (Moss, p 9) This ‘snub’, less than two years before the election was part of Brown’s motivation to run for the Parliament, it showcased to Brown the need for a non-governmental politically based force to work for the Rastafarian Movement.

Brown continued his career as a Rasta spokesman through the late part of the 1990s, until his death few days after the 1998 International Rastafari Conference in Barbados. For his work with the Rastafarian sect, Brown was awarded various awards including being presented with a gold medal by Emperor Haile Selassie himself during his 1966 visit to the island. Also for his work, Ras Brown was harassed by government troops and the local police, he was shot in the chest in 1975, and also survived a trainwreck two years later but eventually died in his sleep, having lived a life full of Rastafarian minded accomplishments. The twenty years between his surviving the train wreck and his death on Barbados, Ras Samuel Brown "trodded" the world preaching the cause of his brethren. Traveling to Zimbabwe, Germany, the U.K. and many trips to the United States (including a 1980 which landed him a speaking gig at the University of Vermont), Brown represented the Rastafari Elders and the Divine Order of the House of Nyahbinghi.

Sam Brown, one of the most influential and important spokespersons for the entire Rastafarian movement, was truly the first Rasta politician, although he was not the first Africanist politician to preach the ideals of repatriation or black equality. That person would be Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the Black Line proprietor, first Jamaican martyr, although he wasn’t a Rastafarian. Although Garvey wasn’t a Rasta, he did more for the black struggle than most before him, and his influence can be traced to the thinkings of Sam Brown and the Rasta politicos to follow. Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe credited Garveyism for the black’s self-empowerment that panned out as the African liberation struggle of the 1960s and 70s. Connecting that struggle for liberation with the Rastafarians’, Mugabe was quoted as saying that "the liberation of Africa is the liberation of Africans outside Africa as well." (Cana, p 6) Truly, it was the actions and teachings of Garvey that set the stage for a brilliant young Rasta named Sam to transform the movement into a politically empowered and politically motivated, viable and important pressure group, with an understanding of politics and the importance of being political. The Rastafarian movement transformed from a fringe, radically religious cult to a truly substantiated minority group, with true goals and a political framework by which to achieve those goals.

"Ethiopia yes, Jamaica no!"

-rally cry-

The period of time in which Ras Sam’s reforms was the most effectual for the Rasta community was the 1960s, a time where worldwide changes were occurring, changes whose repercussions continue to be felt. This was an important time for change within Jamaica as well, as it marked the actual transfer of power from the United Kingdom as a colonial power to the Jamaican people in 1962, a time of change which resulted in the continuance and cementing of the power of Norman Manley a brown skinned proponent of the Rastafarian cause. Manley, in charge of the PNP headed the government, and because of this, it was he who eventually decided the fate of the previously mentioned delegation to Africa concerning repatriation. In the face of mounting criticism and ostracism at the hands of his white counterparts, Manley pushed for the exploratory delegation’s trip. His government was one with a "known commitment to a policy of facilitating the migration of Jamaicans…" (Manley, p 277). In his words, "I am the person who takes full responsibility for the mission which I supported, and have been subjected to extreme criticism…" (Manley, p 278). N. W. Manley fought against the other members of government in that he believed that the Rastafarian movement was valid, and that "You don’t end the movement by force and violence", a reference made in 1961 regarding the most recent spate of police attacks and rioting, most notably the 1959 Rosalie Gardens debacle. Although the governments provisions were met by Ras Sam Brown and others (see above) with criticism, Manley tried hard to meet the recommendations of professors M. Smith, F. Augier, and R. Nettleford of the University of the West Indies regarding Rasta repatriation. Manley felt that "it is a good thing that this mission should go and see for themselves what the possibilities are…" (Manley, 280). Of course, the possibilities that he is speaking of were the possibilities for the Rastafarians to repatriate to their African homeland.

Clearly, the 1960s put the Rastafarian sect at a level of society not unlike the other religious, economic, and social minority groups. Leaders within the movement like Samuel Brown, and to a lesser extent Prince Edward Emmanuel, continued M. M. Garvey’s attempts at repatriation — a key provision of the Rastafarian religion. The country’s leader, Norman Manley, helped the Rastafarian movement from outside the group, as a government agent and facilitator. The 1960s were a good decade for the legitimization of the Rastafarian movement, much like the African American movements substantial ground gaining, the Rastas’ 60s experience was a good one, one resulting in a newfound understanding, appreciation, and legitimization of Rastafarianism in Jamaica, its traditional homeland. Twenty years later, the political and economic status of Jamaica was one of uncomfortable Third World reserve, the country was "facing bankruptcy", and NW Manley’s son Michael, the new head of the PNP was running a tight race with the JLP’s Winston Spaulding. The story of Jamaica turns drastically pessimistic as the 70s draw to a close, but in one of those cyclical ways the story of Jamaica’s reggae eventually turns surprisingly optimistic.


-political poster, 1980-

The election of 1980 is of particular interest to this paper, but more importantly the election of 1980 was a completely definitive aspect towards the whole country’s history. A brief background shows the disparate situation Jamaica was facing in 1980, the year in which I was born. After eight years in office Manley and the PNP were facing near bankruptcy, allegations of a "democratic façade cloaking creeping Communism" were facing the party. Disregarding the burgeoning tourist industry, the economy of Jamaica was horrid, with unemployment reaching nearly 30 per cent and a $1B dollar foreign debt mounting has resulted in the Haitianization of the island.

Newsweek reported that 30 people have died in 1980 during clashes between supporters of the People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaican Labour Party headed by Edward Seaga. In a disturbance not dissimilar to the political killings of the 60s a "squad of armed men in black fatigues sprayed machine-gun fire into the crowd at a JLP fund-raising dance". (Rohter, p 40) By the election date, a total of 750 people were killed as a result of political violence, and on election day itself six polling stations never opened. Widespread violence — "the sound of gunfire all night, every night" — rocked the nation, and even more widespread corruption and voting problems rocked the election. (Waters, p 199) The Jamaica of 1980 was a far, far cry from the island gem that it should be, and conditions were overly ripe for anti-government sentiments, clearly Babylon was a Jamaican reality.

"I would not return to Jamaica to set myself up as a target again

for the Government, the Opposition, or anyone else."

-Bob Marley, Germany 1977-

The electoral race for 1980 truly began in 1978, and included many Rastafarian and Reggae related themes, symbols, and spokespersons. The previous elections were much more steeped in both Reggae and Rasta symbolism, by 1980 social and economic conditions had eliminated much of the attention given to Rasta repatriation, and the movement was becoming sharply divided over the repatriation issue. The more political Rastas used repatriation as a figurative word — getting Babylon off of Jamaica, whereas the more spiritually minded brethren were still literal about migrating to African homelands. Rastafarian needs and belligerence was not the highlight of the 1980 election, not near the visual and audio representation as it once was. This most important election however did contain some Rastafarian and Reggae influences and displays, the most important of which was the 1978 Peace Concert organized by Bob Marley and two of Jamaica’s most well known and feared gang leaders Claudie Massop (JLP supporter) and Bucky Marshall (PNP). The highlight of the six-hour show was Bob, still suffering from his shooting incident, flanked by both Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, clutching hands on stage. Bob, the Stepping Razor, Jacob Miller, Big Youth, and the Mighty Diamonds all played, and Rastafarians "smoked ganja freely in the vicinity of the Minister of National Security and police. (Waters, p 232) The Rastafarians as a political minority lobbied hard against discrimination in the public schools, a system which had previously denied schooling to locked youngsters.

Both parties adopted Reggae songs into their repertoire of audio queues, sometimes with, sometimes without the artists permission. Peter Tosh, a PNP supporter, sang "Everybody want to go to heaven/ But nobody want to die/ I don’t want no peace, I want equal rights and justice/ I-man need equal rights and justice" in his song "Equal rights and justice". Oddly enough, Tosh’s "Stand Up Jamaicans" was adopted by the JLP as one of its major slogan songs, apparently they did not check, or did not care, whom the Razor was voting for. Bob, another PNP supporter, had his song "Bad Card" stolen by the JLP for its use, but the PNP also used it, as well as his "Coming In From the Cold". For his part, Marley adorned the cover of his Uprising album with rising suns, a PNP symbol, as well as clenched fists, the Socialist party symbol that PNP was aligned with. The PNP’s slogan "Stand Firm for a Third Term" — an allusion to the Rasta phrase "Stand Firm" was worthless as the JLP won a landslide victory, and Edward Seaga assumed control of a near completely JLP Parliament.

Discriminatory education systems are not the only political point in which the Rastafarians feel strongly, although that very topic was one discussed at the ‘98 International Rastafarian Conference, apparently many Caribbean islands prohibit Rasta children "because of the drug culture". (Moss, p 13) Other discriminatory practices allude back to United States’ tactics regarding Cuban immigration in the early 1980s. While Castro’s ships left Mariel Harbor only to be stagnated by the US Coast Guard and INS, in 1980 the British Virgin Islands began an "immigration order that bans ‘hippies’ and Rastafarians from entering the islands" for fear that "visiting hippies and Rastafarians would steal fruit and engage in sexual acts in public." (AP, Oct 2, 1999) Rastas are also discriminated against in Grenadian jails where their locks are routinely trimmed, and on the island of Dominica, which like the BVI only recently began allowing Rastas into the country. The island of Trinidad recently passed prohibitions against the trimming of dreads in jail, and has begun serving vegetarian I-tal food. (Moss, p 14)

Elsewhere in the world, Rastafarians are making new political names for themselves on the right side of the law, as the lawmakers themselves. One is Nandor Tanczos a New Zealand Maori aborigine elected in 1999 as a Green Party candidate in their proportional representation system of elections. Tanczos openly smokes ganja as a religious sacrament and is pushing for the legalization, with full support from the Greens (ha ha). (Chapman, A26) Ganja is an issue for Caribbean Rastas as well, as representatives of CARICOM, the Caribbean Community for those not in the know, recently lobbied the United Nations regarding its legalization as their religious sacrament. Bongo Spear of the Nyabingi tribe was the leader of the representatives and he called on the General Assembly special session on narcotics to examine legalizing marijuana originally as a religious sacrament, but eventually as a luxury for all to enjoy. One Caribbean minister has vowed to step down if the legislation passes. (Cana, June 5, 1998)

On the homefront, Rastafarians have recently been in the news (well the news if you are a Supreme Court policy junkie) regarding American policy towards marijuana and the Rastafarian church. Under the constitutional provisions of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act Rastafarians have argued that marijuana is their sacrament and should be legal and available for them. In one of those standard Supreme Court partial decisions, the Court upheld the convictions of two Billings, Montana ‘Rastas’ who were in possession of thousands of pounds of Mexican ganja, but laid down the precedent that ganja, in appropriate amounts, is legal to Rastafarians, and no Rasta shall be prosecuted for possession. A lawyer spokesperson for the Rastafarians stated, "They can’t reach an appropriate religious state without ganja. It’s like taking the wine out of the Catholic Church." Siting a similar ruling against, and for, the Native American Church regarding its use of peyote for vision quests, the Supreme Court mandated that supposed Rastas would be required to show proof of Rastafarianism and proof of the herb being used as a religious sacrament. (Egelko, Feb 2, 1996)

"You see Rasta flashin’ them dreadlocks on MTV. You see

Rasta all over the place. But when you start telling people

Haile Selassie is God, they don’t want to hear that."


It would seem that Ras Calvin, Ras Dawn, and Ras Lexi the ‘Rastas’ of the Billings, Montana drug bust would fit into Mutabaruka’s statement regarding the scene of seen. I would say that Mutabaruka is right on, one hundred percent accurate in his dis of those "rent-a-dreads" offering "marijuana-laced tours of the local nightlife". The thing is, Mutabaruka is completely correct, one look at the University of Vermont’s incoming and graduating classes can tell you that there are more dreads than there are Rastas out there, and that there are lots of fakies. The three Montana Rastas represent those jumping on the cultural and societal bandwagon which is full of trying-to-be Rastafarians. "Those who believe in Selassie’s divinity are a tiny minority compared with the legions who have plugged into the faith’s cultural trappings." (Otis, Feb 7, 1993)

Surely the Rastafarian community is far and away a different entity from that begun over seventy years ago in places like the Pinnacle, by black nationalist and spiritualists like Garvey, Howell, Ras Sam, and the Prince Emmanuel. The cohesiveness garnered under Ras Samuel Brown’s Twenty-One Points has been all but lost, sacrificed to the trappings of political squabbling and squandering, but more importantly, lost to the Commercial. Begun as a spiritual sidebar to an impoverished nation’s disenchanted black populous, Rastafarianism was brought from the fringe, to be accepted and respected, to be somewhat more understood. Ras Sam, a powerful orator and political thinker, the Rasta NW Manley as he was known, brought Rastafarianism from the edge, provided a foundation for the community, and through various electoral and transformatory processes Rastafarianism has both increased and decreased. Made legitimate by the political forces of Jamaica following Ras Sam’s belligerence, Rastafarianism spread to every corner of the world with Bob’s wailing. As it spread, it lost the crux of its very being, the true meaning, and now is less organized and concise than ever. As reggae and dancehall spreads exponentially in popularity, the struggle of Ras Sam and the others is lost to the thumping of drum loops and the chatter of MCs and DJs.


Works Cited

Barrett, Leonard E. The Rastafarians. Boston: Beacon Press, 1998.

Chapman, Paul. "Rasta MP wants Dope." Calgary Herald 16 December, 1999, A26

Campbell, Horace. Rasta and Resistance. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, Inc., 1987.

Campbell, Howard. Book on Founding Father of Rastafarians. Kingston, 21 March, 1998

Egelko, Bob. "Court Says Rastafarians Can Defend Against Possession Charge." Associated Press 2 February, 1996

Manley, Michael. The Politics of Change. A Jamaican Testament. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1975.

Moss, Susanne. "A Tribute to Brother Sam Livermore Brown." The Caribbean-American Magazine 31 October, 1998: v22 n9, p12.

Moss, Susanne. "Organization and Centralization: A Report from the Rastafarian Convention in Bridgetown, Barbados." The Caribbean-American Magazine 31 October, 1998: v22 n9, p 12.

Nettleford, Rex. Manley and the New Jamaica. New York: Africana Publishing Corporation,1971.

Otis, John. "As Rasta Culture Spreads, Faith May be Waning." United Press International 7 February, 1993, Int. section

"Rastafarians to put Case for Legalization of Marijuana to UN." Cana News Agency [Bridgetown] 5 June, 1998

Relly, Jeannine. "British VI to repeal order against Rastafarians and hippies." International News 2 October, 1999

Rohter, Larry. "Manley’s Day of Judgement." Newsweek 16 June 1980: 40

Thurnton, Hayes K. "Rasta Roots Run Deep in Resistance." Community Contact 30 November, 1998 v7 n11 p17

Waters, Anita M. Race, Class, and Political Symbols. New Brunswick, USA: Transaction Publishers, 1985.

"Zimbabwean President Warns Against Full-scale Repatriation to Africa." Cana News Agency [Bridgetown] 9 September, 1996