April 25, 2002
Rhetoric of Reggae Final Research Paper
Until the philosophy which hold one race
Superior and another inferior
Is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned
Everywhere is war, me say war"
- Bob Marley “War”, quoting from Haile Selassie I
From the beginning of the
African’s departure from
In this paper, I will
explore the extent to which Rastafarian have been unable to instigate a global
social change as a result of the dualistic system that dominate society, by
first evaluating the history of Jamaica as shaped by the Western world. Then,
by describing the basic beliefs of the Rastafarian faith, I will assess to what
extent they formed in rebellion of the dualistic ways of the British plantation
owner. Next, I will describe the
current situation in
Jamaica’s History as shaped by the Western World
Westerner, in his dualistic account of
immediately wiped by the Spanish. With the Treaty of Madrid in 1670,
The two most devastating agriculture practices of the early British plantations were monoculture and large-scale deforestation. Monoculture is the system of growing only one crop at a time, which harms the environment by interrupting the natural balance of the ecosystem. By disturbing the natural ecosystem, nutrients in the soil are used up more quickly causing the land to become infertile. Infertile land, then led the plantation owner to cut down a large area of trees in order to create a new field for their crop. By destroying large amounts of forest, the habitats of kinds of life forms are destroyed, which destroys the biodiversity of life. By destroying the biodiversity, the natural
balance of the ecosystem is interrupted. In a similar manner, the British disrupted the natural balance by treating other the African slaves on the plantation inhumanely.
Evidence of the inhumane way the slaves were treated is apparent in both the conditions the slaves endured on the ships of the transatlantic slave trade, and in the situations the slaves faced once on the plantation. During the voyage (the middle passage), slaves were crammed into ships with little or no food. As described by one slave, “The closeness of the place, and the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself”. A combination of the crowded unsanitary holdings that bred diseases, and the brutal beatings that existed on the ship, the mortality rate during the voyage for a slave was of 25%. If an individual was able to survive the ship despite the high mortality rate, they only faced additional brutality once they reached land and were bought by a plantation owner. Convinced that the slave’s life only existed for the capital it could produce, the slave owners often inflicted such merciless treatment on the slaves that they were often worked to death. The death of slaves did not bother the plantation owner because it was more economic to work a slave to death and buy a new one, then it was to spend money feeding the slave. However, if the slave did survive the day, they then would have to go cultivate the small piece of land they were given as there only source for food. The small piece of land did not hold much agricultural ability, because in their dualistic mind set the land that promised the best crop and agricultural resources were held by the plantation owners, therefore forcing the slaves onto the surrounding hills were it was seemingly impossible to cultivate the land. Acknowledging the inequality that the Western colonizer subjected both upon the slaves and the environment, the African-Jamaican slave fashioned a religion that in its foundation exist in opposition of the dualistic mindset of the Western explorer, and instead values a natural balance in life.
The Basic Beliefs of the Rastafarian Faith
The Rastafarian faith build the foundation lay by the concept of I-n-I, which collapses the dichotomy of the Western and instead establishes a personal relationship with the environment. Through I-n-I, the Rastafarians illustrates their rejection of second and third person terms and their interpretation that these terms describe a system of inequality. Therefore, I-n-I seeks to represent the collapse in any dualistic understandings of life, and instead the beginning of a balanced and global expectance of all life including nature. Stemming from the concept of I-n-I forms the traditions of I-Tal living. I-Tal is defined by Rastafarians an entity that is pure, without pollution, and natural. Therefore I-Tal living, also known as livity, governs the Rasta’s appearance, diet and involvement with the capitalist world in order to ensure an I-Tal life. In the words of one Rasta, livity represents a way of life “in which one’s actions are expressive of one’s essential nature as…opposed to the ethos associated with radical individualism and domination of the environment which was taught by colonial authorities.”
The distinct style of the Rastafarian dreadlocks, represent their disproval of the colonizers treatment of the environment and their pursuit in establishing an unnatural order in life. As a result of witnessing the desecrating affects that sharp objects had on the natural environment during their plantation life and the torture they were capable of during the voyage, the Rastafarians refrain from use of sharp objects on their body. Using evidence form the Torah, the Rastafarians do not cut their hair because as it is written, “No razor shall pass over his head until the day be fulfilled of his consecration to the Lord. He shall be holy, and shall let the hair on his head grow” (numbers6: 5). Additionally, the Rasta cites the proverb, which states that “A man who cuts his hair is like a tree with out leaves” Furthermore In addition to not cutting their hair, the Rastafarians refrain from combing their hair. The Rastafarian views the comb as a human by-product because as in the words of the Rasta Jimmy McGhan, “When father created man, he didn’t create the comb. Man created the comb. To create a different beauty…” and therefore reject its use. By abstaining from cutting and combing their hair, the Rastafarian’s hair naturally knots to form dreadlocks and a prominent symbol of I-Tal living.
The symbolic meaning the dreadlocks may also be defined in the words of the Rastafarian’s that wear them. As Rasta Jimmy McGhan reflects,” I wear my hair in locks because I love and live Jah Rastafarian. It is a natural way of life…” In addition, Vidal Angal, a Jamaican artist, explains, “Dreadlocks are nature speaking through
humans. When humans are unbalanced, nature will exert herself. All we are is nature…” In continuing the theme of a pursuit for a natural order, I-Tal living dictates a specific diet which continues to reject the colonizers practices of exploiting nature by tipping its natural balance.
Sam Brown, a temporary leader of the Rastafarian movement, wrote a Rastafarian Code which declared, “We are vegetarians, making scant use of certain animal flesh yet outlawing the use of swine’s flesh in any form, shell fishes, scale-less fishes, snails, ect…” By refraining form eating meat the Rastafarian is rejecting the colonizers symbolic role as a predator towards the Jamaican slave and the environment and the manner in which this behavior jeopardized the natural order of life. While the consumption of fish is allowed, there are regulations in order to avoid acknowledging it as a predatorily practice. Therefore while the Rastafarian’s prime staple if fish, they do not consume fish that is larger than twelve inches long because “all larger fish are predators and represent the establishment.”
The specific diet of the Rastafarian also reflects their understanding of I-n-I by including a large variety of vegetables, fruits and spices because the food of the greatest worth to the Rasta are vegetables of almost every kind as opposed to the plantation owners who were concern about the existence of a single produce. Furthermore by including as many different produce in their diet as possible, the Rastafarian rejects the British’s discriminatory agricultural practices and instead seeks to value every product of the earth because “the earth brings forth all good things”. As exemplified in traditional Rastafarian dishes, such as I-Tal stew, as many as twenty different vegetables are included. Among the vegetables might be yams, cassava, pumpkins and plantains. Furthermore, as the agricultural techniques of the plantation “advanced” to include pesticides that would seep into the water and poison the slaves and in continuing to seek food which is “pure, whole and unprocessed” the Rasta choose to eat only food which was organic and pesticide free.
Moreover, in total rejection of the dualist and discriminatory systems of the Western explorer, the Rastafarians refrain from living and working in Western established enterprises. As a result, the Rastafarian “can and do survive in the hills and countryside of Jamaica- they can and do survive in nature” because “It is one of their basic beliefs that natural survival is the only healthy and correct way of existence”. In their secluded small communities, the Rastafarian lives sustainability. Within the community, the Rasta conducts self-reliant enterprises such as small-scale farming, fishing, painting, woodworking, knitting and ganja growing. While there does exist a small percentage of Rastafarians who do work as taxi drivers or auto repair employees, as soon as they earn enough money to buy land, they leave their jobs to grow vegetables, herbs and live self-sufficiently practicing their ethos of livity.
The concept of I-Tal living which outlines the basic beliefs of the Rastafarian, reflects the current pursuits of the environmental movement; however, the Rastafarian has not been able to successfully initiate social change because even after declared freedom as individuals and independence as a country, the Western powers have continued to exploit the natural environment and the of former slave community of Jamaica with inequalities.
Modern Conditions of
While prior to
independence, Jamaican inequalities where distinct as they where controlled by
organization such as the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF)
sustain an unfair system, which traps
The IMF is a sister organization of the WB whose provide debt relief according to poverty reduction strategies outlined by the WB. While the IMF does succeed in bring some amount of immediate in the short-term, in the long run the IMF’s policies result in low in come countries becoming dependent on International authorities, which supports the existing inequalities. In “Life and Debt” by a documentary by Stephanie Black, Stephanie comment on IMF’s relationship with Jamaica by stating, “At best the IMF policies helped get some cheap food into the country;” however, "At worst, they destroyed local productivity and a country can't exist without being productive unto itself". The IMF creates a system of independence through a series of initiatives.
As one scheme, the IMF
increases interests to encourage international investment. In turn, the farmers who are practice
self-sustained farming are unable to afford loans to buy land themselves
forcing them to turn the American run factories for their income. In addition,
the IMF helps to finance large-scale infrastructures such as, roads, buildings,
big dams, and power plants, which are also the infrastructures need for
International companies to support their factories. The combination of these initiatives encourage export
production as a method to reduce a county’s debt even though the capital gained
in the exports are not benefiting the poverty stricken employees of the
factory. In trying to understand
IMF’s blindness in helping
Evidence of the
continuation of Rastafarians to seek self-sufficiency with in their own
community, is outlined in the song “Pick up a tool” by Rastafarian dub poet
Jean Breeze, and in the report from the recent International Rastafarian
Convention. In Jean Breeze’s poem
“Pick up a tool” she speaks to the poor communities of
Or not to plant
Is the question of a fool
Better not stop an’ ask, Ah she,
Jus’ take up your tool
Then, in her next verse, the dub poet list the affects of the current inequalities that result for Western powers
For di hungry getting rampant
An’ di food it growing scarce
An’ di prices getting steeper
An she di lan’ space jus’ cyaan waste
After establishing the problem, in a subsequent verse,
Jean Breeze ensures the community that a solution does exist. She explains that the land is capable
of yielding enough produce to live off of, by using the example that once the
land support all of
For once upon a time
Dis-ya likkle lan
It use to feed di whole Englan’
An a portion a next man
Finally, in her concluding verse, Jean Breeze instills the Rastafarian belief that one who lives a pure I-Tal life understands that a reward exist in living self-sufficiently and in harmony with the earth.
When job cyaan find
We have to understand dat di sweetest reward
In di whola earth
Come from planting up di lan
Continuing in the same theme as Jean Breeze’s, the International Rastafarian Convention sought to educate and influence individuals to pursue sustainable lives that support a natural environment.
The international Rastafarian Convention took place in
Music is a genre of music that developed in the 1960s among
Ev'ry time I hear the crack of the whip
My blood runs cold
I remember on the slave ship
How they brutalised our very souls
Today they say that we are free
Only to be chained in poverty
Good god, I think it's all illiteracy
It's only a machine that make money
Through the lyrics, he attempts to educate his listeners of the destructive cycle, in which the Rastafarians and environment are trapped. By first commenting on the brutality which the slave endured on the voyage, then by stating that even in freedom the slave was not truly free as they continued to exist “chained in poverty”, Bob Marley display that freedoms still does not exist. Then, in the final line, Bob seeks to educate the community that “It’s only a machine that make money”, there by warning the individuals not to fall in to the trap of the Capitalist Free Market Economy and their dualistic view of life. Furthermore, in Bob Marley’s song “Concrete Jungle”, he also mentions the black mans continued slavery through the lyrics, “No chains around my feet, but I'm not free/ I know I am bound here in captivity”. While Bob Marley is reflecting on the laws and governmental structures, which continue to trap the poor in an inescapable system of physical slavery, he is also exposing the mental captivity that inflicts society. Also as suggested by Dr.Hudson, Rastafarians believe that the majority of society has been brainwashed into supporting the current systems, which are all together degrading. As Leonard Barrett reflects in his book The Rastafarian, “to the Rastafarian the average Jamaican is so brainwashed by colonialism that his entire system is programmed in the wrong way” and therefore only through free one’s mind can an individual truly be opened to the relevance of the Rastafarian faith.
In Bob Marley’s “Redemption song”, he encourages society to “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery” because “None but ourselves can free our minds” form the current systems. Furthermore, Rastafarian believes only the holy herb can free one’s mind. The holy herb, which is the Rastafarians term for Cannabis sativa is an herb that the Rastafarians have religiously smoked for its psychic effects and it continuation of their concept of I-n-I, which values all that comes from the earth equally. Therefore with proof from the bible, Rastafarians use Cannabis sativa because it is an herb form the earth: “eat every herb of the land” (exodus ). By slowing down one’s action and sharpening one’s mind, the holy herb forces one’s head to “loosen up” and “enables one to see one’s true self” and “the true nature of the world”. Therefore through the use of the holy herb, individuals are able to see passed the system that traps all of society, and understand it injustice; however, Cannabis sativa is illegal, in nations such as
were the brainwashing is based. As a result, the message of the Rastafarians has been unable to be clearly understood by the majority of society. Therefore as society continues to be brainwashed into ignoring the destruction our current system has on the environment and the human population, the Rastafarians believe that legalizing Cannabis sativa is “…the best thing you can do” as stated by Rastafarian singer, Peter Tosh in his song “Legalize it”. America
Personally, I am outraged
by the amount of research I found while preparing for this paper. If the evidence is clear and
documented, why are social changes not occurring to fix the situation? Maybe it is the Rastafarians’ fault,
because they could actually escape the system that seems to trap them by voting
and taking control of the political power. Unfortunately, I think it is more likely that
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