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The Mirroring Lives of a
Jamaican and a Rastafarian

Rachel Imbrogno


This paper is a series of two interviews that I had over the course of the semester. I used both of the interviews as a series of research. I then used this research and supported it with published work. The first interview occurred when I was in Jamaica. I randomly crossed paths with Peter. He informed my friends and I that he was a Rastafarian. We spoke with him for about two hours on the beach. He informed us about his religion and his lifestyle. Unaware at the time that I would use this knowledge in my paper I am pleasantly surprised that I was able to transgress this information.

The second interview was with Marie Debal. She is one of my sister’s clients. Upon informing my sister about this class and the paper that was due she suggested that I speak with Marie to get information. Marie was the perfect contrast to Peter. She grew up on the island and was raised as a Jamaican woman. Her family traveled a lot with in the island so Marie was very informative about her home land. She came to the United States for college and then stayed to work in New York City working for the Jamaican tourist board.

From the interesting aspects that Peter had spoken about I decided to get Marie’s opinion on some of the same topics. I thought these two people would create an interesting contrast to my paper. Today they both live two very different lives but they share very similar backgrounds.

Interviewee A background:

Name: Peter

Age: 30

Home: Jamaica Blue Mountains

Occupation: Rastafarian

Marital status: none and lives alone

Education: self educated by other Rastafarians with in his village

Interviewee B background:

Name: Marie Debal

Age: 27

Home: Jamaica but now lives in New York City

Occupation: Jamaican tourist board sales representative

Marital Status: Married to American for two years

Education: private elementary-high schools in Jamaica followed by United States four year college education

**note: all answers to questions are not exact words

Question 1:

What is the difference between a Rastafarian and a Jamaican?

Peter’s response:

"I do not come down here to Negril very often any more. When I was younger my friends and I would come down and enjoy the beaches. Now this place is such a tourist trap. Jamaicans are dressed like Rastafarians with their long dreads and try to pretend that they are like us. They try and sell tourist anything from drugs to crafts. Please do not take what I am saying the wrong way. It just makes me so frustrated when Jamaicans try to imitate the Rastafarian lifestyle. These Jamaicans may have long dreads and look like a Rastafarians but they do not know what it is like to truly live and be a Rastafarian. Rastafarian culture is very different from a Jamaican. We live in the mountains away from the tourist area. I spend all my days and nights waiting for the signs of Haile Selassie. I understand that these Jamaicans have to make a living I just wished that they did not mimic our lifestyle."

Marie’s response:

"The difference between a Jamaican and a Rastafarian is probably similar to asking what is the difference between an American and a Catholic. Rastafarians are people who reside in the mountains of Jamaica and practice the Rastafari religion. The Rastafarian leader is Haile Selassie just like Jesus is for the Catholics. Rastafarians are peace loving and charismatic people. On average, Jamaicans do not have much contact with Rastafarians. They stay in the Blue Mountains and are often very secluded."

Research Supports:

The difference between a Jamaican and a Rastafarian is very similar to the difference between an American and a Catholic. Except there are many different distinct characteristic that represent Rastafarianism that make it possible to differentiate between a true Rastafarian and a Jamaican unlike Catholicism. "It is most often associated with dreadlocks, smoking of marijuana and reggae music, the Rastafarian religion is much more than simply a religion of Jamaica. With its beginnings in the Jamaican slums, Rastafarianism has spread throughout the world and currently has membership of over 700,000" (Barrett, viii). Although Rastafarianism is a wide spread religion it’s associations have over come it’s faith. The casual dread locks and marijuana smoking are often abused but outsiders that have adopted the look and enjoy the high. Although there is nothing wrong with borrowing and adapting cultures to your own the problem exists when individuals attempt to plagiarize and misrepresent the Rastafarian religion. "The Jamaican psychological and sociological problems arise out of two culture patterns with ideologies which conflict in certain important aspects leaving the individual bewildered and insecure. This insecurity naturally has a potent effect on the determination of which aspects of personality will be culturally focused. In the individual the cultural dilemma is reflected in personality difficulties and in some cases it exercises a partial inhibition of the development of psychological maturity" (Kerr, 165). The disconnection between Jamaicans and their culture leads to the adoption of Rastafarian characteristics. Jamaicans have little culture and characteristics that represent their lifestyle. They feel that the only culture they had was stolen away from them when they became indentured servants. In response, they have borrowed several Rastafari associations.

Question 2: Do you feel that tourism has taken over your country and ruined it? How has reggae changed over time?

Peter’s response:

"Personally for me since I do not come down from the mountains very much the tourist do not bother me. Most of the time I do not see them unless I go where I know they will be. Tourism bring a lot of money to the island and I do not mind. I know that people need to make money. The sad thing is that reggae has changed. I do not even know popular reggae music today. Since I live up in the mountains I do not hear the new sounds. People in my village make music at gatherings that we have in order to praise Haile Selassie and to chant down Babylon. We spent time creating Rastafarian religious drumming. It is called Nyabingi. The people in my village do not even consider the music we listen to be reggae."

Marie’s response:

"I believe that the majority of Rastafarians are not offended by the tourism since they are outside the area and away from mainstream. I know that they understand that the Jamaican economy needs the tourists in order be profitable. Since the Rastafarians are such a peace loving community I would find it hard to believe that they disagree with the tourism.

Rastafarianism represents two different groups of people the first is the dyeing breed that are traditionally Rastafarians who I talked about before and the second are the benefits who represent reggae today. Reggae is a combination of music. Reggae music today has followed the second group of musicians. Bob Marley opened the road for several musicians. He brought reggae to it’s main stream musical phenomenon. Reggae stresses themes about racism, color, homosexuality. People began to hear the sounds of reggae and they wanted more. They wanted the dreadlocks and the easy going lifestyle themes. The reggae artist like Shabba shifted to a hip hop style in order to please the mass media. Other artists like Buju Bantot brought about new phenomenon’s with his bald head. The bald head contradicted the Rastafarian fear of oppression of Babylon. Today artists like Luciano are taking over the stage and alternating the voice of reggae."

Research supports:

"Jamaica needs tourism in order to keep it’s economy growing. The white sandy beaches, clear blue water, sweet sunsets and the non-stop Red Stripe creates a reality to a forgotten paradise" (Charlie, 21). Jamaica’s tourism is essential to the countries wealth. Two-thirds of the population works in tourism. Jamaican’s need tourist to keep the economy in their country affluent. "When I asked a Jamaican-born friend what I’d find in Negril, she told me to expect three things: a rustic, laid-back atmosphere, seven miles of whites and beaches and sunsets that put the most hectic lives (like mine) into perspective" (Pinkey). People from all over the world want to come to Jamaica where "no problem" becomes the main theme and the care-free sound of reggae overcomes the land. "For the first time, a peripheral style of music was able to achieve a breakthrough in the market for popular music. The big music from the small island pioneered what is now called "World Music" (Zips, 291). Reggae lyrics contextually represented the experiences of slavery, oppression and resistance.

Reggae music has created a sweet melody across the world that has influenced all kinds of people. "The island has produced some 100,000 records over the last 45 years-an extraordinary output for a population of little more than two million. Although few of these recordings have crossed over to audiences beyond the Jamaican community, it’s hard to think of any genre of popular music- other than the blues-that has had a greater influence in the past couple of decades" (Barrow and Dalton, 1). Many people commonly mistake reggae music and think that it is directly linked with the Rastafari religion. Several Rastafarians believe that, ‘Reggae music is some sort of mix-up, mix-up business. Only Nyabingi music is divine and pure Rastafari music" (Winston, 86). In actuality it is an imitation of Nyabingi music that is drummed and composed by reggae artists. "Reggae emerged from the secular beats of Ska and Rock Steady, which were imitations of American rhythm and blues in the 1960s, and it later took on the African drum rhythm of Count Ossie of Mystic Revelation, a Rastafarian group in Rock Fort" (Barrett, 245). Bob Marley is still one of the originators of reggae. Although he was a singer of reggae before he embraced the Rastafarian religion.

Bob Marley, has the most influence on the world through reggae music. His group "The Wailers" represented the continual sadness that Rastafari experience. "During a tour in England a reporter asked Bob Marley to explain the term "Wailers," to which he replied, "In those days we were always crying" (Barrett, 215). Bob’s songs spread the word of Rastafarianism more than he could ever imagine. His songs focused on Rastafari culture with the sweet melody of island music that still is popular reggae today.

"To the outside world he was a reggae superstar. Few knew that his songs were "songs of sorrow, pleading for redemption", and only a few knew that the majority of his songs were praises to

his God-figure, Jah Rastafari. To the oppressed youths of the Caribbean and to Jamaican youths in England who were able to penetrate the symbols of the message, his songs were revelations,

and many translated his message into a way of life and joined the Rastafari movement. Soon even Whites began to be identified with the movement from America to Europe" (Barrett, 213).

Bob Marley set the stage for reggae artists to spread the word about Rastafarianism. Today, the majority of popular reggae music has revolutionized into a new message that represents hip hop and media. Artists like Buju Banton and Shabba feed into pop culture by playing songs about homophobia, sex, and racism songs that addressed culture today and did not always represent Rastafarianism.

"Ragga’s international icon, Shabba Ranks, occupies a position not dissimilar to that of Bob Marley in a pervious decade, but his reception outside Jamaica has been rather different. His contribution to the row stirred by the homophobia of Buju Banton’s "Boom Bye Bye" was ill-considered, and was immediately seized upon by the international media, who are not usually concerned with what Jamaican performers have to say" (Barrow and Dalton,302). Ragga today has shifted the reggae message of the decades before. Ragga has been in Jamaican dancehall only since 1985 but has made major revolutions in the sounds of traditional reggae music. Ragga music covers a vast range of reggae today. "Ragga is also the most populist of all forms of Jamaican music. Drawing freely from practically every aspect of Jamaican popular culture, including spirituals and hymns, it ranges from rougher-than-rough deejay music, through romantic crooning, on to a generation of cultural wailers" (Barrow and Dalton, 273). Ragga musicians like Buju Banton, challenge society by making music about AIDS, guns, and hard drugs and singing lyrics about issues that people do not want to think about. Buju Banton’s song "Operation Willy" promotes safe sex all the proceeds went to a charity assisting in the aid of children with AIDS. Buju Banton along with Luciano are popular reggae artists have created the modern roots of today.

Luciano has followed the a similar path of his favorite musicians- Dennis Brown, Frankie Paul and Stevie Wonder. Luciano is one of the fastest growing artists in the music world today. His easy going lyrics and non-stop contagious melody make it easy to spread his sound into today’s reggae classics. "Most of his material has been modern cultural music with a pronounced spirituality" (Barrow and Dalton, 321). Luciano’s combination of strong spirituality and acknowledgment of hip hop has made his music a powerful model in today’s reggae world. Reggae keeps evolving in order to keep it’s popularity with the mass media.

Question #3:

What Rastafari traditions, beliefs and rituals have Jamaicans assimilated into their culture?

Peter’s response:

"Jamaicans have borrowed several of our religious traditions but they may not practice them the same way we do. For example, I have never done drugs and I have never been intoxicated. I fear that if I might I may miss the visit of Haile Selassie and he will see me and be ashamed. When I smoke herb I do it to mediate. Before I go to bed at night I roll a joint. In the morning, I smoke half of it and then travel out to my fields to work. I take care of my ganja and treat it like my child. At lunch time I will smoke the other half of my joint from the morning. When I smoke with a group of Rastafarians we all sit in a circle and we have our own joints. We do not pass the joint around but we all take turns smoking- one at a time and the circle travels to the right. Each person takes a puff of their own joint and prays. Each Rastafari mediates and feels the soothing of the smoke take over their insides. After the first time around the circle, the praying is over but the routine continues. We always smoke ganja while we listen or sing along with Nyabingi. Personally, I feel that Jamaicans may not agree with the same methods we have about ganja smoking. It’s similar to dreadlocks.

I have grown my dreads for my entire life. I grow them because I believe they goes against Babylon and the white world. I grow them because of what I believe in not because of the way they look. The females grow their hair in dreads too. It is part of our culture.

Unlike Jamaicans, I will not eat any meat, poultry or sea creatures. I eat only food that I grow like vegetables, some fruits and grains. I may cook it but only to heat it up a little. I understand that Jamaicans eat a lot of lobster, fish, chicken and stuff like that. I have never had that.

Overall, Jamaicans have borrowed a lot of our traditions they have assimilated them into their own. Some may think that they are crazy and they are misrepresenting Rastafarianism but they are representing themselves.

Marie’s response:

"Cultures are a combination of traditions. Whether or not Jamaicans borrowed some Rastafarian traditions doesn’t make it wrong. I know that several Jamaicans have dreadlocks and they may not have as much significance as Rastafarians may believe but Jamaicans and other people for that matter have dreadlocks.

Jamaicans may chant down Babylon because they are mad at the police or something. I even catch myself on the streets of New York City saying, "oh great here comes Babylon." It is just a phrase to break establishment.

I know that people abuse drugs and alcohol. Pot smoking is virtually everywhere. People don’t use pot to mediate and talk to Jah like the Rastafarians. People use drugs to feel the high and to get into an altered state. Rastafarians don’t even drink alcohol.

There is a vast difference between the two cultures but it doesn’t make one better than the other they are just different."

Research states:

"Early in the history of the movement, Leonard Howell gave the Rastafarians six principles. 1) Hatred for the White race; 2)the complete superiority of the Black race; 3)revenge on Whites for their wickedness; 4)the negation, persecution, and humiliation of the government and legal bodies of Jamaica; 5)preparation to go back to Africa; and 6) acknowledging Emperor Haile Selassie as the Supreme Being and only ruler of Black people. This first glimpse of the new doctrine that launched the Rastafarian movement has not changed significantly over the years" (Barrett,85).

Rastafarianism is only a religion but their believers hold it’s faith with the utmost superiority. Their believers have a lot of faith in their God Haile Selassie. He was the black emperor of Ethiopia whose pervious name was Ras Tafari. It is believed that a group of Rastas went to Ethiopia to honor him, and an official of the palace told them to go away or they might upset the king because he himself was a devout Christian. Instead of making the Rastas question their belief, this only made it stronger–for as they believe their God isn’t suppose to know he is a God. Upon the death of Haile Selassie, Rastas did not believe it. True Rastas believe that they are immortal. On August 27, 1975, Haile Selassie died. With his death came various forms of rationalization from many Rastafarians. The Rastafarians believed that, "his death was inconsequential because Haile Selassie was merely a ‘personification’ of God" (Cashmore, 59-60). In order to compensate for Haile Selassie’s death they believe that his atoms are spread throughout the world therefore, his life is never ending. In order to commit yourself entirely to Rastafarianism and not only believe in Haile Selassie, it is essential to grow dreadlocks and to mediate daily.

Marijuana is used for religious mediation by the Rastafarians. Ganja, as the Jamaicans and Rastafarians refer to it "has become an inseparable part of the movement’s worship and a ritual aid for mediation" (Barrett, 128). They find it’s use written in the Bible in the Psalms 104:14, "He causeth the grass for the cattle, and herb for the service of man." The use of herb is not only used in a spiritual mediation but also in their Nyabingi celebration and also for medical purposes. Rastafarians believe that the Bible embraces herb and therefore gives them permission and insists that they smoke it.

"…thou shalt eat the herb of the field" (Genesis 3:18)

‘…eat every herb of the land" (Exodus 10:12)

"Better is a dinner of herb where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith" (Proverbs 15:17)

"Although the use of ganja was prohibited very early in Jamaica, most of the peasants were unaware of it; the Rastfarians, who were mostly urban dwellers, knew of its illegality. It would therefore be right to assume that as a protest against society, ganja smoking was the first instrument of protest engaged in by the movement to show its freedom from the laws of "Babylon"’(Barrett, 129). To smoke and mediate just like growing dreadlocks symbolizes the fight against white superiority. To "chant down Babylon" is the ultimate goal of Rastafarianism.

Babylon is the Rastafarian term used to describe white power. Rastafarians believe that this white political power has been holding them down for centuries first through slavery and today through poverty, inequality and illiteracy. One of the main goals of the Rastas is to stand tall and spread the word about their heritage and to make sure that Blacks stand up against this Babylon.

During 1959 and the period between the destruction of the Pinnacle Rastafarians stood up against white political power. The intense hatred of police and establishment took control and the Rastas rose up to meet the challenge. "Their wild behavior attracted large audiences and their Rastafarian rhetoric of defiance made their presence felt in Kingston" (Barrett, 89). Their methods were quite tragic and their appearance was shocking but they did disperse their message across Jamaica. "To chant down Babylon" means to participate peacefully, but effectively in the essential struggle against the white power. It is believed that having dreadlocks is a continuous symbol of the fight against oppression. While many of the songs of reggae ultimately represent the Rastafari message against Babylon. "Even if many Rastas of the theocratic Nyabingi Order, which worships Haile Selassie I as the immortal, secular, and divine ruler, do not see reggae music as their medium of expression, countless reggae compositions point to Nyabingi to reveal the true roots of their creativity in both their music and lyrics"(Brown, 77). Music isn’t the only thing that symbolizes the white man’s oppression. Rastafarians will only eat as vegetarians.

I-tal food is what true Rastas eat. This food is completely natural. The food is cooked but it is served in it’s rawest form with out salts or any condiments. Drinks are usually anything herbal like tea. Fish are eaten by Rastas but crabs, lobsters and shrimp are forbidden. Large fish are not allowed to be eaten. "All larger fish are predators and represent the establishment- Babylon- where men eat men" (Barrett, 141). Rastas grow there own food and are essentially vegetarians.

Through each of these symbols, beliefs and rituals Jamaicans, Rastafarians and reggae music all have similar goals in life. Each Rastafarian wants to be represented as an equal with in the world. They ultimately use the sound of Nyabingi to spread the words of their beliefs. Jamaicans and other reggae artists take the Rastafarian sounds and send it to the next level in order to gain support. They have revolutionized the world about their own beliefs in combination with the Rastafari religion. "Chance has never yet satisfied the hope of a suffering people. Action, self-reliance, the vision of self and the future have been the only means by which the oppressed have seen and realized the light of their own freedom" (Garvey,1). These reggae artists have spread the word about the Rastafari heritage…which ultimately represents freedom to all.


After writing this paper I am pleased with it’s outcome. I feel that I have chosen selective questions from the interview process and supported them with research. It was interesting to me to compare and contrast both Peter and Marie’s background and yet be surprised at their similar opinions on issues regarding Rastafarianism. It strikes me that Marie even admitted that she commonly uses the phrase "Babylon" to represent authority figure in New York. In many ways she seems so Americanized and removed from Jamaica and Rastafari culture. Marie was educated in the United States and she is now a dual citizen of both countries.

In many ways Peter and Marie mirror each other. Before I had spoken with Peter I also stereotyped him into believing that he is so isolated from the world that he must not even know what is going on in the world. He too surprised me. Peter is very aware of current events. It is interesting to me that he always seems to have theories to solve these problems that always relate back to his Rastafari religion.

These two interviews gave me insight to research that I could never have learned through reading a book. Listening to their voices and hearing the passion that each of them transgressed into my understanding makes me feel privilege to have even spoken with them.


Barrow, Steve & Dalton, Peter, Reggae: The Rough Guide

New York: Penguin, 1997.


Barrett, Leonard, The Rastafarians

Boston: Beacon, 1997.

Manely, Michael, The Politics of Change

New York: Natural History Press, 1992. Ie: Garvey,1

Kerr, Madeline, Personality and Conflict in Jamaica

London: Collins Pub, 1961.

Charlie, Susan, Tourism Continues in Jamaica

Newsweek, 1997.

Zips, Robert, Rastafari

New York: Natural History Press, 1993.

Winston, Phillip "Revitalization Movements"

London: Associated Press, 1995.

Cashmore, Ernest, Rastaman: The Rastafarian Movement in England London, Penguin, 1996.

Brown, Samuel E., "The Truth About Rastafarians,"

The Liberator, vol. 3, no.9 Kingston, 1963.