Jamaica is home to such a vivid culture that has permeated the planetary consciousness, a remarkable feat considering the relative size of the island nation. The culture represents a mosaic of various peoples and events that have help sculpt it into the powerhouse it is today. While the Greater Antilles island is so much more than the pop culture representation we’ve come to associate as the dreadlocked stereotype, Rastafari is a minority movement with little official recognition – but a fascinating aspect of Jamaica’s African-Caribbean culture and widely respected for its artistic contributions.
Expressed largely through reggae music – especially through Bob Marley - Rastafari is a Way of Life that holds ganja is the superior source of life. Based on a monotheistic system of Abrahamic teachings, Rastas differ from Christianity, Islam and Judaism in their belief of the divinity of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia (H.I.M. – His Imperial Majesty). Selassie is considered the earthly embodiment of Jah (God) and the fulfillment of the second coming of the Messiah. The sharing of stories in Rastafari is done through the oral tradition, which energizes the use of song. So grooving to “Redemption Song” is kinda like going to church.
Rasta cultural traditions include rocking their locks in natty or tuff dreads (in adherence to the Nazarite vow). Locks are associated with the patience and dedication of the spiritual journey and have come to symbolize the Lion of Judah. Other traditions include eating all-natural food and smoking ganja as a spiritual sacrament in order to clean the body and mind, heal the soul, exalt the consciousness, facilitate peacefulness, and bring the Rasta closer to Jah. These traditions aren’t considered obligatory, however, and it should be noted that cannabis is considered a strictly prohibited substance in Jamaica. State policy on what is considered a religious right emphasizes the tension between Rastas and Babylon -the general term for western society which they see as a corrupt and degenerate system (with its politics, laws, materialism and oppression) which they outright reject. Speaking of which, the term RastafarianISM is considered derogatory and offensive due to their opposition with any and all “isms” that they feel to have transcended. Haile Selassie’s message was that all human beings are equal, for all people are children of Jah.
Yaah mon; Rastas have their own dialect called Iyaric. They maintain that English is an imposed colonial language and that through language comes life, thus through English the perpetuation of Babylon. Iyaric consists of a modified vocabulary that reframes many English words into more positive contexts. For example: ‘overstanding’ instead of understanding, ‘livication’ instead of dedication, or ‘downpression’ instead of oppression. Another interesting characteristic of Iyaric is the replacement of all pronouns with “I and I” – indicating the presence of the divine within the individual.
Reggae was born in the Trenchtown ghetto of Kingston in the 1960s, blending traditional folk music with the sounds of jazz, ska, rocksteady and R&B that came through on American radio stations. In the 1970s, reggae exploded in popularity with the help of Marley and Peter Tosh who introduced and expressed the Rasta Way of Life with the world. The etymology of the word reggae is believed to derive either from the Iyaric term ‘rege-rege’ which means ragged clothing or a quarrel (thus honouring the struggle of the ghetto) or the Latin wordregi which means “to the king”. The lyrics are known for their social criticism and political themes to raise awareness about issues although many songs discuss the lighter happier side of life and love.
Bob Marley himself “was never seen,” said the Jamaican Prime Minister in his final eulogy, “he was an experience which left an indelible imprint with each encounter; such a man cannot be erased from the mind.” Sounds like Jamaica itself, with so much more to it than first meets the eye. Marley has become a global symbol, endlessly merchandised in what many who understand him view as the commercialized pacification of his militant edge. He believed in real freedom, and in fighting for it if necessary. He was standing up against Babylon and for the people. Yet now, as author Dave Thompson laments in his book Reggae and Caribbean Music: “The Bob Marley who surveys his kingdom today is smiling benevolence, a shining sun, a waving palm tree, and a string of hits which tumble out of polite radio like candy from a gumball machine.” Whitewashed for mass consumption but his authenticity will live forever.
So too Jamaica isn’t all sunshine and waving palm trees but an impressively rich and diverse land of vivid culture and a people of strong mind and open vibrant heart. It’s a land of contrast, from the rough streets to the postcard beaches and it’s through these opposing features that we can truly appreciate them. The island nation offers so much to explore and experience, including but certainly not limited to the Rastafari.
Come see for yourself. My Boutique Travel offers three of the very best accommodations in Kanopi House(luxury treehouses in the jungle); The SPA Retreat (holistic well-being by the sea); and GoldenEye (stay in Ian Fleming’s villa). Come get involved in the bliss and beauty of Jamaica.