THE RASTAFARIANS by Leonard Barrett


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Despite the popularity of reggae music, the Rastafarians in the US with their ritualized smoking of marijuana (ganja) and their myriad braids (dreadlocks) have had a poor press. Professor Barrett, himself a Jamaican, examines them on their native island and arrives at an empathic, ff not uncritical judgment of Jamaica's mysterious sect. Noting that at least since the 17th-century Maroons, the island has produced a variety of socio-religious ""Resistance"" groups, Barrett counts the Rastas as but the latest in that potent tradition. Incubated in the slums of Kingston, circa 1930, they are a millenarian movement of the dispossessed; their strange creed--they believe that Haile Salassie, former Emperor of Ethiopia, is God--and their rituals, dress, and symbols were developed as a way of ""rejecting a consignment to inexistence"" by the colonial ruling class. The eschatological concept behind their faith is ""Ethiopia,"" the African version of the land of milk and honey--to which they will one day be repatriated; meantime they are living in exile, oppression, ""Babylon."" Barrett gives fascinating first-hand observations of the cult ceremonies, their ganja smoking, and the special ""soul language"" which members speak. He has a highly dynamic view of the Rastafarians, who change internally in response to shifts in Jamaican polity and who are currently much more inclined to place a sharp emphasis on radical social change within the despised Jamaica. The syncretism of their religious doctrines, the influence on them of Marcus Garvey's back-to-Africa teachings, and the attempt (in their combless hairstyles) to reassert their Negritude, mark them as uniquely West indian; but they also have obvious parallels to the separatist ideology and supremacist doctrines of groups like the Black Muslims. A demanding book for those more than idly curious.

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 1977
ISBN: 0807010391
Publisher: Beacon