RASTAFARI REPARATIONS The topic this week is Reparations, about which I am famously (and infamously!) known for having written “Forgive Slavery, Forget Reparations” – a 2006 article that gained me not only further notoriety, but my first death threats. I had begun my article with the firm statement that the call for reparations was completely justified due to the horrors of the trans-Atlantic trade in Africans, their inhuman and brutal enslavement in the Americas and the free labour that developed and enriched Europe for 300 years. If ever there was a just cause, it was the need for a retribution – even perhaps revenge – for a most terrible act against humanity, it was for slavery. The call for Reparations is a basic principle of the Rastafari faith, whose principles I accept.
But, having taken up the Reparations banner from 2001 to 2007 in my effort to establish a Jamaica Reparations Movement (JaRM), the facts I encountered on both sides made me come to the conclusion of my article. I realize that, justified or not, getting governments and citizens of the European countries named to agree to and implement justified reparations, will be a long, drawn-out process that will only achieve further enmity between the two opposing sides and, worst of all, focus our attention on hoping that reparations will finance Rastafari’s true aim – the rehabilitation of Africa. Focusing on rebuilding the future was the advice Emperor Haile Selassie I gave to the people of Ethiopia after the Italian war.
I tend to follow the Emperor’s example in all things. In addition, seeing the matter from the perspective of the Emperor’s life example, I come face to face with the Christ he worshipped, Iyesos Krystos, who advised that we should forgive our enemies, love those that hate us and seek to live in peace with all. A high and noble ideal, I agree, but one worth aspiring to. So I said, let us be the generous spirits in this matter and forgive those who enslaved us, seek friendships and partnerships with those who recognize their ancestral guilt and who desire to compensate us in a spirit of human love. This would give I&I a powerful step up on which to stand for further negotiations.
OTHER VIEWS SURFACE I have taken a lot of heat over my opinions, so it is good to read other views on Reparations now being expressed in Rastafari circles since the Caribbean nations joined to present a united claim. The matter is not as clear cut, nor unified, as it seems. Ras Shango Bako, a UK-based Rastafari author and philosopher, feels the current proposals – including those from Rastafari organizations in the region– do not go far enough and, citing the need for a common call for reparations from the very countries in which Rastafari was born and live, says reparations should begin first at home in the Caribbean.
“ What we do have in common is a legacy of inhuman oppression by Caribbean governments – tantamount to torture and genocide in more extreme cases such as Coral Gardens (Jamaica), Dread Act (Dominica)]; social disenfranchisement, harassment, discrimination, ostracism and outcast status in others. That common legacy is a brief encapsulation of the worst aspects of chattel slavery, such as incidents in Guyana (1980s) where Rastafari in Canvas City were ‘hog-tied’ to moving vehicles and dragged through the streets by law enforcement officers.
These and other heinous crimes against humanity need to be catalogued, listed and publicized alongside the meritorious achievements of our first and second generations in the islands. Our collective history needs to be written and ‘re-membered’; firstly to substantiate our overwhelming case for local reparations; secondly to reinforce our initial demand for repatriation, and thirdly to shame those ruling regimes who have now climbed on our backs to beg for reparatory justice that is rightfully ours in the first place. Slavery reparations can be effectively viewed through the lens of Rastafari history.
Otherwise it becomes a hugely complex historical issue with little tangible bearing on the present. Our continuity in upholding and manifesting African culture, lore, spirituality and culture in the West is the unbroken thread that gives meaning to the issue of reparations from that time right through till the present. From this common position there can be no blur in the debate. As Marcus said, a people with- out knowledge (or memory) of themselves is as a tree without roots.”
Bogo Wisely Tafari of the Caribbean Rastafari Organization (CRO), writing from Barbados after the meeting of the Caricom Reparations Commission, urges Rastafari to put the call for REPATRIATION as primary before the call for REPARATIONS.
“The two issues cannot and must not be separated. Repatriation – The right of return is anchored in several bodies of international law; eg. the law of nationality as applied upon state succession; humanitarian law; human rights law and refugee law. The right of return has also been affirmed in numerous UN resolutions relating to other refugee cases and in domestic law. Rastafari embraces Repatriation as an aspect of Reparations as specified in section (iv) Article 158 of the UN’s DURBAN Declaration and Plan of Action…
Regionally the Caribbean Rastafari Organization (CRO) has written to the Caricom secretariat seeking assistance in formulating and implementing such a Repatriation Census in all the islands. … Seeking for Repatriation should not deflect from the major objective of Reparations. However Rastafari needs to come up with a comprehensive sustainable development plan for settlement in Afrika which will be accepted and embraced by the AU and the various Afrikan leaders.”
REPARATIONS FOR WHO? Who will benefit from Reparations, should Jamaica succeed in persuading any European countries to repair the debt and Caribbean nations agree on how to divide up the reparations between each country? Who are the ‘descendants of slavery’ who will benefit from Jamaican Reparations? Remember, Rasta is not the only Jamaica. There is another Jamaica also.
PINNACLE The OCCUPY PINNACLE movement continues to attract support, physically and financially. Controversy has arisen, however, about lack of adherence to traditional Rastafari principles on the site, activities that would not normally take place around a Nyahbinghi Altar, the physical dress of females, etc. One issue concerns the banner flying on the Nyabinghi Tabernacle, which is not the approved Ethiopian flag of Rastafari, but the one that Howell flew with the Red on top and the Green below. Donisha Prendergast and her OCCUPY PINNACLE team from the Rastafari Youth Initiative Council are seen by some as establishing a new Rastafari Mansion with its own objectives and behaviours, as they challenge long-held principles of the movement while they boldly and bravely take possession of the land in Rastafari and Howell’s name.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has not yet replied, as she should already have done, to the questions on Pinnacle asked in Parliament by former Minister of Culture Olivia Grange. Perhaps she will answer them this coming Tuesday. We wait to hear. Visit the FaceBook page, as I do, if you wish to be informed about OCCUPY PINNACLE developments. I, and the Rastafari nation at home and abroad, continue to follow the story.