2016 – THE YEAR IN REVIEW

by Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah
village2016 was a year of mixed blessings. The RASTAFARI Nation began the year smiling at the success of the first entertainment event at which Sacramental Rights enabled the use and sale of Ganja for the first time. The Rastafari RootzFest in Negril sponsored by HIGH TIMES Magazine in December 2015 at which Rastafari culture, arts & crafts and music were on display with ganja plants and products, was followed in January by the Rebel Salute music show at which Sacramental Rights again enabled the sale and use of the Holy Herb.

ELECTION CHANGES    The Election in February had a surprising result that upset predictions that the PNP would continue its rule, and instead brought forward another chance for the JLP to govern under a new leader. Among the changes that resulted from the change in administration, the threat was removed of the Goat Islands being turned from an ecological sanctuary into a hub of Chinese commerce. The power of China that had appeared in all aspects of the national development, economy, business and even education also diminished in 2016, even after the opening of a major cross-island highway.

image001DAWTA OF JAH    In April I had the good fortune to spend a blessed week lecturing to students at Texas Christian University on aspects of Rastafari culture and philosophy. I spent a further three weeks in America observing and resting in that unique society as it prepared for its own election. However, issues of wanton and racist police brutality threw the USA into national turmoil that was further increased by the campaign of the Republican candidate, who later surprised the world by winning the opportunity to replace Barak Obama as the next US President. Thanks to his controversial opinions on traditional international relations, racial and religious minorities and the international economy, the world awaits his rule with increasing fear.

emperor_haile_selassie_i_visits_jamaica_smH.I.M. VISIT COMMEMORATED    Also in 2016 the Rastafari Nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the visit to Jamaica by H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Defender of the Holy Orthodox Faith, with a ceremonial recreation of his triumphant motorcade from the Kingston airport, as well as a series of activities over three days to commemorate and institutionalize this special history.  The Emperor’s Grandson H.I.H. Prince Ermis Sahle Selassie, Chairman of the Ethiopian Crown Council, officiated.

CRIME & VIOLENCE INCREASE     In Jamaica, the violence of 300 years of slavery in which this nation was born, manifested itself in a rise in murders, especially of women by male partners, as well as acts of a criminal underworld financed by the scamming industry. The situation is so unmanageable that the Commissioner of Police resigned, leaving a vacuum that seems impossible to be filled.

OLYMPIC GLORY    One great good light for Jamaica in 2016 was the rise of Usain Bolt to legendary status by winning three Olympic Gold medals in Rio to crown a career that began with similar wins in the two previous Olympics. As Jamaica celebrated with and for him, Bolt’s playboy behavior off the track celebrating his achievement diminished the glory of that sparkling moment of history. Though Jamaica was still proud of him, his crown seemed a little tarnished thereafter.

HURRICANE MATTHEW PASSES OVER     Thanks to our prayers, the island was spared a devastating hurricane that promised to be the worst in our history, but the destruction was diverted to our Northern neighbours Cuba and Haiti, neither of which could afford it either. We gave thanks and sent what help we could to our sister islands. fidel

VIVA FIDEL!     Cuba suffered the loss of their great leader Fidel Castro who, despite efforts by international media to diminish the glory of his reputation, was hailed by Jamaica and Third World countries especially in Africa as a revolutionary hero whose life work helped liberate those living under European colonialism. Jamaica especially remembers him fondly for his many gifts to our nation. The opening up of US relations with Cuba by  President Obama opens the way for a new history for Jamaica’s closest neighbor.

sister-carol

RASTA RADIO JA interviews Sister Carol @ RootzFest

RASTA ROOTZFEST 2016      The year 2016 closed with another successful staging of Rastafari RootzFest, this time organized by a fully Jamaican organization, with emphasis on locally-grown ganja and associated products.  However, the event left unanswered several important issues of concern to the Rastafari Nation. These include the future of the Pinnacle lands, the building of the promised Pinnacle National Heritage monument, as well as the payment of outstanding reparations to victims and descendants of the Coral Gardens genocidal brutality.

Most important is the necessity for the Jamaican Government to establish a firm relationship with the Rastafari Nation relating to the development of Ganja business. Plans for issuing of licenses for production and sale of medical marijuana have not properly acknowledged the traditional role of Rastafari in the ganja industry, nor provided compensation or opportunities for those who for decades were the sole advocates and maintainers of ganja agriculture, when such activity was illegal and resulted in violence and imprisonment for ganja farmers — most of whom were and are Rastafari.

sela4LEGALIZE IT!     The high costs to enter the ganja industry as proposed by the Cannabis Licensing Authority, as well as the fact that ganja is still not fully legalized for purchase by recreational and sacramental users, are just some of the many problematic issues that will need time and harmonious discussion to be suitably resolved.

The RASTAFARI Nation looks forward to building on the important changes brought by the revision of the Dangerous Drugs Act – including a name change of this important legislation — to reflect the inheritance Jamaica has received from the pioneers who paid the bitter price to make the GanJAH Green Gold become positioned now as the salvation of the Jamaican economy. FORWARD in 2017!!!

Advertisements

“RASTAFARI & THE ARTS” – Book Review

rastafari & the artsRASTAFARI AND THE ARTS is without reservation, the most thorough look at RASTAFARI of all the books I have read so far – and I have read many. As a writer myself of one of these many books – albeit the first one written by a practicing member of the faith – and as a RASTA for over 40 years, I feel eminently qualified to make such a sweeping commendation. It is truthfully a real pleasure to read, full of information that is both delightful and welcome because it touches areas of Rastafari often unrevealed by other studies of the topic.

Author Darren J. Middleton, a Professor of Religion in The John V. Rich Honours College of Texas Christian University, has produced a book that ploughs new ground in the academic fields of Rastafari by looking at the movement through its artistic creative expressions and in particular, an eclectic choice of RASTA artists through whom he manages to present a deeper and intellectually richer harvest of facts, opinions and scrutiny of the world’s newest religion.

However, it has been a little difficult for me to write a review of the book simply because I am featured in it and readers of my review may consider my praise of the book self-serving. While it’s an honour to be gathered and praised in such esteemed company, to give the book and those Professor Middleton has selected to illustrate it full credit, my inclusion would have resulted in an extremely critical assessment of the book if I was not completely happy with its contents. So while it is an unusual practice for someone mentioned in a book to write a review, an independent read of its contents will certainly find it worthy of my praise. I can only ask to be forgiven, therefore, for any pride I may exhibit in reporting on the other artists with whom I keep company in this excellent book.

Prof. Middleton’s opening statement confirms that “… Rasta and its adherents have transitioned from outcasts to culture bearers… and Rastafari represents one of the twenty-first century’s most vibrant durable and pervasive religions…” His book is for undergraduate students, he explains, those with little awareness of Rastafari beyond the stereotypes of Marley and ganja, and he hopes to break down these stereotypes by illustrating the movement’s artistic diversity not just in music but in literature film and art.  It’s an excellent objective which he accomplishes well.


jah loveEARLY INTEREST IN MUSIC
       He admits early that his curiosity about and interest in Rastafari began with music, and this is where he book gives the most attention. In fact, he devotes an Appendix to “Dr. M’s Rasta Riddims Playlist” a list of 250 songs that he offers to students to get to know Rastafari better and to introduce listeners to several dimensions of Rastafari religious life. Emphasizing how Rastafari arts are ‘the primary mechanism for the faith’s transmission”, he looks at the arts both from insiders and outsiders views, including films and artworks made about Rastafari by non-members inspired by Rastafari.

BORTHER MANMiddleton sees literary art as an informative source for learning about Rastafari and he comments on the books of Roger Mais (“Brother Man”) and Orlando Patterson (“Children of Sisyphus”) set in the early years of the Rastafari movement, comparing them with present-day works such as my own novel “Joseph – A Rasta Reggae Fable” (including a Q&A with me about my literary inspiration through my Rastafari spirituality) and the works of Jean Gouldbourne, Masani Montague and N.D. Williams.

Middleton gives due homage and praise to the founding stars of reggae, but ventures off the beaten path with interviews with almost-unknown-but-deserves-to-be-known singer Asante Amen, and India’s premier sound system Reggae Rajahs. He specially devotes space in the music arts for poetry, singling out Black British poet Benjamin Zephiniah with both an introduction to and explanation of his poetic works and history, and also a lengthy interview with him.

awake zionFILMS ON RASTA       The chapter on film references some well known documentaries about Rastafari such as Oliver Hill’s “Coping With Babylon”, Monica Haim’s ‘Awake Zion” exploring Rastafari’s Jewish links, the recent “Marley” documentary, and James Ewart’s “Ras Tafari”, a collection of interviews with well-known Rastas (incuding myself). Middleton also comments on Bianca Nyavingi Brynda’s “Roots Daughters” that explores the feminine side of Rastafari’s history and introduces readers to “The Emperor’s Birthday” a 1992 documentary of a Rastafari pilgrimage to Ethiopia to celebrate the special occasion, that gives an inside view of Sheshemane and its residents.

Professor Middleton gives a look at the spread of Rastafari to Africa to fulfill Garvey’s repatriation dream in a chapter featuring interviews with Ghana’s Blakk Rasta musician and radio presenter, then takes a look at Rastafari’s spread to Japan – just one non-Black country where Rastafari has taken root. The spread has not been without its negatives and one which Middleton deplores is the commodification of the movement in hundreds of products that exploit Rastafari’s colours, icons and philosophy purely for material purpose. The irony is not lost on how Babylon seems to be winning the commercial game as usual.

faculty_lg_middletonRASTAFARI AND THE ARTS is a varied buffet of information brought together by a master story-teller with a fountain of research and and deep heartfelt appreciation for the topic. It is not Middleton’s first writing on Rastafari, as he has published numerous international articles and academic papers on the religion and how it’s cultural expressions have strengthened its acceptance and growth. The book is a textured addition to the library of academic studies on Rastafari, with a fresh perspective that is both an asset and a new direction. Praise and RASpect are due to the author.

RASTAFARI & THE ARTS – Published: Routledge, New York  2015