Ethnicity, Law, and Human Rights: The English Experience

By Sebastian Poulter | Go to book overview

9
Rastafarians: Confrontations Concerning
Dreadlocks and Cannabis

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Although the precise origins of the Rastafarian movement in England remain obscure, they probably lie at least partly in the attempt made in 1955 by a former Rastafarian leader from Jamaica to organize a local branch in south London of the Rastafarian-orientated United Afro-West Indian Brotherhood. 1 This endeavour had only a very limited impact, but by 1958 'a group of bearded and rather conspicuously dressed young men were noted in the Brixton market area', 2 and these were identified as Rastafarians. Towards the end of the 1960s two Jamaican-born London residents, Immanuel Fox and Gabriel Adams, who were familiar with the growing importance of Rastafarian ideas in the Caribbean, established a new institution, the Universal Black Improvement Organization (UBIO), in which specifically Rastafarian themes were incorporated into a vehicle designed to raise the general level of black consciousness. 3 Fox and Adams then went to Jamaica and obtained the necessary permission from the Ethiopian World Federation (EWF) to transform the UBIO into a local branch of the EWF in London. 4 The EWF had been set up in 1937 to assist the victims of Italian aggression against Abyssinia (as the country was then known) and its African cultural focus had nourished the aspirations of early Rastafarians in Jamaica. 5 The new London branch operated initially from premises in north Kensington and soon afterwards moved to the Portobello Road. 6 A second branch was established in Birmingham in 1972. 7

In its formative years in England (and indeed subsequently), the Rastafarian movement's main appeal was to young, black men from working class families. 8 Cashmore's research during the 1970s indicated that the vast majority of the movement's early adherents here had come to Britain from Jamaica with their parents, when they were children aged

____________________
1
Patterson, S., Dark Strangers (London, 1963), 360.
2
Ibid, 354.
3
Cashmore, E., Rastaman: The Rastafarian Movement in England, 2nd ed. (London, 1983), 51.
4
Ibid, 52; for the importance in black thought and tradition of the concept of 'Ethiopia' and its use to signify the whole of Africa (including Egypt), see Barrett, L., The Rastafarians (Kingston, 1977), ch 3.
5
Cashmore, 52
6
Ibid, 53.
7
Ibid, 53.
8
Ibid, 70.

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