Jah Kingdom: Rastafarians, Tanzania, and Pan-Africanism in the Age of Decolonization

Jah Kingdom: Rastafarians, Tanzania, and Pan-Africanism in the Age of Decolonization

Jah Kingdom: Rastafarians, Tanzania, and Pan-Africanism in the Age of Decolonization

Jah Kingdom: Rastafarians, Tanzania, and Pan-Africanism in the Age of Decolonization

Synopsis

From its beginnings in 1930s Jamaica, the Rastafarian movement has become a global presence. While the existing studies of the Rastafarian movement have primarily focused on its cultural expression through reggae music, art, and iconography, Monique A. Bedasse argues that repatriation to Africa represents the most important vehicle of Rastafari's international growth. Shifting the scholarship on repatriation from Ethiopia to Tanzania, Bedasse foregrounds Rastafari's enduring connection to black radical politics and establishes Tanzania as a critical site to explore gender, religion, race, citizenship, socialism, and nation. Beyond her engagement with how the Rastafarian idea of Africa translated into a lived reality, she demonstrates how Tanzanian state and nonstate actors not only validated the Rastafarian idea of diaspora but were also crucial to defining the parameters of Pan-Africanism.

Based on previously undiscovered oral and written sources from Tanzania, Jamaica, England, the United States, and Trinidad, Bedasse uncovers a vast and varied transnational network--including Julius Nyerere, Michael Manley, and C. L. R James--revealing Rastafari's entrenchment in the making of Pan-Africanism in the postindependence period.

Excerpt

Kisembo Karudi was born in Kingston, Jamaica, during the 1950s, that final decade before the island made the transition from British colony to independent nation-state. the last of six girls raised by her mother, Kisembo spent the early 1970s putting her high school diploma to good use working in a bank, and worshiping in a Methodist church shortly after dawn each Sunday. Her life was by no means intolerable, but she was unable to shake the feeling that she was somehow spiritually adrift—that, in her own words, “something was missing.” That changed in 1974 when she met the love of her life, Ras Bupe Karudi, and he introduced her to Jah, the black god of Rastafarians. Like many other Afro-Jamaicans who had found a powerful sense of self in the Rastafarian movement since the 1930s, Kisembo and Ras Bupe, whom she married in 1979, claimed to have “became conscious” through Rastafari. From then on, their lives were governed by the principles of a worldview that rooted them in an African identity. They rejected Jamaican identity (Jamaica was “Babylon”) and nurtured the desire to physically repatriate to Africa (“Zion”). They were Africans wandering in the diaspora. By 1978 they were ready to leave Babylon once and for all. They knew that “Africa was the place for all Rastafarians.”

Founded by the descendants of enslaved Africans in Jamaica in the early 1930s, the Rastafarian movement declared that Ras Tafari Makonnen, Emperor of Ethiopia, was divine. He was crowned His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia on November 2, 1930, and Rastafarians proclaimed him to be the 225th descendent of King Menelik I of Ethiopia. Referring to him as Jah, this theological claim was based on a long history of biblical and secular Ethiopianism both in and outside of Jamaica. Within the context of enslavement and colonialism, Rastafarians in Jamaica understood their state of being as one of exile that was marked by alienation and oppression. Their desire to return to Zion (Africa) spiritually, psychologically, intellectually, and physically signified their resistance to what they believed to be oppressive circumstances and their determination to reclaim an African identity. For Rastafarians, the move from Babylon was . . .

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