Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Obeah to Rastafari: Jamaica as a Colony of Ridicule, Oppression and Violence, 1865-1939

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Obeah to Rastafari: Jamaica as a Colony of Ridicule, Oppression and Violence, 1865-1939

Article excerpt


Obeah and Rastafari theologically directed attention to different sources, the former manipulated immaterial forces, objects and plants to influence people and events whereas Rastafari's mysticism rejects magical rites and retools Judeo Christianity's messianic emphasis to articulate a version of Ethiopianism where Haile Selassie is the godhead. (1)

The ontological extremities between Obeah and Rastafari embodies Black peoples cultural metamorphosis in the Americas, a process, jumpstarted with enslavements' curtailing African peoples practices and post-emancipations' continued socio-political assaults on surviving traditions. This cultural transformation, noted in several studies, gave rise to Black cultures specific to the "new world" experiences, a transition Michael Gomez refers to as Exchanging Our Country Marks. (2) While Gomez's text largely reports on Black cultural transformations In North America the situations, episodes, and other occurrences he highlights parallels the Afro-Caribbean cultural shifts. Similarly Afro-Caribbean peoples cultural spectrum, which for Afro-Americans Gomez indirectly indicates as having three distinct segments is also in many Caribbean societies a three part continuum composed of an early period where Africa was the cultural and spiritual site of reference, in the second leg Christianity and African culture amalgamates as conversion spreads and lastly since the early twentieth century is the growing rejection of Christianity and search for African cultural identity. Reading Obeah and Rastafari through this view I locate Obeah towards the spectrum's beginnings as Obeah symbolizes the struggles to root Africa in the "New World" and Rastafari occupies the spectrum's opposite end when Black people questioned Christianity's usefulness in the voyage to reclaim African ideals. And crawling from beneath this oppression often meant borrowing the Bible and other ideologies obtained as oppressed people to write redemption stories.

Throughout the African Diaspora several movements exist in the same vein as Rastafari, the Nation of Islam for instance likewise mushroomed as Christianity's critics and ex-believers sought new religious homes and how Rastafari and the Nation of Islam accommodated former churchgoers is a subject Michael Barnett explored in great details. (3) For this paper how Michael Barnett discusses Rastafari theology is used to explain the movements redemptive purpose where redemption for Rastas is linked either to physical repatriation or psychological alignment to Africa . Rastas, however shun Obeah and the dismissive attitudes towards Obeah causes us to question what Africa Rastas hope to spiritually reconnect to as Obeah like activities intersect with everyday life throughout the African continent.

I explore why Rastas underrate Obeah's value as it symbolizes the ways ancestors navigated their universe and its functionality as a guide to read how many African people still negotiate for place and power. Other than addressing Rastafari's problematic relationship with Obeah this paper investigates how colonial elites with control of the state and the press turned people against Obeah and Rasta. The elites agenda to suppress Obeah and Rastafari is discussed, below, in a broader context where the elite opposed the wide spectrum of Afro-folk cultures; this includes Revivalism and Pocomania. Both traditions blended African and Christian spiritualisms, doctrines and deities-a common practice in the African Diaspora following massive Christian conversion in the nineteenth century. (4) The state objected Revivalism's and Pocomania's strong African orientations and frowned its biblical usage as a text of liberation.

This alternative way to view the Bible brought the state into direct confrontation with Paul Bogle, Alexander Bedward and Leonard P Howell, the first in a series of Rastafari preachers. With the violence met when either returning to an African centered livity (5) or practicing Afro-Folk culture the work discusses Babylon's brutality which adversely impacted on Revivalists, Obeah workers and Rastafari brethren as they frequently were ostracized, imprisoned and murdered. …

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