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Understanding the plight of Rastafari

Dear Editor,

Blessed love and greetings.

In the name of His Divine Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God and light of this dark world, Jah Rastafari.

Traumatically displaced via the transatlantic slave trade, Africans held in captivity in this diaspora have been detached from their origins, culture and way of life. Boat stops throughout the diaspora resulted in some being dropped off at one location and others at another. This displacement, however, is not enough to support the separation of the African people from their homeland: Africa.

These very same captives were forced into an identity that was completely foreign to them. They lost knowledge of their names, their culture and their way of worship. These basic human values and rights were taken away from them through brutal force (burning, lynching, feathering, tarring) or generations of indoctrination. Let’s just say, that the 16th-20th centuries were completely horrendous times for African people the world over.

The Rastafari movement officially took off immediately after the coronation of the Ethiopian monarchs on November 2, 1930. Marcus Garvey stated in his writings that “there is always a turning point in the destiny of every nation of all peoples”; this was the turning point of the African race. However, Rastafari elders would debate that the movement began long before, as this was the traditional way of worship and the only thing Africans needed was a reminder.

This coronation fulfilled biblical prophecy according to Revelation 5:5, “And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof”; as was accustomed in Ethiopia, His Majesty was crowned King of Kings, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah and Elect of God. Our redeemer had come!

The movement took a sweeping hold within the oppressive communities of Jamaica, then spreading throughout the Caribbean, as a response against the status quo of inferiority placed upon Africans. Rastafari is not a cult but a livity (way of life) that encourages man to live and worship as nature would intend. Theologians and biblical scholars, even to this very day, debate the candor of the Holy Bible due to its mass manipulation over the ages. However, Rastafari’s stance will always remain clear that before any writings were discovered, nature was always here and that nature should be our guide throughout life.

Due to the heavy dogma and indoctrination within the diaspora, Rastafari members had to then exile themselves from the main society because of their acceptance of their African roots and culture. Many members were brutalized by police. Camps or gathering grounds were destroyed and homes were divided. Sounds a lot like slavery all over again…

Marijuana is seen by the Rastafari community as a sacred herb used by the majority of its members. Contrary to popular belief, marijuana contains not only medicinal properties but also spiritual properties. In my personal view, I have not met one Rastafari who uses the herb to get “high”.

The classical elements of life found within creation are earth, fire, air and water. In African spirituality, these elements are labelled as Gods because they all carry characteristics of God. From fire, comes the power of the sun that imbues the tree with living light. From earth, comes the nourishment of the root which combines its strength with the sun to provide the food needed by man. From water, comes the power to imbibe the vital essence of life that causes the fruit to grow and supply those who seek eternal life with the mystical power of its unique fruit. From air, there is a communication exchange with the environment that benefits both the tree and the environment.

In Rastafari, marijuana is particularly used with a chalice, which contains the aforementioned elements. Marijuana is our tree of life, symbolizing the earth element. The fire is symbolic to the power of the sun, and the water in the chalice has the same power to imbibe the vital essence of life that causes the fruit to grow. The smoke drawn from the chalice is the combination of all elements, which gives us the spiritual connection with the universe and our deities.

This is Rastafari. His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I stated that no one should question the faith of others. Marcus Garvey also stated that a man’s religious view is personal to him and it is folly for any man to disrespect that.

Now that we’ve concluded a brief overview of the faith and movement of Rastafari, allow me to dispel the untruths set out by propagandists in an attempt to discredit the agitative moves by the community – in particular, the EABIC (Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress). The constitution of the Bahamas chapter 3, article 15 gives the citizenry of The Bahamas the entitlement to their fundamental rights and freedoms; freedom of conscience, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. To add further, article 22, subsection 1 states, “Except with his consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of conscience, and for the purposes of this article the said freedom includes freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate his religion of belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

The EABIC is in no way trying to “hold the government hostage” or even trying to be “crafty”, as described by the nation’s misguided leaders. The only thing the Rastafari community is asking of the Bahamas government is that it lives up to the words declared in the constitution. While we support the work of the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana, our work as freedom fighters must still continue. The notion put forth that we must wait is baseless, as the Rastafari community has been agitating before the commission was even established. We’ve seen amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act (2000) that added to the marginalization of Rastafari and Bahamians, in general. The then Bahamas government was addressed on these rights in December 1993.

If the conversation seeks to be progressive, I urge the entire Bahamian populace to remove that which was originally taught of the plant and begin free, unbiased research for full understanding and clarity.

I leave you all with seven words of love: God is love, let us all love.

– Priest Delrado Burrows, secretary, EABIC Bahamas

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