February 10, 2009

Duppy Conqueror

I was a bit disappointed by White’s description of Halie Selassie. I felt the Garvey account was enough to put the birth of Rastafarianism into context, but the curt paragraph on Selassie left me wanting more. Little did I know that the next chapter would be dedicated exclusively to Selassie. I will write on that in a subsequent post, but here I wanted to highlight a few passages from Riddim Track, the first chapter of the book.

The chapter ends with an introduction to Marley’s influence. White paints the image of the man with very broad-brush strokes. It is obvious to me now, that White likes to initially smear his canvas with the big picture, only to go back and carefully paint the minutest details.

We are led to understand that Marley and the Wailers were more than musicians. They were shamans and storytellers who played a pivotal part in not only keeping a history alive, but also in maintaining and fostering its growth:

The Rastas listening to Marley’s music were not merely bobbing their heads to One Love like their Caucasian brothers; this music was a form of spiritual, cultural, and holy communion. It is that duel level of appreciation that makes the music so universal.

I am so glad that i am beginning to better understand his music on multiple levels. A quick example: I now know the meaning of the word Duppy, as in the song “Duppy Conqueror.” Duppies are spirits of the dead. I always thought he was saying dumpy conqueror, and honestly I was not too clear what he meant, but now I know that he was using the traditional Jamaican street saw used when defying a bully: “If yuh bullbacker, me duppy conqueror.” This was a song he penned after being released from a minor ganja arrest in Kingston.

Read a preview of the book here at Google Book.

What is your understanding of the music? Have you any insights into the folklore?


  1. I was very taken by this book Catch a Fire when I first read it in the eighties and it explained things that have stayed with me to this day.

    I was delighted with my new found understanding of the message of Marley's music. When Peter Tosh and his whole household were killed it put me in a 20 year plus darkness to the message that I only came out of in the last three years. Now I am able to take the messages the Wailers put out in plain perspective. It also helps that some of the Racial issues addressed by Reggae music have changed a great deal recently. I still don't think white folks like my self should try to be Rastas but I am able to relate it to my experience as a Buddhist since then in a very positive and helpful light.

    I think I will pick that book up again. I was just thinking about it at lunch as a matter of fact and then I come to my MAC and see one of my Tweeple has sent a message that led me to your blog.

    One Love? I think so!

    ITES from the NOLA

  2. @Resista

    Thanks for your comment, it seems we have both, at some point in our lives, decided to take a closer look at this music. It sounds like you may have a lot of insight to share.

    I took some time to explore your website, and would love to chat sometime on Skype and perhaps record a podcast. I want this project to be a shared exploration, not just me reading a book.

    I also dabble in Buddhism, so we share another connection there. When you do pick up the book please come back here and share what you find.