February 8, 2009

Look to Africa

The book, Catch A Fire, begins with Marley in the early eighties at a concert in Zimbabwe dismayed by the true nature of independence there. He is playing a show where people are forcing their way over barricades to enter the sold-out stadium. His toe is throbbing do to the cancer that is spreading throughout his body, because he refuses to have his toe amputated.
Rasta no abide amputation. I and I (which I learned means me and my brethren) don’t allow a mon ta be dismantled.
His eyes are red from the tear gas being used to disperse the crowd just beyond the walls. While the first few paragraphs leave us in this state of chaos, White flashes back and begins his session on the history of Rastafarianism.

We learn that the roots of this “millenarian-messianic cult” are planted in the “back-to-Africa” teachings of Marcus Garvey. After watching some clips from a documentary on Garvey on Youtube, I found a strange connection between Garvey’s militant philosophies and J. Edgar Hoover. Not wanting to get bogged down in Garvey’ story I only watch part of the this film, but hope to watch the rest later.

Garvey’s statement “look to Africa” for the crowning of the black king is customarily cited as the spark that galvanized the Garveyites into founding the sect that came to be known as Rastafarians so called because Ras Tafari was Selassie’s given name- Selassie being the anointed king of Ethiopia.

While some state that “Rasta starts with Garvey,” others such as historian Robert A. Hill of UCLA refute this claim, saying that there is little evidence that Garvey ever made such statements about divine African kings. There is actually this article Garvey wrote denouncing Selassie.

It’s hard to tell whether Garvey was a legitimate leader or simply an egoist prone to ornate displays of showmanship. I will leave you to read more on him yourself, but for now it is important to note that he played a crucial role in the development of both Rastafarianism and eventually the music of Bob Marley. There is a further ironic connection when we learn that the CIA and FBI would later monitor Marley’s activities much like they did Garvey before arresting him and deporting him back to his native home, Jamaica.

Another interesting item I discovered was the Holy Piby. Known as the “black man’s Bible", it was complied by Robert Athlyi Rogers of Anguilla in 1913 to 1917. Once again, I will leave you to read the text in its entirety here, but it is important to mention because of its profound influence on rural Jamaican culture, the rise of the Rastafarian movement, and eventually on Marley’s worldview and music.
Meeting immediately with much persecution from the Fundamentalists, Revivalist and more conventional Christian church leaders for the adherence to this occult Bible, early Rastafarian leaders fled into the bush country of the St. Thomas parish, in Eastern Jamaica, and it was there that the seeds of Rastafarianism were planted.
While I find much of this early history a bit too doused in Judeo-Christian mythology for my taste- Holy Piby, Marcus Garvey, and Salessie sound to me like a bizarre myth, but I think it is important to understand how influential the idea of an exiled African Diaspora was to Marley’s music.

Early in the reading of this book, I feel that if I want to truly gain a better understanding of the religious significance of Marley’s music, I must look deeper into these early pioneers and their work. I hope to revisit this early history in the coming weeks. This is the part of the project where I would welcome any insight or expertise. What do you know about the Holy Piby, Marcus Garvey, or Selassie?

Believe it or not this entire history lesson is packed in the first twenty pages of the book. This will be a very in-depth and long process, but I am very excited by it. Please click on the tag bobmarley in the cloud to follow all posts in this thread.

No comments:

Post a Comment