UP in the mountains and the forests
resides the conscience of the world, bearded men close to God, living
off what God provides, praying, meditating, often thinking about what
it's like down there, in Babylon.
The Babylon system, in which NOTHING is free.
In the 1940s, in the hills just north
of Spanish Town in St. Catherine, Jamaica, a man named Leonard Howell
ran a community called Pinnacle,
where he founded the Rastafarian movement.
On the one hand Howell was
a travelled man of the world, a business man with an office in Kingston;
on the other hand he provided a place
where Rastas could live and work in peace.
In those days no Rasta could board a bus or enter a shop. Most people
reacted to the presence of a Rasta in their midst with the apprehension
they might feel towards a ragged beggar. Or worse: a ragged beggar who
was also a lunatic.
A Rasta friend once described his astonishment at meeting a post Marley
locksman and realizing for the first time that locks could be a style,
one that didn't invite rejection. The old man found this so hard to believe
because he had experienced nothing but scorn tram everyone but another
Rasta his whole life.
For the most part Rastas from Pinnacle didn't wander far from home in
those days, but those who did felt like John the Baptist in Galilee:
so wild looking were they, covered in dust from the unpaved roads, that
children would run from the sight of them. They projected the humility
of the social outcast but bore the high stride of a visionary on the
move, till they got back to the refuge that Leonard Howell had created
at Pinnacle, where there was water for washing, natural food to eat,
herb to smoke, and meditation to share.
The prime effect of ganga is to loosen the conditioning of the mind,
and as the citizens of Pinnacle sat and reasoned together, they turned
the many doctrines of the day upside down, ideas accepted as gospel.
Far tram accepting white supremacy in the days of the British Empire,
the Rastas not only refused to acknowledge the English king, they identified
an African king whom they began to worship, and whom they predicted would
halt the advance of Europe into Africa, a prophecy which came true. Ras
Tafari Makonnen, crowned Emperor Haile Selassie l, was revered as the
Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings, and could claim
direct decent tram David and Salomon, Kings of the chosen people.
But while the Rasta might be able to quote chapter and verse to justify
his beliefs, any young British civil servant, had they served in India,
would have confirmed that the Rastafarians in Jamaica in the late forties
and throughout the fifties were treated much more like untouchables than
like Sahdus. Pinnacle was raided and destroyed, Howell was sent to the
lunatic asylum, and the scattered Rasta brethren went to live in a slum
called Dungle along the waterfront on the outskirts of Kingston. Here
too they were bulldozed out of their shacks to become "wolves in
sheep's clothing" or "rent-a-dreads" at sunsplash concerts
on the beach at Negril. But many became ski lied craftsmen, artists,
singers, and musicians. Some became businessmen, and some preachers,
even religious fanatics. But these are net the Rasta that Patrick Cariou
sought out with his camera. He searched for and found the brethren who
left Pinnacle and headed for the hills.
In the mountains of Jamaica their
descendants still live, close to nature and what nature provides, reflecting
on how happy they are to be living
a life in lion, where almost everything is free, the air is pure, the
earth is rich, rainfall is abundant, and where one can build a bamboo
home big enough to house the largest family. Here is where they can grow
the best food and ganga in the world, and meditate in the way good herb
often brings, thinking about what ifs like living in Babylon, where nothing
is free or unpolluted.
As a Rasta farmer says,"When you consider that when God give you
a seed it will produce a thousand more seeds if you cafe for it, but
when Babylon sell you a seed you still need chemicals to grow it-drug
addiction 1 And now they bring seed that give you back no seed at ail!
Not even one much legs a thousand!"
One of the several conceptions that Rasta established decades ago, before
it became widespread, was the idea of ital living as living the natural
life. Rastafarians knew instinctively that pesticides were poison, that
fertilizer inducing false growth was unnatural, and that to place oneself
at the mercy of synthetics without control of the source of supply was
dangerous. They also knew that herbs and medicines extracted from roots
and plants could cure more than the body: they could sustain a physical
and spiritual strength unknown to those addicted to mass-produced food.
Long before the ecological movement and the "Greens" took up
the cry, Rasta was preaching the ital way of life as an article of faith,
and invented a vocabulary to
Opposed to the ital way of living and the concept of lion is Rasta's
concept of Babylon.
Babylon was where mankind first stopped roving and built a city. Babylon,
between the two rivers on the plain, was where man first accumulated
more than he could carry. Babylon was where owning more than you could
move led to such a piling up of treasures for the rich, such a display
of wealth and force to protect it, that mankind began to drift away from
dependence on God to a dependence on the material items that Babylon
had to offer.
Babylon doesn't produce anything natural; it only uses
up what's there, and as it reaches further and further into the natural
world, more and
more of those who used to live in lion start to starve. So where do they
go? They go into Babylon as refugees, to a life they never planned for,
to a life they don't understand, swelling Babylon, making it more desperate
and greedier than ever.
Nuclear threat, industrial pollution... it's obvious to Rasta the highest
authority is guilty of the greatest crime, that for the most part rulers
are a criminal class, and-needless to say-the ruling class regard those
with a meditating mind as due for some serious discipline.
Babylon is not just a ward to Rasta.
Babylon is not merely an idea, an abstraction for Rasta.
For Rasta, Babylon
is a brutal reality.
When Patrick Cariou got a taste of it he was flung into a tiny cell
packed with humanity but with no windows, with nothing to sit on or lie
on except a floor caked with the accumulated filth of many years, with
nowhere to relieve himself except in an open communal can, with only
very little revolting food to sustain hi m, pushed through a small slit
in an otherwise solid iron door: one of countless millions around the
world held for doing nothing at ail to cause harm, living for a few days
what many others have to live ail their lives.
Most of those heads bowed in captivity are not bowed in shame, but in thought.
Tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands and millions ail over the
world, their bodies in chains, their heads bent in captivity for having
the revelation that the religious fanatics and the political fanatics
and the class fanatics and the color fanatics are telling them they must
give over their freedom to fulfill some ridiculous fantasy of maniacal
The function of Babylon comes from the conditioning of minds crippled
with dogma. The ones who will lock you up for a beer in Tehran, and put
you in a chain gang in Alabama for smoking a spliff. The ones who'll
arrest you in China for thinking your own thoughts, in Cuba for expressing
them. Communists, Fascists, Monopoly Capitalists.
For Rasta, the keeping alive of ganga in the world, known to them as
herb, is a holy mission. What else has helped as much as the spirit of
herb to bring together people all over the world, united in an experience
and state of mind which encourages mankind to see and name and confront
evil? What else has enabled countless millions to float over the divisions
that divide mankind, leaving behind the prejudice that has kept them
penned up in their own little corners? What else has urged so many to
think and act in the spirit of one consciousness?
We have one world trade and one world communication systems, but what
we really need is one world justice system; it can be either a simple
design worthy of universal respect or a monster of debate and petty legalism.
De minimus non curat tex.
If you can be put in jail for ganga anywhere in the world, why not two
hundred lashes for adultery, or ten years in the penitentiary for meditation7
If one world justice system strengthens petty law instead of universal
freedom, the next century will be a long descent back into an electronic
dark age, like the history we've just emerged tram, when rulers ruled
through their minions and everybody else was a slave to their whim and
fancy, held in the grip of one dogma or another for as long as anybody
World justice must not crush the innocent, and in places like Jamaica
today there is a vast threat to illiterate intelligence. It was understood
for thousands of years that intelligence gained firsthand from experience
was at least as valuable as knowledge learned second hand from books.
When one considers that much of the progress of mankind over the ages
was made by people who couldn't read and write, it is outrageous that
dozens of petty bureaucracies would cause a man or a woman to lose their
livelihood from the inability to fill out a form. Not ail the Rastas
are illiterate, by any means, but it is not disputed by many that illiterate
intelligence is the most profound, as it is learned tram organic experience.
There has been no growth in the economy of Jamaica for the past 25 years.
The effect has been one of increasing desperation, violence, and division
for the ambitious. The result has been that the assumptions of the middle
class have been shattered while the strengths of the simple Rastafarian
life have become more evident with each passing year.
Most people cower and wilt under the assault of the Babylonian forces
of the whole world, but the Rastas in Jamaica stand tall and preach repentance
to the self-righteous.
I remember as a child of eight riding my horse to a building
site where Rastas from Pinnacle were working to build a house, and meeting
maybe 20 of the two hundred or so Rastas in the world. They made sandals
out of old tires, and they looked as though they were straight out of
the Old Testament. They talked to me about the bible because in those
days I loved bible stories, and the Rastas knew their stories fowards
and backwards. They looked ferocious, but in fact were very friendly
to the little white boy on a horse.
I have lived to see Rasta spread around the globe. Rasta music, Rasta
hairstyle, Rasta food, Rasta religion, Rasta flags, colors, and concerts.
Rasta satellite broadcasts. Rasta as a worldwide movement. l've seen
all of the above spread from Jamaica to the other islands of the West
Indies, to England, to North America, to Japan, to France, Germany,
Italy, West Africa, Southern Africa, Brazil. Rasta is now all over
the whole world.
The amazing thing is how fast it happened, how easily
it happened.How it has caused a revolution in the popular consciousness without
shedding a drap of blood for ideology.
Bob Marley held a concert outside of Paris-one of
the most ancient capitals of one of the world's strongest religions-and
he pulled more people together
to hear him sing his "Songs of Redemption" than assembled for
the Pope two days later.
Why did it happen?
Because Rasta doesn't represent just Rasta; Rasta is a banner for a spirit
The spirit of freedom, the spirit of
pride, whether you're rich or poor. The spirit of relaxation.
of speculation. The belief of unification.
The spiritual home for this
is still rooted in the mountains of Jamaica in these strong simple people.