Rastafari’s Deep Caribbean Roots

More than 90 years since its emergence as an indigenous Caribbean faith with deep Jamaican roots, Rastafarianism/Rastafari has established a permanent presence in the region and overseas – both as a unique religious creed and as one of several expressions of the Pan-African movement.
It has also found its place in the worlds of music, fashion, and other areas of creative endeavour, but also as a point of contention in the spheres of public policy and law.
For example, there is continuing debate over the use of marijuana as part of Rastafarian religious worship in the Caribbean, and the acceptance of the dreadlocks hairstyle as a symbol of the connection between devotees and what they consider to be their African homeland.
There have also been challenges regarding formal recognition of Rastafarianism as an established religion.
There are accounts of early origins in the observance of Ethiopianism among former slaves in the Americas, but the faith gained momentum and greater acceptance in the Caribbean with the emergence of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I in 1930.
When Selassie visited Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica, and Haiti in 1966, there was an explosion of interest in the movement.
The conversion of legendary Jamaican reggae musician Bob Marley to the faith that year also helped promote the iconology associated with the faith throughout the Caribbean and the world. This served to raise awareness of the themes of poverty and alienation portrayed in Marley’s music, and other regional artists of his time and the current period.
Its evolving theology has been defined by at least three distinct orders – Boba Shanti, Nyahbinghi, and the Twelve Tribes – and, today, there are differences of opinion regarding the pandemic and measures to address it, including the employment of vaccination programmes.
This CIJN investigation examines some aspects of the faith’s response in the Caribbean to the pandemic.

How COVID-19 has Reshaped Education in Guyana’s Hinterland

It’s Monday morning at the indigenous village of Aishalton, in Guyana’s Deep South Rupununi region.   39-year-old Immaculata Casimero proudly dons a shawl that identifies her Wapichan heritage. 

She’s in a rush, but makes sure to pull her mask across her face ahead of the  15 minute trek across the savannah to her daughter Kiarra’s primary school. COVID-19 has changed just about everything in her village, including her daughter’s education.  Pandemic lockdowns forced an end to normal classes. Students now work from home with parents filling the roles of teachers as best they can. Immaculata describes how, on selected days  of each week, she visits her daughter’s class teacher for guidance on four core subjects: English, Mathematics, Social Studies and Science.  “Parents have to work with their children at home and try to see how best they can educate their children,” she noted.  

She said the situation requires the parent to refresh their own knowledge of the subjects.  First, the teacher guides and instructs the parent through the entire lesson.

Rastas Opt Out – Warn of “Vaccine Intimidation”

The Rastafarian community in Barbados is casting a wary eye on the government’s vaccination drive and redoubling its support of alternative, plant-based treatments to prevent COVID-19 infection. Paul “Simba” Rock, president and founder of the Barbados- based African Heritage Foundation (AHF)

Paul Simba Rock, president and founder of the Barbados-based African Heritage Foundation (AHF) and public relations officer of the Rastafarian Progressive Movement in Barbados (RPM) said the community is “totally” against vaccines on religious grounds. The Barbados government has declared no one will be forced to take the COVID-19 vaccine. But that hasn’t instilled confidence among the 4,000 Rastafarians who make up about 1.5% of the population. The Rastafarian movement wrote to Prime Minister Mia Mottley requesting that its members be issued certificates of exemption from vaccination requirements.

Jamaica’s COVID-19 Strategy Raises Mistrust Among Rastafarians

Kingston, Jamaica

“I will give you the figure off the top of my head: ZERO!”

That was the reply of a health worker in one of Jamaica’s vaccine sites when asked how many Rastafarians had come to her to get a shot.  But she says she still hopes Rastafari elders will lead the way as Jamaica’s phased vaccine rollout continues. Jamaica received its first doses of COVID-19 vaccines in March, about a year after the virus arrived on the island.  The World Health Organization tracks vaccine distribution on the island. WHO Dashboard for Jamaica

But while Jamaica’s vaccine blitz exceeded the government’s targets with hundreds of people being turned away from vaccine sites, Prime Minister Andrew Holness is still urging every Jamaican to take the vaccine. Prime Minister Holness has gone on record saying vaccinations are critical for reopening the economy. “What would happen to Jamaica if we are considered a country that has not yet reached the threshold of vaccinations to be the destination of travel that we once were?

Agriculture under the shadow of La Soufrière

A CIJN Special Report

On April 9, 2021, at exactly 8.41 a.m., St Vincent and the Grenadines entered a period in its history its population had hoped would never again occur – almost 42 years to the day since an April 13, 1979 event of similar magnitude, and over 100 years after the 1902 eruption of La Soufrière volcano that killed close to 1,700 people. La Soufrière is a conical volcano forming the highest peak in the northern third of the main island of St Vincent which covers 133 square miles with a population of around 110,000. The volcano has had five significant eruptions in 1718, 1812, 1902, 1979, and 2021. At the time of the most recent explosive events, the country had established itself as a sub-regional leader in the production of root crops and tubers, fruits, and vegetables, supplying nearby territories with regular shipments that earned significant national revenue. It had also considered a vibrant future in the cannabis industry with the establishment of a Medicinal Cannabis Authority.

Agriculture’s Unstable Future

 KINGSTOWN, St Vincent 

Leaning against the concrete wash sink in his yard, still wearing his farm attire, Lloyd Ballantyne considers the head of cabbage in his hand. “The crop wasn’t bad, but the Soufrière bad up the crop,” he mutters as he peels away the outer, ash-stained leaves to reveal the greenish white vegetable. “I just have to wash off that,” he continues as he places the vegetable under the tap and scrubs it gently with his hands. “Right. You see, this is ready to market now,” he says as he cuts off the stem with a deft move of his knife, his smile broadening, revealing a golden tooth.

Hope Amid the Food Fears

At the height of La Soufrière’s explosive events, there was muted elation in Trinidad and Tobago when an unlikely shipment of dasheen from St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) reached Port of Spain. 

Up to that point, production and export lines seemed to function despite the humanitarian crisis facing the archipelagic island state, following April’s eruption of La Soufrière, and continuing volcanic convulsions. However, experts have explained that the potential for a countrywide food shortage is growing rapidly and could affect the country’s food and nutrition security as well as their trading relationships with countries like Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, British Virgin Islands (BVI) and Grenada. 

Vincentian farmer and Chief Coordinator for the Eastern Caribbean Trading Agriculture and Development Organisation (ECTAD Caribbean), Jethro Greene, explained that due to the damage in the island’s Red Zone – lands closest to the volcano – production has been greatly reduced. 

Greene advised that the country would need to scale up production in the Green Zone – lands least affected by the ashfall – in order to offset the shortfall of food available locally as well as for export. 

“Most of the vegetables in Red and Orange Zone, over 90 % of the crop, has been destroyed because the ash fall was very heavy, in some places as high as four feet,” he said. 

“The roots, tubers, the mature ones would survive, we can still get a crop from them but the young ones, the leaves are damaged … so what you’re going to have is a chronic shortage of food in the next couple months.”

Greene went on to say that there will be a massive reduction in revenue over the next 18 months at least. “Until production comes back, until the volcano goes back to sleep, you are going to have a significant decrease in revenue for persons who are doing trading, a significant decrease for farmers who won’t have products to put onto the market,” he said. 

“We may get one or two shipments out before the price climbs up tremendously because of the shortage.” 

In terms of major trading partners, the bulk of agricultural trade from St Vincent and the Grenadines is conducted with Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago for products like ginger, sweet potatoes, coconuts, tannia, yam and dasheen. The country had also recently developed a successful livestock trade with Grenada. Lost revenue from these islands will amount to millions of dollars per week. 

Steve Maximay, an agricultural consultant who is currently based in Grenada and who has worked extensively within the St Vincent and the Grenadines’ agricultural sector, also outlined the “major setback” to the industry with the damage to medical cannabis grown on the island.