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.


About Caribbean Ponzis and Pyramids

There has been strong criticism in some circles over the use by pyramids and Ponzi schemes of monikers attached to longstanding traditional, informal savings associations that operate legally. 

Names such as “Sou Sou”, “Box Hand” and “Partners” are now widely employed in the marketing of unlawful Ponzi and pyramid operations. A sou-sou (also “susu”) is a type of informal savings club involving a small group of people within communities, families and workplaces who make contributions to a common fund with rotating disbursements of the pool of funds to members of the group. The concept is said to originate in West Africa and is in evidence throughout the Caribbean. In countries such as Antigua and Barbuda and Guyana, it is also known as “Box Hand”. “Partner” (also “Paadna”) plans are based on the same system and is popular in Jamaica.


COVID in the Caribbean

CIJN writers fanned out across the region–Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica, British Virgin Islands,– to show how people in Caribbean nations were battling the coronavirus, fighting for their lives and economic survival.

No borders can repel COVID-19. When 52-year-old Ratna Baboolall left her home in Queens, N.Y. for a trip to her native Guyana, she unknowingly carried the virus to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, where she was in transit to her village 15 minutes from Georgetown, the Guyanese capital. Before she died of the virus, she had sickened at least eight relatives, including her 59-year-old husband Ramnauth Baboolall, her two sons, two sisters, one niece, her son-in-law and one of her granddaughters. CIJN reporters tell the story of Guyana’s Patient Zero. In separate reports, they detail how, thanks to the virus, the people of Guyana have had to postpone their hopes that newfound oil riches would improve their standard of living and help Guyana shed its status as one of the poorest countries in South America. Many businesses, which had hoped to boom, are now shuttered temporarily or for good.

Caribbean people are known for their resilience and creativity. Those two traits are on display throughout the islands. If your island is heavily dependent on people from around the world getting on planes to vacation in your tropical paradise, what are your options when airplane traffic has ground to a halt. If you’re Bajan Prime Minister Mia Mottley, you develop a plan to invite tele-commuters, or work-at-home employees, to work from Barbados for the next year. Her pitch: why work in the United States, Europe and Latin America when you can work in the tropical breezes in the birthplace of Rihanna.

The people of the British Virgin Islands owe their survival to their own resilience. As they battle encroachment of the coronavirus, they are also preparing for the hurricane season–with the scars of recent deadly hurricanes fresh in their memories. Their big dilemma: how to practice social distancing if you are stuck in a hurricane shelter with hundreds of huddled hurricane victims.

In the BVI, Filipino expatriate workers have had to rely on bayanihan, their national spirit of kindness, work and cooperation to make the best of job losses and their diminishing options.