Sylvia Wynter – “A Dream Deferred: Will the Condemned Rasta Fari ever Return to Africa?”

Below is a duplication of an article by Sylvia Wynter, which I found in the UK National Archives, entitled: A Dream Deferred: Will the Condemned Rasta Fari ever Return to Africa?

I have tried to find this article reprinted elsewhere, but have failed. It was originally published in “Tropic”, October 1960, pp.50-51. So, just in case the article has not been reproduced elsewhere, I have typed it out below, as a resource for Wynter scholars.

Wynter wrote the article – presumably as a political commentary –  in the immediate aftermath of the Claudius Henry affair. During the final years of colonial rule in Jamaica, some members of the political elite began to worry that Cubans were manipulating Rastafari (which had effectively come down from the hills to increasingly taken prominence in Kingston) into a conduit for Communism. Claudius Henry, an outspoken repatriationist, had in fact written to the Cubans and was tried for treason. In 1960, Reynold Henry, Claudius’s son, took to the bush and killed some British soldiers. Reynold Henry was, along with his four accomplices, an ex-US marine.

In 1962, Wynter published the Hills of Hebron, which in her own words was probably written with Rastafari in the “back of my mind”. The themes introduced in the article reproduced below wonderfully demonstrate Wynter’s evolving critique of nationalism, race and class as well as her ethos of rehumanization. To my mind, this article is testament to the ways in which 20th century Caribbean scholarship of the highest caliber has so often been influenced by Rastafari in a subterranean or surface manner. Might there be a history of Caribbean thought that takes Rastafari seriously as the ground of critique?

In the article, Wynter obviously takes Rastafari seriously. This generosity, at the time, must have come at some cost to her reputation in Jamaican society. But her article also presents some problems in this regard – albeit problems I think that in good faith you would have to say were largely redressed in her intellectual evolution.

Wynter presents Rastafari as a “protest” religion. Such a description implies negativity, while Rastafari is principally a positivity. Rastafari is not even a ”counter-culture” as Dick Hebdige famously believed. If anything, Rastafari is a livity of justice, redemption and reconstruction –i.e. rehumanization. Wynter also describes the Rastafari ethics of repatriation as a “ridiculous hope”, and reduces the matter of reparation-as-repatriation to a technical consideration on migration policies. At the end of the article, Wynter also uses Rastafari as a rhetorical device by which to pitch political-economy concerns at the level of justice rather than of narrow interests. Yet in doing this, she reduces Rastafari culture, ethics and desires to blindness, confusion and inchoateness. In other words, Rastafari becomes a cypher for Wynter to talk about politics. There are no grounds for Rastafari politics, apparently.

One last factual point: Wynter claims that Claudius Henry is the recognized leader of Rastafari. This was not the case at the time nor since.


A Dream Deferred: Will the Condemned Rasta Fari ever Return to Africa?

The Rasta Fari sect in Jamaica is one of dispossessed men buried under tinsel layers of progress in this island society. A complacent middle-class dismisses them as dirty, bearded, ganga-smoking, illiterates, as men apart locked away in the fastnesses of their own ignorance. But the condemned Rasta Fari dreaming their steadfast dream of a return to Africa will not be dismissed. Recently they erupted into headline news as conspirators plotting to kill Prime Minister Manley, as terrorists hunted down by the Police and British soldiers. In one engagement two British soldiers were killed. The official line is that this violence must be stamped out, that it was instigated by a small group of American Negroes, aliens. No mention was made of the fact that the “Americans” are of Jamaican extraction. One of the men charged with the shooting of the soldiers is the son of Claudius Henry, leader of the Rasta Fari now awaiting trial on a charge of treason.

Catherine the Great once said, “when the people revolt I look for the reason in their rulers”, and this pocket-sized rebellion in Jamaica deserves analysis in this light. The Voodoo Priest, the Prophet, the leader of a sect have always been the forerunners of rebellion and political change in Caribbean society. There were Makandal and Boukman in Haiti, Bedward in Jamaica, Jordan in British Guiana, these are all men who arose out of the same tensions and frustrations of unjust social systems. They spoke for the men apart, the disinherited. After them the political movements, the new leaders arose. But the situation in Jamaica today is different – the rulers are not white but black and brown men. The skin colour of the rulers has changed but the social system that bred prophets, agitators and those blinded by the anger of their discontent remains intact.

The Church in the West Indies, whatever it might have been immediately after emancipation, is no longer a temple for the shirtless ones, for the middle-class has taken it over. The Rasta Fari religion like many of the cults of the dispossessed Negro is based on the concepts of a black God and a black Christ, it is a religion of protest. Boukman’s incantation to his followers on the eve of the Haitian revolution echoes in the hearts of the bearded men, the “Brother Men” of Jamaica:

.. the god of the white man inspires him to crime, but our god calls upon us to do good works .Our god who is good to us orders us to revenge our wrongs. He will direct our arms and aid us. Throw away the symbol of the god of the whites who has so often caused us to weep, and listen to the voice of liberty which speaks in the hearts of us all.

More specifically the Rasta Farites claim that Marcus Garvey was their most recent John the Baptist. According to a study done by the University College of the West Indies, the Rasta Farite movement began to take shape around 1930. It’s main centre is in Western Kingston, although since the survey was made the movement has spread to other areas of Jamaica. There are many groups, all with high sounding names: “The United Afro-West Indian Federation”; “The Ethiopian Coptic Faith”, ‘the African Cultural League”, etc. … The Different groups in principle recognize Claudius Henry, Repairer of the Breach, as their leader.

What are the Rasta Fari protesting against? The crypto-colonial regime in Jamaica? The miasma of borrowed beliefs by which the Jamaican middle-class lives? The half truths and the insensate follies of coloured men who have won the right to rule themselves but who have been conditioned to bow and scrape so long that they now do it unconsciously? All of these factors have a profound bearing on the Rasta Fari problem. While the government of Jamaica shuffles towards independence burdened by the appanage of colonial rule, the symbols of a recent past of servility and shame, will continue to fester in the hearts of the poor and the black.

In the “Agammenon” of Aeschylus it is written: “If the conquerors respect the Gods and Temples of the conquered they will be saved.” The Anglo-Saxons were not noted for their reverence for the gods and temples of the conquered; they desecrated and destroyed, and those who survived their depredations were fed on trans-Atlantic myths – the myths of white gods and white kings, of “all things white and beautiful”. But even the myths were exclusive, they were handed down to an elite, and in the West Indies, to a carbon-copy elite.

At the heart of the Rasta Fari discontent and violence is the need of a society in which the shirtless ones can see themselves winning the dignity they have never known in Jamaica. While the present rulers of Jamaica continue to plaster up sores without looking for the causes of the disease in the island’s bloodstream, the discontent will not only continue but will spread its infection.

It is rumoured that the Rastas turned against the Manley Government because they were encouraged to believe that if they helped, by votes and violence against the P.N.P.’s opponents, they would be assisted in their return to Africa. But certainly Mr Manley is far too astute a politician to have inspired such ridiculous hopes. A more constructive programme for a return to Africa would entail the establishment of technical training on a wide and comprehensive scale. One of Jamaica’s main exports are her citizens. The Government should have the integrity and foresight to ensure that its people emigrate to countries where they are wanted, that once they leave they should have skills which qualify them to contribute on the highest level to the well-being of their adopted country. The export of unskilled labour to countries white or black pays dividends only in frustration and bitterness in the long run.

The Rastas are inspired by dreams which are blind, inchoate, confused, but their dreams are big ones. It is well to remember that when Mr. Manley, in 1938 told a crowd of strikers that “half a loaf was better than none” the strikers shouted back, “We would rather die!”.

More on the Abyssinian general from Guyana

In a previous blog I looked at the impact of the Italian/Ethiopian war on the African peoples of Guyana.  I related an incident, in October 1935 – the month that Italy invaded Ethiopia – that was reported in 1936 during a hearing of those labour disputes that had rocked the colony. In Demerara, an oversee reported that he had discovered twenty strikers blocking a bridge to the fields. “One fellow laid down and said he was an Abyssinian General. He defied anybody to cross and said he meant to chop anyone who tried to do so.”

I think I’ve found more information on this general.

The Daily Chronicle (Guyana) reports on October 29th 1935 of a court case currently underway, where a group of labourers have been charged with disturbing the peace. They have organized over wage conditions at Pln. Farm, East Bank, Demerara. The charges against 28 labourers are of having entered the farm unlawfully on Oct 15, 1935 and having hindered farmers from exercising their lawful occupation, as well as two days later obstructing District Inspector Billyeald, a peace officer, and openly carried sticks with intent to cause alarm to the public.

The Inspector testifies that on the morning of the 17th, he met a 2-300 strong group of people about 2 miles from the public road, carrying sticks and crying phrases such as “beat all men’s who work today”. He came across perhaps the same crowd later in the morning, carrying sticks as well as two flags – a red and a black one – suspended at the end of bamboo poles. The crowd then settled under some sandbox trees for about 3 hours, with the Inspector and other police watching them.

One of the defendants, E. Barlow, the Inspector recognises as having previously been a policeman around 1923/24, but at this point was a labourer on the Pln.Farm estate. The Inspector reports that Barlow rose and shouted “leh ahwe mek talk”; the group then moved to some buildings across the road to converse in secret. Barlow subsequently reappeared and told the group to reconvene the next day, shouting “Come all you, my men. Come all you, Ras Tafari men, leh ahwe go home.”

The Italy/Ethiopia war is on the minds of the newspaper as well as the “rioters”. The reporter then describes one defendant in the dock, Ferdinand Browne as possessing a “shaggy head and bearded face [which] gave him the appearance of an Abyssinian”.

The Abyssinian general in the plantations of Demerera, leading his Ras Tafari men against the white plantocracy..  Oct 1935…



The many meanings of Haile Selassie I

In my last blog I bemoaned the return of the theatre adaptation of  Ryszard Kapuściński’s famous book The Emperor.

I criticized the portrait of Haile Selassie I in the book and the play, a portrait of a feudal gothic overlord that even Kapuściński later refuted.

I worried about the consistent artistic reduction of all things African to pathology.

I suggested that “perhaps the complexity of Haile Selassie I is the complexity of Ethiopia, is the complexity of Africa, is the complexity of the Third World, is the complexity of humanity.”

Here, below, are some of the meanings of Haile Selassie I that I know of, from various sources – living, theological, intellectual, political, archival – and many others..



Almighty I

I and I God and King

Black Redeemer

Black Messiah

Christ returned

Christ in his kingly character


Tafari Makonnen

Ras Tafari

Haile Selassie I

Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Or, “the Lion of Judah has Prevailed”)

King of Kings

Elect of God

Emperor of Ethiopia

Ababa Janhoy (father majesty)

His Imperial Majesty

H.I.M. (called by both members of the Rastafari faith and British diplomats)

Prince of Peace

Prester John

The “Catholic” (called by some in the Orthodox Church during his early reign to signify a dangerous harbinger of foreign influence)

God-fearing member of Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church

Defender of the Faith (officially titled by the Eastern Orthodox churches)

The diminutive but charismatic Emperor

First ruling resister of fascist aggression



Amhara overlord

From the minor Southern line of Shoa nobility

Inscrutable Amhara

Suspiciously Oromo by bloodlines and birthplace (Ejersa Goro)

Governor of the multi-faith Eastern city of Harar


225th descendent of King David

The African Frederick the Great

The African Machiaveli

Usurper of Menelik II’s lineage (Lij Iyasu)

Of the English Public Schoolboy disposition

First Emperor to insist on crowning of Empress on the same day

The modernizer

Great reformer

The Traditionalist



Feudal lord

Best dressed figure of the 20th century

American stooge


The Elder World Statesman

Father of Africa, first Chair of the OAU

Accomplished diplomat

Wise Counsellor, with the “wisdom of Solomon”








There is more to Ethiopia and Africa than Dog Piss

I write this blog as a response to the new production of a play  due to run at the Young Vic, London, based on Ryszard Kapuściński’s famous book The Emperor, about the final days of the reign of Haile Selassie I, emperor of Ethiopia.

The book was turned into a play in the late 80s. Salman Rushdie personally recalled the reception of the play:

Some years later, a stage production of The Emperor, put on in London at the Royal Court Theatre (an English adaptation of one of those mentioned by Ren Weschler), led to one of the most surrealist political demonstrations I have ever seen. (And I say this as someone whose work has occasionally led to protest; I’m something of a connoisseur of the form.) Outside of the Royal Court Theatre, in Sloane Square, there was a protest that only Kapuscinski could have conjured up. Half of the demonstrators wore extremely expensive suits and carried rather well printed placards and were members of the old Ethiopian monarchist party, which objected to his portrayal of Haile Selassie, because, after all, he had been their emperor. The other half of the demonstration were people in knitted hats and dreadlocks who were Rastafarians and thought of Haile Selassie as God and objected to the blasphemy of Ryszard’s portrayal. So you had on the one hand ganja-smoking Rastas and on the other the cigar-smoking Ethiopians. And I thought, this book must be doing something right.

Good for Salman.

I wonder, though, what did he actually know of Haile Selassie I, or Ethiopia, or of Rastafari?

Or did that not matter?

Was the spectacle sufficient in that it was abstractly amusing for its gothic mix?

But knowledge of things African has never been needed to judge things African.

Kapuściński, the famous Polish war correspondent of the Cold War certainly had vast experience in and of the African continent. Yet his book on Haile Selassie I is largely a fiction. It is a work of art. And people treat it as an actual biography. Kapuściński was never entirely honest as to the nature and purpose of his book, although it is true that he wrote it more as a poem on courtiers than he did on the reign of the Emperor. Still, he never stopped the overwhelminging majority of readers from reading it as a factual biography of Haile Selassie I.  It must have surprised many readers to learn of his positive assessment of His Majesty in his later years.

That being said, take  the book’s infamous first “report” from an informant in the royal court: it is about the Emperor’s little dog, Lulu, who was allowed to piss on the feet of dignitaries.

The amount of times I have heard this story repeated as fact. It is FICTION.  The only truth in the story is the existence of a dog called Lulu. Any amateur reader of Ethiopian society and culture would know that this would NEVER have happened. Just as unlikely as Queen Elizabeth II allowing her corgis to piss on the feet of dignitaries.

Yet the complex, dynamic, and CENTRAL part that Haile Selassie I played in Ethiopian, African and World History in the 20th century is reduced in the popular mindset to dog piss.

Well, that can’t stand. I want to bring it back to basics. I’m not interested in hagiographies of His Majesty, nor in “converting” people to the Rastafari faith.

All  I want you to do is consider, for one moment, that investigating the life of a leader from 1916 (when Haile Selassie took on the title of Ras Tafari) to 1974 (his overthrow by the Derg) – almost 60 years of rule…

…the life of one who entered Ethiopia into the League of Nations in 1923, who addressed both the League and The United Nations,  sought to abolish slavery AND PROVIDE MEANINGFUL REHABILITATION to the previously enslaved (unlike the European slaving powers), gave the African Diaspora supporters of Ethiopia a place of return to the continent, provided – on his own initiative – the first constitutions, a modern military, a general education system – for boys and girls, funded and built more mosques than any other Christian King I am aware of, launched legal battles against South Africa and more…

…one who also had to most definitely navigate with realpolitik the impossible waters of intra-Ethiopian political intrigues, intra-African imperial politics, inter-national imperial politics, cold war politics, inter-African postcolonial politics, the frictions and fractures of old and new political, tribal, religious and ethnic faultlines, etc etc…

…well, I want you just to consider that this life might be instructive of many of the things that make us human in every aspect, that’s all.

Perhaps the complexity of Haile Selassie I is the complexity of Ethiopia, is the complexity of Africa, is the complexity of the Third World, is the complexity of humanity.

Or is Haile Selassie I a pathological despot, Africa pathological despotism, the Third World a lost cause, humanity only for certain humans and not others?

One example of a different Ethiopia.

In 1943, 6000 Greek refugees, fleeing Nazism, crossed to Turkey and there, having made arrangements with the British government, were taken via the Sinai to Djibouti and also to Dire Dawa and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. After the liberation of Greece, most returned home, but some remained.

Today, that crisis is reversed, and people, as we know, flee the other way, to an impoverished and crumbling Greece.

In 1943, Ethiopia had barely recovered from the appalling and savage occupation of fascist Italy. It remained in the war. Yet still, Ethiopia welcomed the Greeks.


What of this smells of dog piss?

How many more stories of all types and interpretations litter 1916-1974?

I want to salute the late and great Ras Seymour McLean who tirelessly worked to present a different image of Ethiopia and Africans, one more befitting of equitable engagement. Here’s a dramatisation of his works; watch it in parallel to the BBC2 TV production of The Emperor.

I am aware of the present-day myriad struggles in Ethiopia. Still unfinished after all these years. I know it is extremely complex. I claim no expert knowledge, just an amateur’s commitment to understand better. I write this only for the humanity that Ethiopia has blessed the world with. That is our Rastafari tradition.




Rastafari Letters from the Mission to Africa

In April 1961, Rastafari members of the Mission to Africa passed through London.

In Notting Hill, on the day of leaving for Ethiopia, the Brethren wrote two letters, which I reproduce here:

“With all thy getting get understanding”
Vox Populi Vox Dei, I.N.R.I.
“The Just shall live by his faith”

The Rastafari Brethren of Jamaica
Apostles of the Negus
32 Adastra Rd
Kgn.2 Jam. W.I.

H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth II
Clarence House
London England

Her Royal Highness,

Peace and Love be unto thee, from we Rastafari Brethren passing through your boundaries.

We know your Highness of your ancestors Queen Elizabeth I, who gave John Hawkins a Royal Charter to develop his West India Trading Company through slavery, and her gracious majesty Queen Victoria, of whom you are a descendent, freed the Black People of this Western Hemisphere (brought here through slavery) from Chattel slavery.

We Rastafarian Brethren of Jamaica do earnestly and sincerely desire your Royal Highness, to follow in the footsteps of so illustrious an ancestor as he Great Queen Victoria (who freed the Blackman of this western hemisphere from chains), and free all Black People within your Commonwealth, from political, economical, and Religious slavery to which we are subjected in this present time.

We humbly thank the late King James of England, for handing down his authorized translated version of the Bible to Christianize and to civilize us.

From the love and study of the Bible, the history of man and the earth, as much as our mental faculties can exercise, Since Almighty God has placed no limitation upon man’s mental capacities! We have derived a true conception based upon the Divnitiy of character of Emperor Haile Selassie I, whom we Rastafari Brethren depict as the Living God, the Returned messiah, the Ancient of Days.

We know through the bible scriptural passages that Repatriation for we Black people to our ancestral borders are inevitable.

Biblical Proof of Rastafarian Conceptions

(1)Acts of Apos. chap 2. ver. 29-32 states: That of the fruits of David’s loins according to the flesh, God shall raise up Christ to sit on His throne.

Rev. chap 5 ver -5 “Weep Not! Behold! The Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root and the Offspring of David Hath Prevailed”.

Rev. 17 Ver 14 “He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

(2) Isiah ch.43 ver 5-7 “Fear not for I am with thee, I will bring thy seed from the East, and gather thee from the West, I will say unto the North give up, and to the South keep not back. Bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the arth.

Heb chap 11 ver -15 “And truly if they had been mindful of that country, from whence they came out, they might have opportunity to have returned.”

It is WRITTEN: Let the words of God be true and all men be liars

Historical Corroborations

1930: Prince Regent Dejatchmatch Rastafari Makonen of Ethiopia and Sheba was crowned as the King of Kings and Lords of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Davit (David well beloved of God).

17th century: There was mass slave trading by the European colonial powers, Portugal, Spain, Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, and others, who forcibly expatriated Black people from our ancestral Birthplace.

Charter of Human Rights

The U.N.O. Charter on Human Rights states: That any displaced people be repatriated to their respective borders should this be their desire. Therefore we the Descendants of Ethiopian (African) slaves, who were forcibly brought to this Western Hemisphere, do desire Repatriation to our ancestral and antecedents borders.

Motto of Rastafari Brethren

1) Passive resistance non violence. “I came not to destroy but to fulfill”.

2) Abstention from cutting the Hair, or marring the corners of Thy Beard Psm. 133

3) We know that Herbs (Ganja) was created for the service of Man, and grass for the cattle and animals, also for the Healing of the Nations. Gen.1

These conceptions your Highness, are basic Rastafari Principles and meditation, of which it was necessary to inform you.

We would write to you more but we do desire to meet you face to face ,to impart unto you, some spiritual gifts. May this letter please Thee your Highness. Our Peace we leave with tee not as this world giveth thee.

The Rastafari Brethren of Jamaica
32 Adastra Rd Kg. Jam, W.I.
14/April 1961

The Rt. Hon. Harold Macmillan
Prime Minister of Great Britain and United Kingdom
Chief Administrator of the British Empire

Greetings in Love and peace from we Rastafarian Brethren of Jamaica, passing through your country.

We pay Homage to Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II, descendant of the Great Queen Victoria who freed the Blackman in the Western Hemisphere from chattel slavery, and handed down the King James authorized version of the Bible, to civilize and to christianize us.

After a careful and detailed study of the Bible, and with our love for it, increasing daily, with the passage of time, we say let the words of God be true and all men be liars.

For 30 yrs. we have meditated, and closely followed the Bible scriptural passages, ever since 1930 when the whole world observed the Coronation of Prince Regent Dejatchmatch Rastafari Makonen, as Emperor Haile Selassie I King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God, Keeper of the faith of the Dynasty of Judah, 225th in line of the Solomonian Dynasty founded by King Solomon and Queen Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, DAVIT (David well beloved of God Lekena Denghel ( incence of the virgin).

Out of the study and Love of the Biblical texts, and scriptural passages, and the History of Man, we have derived a true concept based upon the DIVINITY of the Character of Emperor Haile Selassie I whom we Rastafari Brethren know to be the Living God, The Returned Messiah, the Ancient of Days.

Acts of apos. c2 v29-32 states that of the fruit of David’s loins according to the flesh, God shall raise up Christ to sit on His throne.

We Believe in abstention from cutting of the hair or marring the corners of thy Beard. Lev. 21 v 5-6 Num6 v6. ps.133.

We also know, Sir, that the Creation of Herbs (ganja) is for the service of man, and for the healing of the Nations. Almight God intended it so. Gen ch.1 v11-12 Ps.104 Rev.22

We know, sir, that every fig must return to its own vine and fig tree. Isiah 43 v 5-7 states – fear not for I am with thee, I will bring thy seed from the East, and gather thee from the West, I will say to the North give up and to the South keep not back, bring my sons from far, and my Daughters from the ends of the earth.

This is interpreted Hon. Sir, as Repatriation for us slave sons, whose ancestors were carried away captives – fulfilling the scriptures Ps. 137 v3. Therefore, sir, Repatriation is our Ancestral and antecedent borders are inevitable.

Chartered Proof

The U.N.O. charter on Human Rights states – that any displaced peoples, be repatriated to their respective borders should this be their desire (re. case Israeli). Therefore we the descendants of Ethiopian (African) slaves who were forcibly brought to this Western Hemisphere, do desire Repatriation to our Ancestral and antecedent borders Heb. ch.11 v 15,16 v.22

Fulfillment of Prophesy

In 1935 we saw the Italy aggression of Benito Mussolini against Ethiopia, while other European powers stood idle by, although Italy was condemned by the League of Nations.

The Emperor Haile Selassie I then appeared before the League of Nations and said “that God and History would remember their Judgments if they did not acknowledge these accomplished facts.” The Emperor said “you have struck the match in Ethiopia but it shall burn Europe”. These prophetic words come true in 1939. Hitler started a World War II.

In 1941 the Emperor re-entered Ethiopia, with the aid of Great Britain. Thus the scriptures fulfilled, They shall wage war with the lamb, and the lamb shall overcome them for He is King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. Rev.17

The above lines are a narrative of basic Rastafarian Principles and meditation.

History of Rases in Jamaica

Even before Hon. Marcus Garvey came on the scene there were Back-To-Africa movements going on in Jamaica (re. Bedward and Gordon).

In 1930 with the Coronation of Haile Selassie I the Rastafarian movements became active, depicting the Emperor as the Returned Messiah, and speaking of repatriation back-to-Africa.

We have been duly discriminated against, and prosecuted falsely because of our conceptions.

In 1959 a man named the Rev. Claudius Henry, who although of Jamaican birth was an American citizen came from America and started the African Reform Church.

He was subsequently arrested and charged for treason. His son Ronald also an American citizen by birth, and his friends came to Jamaica, armed, clashed with security forces, and was apprehended, but not before killing two pursuing British Hampshire Soldiers. They were subsequently hanged.

The News Headlines flashed discriminating remarks against we Rastafarians, although we knew none of the Henrys, neither did they know the Rases, they were not Rastafarians, yet we got the blame, although they received the punishments.

The U.C.W.I. then sent an investigation team to tour the Rases community, and a book of Research and recommendations was published by them, on the Rastafari movement in Jamaica.

The Premier of Jamaica, the Hon N.W. Manley Q.C. agreed in principle to the U.C.W.I. recommendation, he called in various delegations of Rases (of which we the Rases of Eastern and Central Kgn. were included) for interviews, and negotiated a fact finding Back-to-Africa mission of which we are delegates.

We the Rases of Eastern and Central Kgn. gave to the premier our agenda (enclosed with this letter) on the 10th Mar. 1961 workers employed by the West-Indies Home contractors at Harbour View Housing Project  Kgn. Jam. threatened strike action, because of the unfair dismissal of a worker, of the 600 workers 250 were Rases and sympathizers, all 200 were dismissed proving discrimination against we the Rases unnecessarily.

These incidents strengthen our faith in Rastafari movements, assuring us of no Justice in this Western Hemisphere, for our Love we are rewarded with hatred, and fought against without a cause, but we give ourselves unto prayers.

And let us not be weary in well doing Hon. Sir for in due season we shall reap if we faint not, as we have therefore opportunity let us do good unto all men especially unto them that are of the household of faith.

We would write to you more but we do desire a personal interview to meet you face to face to impart unto you some more spiritual gifts. Our peace we leave with thee, not as the world giveth thee.

We Remain faithfully
Filmore Alvaranga & Douglas Mack,
Rases of East & Cen. Kg.
Delegates on the Back to Africa Mission

for I am a Great King and my Name is Dreadful amongst the Heathens. Mal 1.v14 Selah

Back when Britain loved Rastafari

On 21st April 1966, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I touched down in Palisadoes airport, Kingston, Jamaica. Thousands thronged the airport, rushing over barriers and through police lines towards the plane as it came to a stop. Ethiopian banners, ites gold and green colours flew everywhere. Chanting of His Majesty’s name filled the air. Never before had such an event taken place in Jamaica.

But a similar event had in fact happened before – thirty years prior in London, UK. The people were different. As were the times.  Yet the personality and presence was the same…

. . . . . . . . . . .

…This is the text of the report by Sylvia Pankhurst in her New Times and Ethiopian News of the arrival of Haile Selassie I into Britain on June 5th 1936 on a misison to raise support against the Italian invasion and inaction of the League of Nations:

 A Right Royal British Welcome

In London at Waterloo station, a huge crowd thronged the station itself, and mustered outside. The Friends of Abyssinia, organized by the splendid activity of Mrs Napier and her helpers, made the welcome colourful by great scarlet banners of welcome and flags and armlets in the Ethiopian colours. Members of the public also spontaneously displayed home-made banners, hat-bands, button holes and badges. Young and old, even to the children, showed generous sympathy for the nation attacked by a cruel aggressor, and the man who has stood for world peace. In the crowded special enclosure on the platform were the dean of Winchester, Dr E.G. Selywny, Sir Norman Angell, Mr Vyvyan Adams MP, Miss Eleanor Rathbone MP, Sir George Paish, Mr Philip Noel-Baker, Lady Sprigge, Lady Bailey, members of the Indian Political Group in London, of the various African societies, and organizations, of coloured peoles, some of them in their own picturesque dress. When the train steamed in at last, masses of people had waited more than six hours. The greeting was tremendously enthusiastic and eager.

Mr O.C. Harvey, private secretary to Mr Eden entered the train to meet the Emperor and his party. Mr Spenser and Count von Rosen, Captian Brophil, and the expelled correspondent of The Times were greeted with smiles of recognition. The people in the special enclosure surged round the Emperor. Flowers were presented to the Princess Tsahai. Professor Jevons read the Address of the Abyssinia Society pledging itself to work till Ethiopia is restored in that freedom and peace essential to her happiness and prosperity.

The Abyssinian Association presented the following address:

Your Majesty,

We … beg leave to welcome your Majesty on arrival in Britain on behalf of all the members of the association. We sympathise deeply with your Majesty, your family, and your people in the terrible sufferings and misfortunes to which you and they have been subjected from the wanton and ruthless invasion of your country by the Italian armies. We are deeply grieved by the continuing miseries of the Ethiopian people.

We greatly admire the steadfastness and courage with which your majesty and your government have defended your country and the manner in which you have complied with your obligations to the League of Nations both before and after the commencement of hostilities, and we deplore the failure of the league so far to give your country the protection to which it was entitled.

We shall continue to work to the end that your country shall be restored to your majesty and to your people and that it shall enjoy in future that freedom and peace essential to its happiness and prosperity.

Harold Moody, League of Coloured Peoples

An address was also presented by the Pan African Federation, and there were present on the platform representatives of the International Friends of Ethiopia, the Gold Coast Aborigines Protection Society, the Negro Welfare Association, the British Guiana Association, the League of Coloured Peoples, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the Gold Coast Students Association, the Somalia Society, the Colonial Seamen’s Association and the Kikuyu Association of Kenya.

The emperor replied in Amharic, his address being translated by Mr Ephraim Medheu of his legation:

 I am deeply touched by the welcome which you have given me to-day at this most anxious time to me and the members of my family we must express our profound gratitude to you and to the British government, which has shown us its sympathy, and been of great comfort to us.

We feel that you share our sorrow for Ethiopia is the victim of a war which was forced upon her. We left Ethiopia because we wished to avoid more cruel bloodshed. We have done all that we could; but the aggressor poured gases upon our children and women, and all our people, and so we have come to appeal, to ask for judgment from Europe.

As all league members have the right to expect the discharge of obligations which are imposed upon the rest, we have no doubt that our appeal will meet with the response that it deserves.

We are deeply grateful to your association for all the help which it has given our cause and we cannot find words to express our gratitude for the sympathy extended to us by the public opinion of great Britain. May justice reign over the earth for always. May the British crown and people live for ever. We pray to god, long live the king.

Una Marson, famous Jamaican author, secretary to the Imperial Ethiopian legation during 1936

The Indians, the Africans from Kenya and elsewhere came up with their addresses of welcome, and the  New Times and Ethiopia News, on behalf of its contributors and staff, an address which has been illuminated by Philip Cole. Mrs Napier presented the beautiful colours, the vellum scroll was lettered in script, in the colours red, gold, and green, and decorated with the lion of Juddah and a sacred picture from the Kebra Negast, the glory of the kings of Ethiopia.

At the [Ethiopian] Legation a crowd so vast collected that the police barriers were broken. The Emperor from the Balcony thanked the people for their welcome and the Princess [Tsehai] spoke to them in English.

For days the BBC had broadcast the fascist versions of Italy rejoicing over her Ethiopian victories without a word on the Ethiopian side.  Britain’s great welcome broke down in a measure this boycott, but some foreign broadcasting stations, notably the Danish, gave much filler accounts of the British welcome than that of the BBC.

At the Emperor’s reception for diplomats and others in the Legation, at Prince’s gate, were the ambassadors of Argentina, and China, the Finnish, Nepalese, Iraqi, Persian and Uruguayan ministers, the charges d’affaires of Japan, Paraguay, Columbia and Egypt. Lord Cranborne, Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Mr Hore-Belisha, minister of transport, Mr Lloyd George MP, Captain V.A. Cazalet Mp, Sir Robert Gower MP, Commander Locker-Lampson, Lord Allen of Hurtwood, Prof Gilert Murray, Dr T. Drummond Shiles, General Evangeline Booth, Prof Stanley Jevons, Miss Eleanor Rathbone MP, Miss Sylvia Pankhurst and Mr Kryakas Mikhail, of the Nile Society, Mrs Napier and Mr R.C. Hawkin and Mr Herbert Morrison of the labour party.

In the drawing room, the Emperor, his sad eyes recalling the martyrdom of his country, with gentle simplicity, received the guests, supported by the young princess and her brothers, and the fine old warrior Ras Kassa, a figure of rugged loyalty and stoic courage.

Later, downstairs in the tea room, one saw Lord Cranborne representing the British Government, first in an animated conversation with the Emperor; then endeavouring to assure Sylvia Pankhurst and Mrs Napier that the national government really intends justice to Ethiopia, and that the return of Sir Samuel Hoare to the cabinet does not portend any lifting of sanctions or betrayal of the struggle to uphold Abyssinia and the covenant. One heard Mr Lloyd George asking to be presented to the emperor for whom he declared profound respect and admiration and then insisting vivaciously that Mr Eden would have Britain at his back and be the most popular man in the country if he clearly insisted on strong action to overthrow the Italian aggression, when the league assembly meets. Mr A.C. Hawkin, for many years secretary for the Eighty Club, replied with a challenge to Lloyd George himself “YOU can get the man’s country back for him!” One heard Eleanor Rathbone expressing the wish for a flash of the fire which made the old suffragette militancy, to stir the League.

. . . . . . . . . . .

H.I.M. arriving at Bath in aug 1936

Some issues of New Times and Ethiopian News later, Hazel Napier remembers the following during this reception:

“We will do our utmost for Ethiopia”, I said. The words were re-interpreted into Amharic. He answered in Amharic and then moved toward the window. Cheer after cheer arose from the waiting London crowd. They too, would do their utmost for Ethiopia. And yet…

Were those African delegations at Waterloo present outside the Legation? Waiting for the British establishment to invite their presence onto the guest list also?

The impact of the 1935 Italian/Ethiopian War in Guyana

Common knowledge has it that it was in Jamaica where the Rastafari faith was first and foremost proclaimed. This is true; however, this truth belies the wider impact of the Italian/Ethiopian war of 1935/6 on the Caribbean region, and especially on its peoples of African heritage. African peoples in Jamaica were not the only ones who, using their existing political and spiritual resources, saw in Emperor Haile Selassie I their king – and even, perhaps, their God. In this post, I will look at the impact of the Italian/Ethiopian war on the African peoples of Guyana, focusing mainly on the historical context, that is, the roots and routes of this impact. My information is garnered from secondary sources as well as original research in the UK National Archives.

Let us start with the Demerara uprising against slavery, starting in 1823 on a plantation belonging to the father of future British Prime Minister William Gladstone, and spreading subsequently to sixty other locations.  In the trials that followed the suppression of the uprising, great importance was placed upon the complicity of Rev John Smith who, having been sent by the London Missionary Society, proceeded to narrate to enslaved congregations the story of Moses, pharaoh, exile and liberation. It is most likely, however, that these African congregations took what they found useful from these sermons without being too enamored by the London Mission itself. After emancipation, churches expanded greatly amongst the new “free villages” but most were organized around a strict and formal British liturgy that marked its civilized distance from “primitive” superstition. This growth proceeded parallel to a re-embracing of African faiths by the emancipated masses who had fast become disillusioned when the laity supported planters despite their decreasing wages in the late 1840s.

Obeah – along with drumming and dancing – were regularly outlawed in Guyana during the nineteenth century. Special attention, in this respect, was given to the African faiths that focused upon the spiritual agency known as Water Mamma. And the most (in)famous of these was Comfa. In many West and Central African cosmologies, rivers are powerful places that intersect the human and spirit worlds. The (usually feminine) spirits of the waterways are therefore powerful agents of intercession. Comfa works in a non-dualistic universe where the material and spiritual, living and ancestors are related. There is, therefore, an emphasis on spiritual mediums that actively guide the living. Baptism is easily placed within these practices, especially due to the relationship between water and the Holy Spirit. Hence in the late nineteenth century many practitioners of Comfa also attended church,  and over time a number of Comfa articles of faith came to be justified through biblical narratives.

Into this context stepped the Jordanites. The history of this faith demonstrates how interconnected the Caribbean region was during colonial times, both economically and spiritually. Joseph Maclaren, was an Anglican Grenadian working in Trinidad in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Introduced by his friend Bhagwan Das to Hinduism Maclaren also underwent a “baptism by immersion”. One of his subsequent disciples, a Barbadian man called Bowen, migrated to Guyana and there undertook a proselytizing mission, baptizing members into his “church”.  One such member was Nathaniel Jordan, a cane field laborer from whom the faith derives its name. The Jordanite Baptist faith had already been prepared by Comfa and the popularity of Water Mama. Indeed, the Jordanites place great emphasis on full immersion baptism as well as spiritual mediumship for communicating with ancestors.

Upon Jordan’s passing, Elder James Klein picked up the leadership who was a member also of the Guyana chapter of Marcus Garvey’s UNIA. That there would be strong resonances between both groups (perhaps despite Garvey’s wishes) is not a surprise. Jordanites are adamant that God is Black and that Jesus had African ancestry, and this no doubt fitted the Ethiopian lens on God provided by Garvey. Indeed, both the Jordanites and Garveyites were seen by colonial authorities in the 1920s to be spreading the same seditious messages of “race hatred” against whites. Later, when the Italy/Ethiopia war began in October 1935, both organizations cooperated to agitate for Ethiopia’s defense. It was most probably the Jordanites and Garveyites who organized meetings to petition King George V for their members to be allowed to fight on behalf of Selassie I.

The Jordanites were not only strong in greater Georgetown but also along the east bank of Demerara, the rural area where, from October 1935 onwards, a series of uprisings commenced on plantations. As the Governor of Guiana noted at the time, while unrest amongst rural workers around cropping time was not unusual, in 1935 the low price of crops had combined with a “very strong sympathy which the blacks have for Abyssinia as against Italy”. This had led, reckoned the Governor, to a “new feature” whereby “combinations” of Black villagers had entered the estates and prevented mostly Indian laborers from working. The intensity of the uprisings led the Governor to approve the temporary enlistment of one hundred extra police. Additionally, the Governor requested all District Commissioners to relay the message to their local populations that Great Britain was doing its utmost to put a stop to the Italian invasion and that Black laborers could help by observing the law and keeping order. However, just one week later after this pronouncement rumors abounded that Italian doctors were poisoning black children in Georgetown and near East Coast Demerara. A similar episode had recently happened in Jamaica, and the Governor, judging the mood to be incendiary, requested a warship to patrol the coast.

A few episodes  from the rural uprisings in East Coast Demerara are of great interest to recount. In a report to the secretary of the Governor, the inspector-general of police testified that two overseers had been assaulted, compelled to carry red flags, and forced to march with strikers on the sugar estates. While rumors of communist infiltration always accompanied peasant uprisings in the 1930s Caribbean, this flag should not be confused with the hammer and sickle. For in the Comfa faith, red is the special color of Africa (as it is in a number of other African faith systems across the Caribbean). Another estate driver, providing evidence later at a labor disputes commission, recounted how a field laborer had tried to force him to perform an “African war dance” as drums were played. And in another incident, the overseer discovered that twenty strikers were blocking a bridge to the fields. “One fellow laid down and said he was an Abyssinian General. He defied anybody to cross and said he meant to chop anyone who tried to do so.” The Chair of the commission asked the driver what he supposed was to gain from these actions; the overseer replied “I suppose they thought that with the Abyssinia war on they would have a war too; in fact, that is what some of them said.”

The evidence is tantalizing. Some Africans in Guyana were, through their own spiritual and political resources, sighting the Emperor of Ethiopia as their living King and were prepared to fight for Him. Their faith systems confirmed that God was Black. Was Selassie I their King and God? Rastafari, as a faith, developed most keenly (and with most suffering) in Jamaica. Yet this does not rule out the deeper possibility that Rastafari is latent in the whole African trod out of slavery. And just waiting to emerge, in unlikely places, given the right conditions.

A Global Story of Psalms 68:31

Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God

Psalms 68:31 is part of the global story of colonialism, enslavement, the “civilizing mission” and self-liberation.

We can pick up the story with the King James version of the Bible, translated into the vernacular in 1611. At this time it is practice to denote things African through the name Aethiops. More than just a polity south of Egypt, Ethiopia also encompasses Black Africa as a whole. By 1773, catechisms are being developed around Psalm 68:31 that directly address African enslavement in the Americas and the prospects of abolition, emancipation and liberation.

There are two key interpretations. One, cultivated by white abolitionists and subsequently used by Europeans who embark upon an African “civilizing mission”, holds that it is they – white/Europeans – who are God’s children. Hence, it is white/Europeans to whom Ethiopia is stretching for her hands for deliverance from slavery and primitivism. The other, cultivated by the enslaved and their downpressed descendants, holds that the Bible is their story –  the “half never told“. Africans will therefore righteously deliver their own selves from bondage.

The first catechism appears as early as 1773 in the letters of Anthony Benezet, a French-born Quaker living in North America. Scouring through the Bible to find  divine authority for the abolitionist cause, Benezet notes: “beloved friend, the passage we are seeking for is Psalms 68, 31.”; and “the people called Ethiopians are definitely African negros due to Jeremiah 13,23 – “can the Ethiopian change his skin?”. Abolitionists – especially British ones – are most concerned that the enslavement practised by white and European “Christians” would denigrate their status as the most civilized amongst humanity. By Benezet’s time, it is already a belief amongst the intellectual caste of  white/Europeans that they are the people chosen by God to express his Providence, through commerce and colonisation.

By the turn of the 20th century,
three European powers – Britain, France and Italy – encircle the last remaining independent African polity, Ethiopia. Partially in response, Crown Prince Ras Tafari engineers the admittance of Ethiopia to the League of Nations in 1923. Ras Tafari reasons that the League had been set up by European powers to promote their collective security and therefore Ethiopia is best positioned under this protective covering of so-called “civilized” nations. In October 1935, however, Italy invades Ethiopia, and the main powers of the League do little to stop it.

Around this point in time, the British based Missionary Service Bureau and Ethiopian Prayer League issue a pamphlet decrying the invasion. A forward, written by Brigadier-General F.D. Frost, entreats the reader: “Ethiopia … is stretching out her hands unto god. Will his people come to her aid headless of personal sacrifice or inconvenience…?” This principled support of Ethiopia should be acknowledged. However, the “God’s people” that the Brigadier-General entreats are not Ethiopians but white/Europeans. Therefore this catechism of Psalms 68:31 still promotes a “civilizing mission” to Africa. The Brigadier’s question is, how to accomplish this colonial mission if God’s “chosen people” are not acting civilized?

The second catechism emerges out of the “invisible institutions” of the enslaved, that is, the faith circles on North American plantations.  Africans bring with them to the Americas their cosmologies, faiths, philosophies and practices. Key in the re-combination of these elements in American captivity is the crossroads, the site of intersection between the sublime and profane, the living and the spirits/ancestors, and the lands of the dead (Americas) and the lands of the living (Guinea) that are separated by a veil of water.

When Methodist and especially Baptist preachers reach the North American enslaved in the latter part of the 18th century, aspects of their Christian worship resonate with what the enslaved  already know to be powerful from their own faith systems: e.g. a sanctified renewal through water, an active relationship between the spirits and the living (holy ghost), and the communication of  sublime knowledge  (Pentacostal). What is more, the Christian cross of suffering (so beloved by the slavemasters) can be used to smuggle the African crossroads of collective healing (so demonized by the slavemasters) out into the world to quicken the liberation of the enslaved. The Bible itself can be used to  tell their story – the “half never told”. Psalms become African redemption songs.

By the early part of the 19th century various mystics, poets and preachers begin to proselytize this message in public. Prince Hall, a Barbadian freemason, resident in Boston, proclaims that the Haitian Revolution is prophecy revealed: “Thus doth Ethiopia begin to stretch forth her hand, from a sink of slavery to freedom and equality.”  Around the same time as Hall, Robert Alexander Young issues an Ethiopian Manifesto, proclaiming that “surely hath the cries of the black, a most persecuted people, ascended to my throne and craved my mercy; now, behold! I will stretch forth mine hand and gather them to the palm, that they become unto me a people, and I unto them their God … Watch out slaveholder, your hour draweth nigh”! True, JAH does much stretching forth of hands in the Old Testament; however, Psalms 68:31 places the divine relationship firmly in the hands of Ethiopians. For Young, though, this Ethiopian supremacy is predicated upon the rectification of injustice. It is not, therefore, a prejudice to the sanctity of  other peoples: “peace and liberty to the Ethiopian first, as also all other grades of men, is the invocation we offer to the throne of God”.

David Walker – Methodist and Freemason – publishes an Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World that circulates widely in the South and is at least partly responsible for a number of insurrections.   The Appeal is a response to Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia that extol the goodness of its society at the same time as justifying slavery on the basis of natural inequalities. Here is Walker: “…though our cruel oppressors and murderers, may (if possible) treat us more cruel, as Pharaoh did the children of Israel, yet the God of the Ethiopians, has been pleased to hear our moans in consequence of oppression; and the day of our redemption from abject wretchedness draweth near, when we shall be enabled, in the most extended sense of the word, to stretch forth our hands to the LORD our GOD, but there must be a willingness on our part”

 In 1890, WEB Dubois, famed African-American sociologist foretells  in his commencement oration at Harvard University, of a better world emerging from the struggle between strong and submissive men. In this respect, he tells the (white) audience “you owe a debt to humanity for this Ethiopia of the Outstreched Arm”. Around the same time, Edward Blyden, Pan-Africanist and preacher from St Thomas and emigrant to Liberia, writes a book on Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race. Like Dubois, Blyden points out the same debt with a chapter entitled: “Ethiopia Stretching Out Her Hands Unto God; or, Africa’s Service to the World

Come the early 20th century, Psalms 68:31 is the most popular text for sermons preached at meetings of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. Indeed, Psalms 68:31 has an official UNIA catechism: “that Negroes will set up their own government in Africa with rulers of their own race.” This is a meaning that is diametrically opposed to that provided by the white/European abolitionists catechism of Psalms 68:31 – that primitive Africans will be saved and sanctified by white/Europeans. By the time of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, one Mrs Satira Earle, a Jamaican active member of the UNIA writes: “the year 1935 was the commencing with Ethiopia stretching forth her hands unto god and not unto Europe as they think.” After 1936, due to various personal and political reasons Garvey begins to criticize Selassie I, and soon after the criticism turns vitriolic. Nevertheless, Garvey will still hold the line that: “probably it is through Italy in Abyssinia that Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hands unto god and princes shall come out of Egypt”.

In 1935 Hon Leonard Howell publishes the Promised Key. The Jamaican, writing under his pseudoynm, Gong Guru Maragh, tells of the coronation of Selassie I in 1930. He imagines that the sceptre that had previously been stolen by the British but now returned at the coronation by the Duke of Gloucester, has inscribed on one side: Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hands unto God. From 1935 to 1937 almost the whole of the Anglo Caribbean erupts in strikes, riots, and uprisings. The causes are long simmering; however, the catalyst is the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Across the region people identify personally and/or politically with Ethiopia. And it is not just Howell that sights Selassie I as king – various people have a similar vision all over the region. In 1937 a Barbadian strike leader and UNIA affiliate Ulric Mcdonald Grant, is charged with sedition. A sergeant of police gives testimony concerning one speech made by Grant: “He next referred to Garvey, who he said, is a wonderful man. We have got to concentrate universally. Remember your mother country which is Africa. In conclusion he said that Ethiopia was stretching forth her hands and princes shall come out of Egypt”.

There is one more part to this story. It knits together the other two so that a third Pan-African space of human redemption comes into view: the “8th continent”, to quote my friend Mamma D.; the “continent of Black Consciousness”, to quote Erna Brodber. In 1937 Selassie I directs his personal physician, Dr. Malaku E. Bayen, to set up an Ethiopian World Federation that might unify the efforts of Africans in the Diaspora to defend Ethiopia. The slogan of The Voice of Ethiopia, the official EWF publication, is Ethiopia is Stretching Forth Her Hands Unto God. In occupied Ethiopia, and as part of the resistance, daily services of the Orthodox Church renounce the Italian invasion; the passages recited to this effect include Psalms 68:31.  When Selassie I re-enters Addis Ababa on May 5th 1941 alongside Commonwealth troops he proclaims: “today is a day on which Ethiopia is stretching her hands to God in joy and thankfulness.” From 1948 Selassie I starts to gift 500 acres of Crown land at Shashamene, under the auspices of the EWF, to those in the Diaspora who might wish to return.

Princes and princesses shall come out of Egypt; Ithiopia shall soon stretch forth her hands unto JAH! The question is, what catechism do we wish to apply to Psalms 68:31 in the present day?