Rastaman Vibration

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From my Archive


Rastafarians enjoy a bad press, at least in Ghana. Mention the word ‘Rasta’ and images of a hemp-addicted, dope-peddling pimp, a never-do-well-weirdo dance in the head of the average Ghanaian. Yet, surprisingly, while the natural ‘Natty Dreads’ are scorned, Ghanaian ladies, borrowing from their ancient Egyptian sisterens, continue to plait their hair in Rasta styles. It is also not uncommon to see young Ghanaians acknowledging the presence of a dread-locked Rasta with ‘One-Love,’ ‘Peace,’ etc. What do the Rastafarians think of their image? I journeyed up the mountains, to a Rasta commune, and chatted with Kwame Oduro.

Born Kingsley Elliot at St. Ann, Jamaica, Kwame emigrated to Ghana one point six decades ago with his queen – Rastas call their wives ‘Queen.’ He discarded his slave name, got a piece of land, started farming and, together with other dreads, started a carving business. Built like Peter Tosh, he was a tall, almost gangling, heavy-set man, with a robust African head. His dread, ankle length was as thick as a young man’s arm. A giant, unlit spliff dangle on his mouth, another hung on his earlobe. His stares were steady and penetrating as though he could see through the bone marrow. A small ghetto- blaster, with its detachable speakers, latched to poles and tuned to the highest decibel, sang Peter Tosh’s International Anthem for Marijuana’s smokers: ‘Legalize It.’

While other brothers toil away carving beautiful African masterpieces, Kwame took me under a Mango tree and chat me up while his ‘Queen,’ a smiling beauty with the demeanor of a well-bred African lady provided us with eateries. Kwame, like most Rastafarians, uses a lot of patois and his Caribbean accent was not the easiest thing to follow. For the benefits of readers, unaccustomed to Rasta-speak, I shall try and approximate his meanings. In deference to the sensitivity of the humor-impaired, I leave out much of Kwame’s sarcastic outburst.

“Can you briefly tell me what Rastafarian is all about?”

Briefly had no meaning for Kwame Oduro. He spent the next twenty or so minutes telling me the history, philosophy and what have you about the Rastas. Kwame strikes the picture of a man who has got plenty to say. Well-poised and articulate, it soon became apparent that I have met a well-read, well-informed even if opinionated Rastafarian. He chatted with effortless ease on various subjects, marshaling facts and figures with the confidence of a well-learned person.

On why he thinks Rastafarians have such a bad image, Kwame retorted, rather too sharply: “That is our greatest problem in Africa. We Africans are the most negative people on earth. Centuries of slavery and colonial brutalizations have damaged our psyches. If I and I want to sound pessimistic, I’d say that we’re a people beyond redemption. But Jah lives so that his people might be saved. Ask your average person what he got against Rastafarians, all they can tell you is that we smoke marijuana. Is that all there is to us? They don’t care to know or to find out what Rastafarian is all about. The same guys\gals are admiring Europeans and Americans. If we’re condemned for smoking, Euro-Americans should be condemned for all their drug problems. No, anything the Whiteman do is glamorize. A white junkie is OK; Only an African who smoke should be put to the gallows. You also have those who are put off simply by a dread. This is silly. Every African is a dread; a Rastafarian from creation. We are natural dread people. Stop taking a comb or hot pans to your head, you get Rasta just like I and I. See what I mean! What is in a man’s head is more important to I and I than what he looks like. It is better to sit down with a man, talk to him and find out what is in his head before you paint a picture of him. Only the fool judge by appearance alone and Jah says, ‘Judge Not.’ Yeah, man!

The Rastas believed the late Emperor Haile Selassie a god-re-incarnate. I asked Kwame to explain why a despot who kept his folks in virtual serfdom is revered. He didn’t seem to like either my tone or the question or both. “That’s still part of the problem. Every religious hero are simply symbols, only Jah is pure. Why should Rasta be different? The Christians have their prophet, Jesus. He came in human flesh and had his short-comings, some even question his qualifications. The Mohamedans have their Prophet, Mohammed. Selassie I is our symbol. Many people never overstand (Rastas don’t use understand), you see. Ethiopia represents to Africans in the Diaspora our resistance to European world domination. Ethiopia was the only uncolonized African land, so for us, it became a symbol. Ethiopia’s leader, naturally, become our leader, you see. The Catholic Popes committed unspeakable atrocities against Africans, yet we do not see them being called names.

“Many people do not know their history, a great tragedy for an oppressed, suppressed, maligned and marginalised people like us. A people without a knowledge of their history, a great mind said, is like a tree without roots. Until we are able to anchor ourselves firmly to our roots, our history, we will continue to grope in the dark. We will continue to be marginalised and abused until we start to know our own STORY, instead of studying European HIS STORY. Yeah, man. As I was saying, contrary to what the detractors and the hypocrites are saying, Jah is alive, man. Selassie isn’t Jah. You don’t equate the two, no, man. Jesus had his failings and Mohammed had his faults, we do not see the Moslem and Christian brothers concentrating on the negatives alone. They believe in their prophets. It is not only in the spiritual\religious realm you find us negative. We are the only people without heroes. We are the only people who worship other people’s heroes. Why, because we only look for faults in our leaders.

Kwame Nkrumah is remembered only for the corruption in his government. No one talks about the great things the great man did. No one remembers his great visions. This is sad, man. They are doing it to us and we are doing it to ourselves. The BBC made a documentary on the great man and almost all was about the alleged corruption in his government. There was hardly a mention of all the infrastructures that were laid. We find our elite quoting Abraham Lincoln, none of them can remember anything said by Nkrumah. Other societies would have declared Kwame Nkrumah a patron saint a long time ago. His grave would have become a hallowed shrine.

“Russia tottered from communism to capitalism, yet Lenin remains a revered Russian hero. Chinese continue to worship Mao long after they moved away from rigid communism to experimental capitalism. Many Africans remember Mosiah Marcus Garvey only as an ill-educated ex-convict. That was the greatest man Africa produced this century. Yeah, man. He built an African organization unmatched before or since his time. Garvey was rail-roaded when he became too powerful for the imperial ambitions of Euro-Americans. Ask any of our so-called educated elite about Cheikh Anta Diop and few, if any, will be able to tell you about the world’s greatest historian. That was a multi-discipline genius who single-handedly re-wrote the history of the world. It was Anta Diop who rescued Africa from historical obscurity and re-constructed our history, linking it to ancient Egypt. Yet, the BBC would wish us to believe that African history begins and ends with Basil Davidson or Oliver Fage.

“Too much self-hatred in our community. The only thing the oppressor is doing is to keep stoking the fire. Four decades after our liberation, English Literature is still part of our curriculum while African Literature is occupying a peripheral place. Why should our children be made to cram their heads with the works of Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare and other English writers while they are not exposed to the works of James Ngugi, Chinua Achebe, Camara Laye, and Ferdinand Oyono? We are the only people who want our heroes to be perfect. British, whatever their political, economic or social persuasions believed Churchill great and lionized him. We know about the old man fondness for booze. Abraham Lincoln once sold a Black man for a bottle of Molasses – a drink. Aside from Jesus Christ, Lincoln had more books written about him than any other historical personality. The French worship Charles de Gaulle. All these people recognize and worship their heroes, not minding their human failings. Who are our heroes? None, if you ask me. We always managed to pull our leaders down, cast them into disrepute and then look for a foreign one to adore and worship. This is among our greatest tragedies! We continue to build and maintain monuments to our oppressors while neglecting our true heroes. Why do we continue to have streets named after our colonial\imperial oppressors?” ‘The time has come for the Blackman to forget and cast behind him his hero worship and adoration of other races, and to start out immediately to create and emulate heroes of his own. We must canonize our own saints, create our own martyrs, and elevate to the position of fame and honor Black men and women who have made their distinct contribution to our racial history.’ – Marcus Garvey.

On African intellectuals and elite, Kwame was downright dismissive. “Our intellectuals are only looking for recognition; they are looking for European stamp of approval.” At least, most of them are. What is the point of waving a Ph.D. if you cannot produce original thoughts? You read the papers with folks brandishing arm-long paper credentials. They feel stamping a Ph.D. on a paper makes it more lucid, more thoughtful. If you produce shit and stamp it with all the degrees in the world, it will remain a shit, pardon my scatological terms. See what I mean. Folks sentence their brains into exile and compose sterile arguments and stamp it with degrees thinking that will give it substance. No, man. Our intellectuals are not interested in us. They are more interested in what the Europeans think of them. What is the use of having Agricultural professors who cannot produce food for us? We are too poor to waste our scarce resources producing theoretical junks. We don’t need to waste our time producing graduates who know all the theories about Jet Engines, Turbo Engines when they cannot even produce bicycles for us. A lot of our folks are still using manpower to push their carts around – our engineers should able to figure out how to take the toil out of the job. Then, we’re talking engineering; we are talking about basic technology. Above all, almost all out elite are culturally dead. The farther they moved away from their African root, the more they feel fulfilled. Of course, the more they are alienated from their African root, the more the Europeans like and accept them. The more they pile them with accolades. How many Africans can read and understand Wole Soyinka? Yet, they threw a Nobel at him for writing Euro junks. Any African school child can relax with an Achebe’s book or Ngugi’s book, but because the two are too conscious to sell their souls, no one gives them medals. That’s all the great man, Garvey, tried to do. We should start creating our own Nobel Academies, our own Academy Awards, and our own Oscars, giving honors to those genuine heroes of our race. The alternative is that our folks will keep looking for a stamp of approval from the oppressors.

Kwame came into his elements when I asked him to talk about Africa. He waxed sentimental, eloquent, lyrical and sometimes poetical. “Africa, Mother Africa!” He versified, beamed and fingered his populous brow. “It is as though Mama Africa meant more to those of us in the Diaspora than our continental brothers and sisters. Truth in the saying that you don’t appreciate what you got until you’ve lost it. Africa is not appreciated by Africans. Very true and very sad, indeed. Distressingly sad. Africa, the natural home of Man. There is no place for the Black man except in Africa. A Black man will never feel at home anywhere outside Africa. Nowhere is a Black manfully accepted except in Africa. See, you can have all the millions of dollars in this world, outside of Africa, you just another ‘dirty nigger.’ Brother Jackson in a desperate move to flee from himself took a knife to his nose, whitened his skin, they cussed him out. Brother Soyinka wrote the mightiest English the world had ever seen and got a Nobel for his troubles, he was frisked like a common criminal by US Immigration. Brother OJ thought he had friends when he flees to the white neighborhood, they cussed him out. We don’t appreciate Africa and we don’t appreciate ourselves. Let’s put that on the centuries of colonial and imperial domination. It is sad, brother.

“What I find particularly nauseating is that this trend is more pronounced in Ghana than in other African states. Ghana was at the forefront of African liberation, yet you find in Ghana the most un-liberated, most unconscious Africans. Yeah, man. I’ve traveled far and wide in the motherland, man. In Togo, Senegal, Nigeria, you find very proud Africans. Some are even excessively proud to the point of snobbishness. They bear their names and proudly speak their languages. In Ghana, people would rather die than bear Ghanaian name. They tell you that they are Christians. Ask them to tell you where in the Holy Books they find Florence, Elizabeth, Rita, Patience, Eugenia, Patrick, Godwin, Anthony, McClapperton, they cannot. They are confusing European cultural imperialism with Christianity. How on earth could anyone, even those with hearing impairment, think that Beatrice sounds better than Kwabena or Ama or Dela? That reminds me of what I observed in Senegal and some parts of Nigeria. A white man will come up, you know the haughty, almost colonial way they carry themselves and ask a question. The ordinary Senegalese will simply reply that he speaks only Wolof and will advise that the man should learn to speak it. The Hausas in Northern Nigeria will simply say, ‘Ba Turenchi,’ – ‘I don’t understand English,’ period.

“Imagine the insults. I cannot imagine myself going into an English village and asking directions in Twi. Many white people have stayed several decades in Africa and will not condescend themselves into learning African languages. After a month or two in any European country, you’ll be asked why you don’t speak the language. Time for African governments to wake up. The insults have gone on for far too long. No one should be allowed to stay in our land who will look down upon us. No one should be allowed to stay for a stretch of time, who will not speak our language. The Europeans are doing it. In most European countries, you don’t get a citizenship until you’re able to speak the language perfectly among the other hurdles they put in your way. We should be accepted the way we are. We are the most fair-minded people on earth, this is for sure. There is no part of the world where foreigners are made to feel as welcomed as we do in Africa. No, man. We would rather starve than allow a stranger to go hungry. That’s fine. It’s nice to be nice. But, only but if your efforts are appreciated. You don’t give away your food to someone who will think that you’re being generous only because you don’t understand modern economics.

“It is high time we put our feet down and refuse to be considered anything but human- beings. Yeah, man. We should stop accepting to play second-fiddle to anyone. When you make it out that a subordinate position is good enough for you, someone is bound to play the super-ordinate. That is the first rule of human relationship. No one will treat you like an unequal without your consent. It is time we stop accepting nonsense because some people pretend that they’re ‘dashing’ us money.”

Talking about righteousness, I asked what Kwame think of the drug-peddling, pimping Rastafarians one encounters on the streets of Accra. Without raising his voice he expatiated, “There’s no religion without its false prophets, Rasta cannot be an exception. The Holy Book says that a lot of them, false prophets, will materialize at the end of time. Wearing a dread does not a Rasta make. Many wear dread just because they think that it is fashionable. A true Rasta doesn’t have such materialistic conception of his dread. It is, for us, cultural. A symbol of our identity, our African identity. Yeah, man, I see dem so-called Rastafarians chase skirts the whole day, drink themselves into stupor and babble away patois only to impress the girls. True Rastas are righteous people. We do not whore around. We have our ethics and our moral standards and principles. We do not touch a lot of unhealthy things. But the same way some people join a church because they want beautiful women or because they like the music, you have people grow dread and masquerade as Rastas. They have their reasons. Maybe it gives them better access to the girls, I don’t know. But we should stop confusing the waves for the ocean.”

Kwame laughed off my suggestion that he hates white people. “As a Rasta, I cannot hate any Jah creation. A true Rasta cannot hate. As an African, I cannot hate white people simply because they are our babies. White men are our babies. No righteous one hates his own child. Before he became a white man, the white man was a Black man. This is what is not known by Euro-American racist hate-mongers. According to the scientific evidence at our disposal today, in every human vein flows an African blood. The Monogenetic Theory of Human Evolution has triumphed over the ideologically- motivated Polygenetic Theory. In a non-technical term, what this means is that all of humanity sprang from one root – African root. Africans are the only original people in the world. Call yourself White, Yellow, Brown or whatever, you’re a Black man before you became anything. If this sounds incredible, we can only blame it on the amount of ignorance circulating in the system. When Anta Diop postulated this Theory, he was laughed off. Now, no serious scientist challenge it. No, we Rastas don’t hate. You got to overstand that it is all part of the game.

“Whenever and wherever Black people gather to talk about themselves, the first and only question the white people are interested in is ‘Do you hate white people.’ I don’t see how talking and analyzing our problems could be misconstrued to hating white or yellow people. We have been indoctrinated into thinking of ourselves as appendages. We are too sensitive to other people’s feelings. That is bad. Yeah, man. We have to be able to organize ourselves without burdening ourselves about what anyone thinks of us. You are free only when you can think, write and speak what you want without encumbering your thoughts about people think about you. I am not in this world to win a popularity contest. The great man, Garvey himself, once said, ‘What do I care about death in the cause of the redemption of Africa?. So we want you to realise that life is not worth its salt except you can live it for some purpose. And the noblest purpose for which to live is the emancipation of a race and the emancipation of posterity.’

Kwame explained why he thinks that Black people cannot be racist thus: “We’ve got to make a distinction between racism and racial prejudice. I am a proud African. I agree that that can make me racially-prejudiced. Racism is the feeling of racial superiority. It is the idea that you are better than someone and that your way of life is superior to all others. No African that I know, myself included, ever feel him\herself racially superior to any other race. No African that I know ever entertained such notions, not even the most radical of us. All we do is try to proclaim our humanity which the oppressors are doing their very best to deny. Whenever we proclaim self-love for Africans, European ideologists smell trouble and say that we’re practicing reverse-racism. Europeans, Arabs, the Asians are all practicing self-love and a doctrine of Race-First. Yet, we do not see anyone accusing them of preaching racial hatred or practicing racism or any ‘ism’ . On any trouble-spot in the world, the concern of every white government is to get every single white person out. They will move heaven and earth to ensure that every white person, irrespective of nationality or ideological persuasion is moved out. No one is accusing them of racism. Some folks get defensive when you throw this accusation at them. I suffer from no such affliction. I am prepared to lay African track record side-by-side any other region of the world. I am prepared to match my society’s treatment of foreigners against anyone’s else. Any European, Arab or Asian is welcomed to pick up the challenge. Period.”

Kwame touched the subject of the importance of history, especially for Africans. “We have to be grateful to our Cheikh Anta Diop, C.L.R. James, John Henrik Clarke, Theophile Obeng, Ivan van Sertima, Chancellor Williams, Carter G. Woodson and the other great historians for rescuing us from the historical trashland imperial historians have consigned us. My brother, history is very important. Its importance cannot be over-emphasized, especially to a much unjustly-maligned people like us. We have to study our history and teach the same to our children. I don’t mean your Mungo Park discovered the Niger or so-so and so European baldhead discovered this or that kind of HIStory junks.

“Our history goes farther than that. European historians are putting emphasis on our colonial and post- (or should I say, neo-) colonial history. Their only reason is to obliterate our roots. They want us to believe that we are a people without history until they chanced upon us. That is not African history. African history is Nubia; it is Ethiopia; it is Egypt; it is Ghana; it is Songhay, it is Mali; it is Zimbabwe and all the great empires forged by Africans before the white man came to destroy us. Our history is Akhneton, Aesop, Queen Zingha, Chaka Zulu, Cetewayo, Zenobia, Menelik II, Hannibal, Marcus Garvey, Jaja of Opobo, Prempeh, Cheikh Anta Diop, Nkrumah, Neto. Yeah, man. It is important to study our history, not for any atavistic reasons but because it could serve as a guide for us in our monumental efforts to re-create our humanity largely destroyed by the oppressors. As Dr. Maulana Karenga puts it, ‘African history is important because it is a corrective for racially self-indulgent myths that the Europeans created to console themselves.’

“Let no one tell you otherwise, history is a most important subject. We see the amount of ink the Europeans are wasting on the misnomer called Greek Civilization. C.L.R James ably proved in his ‘Stolen Legacy,’ that the so-called Greek Civilization on which the whole Western Civilization was premised was a fraud. The Greek simply borrowed, stole and plagiarized Egyptian ideas. Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato were falsely credited with the ideas of the Africans of Egypt. Pythagoras was a pupil of Africans in Egypt. The theorem credited to him was invented by Africans. Sad that Africans are joining the sororities Europeans formed to worship these false gods. You see how seriously Europeans take their history of fraud and vain-glories. No European school child is unaware of Greece and Rome. No matter the discipline you took at the university, you must learn what they call History of Western Civilization.

I asked Kwame’s opinion on African integration. He pondered the question a long time before answering. “It is only a selfish, unread African who will be against African integration. See, man, apart from the fact that our so-called borders are arbitrary and artificial, we have to recognise that integration has become the ‘in-thing.’ The other regions are doing it – Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Each and every time I travel around Africa, I feel huge anger and inexpressible sadness. I am angered to see the structures the Europeans erected to keep our folks apart. Above that, I’m sad to see the efforts our governments are putting into maintaining these structures that are doing nothing except inhibiting our natural development. I am sad because Africans are the world’s prisoner. We are the only people who cannot get out of the cage. A British, Dutch or German can wake up and travel the length and breadth of Europe without any restriction. Going abroad is equally easy, especially to Africa – you only have to form an NGO. See, man. What do we have in Africa? A Ghanaian cannot visit an uncle across the border in Togo without facing harassment and humiliation and extortion. Going farther, you can forget it. It takes a whole day to travel to Nigeria. The actual traveling takes five or so hours; officialdom consumes the rest. Our borders are nothing but graft posts. Who’s benefiting, certainly not our governments? Certainly not our folks. Makes you wonder why the governments keep paying those embezzlers they call Customs and Immigration! We’re doing it to ourselves, they are doing it to us. Try to get a visa to Europe. The humiliation is total, complete. They made you feel like a trash and treat you accordingly. Most of the embassies will not even have the elementary courtesy of providing you a seat to sit on. They ask for you grandfather’s birth certificate and your grandmother’s virginity test. I need not mention the degradation at their airports, and the welcome reception of the Ku-Klux-Klan and the Neo-Nazis, need I?

On the future of Africa, Kwame opined, “We have to discard our psychology of defeatism. We’ve to, as Peter Tosh puts it, ‘eliminate the slavish mentality.’ We have to eliminate from our psyches that we are a doomed people. African cosmogony thrives on optimism. We are the eternal optimists. Take away our optimism and we’re truly doomed. It is sad when Africans start thinking of themselves as doomed people. That is what the oppressors want us to think. We must reject this outright. They want us to measure ourselves by their standards. They judge the world by the only thing they excel – materialism. That’s all the white man has got. We should stop measuring ourselves by economic parameters. Human beings are more important than GNP or GDP. We should stop measuring our worth by the amount of money we keep in a bank. Wealth does not confer happiness. Euro-Americans, with all their material wealth, do not strike me as a particularly happy people. If you know them, you’ll notice they loosened-up only when they are in Africa.

“Africa does not have a problem that Africans cannot solve. We should start to appreciate ourselves. Enough of the self-hatred, self-destruction, self-flagellation and the self-mortification. It is time for some self-esteem, self-promotion, self-love. Because we are different from Europeans does not mean that we are uncivilized. Because we are not producing mechanical gadgets does not mean that we are not civilized. Because our bank vaults are not bulging with money we don’t need does not mean that we are sub-humans.

“The oppressors are confusing mechanization with civilization; practicing science without conscience. See where their scientific ego-trips have landed them. Now their cows are giving them madness. We should stop imitating those who think only in terms of aggression, violence, and domination. Those whose vocabulary does not include harmony, love, and cooperation should stop being our guides. Most of us are not racially-conscious and that’s a big problem. You have an editor of a big Ghanaian paper gleefully writing about how an American write-off his continent. Imagine a crazy-baldhead living in a stolen land telling me that Africa is doomed! What I’ll give to him will make him feel like drinking some water from the Atlantic. Imagine someone living in Euro-America, a place swaying, in the words of Fanon, between atomic and spiritual disintegration, telling me that my motherland is cursed!

“We should be careful. We have to get out of the aid straight-jackets. No one is going to aid us to develop our economies. It is a job we alone can and must do. It is time we realize that no one owes us a dinner. We are forty or so years of age and we should be counted among majorities. No child expect his father to keep feeding him at forty, why should we expect our ‘Masters’ to keep ‘dashing’ us money. Aid is degrading; it is humiliating. We should stop being beggars. Our leaders should challenge us. Instead of seeking answers to all problems from outside, they should look for an indigenous, homemade solutions. They should challenge our farmers to feed us. What they should tell us is that we deserve to die if we cannot feed ourselves. Even the lower animals are feeding themselves without assistance. They should let us go naked if we cannot clothe ourselves. We do not need all the sexual-perverts from Europe to teach us how to live our lives. The way things are going, very soon we will have European busy-bodies coming to teach us how to use the toilet – they’ve taken over almost every department of our lives. Our leaders should challenge our industrialists to develop our industries. They should challenge our technicians\scientists\technologists to come out with original masterpieces. Instead of awarding contracts right, left and center, to foreign contractors, they should throw us a challenge to come up with ideas on how to solve our problems. We can do it. No one like to be humiliated. Our scientists\technicians are not going to come home and be humiliated by their own governments in their own countries. They’re facing enough racial degradation abroad. Why should we expect them to come home and be paid less than a quarter of what a white boy will earn doing the same job? We are down but we are not out. We should refuse to be counted out. But, first and foremost, we should put our house in order. Education and knowledge are the keys.”



About the Author 

Femi Akomolafe is a passionate Pan-Africanist. A columnist for the Accra-based Daily Dispatch newspaper and ModernGhana, and Correspondent for the New African magazine, Femi lives in both Europe and Africa and writes regularly on Africa-related issues for various newspapers and magazines.

Femi was the producer of the FOCUS ON AFRICANS TV Interview programme for the MultiTV Station.

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