Becoming Rasta

Becoming Rasta: Origins of Rastafari Identity in Jamaica

Charles Price
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Becoming Rasta
    Book Description:

    So much has been written about the Rastafari, yet we know so little about why and how people join the Rastafari movement. Although popular understandings evoke images of dreadlocks, reggae, and marijuana, Rastafarians were persecuted in their country, becoming a people seeking social justice. Yet new adherents continued to convert to Rastafari despite facing adverse reactions from their fellow citizens and from their British rulers.

    Charles Price draws on in-depth interviews to reveal the personal experiences of those who adopted the religion in the 1950s to 1970s, one generation past the movement's emergence . By talking with these Rastafari elders, he seeks to understand why and how Jamaicans became Rastafari in spite of rampant discrimination, and what sustains them in their faith and identity.

    Utilizing new conceptual frameworks, Price explores the identity development of Rastafari, demonstrating how shifts in the movement's identity-from social pariah to exemplar of Blackness-have led some of the elder Rastafari to adopt, embrace, and internalize Rastafari and blackness as central to their concept of self.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6846-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xx)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    Rasta Ivey, one of the oldest living Rastafari women, recalled defending her faith despite being ridiculed and sent to an asylum for the insane. Another elder Rastafarian described how, before her twelfth birthday, she began hearing the voices of Christ and Haile Selassie I telling her about Africa and slavery. Her mother thought she was on the verge of lunacy. Brother Yendis remembered when, as a preadolescent during the 1940s, he saw a Rastafari man accosted by a belligerent policeman for no apparent reason. This incident led him to learn more about the Rastafari, as he questioned what made them...

  6. 1 Race Formation and Morally Configured Black Identities
    (pp. 19-54)

    One March afternoon in 1998, while sitting in a meeting convened by the Rastafari Federation in Kingston, Jamaica, I reflected on how the Rastafari use their identity to embody and engage the past while living in the present. Empress Dinah, a pecan-brown-skinned Rastafari woman in her late forties, sporting a steep, tightly wrapped crown of dreadlocks, stood in front of the audience on a low stage, with a microphone in one hand and notes in the other, addressing an attentive and largely male audience of approximately 70 Rastafari and a dozen non-Rastafari. Empress Dinah spoke about Blackness, injustice, and organizing...

  7. 2 Ethnogenesis, Surprise, and Collective Identity Formation
    (pp. 55-97)

    One June morning in 1998, I picked up Rasta Ivey from her one-room dwelling behind the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and together we drove to a vast sea of hovels, a community called Waterview, adjacent to the bustling Spanish Town highway. I parked at the top of the entrance road, and the two of us made our way through a maze of dirt paths separating rows of tiny residences constructed of tin, wood, and assorted scraps. We were visiting Brother Dee, an octogenarian like Rasta Ivey. Brother Dee had become an invalid, confined to a decrepit wheelchair. His locks and beard...

  8. 3 The Positive Power of Stigma and Black Identity
    (pp. 98-131)

    Early in my research, a close Jamaican friend who was knowledgeable about Jamaican culture, history, and politics urged me to seek out Brother Yendis. He said that Brother Yendis was a well-known and respected Rastafari who presently headed the Rastafari Federation. I took my friend’s advice. Finding and meeting Brother Yendis was not difficult. At that time, the Rastafari Federation was prominently located in lower Kingston, and a visit there led to an invitation to one of their upcoming conferences. Brother Yendis, then in his early sixties, exhibited a physical frame and musculature that conveyed strength and a bodily presence...

  9. 4 Encounters
    (pp. 132-165)

    For my Rastafari narrators, identity transformation serves as a means to address oppression, miseducation, nagging existential questions, and deracination. The justice motifs that permeate the discourses of my interlocutors—righteousness, truth, Black redemption, and Black liberation—help to create a living past, animate their identity, and inform their interpretation of the world and its history. Rastafari identity can serve as a radical challenge to oppression because it demands that reform begin with oneself. The Rastafari emphasize their ability to “see” things and do things differently, which is a way that they distinctively mark themselves and evaluate their authenticity. For the...

  10. 5 Acts of Identity Work
    (pp. 166-200)

    Some Black people internalize the negative tropes of Blackness and Africa that Ras Brenton has come to recognize as hypocritical myths. Getting away from such beliefs is part of the Rastafari identity transformation process. Beliefs, such as those about race and culture, are not totally consistent or logical, and no matter how wrong, they can unproblematically dwell in people’s minds unless seriously tested (Toch, 1965: 117–118). The connections that Ras Brenton has made between miseducation, race, and oppression contribute to making his old beliefs untenable and his new ideas and identifications potentially viable.

    One summer afternoon, while Ras Brenton...

  11. 6 Rastafari Nation on the Move: Identity and Change
    (pp. 201-222)

    Ras Cee related these thoughts to me while we walked down a crowded East Queen Street in downtown Kingston, one hot autumn afternoon. I met Ras Cee at a RITA meeting in 1998. We kept in touch and came to spend time together since Ras Cee lived in downtown Kingston, where I spent much of my time. Ras Cee was around 31 years old at the time of our conversation. His short locks must have recently sprouted from his head, not even beginning to touch the slender, long neck that rested on an equally slim and wiry tan-brown-skinned frame. Ras...

  12. Conclusion: Conclusion Toward a More Comprehensive Understanding of Racial Identity Formation
    (pp. 223-232)

    When I opened the rickety tin door that served as a gate into Ras General’s yard, I saw one of his sons, a teenaged male Rastafari, resting in a hammock. When he saw me, he got out of the hammock and said, “Soon come,” disappearing into an open but dark doorway of a very small makeshift of a house. Soon the youth returned with his father, Ras General. Ras General was expecting me because we had agreed a few days earlier that we would make a tape-recorded interview. While I set up the tape recorder, I overheard Ras General tell...

  13. Acronyms
    (pp. 233-234)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 235-240)
  15. References
    (pp. 241-258)
  16. Index
    (pp. 259-266)
  17. About the Author
    (pp. 267-267)