Jamaican Politics, Reggae and Rastafarianism in the 1970’s

Jamaican Politics, Reggae and Rastafarianism in the 1970’s

Length: 5351 words (15.3 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
Jamaican Politics, Reggae and Rastafarianism in the 1970’s

"In the last election Prime Minister X went to Ethiopia and met with the King of Kings and had a conversation with him. He came back to Jamaica and showed the people a Rod, which he said was given to him by the King, Haile Selassie the First, to bring freedom to the Black People of Jamaica. He carried that Rod all around during the campaign. The Rastafarians heard this; the Dreadlocks heard this; and this rod caused him to win a landslide victory for the Party. Well, I and I welcome that, because the former government did nothing for the cause of Africa, Rastas, or no one. As you know, we Rastas do not vote, because you cannot take out a rat and put in a cat, but the Prime Minister came to power talking like a Rastafarian. He started some progressive moves on behalf of the African peoples of this country. But after a while he forgot the Rod; he forgot to talk about Africa; he forgot to talk about the Rastafarians. What we now know, is that if the Prime Minister even wanted to do something good for the African peoples of this country, his lieutenants will not allow him to do it.

After he came back from Ethiopia he called himself Joshua, the one who was to take us to the Promised Land, but the only freedom we have seen up to now is the word ‘Socialism’.

To be honest, he had done better than the other party, for the other Party was so anti-Black that not even Elijah Muhammad could enter Jamaica as a Black man. Today, it is a little better; there is freedom of speech for I and I. As you see, we even got the Marcus Garvey Park to use. Here and there we have seen a little change on the part of the government but not enough to bring the Black masses out of the slums they are in right now."(Barrett 180)

This quote, along with numerous other readings, has sparked my interest in the political scene and situation surrounding Jamaica, Rastafarianism and reggae music in the 1970’s. It seems to me, despite the economic shambles of Jamaica and the staunch and deliberate refusal of Rastafarians to participate in "politricks", that politics has had a deep impact on any and every aspect of life in Jamaica.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Jamaican Politics, Reggae and Rastafarianism in the 1970’s." 123HelpMe.com. 18 Apr 2019
    <https://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=40238>.

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

The Rise and Impact of Rastafarianism in Jamaican Culture and Politics Essay

- "I Light and I Salvation": The Rise and Impact of Rastafarianism in Jamaican Culture and Politics. The cries of pain and torture ring through the cold winds and water leaking through the cracks of the urine and feces soaked floor. Stacked side by side and on top of each other, Africans were brought from their homeland to colonies in the Western Hemisphere. Life made into a commodity to be bought and sold as an animal or machine, born to serve the dominant humans marked by white skin. In this way colonialism as a political entity was created to exploit the earth and its people in order to profit white Europeans....   [tags: Essays on Politics]

Free Essays
7642 words (21.8 pages)

Rastafarianism in Jamaica Essay

- Rastafarianism arose in the slums of Jamaica around the time between the nineteen twenties and nineteen thirties. It has a lot of inspirations of Christianity combined into its culture. Rastafarianism is a very interesting religion; it’s followers known as Rastafarians as well as Rasta’s or Rastafaris, derived from Jamaica to form a unique clan of Jamaican-English. For most Rastafarians what they believe is not a religion, but simply just a way of life. Rastafarians share their emotions about oppression, poverty, and black discrimination along with their religion....   [tags: Religion]

Research Papers
1526 words (4.4 pages)

Jamaican Culture Essay

- Jamaican culture is more than just Rastafarianism and Reggae music. The Jamaican culture encompasses every aspect of life from beliefs, superstitions, and practices to art, education, and tourism. However, the most important aspect of the culture is the African roots that still exist today. Religion and music became essential parts of the slave culture for communication purposes and barrier breakers. Culture is 'the property of the individual and it's a property of societies' (Alleyne 9). Jamaica has a very diverse culture with original natives coming into contact with the Spanish and English....   [tags: Jamaica Culture Rastafarianism Essays]

Research Papers
1275 words (3.6 pages)

A Sociological View of Rastafarianism Essay

- Organized religion is a duality between the religion and the church which represents it. Sometimes the representation of the religion is marred and flawed to those who view it because of the bureaucracy contained within. Unknown to those who gaze upon the dissolved morals and values of what is perceived to be the contradiction known as modern religion, it was never intended to be this way. Most religions started off as a sect, a minor detail on the fringes of the society it never wanted to represent....   [tags: Religion Sociology Rastafarianism essays]

Research Papers
3687 words (10.5 pages)

African-based Spiritual Outlook: Rastafarianism Essay

- ... Rastas also obtain many of the Old Testament prohibitions, like forbidding the cutting of their hair, and eating pork and shellfish. Rastafarians accept that Haile Selassie is the second messiah, but he is unlike Jesus. Jesus taught his people about his divinity, but the Rastafarian followers were the ones who declared Selassie as divine, even though he stated that he was only human. Rastafarians celebrate many holidays throughout the year, which happen to be different from other religions....   [tags: jamaica, afrocentric way, marcus garvey]

Research Papers
850 words (2.4 pages)

Essay on Garveyism and Rastafarianism

- Garveyism and Rastafarianism I. Introduction In the twentieth century, two movements have emerged out of Jamaica in protest of black oppression and slavery, both mental and physical. The first to evolve was Garveyism, founded by Marcus Garvey, and was born in the aftermath of the First World War. Rastafarianism was the second movement to emerge, lead by Leonard Howell during the depression years of the 1930’s. Garveyism and Rastafarianism are both resistance movements based on the same ideal: consciousness and essentialism of Africa and its descendants....   [tags: Jamaica Natural Mysticism]

Research Papers
3980 words (11.4 pages)

Parallelisms and Differences:Rastafarianism and Judaism Essay

- Parallelisms and Differences:Rastafarianism and Judaism The two religions of Rastafarianism and Judaism embody many of the same characteristics, as well as their ancestry. Although the Rastafarians, at times, inaccurately explain the bible, their belief in the Old Testament is still prevalent. Many of the customs are almost identical, but the rationale behind the traditions and laws contrast greatly. In 1933, when Leonard P. Howell was arrested for using"seditious and blasphemous language,"to boost the sale of pictures of Haile Selassie, he stated that Selassie was,"King Ras Tafari of Abyssinia, son of king Solomon by the queen of Sheba."1 Howell knew that in later years factual informatio...   [tags: Rastafarianism Judaism Religion Essays]

Research Papers
6351 words (18.1 pages)

Rastafarianism Essay example

- Rastafarianism The Rastafarian religion has roots tracing to Africa, but it became well known in the ghettos of Jamaica. In these ghettos, a boy was born who would have an everlasting effect on the religion. This boy grew up to become a famous musician who then opened the world to the Rastafarian views and spread the Rastafarian message to thousands of people. Jamaica recognized his effect on the culture shortly before his death, which was mourned by millions. The man responsible for the worldwide recognition of the Rastafarian religion was Bob Marley....   [tags: Papers]

Research Papers
2122 words (6.1 pages)

Michael Manley and Rastafarianism Essay

- Michael Manley and Rastafarianism Jamaica and it’s people have been involved in a constant struggle for prosperity. After gaining independence from Britain on August 6, 1962, Jamaica attempted to flourish under a democratic system of their own. The formation of the People’s National Party and the Jamaica Labor Party marked the beginning of this movement. During this time of exploration, Rastafarians residing in Jamaica were faced with little political support. Government objectives and reform were generally not concerned with the plight of the Rastafarians, and they were treated as a group of vigilantes....   [tags: essays papers]

Research Papers
3783 words (10.8 pages)

Rastafarianism Essay

- Rastafarianism Rastafarianism began as a religion of the dispossessed. In 1930, a prophecy of deliverance was fulfilled for Jamaica’s slum-dwellers and rural poor. Ethiopia symbolized Africa and the homeland for the slave-descended Jamaicans. Ras Tafari Makennen, in 1930, became Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. Emperor Selassie claimed to be a direct descendent of King Solomon. Many Jamaicans were waiting for a black messiah. Selassie, who at his coronation was proclaimed Negusa Negast (King of Kings), and whose imperial name meant “Power of the Holy Trinity”, seemed to be the one....   [tags: Papers]

Research Papers
577 words (1.6 pages)

Related Searches

I hope to gain a better understanding of Jamaica’s political parties, what they stood for, why they sparked gruesome violence, and their impact on Rastafarians and reggae music. I will be focusing largely on the People’s National Party and their leader, Michael Manley and also on reggae music’s response and involvement in politics.

Beginnings and Independence

As a starting point, I think I should give a little background information on the emergence of the People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). These two parties grew out of trade union foundations with the PNP forming in 1938 under Norman Manley and the JLP founded in 1943 by Alexander Bustamante. (Floyd 138) This turning point in Jamaica’s political development came in 1938 after violence broke out when labor unrest came to a head in Westmoreland. This wave spread over Spanish Town and Kingston and ended with many lost lives although it brought Jamaican conditions to the attention of the imperial government. (Barrett 64)

The next major stepping stone for Jamaica was its claim of independence in 1962. Jamaica had been in a state of gradual decolonization since 1944, when on August 6, 1962 it went from being a Crown Colony to being an autonomous nation within the British Commonwealth. (Floyd 49) Jamaica has been classified as a postcolonial, "plural" society with a high degree of economic inequality. (Waters 3) "Plural" refers to the societal stratification in which members are distinguished by fundamental differences in their institutional practices. The history of Jamaica reeks of colonialism and plantation societies, both of which helped create a society vastly divided by race and class. Consequently, shortly after independence, Jamaica held the distinction of having the world’s highest level of inequality, with the wealthiest five percent of the population receiving thirty percent of the national income and the poorest twenty percent of the population holding two percent of the national income. (Waters 9) At this time, the Jamaica Labour Party was in power and its attention was turned to economic revival with an emphasis on attracting foreign capital to the island for purposes of investment in manufacturing enterprises and the creation of job opportunities. (Floyd 144)

Early Politics

The People’s National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party are neither class parties nor racial parties. Originally, both leaders were Brown members of the middle class. Nonetheless, some of the subtle differences between the original party leaders came to be reflected in the characteristics of the organizations they led.

The Jamaica Labour Party was founded by Bustamante, a Brown independent property owner whose mother was Brown and whose father was Irish. According to an informant, the "masses" always had representatives in the JLP. (Waters 55) Bustamante presented himself as a representative of the "common" people but at the same time, was known to be uneducated. It has also been implied that the JLP was more representative of the African section of Jamaica. Their original election symbol was the hand, representative of unskilled, manual labor. In its early days, the JLP won the support of both the poorest sector and the wealthiest sector who feared Manley’s socialism. (Waters 56)

On the other hand, the People’s National Party gained support from those in between, especially in the Corporate Area among the urban working class. Although Norman Manley was also a product of the middle class, the PNP generally attracted the members of the middle class with educational status as well as wealth. The PNP was the "middle class more intellectual urban party" and "the party for people who wanted to be considered respectable, decent and intelligent." (Waters 57) In 1969, Norman Manley resigned and passed leadership of the PNP to his son, Michael. Michael Manley was an honours graduate of the University of London, a former pilot with the Royal Canadian Force, a journalist and an experienced trade unionist as one-time Island Supervisor of the National Workers’ Union. (Floyd 145) As time progressed, each of the two parties’ class support began to change.

As a final note, I want to mention briefly the characteristic political violence that erupted in cities prior to elections in Jamaica. Since 1944 there has been intimidation of the other party’s supporters and disruption of the political meetings, not to mention the number of members of the lower class who were in possession of guns and were paid to protect party supporters. Most "gang" violence was confined to Western Kingston, but eventually started to spread to the slum areas during the 1960’s. By 1976 and 1980, violence, or "tribal war" as Jamaicans refer to it, had risen to alarming levels. (Waters 58)

The 1972 Election

The year 1972 brought with it heightening social tension, crime rate, and student unrest at universities — a perfect setting in which to seek a fresh leader for the country. (Floyd 146) The 1972 election was a major landmark in Jamaica’s history, for the People’s National Party under the leadership of Michael Manley was swept into power after ten years of JLP domination. The PNP won the election with the largest majority in the nation’s history, capturing thirty-seven seats to the JLP’s sixteen. The political campaign was straightforward and generally non-violent, although there were numerous clashes between rival campaigning rallies throughout Jamaica. (Floyd 146)

Prior to the elections, the Jamaican Labour Party, in advertisements in the Daily Gleaner, claimed to have promoted dramatic improvements in the schools, hospitals, rural industrialization, roads and water supplies, agricultural production and marketing. They concentrated on publicizing their record of achievements while pushing aside unfulfilled promises and unresolved issues. Some of their campaign slogans were "A change isn’t coming with the JLP, it has happened already", "Change Without Chaos", "One Good Terms Deserves Another", and "Who Trusts the PNP, Not You Not Me!" (Floyd 146) The JLP made the unwise decision to publicly associate the PNP with "black power" which caused many left-wing extremists to retaliate against them and vote PNP. (Floyd 146)

The People’s National Party focused its campaign on the vast gap between the claims and realities of the JLP. After all, six years of independence had not filled some basic, if unrealistic expectations. Unemployment was at an estimated thirty percent, and eighty percent of those employed were making less than twenty dollars weekly. Major sectors of the economy such as bauxite, tourism and banking were still controlled by foreign powers. (Waters 93) Some of the PNP campaign slogans included "Time for a Change", "Better Must Come" and "Power for the People". (Waters 114) The People’s National Party claimed that the number of murders per year had tripled between 1961 and 1971, while assault and rape had increased more than twenty fold. They vowed to tackle the longstanding problems of poverty, unemployment, and inflated living costs, problems that proved to be much harder to resolve than to talk about. In his victory speech, Manley stated: "As a result or the election, I hope that I will be in a position to heal some of the bitter divisions that have entered into our Jamaican life . . . I want very much to restore in the Jamaican people that confidence in public integrity of which my late father was perhaps the greatest symbol, because I feel that this is one of the greatest needs in our country today." (Floyd 147)

During it’s first term in office, the PNP delivered on several of its promises. The voting age was lowered to eighteen, all book-banning orders were cancelled, and tax reformation was implemented by increasing rates on certain luxury items and changing the basis of the property tax. The government gradually instituted social programs such as the National Literacy Programme, free education up to university level, and minimum wage for domestic workers. (Waters 143) One of Manley’s best-remembered actions during this period was his imposition of the bauxite levy, which increased Jamaica’s bauxite income six fold and gave Jamaica international recognition in the Third World. (Waters 143)

At this point in history, Rastafarianism was gradually gaining attention in Jamaica. Although typically Rastafarians didn’t participate in politics, Manley was somewhat successful in wriggling his way into the Rastafarian scene through icons, music, language and symbols. His 1972 victory was due, largely to his appeal to the youths of the cities, the "sufferahs", the unemployed and dispossessed. As mentioned earlier, Manley visited Africa in 1969 and returned to Jamaica with a "walking stick" supposedly given to him by His Imperial Majesty. He referred to the stick as " the Rod of Correction" and to himself as Joshua — the one who would lead the people into the Promised Land. (Barrett 220) The 1972 election was so focused about the Rod, that there were full-page campaign advertisements about it, scandals, myths, and strong Rastafarian superstitions. For instance, rods were used in a number of Obeah ceremonies, in which people were beaten with rods to drive away evil and corruption. (Waters 125) In addition to symbols and Manley’s use of the Rod of Correction in his 1972 campaign, he also integrated Rastafarian language into his speech - phrases such as "hail the man", "love" and Rastafarian I-isms. (Barrett 222)

Manley’s relationship with Bob Marley also gained him support and admiration with many Jamaicans. Manley politics and Marley’s music were undeniably integrated during the rule of the PNP, with Manley and Marley even living as neighbors on Hope Road. During the first four years of the Manley regime, Marley gave many free performances as the request of the PNP — two of the most significant being the "Smile Jamaica Concert" in 1976 and the "One Love Peace Concert" in 1978. Just prior to the Smile Jamaica Concert, Marley, his wife Rita, and his manager Don Taylor, were shot by gunmen at Bob’s home on Hope Road. Many believe that this shooting was carried out by Jamaica Labour Party supporters although no concrete evidence has ever been brought forth to support this belief. (Barrett 223) The One Love Peace Concert was marked by Marley bringing Manley and Seaga, the JLP’s leader, onstage with him and joining their hands in a sign of peace. Manley and Marley certainly had a growing impact on one another. A Rastafarian professor at the University of the West Indies stated,

Since 1975 the most important influences on the growth of Rastafarianism have been the impact of Bob Marley and Michael Manley. The Manley regime provided a backdrop in which the Rastafarian movement could reveal itself to the Jamaican society. Manley provided space for the Rastafarians because he articulated a Third World philosophy and Marley opened up that space. It was during this frame of time that we saw the massive expansion of the Rastafarian value system throughout the Caribbean and North America. (Barrett 221)

The 1976 Election

The People’s National Party formally and publicly introduced democratic socialism into its philosophy in 1974. Although ambiguous, the most clearly understood meaning of this was that it was a combination of capitalist and socialist socio-economic principles. Manley hoped to heighten the democratic political process, the Christian principles of brotherhood and equality, the ideals of equal opportunity and equal rights, and the determination to prevent the exploitation of Jamaicans. (Keith 24) In 1976, the People’s National Party was returned to office once again in an overwhelming victory, with forty seven seats in Parliament as opposed to the JLP’s thirteen. I should be pointed out though, that by 1976, the middle and upper classes that might have previously seen Manley as a Jamaican John Kennedy now were quite worried that Manley was becoming a potential Fidel Castro. Many of them sought alternative in the Jamaica Labour Party. Even in 1975, there were visible signs of economic deterioration that lead up to premature and significant political violence.

Much of the Jamaica Labour Party’s campaigning was negative. They were accused of "reactionary nationalism: capitalism warmed over economic sabotage, vicious propaganda and a strategy of guns and violence." Seaga focused his attention on the economic crisis that Jamaica had been experiencing since 1972. In an American style campaign, he took on the role of "freedom leader", planning to liberate Jamaica from the threat of Communism. Some of the JLP’s campaign slogans were "Turn Them Back" and "The Socialists Have Failed." (Waters 152) In essence, the three-week pre-election campaigning period was reduced to a duel between socialism and capitalism. (Floyd 149)

The PNP’s campaign focused on its record of achievements during its past term. Some of their slogans were "Forward Together", "Forward Joshua", "We Know Where We’re Going" and "We Are Not For Sale". (Waters 152) The PNP also stressed deep ties with Norman Manley’s leadership by quoting his views on democratic socialism: "My generation had a distinct mission to perform. It was to create a national spirit with which we could identify ourselves as a people for the purpose of achieving independence on the political plane. I am convinced, deeply convinced, that the role of this generation is to proceed to the social and economic reform of Jamaica" (Waters 152)

The election of 1976 was different from the 1972 election in that it was closely tied to class and race. Not only were these issues of class and race perpetuated by the PNP and JLP, but also by the musicians, especially reggae musicians, of the time. By December 1976, the party loyalties had changed so that the Brown middle class and merchant class, particularly minority groups, were siding with the Jamaica Labour Party. The People’s National Party, having once been representative of the middle classes, was putting great efforts into gaining support of the Black and poor masses. (Waters 153) Campaign wise, the JLP tried to play down class conflict as well as racial conflict. At the same time, it was the first time that a White man (Edward Seaga) was leading the JLP, as opposed to the Brown man (Manley) who headed the PNP. Some respondents saw Manley as trying to identify himself with the Black race, and reinforcing this identification with his marriage in 1972 to Beverly Anderson, a Black woman. (Waters 162)

Rastafarian symbols were used by both political parties during the 1976 election. Rastafarianism was slowly becoming more socially accepted and even admired. "Rasta was more fashionable, more legitimate", "Rasta had gained acceptability and respectability — it was accepted as a part of Jamaican life". (Waters 176) People perceived Rastafarians as having made a positive contribution to Jamaican culture. "The Rastas sensitized the national consciousness in attitudes toward black and poor." (Waters 176) Rastafarian language and appearance were the two dominant forces put to use by both political parties. The JLP used Rastafarian language to promote their political position. They modified the phrase "I-up" to "High- Up" implying that the JLP was higher than the PNP, ready to take over the government. (Waters 178) The PNP on the other hand, made use of the Rastafarian play on words, "Blind-aga", referring to Seaga’s blindness. In Rasta reasoning, "to see" denotes one’s ability to "see the light" or to believe. (Waters 179) Apparently, in the PNP’s eyes, Seaga was undeserving of that title. One of the most recognizable and visible Rastafarian pieces of apparel is the tam or the knitted cap. During the 1976 campaign, many photographs were taken of PNP officials wearing tams and Kariba suits — modified safari jackets. Although Kariba suits are not typically associated with Rastafarianism, it was yet another way for the PNP to dissociate itself with the common suit and tie image of the politician. The "jacket and tie" has often been associated with oppression in reggae and Rastafarianism. (Waters 181)

Political violence surrounding the 1976 election erupted with astounding force. While the 1972 campaign was remembered as "joyous" and "warm", which is an exaggeration, the 1976 election brought with it the ugly reality of increasing sophistication of weapons and technique of the party gangs, ghetto youths and thugs. Nearly a hundred people were killed in the first five months of 1976. Rival gangs were at each other’s throats, ready to retaliate at any moment. Besides the violence that surrounded Kingston and other urban areas, there were other vicious acts that circulated throughout the political scene. Violence in Trench Town coincided with a Kingston meeting of International Monetary Fund officials. Seventeen people died of food poisoning in 1976 from a shipment of flour that had evidently been contaminated with parathion on its way to Jamaica. Many more attacks were made against the security forces supporting the government at the time. (Waters 145)

Mid-June 1976 brought accusations from an inside JLP organizer that members of the JLP were directly involved in the violence. He implicated Pearnel Charles, a deputy leader of the JLP, and the very next day the government declared a state of emergency. Within a week, Charles was detained along with two other JLP candidates and one PNP candidate. By mid-August, one hundred and seventy three people in all were in detention and the state of emergency continued for ten whole months. (Waters 146)

Political Influence on Music

The influence of politics, both campaigns and violence had a dramatic effect on the music of Jamaica, especially the evolving and emerging music called reggae music. As mentioned earlier, Manley as a politician utilized reggae artists like Bob Marley to validate his connection with Jamaican sufferers and Rastafarians. Manley made the following statement about reggae music:
Like all folk music, it is all essentially commentary; but what is unique about this commentary is that it reflects in every thought, in every musical pulse, something to do with survival and accommodation. The children of the Diaspora struggle for a place in society to this day. Worse, they struggle for their identities, mislaid as the slave ships made their way to the New World through the Middle Passage. Therefore, their commentaries must deal with these realities. (Davis and Simon 11)

In the 1972 election, "Better Must Come" was a commonly heard slogan and philosophy coming from the PNP. The People’s National Party knew just as well as the rest of Jamaica that the "rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer." (Waters 131) "Better Must Come" was written by Delroy Wilson, but ironically, was not referring to the politics or oppression of the poor in Jamaica at the time. Instead, Wilson had written it in lament of the fact that he just "didn’t have enough hits." (Waters 130) Nonetheless, Wilson’s lyrics that tell of his suspicion that others are "trying to keep me down" and "trying to take advantage of me" are also pertinent to the issues felt by the poor masses at the time of the 1972 election. (Waters 130) For these people, the song spoke of the aspirations, wishes and griefs of the Rastafarian and the subordinate class as a whole. (Keith 180)

Jacob Miller’s song, "Roman Soldiers of Babylon" criticizes politicians:

See them coming in plain clothes

Don’t give up, don’t give up

The Roman soldiers of Babylon

Are here to fight us

Don’t give up, don’t give up

The Roman soldiers of Babylon are right behind us

Coming from the North with their pockets

Full of ammunition

Trying to turn dreadlocks into politician

Marcus Garvey did say

Things like this would happen in this time

They’re in plain clothes!

They’re coming trying to fight Rastafari (Waters 174)

He refers to politicians in "plain clothes", and as mentioned before, the People’s National Party put a lot of effort into their physical image, especially in the 1976 election. The "Roman soldiers" had ammunition in their possession and sparked violent activity and animosity in areas of Jamaica. Miller also referred to the politicians’ efforts to please the Rastafarian community and to gain their support. I sense a good deal of bitterness and cynicism in Miller’s lyrics — fully justified in my opinion because political violence permeated the Rastafarian community since most Rastas belonged to the poorer class and were living in urban poverty-stricken areas. On top of this, the politicians were at the same time, trying to appeal to the Rastas, almost patronizing them in hopes of gaining their participation in their politricks.

The often-present and popular theme of violence in the reggae music that emerged at the time of the elections can be heard in Marley’s "Johnny Was":

Woman hold her head and cry

Cause her son had been

Shot down in the street and died,

From a stray bullet

Woman hold her head and cry

Explaining to her was a passer-by

Who saw the woman cry

Wondering how she can work it out

Now she knows that the wages of sin is death

Gift of Jah is life.

She cried Johnny was a good man

Never did a thing wrong (Waters 149)

This story-like song tells of the death of an innocent loved one due to the political violence and gang violence that ran rampant in Jamaica. My interpretation of this Marley song is that he was frustrated, along with a large majority of the Kingston dwellers, with the situation of the people as a whole, but more specifically, with the unnecessary and hate-filled crimes that were being committed all around him. The stance that reggae music took on violence and anger is a mixed one, but one that is evoked as a result of being continuously oppressed for hundreds of years. Rastafarians and reggae music generally took a peaceable approach towards most aspects of life. Bob Marley deliberately used repetition to emphasize his messages — as more of a subtle message and less of a militant one. Yet at the same time, songs such as "War" evoked powerful and demanding themes of equality and righteousness. Marley adapted this song from a speech made by Haile Selassie in California in 1968:
Until the philosophy which hold one race superior and another inferior is finally and totally discredited and abandoned; that until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation; until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes; that until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all, without regard to race; that until that day, the dream of lasting peace, world citizenship, the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued but never attained.

And until the ignoble and unhappy regime that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique, in South Africa, in sub-human bondage, have been toppled, utterly destroyed; until that day the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight we find it necessary. And we know we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil. (Waters 150)

Racism especially evokes deep feelings of anger and willingness for battle in the Rastafarian — in spite of their peaceable attitudes. (Waters 150)

Jimmy Cliff’s perception of reggae music is, "Yeah, reggae music is the cry of the people, that’s what it is. What is this cry? It was a cry for recognition, identity, respect, love, justice" (Davis and Simon 151) When asked, "Why are the militant artists such a threat to Jamaica?", Peter Tosh replied, "Because their words are corruption, and where there’s corruption, there must be an eruption. Ya no see? Politricks! Politician been promising the most good but doing the most dangerous evil. And all the people get is promises. A generation come, and a generation go, and nothing is accomplished." (Davis and Simon 149) So while the musicians of the time were trying to bring to light the oppressed and disadvantaged, the politicians were hearing these messages and promising to change them. Peter Tosh quite obviously felt that little was done to improve the Jamaican situation, and thereby denounced politicians and their politricks.

Bob Marley’s songs hold many political messages in them, one being:

Never let a politician grant you a favour,

He will always control you for ever.

(Floyd 72)

It strikes me as unbelievably ironic that a reggae musician such as Marley was "condoning" political involvement but at the same time felt that politicians were full of empty promises and manipulative strategies. Marley took an active role in politics by participating and organizing such performances as the "Smile Jamaica Concert" and the "One Love Peace Concert", which were performances that indirectly helped boost the PNP’s support from Rastafarians living in Jamaica. By performing at these shows, I think that Marley was generally trying to put across the message that politics didn’t have to be violent or destructive, but that the "one love" tactic could be applied to them as well as all other facets of life. Yet in regards to specific political tactics, Marley tended to have overall feelings of distrust and wariness.

Conclusion

The overall impact of politics on the Jamaican people, reggae music and Rastafarians, and the reactionary impact of the people and music on politics are wide-reaching phenomena. I have often been aware of the ways in which politics can affect a society or nation, especially Jamaica’s. On the other hand, I was completely unaware of the fact that the PNP and JLP both used Rastafarian language and dress to appeal to the lower class and thus boost their political power and force. My original intent to discuss the elections of the 1970’s and the early 1980’s changed as I became more and more aware of this situation. Although the 1980 election marked a change in government, a switch of power back to the JLP, I felt that by focusing on the PNP’s political tactics and influences, I was focusing also more on the Rastafarian experience. After all, the Rastafarians as a whole, tended to support Manley over Seaga although both parties catered to the masses of poor through music, icons and manipulation.

After reading about some of the tactics used by the political parties of the time, I have an even lesser view of politics than I held previously. I believe that Manley had good intentions and sincerely wanted to create social and economic changes, but was unable to carry out significant changes and conquer immense obstacles. It’s true that both parties scrambled to use Rastafarian symbols and language to validate their political standing. Somehow the messages that they were sending to the poor masses got lost in their campaigning and the violence. Their ridiculous use of language and unnatural attire was condescending to say the least. So much of the campaigning turned into mudslinging and retaliatory comments between the two parties. No wonder the Rastafarians were and still are disgusted with politicians and politics. The poem "Dem Call Dem" written by Ras Gill Tucker satirizes the Jamaican political system:

Dem call dem political bull frog

Dem call dem shadow and brine

Dem call dem teethless lovers

Dem call dem white skin in black mask

Dem call dem lion in monkey clothes

Dem call dem footstep without foot

Dem call dem promise and empty promise

Dem call demselves what others no call dem

Dem call dem paper tigers

Dem call dem bonehead dunces in the Queens court

Dem call dem soft-face idlers hiding behind big desks

Dem call demselves the peoples’ saviours

Dem ride upon dem back and ride upon dem head

Dem call demselves God-fooling and God-fearing

Yet-dem die without vision

Dem die without us-

Dem ‘trive ‘pon we children hunger

Dem get drunk ‘pon we homeless and our fondest hope

Dem call demselves democratics dying in lies

Dem gwane living and dying in a wi nakedness

Dem white God wi’ bless dem for dem works

And dem empty words and empty promise spread before wi empty

Table

Dem call dem. (Barrett 278)

How can disadvantaged people be satisfied with politics that don’t change their lives? How many times can promises be broken and hopes crushed? The poor of Jamaica have been ready for a change for decades and have not seen a significant one yet. Their lives have been shaped around political struggles — violence, music and rhetoric. The 1970’s were a time of integration of the lower classes into the political scene; one step closer to establishing a government that hears and cares about the masses. The situation of a nation on the brink of revolution, tasting what "could be", waiting anxiously to start a new era is an unstable situation and has ramifications that no one can estimate or prepare oneself for. Journalist, Bernard Headley takes a stab in the dark as to what might one day occur:
The worrisome possibility is that one morning both Mr. Seaga and Mr. Manley will wake to find that all those "dreads" all those "sufferahs" and dispossessed up at Half-way Tree and down in "Rema" and "Concrete Jungle" have all of a sudden decided to stop dancing and prancing in the streets. Or that those top-ranking gunmen will have found a better way: they will have chosen not to "bear arms" for power-hungry, self-seeking politicians who do not want to see the poor unite. Instead, they will have collectively decided to listen — then act — on the words of reggae songster and superstar Bob Marley " — We’ve been trodding on the wine press much too long. Rebel, rebel!" (Headley 42)

Works Cited

Barrett, Leonard E. The Rastafarians. Boston: Beacon Press, 1997, p 64,180, 220-223,278.

Davis, Stephen and Peter Simon. Reggae International. New York: R&B, 1982, p 11,149, 151.

Floyd, Barry. An Island Microcosm. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979, p 49, 72, 138, 144-147, 149.

Headley, Bernard, "Mr. Seaga’s Jamaica: An Inside Look." Monthly Review September 1985: 42.

Keith, Nelson and Novella Keith. The Social Origins of Democratic Socialism in Jamaica. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992, p 24, 180.

Waters, Anita M. Race, Class and Political Symbols. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1985, p 3, 9, 55-58, 93, 114, 125, 130-1, 143, 145-6, 149-50, 152-3, 162, 174, 176, 178-9, 181.
Return to 123HelpMe.com