I used to be the only 13 year old kid expert in Rastafarianism and Reggae in the US. I say “used to be” because it lasted for a few years (1985-89). I still appreciate it, but even at 16 I was mature enough to know that White guys can listen to Reggae but cannot hear it. Its message is simply not for White people. As a matter of fact, the Rastafarian movement could even be considered exclusive. So, why are there so many White hippies in Europe with Dreadlocks? And what is a group of White, aging hippies on Ibiza’s Benirras beach doing playing tribal drums? What happened to bag pipes and clavicords?
Hippies with dreadlocks or any White guy with Dreadlocks is an aberration. Not only is it the typical example of when White people steal the ethnic traditions or artistic forms of non-White ethnic groups and cultures, but it is also an oxymoron. Once again, I gave up my affinity for Rastarianism around the age of 16. Why? Rastafarianism is an exclusive religion. It does have its inherent values, and I respect them. Nevertheless, Rastafarianism had no place for a 16 year White kid, nor does it now have any room for aging hippies or 21st Century wanna-be’s.
The Rasta Movement grew out of Jamaica and has its roots in Marcus Garvey’s Pan African movement of the 1930s. Garvey, a Jamaican living in Harlem (later deported from the US), called upon Black people to return to Africa and to look towards Africa for a Black messiah. Around the same period in time, Haile Selassie I (Ras Tafari) became the Emperor of Ethiopia, using the political and religious title of “Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings, and Elect of God”. A following for the new African king emerged in Jamaica — the Rastafarians or Rastas. Rastas found in Haile Selassie the convergence of Western Religion with an African face; in other words, a God they could relate to. In the Rasta’s Doctrine, Black people were analogous to the Israelites. They had been taken as slaves from their African homeland to Babylon. Rastas defined Babylon to be the European world that had enslaved them, and Haile Selassie (as Lion of Judah) was their savior as defined in Revelations 5:5. If European and American Whites could have their White Jesus, then Rastas were entitled to their own messiah, in their own image. Rastafarianism is a form of Liberation Theolology for the West Indies.
The popularity of the Rastafarian Movement exploded in the 1970s and 80s, especially fomented by the likes of Bob Marley and other Reggae musicians. Interestingly enough, originally Bob Marley and Reggae music were not popular amongst Black Americans, but did have some following among White Americans. Black Americans were not interested in the “look-to- Africa” message. White Americans, mainly hippies, were attracted to the Rastas’ use of marijuana as a spiritual aid. But during the mid 80s when I was listening to Reggae, none of my classmates or peers had ever even heard of Bob Marley, Reggae or Rastas. As a matter of fact, the only interest any of my friends ever showed in Reggae began much later as they became interested in smoking marijuana. Meanwhile, instead of smoking pot, I listened to the music’s lyrics. Eventually, I realized that although the Rasta message was virtuous, their movement was exclusively directed to its own people. Personally, I have absolutely no problem with that. But the music did not speak to me and, in particular, was not meant to speak me, nor did it have any intention of speaking to me. Other than wanting to sell albums, the Rastas do not want White people around them. And who can blame them? White people love to listen to Bob, but they should stop and analyze his lyrics. He was complaining about them.
Nevertheless, I do still listen to Reggae from time to time for three reasons: (i) the nostalgic value of listening to music from my formative years, (ii) the musical value of the music in itself, and (iii) because sometimes I enjoy listening to people who have reached their threshold of a system that represses them and call to fight back (ie, Malcolm X or Zizou). But, while Rastafarianism is an expression of Black people from the West Indies against a European religious tradition forced down their throats, there is no excuse for White Europeans or Whites anywhere to assimilate the Rasta symbolism as their own (ie, Dreadlocks).
Well, isn’t this a bit long winded? Yes, but I still can’t understand why I see so many White hippies with Dreadlocks? Is it for the same reason that White kids in the US listen to HipHop, dress and talk like rappers? Or do hippies only see the Dreadlocks and Rastafarianism as a justification for smoking marijuana? Have they missed the message that Rastas want to be as far away from White hippies as possible?
All of these things passed through my mind as I watched a group of White, European hippies (most of them aging) playing their tribal drums, though I am not sure to which “tribe” their drum beats and mystical dancer belonged. Supposedly they were playing the drums as a spiritual ritual for the setting sun. Unfortunately, while everyone was facing the drummers, all attention was focused on the grey Dreadlocks and “bald heads” (what Rastas call the White oppressors) and the sun sank slowly and gloriously into the sea behind us all. The ritual was for the sun, but the show was for the drummers. I guess it’s a shame they distracted us from the real attraction.