A New Faculty of Interpretation
This article originally appeared in the recently released 8th annual Reggae Festival Guide.
Is the bible the Word of God? Most reggae musicians - Rastafarian or otherwise - accept that it is. Like any other Jamaicans, we were all taught to believe that there was no teaching of morality or history outside of the bible. In writing this article, I am aware that it might go against the perception of you, the reader. May you keep an open, searching mind as you continue reading my reasonings.
When Rastafarians began the quest to find Self, the only book that was available to us was the bible and so the totality of what we understood to be true was based primarily on interpretation of this book. Even the idea of Haile Selassie as an afrikan God was justified and validated by the bible. We, as afrikan people brought here from afrika under inhumane conditions, were forced to live - even now - without any kind of identity. This was also justified through the bible by the European invaders and those afrikans who sought to rationalize this enslavement by declaring that this was an Act of God. The influence of this book runs deep. Over the years, Rastafarians declare themselves to be Israelites as referred to in the Old Testament, so that words and phrases such as Zion, Promised Land, the wicked Pharaoh and Jah became part of the language of the Rastafarian movement.
What I am really trying to say here, is that our own religious knowledge goes back no further than the 6,000 year history presented by this bible, (from Genesis to the beginning of this century, according to the bible, is 6,000 years). History and archeological evidence prove Ethiopia and Egypt existed thousands of years beyond that - much, much more than a mere 6,000 years.
Rastafarians have been very influential because of our music and cultural practices. For Rastafarians to move forward in this time, we will have to go beyond the bible, we can no longer continue to justify Haile Selassie’s divinity through the Davidic link. Ethiopia existed thousands of years before Abraham walked out of the Ur of the Chaldees. Even Egypt, which as been demonized by the authors of the Old Testament, existed thousands of years before Israel.
We can not continue to close out other information that is not in line with the bible. The bible is just one set of peoples’ understanding of human behavior and personality. The events recorded in the bible are on the periphery of afrikan knowledge. Stories recorded in the bible have their genesis in other indigenous people’s folk tales. What we are taking as history is other people’s mythology.
is a journey
In Ethiopia, whether by design or accident, the Church has not gone beyond the story of Solomon and Sheba to justify Ethiopia’s presence in history. We can clearly see that there was a deliberate attempt to erase the feminine representation of Ethiopia’s personality and this resulted in a rise in a system of patriarchy that was very alien to afrikan culture. One would conclude that Ethiopia’s religious beginning starts with the union of Makeda and Solomon, but the only information received about Makeda is that she worshiped the sun and that she conceived for Solomon. The significance of the Queen of Sheba’s visit to Solomon is very important in validating Ethiopia’s link with a Jewish heritage because this is used to substantiate Ethiopia’s true monarchy and lso the Godhead linkage.
A return to the feminine principle is very important in the unraveling of our ancient spirituality. What we have professed has helped us so far, but it’s up to us to now move it further. We can no longer be like Christian fundamentalists - or Islamic fundamentalists for that matter - who are stuck in a history that does not provide them with an understanding of new thoughts and new life styles. We are living in a new era of information - a time when one can travel from London to New York in three hours, when one can click a switch and illuminate a stadium filled with thousands of people, a time when a person committing a crime in one part of the world can be viewed instantaneously in another through modern technology. This is the age of information, but inspiration without information sometimes leads to superstition.
Muta performing at the 2002
Sierra Nevada World Music Festival
Photo by Daniel Frankston
Given what I know now, I refuse to accept this limited view of Ethiopia and its contribution to world spirituality because this view has stagnated our concept of religion in afrika and how we relate to other cultures. I refuse to keep validating my perception of the divinity of Haile Selassie through an Israelite god. Ideas of emperors being gods existed long before the presence of the Israelites in Egypt. We, as Rastafarians, can find the essence of our spirituality in an Ethiopia and Egypt void of Israelite interpretation.
We are the creators of our destiny, we are the shapers of our future and our spirituality must reflect this new faculty of interpretation. We must not be afraid of the deep. Rastafari can only continue if we who profess this faith, understand that afrikan philosophy and afrikan spirituality cannot be bound into any book.
Our need to understand each other and our environment is very crucial in the rationalization of our existence. This can only be realized through clarity of perception. Religion does not offer clarity. What religion offers is a perception and this perception comes through belief. This belief comes through faith and, as we know, faith is not knowledge. Faith is what we would like our perception to be or not to be. Haile Selassie declares, "We must not confuse Spirituality with Religion." Rastafari must not be bound by religious perceptions because this will cause stagnation of the movement and thereby create fundamentalism. We must be open to the different cultures of afrika and not demonize them because of biblical interpretations.
The journey is never-ending and the race is not for the swift. There are many rivers to cross and so much trouble in the world. We will have to wake up and live! Rastafari must continue to rock the boat with a new faculty of interpretation.
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