Horace Campbell (1st Ed, 1985)

This book is a study of the Rastafarian movement from it’s evolution in Jamaica to it’s progression around the world, particularly in Trinidad, Grenada, Guyana, the UK and parts of Africa.  It begins around the 18th century and continues until the mid 80’s, when the book was first published.  It traces the political, cultural, religious and social conditions and forces that have shaped and defined the Rastafarian movement throughout these times, and analyses how the movement has grown and developed.

The author, Horace Campbell, is a writer, teacher and political activist who was born in Jamaica and who subsequently traveled and taught in Africa, the Caribbean, the UK and North America.  Topics included in the book are the days of Slavery, Emancipation, Garveyism, Ethiopianism, Pan-Africanism, the origins of Rasta, Ganja, and the internationalisation of Reggae and Rasta.

One of the key aims of Campbell’s analysis is to firmly ground and view Rastafarianism from an intellectual and sociological perspective, away from many of the myths and propaganda that has dogged much of the movement in the eyes of popular culture.  He highlights how Rasta was a political and cultural movement for social change, and he seeks to break the conception of Rasta as being from a purely idealist tradition.

He also illustrates some of the elements behind this propaganda and misinformation, identifying certain religious groups, the State and varying world capitalist, political powers. He states how Rasta is a set of values and way of living life – sustainably, itally and consciously – which was borne from the oppression faced by the people.

Refreshingly, Campbell does not attempt to gloss over, or idealise the movement.  He instead lays out historical and cultural facts and realities, which provide the reader with a much greater level of understanding and awareness into ‘why things happened as they did’.

Of note throughout the book was Campbell’s incredibly wide-ranging knowledge and his ability to integrate the many differing forces, groups and interests at play, in diverse parts of the world, that have influenced and guided Rasta over time.

Campbell firmly states his belief that in order to create cultural liberation, the working class must take control of the means of production and reproduction within society and Rasta must forge “…links with social groups, progressive groups, so they can break the old preoccupation with kings, empires and dynasties”.

With my limited background knowledge of the history of Rasta, at times I found this book difficult to follow, as the content is grouped thematically, not chronologically.  This made it harder to obtain a clear picture of ‘what happened when’, as it was necessary to piece together certain parts of the book with others, in order to obtain a holistic view.  Campbell also referred to certain events in history but did not go into them in depth, assuming a level of knowledge.  I also found the section on Rasta women a bit light, and would have been interested in a deeper analysis of this area.

Highlights include the section on how Rasta grew and developed throughout the rest of the Caribbean, with Campbell’s examples, particularly that of Grenada, hugely informative.  The section on repatriation was another stand-out with analyses of Sierra Leone, Shashamane (Ethiopia) and Liberia.  Campbell discusses how some repatriation was voluntary, but how the concept was also used by imperialists to justify the deportation of black people.  He states the positive and negative aspects that have taken place with repatriation and the resulting analysis provides some truly challenging ideas in relation to this much talked about subject.

All up this was a totally absorbing and eye-opening look at the development of Rasta culture until the mid-80s.  I will probably have to re-read the book to fully grasp the concepts that Campbell so insightfully expressed.  A follow-up to this exploration into Rasta culture and history would be to examine the movement from the mid 80’s onwards.  Totally recommended read.

Venus Hi Fi