Now, I’m not one to spy on people. BUT on this particular weekday morning I heard a rhythmic slap slap slapping on pavement. It was faint, unfamiliar and disrupting the steady swish swish swishing of traffic many, many stone throws away.
I rolled off the bed, dodged the unbearable glare of the rising sun burning through my window panes and snuck up to the bathroom window. . .
Hmm. Not a bad sight to be greeted with first thing in the morning. A fabulous display of fitness. Art in action.
A lean, barefooted, shirtless Rastaman in army-green trousers and a black turban wrapped tightly around his dreadlocks was skipping in the parking lot of the doctor’s office behind our yard.
The skipping rope must’ve thought Cassius Marcellus Clay had returned to his heyday as it criss-crossed in the hands of this network of muscles. No fancy footwork here though, just clean, precise movements.
From a distance, I could sense dignity in the air circulating about this man. I dashed from bathroom window to bedroom window and back to get a good look from all possible angles. Then he disappeared.
The next morning—you guessed it—at the sound of the slap slap slapping, I was back, peeping through the windows and wishing I had on my bifocals. They were more than likely in the den downstairs by the TV–too far to fetch. I squinted. It worked. Kind of.
For three days, I spied and then, alas, he was gone, and I was saddened.
Fast forward two months later. I’m in line at a Bill Express. The glass door opens. My back is to the entrance. I can’t see who has entered. The person joins the line and stands directly behind me. He starts preaching about “trodding on” despite life’s challenges, over-standing seh “ah so life set up” and that trials make di I strong. So trod on!
I dare not turn and stare. To do so would be faas (i.e. inquisitive). Instead, I examine the reflections in the cashier’s window. No, it’s not the fellow from the parking lot, but another. He’s reasoning with a Rastaman like himself.
I suddenly remember the scene in Chronixx’s “Rastaman Wheel Out” music video where, after a brief conversation about a debt owed, a small paper bag of aromatic herb and a pot of bun up (i.e. burnt) peas, Tallist (because he’s a tall man), tells Chronixx to trod on. It’s encouragement for Chronixx to continue his journey in search of fresh peas.
Then I remember the 1970s when it wasn’t an unusual sight to see Rastamen in full garb—turbans; multi-coloured green, red, yellow and black robes and trousers; and leather sandals–walking through the neighbourhood selling brooms: carpet broom, cobweb broom, yard broom.
With brooms banded and hoisted over one shoulder, they’d call out, “Broomy, Broomy. . . Broooooomy!” I don’t think there was a house in JA that didn’t have one or two of those brooms in its housecleaning arsenal.
Real Rastas, and by “real” I mean those who adhere to the movement’s tenets, whether of the Nyahbinghi, Bobo Shanti, Twelve Tribes of Israel or other mansion, strike me as a majestic and sage-like people, sometimes humble, sometimes militant, but mostly quiet; counting their words.
I know when many people visualize a Rasta, a fat herbaceous cigarette and a guitar are usually in the picture. If we set aside those stereotypical accessories, we’ll see that there are a few lessons Jamaicans have learned from the Rastafari people. They have influenced our culture and approach to health and wellness.
There’s the matter of ganja tea as a remedy for certain illnesses. For example, courageous mothers may slip dem pickney a cup of this brew to clear up asthma. They’ll tell you it works wonders. I’m pretty sure pending changes to our laws concerning possession, cultivation and trade of these greens now have them grinning from ear to ear.
But heng on! Don’t be packing your grip and booking a quick flight to JA. You won’t be able to pick up this “vegetable” at a local supermarket like callaloo or pak choi. And your pilot won’t be navigating any thick cannabis-smoke clouds in order to descend onto Sangster’s International’s tarmac. Much of the focus is on medicinal and religious use. Plus there’ll be permit requirements, prescription requirements and other controls. No free for all here.
Trenton? Arnold? Dat ting dere? No, thanks! Some of us don’t touch the stuff. Some were influenced by other religions. Others, like me, swore off of swine as a direct result of hearing a Rasta’s discourse on red meat and how it lingers and rots in the intestines for weeks on end. Whether true or false, breakfast bacon neva look so appealing to me after dat.
It’s not unusual to hear baldheads (non-Rastas) referring to “Babylon” and “Babylon system”. Guess where that came from? Yup, Rasta ting again. The word Babylon is certainly not peculiar to Rastafari, but I’m willing to bet whole heap a wi started using the term because of a Rasta. To cry out against Babylon is to cry out against oppressive governments, groups and systems.
I an I. I-man. Iya. Irie. Yes, Rasta-speak again. The movement’s drive to infuse positive, spiritual energy into our vocabulary and thinking has added many more hues to Jamaica’s rainbow of expressions.
I’m sure there are plenty more influences we can think of. What else comes to mind? Leave your two cents in the comments section. Don’t be shy.