Are you a Rastaman?

Rastafari is my doctrine and reggae is my tool, writes Tony Randon in his first blog, where he revea

Are you a Rastaman?

This question was asked me one day by a woman who came into my shop to buy an Admiral Tibet CD.

She and her husband were visiting London from Walsall, a town very close to where I was born -Wolverhampton. I smiled, as I hadn’t expected the question. She didn’t look like some one who knew anything about reggae let alone Admiral Tibet, and then to ask me such a question! After some hesitation I answered: "I am trying to be"

It’s the beauty of selling reggae music that you meet people from many backgrounds and cultures with one thing in common - their love for the music. I also sell reggae and cultural artifacts which sometimes provokes questions from my customers about Jamaican and Rasta culture.

The majority of people who show interest in this type of merchandise I can easily recognize. Perhaps it’s the air of rebellion or individualism they always radiate, in either their personality, dress and/or physical appearance (usually locks).

This lady and her husband could not be put into any of those brackets. They were ordinary white working class people who had enough insight into rastafari livity to discern that not all black men with locks are Rasta.

I had answered “I m trying to be” not because I doubt who I am or what I stand for, but because the standard set by the patriarchs of the movement were so high, it would be disrespectful to their sacrifices to suggest I had arrived at the level of faith necessary to claim myself to be a rastaman.

Faith so strong that they were prepared to be incarcerated, ridiculed, impoverished, and even die, not only for their belief, but also for the love of their people.

Despite this. Surviving patriarchs have yet to witness rastafari accorded the religious status its importance on Jamaican spiritual identity deserves.

Her question had provoked thought. Inner reasoning. Later to be discussed with my brethrens. Rasta is much more accepted now as part of a multi cultural society. Most people are aware of our peace and love philosophy.

Through reggae music most are aware of our desire for truth and quest for justice, for African and all oppressed people. However, because the true concept and ideals of the founders of the faith had been suppressed or even completely ignored, the public at large have developed a kind of friendly tolerance to Rasta man.

At best we were everybody’s best friend, music loving, like to smoke or sell herbs, weak to the charms of women, at worst a hard person to get close to, with sexist, racist and homophobic views and overtones.

Rasta man image can be seen on numerous merchandise, especially when it comes to promoting smoking paraphernalia. Usually an image of a bleary eyed dread with a big fat spliff in his mouth and saying “yea mon” of something just as corny. Bob Marley’s image adorns anything from beer cans to bikinis, none of which he would approve if he was alive.

As far as spiritual, intellectual and philosophical practices are concerned, the public has been generally misinformed by a press choosing to focus on the homophobic ranting of some young angry men. And not on the manifestation and progress of the initial ideals of rastafari.

Yes Rasta is accepted and loved by the people, but for the majority of those who fail to look deeper, it’s a fashion. Its contribution to racial harmony and spiritual awakening largely ignored. Was the question asked because she thought I was commercializing the movement, therefore undermining the credibility of its doctrines and ideology like the business people who have cashed in on its image? None of which is controlled by a rastaman.

Explanation of one's faith or beliefs cannot be fully explained in a short period of time of written in a few pages. Experience and observation shapes the thinking of a conscious mind.

As members of the human race we strive for the betterment of ourselves, both physically and spiritually. This is the basis for happiness. Wealth and good health being the ultimate goal. But in our quest for self development, have we neglected our duties towards the sanctuary and upkeep of our planet?

There are many issues taking place on earth right now which many feel they are powerless to do anything about. We work our way through life, bombarded with news which undermines the inner peace of the conscious individual.

I know little of ecological issues other than the obvious fact that the seasons have changed and natural disasters are becoming more and more devastating. Rasta see the earth as a living being. Surely polluting it is going to make it sick, causing symptoms which come in the shape of earthquakes, floods, hurricanes etc.

The anti-social parasite which is destroying our young ,and turning them into monsters with no love for self, let alone a creator. As a former youth worker and as a father, it worries me to hear the constant reminders of how evil the human being can become. Leaving many afraid of their own children.

These issues cannot be ignored by the conscious mind, regardless of belief. We all have a responsibility to make our house clean, so that others can follow the example. The ‘I’m alright Jack’ attitude, to me, is as negative as that of the purveyors of destruction and wanton violence.

In a court of law the accomplice is implicitly as guilty as the perpetrator of the crime, even if they have not committed the criminal act. To observe the crime being committed and simply act blind, dumb and deaf is in itself an act of condoning the action.

For Rasta, life is seen as the creator’s second greatest gift. The first is the planet which we were given, to enjoy it on. Mother Earth. Rasta believes man has been created in the image of his creator who dwells within all of us. Thus we are charged with protecting this living being, just as we would look after a baby left in our care.

To simply hide behind self achievement is neglecting this duty. Our fulfillment comes from contributing to the upliftment and harmony of humanity. The respect for ones self must first be achieved by constant appraisal of our position with the inner self, the self which digs into your psychic when faced with life changing situations.

In the Holy Piby known as the Blackman’s bible and one of the cornerstones of Rasta man ideology, the author shepherd Robert Athlyi Rogers lays out the responsibility of the rastaman in a significant statement which reads:

“Verily I say unto you first seek ye righteousness towards men and all things will be added unto you, even the kingdom of god.”

This was written in contrast to the King James Bible teachings, which states:

“Seek ye first the kingdom of god and all things will be added unto you.”

The social consciousness predominant in Rasta philosophy and thinking is derived from this comparison.

Rasta is peace, but does not subscribe to turning the other cheek or bowing (passive) in the face of the aggressor or suppresser. Rastaman recognizes that the world is run by a system that benefits few and keeps the masses in mental bondage and servitude- Babylon.

Rastaman therefore does not compromise his culture, way of life, music or moral standards in the face of wickedness. He is the flag bearer of righteousness, standing firm in the ever demoralizing world we share with the plants and animals. Our status of dominance over them now questionable.

Athlyi Rogers was a former member of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). His inspiration to write the Holy Piby, coming from its leader Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Along with another former member of the UNIA, Leonard Howell, these men supplied the blueprint for what, today, is known as rastafari.

The manifestation of which, has to develop to show millions of people worldwide how to think and act like a free man.

I am working very hard to be worthy of the name rastaman. The ultimate aim is repatriation to our motherland Africa, this is our practical Zion. But this is a long journey which cannot be achieved overnight. Our ties with the west cannot be easily broken, there are too many of our brothers and sisters still in mental slavery.

They have not been shown anything positive to convince them that rastafari thinking is the way forward for their survival as a people. Thus while we continue to educate and work in the community, our Zion becomes a state of mind. Mental. Where every thought and action is Afro centric.

The philosophy of rastafari has been built on the foundation of love. Hate is a negative emotion which leads to sickness. We believe that everyone has the right to live and follow their destiny, even the wicked. The destruction of human life is abhorred by Rasta philosophy no matter the cause. Righteousness decrees that only the creator can judge and everyone will face that judgment in the time of Armageddon.

It’s the fear of underachieving in the eyes of the creator which guides the rastaman through the day to day dogma of life. We recognize that our environment is rapidly losing the moral balance that forms a harmonious society. Only resulting in negative vibrations, which corrupts and soils our spiritual well being.

Our suffering started on the justification of racial inferiority. The solution then can only come from a race based platform, to undo the damage caused. Political, economic, social and spiritual institutions must be put in place before we can continue the journey started by men and women like Marcus Garvey, Nanny, Paul Bogle and people like them who gave there lives for the freedom of others.

Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness

As an individual, my journey is one of constant learning and overstanding of all people and how best to live and work with them. I have found a niche in the world where I can make a difference to people’s lives. I am fortunate to have been handed this gift. Rastafari is my doctrine and reggae is my tool. Music is a healer and there are many hurt souls out there in need of spiritual healing.

Tony Randon, aka jah T, is the proprietor of Massive International, a reggae merchandise outlet based in Camden lock market in North London. Prior to that, he has worked in varying capacities in the reggae music industry for twenty five years. He has also worked as a youth leader specialising in sport music and personal development for young black males.
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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