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RELIGION-JAMAICA: Rastafarians Embrace Babylon By
Virginia Hardy KINGSTON, Jun 30 (IPS) - No longer content to watch from the outskirts of a society that has sidelined
them for almost five decades, members of the Rastafarian community here have thrown their hat into the political ring.
They have made it public that they plan to contest the next local government elections which are now constitutionally due but a
date for which has not yet been announced.
Five members of the group contested the general elections which were held in December 1997. None was able to gain a seat
in the country's Parliament. But they were not discouraged.
''We have to participate in the political process,'' Dilpi Champagnie, a youth leader of the newly formed Imperial Ethiopian
World Federation Political Party (IEWFPP) said.
referring to the country's parliament.
Up until now the Rastafarian movement had shunned all associations with government and was largely seen as anti-
establishment.
The movement which emerged in the 1930s denounced the church and government as agents of imperialism and referred to
these institutions as 'Babylon'. The term Babylon also covers the western world. Capitalism is seen as the system of Babylon.
But now the Rastafarians say they have grown weary of the various administrations that have turned a blind eye to their needs
since universal adult suffrage was introduced in 1944.
''There has been a lack of representation from 1944 until now. So we see the need to seek our own representation. The
Rasta community has bred our own intellectuals and technocrats and we can't leave i to the political directorate to make things
happen for us, we can't depend on them,'' Champagnie said.
''We have to represent the people,'' added Junior Anderson, 1st vice president of the IEWFPP in a recent press release. ''It is
the people who feel it most and suffer from bad roads, lack of proper parks for recreational and sprts purposes. We need
social welfare programmes for the poor and elderly and the less fortunate.''
However, Anderson knows from personal experience that contesting an election is no easy task. In the December election he
ran in the Kingston Central constituency and got seven votes from an electorate that numbered well over 12,000. None of the
other IEWFPP candidates fared any better.
The Rastafarians' dismal showing at the polls was due in part to their failure to canvass the support of the rest of their
community.
The IEWFPP's campaign, which was low-keyed by Jamaican standards, did little to sway their colleagues. Their plans to set
up a government based on the ideology of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I failed to drum up support for their party among
the electorate.
''We wrote letters to our brethren and sistren, telling them to get enumerated but the response hasn't been overwhelmng,''
Champagnie said.
''Not all Rastafarians will give their support and solidarity because some of them are opposed to voting,'' Rastafarian journalist
Barbara Makeda Blake-Hannah explained.
On the same day the IEWFPP was announcing its intention to contest the general election, colleagues from the Ethiopia Africa
Black International Congress (EABIC), another grouping, were condemning the politics of the nation during a press
conference.
''We will have nothing to do with that system. All they do is tell people to mark an X and when I was in school if I got an X
for my sums then it meant it was wrong. Whoever you make an X for it is wrong,'' said EABIC priest Lincoln Brown.
Members of the EABIC are more concerned about issues like repatriation and reparation which have long been a source of
contention between Rastafarians and the government.
For several decades Rastafarians have maintained that they were entitled to compensation from Britain for the years their
forefathers were enslaved. This compensation, they say, should cover their cost of returning to Africa -- Ethiopia in particular
-- and settling there.
''Every black person in the Diaspora has a right to repatriation. We are on overtime in the western world now,'' Earl Savage,
an EABIC priest said.
is colleague, Anthony Morgan has called on the Jamaican government to cease its delay tactics'' and make representation to
the British government, the United Nations and the International Court of Justice on their behalf to secure their compensation.
The fight to legalise marijuana is another issue that has proved to be a rallying point for the various sects in the Rastafarian
community.
Reportedly introduced to the island by Indian indentured labourers in the 19th century, the smoking of marijuana became a
religious ritual for Rastafarians, who adhere to strong African beliefs and have radical anti-western interpretation of the Bible.
Meanwhile, the IEWFPP insists that if any of the issues that are of concern to the Rastafarian movement are going to be
addressed their traditional position of agitating from the sidelines has to be abandoned in favour of a more direct approach.
''For us to get any of these things dealt with we have to have a voice in the Parliament or in the Senate,'' Champagnie said.
''For a long time the Rastas have said that they are non-political because they did not understand the role that politics plays in
life,'' he explained.
''We are a community that was born out of protest. When we were fighting for independence all our slogans were political.
Things like repatriation and reparation, we are coming to realise that thse re political issues,'' Champagnie added.
''There is a lack of education and a lot of ignorance about political issues and this had led to a stigma so Rstas have felt that
they have to be non-political. And because of how the politics is played out a lot of brothers and sisters do not want to get
involved.''
However, if the Rastafarian politicians are serious about being a part of the establishment they will not only have to capture
the support of their members, but also that of the wider voting public. Blake-Hannah warned that people will not just vote for
a Rastafarian candidate out of sentimentality.
''I vote and I would love to have a Rasta candidate but the Rastafarian politicians must address issues that affect the wider
constituency,'' Blake-Hannah said. (end/ips/ip/ct/cb/98)