The drums are what drew me to the Rastafari Indigenous Village in Montego Bay. The sound seeped through the lush jungle of breadfruit, ackee, banana, coconut and assorted other trees and urged me to shake my feet.
I decided to follow. Moving closer, I walk in rhythm to the boom, boom of the bass drum, then quicken my steps, dancing to the music that was meant just for me.
I push open the bamboo gate, walk pass the garden with 100 different herbs with names like Dog Tongue,Search Mi Heart, Fever Grass and Moses in the Cradle scripted in bold letters on joints of bamboo planted near each bed.
I greet a group of German tourists being given an introduction to the Village and head straight to the location from where the drumming is coming. Five Rasta bredren (men) and one sistren (woman) are gathered in a circle beating the drums and singing a song I don’t recognize.
Several rows of chairs face them and on each sits a rattle, made from a small calabash gourd. I pick one up and start shaking it in time with the bass.
A few minutes later, the visitors arrive accompanied by Iionkanaka, who’s leading the tour. They’re invited to take a seat and the drums go quiet. Iionkanaka explains each – the bass, which keeps the rhythm, thekumina, which is used in traditional dances, and the repeater, which repeats a chord continuously. Another Rasta walks into the circle and begins to sing.
Five or so songs later, they invite the visitors to join them for a short drumming session and take photos. Following the end of the morning tour, they move to the on-site craft market where small items made by the Rastas can be purchased.
Who are the Rastas?
The Rastafari movement began in Jamaica in the late 1930s. It is more of a way of life and a system of beliefs than a religion. Rastas revere Emperor Haile Selassie I, whom they call their spiritual leader and Africa the home of all mankind.
Rastas belong to several houses that have their own set of rules and focus. Some of the better known ones are the School of Vision, Twelve Tribes of Israel, Boboshantis, and Nyabinghi. Rastas believe ganja (cannabis) is spiritual food and use it especially during their reasonings (discussions). The weed is chopped and smoked in a chalice, sometimes called a chillum pipe. (The chalice works on the same principle as the hookah.) Note: Although the Rastas freely smoke and use ganja, it is still illegal in Jamaica with stiff penalties, including jail time, especially if you’re caught leaving the country with it.
The Rasta ital diet relies heavily on herbs, fruits and vegetables and includes no meat or alcohol. The coconut is used extensively to add flavor. Following the teachings of the Bible (Numbers 6:5), they Rastas never cut their hair, wearing it in locks. They’ve also developed their own language and colors
Iionkanaka explained that this Village, also referred to as Iion Station, was started three years ago. The group performs poetry and drumming sessions at the Village or at events around the Island and offers tours to teach visitors about their way of life and the importance of herbs and natural living.
The Rastafarian Indigenous Village or just plain Rasta Village, is located about 10 minutes from the Westgate Shopping Center in Irwin, Montego Bay, Jamaica. 876-285-4750. Tours start at $40 per person.