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The Institute of Jamaica – Rastafari: Unconquerable!

On July 21st, the Institute of Jamaica opened an historic exhibition entitled, Rastafari: Unconquerable! It is the first exhibition in Jamaica on the Rastas and as soon as I heard about it, I knew I had to see it.

Rastafari exhibition in Jamaica

Entrance to the exhibition

During the ride to the museum, I thought several times of One Love: Discovering Rastafari, the first exhibition on the Rastas that I had seen at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. I was excited to see that Rastafari, the small movement that began in Jamaica in the late 1930s and has since spread worldwide, was finally getting consideration and scholarship. Discovering Rastafari, which ran from November 2007 to November 2011, left me wondering if that was all there was. I hoped the current show would be the definitive study on Rasta.

Rastafari exhibition, Jamaica

Rastafari: Unconquerable!

Rasta exhibition, Institute of Jamaica

Artwork from Rastafari: Unconquerable!

Undoubtedly larger in space and scope, Rastafari: Unconquerable tells the story of the birth and evolution of Rasta through videos, installations, artefacts and personal stories. It covers several watershed moments in the history of the movement in segments organized around themes such as Revelation of Rastafari, its Philosophy and Evolution, and the 1966 visit to Jamaica of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I. It also features a review of the attempts at suppression of the movement by Jamaican authorities, by far one of the most appalling periods in our history.

Rastafari Exhibition, Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey

Rastafari Visionaries

Visionaries

Rastafari Exhibition

Haile Selassie in Jamaica, 1966

Rastafari has come a long way since Lionel Howell, the first Rasta, founded Pinnacle, the home he established for his followers, and Marcus Garvey advised the poor and downtrodden to look to Africa for the crowning of a black king who would deliver them out of poverty.  It’s exciting to see the museum finally undertaking this important step in recognizing Rasta’s influence on the society, and their presence in the world.

Rastafari exhibition

Haile Selassie

One thing that struck me about the exhibition was its stillness, its flatness. It was as if the breath, power, vitality and passion that pulses through Rastafari could not, as the title suggests, be conquered even in this exhibition that celebrates Rastafari; the Movement which grew out of struggle, with larger than life visionaries who fought against the system, could not be tamed. Still, it’s an excellent first exhibition, a must see.

Rastafari: Unconquerable remains on view at the Institute of Jamaica, 10-16 East Street, Kingston. 876-922-0620, Admission $5

 

Haile Selassie, Rastafari & Jamaica

Today marks the 46th anniversary of the visit of Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia to Jamaica. Selassie was emperor of Ethiopia for 44 years. He was also his country’s regent from 1916 – 1930, the year he was crowned emperor.

Haile Selassie I, former emperor of Ethiopia

HIM, Haile Selassie I, Mural at Bob Marley Museum

Selassie, who could trace his line back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, was born Lij Tafari Makonnen (Lij means child in Amharic) and became Ras Tafari Makonnen. He took the name Haile Selassie following his crowning. Officially, his title was His Imperial Magesty Haile Selassie I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God.

During the 1920s, black activist, Marcus Garvey frequently exhorted his followers, who were mostly poor

HIM Haile Selassie I, former emperor of Ethiopia

Painting of HIM, Haile Selassie I, on the base of Bob Marley’s statue

and downtrodden, to look to Africa for the crowning of a black king who would deliver them out of poverty. Many in Jamaica interpreted Selassie’s crowning as the fulfillment of Garvey’s prediction.

One group, the Rastafaris, from Ras Tafari, emerged during the 1930s and embraced Selassie as the

incarnation of God or Jah. Selassie met with representatives of the Rastas and in 1948, donated 500 acres of his private lands to allow Rastafari Brethren and Ethiopian World Federation members to settle in Ethiopia in an area known as Shashamane.

When His Imperial Majesty arrived in Kingston on April 21, 1966, he was caught off guard by the masses of Rastas, about 100,000, who had gathered to greet him, their Jah. It was reported that Selassie was reluctant to exit the plane until he received assurances that it was safe for him to do so.

The visit came at a critical time for the Rastas who were routinely harassed by police and shunned by the majority of the larger Jamaican society. Selassie’s historic visit gave them legitimacy and since then they celebrate His Imperial Majesty with drumming and chanting on Groundation Day, April 21st.