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Thread: Women In RASTAFARI

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    Baby Luv Sencia's Avatar Sencia is offline
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    Women In RASTAFARI

    Once again i was holding a medi (meditation) my thoughts traveled on the female role in Rastafari (keeping in line with the previous thread). Lately alot of headway has been made with how females are treated, so i thought it would be nice to present to u some of the differences.

    Now bear with me, this is going to be another LONG one.

    This was written by Helen Morgan

    Womyn's Traditional Roles in Rastafari

    The traditional role of womyn in Rastafarianism is somewhat ambivalent. On the one hand, womyn are very respected by their male counterparts and are given honorific titles such as"sister"and"queen"to show that respect. As Chevannes documented in his book on Rastafarianism,"womyn are respected, perhaps even feared, for their powers of fertility and command greater allegiance and love from males and females alike..."

    On the other hand, womyn are largely subordinated to and controlled by their husbands and fathers as well as the rest of the men in the community. This kind of sexism can be seen in the practices, norms, and rules of the Rasta culture. Let us first examine those aspects of womyn's roles in Rastafarianism that reflect the positive side of gender relations, which, coincidentally, are largely forgotten in much of present-day literature on the Rasta culture.

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    Baby Luv Sencia's Avatar Sencia is offline
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    Positive Aspects of Womyn's Roles in Traditional Rastafari

    The respect that Rastamen pay to Rastawomyn draws greatly upon the history of the"Queen Omega"phenomenon. Haile Selassie's wife, Empress Menen, was referred to as Queen Omega. Leonard P. Howell in The Promised Key describes the title of Queen Omega as follows:

    "Queen Omega, the Ethiopian woman is the crown woman of this world. She hands us the rule book from the poles of Supreme Authority. She is the Canon Mistress of our creation, King Alpha [Haile Selassie] and Queen Omega are the paymasters of the world. Queen Omega being the blaming mistress of many worlds, she charges the powerhouse right now"(Jahug, Pg. 37).

    Hence, Queen Omega was taken to mean the crown empress of Ethiopia at the given time, i.e. Empress Menen. The above quote shows that the title is honorific and respectful. Moreover, the quote shows that Queen Omega is a strong woman who challenges oppression and the 44 powerhouse"(ibid, pg. 38). The Rastas believe that the Rastawomyn are the daughters of Queen Omega. Hence, they see the positive qualities associated with Queen Omega in every Rastafari womyn, and the title of Queen Omega can be extended to womyn of the Rasta culture to be a symbol of the deep respect held for that individual. This is the highest title that a womyn can be given.

    Just as the Rastamen modeled themselves after the Emperor Haile Selassie, the Rastawomyn took on Empress Menen, Queen Omega, as their own role model. Similarly, the religious tenets of Rastafari dictated that the men should treat their womyn with the same respect that is due to the Queen Omega Empress Menen. Furthermore,"the psychological effect upon the black womyn to have an Afrikan womyn reigning as empress in regal splendor and being paid homage"(ibid, pg. 38) was extremely significant. It gave Rastawomyn an esteem and selfrespect that they had never before been granted. In this respect, the idea of Queen Omega took on a more abstract meaning in that it became a symbol of the esteem and honor that is due to all Rastawomyn. This not only affected the way the Rastawomyn saw themselves, but it also affected how they were seen and treated by their male counterparts. However, Empress Menen's early death led to a decreased focus on the Rastawomyn and her important role in the community.

    In addition, the titles men use for Rastawomyn symbolize the respect they have for them. If there is one thing I have learned in this class it is that rhetoric and the use of specific language in certain ways can have very powerful effects. It is often noted that much of the language used in the Rasta culture as well as in reggae music is masculinist and sexist. However, one must not overlook the fact that amidst that sexist and patriarchal ideology also lies a deep respect that Rastamen have for their womyn. The titles that Rastawomyn are given reflect this respect. The womyn are called either"Sisters,""Daughters,"or"Queens."These titles are distributed regardless of one's age, status (sexual, marital, or familial), or appearance. Each of the"roles are accorded the natural familial connotations of respect, love, protection, and support"(Nicholas, 1966: 64). Respectful titles may not seem like a very big deal to many westerners, but they are very important in the Rasta culture. The titles reflect the fact that, regardless of the way that many dancehall musicians refer to womyn (which is usually in a degrading manner), traditional Rasta culture views womyn with respect and honor.

    In addition to honorific titles, another positive aspect of men's treatment toward womyn is their desire to keep womyn relaxed and contented at all times (ibid, pg. 64). Rastamen feel as though womyn should never have to worry or be upset for any reasons; rather, they wish them to be at ease with themselves and at peace with the world at all times. This is reflected in Bob Marley's popular song lyrics"No woman, no cry"(ibid, pg. 64). However, as we will see later, this may also have negative effects such that the desire to keep womyn at ease may push them out of socio-political thought and reasoning for fear that it would put them at unease and discontent.

    The Rastafarian emphasis on nature, love, and peace also has positive effects on the Rastawomyn. In contrast to much of western culture, Rastawomyn are not socialized to believe that their worth lies in how they look. Rather, their worth lies in who they are and how they conduct themselves. Furthermore, the Rasta culture is also relatively free from the competition among womyn for the affection of men that is so common to the minority world."A womyn is what she is or isn't born with, and her worth in life is relative only to her acceptance of Rastafari, the resultant peace and love within herself and her contribution to her family and community"(ibid, pg. 65). This content with one's natural being and life course fosters a community with relatively little jealousy or competition among Rastawomyn.

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    Negative Aspects of Womyn's Role in Rastafari

    It is quite paradoxical, yet nonetheless true, that, while the traditional Rastafari culture commands utmost respect to be paid to womyn, the culture's practices, rules, and norms at the same time are geared towards deeming womyn as evil and inferior. Furthermore it seems inconceivable due to the fact that Rastafarianism is one of the most socially conscious and
    progressive social movements of our time. The prophets of this unprecedented religious movement speak of equality and justice in ways that no others have done this side of the century. Poets and musicians such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh sing about white oppression and exploitation of the black man in serious and powerful ways so as to unite the black race to overcome that oppression. However, the Rastafarian practices of their preaching are somewhat called into question when one considers much of their treatment and views of womyn.

    Some Rastas believe that womyn are inherently evil. The roots of this can be found in many Biblical passages and references. Since much of Rastafari is based on the Bible, it is no wonder that they incorporated the Christian ethic of womyn's inferiority into their own religion as well. The Rastas modeled the Rastawomyn's role after the womyn portrayed in the Bible. Hence, similar to western culture, the Rasta womyn fall upon the Eve syndrome in which"The Adam and Eve myth justifies womyn's generally unequal place in the family and in society. This and other myths from the Bible reinforce the peasant worldview that womyn are treacherous by nature"(Chevannes, 1994: 29). Therefore, the Rastas see womyn as naturally inferior and subordinate. Their treatment of them reflects this Biblical view.

    The patriarchal aspects of Rastafari can be seen in the fact that, traditionally, womyn could not join the Rasta faith through their own volition. Rather, they had to be led into the religion by one of the Rasta brethren (Nicholas, 1966: 65). Furthermore, before the 1970s, womyn of Rastafari faith were referred to as a Rastaman womyn. There was no such term as Rastawomyn. This gendered discourse reflects the sexism that the traditional Rasta faith entails. Rather than recognizing a womyn as a separate entity, she was seen only as an extension of her man. This clearly shows how the traditional Rasta culture portrays womyn as inferior and subordinate to men.

    In addition to this, a Rastawomyn's role in the community is largely centered around her family. Specifically, her main duties are to bear and rear her children, cook and prepare ital (natural, organic) food (in most Rasta communities), and serve as a positive role model to other womyn and girls in the community (ibid, pg. 64). Hence, the Rastawomyn have some authority over domestic issues while the Rastamen have sole control and authority over all issues outside of the home and family. This is not to say that the men do not have any say in domestic affairs, which they do; rather, that authority is somewhat counterbalanced by the authority that the womyn enjoy. Also, the men are supposed to share half of the burden of raising the children but rarely do. In spite of this, however, men are still regarded as the"physical and spiritual head of the female as well as the family"(Carroll, 1997). Furthermore, there is no reciprocity at all with regards to non-domestic issues. That is, outside of familial issues, the Rastawomyn have virtually no say in what goes on.

    This is enforced through various rules and practices that guarantee that a womyn will not step out of her domestic role. These practices and rules perpetuate womyn's subordination and inferiority to men. One of these rules is that a womyn cannot lead any Rastafari ritual. Furthermore, she is not allowed to even take part in many of the Rastafari rituals, one of which is the reasoning session. A reasoning session is"a communal undertaking in which one shares beliefs about liberation and justice and relates them to the black experience of slaver, colonialism, and racism"(Lewis, 1993: 25). As one can tell, the reasoning session is a key aspect of the Rasta's fight against oppression and racism. The fact that womyn are excluded from this important ritual is endemic of the minute role womyn play in the larger issues of the Rastafarian movement. Moreover, a Rastawomyn is also prohibited from partaking of the chalice (i.e. smoking ganja) in public situations. She is only allowed to smoke from the chalice with other womyn in a private setting. This also demonstrates the womyn's inferior role because partaking of the chalice in the public realm with the Rasta brethren is a key aspect of the Rastafari faith through which the Rastas are spiritually united with each other and the earth. The exclusion of womyn from this practice not only shows how they are viewed as inferior, but it also undercuts their involvement with the Rasta faith in general. That is, it is almost if they are not true members at all because they are not allowed to take part in the key practices and rituals (Chevannes, 1994: 256). This view was furthered by a researcher who studied the Rastas and found that Rastawomyn"will listen but rarely offer more than a playful aside as the brethren sit around and caucus over the affairs of the world, Jamaica and Rasta. If serious business is at hand, it is likely that womyn will not be"(Nicholas, 1966: 65).

    Other rules and norms that discriminate against womyn and portray them as inferior include rules regarding adultery, clothing, birth control, and cooking during menstruation. With respect to adultery, both Rastamen and womyn are not supposed have affairs outside of their marriage. However, the penalty for womyn if they do not obey this rule is that of death, while there seems to be no delineated rule for a man who commits the same infraction. This is clearly discriminatory towards womyn. Rules regarding dress and clothing are similarly biased against womyn. While men are free to walk around with nothing but a piece of cloth over their genitals, womyn must have their knees and legs covered at all times when they are outside of their home. However, they are not allowed to wear pants either. The former rule of covering one's legs was made because it was thought that if a womyn did not cover her legs, she was inviting"lust and crimes of passion and infidelity"(ibid, pg. 64). In fact, Rastas believe that all crimes of passion arise out of invited solicitation. Hence, if a womyn is raped, it is seen as her fault because she invited it. Moreover, Rastamen are given more freedom than womyn to expose their naturalness
    and sexuality. Womyn are forced to hide their body and sexuality. Similarly, Rastawomyn are also compelled to keep their dreadlocks covered when going outside of the house while men are allowed to let them flow free. This is rooted in the book of Corinthians in the Bible where it suggests that a womyn dishonors herself when she uncovers her head. Although this law may not seem overtly sexist, the fact that it only prohibits womyn from wearing their locks free of cover and does not prohibit men from doing so speaks to the fact that womyn are largely excluded from the important aspects of the Rasta culture. This exclusion insures that they will play a subordinate role and furthers their being perceived as inferior. Therefore, the effects of the rule are sexist and oppressive. In addition, another rule that perpetuates subordination and inferiority of the Rastawomyn is that which prohibits her from using birth control. This keeps her from being able to have any control over her reproductive cycle and perpetuates her domestic role. Furthermore, the fact that the womyn cannot take initiative to control her own body shows how the womyn has little authority over anything-not even her own body. Finally, Rastawomyn are prohibited from cooking while they are menstruating because there is a supernatural fear that while the womyn is"under the influence and control of extensive powers that are potentially dangerous to all males above seven years old,"and those dangers are thought to be"transmissible into food through her vibrations"(Chevannes, 1994: 259). This tenet also shows the negative views that are held about womyn in traditional Rasta culture in that the natural cycle of menstruation is seen as a sign of danger toward the man. Furthermore, those womyn who attempt to disobey these rules may find themselves subject to severe beatings by their husbands or fathers which only further perpetuates womyn's subordination and oppression.

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    Baby Luv Sencia's Avatar Sencia is offline
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    Part II: The Changing Role of Womyn in Rastafari


    In the 1970s, Imani Tafari conducted a study of 80 Rastas who were well-distributed throughout the four principle Rastafari sects on men's and womyn's views regarding domestic roles, sexuality, self-image, and ideology. The study found that the womyn"expressed resentment at the Rasta male opposition to their self-expression, the use of the title"Daughter,"and the insistence on covering their locks"(Chevannes, 1994: 259). The elder womyn, however, felt that covering their locks was essential to"one of the highest principles cherished by Rastafari"(ibid, pg. 259). The reason for it being essential however, was not stated. In addition to this, the womyn expressed serious concern over the frequent infidelity of their spouses, especially their tendency to engage in extra- marital affairs with non-Rasta womyn. Furthermore, the Rastawomyn were divided on the issue of polygamy. Some of the womyn and most of the men thought that polygamy was justified as long as it was grounded in economic reasons and did not compromise the position of the original wife while other womyn were overwhelmingly opposed to it altogether (ibid, pg. 258). The study also found that, although the Rastafari religious tenets prevent men and womyn from using contraceptives, some of the members use them anyway while others remain celibate rather than risking having children. Still, Tafari found that many still do risk having children by using no contraception even if it is dangerous to the mother's health. In addition to this, with regards to a womyn's self image, the study found that, although some of the men felt as though the womyn's role in public life should not be so limited, they still defined her role as"essentially domestic"(ibid, pg. 259). Finally, the study found that whereas the men's ideologies firmly defended the authority of the Bible, the urban womyn"unhesitatingly blamed the negative Biblical sources for the imposition of an inferior status on

    them. This system of authority, they said, required sorting out"(ibid, pg. 259). The rural womyn, however, were slightly more likely to believe that they truly were inferior to men than were the urban womyn.

    This study along with others suggests that as early as the 1970s, Rastawomyn were beginning to question their inferior status in their culture. The womyn's comments regarding the Bible and how it locks them into such a status as well opposition to covering their locks certainly points to this. Similarly, the men's concession that womyn should be able to enjoy a greater involvement in public life points to the idea that perhaps men were starting to debunk the patriarchal nature of Rastafari as well. Hence,"as the Rastafarian movement evolved within the context of a changing wider society ... so too have the characteristics and role of the Rastafarian womyn. From the late 1970s on, the Rastafarian womyn have become increasingly self-aware and assertive with changes in appearance coupled with attitudinal changes"(Carroll, 1997). One aspect of this increasing social consciousness among Rastawomyn is their recognition that they experience"double jeopardy"(Chevannes, 1994: 257). That is, not only are they oppressed by white society because they are black, but they are also oppressed by males because they are womyn. This realization has led them to call for greater equality and unity within Rastafarianism pointing to the fact that the oppression of womyn is completely inconsistent with the Rasta beliefs about white oppression and exploitation of blacks.

    The womyn's calls have not fallen on deaf ears. Although the Rastafarian culture is still largely patriarchal, there have been serious changes recently in the sexist practices and traditions of the culture. For instance, since the 1970s, an increasing number of womyn have come to the Rasta faith on their own rather than being led into it by men (ibid, pg. 260). This practice increases the womyn's independence and leaves them less vulnerable to exclusion and subordination than did the previous practice of having to be led into the faith by a man. In addition to this, it has become more socially acceptable for dreadlocks womyn to display their locks in public. Womyn have also been allowed to participate in more Rastafari rituals such as chanting and dancing than they had in the past. Furthermore, womyn are physically present at Rastafari public celebrations today a great deal more than they had been in the past. Still, however, their main role at these celebrations has largely been to look after the children, and in situations where the womyn are chanting and dancing, the womyn dance behind the males rather than by their side suggesting that they are still unequal to the men (ibid, pg. 256). This suggests that although the role of the Rastawomyn is changing, it till has a ways to go before it will be egalitarian. Yet, this can only be expected, and we must remember that womyn have made tremendous progress in their quest for equal rights and justice. One of the events that symbolizes this sentiment the best took place at the Black Rock tabernacle in July of 1988 where the Nyabinghi were celebrating Selassie's birthday. On this day, a young Rastawomyn entered the celebration carrying a rod, which is the symbol of male authority. The womyn proceeded to carry the rod up behind the males and started to dance. This seen-tingly simple act carried with it a great deal of symbolism of the Rastawomyn's increasing chant for equality. The fact that no one objected to her actions, including the males, suggests that the Rastas are beginning to accept this notion (ibid, pg. 262).

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    Baby Luv Sencia's Avatar Sencia is offline
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    Talking

    well as in East Africa has given way to a larger eco-feminist movement around the world. She terms this movement the"New Rastafari."Turner maintains that this new Rastafari movement has taken principles that are essential to the Rasta faith (such as protection of and respect for the environment as well as demand for equal rights) and extended them to encompass a broader range of global issues. Turner suggests that the"new Rastafari is a global cultural practice, an expression in particular of black people and especially black womyn, but one which is also inclusive of revolutionary white men and womyn"(Turner, pg. 15). In this sense, the new Rastafari has made global demands for greater equality for black and other majority world womyn as well as a greater respect for the ecological system as a whole (ibid, pg. 55). Furthermore, the effects of this process have been reciprocal in that the wider movement of black feminism has helped to foster changes in moving towards a more egalitarian Rastafari culture as well.

    Hence, we find that the Rastawomyn's role in the Rastafarian culture has a very optimistic future. The culture whose traditions at one time excluded womyn completely and forced them into inferior and subordinate roles has begun to change due to a growing awareness and consciousness among womyn of that culture. Those traditions are being challenged and many of them are being abandoned for new ones that foster a more egalitarian role for womyn. However, in light of all this, there is still a significant number of womyn who are opposed to these recent changes. Many of these womyn are elders in the Rasta community and feel that essential to a womyn's role is her support and service to her husband and family. It is hard for me as a western womyn to understand why these womyn are contented with subservience and subordination to their husbands and fathers, but I must nevertheless give credence to this argument such that these practices are part of their culture and giving them up may greatly sacrifice that culture. Therefore, although it may seem fitting to rejoice at the recent developments in the changing role of Rastawomyn, one must also consider the other side to those changes and not blindly accept them as the right and just progress.




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    Gangsta Boogie Bake n Shark's Avatar Bake n Shark is offline
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    Outside ah all dat long talk...what's the deal with "womyn". What issue Rastafari have with 'women'?

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    Baby Luv Sencia's Avatar Sencia is offline
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    this particular female, she seems to be a feminist and refuses to use the word woman because its a derivative of "man"

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    Registered User Soca_Diva76's Avatar Soca_Diva76 is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sencia
    this particular female, she seems to be a feminist and refuses to use the word woman because its a derivative of "man"
    interesting......
    What is the name of the actual book that you're quoting? Or the web address?

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    Anbu Black Ops passy's Avatar passy is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bake n Shark
    Outside ah all dat long talk...what's the deal with "womyn". What issue Rastafari have with 'women'?
    no blasphemy(sp) mam
    dont call jah name in vain

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    Registered User CHOCOLATESTAR is offline
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    very interesting

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    Gangsta Boogie Bake n Shark's Avatar Bake n Shark is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by passy
    no blasphemy(sp) mam
    dont call jah name in vain
    I haven't the faintest clue what the hell you taling about.

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    xtremeintl.com Mystic Xtremist's Avatar Mystic Xtremist is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bake n Shark
    Outside ah all dat long talk...what's the deal with "womyn". What issue Rastafari have with 'women'?
    Actually, that has nothing to do with Rastafari; like Sencia said, that's something popular among feminists, to remove the derivation from (and, presumably, the subjugation to) men.

    Of course though, as made most popular by Peter Tosh, Rastas will and have changed many words that have negative connotations either phonetically or in spelling. Certainly you've heard words like "overstand" (the negative word being "under") and "livicate" (the phonetic similarity to "dead" in dedicate), etc. I for one have always respected it, creative, and very poetic

    So "womyn" is along that same vein, though that one far as I know isn't a Rasta thing.

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    IMIX ATTORNEY GENERAL Trinibaje's Avatar Trinibaje is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bake n Shark
    I haven't the faintest clue what the hell you taling about.
    i confess..... when i need to catch up on all de kicks all i have to do is search for where u post

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    Gangsta Boogie Bake n Shark's Avatar Bake n Shark is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mystic Xtremist
    Actually, that has nothing to do with Rastafari; like Sencia said, that's something popular among feminists, to remove the derivation from (and, presumably, the subjugation to) men.

    Of course though, as made most popular by Peter Tosh, Rastas will and have changed many words that have negative connotations either phonetically or in spelling. Certainly you've heard words like "overstand" (the negative word being "under") and "livicate" (the phonetic similarity to "dead" in dedicate), etc. I for one have always respected it, creative, and very poetic

    So "womyn" is along that same vein, though that one far as I know isn't a Rasta thing.
    You'd have to qualify that to say either "Rasta feminists" "black feminists" or whatever genre of 'feminists' this here womyn falls under (underscoring the the need for people to cite their sources ), because actually...that is not something common in universal feminism itself.

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    Gangsta Boogie Bake n Shark's Avatar Bake n Shark is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trinibaje
    i confess..... when i need to catch up on all de kicks all i have to do is search for where u post
    Juss earning my keep arung here

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