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There is no doubt about which movement these elders belong to.
From left: We are family Shakara, Iana, Ita, Kheeba, and Sylvia.
Ras Ivi (left) is the organiser of the 125th birthday celebrations for HIM Haile Selassie I. To his immediate left is UWI lecturer Michael Barnett

More fire as Rastas celebrate Selassie's birthday

Paul H. Williams, Hospitality Jamaica Writer

The Scotts Pass Nyahbinghi Centre in Clarendon, located on that parish's border with Manchester, is one of the Meccas of Rastafari in Jamaica.

And on the weekend of July 22-23, hundreds of people, some from abroad, descended upon the complex to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the birth of His Imperial Majesty (HIM) Emperor Haile Selassie I.

The centre has long been on my list of places to go, and, perhaps, it took HIM's milestone to finally push me across the bridge, along a rough road, through some colourful gates, up a path lined by vendors, to the top of the hill where the tabernacle is.

I arrived some minutes after nine on the Sunday morning and was mesmerised not only by the peaceful atmosphere, but also captivated by the colours - reds, greens, and gold dominating, juxtaposed against white and shades of black and khaki. It was not a fashion explosion or a parade. They were a sartorial symbolism of the Rastafari movement. The clothes loudly said who they were and what they were about.

It was the sort of occasion that made me scratch my head because there was so much to process and interpret, but it was also about embracing and absorbing the richness of the narratives of a people who have created their own space in which to espouse their perspective on their existence.

Though the tabernacle was the epicentre of the celebrations, outside the compound, littered with sleeping tents and vehicles, was a hub of commerce. Amid the sales were the reasoning, the argument and counter-arguments, claims and refutations.

Classes were in sessions, and the teachers were the students, the students the teachers. And of course, there were the grandstanders, the ones interested in spewing out only their 'truths', refusing to listen to others.

And things got a bit tense back inside the tabernacle when it was time for the talks, 'word sounds'. Two dreadlocked men were threatened several times with removal from the tabernacle for constantly interrupting the speakers with utterances that had nothing to do with what the speakers were saying, or that were contrary to what was being said.

Amid the threats of removals, there were rebukes, and shouts of "Fire!", "Jah! Rastafari!" and "Lightning!" But the hecklers would not back down. This led one man to start the recitation of the long Rasta prayer. Everybody stood still and attentive, and when it was over, they shouted, "Jah! Rastafari!"

Upon the resumption of the talks, the heckling continued. It was countered by a woman, who, for several minutes, shouted passionately, from the depth of her gut, "Lighning!", "Fire!", "Thunder!", etc. The speeches continued, but the lightning, fire, and thunder stayed away.

While the moderator, Ras Ivi, was making a comment, the main heckler approached him and waited for his turn to speak. Ras Ivi handed him the microphone subsequently. The heckler spoke his mind, saying things that received nods of approval but also things that drew more calls for fire.

When he was finished, he was challenged, and condemned by many for contradicting himself, making statements for which he had no evidence, and for uttering unsavory words in the tabernacle. He might as well have kept quiet, and that's what he did when the speakers after him talked.

It was a very entertaining and thought-provoking session, a platform not dominated by any one person. But, alas, I had to go!

I wish I could have stayed for the night session, the real 'Binghi', when there would be more fire, from the bonfire outside, from the 'round' in the tabernacle, and from the fervent chanting and drumming.

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