While individual homes take on more prominence as places of worship due to the closures of churches and mosques, Rastafari is still faced with the arduous task of proving to the government of Barbados, that their homes are also places where they worship, and should be respected as such.
Recently the Muslim community, whose spokesman in an interview with the Barbados Today Online newspaper said that COVID-19 cases in his community were few, has been ordered to close its doors due to a reported cluster that COVID-19 authority’s say is growing within that community
The issue confronting the Rastafari community as it pertains to the recognition of their homes as places of worship, stems from the fact that cannabis use is an integral part of Rastafari spiritual observances, and the cannabis plant remains illegal for any cultural or traditional uses. Understanding that it is within the human, cultural and constitutional rights of Rastafari under religious considerations to use the cannabis plant and benefit from it as they see fitting, the government of Barbados has disingenuously legislated the use of cannabis within Rastafari religious practices, “but”, only for use at a place of worship. The government of Barbados has within their new legal framework for Rastafari religious cannabis use, which they labeled “Sacramental Cannabis Use”, has sinisterly defined what and where a place of worship is. This can clearly be seen within the application form that must be completed, submitted and approved by the Ministry of Legal Affairs before Rastafari can legally use the cannabis plant within their religious observances. This means the government has given itself the power to determine what a Rastafari place of worship is, without any real consultation from the Rastafari community
Based on the requirements of an applicant for such a Sacramental Cannabis Permit, the size of congregations must be stated along with the contact information and signatures of five persons administering at this place of worship (priest, priestesses). All cannabis must be used at the approved place of worship, and Rases are not allowed to transport cannabis from the place of worship anywhere (including home). Added to this the Office of Legal Affairs has to first conduct an inspection of the “place of worship” to determine if it has enough security to protect its cannabis from the public. The Barbados government has also mandated that the cannabis cultivated at their (the government approved) Rastafari places of worship, must not be sold.
Rastafari not unlike the early Christians who faced persecution from Rome, continue to face persecution from the Barbados government for simply wanting to observe their faith as they see fitting in privacy. Christianity, akin to Rastafari grew quickly. By AD100, it had become mostly Gentile or non-Jewish and had begun to break from its Jewish origins. In the uprising of Rastafari in the late 1920’s, it was the Garveyite/African conscious individual that started to break away from the colonial Christian concept that justified the enslavement of African people, and that supported the colonial ideal. Marcus Garvey showed great respect for the Bible as heard in many of his speeches. Arguably one of his favourite text from the Bible was, “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God” (Ps. 68: 31). Garvey moved the enslaved African’s mind from a Eurocentric non-consciousness of White Supremacy Christianity and God, to Black God, the “God of Ethiopia” as he used to call him, and promoted an African centered version and vision of Christianity. It was his reported declaration: “Look to Africa, for the crowning of a Black King; He shall be the Redeemer.”, that upset the apple cart of Eurocentric Christianity. Indeed, when on 2 November 1930, Ras Tafari Makonnen was made Emperor of Ethiopia, taking the name of Haile Selassie I. It was for this challenge to colonial Christianity that founders of the Rastafari faith were persecuted, and the reason why it is of necessity that this article be published in 2021, in resistance to religious colonial pressure and persecution of Rastafari.
By 200, a century later the Christian faith had permeated most regions of the Roman Empire, just as Rastafari in 91 years of existence has permeated the world. The growth of Rastafari can be attributed to its meeting needs across cultural barriers, its giving general meaning to life for many, the overall transformation of those lives, the social concerns of Christian support to the colonial system and slavery, and the power of its doctrine. News of the resurrection of Christ in an African centered ideology produced great loyalty among followers. Christian and Rastafari martyrdom also, ironically, created vast interest in and respect for the Christians and Rastafari and increased their numbers.
Rastafari have been persecuted unto death, and martyred for the use of cannabis within their observance, worship and tributes to their Black King, Christ and God. It is “high” time the Barbados government puts down it vesture of colonialism and unshackles Rastafari from the bonds of cannabis persecution and oppression, for righteousness or Christ’s sake.
As COVD-19 restrictions and protocols impact every sphere of our lives, the economic burden of the present situation for Rastafari is no different from other Barbadians. Having to continue supporting the illegal market with its extortion prices created by a few drug lords, to obtain cannabis for their sacrament, further places the Rastafari community at a great disadvantage spiritually and economically. What would Christians do if the holy communal bread and wine were made illegal by the state? Would we see the spirit of Judas Iscariot rise, or would it be the spirit of Judas Maccabees?
The Rastafari community is again calling on the government of Barbados to revisit it Cannabis Sacrament Act, and include the Rastafari home as a place of worship as a commencement point for establishing justice within Barbados’ cannabis reform policies.
We are living in a time where many human rights and liberties are under attack. Injustice meted out to one, is the opening of the door for injustice to and for all.
Ras Simba Akoma