Rastafari Studies Conference & General Assembly
Theme: Rastafari, Coral Gardens and African Redemption: Challenges & Opportunities
Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Coral Gardens Massacre
Date: August 14 – 17, 2013
Venue: University of the West Indies Mona Campus
& Rastafari Community Space (TBA)
As Jamaica proudly celebrates her fiftieth jubilee of political independence, the Rastafari Movement also marks the fiftieth anniversary of Coral Gardens Massacre, an event that still haunts the wider society through the perennial, but unanswered, Rastafari calls for justice. The new nation-state less than one year old – during the Easter Holy Week, became embroiled in a series of violent events in the Coral Gardens and Rose Hall areas of St. James. On Holy Thursday April 11, 1963, six bearded men assumed to be Rastafarians attacked a gas station in Coral Gardens. They were reportedly armed with guns and machetes. This resulted in a skirmish and the death of two policemen, and six civilians including three of the assailants.
In response the then Prime Minister Sir Alexander Bustamante instructed the army and police to bring in all the Rastafari not only in St. James, but also in Hanover and Trelawny – if the prisons could not accommodate them they were to be ‘disposed’ of – killed and taken toBogue Hill – above a major cemetery in Montego Bay. The events of Holy Thursday 1963 thus resulted in a collective crucifixion of many innocent adherents of the Rastafari faith and crackdown on the Movement island-wide. The Daily Gleaner reported that ‘almost all’ the Rastas in Leith Hall, St. Thomas (a former stronghold of Leonard Howell) had trimmed their locks and cut their beards to prevent being persecuted by the agents of the state, as well as eager civilian vigilantes. Fifty years later there are still living victims of the incident, some of whom continue to suffer the effects of that experience and could easily make justified claims for reparation, and more critically there has never been any attempt to officially provide restitution for these people.
Obscurity and debate continue to surround the incident and the Rastafari movement generally today. This is fuelled by misunderstanding about the true ethos of the faith, its discourse on Africa and repatriation, as well as the sacralization of the Herb. With its multiple meanings and embeddedness in the livity, ganja has been and continues to be a key signifier of the Rastafari faith and at the same time a signifier for the state to victimize and humiliate members of the community. The Rastafari narrative is laden with tales of the Herb as “the healing of the nation” and the spiritual connectivity attained by communicants through the use of the ‘sacrament.’ Equally important, are explorations into the economic possibilities presented by ganja. At Pinnacle for example, ganja was planted as a cash crop. As the Rastafari Movement was scorned and disliked by elements of the society, similarly there was contempt for ganja production and consumption. Despite the many ways in which Rastafari has become an inseparable part of the fabric of society, there is still tension and conflict over the Movement’s usage of their sacrament which remains in opposition to the formal laws.
In these circumstances, it is more than paradoxical that scholars and visitors in the thousands come to Jamaica annually because of the Rastafari presence, many because they acknowledge Rastafari as a dynamic global force for the development of spirituality and genuine human dignity. The movement – originally stigmatized as comprising marginal, lower-class male dregs—has long since crossed social and class boundaries within the Caribbean. This Movement has also come to celebrate the place of the Rastafari woman within the life of the community and the nation. What might be described as the coming of age of Rastafari has taken place with Rastafari brethren now visibly involved in civil society as professionals in a range of sectors, and even as political figures. At the same time, a growing body of literature has developed on the international appeal of the Rastafari worldview as its spread continues to be documented by both local and foreign scholars.
CALL FOR PAPERS
This conference seeks to bring together a series of related issues concerning recognition of the historical contributions made by the Rastafari community in the face of tremendous social exclusion, denial and oppression. On the one hand, this includes a critical and more fulsome recognition of the respect accorded to Rastafari within the global ecumene as well as the contribution that Rastafari has made to Jamaica’s own international standing in the world. On the other hand, it means bringing into focus key issues such as repairs for damages, attainment of human freedom and justice as well as appropriately positioning the debate regarding the spiritual, medical and commercial value and uses for a liberated ganja plant. Some of these issues highlight the need for a more critical review of leadership and organization and centralization strategies within the movement itself.
Through various forms of exploration, keynotes, workshops, exhibitions, the conference aims to create a space wherein these issues and themes can be a focus of discourse aimed at igniting the torch of organization and centralization of the movement. Papers addressing the overall theme, sub-themes listed below, or proposed themes, are invited:
I.Rastafari and Africa
1. The Return to Africa: How, Who, Where and When?
2. Repairing the Breach: Reparation (Internal & External) and Repatriation
3. Rastafari and the Rebuilding of African Society
II.Rastafari Resistance and Social Justice
4. The Coral Gardens Incident: Testimonies, Perspectives, Recommendations
5. The Early Years: Chronicles of the Ancients
6. Pinnacle: The Past and Future
7. The Ganja Complex: Politics, Economics and Culture
III.Rastafari Global Narratives: Challenges and Opportunities
8. Navigating the Rastafari Trans-nation: International Perspectives
9. Rastafari views from Africa: Shashamane and other cases
10. Rastafari and the Arresting of Black Underdevelopment
IV.Expressions of Indigeneity: Exploring an Emergent Rastafari Conception
11. New Pedagogies: Indigenous Knowledge and the Future of African Education
12. Constructing a Sustainable Framework: New Models of Development
13. Evolving and Adapting Research Methodologies: From Simpson to Chevannes
V.Rastafari Organization and Centralization: From Leonard Howell to a Millennium Council
14. Rastafari Matriarchy: The Omega Principle and Contributions of the Lioness
15. Youth Agency: Contributions of Sons and Daughters
16. Revisiting the Emperor’s command “organize, centralize and come as one”
VI.Rastafari Livity: Humanity’s Hope
17. A Globalizing Livity and the Many Mansions of Rastafari
18. Versions or De-versions: A President for the Rastafari Movement?
Submission of Abstracts or Other Proposals:
Persons should provide abstracts of no more than three hundred (300) words by May 1, 2013 and must include: the title of the proposed paper, summary of its arguments and list of keywords.
All abstracts should be sent by e-mail to:
Dr. Jahlani Niaah
Rastafari Conference Consultation Committee
Rastafari Studies Unit,
Institute of Caribbean Studies,
Faculty of Humanities & Education
The University of the West Indies, Mona
Kingston 7, Jamaica
Office Phone: (876) 977-1951;
Fax: (876) 977- 3430;
Direct Line: (876) 970-6209
Additional Contact Information:
Notification & Participation:
Notification of the acceptance of proposals will be made by May 25, 2013. Presenters of papers are expected to secure their own funding as the Rastafari Studies Conference & General Assembly is unable to offer any support to assist with participation costs.