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Dreadlocks Story: French anthropologist's docufilm traces Indian origin of Jamaica's anti-colonial movement

By Rajiv Shah
A new documentary, “Dreadlocks Story”, produced and directed by Dr Linda Aïnouche, French freelance research anthropologist with an expertise in cultural heritage and intercultural relationships, has highlighted the little known fact that descendants of people from Indian origin in Jamaica, a Caribbean country, were part of the social movement against slavery, discrimination and colonialism, called Rastafari, which has African roots. It shows how nearly 40,000 Indians became part of forced labour in the sugar plantations in Jamaica carried out by British colonialists between late 19th century and early 20th century. At the same time, it traces the influence of Indian culture, especially “Hindu and Sadhu way of life”, to quote Dr Ainouche, on the Rastafari movement.
A PhD in Jainism and one who lived in Mumbai with Jain shwetambars, and their relatives in Gujarat, and currently living in New York, Dr Ainouche has told www.counterview.net through a mail that “through matted hair (called dreadlocks in Jamaica, as Jata in India), I show this historical page.” She adds, “These are Indians descendants of Indians of Indian subcontinent, who were transported (most of them kidnapped, and women raped) as indentured workers to the Caribbean islands by British colonists, and precisely to Jamaica from 1845 to 1917. At the end of African slavery in 1834, British colonists were still in Jamaica and also present in India. They needed labourers for plantations, therefore they took Indians to Jamaica."
Making of the documentary
“In few words, Indians took the place of African slaves in plantation, and by consequence were treated as slaves, even worse. At that time in Jamaica, Africans nearly lost (or rather forced to lose) all their culture”, the anthropologist film-maker claims, adding, “After the African slavery, some other Africans arrived as indentured worked to the plantations in Jamaica as well. All of them, ex-African slaves, Indians and Africans under contract, have mingled. Indians (mostly Hindus, a bunch of Muslims, few Christians, and depends on the source, one Jain has been mentioned) have started to live together.”
Highlighting the influence of Indian culture on Jamaica, Dr Ainouche says, ever since, the “Africans have discovered vegetarian food, encens, ganja, spiritual guide (as the role of acharya, or tirthankar, as identified in India), and much more of Indian cultural expressions.” In fact, “Indians have had a strong influence in almost all aspects of Jamaica society (culinary, sport, music, etc).”
Tracing the Indian influence on the anti-colonial Rastafari movement, Dr Ainouche says, “When the Black movement was very strong in the US, its leader Marcus Mosiah Garvey, who is today a Jamaican national hero, extended it to Jamaica. Garvey was deported from the US to Jamaica. His actions were considered too rebellious and dangerous for Edgar Hoover, who later became CIA head. In Jaimaica, Garvey continued to claim social justice and equal right for the Black people.“
“About 1930, the Garvey movement collapsed”, the film-maker says, adding, thereafter, “Leonard Percival Howell, another Jamaican, who spent some time in the US, spread a Black social movement, called Rastafari, on the parallel track of Garvey in Jamaica. Howell opened a gathering camp called Pinnacle where all his followers, notably Hindus, lived until the police destroyed this camp in 1958, considered, once again, an offend by the then government.”
“Howell has found his influences from Indians, he had some close people around him from India, signed his first pamphlet under an Indian nickname”, Dr Ainouche says, adding, “The Rastafari movement is an African movement, which began a social movement but slowly turned into socio-religious ideology, but its thrust continued to be against slavery, colonialism, and all forms of discrimination. Actually, it became essentially a 'way of life' more than a strict religion.”
“While the adherents of the movement worship Haile Selassie-I, the Emperor of Ethiopia, who ruled between 1930 and 1974, he was “worshipped him as a Hindu God (as Father, as Guide, and not as Supreme God on the top of everyone/everything)”, the filmmaker says, adding, “Members of Rastafari are known as Rastas. Even though this movement is based on social and religious beliefs about Africa, its way of life is Hindu way of life, or more exactly the sadhu way of life.”
Pointing out this is precisely what she wants to show in her documentary, Dr Ainouche says, it reveals “how sadhus and Rastas have a similar way of life” even today. This is done in order to explain “the historical page of how the social movement Rastafari arose and was influenced by Indians due British colonialists.” She adds, “I use matted hair as a key to open the debate, and also demonstrate that hair is a body tool for social, religious, political, assertions.” 
Dr Linda Ainouche
Interestingly, the filmmaker says, the Rastas are themselves by ignorant about their deliberate Afrocentrism, and refuse these Indian influences on their movement. “I want to give back to Indians the story they deserve. Even in Rastafari studies, except one, none has really spoken about this Hindu legacy on Rastafari movement in Jamaica. This person passed away recently – an Indian anthropologist who lived in Jamaica, Ajai Mansingh. He had worked with his wife, still in Jamaica, whom I have interviewed, and their son. “
She further says, “Rastas are are currently in the whole of the Caribbean, they are also in England, mainly of Jamaican origin. Many people all over the world have today embraced Rastafari cause and way of life – from Japan to Brazil, from South Africa to Sweden, via the rest of the globe.” She regrets, however, “At the beginning of Rastafari, women were involved and active – both Africans and Indians. Slowly, they have been ousted by men. As everywhere, when women are shining, men have to speak louder and hide them!”
In fact, Ainouche says, the Reggae music, which emerged in Jamaica and is a good expression of Rastafari movement, has a sadhu influence too. “The roots reggae, in the early ages of this musical style. A band as such Steel Pulse (www.steelpulse.com) interviewed in the documentary tour around the world to defend and claim African rights, recognition, justice, love ... following a sadhu way of life for the last 40 years.”

Comments

Abhijit Guha said…
Linda's brilliant study provides counterpoints to the studies of religion by the cultural anthropologists of the Chicago school whose dominant thinkers have viewed religion only as sets of polysemic symbols,myths and world-views and also to the typical Marxist approach to religion for whom religion is only 'false consciousness' and part of 'superstructure'. Her study reveals that anthropologists with their unique ethnographic method can also become true participants of the protest against exploitation, hegemony and discrimination.Thanks Linda.I look forward to your articles and books also, apart from films.
Abhijit Guha
Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology
Vidyasagar University
Midnapore
West Bengal
India.
Anonymous said…
Sad to see once again any achievement of Black African people being regarded as influenced by others.
Rastafari wearing of locks was not influenced by the Indian indentured laborers of Jamaica.
“Dreadlocks” has a long and widely distributed history with the African masses both at home and abroad.
Locks from the standpoint of Ethiopia from whence Rastafari spiritually hails, are grown and worn at time of war. The Bahitawi, or holy man, quite often, also wears locks.
Downstream in Kenya the MauMau in the war of independence against Britain wore locks. This also greatly contributed to Jamaicans adorning this ancient African tradition of locks.
Many slaves were captives from west African where children in say Nigeria and Ghana will go locked until about aged 4.
In the ancient world, many of the original Black Greek people wore locks, this can be seen on the so called Black pottery as well as various statutes. It is worth noting that the earliest of the Greek gods are Black Africans and even Apollo can be seen wearing “Dreadlocks”.
Long before the Greeks, sculptured works are available which show that the ancient African Egyptians were locked, as witnessed in the princes of Tanis.
Locks spread worldwide anciently and can even be found amongst the original Australians.
All the above mentioned is available visually, if any need to see I will provide them.
Speaking of influence it would be far more uplifting to show the African influence on India which itself a colony of the ancient Ethiopians, this would throw much needed light on the fact that many cultural traits are shared in both Asia and Africa.

Nat Turner

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