Jamaica Gleaner
Saturday | February 7, 2004

Reasoning with a Rasta woman

                               By Mark Dawes, Staff Reporter

                               Dr. Imani Tafari-Ama. - Winston Sill/Staff Photographer

                               SHE GREW up in a Seventh-Day Adventist household. Her parents were
                               well-known community and church leaders in Albion, Manchester. She was an
                               active youth leader in the congregation there. Then at age 22 she became a
                               Rastafarian. Dr. Imani Tafari-Ama is today a spokesperson in Jamaica and the rest
                               of the Caribbean on the Rastafarian worldview and lifestyle.

                               After graduating from Manchester High School in 1978 she later that year entered
                               the University of the West Indies (UWI) where she became part of the second
                               cohort of persons enrolled at CARIMAC (the Caribbean Institute of Media and
                               Communications). She did a Bachelor's degree in Communication with Language
                               and Literature, and along the way became involved in the Rastafarian movement.

                               "At UWI, I was exposed to the Twelve Tribes House of Rasta, reasonings with
                               Rastas, going to binghi ­ and reading the Bible in an entirely different way. All of a
                               sudden, my searchings to rationalise my Africanness found congruence with a belief
                               system that reclaimed race as a site of struggle. In recognising the divinity of a king
                               who is a black person, with the whole Ethiopian history intertwined in that
                               personality, it seemed to me that if we are created in the image of the Almighty ­
                               then we must look like God and if God looks like us, then it makes sense. All of a
                               sudden, this blonde, blue-eyed Jesus Christ was out the window."

                               Predictably, her decision to wear locks did not go down well with her family. They
                               were disappointed with her decision. Their disappointment was ameliorated in large
                               measure by the fact that she distinguished herself in academia.

                               HER OPINION OF THE CHURCH

                               Dr. Ama, who was formerly known as Faith Morris, is employed at the National
                               Housing Trust (NHT) as manager of Social Developments. In her job she promotes
                               inner-city and urban renewal as part of social development strategy of the NHT.
                               She also teaches at the Centre for Gender and Development Studies and
                               CARIMAC on the UWI Mona Campus.

                               "Rasta people say 'God a man'. I would extend it to say 'God a woman'. In that
                               sense we create our own divinity by how we live our lives. Creation is an event of
                               the mind and once we make that mental shift from being people who are
                               custom-designed to be Christians in the sense of missionary proselytising-- to
                               self-defined people who say 'I will remake myself in my own image and create my
                               divinity in my own likeness.' So going through my early university days was a
                               wonderful experience of exploration ­ reading books like The Philosophy and
                               Opinions of Marcus Garvey, the works of Kwame Nkrumah, Angela Davis and

                               She is by no means bitter towards the Church. "The Church serves a purpose in
                               giving people a foundation, a perspective and for some, something to hold on to."
                               Sadly, she continues, the Church still lacks a needed degree of effectiveness, as it
                               often does not look keenly enough at reality through culturally relevant lenses. It
                               needs, she stressed, to become more critical of the colonising heritage of
                               Christianity and Christian Theology. It is this legacy, she said, that causes some
                               church folk to be so heavenly-minded that they fail to be meaningfully engaged in
                               struggles such as the improving the lot of persons threatened by the scourge of
                               HIV/AIDS in Africa.

                               Nevertheless, she acknowledges there are significant areas of harmony between
                               Adventism and Rastafarianism ­ notably, the exalted place both belief systems give
                               to proper nutritional health, and the mutual attribution they give to the Pope as the
                               Anti-Christ of Biblical prophecy.

                               With the embrace of Rastafari, her critical awareness of sources of oppression
                               within religion has soared. This extends to her view of the Bible. She believes
                               strongly that there are truths to be known that are not recorded in the Bible.

                               "Whose history is in the Bible? Who are the Jews in the Bible? When I get to moot
                               questions like that I think it is safer for me to try to ask 'Where did my ancestors
                               really come from? What is it that they believed in? How is it that that belief system
                               has relevance for me now? I would like to go back to what animism is, what
                               ancestor worship is. Why is it we rejected these things just because colonisers said
                               these things are of the heathens?"

                               Gleaner: Do you accept the divinity of Haile Selassie?

                               Dr. Ama: Yes, inasmuch as you accept the divinity of Jesus Christ.

                               Gleaner: Do you believe Jesus was fully God and fully man?

                               Dr. Ama: Yes. I am fully God and fully woman. I think we should demystify this
                               notion of godness. Until we can do that this notion in St. John's Gospel, where it
                               says you are sons and daughters of the Most High, makes no sense.

                               "Why would you regard yourself as a son of the Most High if there wasn't the
                               possibility for there to be a correlation as man to be God ­ much of the soapbox
                               treatment of Rastafari ­ relates to the fact that Haile Selassie is a black man.

                               The Church set up this notion of Jesus Christ being God to the exclusion of all else.
                               That kind of arrogance of belief system, I think, is what allows the state of
                               intolerance of people who are deemed to be other ­ to be perpetuated in the world ­
                               I shy away from any kind of system that would want to present a monolithic
                               approach that says 'I am right and you are wrong'.

                               Gleaner: What if the Christians are right, that Jesus is the only way?

                               Dr. Ama: Then respect due.

                               Gleaner: That means that others are lost.

                               Dr. Ama: Absolutely. We will just have to be languishing in hellfire.

                               A person's faith, she said, "is a personal thing." For this reason she frowns on
                               notions of proselytising. The Rasta ethos, a.k.a. 'livity', is bigger than Selassie and
                               so, she explained, using the words of a popular Morgan Heritage song ­ "You don't
                               have to dread to be Rasta. It is not a dreadlocks thing, but a divine conception of the

                               She hinted that Rasta has more adherents and sympathisers than is apparent, as
                               many are 'internalising beliefs and livity without subscribing formally to it."

                               HAILE SELASISE LIVES ON

                               Selassie, however, has given legitimacy to Rasta, she said "and Rasta has
                               exponentially kept alive the person of Haile Selassie. I wouldn't go and say you can
                               be Rasta without seeing Haile Selassie. It is Haile Selasise that gives the raison
                               d'etre to Rasta--. When you see I and I you see the perpetuation of the life of Haile
                               Selassie ­ so in that sense Selassie can't die. I could accept the physical passing--
                               but there is an indivisibility between life and death which we also know and
                               recognise which is beyond physical vision-- that is what gives the je ne sais quoi (a
                               quality that cannot be easily identified) to one's spirituality and to one's immortality.

                               She is by no means uncritical of Rastafari. Being an egalitarian at heart, she has
                               issues with its patriarchal structures as it, in her view, perpetuates a "hierarchical
                               system of power which privileges one set of people over another." She also has
                               issues with a growing individualism that is diminishing the communal spirit for which
                               the movement extols.

                               There's scope, she says, for a meeting of the minds between people of differing
                               faiths. In that regard she favours more dialogue between Rasta communities and
                               churches so that both groups can work toward social transformation. In this regard,
                               she said, scope for such co-operation exists to feed the hungry, clothe the naked
                               and house the homeless.