By Gaurav Sharma
Renowned for his soul uplifting music through which he pierced the barriers and segregations splintering the human race with spontaneous ease, Robert Nesta Marley, better known as Bob Marley, was an artist par excellence.
Behind the curtain of artistry, though, was a man grounded in a deep spiritual tradition. A societal non-conformist, Bob Marley was an experience to be gained by the consciousness, not merely to be understood by the deluding mind.
Born in a Catholic family, Marley’s inclination starting bending towards Rastafari beliefs when he moved back to Jamaica after working as a lab assistant in the US district of Du Pont, Delaware.
The Rastafarian Way
Started in the 1930s, Rastafari is primarily an Abrahamic religion, whose followers worship a single God who they refer to as Jah, a term synonymous with the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as mentioned in the King James Bible.
However, Rastafarianism differs from the Biblical religion in that it believes that half of the Biblical story has not been told.
Rafataris believe Haile Selassie I (Ras Tafari Makonnen), the emperor of Ethiopia in 1930 to be the incarnation of Christ, and his message irrevocably revolved around Pan-Afrocentrism; the unification of the African continent which was being plundered by foreign rule during that time.
During a 1963 United Nations speech, which provided the inspiration behind Marley’s song War, Selassie clearly elucidated the Rastafarian ideologue as an all-inclusive way of life:
Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.
Marley as a Rastafari Musician
Reggae, the genre of music for which Marley was most widely known for, incorporated elements of Rastafarianism. It started generating in Jamaica in the late 1960’s and was further popularized when Marly expanding it from the socially deprived areas to the international music arena.
When asked by a scribe what it means to be a Rastafarian, Marley candidly answered:
I would say to the people, Be still, and know that His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia is the Almighty. Now, the Bible seh so, Babylon newspaper seh so, and I and I the children seh so. Yunno? So I don’t see how much more reveal our people want. Wha’ dem want? a white God, well God come black. True true.(Bob Marley biography by Steven Davis).
Marley’s songs were directed towards inspiring people to fight for who they are as a person, crawling out of the “mental slavery” imposed by the richer and more privileged sections of the society.
To divide and rule could only tear us apart;
In everyman chest, mm – there beats a heart.
So soon we’ll find out who is the real revolutionaries;
And I don’t want my people to be tricked by mercenaries.
These ennobling words of Marley in the powerful song Zimbabwe, best define him as freedom fighter, a liberating revolutionary.
Such clarion calls for looking within one’s heart are further echoed in songs such as Exodus; an appeal to the people of Jah or God to evade the elusive wealth of the West by styming the flow of mass migration.
Open your eyes and look within:
Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?
We know where we’re going;
We know where we’re from.
Marley–The Cannabis Lover– symbolic of Indian Sadhus
Marley was an advocate of Marijuana legalization, a move which drew suspicious glances from the West at the time but has now been happily adopted by major states in the United States such as Colorado, Washington and New Jersey.
The federal prohibition on medical marijuana was further ended by the Obama administration in December 2014.
For Marley, smoking herb was as natural as grass is to cow. But he attributed spiritual phenomenon to the plant and considered it a sacrament that cleanses the mind and the body, exalts consciousness and brings it closer to Jah or God.
The Indo-Carribean Ganja(a generic name for Cannabis) sacrament, however, has its roots connected with the importation of Indians.(Campbell 110).
In fact, the Rastafari’s fondness for cannabis bears uncanny resemblance to the ascetic Indian Sadhus love for smoking Ganja in chillums ( a pipe for smoking). The dreadlocks borne by Marley is further symbolic of the Sadhus concept of Jata, a vow not to cut something as natural as hair and as sacred as inherent energy in human beings..
Both believe that the smoking of the herb awakens one to religious growth, making one wiser and more receptive of one’s own nature and becoming closer to God or Jah.
“When you smoke herb, herb reveal yourself to you. All the wickedness you do, the herb reveal itself to yourself, your conscience, show up yourself clear, because herb make you meditate. Is only a natural t’ing and it grow like a tree”, revealed an enlightened Marley.
Apart from music, Marley was a football aficionado. Playing the game in parking lots, fields and even recording studios, Marley was a keen follower of the Brazilian club Santos and its superstar Pele.
Allan Cole, another famous football personality once became his tour manager, such was his passion for the sport.
The craze for football so defined his life that when a journalist wanted to know about Marley, he forthrightly asserted, ““If you want to get to know me, you will have to play football against me and the Wailers.”
Death and Legacy
Marley died of cancer in July 1977. Decades after his death, Marley’s message continues to reverberate through his pristine songs.
The youth and sections of society which have been disillusioned and isolated by the societal formation, particularly seek solace in Marley’s soul-stirring musical lyrics.
For example, the indigenous communities such as the aboriginals of Australia continue to honor his memory by burning a sacred flame in Sydney’s Victoria Park.
Numerous documentaries have been directed on Marley’s life, with the iconic Rastafari symbol of Red, Gold and Green transforming into a global sensation in the form of countless merchandize.
Throughout India, many restaurants, festivals and shops organize themselves on Bob Marley’s ideals of freedom and moving beyond petty labels and isms.
Words fall short while accurately deciphering the enigma that was Marley. Perhaps, the then Prime Minister Edward Seaga’s own words eulogize Marley most befittingly, ”Bob Marley was never seen. He was an experience which left an indelible imprint with each encounter.”