Indian influence on Jamaica and Rastafarianism

Jamaica is a country in The West Indies. East Indians form <1 % of total population. Jamaican culture is influenced by Indian culture. Rastafari religious belief is considerably influenced by Hindu spiritual beliefs and practices

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Image source: jablogz.com

By Shubhi Mangla

The popular music form, Reggae has been acknowledged by a large number of people around the world. This form of music has actually originated in Jamaica in the late 1960s. Reggae involves a powerful four-beat rhythm through drums, electric guitar, bass guitar and the scraper. The rhythms of Reggae soon emerged as Jamaica’s leading modern music and its diaspora. Reggae, gained international recognition and was soon popular in countries like US, Britain and Africa.

Reggae music- wikimedia commons
Reggae music- wikimedia commons

Jamaica, an island in the West Indies to the south of Cuba and west of Haiti is mostly linked to Africa owing to the large population of African descent present there. The island has a rich heritage, glorious history and is a fusion of diverse cultures. However, Jamaica has also been largely influenced by the Hindu culture which still remains highly unacknowledged.

Indian influence on Jamaican cuisine

Jamaican Curry Goat
Jamaican Curry Goat

An important element of Indian influence on Jamaican culture is its cuisine. Jamaican food consists of a good usage of curry leaves. Curried chicken and goat dishes are the most popular dishes of Jamaica. Locals and tourists are mostly served with curried shrimp, curries red snapper, curried lobster etc. More health conscious citizens and visitors are treated with curry vegetables. Roti and curry goat even form a part of the island’s national cuisine. Indian chutneys and hot sauces are also adopted by Jamaica’s culinary cuisine. One can easily be fascinated with the Jamaican cuisine due to this Indian flavors.

Indian arrival in Jamaica

Indian migrant workers in Jamaica- Wikimedia commons
Indian migrant workers in Jamaica- Wikimedia commons

According to livity.info, Jamaica first saw the arrival of Indians on May 10, 1845, who came to work in the sugar plantations of Clarendon, the island’s third largest church community. Their main aim was to replace the liberated African laborers who refused to work for their masters. Indians had friendly relation with African descent in Jamaica at first; hence Jamaican Africans accepted many of the Indian cultures and practices. Indians now form the third largest part of Jamaican society.

Rastafarianism and Indian influence

At the time when Reggae music was gaining dominance, Rastafarianism was growing in Jamaica. Rastafarianism began in Jamaica in 1920s and 1930s. Rastafarians believed in Jainism and Christianity and worshipped Judeo-Christian God, Jah. According to releigonfacts.com, “The Rastafarian lifestyle usually includes ritual use of marijuana, avoidance of alcohol, the wearing of one’s hair in dreadlocks, and vegetarianism”.

The leading father of Rastafarianism, Leonard Percival Howard belonged to Clarendon and grew up amongst Indians and Hindu culture. Howard believed in various Hindu rituals, their ceremonies of worshipping God, chanting “Jai Mata Di” and drinking bhang/ ganja, which are sweet flavored liquid consisting of little amount of alcohol. The practice of Ganja consumption was brought by Indian apprenticed workers which was known to cure all ills and also for religious purposes and vegetarian food. The main achievement was not food but the spread of spirituality. The early Rastafarian tenets were also influenced by Indian astronomy.

Leonard Percival Howell- twitter.com
Leonard Percival Howell- twitter.com

Leonard Percival Howard, who preached African ancestry and was a nature lover, borrowed many dogmas of the Rastafarian movement from the Indians. The Rastafarians also adopted the Ital diet which is of the idea that our body is a temple and it should be kept pure. Thus, it focused on eating vegetarian food (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans etc.). The diet came to be known as the Rastafarian diet. This high disciplined diet of vegetarianism was known to be influenced from the Indian servants who were vegetarians following an age old tradition in Hindu culture.

Ganja- wikimedia commons
Ganja- wikimedia commons

Jamaicans who lived in the countryside amongst Indians and Rastafarians were majorly utilizing Ganja/marijuana for medicinal and spiritual purposes. Though Africans used Marijuana for similar purpose, but it is Indians who were responsible for its arrival in Jamaica. People of African descent made use of this ‘herb’ for ceremonial practices. Those who practiced Kumina (an Afro-Jamaican culture which practiced western culture) also used marijuana in order to communicate with their ancestors.

Leonard’s Hindu influence was also acknowledged by Joseph Hibbert, another funding father of the Rastafarian movement in an interview with Leonard’s biographer Helene Lee who said, “After learning about the Hindu God incarnates Rama, Krishna and Buddha, Howell was convinced that every nation had their own God”. Leonard considered Emperor Selassie of Ethiopia as his African God.

Robert Nesta Marley, a popular face of reggae and Rastafari, was nicknamed as “Tuff Gong” associated to Leonard Howell who was known as Gong. The term “Gangunguru” means ‘Great King’ or ‘king of kings’ in the Hindi language as proclaimed by the book “Dread History” by Professor Robert A Hill.

Even today, Jamaica holds a significant population of Indians who are more segregated as compared to their early arrival. Most of the Indians in Jamaica are merchants who look down upon the Afro-Jamaicans. Irrespective of their present dogmatism, they must be appreciated for their contribution towards Rastafarianism and the Jamaican culture at large.

References:

http://www.religionfacts.com/rastafarianism

Shubhi Mangla is a student of Journalism and Mass Communication in New Delhi. She is currently working as an intern at Newsgram.

Follow her on twitter @shubhi_mangla

 

 

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