The Son of the Prophet Journeys to the Land of the Believers

The earliest image of my family was captured with Marcus Garvey’s portrait occupying the position typically reserved for White Jesus in the West Indian home.

 

“Children, children!

Children, children!

Humble yourself and be calm, one day somehow

You’ll remember him, you will

No one remember old Marcus Garvey

No one remember old Marcus Garvey

Garvey’s old, yet young

Garvey’s old, yet young”

– Old Marcus Garvey, Burning Spear

 

“My trod was in the livity and order. I honored Marcus Garvey for he was known as the prophet.”

– Anonymous sistren, on her journey into Rastafari

Picture this. A young man, almost 29 years of age, holds his infant daughter in his arms. Next to him is his beautiful wife with her head covered in a towering wrap. She looks lovingly towards the man and child. Standing in front of the couple, barely knee high, are their toddler sons, the younger pulling a soft tuft of of afro sideways, to shape a jagged path along the middle of his head. His smile belies the enjoyment he derives from his own mischief. Each person is wearing a hand-sewn garment cut from exactly the same green, brown and gold African-print cloth. Behind them is a larger-than-life drawing of Marcus Mosiah Garvey in a wooden frame. The frame consists of a red, black and green detail painstakingly repeated by hand along its perimeter. The earliest image of my family was captured with Marcus Garvey’s portrait occupying the position that is typically reserved for White Jesus in the West Indian home. Not plump, pale cherubs pinned to the walls, but the colors of the African Liberation Flag.

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To understand my own existence, I had to understand Black Power. To understand Black Power, I had to understand Marcus Garvey. To this end, I studied Garvey beyond the meager account of his life and accomplishments fed to me in high school. A starting knowledge makes it impossible to be blind to Garvey’s pervasiveness. The red, black and green flags that symbolize African Liberation and Pan-Africanism; commemorative plaques, clothing, posters and works of fine art; monuments and murals; documentaries and textbooks all speak to an enduring legacy. Garvey’s likeness is replicated in precious black-and-white prints, and books filled with these prints. His ideas formed the foundation for the actions and philosophies of Black leaders in the United States and around the world, with Malcolm X being no exception.

Yet, rivaling the copious layers of preservation of Garvey’s teachings is his significance in the African brand of spirituality that emerged from the disintegrating system of colonialism in Jamaica. In the 1930s Marcus Garvey, the most successful leader of the African Diaspora, would return to his homeland Jamaica having been deported from the United States after relentless harassment, threats and sabotage that ultimately led to his imprisonment on false charges. Decades later, famous and beloved son of the soil, Bob Marley, would popularize Rastafari on a global scale. But it was the words pronounced by Garvey upon his return that planted the seeds of Rastafari. Garvey spoke widely of the crowning of a Black King from the East, with the promise of the redemption of Africa and all Africans throughout the world. Within a similar timeframe, Haile Selassie was crowned Emperor in Ethiopia, the only African country that had not succumbed to European colonial domination.

According to educator and Rastafarian, Marin Gonzales,

“Garvey, a Christian preacher himself, never openly advocated worship of Selassie, but his words about finding Christ in our own identity and seeing him through our own lens was enough to resonate with generations of Rastafari… [H]e is described as John the Baptist crying in the wilderness – waking up his worldwide nation of people to the need to come together and reclaim their homeland and identity, spiritually, economically, politically. The most quoted phrase in Rastafari, as far as its origin is concerned, is unequivocally “Look to the East, for the crowning of a Black King, for the day of your deliverance is near!””

H.I.M. Haile Selassie I rose to the throne as if ordained by a higher power and the words of Marcus Garvey. Selassie was thus recognized as God incarnate and Garvey hailed as a prophet. Africans in Jamaica, the children of the formerly enslaved, committed the ultimate act of decolonization. They eschewed the white deity of the colonizers for a Black god of their own making, thereby claiming divinity in their own image and likeness and on their own terms.

Conversing with Clyde “Trini Levi” Noel, the overseer (founder) of Twelve Tribes of Israel[1] in Trinidad, I gained insight into his spiritual journey to Rastafari and a Black god. He recalled his childhood days,

“Well my mother … she brought us up in the Catholic way of life, having us go to church, all those different things. But from a very early age I recognize myself… One day I went to church and looking up at the statue they have of Christ on the crucifix …I said to myself,

“You know something? I think Christ supposed to be looking something like me.””

In the Lions Den Ras Daniel

, Ras Daniel. An example of Rastafarian artwork

In 2015, Julius Garvey, the younger of Marcus Garvey’s two sons, visited Trinidad and Tobago and it took me some time to truly grasp the significance of the occasion. As if in slow motion, my consciousness forged a gradual connection between the revered persona on the wall of my childhood home – a man exalted as a prophet, and honored as the father of Panafricanism – and the real, flesh-and-blood heir in our presence. I scanned Dr. Julius Garvey’s features and gestures in anticipation of an epiphany. I expected perhaps an electric jolt of recognition that would collapse the present into a mystical restoration of the past. In spite of a few obvious similarities, rationality forced me to abandon my quest to ‘recognize’ his famous father in him. I discovered Dr. Julius Garvey as the extraordinary individual that he is.

Being the child of someone that influential and highly regarded must come with an almost unbearable burden of expectation. But Dr. Julius Garvey, in addition to his outstanding medical career, has picked up the torch lit by his father and steadfastly, in his own way, carries it through this life. Dr. Garvey has tirelessly studied his father’s life and work. He consistently addresses inaccuracies that can be perpetuated by careless historians and offers verifiable facts to counter baseless interpretations of Marcus Garvey’s ideas. Dr. Garvey has found countless ways to make a positive impact on the lives of Africans in Jamaica and elsewhere. He has planted 500 000 trees in Northern Ghana, built schools in the Caribbean, and facilitated the exchange of books and other vital resources. Within a few months of his visit to Trinidad and Tobago under the auspices of the Emancipation Support Committee, he returned to donate 1000 breadfruit trees, stressing the importance of food independence within the region.

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I felt fortunate to witness his interaction with local members of the Rastafarian community when he paid a visit to the Twelve Tribes of Israel Headquarters in Diego Martin. Clyde Noel reminded me that, “the thing with Twelve Tribes and all Rastafarians, we all have one common goal which is repatriation[2].” Dr. Julius Garvey was greeted with warmth, respect and joyous celebration when he entered their compound.

“We hold Marcus Garvey to the highest esteem. Having … his presence in the person [of] his son. Knowing … the qualifications that he comes with … it gives Black people and the Rastafarian community at large a sense of something to be reckoned with, to uplift yourself, to want to go forward and achieve more. And he was highly appreciative of the organization and the Rastafarian community for holding up his father[’s] vision of repatriation and bringing Black people together.”

Moko Jumbies bearing the flags that symbolize Rastafari and African Liberation danced to welcome Garvey’s heir into the space.

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Marcus say, Sir Marcus say

Red for the blood

That flowed like the river

Marcus say, Sir Marcus say

Green for the land Africa

Marcus say

Yellow for the gold

That they stole

Marcus say

Black for the people

It was looted from

– Worth His Weight in Gold, Steel Pulse

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Walls were covered in murals depicting the foundation faculties of man associated with the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the lunar calendar that they follow. Families came out to greet him and to listen to his words. He accepted their gifts, received their wisdom and shared his own.

 

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I was also deeply moved by his respectful reflections as he laid a wreath at the base of a statue of Marcus Garvey on Harris Promenade[3]. His father had visited Trinidad and Tobago long before him and toured the south part of the island on October 25, 1937. There, Junior Bisnath, a well known cultural activist who has made it his responsibility to preserve traditional, local art forms, draped Dr. Garvey in his floor length locks, adorning him in one more manifestation of his father’s vision.

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This week many Rastafarians will commemorate the 50th anniversary of H.I.M. Selassie I’s visit to the Caribbean[4] and in so doing will also honor the prophet, Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Dr. Julius Garvey will continue his work of empowering African people through education, environmental protection and the distribution of crucial resources.

“At the end of the day we learn so much off of Garvey that it’s something that we have to keep preaching to our children.”

– Trini Levi

 

 

 


[1] The Twelve Tribes of Israel is a mansion of Rastafari. It is an organization with branches in 21 countries.

[2] The organization credits Marcus Garvey with promoting the idea of repatriation. Members of Twelve Tribes see themselves as moving Garvey’s work from concept to reality via trade, the purchase of land, sending members to visit, bear witness upon their return or stay to live when possible – all aspects of “nation building” in Ethiopia.

[3] San Fernando, South Trinidad

[4] April 18, 1966 – Trinidad; April 21, 1966 – Jamaica

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