On Tue, 6 Feb 1996, Timothy John Neill wrote:
Nuafricanists... My name is Tim Neill, and I am a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Virginia. I am currently finishing up my course work and preparing for a preliminary fieldwork/linguistic training trip this summer to South Africa. I plan to do my dissertation research among Rastafarians in Southern Africa. Thus far, all of my contacts are in Cape Town, but I know that G.C. Oosthuizen found brethren in Natal as well. If any of you have any contacts/knowledge of Rastas in Southern Africa (or anywhere else in Africa, for that matter), I would appreciate any suggestions or insights. Thanks. I look forward to participating in nuafrican discussions.I spent many of my teenage years among the rastas of both Johannesburg and Cape Town...unfortunately, I have not kept contact with my old friends. In Cape Town you should approach the crime rehab. group, NICRO, if they're still around, as some of the social workers often have rasta contacts. Don Pinnock, who I believe is at the UCT criminology dept., could help you along.
University of Virginia
You'll find rastas throughout South Africa. Many are involved in the dagga trade and often, especially in Cape Town, are not the most trustworthy characters (sorry to sound conventional). In Cape Town the gang situation - which rests on the distribution of drugs and the criminal system (see Don Pinnnock's *The Brotherhoods*) - can be an obstacle to research. However, I found the way that rastas moved between gangs in Cape Town interesting. Also interesting was the relationship between the community and rastas (definately outsiders). Indeed, one of the more frightening aspect of this was the number of rastas who were forced into the local mental asylum by their families.
I remember an interesting community of rastas outside George in the Eastern Cape which might be worth exploring...
Tim Neill wrote:
South Africa. I plan to do my dissertation research among Rastafarians in Southern Africa. Thus far, all of my contacts are in Cape Town, but I know that G.C. Oosthuizen found brethren in Natal as well. If any of you have any contacts/knowledge of Rastas in Southern Africa (or anywhere else in Africa, for that matter), I would appreciate any suggestions or insights. Thanks. I look forward to participating in nuafrican discussions.
There are Rastas all over SA, or at least in all of the larger cities. It might be of interest that I supervised an Honours thesis at University of Cape Town by a student Stephen Michael Gordon. The thesis was entitled 'Ratafarianism as perceived by two members of the Cape Town Rastafarian movement'. It has some interesting photos, press clippings and comment, but is mostly consists of pretty raw interview data which might be valuable for your project.
I don't know what happened to Steve Gordon. He attempted an MA on the same topic, then left SA to avoid military conscription. I lost track of him after that. If you cant find the thesis in Cape Town, and are in Johannesburg, stop by the department of anthro at Wits for a look at it.
I know that there is a young American woman, PhD student doing a study on Garvey-ism in SA at the moment. I was talking to her at a poetry reading a couple of sundays ago in Melville, Johannesburg. She had helped to organise the event at the Baseline jazz bar. Can't remember her name right now..., but its my daughter who is more the poet and she will remember. I'll get back to you on that (unless someone else on the list knows who I;m talking about).
Robert Thornton, Department of Social Anthropology
University of the Witwatersrand, PO Wits, 2050 Johannesburg, South Africa Office tel. : (011) 716-2900
Secretary, fax and answering machine: (011) 716-2766
Home tel: (011) 646-2578
I did some fieldwork a few years ago in a Rasta settlement outside Alexandra township. While many Rastas live in townships like everyone else (where they often do informal 'piece-work', regarding full-time employment as slavery to Babylon), there are also many informal settlements occupied by Rastas scattered all over South Africa. While I didn't do enough research into this to be sure (it was an enjoyable sideline to my main research) my impression was that these settlements are connected by strong social networks. All the rastas in Alex knew about other settlements such as those in Soweto ('Rasta palace'), Durban and Cape Town, and had travelled between them. They were also in contact with Rastas in Zimbabwe, and received literature from Rastas in Jamaica.
Regarding language preparation, it obviously depends on where you are going to conduct your fieldwork, but Rastas have an interesting attitude to language. In Alex, the emphasis on brotherhood among all Rastas, or brothers, meant a downplaying of ethnic and language differences. While these Rastas hailed from all over Southern Africa and Mozambique, they tried as much as possible to speak English and the Jamaican-style 'lababa', in which an individual calls him/herself I-and-I.
Rastafarian religious beliefs and ideology are often entwined with those of a more local origin. I know one Mozambican brother who explains that he found Jah after his mother had 'xikwembu' (possessed by the ancestors. I'm afraid my Shangaan spelling is a bit dodgy here). Another South African-Swazi man called himself 'Paramount Rasta Chief Tom', and drew on the parallels between Rasta and southern African lion imagery, although eschewing the idea of individual power and authority associated with chieftaincy. All this stuff about brothers and lions is of course very male-centred, and activities like smoking ganga are segragated along gender lines. But there are female Rastas, known in the area where I worked as 'amadresh' because of their dreadlocks. Don't know much more about this, because I met very few women Rastas.
In the South African context, whites are of course Babylon, as is migrant labour and the whole apartheid-spawned economic system. But Rastas' avowed pacifism, and their acceptance of foreign Africans, places them firmly outside South Africa's violent and xenophobic mainstream society.
Good luck with your research,
Department of Social Anthropology
University of the Witwatersrand