My earliest recollection of the Rastafarians of Jamaica comes with memories of a subculture filled with idioms of mystique, if not mystical connotations and double entendre proclamations such as “I and I.” But this was not just of self, they had unique ways of greeting, expressing blessings, exaltation of religious ideology and “wicked” critique of those lesser beings like myself, whose “livity” (way of life), had seemingly, if not surreptitiously, become far removed from their own, through an acculturation that was now perceptually foreign; a despicable paradigm through a stereotypical vision which could easily identify those not yet awakened. Their pronouncements of “fire bun!” which could have meant subjugation to the pit of hell to pay penance for our sins or restitution; “weak heart tremble!” which could have meant, shuddering in your shoes to look upon their face or stand firm in the face of danger, are forever etched in the recesses of my mind. Those statements were made with the kind of guttural crescendo that could have frozen a weak heart individual to the spot, as fright seem to cause the rushing of blood and muscle contraction that converged in the feet and rendered them heavy and difficult to lift. They were “public announcements” meant to instill fear, not only to the target but everyone else in earshot. It was intimidation at its best.
As those hitherto frightful thoughts matured in later years and I played with their implications, it struck me that as disturbing as they were, they brought a strengthening of character that has served me well as I sojourned through life. They were some of the enriching colors splashed across the backdrop on the canvas of life that broadened the orbit of a lonesome child in its nucleus, contemplating expansion into a world that knows no bounds but dictates the elimination of all fears to walk where weak hearts fear to tread. It awakened thoughts of the archaic African Rites of passage and the wisdom behind such practices and reminds me to think of the purpose behind royalty sending heirs and spares to serve in the military, as a tradition. For quite apart from military might, power, pomp, pageantry and lettering, it inculcates a discipline second to none and an avenue through which the world can be experienced by the affluent from a relatively humble standpoint.
But it gets deeper still. It bares a truth that comes with a measure of guilt, as it speaks to how ill prepared some of us were as parents in understanding that children need safe but rugged experience and exposure from a very early age to prepare them to deal with a life that is more often than not, a bitter course. The yearn and fire that must be present for one’s greatest achievement or in order to realize one’s highest self, must be ignited to help in riding the vicissitudes that are often encountered in the process. These experiences leave us no choice but to walk through our fears and watch as they disappear behind us. They augur selflessness, timeliness, discipline, a sense of place and raising the spirit of man.
Caribbean leaders should give serious thought to developing extensive programs that allow mandatory short-term community service for girls and military training for boys. It should be a prerequisite for graduation from high school across the Caribbean, as the individual, country and the collective consciousness would be well served. There is real meaning to the adage, “The further down a man can look, the higher up he can see.”