The story of the Rasta woman

The story of the Rasta woman

BY BASIL WALTERS All Woman writer

Monday, March 19, 2012

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IN the genesis of the Rastafari movement, the profile of the Rasta woman was in general very low-keyed. But because it is indeed a cultural movement, today's Rasta woman has grown in visibility and status.

However, it is not very often that one gets the opportunity to hear the story of the Rasta woman. Thanks to her granddaughter, Donisha Prendergast, Queen Mother Nana Afua Adobea, better known as Rita Marley, recently told the story to bredren and sistren at the Bob Marley museum.

Attendees were briefed by the matriarch of the Marley empire and others about the role, responsibility and journey of a Rasta woman.

Rastafari has been Rita's journey since her early 20s. Today, she has moved from humble beginnings in the concrete jungle of Trench Town to the vast expanse of open land in Ghana, West Africa, where she is fulfilling a life-long dream to be African again.

Rita explained that once she met and fell in love with Bob Marley, her life changed to one of service and dedication to the upliftment of her people through a greater "overstanding" of Rastafari.

Asked about Bob's take on dress, she said he was into modest clothing.

"We had to be elegant, but with principle," she said. "He ordered us to wear nice clothes — 'cover your knees, cover your arms'. We had to present ourselves in the regal, royal way, even though we didn't have money."

She said it was also Bob who taught her what to, and what not to eat.

"That experience of cutting out certain foods from your diet, even though auntie wanted to feed me on certain things, he (Bob) would say, 'Rita that's not good for you, this is what you should eat'."

However, she credited her aunt for her awareness of Marcus Garvey, which also led to her Rastafari consciousness.

"It was my auntie's desire for me to be so black, in terms of not my colour but my actions until I found Rastafari. I started very early finding principles of life and wellness. I was very aware. My principle was being black and proud. I was very proud to be black and black to be proud."

Also joining Rita on stage were two of her best friends, Sister Minnie and Sister Pearl.

Sister Minnie said she has no regrets about her journey, though as women they have had a hard time.

"As a woman we had a hard time in it. You want to know the truth about it? We were just children-carriers... we were to (only) bring children for our brethren until we could stand up and talk for ourselves. Some of them now call us men," she said.

Sister Pearl, who used to accompany the Marleys on tours, said the herb awakened her to the faith.

"...Then the things that used to nice me, like the dance and the concerts and them stuff, never used to nice me no more..."

She recalled that in the old days, there was limited visibility of the Rasta woman.

"In those days, there were no Rasta sisters. There was only brethren — Rasta man and him queen. And the queen was limited. So we used to go and visit the brothers, but we used to go at nights. Because we used to feel ashamed to go in the daytime because when you go in the daytime as a woman they (people in general) used to look down on you."

Another sister, Sister Mitsie, said the practice of no make-up, long skirts, a head wrap and dreadlocks is still a joy to her.

"Dreadlocks at anytime has been a difficult journey. Now you have ones who are wearing locks, but locks have now become fashion. At the time when we were trodding through there was nothing fashionable about locks. It wasn't Sisterlocks, fashionlocks, it was nothing like that. You were targeted for discrimination, victimisation, persecution, everything. So it was a challenge for me as a mother, but I couldn't do it any other way."

Sister Asher, who grew up in the Roman Catholic faith, and is now a member of the Twelve Tribes of Israel Rastafari Organisation, said that she and her brother were told to leave their parents' home because of their conversion, a reflection of public thought of the movement then.

"I can tell you I went through a fight. I was put out of my house and trust me, the Twelve Tribes took me like a daughter, sister and looked after me because I didn't have anywhere else to go at seventeen," she said.

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