Rastafarians praise new BVI government for revoking ban
Nov. 2, 2003
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Monday November 3, 2003
The 23-year-old “Rasta Law,” removed in August, ordered immigration authorities to refuse entry to Rastafarians and “hippies,” most commonly identified by their dreadlocks.
“I thank (former Chief Minister) Ralph O’Neal for keeping us back for so long because it made us strong to come now,” Ras Bobby, a Rastafarian from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, said late Saturday.
O’Neal was the author of the 1980 ordinance and repeatedly refused to lift the ban despite public pressure to do so. The Legislative Council struck the order from the books after a survey determined most islanders were in favor of removing it, officials said.
Chief Minister Orlando Smith, who won elections in June, was scheduled to give a speech to open the ninth annual summit of the Barbados-based Caribbean Rastafari Organization on Saturday night in this British Caribbean territory.
Instead, Communications Minister Paul Wattley addressed the 200 Rastafarians from around the Caribbean, saying many islanders “see the members of this movement as untidy drug smokers, engaging in criminal activity and other forms of anti-social activity.”
Wattley urged delegates to use the conference to dispel that image.
But many attending the event said discrimination was still prevalent.
“When it comes to getting certain jobs, I might have to trim my hair,” said Kiyode Erasto, a Rastafarian from Antigua who gestured to his dreadlocks that fell well below his shoulders.
“We regard marijuana as one of our holy sacraments,” he added. “We also use it as medicine.”
Despite a call from Wattley that delegates respect the territory’s laws, which criminalize marijuana use, the scent of the drug permeated the air at the opening. No arrests were reported.
Throughout the Caribbean, Rastas say they are unjustly blamed for crime and looked down upon for using marijuana, which they believe brings them closer to God. The religion also espouses peaceful coexistence and staying close to nature, which can mean not combing or cutting one’s hair.
Panel discussions during this week’s conference also will focus on lobbying for European reparations to the descendants of African slaves, and African acceptance of those descendants as citizens.
Rastafarianism emerged in Jamaica in the 1930s, with the descendants of slaves angry over colonial oppression of blacks and attempting to reconnect with their African roots. The religion was popularized in the 1970s through reggae artists such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.
An estimated 700,000 people practice the faith worldwide. Some sects believe their god is deceased Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.
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