Jamaica and it’s people have been involved in a constant struggle for prosperity. After gaining independence from Britain on August 6, 1962, Jamaica attempted to flourish under a democratic system of their own. The formation of the People’s National Party and the Jamaica Labor Party marked the beginning of this movement. During this time of exploration, Rastafarians residing in Jamaica were faced with little political support. Government objectives and reform were generally not concerned with the plight of the Rastafarians, and they were treated as a group of vigilantes.
Author: Margaret Hill – Michael Manley & Rastafarianism
Michael Norman Manley, Prime Minister of Jamaica from 1972-1980 and 1989-1992, was the first political figure to provide support for the large population of Rastafarians residing in Jamaica. It was under the rule of this man that reform for the people began to take place. The following paper analyzes Manley and his influence on Jamaican society.
To begin, it is important to understand some background information on Michael Norman Manley. Born to a prominent political figure, Manley attended Jamaica College in Kingston from 1935-1962. He was also in the Royal Canadian Air Force during 1939-1945. After earning a bachelor’s degree and leaving the air force, he attended the London School of Economics from 1945-1949. Hoping to explore the world, he remained in London and took a job as a journalist with the BBC. In 1952, Manley decided that he wanted to return to his homeland. Being a strong-minded individual striving for change, Manley took on the responsibility of becoming a trade union negotiator, and the president of the National Workers Union of Jamaica. He strove to provide a better life for all those who lived on Jamaica. (Encarta.msn.com)
In 1969 when his father, Norman Washington Manley passed away, Michael took over his position as leader of the PNP. Norman Manley was the original founder of the PNP, chief minister of Jamaica from 1955-1959, and prime minister from 1959-1962. With the 1972 election quickly approaching, the PNP began campaigning for Manley. It was at this time that they set two primary goals:
1. Not to rock class coalition
- legislation requiring parliamentarians to declare their assets publicly annually in order to counter corruption;
- a fixed formula for the distribution of government jobs to end victimization;
- permanent voter registration centers and voting rights for 18-20 year olds;
- Parliament to be restored as the center of government activity;
- no electioneering and government by promises. The PNP would tell the truth.
Before speaking, Manley would be met at these rallies by crowds of people chanting “Joshua.” This title had been re-given to Manley at a party conference in the fall of 1971, after a speech in which he talked about God and the church. In actuality Manley had acquired the title eight years earlier “when as a trade unionist leading a demonstration of striking workers outside the Jamaican Broadcasting building, he had declared: ‘There are the walls of Jericho’.” The Jamaican people cast him in the “role of a prophetic figure analyzing society’s injustices and leading people to correct them.” In addition, Manley appeared before these crowds holding his “Rod of Correction,” a cane given to him by Haile Selassie during his visit to Ethiopia in 1970(rg pg 105).
When the 1972 election finally arrived, the PNP won by the largest majority ever. They gained 56% of the popular vote, and 37 out of 53 seats in the House. (dsij table A.1) There is no record of how many Rastafarians voted, “but many feel that if the Rastafarians were ever going to make an exception, 1972 was the year.” (rg pg 220) This was a great accomplishment, especially considering the Rastafarian word for politics is “politricks.”
It was at this point that Michael Norman Manley began to initiate the reforms he had originally promised the Rastafarians and Jamaican people. In 1972 alone Manley passed over 12 reform programs including:
- Promotion of the NIEO
- Special employment program
- Skill training program
- Worker’s bank
- Literacy program (JAMAL)
- Lowering the voting age to 18
- Community health aids
- Operation GROW
- Land lease
- Civil service reclassification
- Youth training
- The public housing program
From 1973 to 1975 Manley instituted over 30 additional programs and policies, some of which included:
- Food subsidies
- Free secondary/university education
- National Youth Service
- National Minimum wage
- Jamaica Public Service Company
- Sugar cooperatives
- National Housing Trust
- Small enterprise development Company
Each of these reforms affects the Rastas in one-way or another. Perhaps one of Manley’s most important initial reforms was the lowering of the voting age. This act alone allowed Rastafarians to take on a much larger role in the democratic aspects of the government. They constitute a very large population in Jamaica, seeing as six out of every ten Jamaicans are either Rasta’s or sympathizers. (tr pg2) In addition, “the membership is young…up to 80 percent of those seen in the camps and on the streets are between the ages of seventeen and thirty-five.” (tr pg2) The lowering of the voting age was the first real hope of a voice, for a group who had been suppressed and ignored for years.
When thinking about the suppression of the Rastas, and their new-found voting ability, I immediately think of African-Americans and women in the United States. It wasn’t until the mid-late 1900’s, that African-Americans and women gained the right to vote. Just like the Rastafarians in Jamaica, these two groups in the United States make up a large majority of the population. However, despite their presence as major groups, they were still denied voting rights for many years.
Unfortunately domination and superiority seem to fill our society as well as most other societies in the world. Michael Manley was a politician, and therefore upheld many of the disliked qualities associated with politics. However, Manley was also one of the first Prime Ministers to advocate for social equality. “I have suggested that self-reliance, equality, and democracy are the objectives towards which we must strive. Without these we cannot build a ‘just society’.”(tpoc pg 51) Many Rastafarians and historians will argue that Manley’s promises were just that, promises. They will argue that although the promises he made sounded good, in actuality few of them were ever accomplished. This view is epitomized in the epic poem “Dem Call Dem,” written by Ras Gill tucker.
“Dem call dem political bull frog
Dem call dem shadow and brine
Dem call dem teethless lovers
Dem call dem white skin in black mask
Dem call dem lion in Monkey clothes
Dem call dem footstep without foot
Dem call dem promise and empty promise
Dem call demselves what others no call dem
Dem call dem paper tigers
Dem call dem bonehead dunces in the Queens court
Dem call dem soft-face idlers hiding behind big desks
Dem call demselves the people’s saviours
Dem ride upon dem back and ride upon dem head
Dem call demselves God-fooling and God-fearing
Yet dem die without vision
Dem die without us-
Dem `trive `pon we children hunger
Dem get drunk `pon we homeless and our fondest hope
Dem call demselves democrats dying in lies
Dem gwane living and dying in a wi nakedness
Dem white God wi` bless dem for dem works
These feelings of disappointment are common throughout the world. If you look at democracy in the United States, many people feel that our presidents have made promises they have not kept. I don’t think that you will ever find a political figure that has gained the respect and trust of all members of his society. In actuality, each leader is plagued with the reality of being deemed sub-par. Therefore, the accomplishments achieved by our leaders must be viewed in perspective. It is important for us to realize that no one leader will ever have the power to “change the world.”
Despite the negative feelings epitomized in the previous poem, there are those Jamaican citizens that have nothing but good things to say about the Manley administration. “When a Rastafarians professor at the University of the West Indies was asked the question, “What role did the Manley government play in the growth of Rastafarianism?”” he responded:
The latter part of 1973 brought on even more reforms. Manley and his administration began what is known as one of their greatest accomplishments, the National Bauxite reform. In the 1972 PNP election manifesto, the party had promised to establish a National Bauxite Commission. This commission would “investigate what the country ought to do about increasing it’s revenue from and control over bauxite production and the idle bauxite land.” (dsij pg 76) Several goals set by the commission in late 1973 were:
- Reparation of the lands owned by the bauxite companies
- Acquisition of 51 per cent ownership of the bauxite mining operations
- The establishment of the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI) (dsij pg 77)
The bauxite reforms affected the Rastas in several different ways. First, the allocation of land and decrease in private enterprise provided the opportunity for greater class equality. In a survey regarding opinions on government ownership and the private sector, 64% of the Jamaican people supported government acquisition of private enterprise. (dacij pg 191) The study also found that the radical people of Jamaica, primarily consisting of the Rastafarians, were in general support of government ownership, viewed the private sector as exploitative, and supported the government appropriation of land. (dacij pg 193)
It was not until the bauxite reforms that the issue of land appropriation became a major reality in Jamaica. This reform paved the way for rural development and appropriation of land not related to bauxite production. Manley supported these beliefs, and said in his book, The Politics of Change, “First of all, resources must be allocated so as to ensure adequate rural development and the commitment of capital to the provision of infrastructure and industry so as to create the basis for a balanced and satisfactory life for rural dwellers…At present rural communities in Jamaica are places where old men get ready to die and from which the young flee in search of contemporary dreams.” (tpoc pg 115) Manley recognized the overpopulation of Kingston and it’s suburbs, as well as the need for urban alternatives. “At present Kingston and its suburbs contain nearly one third of the Jamaican population (600,000 out of two million).” (tpoc pg 115)
In order to address the housing problem in Jamaica, the Manley administration also set up the PNP public housing program and later The National Housing Trust. The PNP housing program created over 40,000 new homes, and also instituted rent control policies. (dsij pg 292) The National Housing Trust used payroll tax and contributions from gross earnings to provide financing for the construction of houses.
The problem of over-population occurs here in the United States, as well. There are over 7 million people living in Manhattan and it’s suburbs. (publicpurpose.com) This means that there are more than 24,400 people per square mile. (publicpurpose.com) It has also been estimated that there are over 15,000 Rastafarians living in New York City and it’s suburbs. (rg pg 198) The attempt to re-locate people to rural areas was a brave move by Michael Manley. He was attempting to look out for his supporters, and the needs of the Rastas. “Today, the Rastafarian communities are no longer so depressing, although conditions are in no way ideal among the new camps…Many Rastafarians who once lived in broken down shacks were now living on the same grounds in middle-class dwellings made of concrete blocks with running water and other amenities.” (rg pg 169) Whether or not his initiatives were thoroughly successful are not that important. What is important, is the motivation and perseverance that Manley exhibited.
In general, there is one thing that most Jamaican historians and Rastafarians agree on, the belief that the Manley government provided the Rastafarian community with “space” and “freedom” to conduct their routine activities. This freedom was exhibited by the new ability to import Black literature from both the United States and England. It also allowed radical black leaders, previously banned from the country, to visit and speak. In addition to these reforms, the new “freedom” allowed the Rastafarians to use government facilities and properties anywhere on the island.
This idea of “freedom” can also be attributed to the foreign policy reforms enacted by Michael Manley. The primary goals of the PNP foreign policy during the 1970’s were:
- Non-alignment: strong support for the non-aligned movement, development of relations with communist countries and other Third World countries while maintaining good relations with the West.
- Strong support for Third World solidarity; political and economic cooperation among Third World countries.
- Advocacy of the New International Economic Order (NIEO) (dsij pg 81)
The combination of the domestic reforms and the foreign policies are what really provided a greater degree of “freedom” for the people. One Jamaican said, “Along with the opening to the Rastafari, the foreign policy initiatives strengthening ties with Africa, and other policies such as the Status of the Children Act which gave full legal status to children born out of wedlock, they helped to give the black masses of Jamaica the feeling that they were full members of the Jamaican community and first-class citizens for the first time.” (dsij pg 83)
Strengthening foreign policy allowed the Rasta’s access to Ethiopia and Africa that they had been previously denied. It allowed them to interact with those leaders that they respected and worshiped.
Prime Minister Michael Manley also made significant strides regarding food farms and land lease. These programs attempted to increase domestic food production, and decrease Jamaica’s dependence on external resources. Under the land lease program, private land was leased by the government and then re-leased to small farmers for 5-year periods. During 1973, the first year of operation, 2700 farmers were placed on 4300 acres of land. The PNP party and Manley were determined to extend the program, and set an additional goal of placing 10,000 farmers on 6,000 acres of land. (dsij pg 74) The combination of these programs allowed citizens with little economic wealth to generate both food and moral.
In 1973, the Jamaican Nutrition Holdings was established. This was a government company formed for the purpose of handling nutrition issues, primarily in schools. The program provided milk and lunch for school children, and also took over the task of bulk importing. These key imports included wheat, soya, corn, rice, and salt-fish. Michael Manley explained, “Through this nutrition and milling complex, working in partnership with private enterprise at some points but providing our own milling capacity at others, we intend to pursue the objective of an adequate, high-content, low cost diet to the population (and particularly the children) along with industrial and agricultural linkages in which we tie our own agricultural development to our objectives in nutritional and other fields.” (tpoc pg 207)
These nutritional reforms are important to Rastafarians, because food symbolism is an integral part of the Rastafarian religion. Rastas are primarily vegetarians, and generally consider meat injurious to the body. Fish is a staple part of the Rastafarian diet, however it must be small, measuring no more than twelve inches in length. Vegetables are the primary food consumed, and the common belief is “Like ganja, the earth brings forth all good things.” (tr pg 141) Rastas are very careful about how they prepare their food, and thus care a great deal about where it comes from. “The Rastafarians also prefer to eat food from their own plantations. For this reason, one of the most coveted items among the cultists is land on which they can live and cultivate their own foods.” (tr pg 142)
These beliefs show the necessity for both the Nutrition and the land lease reform. It is the combination of these two initiatives that are essential to the beliefs of the Rastafarian cultists. The land lease program allowed Rastas to thrive in their religious beliefs, because it gave them the opportunity to grow and cultivate their own fruits and vegetables. I don’t think that Manley implemented these programs with these goals in mind. Instead he was hoping to re-locate people to rural areas, and improve general nutrition, thus giving citizens a better way of life. Regardless of his intentions, Manley once again showed his support for the Rastafarians.
I think that it is extremely important for any political leader to support different beliefs and traditions. In the United States there are hundreds of religions represented, and within these various groups, there are thousands of traditions. Perhaps the group with the most similar dietary restrictions is that of the Jewish faith. Kosher meals and foods are a large part of the Jewish religion, and they often take precendence in daily activities. Whatever religion or tradition, it is important that the political leader respect the faith of his citizens. The leader may not necessarily share the same ideals and values, but it is imperative that he/she respect their decisions. For example, the president may be Catholic, but that does not give him/her the right to denounce Christianity or Hinduism.
During Manley’s second term in office, 1989-1992, he was seen to be significantly less effective. He passed fewer policies, and the party concentration no longer revolved strictly around class equality. However, it was during these years that he advocated free-market principles. It was also during this time that the PNP concentrated on enlarging the economic opportunity available in Jamaica. Michael Manley and his administration planned to do this by:
- Small businesses
- Land reform
- Community economic enterprises
- Broadening of shareholding
Manley addressed the issue by saying, “Between small farmers, new businesses, industrial democracy and the rapid spread of shareholding there will be a constant pressure exerted to widen ownership in keeping with the natural cultural dynamics of the society.”(tpoc pg 242) In order to create a society that would be able to prosper in a free-market economy, these goals were necessities. With greater food production domestically imports would respectively decrease, and the export market would be that much more feasible.
Michael Manley was both an effective and efficient leader. He made significant strides for the people of Jamaica. Manley made a great deal of promises, and he actually fulfilled most of them. Not all of Manley’s reforms worked as well as he planned, however the fact that he tried makes him that much better than his opponents. When we review the careers of politicians, it is important to remember that they are only human. With this in mind, it is also important to view their accomplishments and failures in perspective. What resources did they have to work with? What previous battles were they facing?
In regards to Rastafarianism, I believe that Michael Manley made great strides. As a prime minister, he implemented many policies that directly benefited Rastas, and additional policies that indirectly benefited Rastafarians.
The Politics of Change: A Jamaican Testament. Michael Manley. Howard University Press. Washington D.C. 1990. (tpoc)
Democracy and Clientelism in Jamaica. Carl Stone. Transaction Books. New Brunswick, NJ. 1980. (dacij)
Democratic Socialism in Jamaica: The Political Movement and Social Transformation in Dependent Capitalism. Evelyne Stephens and John Stephens. Princeton University Press. Princeton, NJ. 1986. (dsij)
The Rastafarians. Leonard Barrett, Sr. Beacon Press. Boston, MA.1997. (tr)
Class, State, and Democracy in Jamaica. Carl Stone. Praeger Special Studies. New York. 1986. (csadij)
Reggae: The Rough Guide. Steve Barrow and Peter Dalton. Rough Guides Ltd. London, ENG. 1997. (rg)
WWW.encarta.msn.com – online encyclopedia