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THE BOBO DREAD
|Through their tremendous hospitality, the Bobo have built up a special relationship with the local community. They make a special effort to invite people to attend their services and can count on a few adults and younger children. I noticed a tendency for more teenage girls than boys to respond to the invitation. A visit to the Bobo during their celebrations has the quality of going to a fair and must be seen in light of the relative lack of entertainment and diversion in this semirural community. The nearest cinema is over two miles in the direction of Kingston, reached by an unreliable bus service. On reaching the commune, visitors are seated in the round hut and feted with fruits or, at nights, with supper. Sometimes one is offered a choice of "ital" or "non-ital" food. Flour dumplings, rice and peas, oranges, and ripe bananas are the food offered, and for drink there are bush teas, beer, and soft drinks. These last two beverages are specifically for the guests, for the Bobo do not themselves drink from bottles. I once overheard several teenagers complaining among themselves that they did not get any supper from the Bobo, possibly because the Bobo had nothing to offer.|
At the time of my fieldwork, to get from this commune to the main road leading to Kingston, a
Bobo must first pass by a group of displaced squatters from Kingston, a lower-middle-income
housing scheme, and a settlement of leaseholders, tenants and settlers-in all a community of
approximately 140 households. These were the people the Bobo went out of their way to invite
and to fete. To understand the importance of these relations, two things should be borne in mind.
First, the Bobo depended upon the community's goodwill to get water, which is scarce in Bull
Bay. The spring that normally flowed into the riverbed had dried up, and the only source of water
for the residents came from a water tank situated in a catchment area further back in the hills. The
housing scheme had water piped into the homes, but the rest of the community had access to a
standpipe located midway between the main road and the foot of the hill. By cultivating the
friendship of residents in the housing scheme, the Bobo (along with some of the squatters) were
able to avoid the long trek.
The second thing to bear in mind is that for many years, long before the Bobo settled on the hill, some Dreadlocks inhabited the beach at Nine Miles. They were by and large fishermen. Being Dreadlocks, they related to the surrounding peoples as did Dreadlocks everywhere else, aggressive in two respects: their hair and their words. They valued their tremendous locks and thought nothing of reproaching women for what they would consider an abomination, namely the "burning" of their hair. Many of them also, in their devotion to the power of words, were not above the use of "bad words," or indecent expressions. Among a small section of the community, mainly among the settlers, I found that the beach Rastas had a bad reputation. They were all lumped together as "Rascal" (a play on the word "Rasta"), "nasty," "wicked," and accused because "they interfere with people" or "they curse women." Most people, however, did not seem to mind them. The general outlook was "some good some bad," "Just people like miself," "Nothing to it if my daughter become a Rasta," and so on. One policeman remarked, "I have no feelings against them for environment fashion behavior." These neutral sentiments seem to reflect the greater acceptance of the Rastafari, who have been integrated into important spheres of national life, particularly music and the arts. All three sections of the community had stable Rastafari households in them.
Whereas attitudes toward the beach Rastas, or the Dreadlocks, were on the whole neutral, those toward the Bobo were definitely positive. Almost universally the Bobo were described as "peaceful" and "nice" because "they trouble no one," and "they have manners." Bobo gentleness was contrasted with the obstreperousness and aggression of the awesome Dreadlocks. Some respondents called the Bobo "decent." In the main they referred to Bobo meticulousness in appearing neat and clean at all times with shirts tucked in, feet washed, sandals wiped or polished, and hair concealed beneath a tightly wrapped turban. This approval corresponds with the fact that many of those people who disliked the Dreadlocks and even some of those who did not, singled out not their doctrine but their hair as the main cause of their aversion. Uncombed locks did not make one appear "decent."
Out of an entire sample of ninety-one households there was not a single head of household or spouse living in the area for more than six months who had not been invited to visit the commune.
In short, the relations cultivated by the Bobo served to differentiate them further from the mainstream Rastafari. Their observance of the norms of "decency" and "good manners," which by and large referred to neatness in appearance and gentleness and affability in speech was in direct contrast to the Dreadlocks display of their hair and predilection for "sounds."
How does the commune support itself? How can the Bobo afford such generosity? I have found no evidence that the Bobo have any other source of income than that of broom manufacture. According to Prophet Stanley and others, those who live apart from the commune and engage in their own enterprises contribute of their own independent resources, but this does not appear to be either consistent or obligatory. It would be naive to think that the Bobo, living in the country, do not plant ganja, if only for their own consumption. But that is speculation.
To make brooms, straw is bought in the market unless it can be obtained in the nearby hills. Usually, however, it is for the sticks that the surrounding hills are combed. There are four types of brooms for which sticks are necessary. First is the small hand broom, its stick approximately 45 centimeters long and 5 centimeters in circumference; second is the house broom of shoulder length or between I and 1.5 meters; third the yard broom, which is slightly shorter than the house broom; and fourth the cobweb broom 2.5 meters long. The Bobo obtain hand-broom sticks from the thickets around the commune, but for the rest they must search the forests. The best sapling to make broomsticks is the "panchalan," or Spanish elm, whose branches shoot straight up, tall and slender. The sticks are then placed in the broom-making area of the commune where the brethren are free to come and make brooms. The finished products are then taken onto the streets of Kingston, especially the affluent suburbs, and sold aggressively for whatever price they can fetch. The Bobo are quite clever at this. They fix prices according to their perception of the class position of their prospective buyer. In this way they may fetch up to ten or twelve dollars for a broom worth no more than three or four.
Why do the Bobo engage only in broom manufacture? Why not diversify the source of income? Many of the members of the commune are very skilled artisans, shoemakers and tailors. The Bobo regard themselves as Israel, and when Israel was in captivity in Egypt its sole occupation consisted in procuring straw to manufacture bricks. Today it is cement that holds the sand together, but this development is incidental to the Bobo. What matters is the straw: straw work identified Israel. This explanation given by one of the prophets does not account for the fact that the Bobo do not make mats, bags, or hats, other obvious straw products for which a ready market is available. The cash derived from brooms is supplemented by gungu and calalu, which grow freely throughout the commune .
As a utopia the City on the Hill depends on rituals and fixed statuses for well-ordered organization and stability. Everyone has a place, whether prophet, priest, or woman, and everyone accepts that place. The prophet does not disagree with his appointment by Dada, nor does he envy the role of priest. Prince is at the head of the commune, and to enter into the apparent joy and serenity of it one must accept him and accept also the place assigned by him.
But it would be a serious mistake to believe that it is Prince himself, his own charisma, which alone draws young men and women into renouncing the outside world. I mentioned before that all the Bobo observed were young. Every one of them that I spoke to had already been a Dreadlocks before turning to the Bobo. In light of what we have so far seen regarding the differences between the Dreadlocks and the Bobo, this course of events could only mean one thing, namely, that they find the persistent tension between Dreadlocks and the society intolerable and, therefore, reject the aggressive posture of the Dreadlocks because they regard it as the prime contributor to that tension. But if the Bobo are to retain the belief in Selassie, then their simultaneous accentuation of the Revivalisms inherent in the Rastafari movement and the creation of a utopia take on the character of necessities.
One householder in the housing scheme referred to the Bobo as "pure old criminal up there." This was one of only five people out of a hundred who did not like some aspect of the Bobo. While conducting research among a youth gang in West Kingston (Chevannes 1981), I came to understand the reference to criminals was based on the fact that a number of the Bobo had been gunmen. Bent on laying aside the pressure of politics and crime, they placed themselves out of reach of rival gangs in a way that was not possible had they remained conventional Dreadlocks. For Dreadlock membership required the continued adoption of a critical and aggressive stance at least against certain, if not all, politicians. In fact, being Bobo seemed to place them out of reach of the police. In spite of pressure by the police on the Rastafari for ganja and other alleged offenses, I have not come across a single instance of a Bobo being arrested or detained. As Bobo, they retreated further away from the world of the profane, cutting themselves off and maintaining the separation by a ritual distance. Prophet Richard, a former gunman, sang the praises of Prince Emmanuel, who he said not only saved him physically by curing his gunshot wounds through his knowledge of herbs and roots, but opened his eyes to truth. The world of the Bobo is as close as any Rastafari can come to that mental state the fundamental Christian sects call "being saved." It made complete sense when one of my Bull Bay informants remarked that 95 percent of Bobo practices and beliefs were hers too. She was a regular member of the nearby Seventh Day Adventist Church.
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