Jamaica, land we still love Part 1: Babylon vs Nyabinghi
Inspiration from creation: meet Prof-I, the original rastaman & nyabinghi warrior. Welcome to Great Pond, Jamaica.
The Great Pond tabernacle of the Nyabinghi Center, in the hills above Ocho Rios, was built in the approved manner, in this case the guidelines of the Nyabinghi Order, Nyabinghi being according being the oldest and only authentic house of rastafari. 12 wooden outer poles represent the 12 patriarchs, the 12 gates of New Jerusalem and the 12 apostles. The central pole, the highest, represents the Emperor Haile Selassie, the head of the Nyabinghi Order. The roof is supposed to be umbrella-shaped. The central altar is composed of 6 outside poles, which surround the centre section of the tabernacle, symbolising the book of the Seven Seals and the Seven Golden Candlesticks. A red, gold and green flag lies on the altar, and some fruit. Ischop lights the fire, using a flame he has brought with him from the fire of life at Profi’s house, on the other side of ‘Redemption ground’, as the rastaman calls the large area of land in front of the tabernacle.
‘To light spliff,’ says Profi, and points to the fire. He doesn’t smoke (‘I eat my weed raw’), but has no objection to weed-smoking fellows. I ask him why a Photo of Marlon Brando (kitted out as lieutenant Fletcher Christian in the film The Bounty) and Haile Selassie hangs on the altar. ‘Even ‘im affi bow to His Majesty,’ says Profi. Even the greatest film stars of their time were obliged to bow before the Emperor: we don’t see Marlon Brando genuflecting too deeply, but rasta need not always be serious business. The rastamen I know are, without exception, big-hearted laughers and jokers.
Ochi (Ocho Rios), though scarcely a few kilometres from here, is suddenly far away. We spent a few days there at Turtle Towers, an enclosed complex comprising three ugly apartment buildings situated close to the centre and the city harbour. Not the lodging place we would have chosen, but a friend has managed to swing us a moderately priced studio. And after all, we are still amongst Jamaicans, albeit the wealthier variety, and close to the beach, even if we did only spend an hour there. Like most tourist beaches on the north coast of Jamaica, it can only be accessed via closely-guarded gates, and is otherwise pretty much hermetically sealed-off from the outside world. The lifeguards are local boys, as are the jet-ski and pedalo hiremen and the waiters of the abutting hotels, but these are the only locals you see here, servile and subservient like in the old days, in colonial times. White sand, swaying palm trees, warm water and blue sea: it seems picture perfect, and for most visitors it is. We feel hemmed-in and alienated. And is the water really as clean as it looks? (When you think that two cruise ships moor scarcely 300 metres from here every two days.)
The only ray of hope during that hour was the Jamaican apple offered us by an older Jamaican lady, one of the few non-white visitors on the beach. It was something I had never eaten before, and it tasted superb. But then it was already time to leave, because the small gate into Turtle Towers closes at six o’clock, and we surely didn’t want to walk all the way around to the next entrance? No, in Ochi there’s absolutely no reason for a tourist to venture onto the street, and certainly not in the evening, when it’s dark.
Even during the day, you see relatively few (white) tourists in Ochi, except in the plazas and at the craft market, to which they are mainly transported, a mere 500 metres from the cruise ship to Main Street, by mini-bus. Many visitors even fail to make it that far, and hang around in Island Village, a shopping and entertainment centre close to the jetty. A few years ago, there was a museum on the history of reggae here, containing, I am led to believe, a reconstruction of Lee Perry’s Black Ark-studio, but I should have guessed: the museum no longer exists. Probably too few visitors. What interests cruise-shippers, Scratch or Studio One? When all they ever hear in the background is Bob Marley emanating from the tinny speakers concealed everywhere, because, after all, this is Jamaica. ‘Think you’re in heaven but you’re living in hell’: would that text permeate through to any of those purchase and consumption addicts? I taste the mysticism of the moment and proceed towards the exit, totally detached from all of the luxury and rubbish being sold here. This is the heart of Babylon, the whore of Babylon, a crime against the people of Jamaica, which scarcely sees a penny of all that income. Nor of the many millions wasted each day in the many chique resorts of the north, which the people never leave. And why would they, with an all-in arrangement and safely shielded from the wicked world of Jamaica outside?
We set off from here, with Commander Shad, to visit Profi. Ras Fire has said that I should definitely meet this man, and he doesn’t often say that. It’s a short 20-minute ride to Great Pond. First through the more affluent suburbs of Ochi, then gradually upwards, into the jungle, where the space between the houses gradually widens. The surroundings remind me very much of Shashamane: the same lush overgrowth, large pieces of land protected by high fences and people working in the fields. Profi’s tabernacle is the crowing glory, at least in the story of rasta that ties up all the loose ends in my head.
'Enter into the gate with thanksgiving and into HIS court with praises’: is written on the large sign in front of the tabernacle of Profi and his friends. I point out to him the similarity with Shashamene.‘Huh, that’s not a good tabernacle. They used cement for the walls, and that’s not allowed according to the guidelines. Only natural materials. No plastic or aluminium sheeting on the roof, just straw.’
Profi is not an easy person. His rasta doctrine is strict, so strict that he doesn't even need the Bible to know, because Selassie is God ‘from creation.’ For 40 years he has only eaten raw food (and herbs), never drinks alcohol or soft drinks, and doesn’t smoke. He doesn’t like reggae and refers to Peter Tosh as the devil in person. At first, he keeps trying to provoke me with his reasonings, testing me, but without and real malice or disrespect. He laughs easily and often, about the illusion and impotence of Babylon, and the general spiritual blinding of humanity.
But Profi is also a wonderful natural man, who tries to live in complete harmony with nature, and cultivates all of his own fruit and vegetables, with the help of Ischop and other neighbouring Nyabinghi men. Although he does not eat together with them, he bakes and cooks for his wife and children. The latter total eighteen, from various wives. He knows all there is to know about herbs and roots, and as an accomplished ‘scientist’ and ‘herbalist’ uses them to help people. ‘Please don’t call me a doctor,’ he says, but hands us a packet of ‘guinean’, a natural ‘cancer remedy’.
We record an intense interview for the documentary 'My Ras Tafari Roots', which I’m making together with David Verhaeghe, and we are then invited to a short nyabinghi in the tabernacle. For the first time, we see girls (two of Profi’s daughters) drumming nyabinghi, this would be sacrilege in the eyes of many rastas, but this man holds a greater respect for women than any other Jamaican I have ever met. He talks of ‘empresses’ not women, and also treats the women around him as such. Seldom has Marleen felt as appreciated and respected in Jamaica as by this true nyabinghi man.
Profi has drummed up around six drummers: four of his children (above all the oldest girl gives her all, while the oldest boy effortlessly serves up a couple of solos), and two veterans. Ischop stands behind the bass drum, fully-grounded and present, the prototype of a balanced, natural person, the ideal rasta. Profi sings an old, familiar nyabinghi tune and two songs from the album he has been working on for six years, which is now finally about to be released - the first real nyabinghi record in decades. We were allowed to listen to a few tracks, and they sounded very original and entrancing.
Perhaps Profi isn’t the most famous name in rastaland, but he is one of the mainstays, and the driving force behind numerous nyabinghis in St. Thomas, St. Anne and Portland. Two days after our visit he is to attend a grounation, which is expected to last a full seven days and nights. I don’t know if I could endure so long, even if I wanted to, but the unconditional power and surrender in Profi’s livity have made a great impression on me. And the love of course, for him and for most of the rastas I have got to know personally over the years, the key concept of rastafari. Nyabinghi, Twelve Tribes, Orthodox, Boboshanti, as I heard Israel Vibration sing, almost 35 years ago: ‘we all got to sing the same song’. Will it ever happen?
Published on 06/03/2012 by Jah Shakespear
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