Saturday, February 11, 2012

Bongo Trevor (part 2)

I forgot that I had promised a follow-up post to the previous post about Bongo Trevor Campbell (aka Ras Gabre Selassie). In the following clip, he sings "Ethiopia, Thou Land of Our Fathers," considered by many Rastafari to be their "I-ficial" anthem. In fact, the original version of the song was considered "the anthem of the Negro race" according to Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in their "Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World" in 1920. The lyrics of a Rastafarian adaptation, similar to what Bongo Trevor sings in the video below, can be found here: http://www.nyahbinghi.com/files/creedanthem.htm. Also included on this link is the the Royal Ethiopian Creed, most of which is recited starting around 10:10 in the video. At the end of the binghi gatherings and other Rasta events I have attended, this anthem and creed have been sung and recited, but I have yet to see another individual chant and beat the fundeh with nearly as much passion as Bongo Trevor displays in the final moments of this clip.



This song and creed effectively characterize a struggle for balance between pan-African nationalism and universal human Inity (unity) that I have analyzed in the statements of several Rasta bredren and sistren. Prayerful appeals to the Emperor, biblical references linking the African diaspora to the ancient Israelites and imagining Ethiopia as Mount Zion reveal a sense of African identity, and it might be inferred that the "tyrants" and "enemies" mentioned are characterizations of the diaspora's non-African oppressors of recent history: namely, European and American slaveowners and politicians, black and white alike. But these oft-recited lines also command righteousness, forgiveness, and love. While Bongo Trevor's statements in the following interview excerpt are not representative of every Rastafarian, they demonstrate how Rasta teachings might lead one toward a unique sort of nationalism in which externally imposed racial categories, formerly perceived according to subjectivities of geography and religious history, are re-imagined in broader, more inclusive terms.

Trevor: ...you have to think big like His Majesty.  The world is the home of humanity.  And the world is divided into various sections and nations and people.  And what the people must do is learn to live with respect for each other according to his philosophy and his culture.  Because the twelve tribes of Israel and the three nations coming from one nation, which was founded on the bank of the River Nile, and the Nile Valley, which is Ethiopian.  And Ethiopia is the land of the blacks.  But through climatical conditions… inhabitants of different areas and cultures must develop a change in complexion and so on and so forth.  But they’re human beings.  It’s not easy to come to that after being taught about the hatred and discrimination and segregation over the years.  It’s hard fi say that me and you are the same human together.  And it mostly causin’ from people of your side that is lookin’ on the blacker people on my side and say that we are inferior, and they are a super race.
I appreciated his roundabout way of distinguishing between resentment of a particular race, and resentment of an ideology propagated by certain members of that race.  Here, I felt I could benefit from a definition of Babylon in his own words.
Trevor: Babylon.  Mystery Babylon.  There are certain people who feel like dem control the world… that dem should hold [others] in slavery.  As I said, a super race, super nation…. The white man always want expand and expand and expand and have dominion over earth.  I don’t know where him get that concept from, but that is the way with him anywhere him go…. That is the way I see Babylon: want to take other people’s belongings, by any means necessary, you use to get what you want.
Me: So this Babylon… that wants power and control over other man… why do you think it’s normally instigated by European, American, typically white cultures?
Trevor: Because they are the instruments of the Babylon system.  They are the ones that keep the Babylon system going.  All nation like your nation… are set up to keep the system superior.  We know that.  But what can we do?  What can we do?  We have to make you know seh we know what you’re up to!  Ya understand?  We know what you’re up to.  But that can’t stop what is to be.  What is to be must be!  The truth haffi flow like oil.  Ya understand, Ben?
Me: So you’re not returning hate for hate?
Trevor: No!  That don’t put you nowhere!  That don’t put you nowhere!  It belikkle your dignity.  No patriot, no man of divinity, spirituality, ever employ the slightest thought of hate within him, ya understand?  Because [hate] is the enemy of righteousness.

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