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The Power of Social Movements and the Limits of Pluralism: Tracing Rastafarianism and Indigenous Resurgence through Commonwealth Caribbean Law and Culture

  • Emily Becker

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In the post-colonial era, social movements in the Commonwealth Caribbean have empowered citizens to reclaim, redefine and further develop their identity. These movements, combined with a history of colonialism and transatlantic slavery in the region, have yielded a Caribbean culture “too diverse to be labeled.” Indeed, the Caribbean culture is composed of “a bastion of discrete identities as well as quarries of very invaluable raw material that can be used to build the bridges across cultural boundaries.” These distinct but potentially overlapping identities make the Commonwealth Caribbean a truly pluralistic region, at least at the cultural and social level. As modern legal and political systems, however, the states of the Commonwealth Caribbean have, in many ways, failed to sufficiently protect the non-dominant groups within Caribbean. Indeed, attempts to balance the majoritarian demands of democracy against the pluralist notion of minority rights protection have landed largely on the side of majorities.

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1 In this paper, I use the term “Commonwealth Caribbean” to refer to independent, English-speaking states in the Caribbean, including: Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.

2 Miranda La Rose, Caribbean culture too diverse to be labelled – Prof Nettleford, StabroekNews (5 Sep 2008), http://www.stabroeknews.com/2008/archives/09/05/caribbean-culture-too-diverse-to-be-labelled-%E2%80%93-prof-nettleford/, (Quoting Professor Rex Nettleford. See Rex Nettleford, Expressions of the Mind: Philosophy and the Making of the Caribbean Nation, Keynote Address at the Carifesta X Symposium (Guyana 2008)).

3 Id.

4 See generally Derek O'Brien & Vaughan Carter, Chant Down Babylon: Freedom of Religion and the Rastafarian Challenge to Majoritarianism, 18 J. L. & Religion 219 (2002).

5 Id.

6 Id.

7 Marissa Hughes, Indigenous Rights in the Philippines: Exploring the Intersection of Cultural Identity, Environment, and Development, 13 Geo. Int'l Envtl. L. Rev. 3, 9 (2000).

8 Marina Hadjioannou, The International Human Right to Culture: Reclamation of the Cultural Identities of Indigenous Peoples Under International Law, 8 Chap. L. Rev. 193, 193194 (2005).

9 Id. at 193.

10 See Madhavi Sunder, Cultural Dissent, 54 Stan. L. Rev. 495 (2001).

11 Id. at 498–500.

12 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, 6 (1983).

13 Debal K Singharoy, Peasants' Movements in Post-Colonial India, 210 (2004).

14 O'Brien, supra note 4 at 225.

15 Id.

16 Id.

17 Rose-Marie Bell Antoine, Commonwealth Caribbean Law and Legal Systems 6 (2d ed. 2008).

18 Id. at 7.

19 Id. at 224.

20 Nathaniel Samuel Murrell, Afro-Caribbean Religions: An Introduction to Their Historical, Cultural, and Sacred Traditions 248 (2010).

21 Id.

22 O'Brien, supra note 4 at 224.

23 Melissa R. Johnson, Positive Vibration: An Examination of Incarcerated Rastafarian Free Exercise Claims, 34 NEW ENG. J. on Crim. & Civ. confinement 391, 394–95 (2008).

24 Id.

25 O'Brien, supra note 4 at 225.

26 Id. at 395.

27 The name of the Rastafarian movement was taken from Emperor Haile Selassie's name prior to coronation.

28 Michael Keene & Dennis McKoy, New Steps in Religious Education for the Caribbean 86 (2003).

29 O'Brien, supra note 4 at 222.

30 Antoine, supra note 17 at 8.

31 Johnson, supra note 23 at 395.

32 The Western world is also referred to as “Babylon” or the “Babylon system” by Rastafarians.

33 O'Brien, supra note 4 at 221.

34 Id.

35 Id.

36 Id.

37 Id.

38 Peter J. Paris, Religion and Poverty: Pan-African Perspectives 142 (2009).

39 Chanting Down Babylon: The Rastafari Reader 31 (Nathaniel Samuel Murrell, ed., 1998).

40 O'Brien, supra note 4 at 225–226.

41 Id.

42 Id.

43 Id. at 221.

44 Id. at 220.

45 O'Brien, supra note 4 at 221.

46 Keene, supra note 28 at 87.

47 See Ennis Barrington Edmonds, Rastafari: From Outcasts to Culture Bearers 51 (2002), (quoting Linden F. Lewis).

48 Id.

49 Id.

50 Id.

51 Id.

52 Chanting Down Babylon: The Rastafari Reader, supra note 39 at 31.

53 Id.

54 Johnson, supra note 23 at 396.

55 Chevannes, Barry, Rastafari and Other African-Caribbean Worldviews 177 (1998).

56 Jackson, Howard & Ambela, Etienne Zé, Words, Meaning and Vocabulary: An Introduction to Modern English Lexicology 136 (2000).

57 Id.

58 Nyirenda, Clement M., Rastafarianism in Malawi: A Front for Chamba Smokers or a Faith Community 7 (2006).

59 Johnson, supra note 23 at 398.

60 Barnett, Leonard E., The Rastafarians: Twentieth Anniversary Edition 141 (1997).

61 Johnson, supra note 23 at 398.

62 Id.

63 Id.

64 Meehan, Peter, Ital is Vital. N. Y. Times, Oct. 12, 2012, at MM47.

65 Id.

66 Shepherd, Robert, Rastafari Livity: A Basic Information Text 10 (2d ed., 2004).

67 Barnett, supra note 60 at 267.

68 Antoine, supra note 17 at 8.

69 Id. at 9.

70 Id.

71 O'Brien, supra note 4 at 226.

72 Id.

73 Stephen A. King, Reggae, Rastafari, and the Rhetoric of Social Control 79 (2007).

74 Id.

75 Id.

76 Id. at 80.

77 Antoine, supra note 17 at 9. See generally Grant and Chin v. The Principle of John A. Cumber Primary School, 1999 CILR 307.

78 Id.

79 Id. See generally Forsythe v. DPP and the AG of Jamaica, (1997) 34 JLR 512.

80 Id.

81 Id.

82 Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U. S. State Department, International Religious Freedom Report for 2012: Bahamas (2012), available at: http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/2012religiousfreedom/index.htm#wrapper (last visited Aug. 4, 2015).

83 Id.

84 Id.

85 Id.

86 Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U. S. State Department, International Religious Freedom Report for 2012: Saint Kitts and Nevis (2012) available at: http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/2012religiousfreedom/index.htm#wrapper (last visited Aug. 4, 2015).

87 Id.

88 Id

89 Samuel M. Wilson, The Indigenous People of the Caribbean xiv (1997).

90 Id.

91 Id.

92 Untold Origins: The Indigenous Heritage of the Caribbean and its Contribution to a Caribbean Identity, The Cuming Museum, Previous Exhibits, available at: http://www.southwark.gov.uk/info/200162/the_cuming_museum (last visited Jan. 19, 2014).

93 Id.

94 Id.

95 Wilson, supra note 89.

96 Id.

97 Tony Castanha, The Myth of Indigenous Caribbean Extinction: Continuity and Reclamation in Borikén (Puerto Rico) 6 (2011).

98 Id. at 7.

99 Christian Forte, Indigenous Resurgence in the Contemporary Caribbean: Amerindian Survival and Revival 1 (2006).

100 Id.

101 Untold Origins, supra note 92 at 8.

102 Id.

103 Id.

104 Id.

105 Id.

106 Id.

107 Id.

108 Id.

109 Id. at 9.

110 Id.

111 Id.

112 Id.

113 Id.

114 Id. at 10.

115 Id.

116 Id. at 12.

117 Id.

118 Id.

119 Castanha, supra note 97 at 5.

120 Kirwin R. Shaffer, Review of Wilson, Samuel M., ed., The Indigenous People of the Caribbean. H-Net Reviews. August, 1998, available at https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=2219 (last visited Aug. 4, 2015).

121 Forte, supra note 99 at 2.

122 Id.

123 Id. at 6.

124 Id.

125 Id.

126 Id.

127 Castanha, supra note 97 at 15.

128 Nicholas J. Saunders, The Peoples of the Caribbean: An Encyclopedia of Archeology and Traditional Culture xxii (2005).

129 Id.

130 Ak'Kutan Radio, the Only Community Radio in the Toledo District of Belize, Expands Their Coverage, CULTURAL SURVIVAL (Mar. 26, 2014), http://www.culturalsurvival.org/news/akkutan-radio-only-community-radio-toledo-district-belize-expands-their-coverage (last visited Aug. 4, 2015).

131 Id.

132 Id.

133 Saunders, supra note 128.

134 Id.

135 Indigenous Peoples in Trinidad and Tobago, The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (2007), http://www.iwgia.org/regions/latin-america/trinidad-and-tobago (last visited Aug. 4, 2015).

136 Saunders, supra note 128.

137 Caribbean Organization of Indigenous Peoples, caribbean Policy Development Centre (2011), http://www.cpdcngo.org/cpdc/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=118:caribbean-organisation-of-indigenous-people-coip&catid=40:regional-networks&Itemid=150 (last visited Aug. 4, 2015).

138 Forte, supra note 99 at 225.

139 25th Anniversary of the Caribbean Organization of Indigenous Peoples, the Caribbean Network for Integrated Rural Development (2012), http://cnirdregional.org/25th-anniversary-of-the-caribbean-organisation-of-indigenous-peoples(last visited Aug. 4, 2015).

140 Id.

141 Forte, supra note 99 at 225.

142 Maximilian Forte, 'We are not extinct:’ The Revival of Carib and Taino identities, the internet, and the transformation of offline indigenes into online ‘N-digenes,” Sincronía (Jan 2002), http://sincronia.cucsh.udg.mx/CyberIndigen.htm (last visited Aug. 4, 2015).

143 Forte, supra note 99 at 225.

144 Id.

145 Id.

146 Forte, supra note 142 at 4.

147 Id. at 7.

148 Id.

149 Id.

150 Id.

151 Id.

152 Antoine, supra note 17 at 11.

153 Id.

154 Id.

155 Id. at 12

156 Id.

157 Id.

158 Id.

159 Id. at 179.

160 Id.

161 Id. at 188.

162 Id. at 189.

163 Id.

164 Id.

165 Id.

166 Id.

167 Id.

168 Id.

169 Id.

170 Id.

171 Id. at 190.

172 Id.

173 See generally Maya Indigenous Community of the Toledo District v. Belize, Case 12.053, Report No 40/04, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.122 Doc. 5 rev. 1 at 727 (Oct. 12, 2004), available at: http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/cases/40-04.html (last visited Aug. 4, 2015)

174 Id.

175 Id.

176 Zelena Jones, Culture's Ties to the Land: The Belize-Guatemala Border Conflict's Implications for the Maya Communities in Light of the UN Declaration, 29 Wis. Int'l L.J. 773, 797–98 (2012).

177 Id.

178 Case of the Saramaka People v. Suriname, IACHR Series C No 185 (Nov. 28, 2007), available at: http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_172_ing.pdf (Last visited Aug. 19, 2015)

179 Antoine, supra note 17 at 193.

180 Id.

181 Id.

* Emily Becker is a legal researcher and private tutor.

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The Power of Social Movements and the Limits of Pluralism: Tracing Rastafarianism and Indigenous Resurgence through Commonwealth Caribbean Law and Culture

  • Emily Becker

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