Expression and Worship

Rastafari ‘dread-talk’ or iyaric is a conscious construction of language as a form of religious and political expression. It is based on the Jamaican dialect, or patois, in particular the syntax and grammar. The syntax is almost devoid of subject-object opposition and verbs. Rastafari use words philosophically. The pronouns ‘me’ and ‘you’ are replaced with ‘I and I’. This is to try to overcome binary oppositions and identify with the sufferers and oppressed of society. The use of ‘I’ as the first and second-person pronoun is a way of reminding each person of their worth and value as not a ‘slave by nature’. ‘I’ is used as both subject and object. ‘I’ also replaces the prefixes in certain words, such as ‘I-ceive’ instead of ‘receive’, ‘desire’ becomes ‘I-sire’, and ‘create’ becomes ‘I-rate’. The use of ‘I’ expresses the unity and interconnectedness of all persons as incarnations of Jah. ‘I’ stands for the ability to see. It is a central concept of Rastafari word/sound/power. ‘I’ is aware of the connection to Jah, whereas ‘me’ is unconscious of this. Seeing and knowing are synonymous for the Rastafari. They change a negative to a positive sound vibration e.g. ‘dedicate’ to ‘livicate’, ‘library’ to ‘truebrary’. They make sound vibrations descriptive, e.g. ‘destroy’ to ‘downstroy’ because destruction tears things down. Rastafari refer to themselves as kings and queens, and the knitted tams that cover their dreads are called ‘crowns’.

Rastafari have a verbal culture centred on philosophising. It is a formulation of language that is used as a way of fostering group identity. ‘Reasoning’ is the name given to Rastafari discourse, in which members come together spontaneously on a regular basis to have lengthy discussions on any subject; people join and leave fluidly, topics change rapidly. It is how they interpret the world. Rastafari avoid language that contributes to servility, self-degradation, and objectification. They try to use language that sounds like what it is, for example ‘down-pression’ in place of ‘oppression’ because it drags you down. Language and music have power for the Rastafari. Chanting the name of Haile Selassie resurrects him. Words have creative force. This idea comes from the African concept of nommo, that words and word-sounds have innate power. Emancipation requires a new language to liberate; the language of Babylon enslaves. This is a process rather than a defined lexicon. It is a way of fighting against oppression and slavery through language, which they view as a spiritual battle, a battle of consciousness expressed through language.

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