Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Locked Up

I’ve been locked up for a year now. It has been a full 365 dreaded days marked off on the calendar. I’m talking about my dreadlocks of course! (Although in a different time and place, I really may have been locked up for wearing dreads). Yes it’s hard to believe that the time has passed by so quickly and yet these are what I would still call the baby-steps of my “dread journey”, a journey that I hope to continue for quite some time. Locked up with a life sentence, JAH willing!

It has been an amazing year, a time that has offered up so many different perspectives, things that I could not quite grasp until I started to wear the locks. There is a consciousness that comes along with becoming a dread. It is a symbol of strength, of livication (dedication), and identity. It is a symbol that stands out amongst the crowds and it is accompanied by the mystical feeling of being one of the warrior-priests of Rastafari, commissioned by the Most High, and separated from the Babylon system like the ancient Nazarites. As the locks grow longer, they mark the wisdom and experience gained, and endurance tested along life’s road, a testimony unto itself like the growth rings of a towering tree. Yes, there is much lore on the power of the dreads... from talk of them as “antennas to tune into JAH” to them having supernatural qualities, to their channeling of the lion spirit. I had usually dismissed such notions because for the longest time I did not share in the experience. It seemed farfetched and hyperbolic, but I now can see why wearing the “covenant”, as I&I Rastafari say, brings about a change in mentality. I should know… because for most of my trod with Rastafari, I was not a dreadlocks.

I first sighted up Rastafari about 8 to 9 years ago now. Up until one year ago today, I was what some would call a “balhead Rasta”. I had the heart of Rastafari and the livity of Rastafari, but I did not wear locks upon my head. Not that I didn’t want to... it was circumstances. My journey to JAH started during my last year of university when I was still a lion’s whelp in the movement. I was growing a bit wiser each day, learning from my Rasta bredren and elders, communicating with JAH like never before, pouring over the Scriptures, walking in a different way of life... my eyes opening wider and wider with every passing moment of the next few years. I fondly look back at these first steps on my trod as one of the greatest times in my life. Yet, although my heart was “dreading”, I had to negotiate with the realities and responsibilities of the typical American life that soon came to follow. After I graduated college I was out in the working world trying to earn money, then I was pursuing a graduate degree, and then trying to get hired as a teacher, and finally I was trying to maintain my position and credibility as a teacher. Wearing dreadlocks is not exactly a cultural norm, especially in the circles I had to navigate in order to achieve some success. I also was dependant on my family for most of the time, and having dreads wasn’t exactly a family tradition. While I was growing so strong in my Rastafari livity, it pained me that I was not able to express my identity outwardly. I almost felt uncommitted, or rather, incomplete. Of course, “you don’t haffi to be dread to be Rasta” as Morgan Heritage sang, but more on that later. The invisible barriers that prevented me from locking may seem trivial, and for some it may have been easier to take the steps to lock their hair during all of those years... but I knew I had to find the right season. I can remember growing my hair out several times in preparation to natty up, and yet I just knew that the time was not right for whatever reasons. Sometimes I do wish that I had locked up say 4 or 5 years ago with a thicker head of hair and more youth behind me, but I do not regret it, because only JAH knows what could have happened to my doors of opportunity. I also believe that I had to be even more heartical and genuine in my Rastafari trod, because my Rasta heart was all I had. Everything happens for a reason in its due time and season.

So, obviously I finally did take that step to becoming a dreadlock Rasta. It was February 17, 2009. It was my second year of teaching and I had been talking about finally dreading since the year before. My friends and colleagues were encouraging, which was a very pleasant thing, and I was much more independent then I had been before since I had started my career... so the time was ripe. I had first seriously considered dreading my hair during the summer of 2008 after I returned from Trinidad and Suriname, but I didn’t have the chance. Then I thought about the holiday vacation with Christmas and New Years, but it was time spent with family and not really the appropriate moment to shock my poor mother. Finally winter vacation came in February and I knew that the right time had come. My good sistren helped me natty up my head. No need to discuss the details of the process, but it was exciting and foreboding all at once, because after that initial transformation I knew there was no going back. I had to step out into the light...

The first few months of my dread journey were awkward to say the least. Because of my hair type and texture (not to mention hair loss), I started my locks sectioned out into thin braids along with the use of some beeswax... a drastic change from my relatively long, combed, straight hair, which my Mom had time and again petitioned for me to cut in the first place. The revelation was calculated, I decided to first break it to my family in the company of one of my brothers for moral support... it may seem inconsequential, but you gotta know where I’m coming from. My Ma was speechless (which is a story unto itself), upon returning to my job my students and co-workers thought I lost a bet. I would get the stares and unwelcomed opinions of strangers. It had only been a matter of days, but it felt like I was living the lyrics to one of those old reggae songs where a son comes home and his friends and family are not very happy to see a dreadlocks. Yet I also received support from people, which was good to have in both my personal and professional life. I knew that I had gone too far along to quit or become discouraged, but I still had those days where I looked at myself in the mirror, with quasi-locks and receding hairline, and wondered what I was doing. With the impossible exception of work, I mostly hid them away under a bandana, or tam. I let them twist and grow at their own pace and eventually my hair got longer and fuller and most importantly... it actually started to lock. I started to feel more confident; rocking them out in public more often and just enjoying them, flashing them! They have matured over the year’s time and I am well proud. Whenever somebody invites me over, guess who’s coming to dinner... natty dreadlocks! Yeah!

The thing I learned the most during this year was the amount of patience required while taking this dread journey. Nothing is over night, and I still have a long ways to go, because a year is just the beginning. There are times when I still get frustrated, still adjusting to the new ways I must care for my locks, learning how to nurture them, and how to deal with the imperfections. In the end though, I know it is well worth it, because I feel that mystical power, that confidence, that mark of livication to Rastafari. It is a spiritual journey, a natural journey that must progress naturally. I feel the joy and happiness in having something that I felt was missing from my life for a long while. My desire to go dread was never a fashion thing, especially after so many years as a balhead Rasta. It is not a vanity thing, I’m sure I’d “look better” in a different style, but it is who I am. So no matter the time it takes, the flaws that manifest, or the difficulties that arise, I give thanks for my dreadlocks… and I will keep them as long as JAH provide.

Taking my personal story aside, I must express my sincere overstanding that dreadlocks do not make the Rastaman or Rastawombman. As I said before, my years as a balhead Rasta have given me an insight that I would never trade away. Rastafari is deeper than outward manifestations; it is much more than that. If and when the time and season arrives, and one is compelled to take on a component of Rastafari, like dreadlocking, like eating I-tal food, etc., then so shall it be. Rastafari is natural, it is organic, it grows, it knows, it flows… and when the time come, it come. People must learn that the first modern Rastas did not wear locks, rather they were beardsmen or combsome. I say “modern Rastas” because I&I know there have been Rastas since ancientcy. Founding fathers of the movement like Leonard Howell, Joseph Hibbert, Archibald Dunkley and Robert Hinds did not wear locks (at least that I know of). Prophet Gad, the leader of the Twelve Tribes of Israel did not wear locks upon his head. Marcus Garvey the prophet of Rastafari never wore locks. Finally of course, Ras Tafari, King Haile Selassie I Himself did not wear dreadlocks. If His Majesty did not wear locks, if Marcus did not wear locks, if Gadman did not wear locks... then what does a balhead Rasta have to fret over? So much hype and rhetoric has been attributed to wearing dreadlocks, but the wise will see how the most important figures in Rastafari, on any level, did not lock. Even many of the great reggae singers and players of instruments who identify as Rasta have not worn locks, for instance Toots Hibbert. This overstanding was certainly a source of comfort to me during that time when I had not dreaded up, and it should be a comfort to all my Rasta bredren and sistren who do not wear dreadlocks. Ones should also look to the ancient times. Although you had the Nazarites, like Samson, and Samuel, John the Baptist, and even Jesus (although He was a Nazarene not Nazarite), there were also ones like Elisha, the bald prophet, who was mocked and jeered because he was bald! I definitely took inspiration from that. All you would ever hear about was the biblical story of Samson and his hair, and nobody ever would speak of Elisha whom JAH used in even more powerful ways. The dread heart always triumphs, and Rastafari dwells in the heart.

Look around today and you will see many dreadlocked people, but not every dread is a Rasta and not every Rasta is a dread. There was once a time in Jamaica, during the formative years of the movement, that if you were found with locks, police would come and beat you, cut off your locks, and throw you in prison without any justification... just because you were a dread and under suspicion. Now, you have people wearing dreads for fashion, done in salons, and ironically some of these same people are actual criminals, giving the original locksmen a bad name. Anyone can wear dreads, most times if you talk to a dread on the street they won’t be able to tell you one thing about Rastafari, so on that end it is ignorancy. On the other side of the spectrum you have those dreads who flex in a malicious way, wolves in sheep clothing, using the image of the Rastafari for wicked intentions. Dreadlocks without the love, livication, and knowledge of history behind it are absolutely nothing but a hairstyle. Superficiality is far from reality.

So, I give thanks for the knowledge and wisdom I have been given over the years as a Rastaman, both as a baldheaded Rasta and a dreadlocked Rasta. Many more revelations have come along the spiritual journey of being a dread, but I know that it is just a natural progression forward for I-man. I look back at this year of experience, achievement and strength, and I look onward awaiting my next steps. I know that come what may, whether my locks grow ‘til they touch my toe, or if I am left without even one follicle upon my head, that I will always be a Rastaman to the bone. Know this my bredrens and sistrens! Everybody is just a part of the puzzle... come as you are and rally around Jehovah’s throne same way, cause I&I have works to do! I give thanks to JAH Rastafari for the inna-spuration to lock-up and the guidance along the way. I give thanks for my sistren who helps me with my dreads and teaches me to care for them properly. I give thanks to my friends who’ve encouraged I each day along on my dread journey. I finally give thanks to my family, who love and accept me for who I am, even my Ma has not had a discouraging word to say against my natty locks for many months! Let JAH be praised! Three hundred and sixty-five days since I threw the comb away... and counting!

Bless Up,
JAHsh

2 comments:

  1. JAHsh...your truth and wisdom are an inspiration and it is blessing to be able to read your thoughts and reflections. Continued strength and guidance.

    JS

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