Boomers International - Word Wide Community for the Baby Boomer Generation
Today is


Among Pirates and Rastas

	I've just returned from a two week 
stay in Barbados, the easternmost island of 
the Caribbean. It's almost the southernmost 
also, and the temperature was perfect for 
the holidays. All my life I've had a fascina-
tion with pirates, so I kept an eye out for 
them in Barbados, which was once a pirate hangout 
along with the rest of the Caribbean. Pirates of the 
sea no longer frequent those waters, but land pirates 
are another story. Barbados and the Caribbean are 
also home to many Rastafarians, and I've had an 
ongoing interest in them also.
	Barbados is the wealthiest of the Caribbean 
Islands, which isn't saying much. It's one of the most 
densely populated countries on earth, but it's still 
lonely compared with Jamaica, another Caribbean Island. 
Almost everyone in Barbados is black, but there are 
small white and Indian minorities. There are more 
Rastafarians, or Rastas, than in even Jamaica, the 
birthplace of the Rastafarian religion. I think it 
might be safe to say there are more Rastas per 
capita than anywhere else on Earth. Rastas traditionally 
wear their hair in dreadlocks, smoke marijuana 
religiously, and worship Haile Selassie.
	Selassie was the emperor of Ethiopia in 
the early 1900s and was an Ethiopian Orthodox 
Christian, a branch of Christianity that goes back 
hundreds of years in Ethiopia. Black people in the 
Caribbean have maintained their African culture in 
ways black Americans have not. I'd often see Barbadian, 
or Bajan, women carrying large bundles on their heads. 
There are many styles of clothes made and worn in the 
Caribbean that are obviously African. The early 
Caribbean slave owners didn't tinker much with the 
culture of their slaves, so a strong African identity 
persevered. Jamaica was where Marcus Garvey was from, 
the black man famous for organizing a "Back to Africa" 
movement in the Caribbean and America.
	Rastafarianism was started in the 30's in 
amaica as kind of an extension of Garvey's African 
identity movement. Rastas consider Africa the homeland, 
and Ethiopia in particular. Rastas are encouraged to 
make a holy pilgrimage there, where some have moved 
permanently. The Ethiopian flag of red, green, and 
gold have been adopted as the flag for the whole African 
continent by Rastas. The word "Rastafarian" comes from 
Haile Sellasse's alternate name of "Ras Tafari." He
himself disagreed with the Rastas about his godliness 
and told them not to worship him, but to no avail. He 
visited Jamaica once to express brotherhood with Jamaicans. 
I'm not sure how dreadlocks and marijuana, or "ganja" 
as they call it, came into the picture. I do know,
however, that in Ethiopia there are holy men (I forget 
their name) who are hermits and live in caves and have
dreadlocks, both Christians and Muslims. I'm not sure 
if the Christian ones smoke marijuana or not, but many 
Ethiopian Muslims eat marijuana leaves as part of their 
religious ceremonies. Marijuana goes back pretty far in 
Ethiopia, where the oldest hookah (water pipe) ever 
found was, complete with marijuana remnants. 
	In America Rastas are best known through their 
music, reggae, which was popularized in the 70's by the 
late Bob Marley. One of Marley's albums was nominated 
the album of the century, I think, in the last issue 
of Time. In Barbados reggae plays everywhere, in every 
bus and restaurant and house. In my two weeks on the 
island, I had the luck to visit the only true reggae 
night club there twice. It was called The Penthouse, 
for some reason. The first time I went there were 4 
other white people (tourists) there, and the second 
time only one, and I felt lucky to have such a unique 
experience. Every other guy had dreadlocks and I've
never heard of so much marijuana being smoked at one 
time. The dancing was very slow and slight, which is 
my kind of style. There was a d.j. who would play the
 records and sing along to them and give a running 
rhythmic euphoric commentary like a mix between rap 
and auctioning. When people liked what he was doing 
especially much, they would bang the floor and walls 
and point their fingers in the air like guns and make 
shooting noises of "Bwah! Bwah! Bwah!" I was told this
comes from Jamaica, and that before security tightened
at the club, people would use real guns. Not quite 
the peaceful Rastas one might hope for. 
	Thieves are a problem in Barbados, especially 
for white people. I was told not to bring money to 
the beach near where I was staying, or it would surely 
be stolen. The first night at The Penthouse, I had 
trouble finding a cab afterwards and my friend and I 
were harassed by a guy wanting money from us who never
actually did anything to us. A few days before I'd run 
into a problem of slightly worse proportions as I was 
leaving the Rasta section of the capitol, Bridgetown. 
For reasons of my own, I will not go into details about 
this, except to say I came out of it 3 dollars poorer 
and a bit confused and small feeling. I'd just been 
hanging out with a Rasta Sculptor named Ras Ilix, a 
kind dreadlocked fellow who I bought a small clay 
head off of. I asked him, sure that he'd know, if 
there are any pirates in Barbados, and he told me 
"A pirate jus' a tief, ya know?" (A pirate's just 
a thief, you know?) and I was forced to agree. So 
having dealt with a couple modern day pirates I asked 
a museum employee on my last day in Barbados about 
the island's pirate past. Until then, I had only been 
assuming it had one, as a Caribbean Island and the rum 
capitol of the world. She told me briefly about how at 
least one pirate had a huge castle there which still 
stands where he would watch for passing ships to loot.
	I hadn't the time or means to visit the castle, 
nor the Rastafarian Church on the opposite coast I'd 
heard so much about but didn't know the location of. 
There's a small chance I'll visit Barbados again 
someday, in which case I can make a point of it. 
Personally, I thought it was a bit too fast paced 
even for a Silicon Valley boy like myself. I would 
walk through stores where there was hardly a foot 
of floor not being stood on by one of many shoppers. 
The bus rides there are the fastest most dangerous 
seeming rides I may have ever been on. Going at 80 
miles an hour, the buses purposefully graze everything 
they can and narrowly miss head-on collisions with a 
kind of proud joy that's both scary and hysterical.
	I suppose you may be wondering what this has 
to do with the Baby Boom Generation, or any generation 
for that matter, and the truth is I'm not quite sure. 
The most obvious relevance I can find is the connection 
between Rastafarians and the counterculture of the 
late 60s and 70s. "Hippy" and "Rasta" have become 
almost interchangeable these days. Among modern day 
hipsters, Dead Heads, and Rainbow Gatherers, dreadlocks 
say "60's" as much as they say "reggae". The 
quintessential modern hippy kid has dreadlocks, 
plays the didgeridoo, (an Aboriginal Australian 
instrument) and listens to reggae, along with the 
other trademark hippy music. As far as religions, 
Rastafarianism is the one most thoroughly respected 
among young hipsters. Rastas are not the only people 
who have traditionally had dreadlocks. The saddhus, 
or holy men, of India and Nepal have long dreadlocks. 
They are kind of a parallel group with the ones in 
Ethiopia. They avoid material possessions and cover 
themselves in ash and smoke hashish out of chillum 
pipes as a religious ceremony. I don't approve of 
marijuana or hashish (or alcohol for that matter) 
but Rastas are still an interesting group and I'll 
continue to keep an eye out for Rasta culture.
	As a last little tidbit of data to download 
onto you, I'd like to tell you about my love of the 
Caribbean accent. It's a mix of African and English 
and sailor talk, among other things. By sailor talk, 
I mean the kind spoken by pirates in pirate movies 
when they say "aarr, me maties!" or "Ahoy tharr!" 
It has a use of the "R" sound and a rhythmic 
quality not found in The Queen's own English. 
Noticing all this, I drew a parallel between this 
island/sailor talk and the American accent, and 
then the Celtic. All three make great and colorful 
use of the "R" sound and are a bit more rolling and 
rollicking than England's English. It would make 
sense, because the Celts of the British Isles have 
always been very see faring, and probably made up 
a large part of the pirate population, which was 
highly outlawed by England. And America has a large 
Celtic population by any standard. I'm a bit Celtic 
myself, and all of this has been fun to think about.
Back to Barbadians, they sound so much like the 
pirates I grew up fantasizing about fighting on the 
seven seas, it was quite fun to listen to them. 
	So if you're ever out on the rollin' sea 
and you come upon any pirates or Rastas, tell them 
Rowan said hi, and give them big pirate hugs and
Rasta kisses for me here in San Jose. Our neighbors 
in the Caribbean are interesting folk, and they 
seem to be entertained with us indefinitely well, 
I'm off now to watch a cheesy movie with an even 
cheesier soundtrack. Ahoy!

Rowan C. Millar is a Generation Y'er. 
He lives in Silicon Valley.
Rowan's Archive columns

Banner ad space

credits, more links
Copyright 1996 - 2002 Boomers International, All rights reserved.