part 1

Part I...

 

The binghi drums in Jamaica are most often made of coconut tree wood.

Did you know the first Nyabinghi drummers were women and the movement began in Uganda? I sometimes wonder why rasta and reggae stay so 'man' centered as this is a beautiful part of the history. The groundations in Jamaica are magical, however, women must cover their heads, arms, and legs fully and often have their own drumming circle. I have always been welcome but only when acccompanied by an accepted escort:

The term "nyahbinghi" is said to have come from a religious, spiritual, and political movement in East Africa beginning in the 1850's until the 1950 led by a series of spiritually influential women and focused on military actions against white imperialists and colonialists. It is thought that the term was a women-centered popular movement in Uganda that led the resistance against European settlers who were attempting to overrule Africans. The Nyabinghi movement was centered around a woman healer, Muhumusa, who was possessed by the spirit of Nyabinghi, a legendary 'Amazon Queen.' Muhumusa organized armed resistance against German colonialists and was detained in Uganda in 1913 by the British. The spirit of Nyabinghi possessed mostly women, but also men who led uprisings against the British in later years. British effort to destroy the Nyabinghi movement was through their criminalizing it as witchcraft through Witchcraft Ordinance of 1912, which promoted Christianity and encouraged other indigenous anti-Nyabinghi cults. The British used the witch burning procedure of 1500 to 1600 that were central in the transition from pre-capitalist to capitalist relations in Europe (Turner 23).

Robert I. Rotberg, in his book Rebellion in Black Africa (London: Oxford University Press, 1971) suggests that the word nyabinghi means "she who possesses many things." However, in Jamaica, the term means "death to the Black and White oppressors." (Barrett 121). To dance nyabinghi against an identified oppressor was, Rasta believed, to invoke in a sure way the power of Jah to destroy him. During the Dreadlocks era, Rastafarians would dance nyabinghi to bring death to oppressors, and today, these dances are purely ceremonial celebrations which last several days. Nyabinghi today, sometimes referred to as "binghi," is the dance on special occasions to commemorate events sacred to Rastafarians. Some of the holy days celebrated are the coronation of his Imperial majesty (November 2), his majesty's ceremonial birthday (January 6), his visit to Jamaica (April 25, 1966), his majesty's personal birthday (July 23, 1892), Emancipation from slavery (August 1), and Marcus Garvey's birthday (August 17).

This ritual of Rastafari, also known as a grounation, first took place in Jamaica in March of 1958. This was the first nationwide Rasta convention in the home of Rastafari. "Grounation" means the affirmation of life through earth (Nicholas 68). Grounations occur around the twenty-first of April each year and last several days and are the only organized worship of Rastafari. The first site of the first nationwide Rasta grounation in March of 1958, located in Back O' Wall, Kingston, is named Coptic Theocratic Temple (Mulvaney 19). Rastas gather in a place in the countryside and spend the daytime cooking, smoking ganja, praising Jah, resting and reasoning with fellow Rasta bredren and sisters, gathering firewood, and preparing camp. Only "ital," or unprocessed, vegetarian, salt free food is eaten at the gathering and is a way of life for the Rastaman. Greeting such as "Irie, bredren," peace and love, Rasta," "Dread Rasta," and "praises due Selassie I" can be heard throughout the gathering.
In this newly created Rasta community, children are perfectly free. They can wander and run around and if they ever begin to feel anxious or scared or need anything at all, they will receive the same love from any Rasta nearby as they would from their parents. This form of family is "overstood" at grounation. When the sun sets later in the day, camping preparations are concluded and the newly created Rasta village moves up to the top of a hill and forms a congregation in which they "praise their own divinity in devotion to His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie" (Nicholas 70). Some of the sisters remain in the campsites to watch the babies and children who are asleep. In Tracy Nicholas and Bill Sparrow's book Rastafari, they illustrate the scene from a grounation at twilight.

The bonfire burns huge and hot on the slope of the hill. At its crest, the hill boasts to the sky a circular palm-covered shelter. The smoke from the fire is thick but wafts incandescent as incense. The fire pops and crackles and small flecks of flame spark upward to the shelter in drifts of smoke.

The Nyabinghi is heard here, raising the power of Earth to the sky. Through rhythmic beats on the heavy bass drum, you can feel the earth's very center- and the rhythms forming above the bass, from smaller drums, carry the Rasta cry of freedom and dignity into sky above, lit with stars so bright they seem to point the way to eternity.
Here the bredren, the sons, the sisters and daughters of Rastafari have come to relax and share their innate power in nature. Some play the drums. Others dance in an unfrenzied, flowing motion. Each has his own, but all emanate from, and return to, the essential rhythm. Nyabinghi.

Two young men, tall and lean, stand in subdued conversation, their dreadlocks casting shadows on their features so they appear as some holy apparition in the reflection of the firelight. The smoke drifts between them. This may be some reasoning on the nature of man. Or it may relate that the woman has come fruitful and will soon bear child. Or it may be that the kali grew high this year on the earth one cultivates. Whichever and whenever, it is free, You are free. A tall, dark Rasta, with red fabric fashioned to flow cape-like from his weary, young shoulders, stomps the outskirts of the fire, chanting, bringing the Masia from Africa to life in the Jamaican darkness.

The Nyabinghi plays on into the night. And the night is deeper, darker, than has ever been seen. The Nyabinghi is deep with the night. The chanting in the circle plays in and out, through the toning of the drums. Each sings his own song, all sing the same song, "Carry Rastafari home." There is love, there is anguish, there is sorrow, there is pleasure, there is laughter and anger. Through everything, there is devotion, a certainty that this is a holy way of life, a certainty of manifesting divine principles (Nicholas 70).

In this dynamic tradition, there is an atmosphere of peace and contentment- which all stems from Dreads living in the light of Jah. In the strictest Rastafarian sect out of half a dozen, which is called Nyabinghi, Rastas take an oath pledging "death to black and white oppressors." Yet they refuse to carry weapons: "Violence," a Rasta explains, "is left to Jah. God alone has the right to destroy." Nyabinghi Rastafarians cite Genesis, saying that God made the earth with words- '"Let there be light,' Jah said, and there was light.'" They believe that when all Jah's children are united in one cry of 'death to black and white oppressors,' destruction will surely come to the exploiters (Potash 53).

Rastas refer to themselves as "I and I." They speak always of themselves in the plural because they believe God is living inside them. Dreads also believe that drums are the voice of God. It is believed that the spirit of God is manifestly present in the drum and every sound it produces and, therefore, directly links the visible and invisible worlds. The drum holds an extremely spiritual place in a Rasta's heart because of its roots in Africa and as John Storm Roberts states in his book Black Music of Two Worlds, - "No drums, no spirits- and no ritual" (Roberts xxiv). Traditional African music is the "phonic expression of psychic experiences generated within the spiritual framework of traditional institutions which, in turn, constitute the basis of society" (Jackson 37).
There is a great diversity of music in Africa and at least 2,000 different tribes hold their own customs. The huge continent can be divided, obviously, into East, West, Central, and Southern Africa, and then into sub-divisions. Each tribe within each region has its own musical styles, but certain basic musical elements transcend local differences. (Roberts xxii). The great majority of slaves were from three main cultural regions: the coastal rainforest area of West Africa, which includes the Yoruba, Ewe, Ashanti, Fon, Ibo; the savanna belt, which lies from the coast at Guinea to the north of the Sudanese rainforest area; and the Congo-Angolan area, populated largely by the Bantu (Roberts 2).

At times, the slaving ships would collect and bring with them African instruments to both the West Indies and the United States. Planters encouraged music making among new arrivals on the basis that people in deep depression do not work very well and that familiar music would help newcomers adjust. Work songs of the New World preserved a large degree of Africanism. Although the permitting of the slaves to make music and dance was purely self-interest of the slave drivers, it allowed for African music to survive for at least the first generation and then later transform into neo-African music in some circumstances (Roberts 3).

 

 



 
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Nyabinghi music

Bertrand Palué

- La fontpeyre -

24580 PLAZAC- FRANCE

email: meekman [@] laposte.net 

phone: +33 (0) 553 504 419

 

meekman music