Quiet, Breezy, and peaceful are the words that first struck me as I walked into the spacious compound that the 12 Tribes call their headquarters. My class came to meet with several members of the different Rastafarian Mansions (groups), ask questions, and listen in on a meeting they were having one afternoon. When we arrived, the head of the 12 Tribes, Elder Trini Levi, warmly greeted us and told us we were welcome to walk around. "This is your home." he said, "Make yourself comfortable."
Down in the courtyard, there were murals that I noticed on the way in, so I asked for permission to photograph them. The murals were of the 12 Tribes of Israel, their blessings, and other information, such as their corresponding months of the year. After looking at the murals for a while, we had many questions, so we decided to go back upstairs and talk with Elder Trini Levi. Welcoming us into the conference room, he told us that he spends much of his time in Ethiopia and is currently packing up to move permanently. He is moving to Shashamane, a town in Ethiopia that Haile Selassie I gave to the Rasta community in 1948 for Rastas to repatriate.
The Rastafarian faith was founded in 1932. The crowning two years earlier of Ras, or Prince, Tafari Makonnen as Emperor of the Ethiopian Kingdom was the inspiration behind the formation. This crowning was a prophecy coming to pass, as people saw Haile Selassie (the name he received after coronation) as the king that Marcus Garvey spoke about when he said, "look to Africa for the crowning of a king to know that your redemption is near" (Chevannes J 994: JO). Another two factors that pointed to his divinity were in Haile Selassie’s link to an ancient biblical lineage and in his title's link to important biblical passages. These and other facts confirmed to the early adopters of this faith that Haile Selassie was indeed the king (Olmos et al.) The message and beliefs of the faith began to spread around Jamaica and to the wider Caribbean. There are now Rastafarians worldwide.
We spoke with elder Trini Levi for about an hour and enjoyed hearing his life stories and learning more about the faith. Rastas follow the bible closely and read the scriptures regularly. Different sects of Rastafarians exist, such as Nyabinghi, Bobo Ashanti, Africa Unity, and 12 tribes. Some individuals do not belong to any specific group but follow tenants of the faith. All Rastafarians, no matter their affiliation, have one common denominator, which is that they revere His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I. After our chat in the conference room, we got a tour around the compound. It is a beautiful space, and the 12 Tribes community and members from the area host events.
Sitting back downstairs in the courtyard, we relaxed and enjoyed refreshments from their snack bar. I was thoroughly enjoying the ambiance. There was a beautiful breeze flowing through the space. The leaves from the mango trees overhead were rustling softly, creating a soothing vibe as we chatted. Before we left, we met more members and heads of the various mansions as they arrived for their meeting. Due to the time, we could not stay for the meeting, but we got invited to several headquarters to learn more about the faith from their groups.
Thanks to: Carl for organizing this visit. Elder Trini Levi for welcoming us warmly to the 12 Tribes headquarters and for the wonderful conversation. Elder Bongo Grease for your willingness to invite us to learn more and for introducing us to the other heads and members. What a beautiful afternoon!
*Work cited: Olmos, Fernández Margarite, et al.Creole Religions of the Caribbean: An Introduction.