The Rastafari Report: An Academic Betrayal?
(Our Man in Mona: A Conversation between Robert A. Hill and Annie Paul)
September 27, 2013
Ever since I heard Robert A. Hill’s lecture in April this year titled ‘The University Report on the Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica: The half that has never been told’ I’ve wanted to blog about it. I started a post soon after but it remained a draft all this time because I felt quite inadequate to the task of conveying the brunt of what Bobby, a friend of many years standing, was saying.
Robert A. Hill, Professor Emeritus, UCLA; Director, Marcus Garvey Papers Project
That talk, sponsored by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES), where I happen to work, began with Bobby announcing:
What I’m going to talk about this evening might be rephrased as the hidden history of the University Report on the Rastafari Movement. It is hidden because in my view the report was based on considerable deception. This was not my view going into this research, I’ve spent 6 years probing, researching, trying to understand how this report came to be. It’s only in the last two months that I felt ready to go public with my findings and this evening is the first time an audience will hear the findings and I leave it to you to make your own interpretations.
After that dramatic opening Professor Hill handed out timeline worksheets, essentially Xerox copies of calendar pages with cells displaying the months April–October 1960 along with pens for those who didn’t have their own. It was important Hill said, to keep track of the dates he was going to talk about, the chronology being important, “so that we are all, not just figuratively on the same page, but literally on the same page.”
The impact, influence and staying power of the Rastafari Report, he pointed out, has far outweighed any of the other reports emanating from the University, most of which are collecting dust today. Hill remembered seeing the report for the first time as a 17-year old. “It was like a meteor had crashed into the whole world. Jamaica has never been the same since that August day when i first saw it. “
Although first published in August 1960 when Rastafari was spelt as two words ‘Ras Tafari’ most people are familiar with the ‘edited, redacted’ version reprinted in 1968 with a Ras Daniel Heartman image on the cover. There were many reprints thereafter with different covers like the one below, reprinted in 1975. What the reprints all have in common is that they spell ‘Rastafari’ as one word, again something pointed out by Hill in the course of his lecture.
The Report was a triumph for the Rastafari movement, Hill claimed. “I’m going to say very carefully that the Report was a propaganda victory for the Rastafari Movement…but I’m not using propaganda in its sinister sense, I’m using it in its classic sense, namely the propagation of one’s beliefs.” Hill then went on to recount how the Report ‘armed the mission’ sent by the Jamaican government to Addis Ababa in 1966 to initiate conversations about the repatriation of Rastafari to Africa.
The first date Hill asked his audience to note on their worksheets was the date renowned Nobel Laureate Arthur Lewis took up his position as Principal of the University of the West Indies. April 16, 1960.
This was where I gave up, unable as i said before, to succinctly convey the gravamen of what Robert Hill was suggesting. Months later I decided to ask Bobby for an interview thinking that would be the best way to capture the sensational charges he was making against the University of the West Indies. He obliged. The interview started modestly but soon swelled to 40 pages. I agonized again over how best to present such a long document here. Finally I realized the simplest way to accomplish this was to publish it as a WordPress ‘page’.
To fully understand some of the points Bobby raises in the interview its important to remember how feared, reviled and despised Rastafarians once were. You can get a good sense of this by reading Roger Mais’s Brotherman, a novel written in the 50s or from Deborah Thomas and Junior Wedderburn’s film Bad Friday, about the Coral Gardens massacre in the 60s. Even VS Naipaul, writing of his visit to Jamaica in 1960, in The Middle Passage, talks about the fear caused by militant Niyabinghi groups pledging ‘death to the whites.’
We’ve certainly come a long way from those days especially when you consider sentiments expressed at the opening of the Rastafari exhibition at the Institute of Jamaica on July 21, 2013. “Rastafari is deeply connected to Brand Jamaica” said Lisa Hanna, Minister of Culture. And at the closing ceremony of the Kingston-leg of the Rastafari Studies Conference and General Assembly, held on the campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, on August 15 Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said that Rastafari was “an important part of the image of brand Jamaica.”
Pariahs no more…the hidden history of the Rastafari and their relationship to the nation of Jamaica certainly is the perfect illustration of the biblical sentiment Bob Marley made so famous, “The stone that the builder refused, shall be the head cornerstone…
Well folks, it gives me great pleasure to present my interview with Professor Robert Hill, aptly titled Our Man in Mona. As Bobby said at the beginning of his SALISES lecture “I leave it to you to make your own interpretations.” I find Bobby’s research and findings quite persuasive but I’m also willing to be persuaded by a counter-explanation of events that is as painstakingly researched and presented as his. In the meantime I thought it important to make this provocative hypothesis widely available to keep alive that spark of agonistic engagement so lacking in the public sphere today.
Our Man in Mona:
A Conversation between Robert A. Hill and Annie Paul
AP: Bobby, you first articulated a certain discomfort with the 1960 Rastafari Report put out by the University of the West Indies in 2008 at the MG Smith Conference. What led you to have doubts about the Report and what was the general reaction at the conference to your voicing them?
RAH: I might have started out chipping away at the mythology surrounding the University Report, entitled The Ras Tafari Movement in Kingston (1960). Today, my research has resulted in the dismantling, root and branch, of the intellectual pretensions of the Report as well as exposure of the massive deception engaged in by all concerned with the Report—a deception that until now has gone completely unremarked in the literature. Getting to the bottom or truth of what today stands as an almost canonical University document, more than fifty years after publication, has not been easy, but with patience and considerable effort and determination I have uncovered materials in archives and personal collections that disclose an unvarnished picture. The story that emerges from this research is a disturbing one, indeed.
The first articulation of, as you describe it, “a certain discomfort with the 1960 Rastafari Report,” however, long predated the M. G. Smith Conference at UWI in 2008. In 1981 (twenty-seven years before the conference), I observed by way of introducing my essay, “Dread History: Leonard P. Howell and Millenarian Visions in Early Rastafari Religion in Jamaica” (Epoche: Journal of the History of Religions at UCLA, Vol. 9 ), the following caution—
It is necessary at the outset to call into question the semi-canonical status which scholars have conferred on the section of the report by M. G. Smith, Roy Augier and Rex Nettleford, The Ras Tafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica, entitled “History of the Movement”. An example of the nearly universal acceptance accorded this work is the statement by Barry Chevannes that “the role played by the first Rastafarians is treated adequately in Smith et al.”
Thus, engaging with the Report in 2008 was by no means something I was attempting for the first time. What was new, however, was the approach. Since the conference was an academic meeting in honor of M. G. Smith, I decided that I would visit Smith’s widow, Mary Smith, who lives in Glastonbury, England. I wanted to find out from her what she could tell me about the preparation of the Report. I was reminded that, in a meeting held in my office at UCLA in 1978, M. G. Smith, who was then visiting UCLA with his wife, told me that the Report was actually dictated to Mary over the course of a single night. How could one ever forget something as amazing as that? Indeed, Smith’s statement stayed with me over the years and continued to make me curious about how the process of composition, dictation, transcription, and revision unfolded.
Just before New Year’s in 2007, I spent three days with Mary Smith in Glastonbury. During my visit I interviewed her at some length. The interview covered a lot of ground, including subjects like the response of Jamaicans to the Smiths’ arrival in Jamaica in 1952. M. G. Smith and his wife had spent twenty months in the Hausa-Fulani emirate of Zazzau in Northern Nigeria, in 1949-1950. After returning to London in late December 1950, M. G. Smith wrote up the results for his Ph. D. thesis as a report to the Colonial Social Science Research Council in the summer of 1951. This work would form the bedrock of his illustrious reputation in the anthropological profession for years to come. I was curious to find out how Jamaicans perceived and responded to their connection with Africa.
The result was that I decided to present, as my contribution to the proceedings of the 2008 conference, extracts from my conversation with Mary Smith in December 2007. One of the topics touched upon in the interview was the view I had arrived at by then that the Report represented a plural society document, i.e., it reflected Smith’s distinctive theory of cultural pluralism in the Caribbean, with its inflections about the clash of cultural segments and the potential that it created for societal breakdown. This seemed fairly obvious to me—for how could it not? Mary Smith strenuously disagreed with my observation, however, and she refused to give an inch—in fact, she wouldn’t hear of it. As it turned out, M. G. Smith confirmed the correctness of my view about the plural society underpinning of the Report. Thus, in a lengthy letter that I discovered only last year, Smith explained to the anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits how the Report came about—
On my return from Evanston and Los Angeles in May , I found a large-scale conspiracy had been uncovered in my absence, and that there was considerable unrest among the unemployed in Kingston, especially among the Ras Tafari group whom George Simpson had studied in 1955. In June there was further trouble when some racist American Negroes came down to officer a revolt. In our plural society, there being no communication between the creole middle and lower class, when the opportunity arose I got the College [UCWI] to undertake a study of this Ras Tafari group, and carried it out with two other colleagues (M. G. Smith to Melville J. Herskovits, Northwestern University, November 19th, 1960).
Even though Mary Smith and I disagreed on this point, I thought it was important to share this part of our exchange, namely, the status of the Report vis-à-vis Smith’s plural society theory, with the conference. You will appreciate how dumbfounded I was, therefore, when following my presentation Roy Augier took the floor and launched into a tirade against what I had read from the transcript of the interview with Mary Smith. I simply could not fathom what he was getting at. What I understood, however, was that he was declaiming that I did not know anything about what I was talking about, that I was talking nonsense. What had set him off, it appeared, was the comment that I had made to the effect that from the text of the Report there would seem to have been a division of labor among the three investigators (Smith, Augier, and Nettleford), viz., Augier the historian largely responsible for the newspaper research appearing in the second chapter on the ‘History of the Movement,’ Nettleford the researcher of Jamaican dance and folk music responsible for the section on burra drumming in the third chapter, and Smith himself responsible for the rest of the Report. In point of fact, the idea was not mine; it came directly from Mary Smith who suggested it in the interview.
In any case, Augier took serious umbrage at my attribution to him of responsibility for doing the newspaper research for the historical section of the Report. Fair enough, if he had not done the newspaper research, he could simply have corrected the mistake; instead, he went totally off, as anyone who was present in the audience at the conference would tell you. The more significant point, however, is that Augier’s attack in reality begged the question: if he had not done any of the newspaper research for the Report, what exactly had he done? At this point, what if anything Augier contributed to the Report is far from clear.
Now, as to what the general reaction at the conference was to my presentation or to Augier’s rant, I can’t say. I suspect that most people present were left more than a little mystified by the whole thing.
AP:I was at that conference and I remember younger scholars leaping to Augier’s defence as if they assumed that he had been wronged and that as one of the authors he should have the definitive last word on anything to do with the Report.
In April this year you gave a pretty thorough timeline of events before and immediately after the University published the Report in your lecture subtitled “The Half that’s Never Been Told”. Using a sequence of documentary evidence you suggested that the Report was actually an intelligence document prepared by the anthropologist MG Smith, acting covertly on behalf of NW Manley, the Premier of Jamaica. The role of his co-authors Rex Nettleford and Roy Augier was less clear-cut. In the lecture you gave at the Institute of Jamaica in August you were much more definitive. “This report is an academic betrayal,” you declared. For the benefit of my readers who weren’t privy to either of these talks, could you summarize what it is you’re saying about the provenance of this foundational text in the discourse of Rastafari?
RH: Foundational it has proven to be, indeed, and yet also a betrayal of academic and intellectual transparency.
The first problem is the so-called provenance of the report. “This survey arose out of letters written to the Principal of the U.C.W.I., Professor Arthur Lewis, and to the Resident Tutor, Extra-Mural Studies, Mr. Rex Nettleford, by members of the Ras Tafari brethren living in Kingston,” the Report claimed. “These letters asked the College to assist the brethren in various ways, especially in the educational field, and by publicising the truth about the brethren and their doctrine” (p. 7).
After five years of researching the Report, I have yet to find any such letters, though I have found numerous letters written by various brethren, but all of them dated after the commencement of the research on July 5th. In point of fact, there are four letters written after the research began but none before the Report was published and none of them ask for any investigation to be pursued or launched. In any case, these letters could not be said to constitute the raison d’être of the Report. It seems odd that we should have a batch of such letters written to the Principal, but none of them written prior to the beginning of the research.
What I have concluded is that the story of the letters is a fairytale—it served as a propaganda ploy that was meant to disguise the real motive behind the University’s investigation of the Rastafari movement. In other words, the story of the letters never had any foundation in fact. And in any case, if such letters existed, all that the defenders of the Report have to do is to produce them. But since you can’t produce what doesn’t exist, their only resort is to keep repeating the story over and over, as if the mere repetition will make it become true.
Meantime, it is worth observing that the Report never identifies who the authors of the letters were nor are any of the texts of the letters themselves made available. Assuming that it was these letters that triggered the University’s response, one would think that they were important enough to include the names of the persons who wrote the requests. Put another way, should the omission be explained as a case of typical University condescension toward the selfsame Rastafari brethren it claimed to be serving?
Let us now connect the two elements that I have identified, namely, first, the mad haste with which the entire exercise was carried out, and, secondly, the explanation provided in the Report as to who requested and asked for it to be done.
Ronald Trevor Henry dressed in U.S. Air Force uniform
In point of fact, no worse time for launching an investigation of any kind of the Rastafari movement could be imagined or chosen. On June 21st, 1960, two Royal Hampshire Marines in a combined military-police raid were shot and killed in an ambush in the Red Hills. The ambush was carried out by Ronald (aka Reynold) Henry, the son of Rev. Claudius Henry, and members of his First Afrika Corps who had established a military training camp in a remote area in the Red Hills outside of Kingston. In all, four Royal Hampshire Marines were shot and two were killed. Henry and a group of his men fled after the ambush and escaped from the cordon, ending up in the Sligoville area of St. Catherine. For the next six days they were hunted down in the largest search operation that Jamaica had ever witnessed (close to a thousand military and police took part in the search)
For the next ten days, the front pages of the Gleaner newspaper were completely dominated by bold headlines announcing the progress of the search and eventual capture of the entire squadron from the Red Hills training camp (over thirty people in all). Jamaica at this time was in the grip of a moral and political panic; for all practical purposes, Jamaica was living under a state of emergency, with Rastafarians on lock-down throughout the country. It was hardly a propitious time, to say the least, to be going into the inner city and to be conducting interviews with members of the Rastafarian community. It would be like a group of academics deciding that they would undertake a research project in Tivoli Gardens during the crisis precipitated by the Dudus affair. I don’t think so.
However, if the true purpose of the Report was security-related, then the urgency and haste with which it was undertaken becomes understandable. In my opinion, that was exactly what happened. It was in that sense a classic counter-insurgency operation masquerading as a University-sponsored investigation. And like every counter-insurgency operation, it was accompanied by all of the deception and secrecy that are integral to the craft of counter-intelligence. Intelligence was a specialty of M. G. Smith, the main architect of the Report. Smith had been trained in military intelligence in World War II, serving with the Canadian Army as a member of the 17th Duke of York’s Royal Canadian Hussars, a reconnaissance regiment with the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, which he enlisted in while still a student at McGill University in Montreal in April 1942. The intake interview with the young recruit records that he was asked by the interviewer to name the area of the military that he wished to serve in. Smith replied—“Intelligence”.
Smith’s concern with the problem of social unrest was made explicit both in his private correspondence as well as in the Report. Writing to his collaborator and fellow anthropologist, Vera Rubin, on June 23, 1960, Smith observed:
Perhaps you’ve already heard about our minor Castro-type antics in the Red Hills near Kingston this week. It seems as if my predictions about serious trouble in Jamaica may be fulfilled this year or next. The country is in a curious mood.
On July 24, 1960, Smith followed up this letter to say that “myself and the local Rasta[s]—whose hotels on the Foreshore Road I remember showing you and Lloyd [Brathwaite] one night—had got to some sort of mutual grips,” by way of explaining what he called his “unusual silence” in the month that had elapsed between letters. With a palpable sense of relief, Smith went on to describe his feeling:
Now I hope that the affair is over for me, but can see further interruptions from time to time. The fieldwork is done, the report written, revised and sent to the printers, with luck it should be on sale this Friday (30th) . . . These antics explain my silence, for which apologies (M. G. Smith to Vera Rubin, July 24, 1960).
Those were some antics! But a month later, during which time Smith was involved as the Government’s chief go-between with the various Rastafarian communities, Smith’s mood swung from positive to negative. “I shall be going for a few days to the North Coast,” he wrote to inform Rubin, “to rest and clear my mind. For the past five or seven weeks, this Ras Tafari business has simply run me into the ground.” He poured out his frustration and his sense that he was misused:
Hitherto, I have been unable to get any sort of action taken to forestall an increasingly explosive situation. Nothing can be more frustrating than futile knowledge in this condition. One sees the signs of a social breakdown, and sees too some of the measures necessary to forestall or reduce it; but one is also quite incapable of getting anybody to believe these things or act accordingly. Moreover, when the breakdown is at hand, I am the man who gets landed with the job of patching and stalling (M. G. Smith to Vera Rubin, August 20th, 1960).
The whole point of the investigation was to find a way to bring about ‘peace’. If pacification of the Rastafari movement was the goal, and it clearly was, the path chosen was political cooptation of the brethren. The strategy was enunciated and contained in the top-most recommendation of the Report—
The Government of Jamaica should send a mission to African countries to arrange for immigration of Jamaicans. Representatives of Ras Tafari brethren should be included in the mission (p. 38).
The strategy of cooptation, however, was contingent upon the Government of Jamaica sanctioning and adopting it. This was the explanation for the Report being sent to Premier Manley on July 20th, as the letter of transmittal from the Principal to Manley made a point of stressing. “The [Ras Tafari] movement is large, and in a state of great unrest,” Lewis wrote Manley, adding “Its problems require priority treatment.” The way forward would be dependent on the action of the Manley and the Government:
Though the movement has no single leader, or group of leaders, it is willing to produce a small group of prominent representatives to discuss with the Government the recommendations contained in this report. I very much hope that you may be able to arrange such a meeting at the earliest possible opportunity.
Based on the evidence, it is clear that the impetus for the Report originated not from Rastafarians writing letters to the Principal—when has the University ever bestirred itself on the basis of appeals from the downtrodden?—but came from an agreement worked out between Manley, Smith, and Lewis. Why should a piece of University research, one that had been supposedly undertaken at the request of Rastafari brethren, be prefaced by a letter directed to the Premier of Jamaica and submitted before it was released to the public? One can be quite certain that none of the brethren were granted the privilege of seeing the Report before its publication.
Premier Manley was in possession of the manuscript of the Report for a full five days before he returned it to Lewis. It was only after Manley had approved it and the manuscript was received back that it was taken to the printer to be published (Nettleford was the one responsible for taking the manuscript to the printer and overseeing its publication). A month and a half after the Report was published, Smith informed Vera Rubin in New York—“Here the Ras Tafari pot continues to boil, but I think it’s more manageable now, although I expect some organised violence when the Henry trial comes up” (M. G. Smith to Vera Rubin, September 14th, 1960).
When I interviewed Mary Smith at her home in Glastonbury, England, in December 2007, I asked her whether her husband had met with N.W. Manley to discuss his plan for embarking on the investigation of the Rastafari movement. After explaining to me what a close family friend her husband was of the Manleys (for example, she told me, as a young man M. G. Smith spent summer holidays with the Manley family), she confirmed that Smith met with Manley in the run up to the Report. “Very much so,” she said.
That was one thing Mike said at the start. He said, if we’re going to make recommendations, we have got to be sure they can be carried out. If we make recommendations and the Government says we can’t do it, then we’re in trouble—not the scholars—the Government is in trouble. So before he worked out with Rex and Augier what recommendations they would make, he went and saw Norman and discussed that with him. Very much so, we had to, that was essential. And they agreed on what the Government could undertake and what it couldn’t. In fact, the Government was very anxious to help. Norman was very sympathetic, and I think the sort of thing they would have done was to emphasize anything connected with education, training, skills, etc. To make sure, all of that was very clearly set out. The recommendations were cleared with the Government before the pamphlet was printed.
From its very inception, Manley knew every detail of the University’s plans which were worked out in advance and in extremely close consultation between them. The fact that he was given the Report in manuscript and had it for five days to study before it was released to the printer explains, moreover, how it was that Manley was able to issue a public statement the day after the release of the Report. The Report as published in the Gleaner (August 3rd, 1960) stated:
The Hon. Norman Manley, Premier will meet a deputation from the leaders of the Ras Tafari movement to discuss migration of Jamaicans back to Africa. The Government, he said, accepted in principle the recommendation that a mission should go to Africa to investigate the possibilities of migration (the full text of the Gleaner report appears in the Addendum).
A basic question that imposes itself at this point is—did Principal Lewis or any of the University team inform members of the Rastafari groups with whom they met on July 4th, 1960, at the Jones Town Elementary School, that the planning of the investigation had been worked out in close consultation with the Premier and that the Report was to be submitted prior to its release to the Government of Jamaica? It does not require a great deal of imagination to anticipate the uproar among the brethren that would have followed such a disclosure that night. In fact, if the brethren had been told any of this, the entire investigation would have been stopped in its tracks before it could get off the ground. It is doubtful that the University researchers would have been allowed access to the various Rastafarian camps had it been known beforehand who they were working for!
In other words, the investigation was only able to proceed on the basis of a serious deception, namely, withholding of a key piece of information that was deliberately kept hidden from the brethren. Instead, the Rastafari brethren were misled and made to believe, like the public in general, that the initiative for the investigation had originated with the brethren. Such a deception constituted a betrayal of trust and a serious breach of intellectual honesty and academic transparency.
Beyond the supposed threat to ‘peace’ that the Rastafari brethren posed, there was a larger threat to security that haunted the Report—the specter of Communist subversion. It was this specter of Black Nationalism (in the form of Rastafarianism) making common cause with the Marxism that Smith found deeply unnerving. According to the Report:
For Jamaican leftists the violent part of the Ras Tafari spectrum is a gift; capitalist, bourgeoisie and proletariat can be directly translated into white, brown and black. Revolution becomes Redemption with Repatriation as the issue provoking bloodshed. The Marxist vanguard wears a Niyabingi cloak . . . In our survey we encountered certain groups among which the Marxist interpretation and terminology predominated over the racial-religious. Events in Cuba, China, Egypt and elsewhere endow the Marxist analysis with a pragmatic validity and power. In so far as this political philosophy employs the ideology of Ras Tafari racism, its spread throughout the bulk of the population is assured unless Government takes positive steps to meet the legitimate needs of the lower classes, including the Ras Tafari group. The choice before Jamaica is that between social reform which is planned, peaceful and rapid on the one hand, or changes of a different sort. It is certain that Jamaican society cannot continue in its present form. Since economic development presumes social stability, this means that any successful development depends on an intelligent programme of social reform. The recent spread of Ras Tafari doctrines among educated middle class youth is largely due to the appeals of ganja and Marxism, but this spread will surely continue so long as Jamaican society fails to provide the young with significant ideals of social justice for which to strive, and opportunities for their achievement (pp. 25-26).
In January 1961, in an unpublished paper prepared at the request of Manley, Smith not only repeated the concern expressed in the Report, but also went further in analysing the potential for violence. Smith’s account of the threat reflects his unfailing focus on security matters and the need for a counter-insurgency strategy by the Government of Jamaica. Here is what Smith, writing in January 1961, advised Manley—
. . . the Jamaican Government has been pressing ahead with negotiations to get [the] Mission to Africa under way. Its major difficulties have come from precisely that militant group of Rastafarians who strongly demanded the College survey and who have obvious Marxist interests. As the College report stated, ‘the Marxist vanguard wears a Niyabingi cloak’; ‘rebellion becomes redemption, with repatriation as the issue provoking bloodshed’. The current strategy is thus perfectly clear. Either before the Mission goes to Africa, or at such time afterwards as seems most propitious, a violent uprising will be organised and justified on a number of ad hoc grounds. For instance, it may be said that the Mission was framed by Government, in that it contained the wrong sort of people or advisers, went to the wrong sort of places for the wrong reasons, or at the wrong times. It may also be claimed that Government is ‘oppressing’ the black population, especially the Rastafarians. Already the pattern of violence suggests that a suitable occasion will be selected for a demonstration in sufficient force to create a major public disturbance, perhaps shortly after or before parallel disturbances take place in the country parts.
It is of cardinal importance to distinguish sharply the Marxist-oriented Rastafarians from others who lack this orientation. On my reckoning, even allowing for growth of Marxist influences in this movement in Kingston since August, it does not control more than one-third of the urban Rastafarians. However, this segment is active and effectively led. It is also highly intelligent . . . (M. G. Smith, “Race and Politics in Jamaica,” unpublished Ms., January 1961).
Smith never identified any of those he termed “the Marxist-oriented Rastafarians,” so it is unclear how much weight or reliance one should place on the existence of this category or even what exactly Smith meant by it. Likewise, the violent social blow-up that Smith kept anticipating and envisioning never materialized. The closest thing was the Coral Gardens incident which took place on Thursday, April 12, 1963, when a group of young Rastafarian males, following prolonged harassment by the Police, acting at the behest of wealthy developers and landowners in the vicinity of Rose Hall and the newly built Half Moon Hotel, to block their access to land they had been cultivating, went on a rampage to exact retribution against the police and property in the area. What Smith had in mind, however, was something that was much more general, something on the scale of a mass upheaval or insurrection in Jamaica.
AP: Isn’t it true that the Report in question actually makes an important intervention into how Rastafarians who were the butt of severe social scorn and prejudice were to be treated? It made the important point that Rastas were not to be feared and reviled or treated as enemies of the state. Isn’t this why the Report was eagerly consumed by the public? In other words even if we accept your reading of the Report as an intelligence tool we have to admit that it has over the years done a lot of good, right?
RAH: What you describe is a fairytale. It sounds like an ex post facto rationalization of the Report, an attempt at redeeming what is a seriously flawed document with a sort of virtuous outcome. To believe that it was the Report that brought about the change that you suggest is to inflate the influence of the Report out of all proportion to what actually occurred. It wasn’t the Report that brought about the change—it was the Rastafarian movement that brought about the change, not the University Report. The Rastafarian brethren seized the Report and converted its recommendation for a mission to Africa into a tremendous counter-propaganda weapon. It was the intuitive genius of the brethren that wrested control of the narrative in the ensuing ideological struggle. The biggest changes were still to come, however. The incredible music that poured forth in the sixties, all in the name of Jah Rastafari, swept everything and everyone before it. With the historic visit of Emperor Haile Selassie to Jamaica in April 1966, the winning of the battle for public opinion was complete.
Moreover, the transformation you describe resulted from the broader social and cultural transformation that Jamaica underwent starting in the sixties. The process ran wide and deep and helped to push the entire country into a radical political direction. Something of this sweep and magnitude could not have resulted from the publication, no matter how important, of a 54-page University document.
Finally, while it is true that the publication of the Report caused something of a sensation at the time in Jamaica, both in terms of demand for copies of the Report and the coverage that it engendered in the local press, it has to be remembered that the public reaction at the time was far from positive, as Rex Nettleford was careful to note in his book Mirror, Mirror: Race, Identity, and Protest in Jamaica (1970). The publication of the Report was also greeted with considerable criticism, most especially from the pen of Monsignor Gladstone Wilson, whose role in this matter of the University Report has been kept hidden from view until now.
AP: Another point you make in your critique is that the research conducted for the Report was not only done in two weeks or 9 working days but was also restricted to Kingston, ignoring important Rasta groups such as Claudius Henry’s. Could you explain the significance of these omissions?
RAH: In the press release issued at the very inception of the research, the University announced that the Report would be completed and released in two weeks (a copy of the press release is reprinted in the Addendum). The press release followed the meeting at the Jones Town Elementary School on July 4th, 1960, at which the Principal of the University, W. Arthur Lewis, met with a group of brethren, whereupon it was agreed to proceed with the investigation. The research team embarked on field-work on the following morning, July 5th, 1960. And on July 20th, 1960, the Report was completed and submitted to Premier Manley for his review.
That makes fifteen days between the inception of research and the formal transmittal of the Report but fourteen days, if we allow a day for Lewis to prepare the letter of transmittal and physically submit the manuscript to Manley.
Now what kind of serious researcher or academic would announce at the very outset that such an important piece of work would be started and completed in two weeks? Who in their right mind, before any actual work was begun, would commission such an investigation and announce that the finished Report would be issued in two weeks? In fact, the draft of the Report was presented to a follow-up meeting with brethren at the Jones Town Elementary School on the afternoon of July 15th, 1960. What this means is that the Report didn’t take two weeks but, rather, it took ten days to complete from start to finish—or nine days, if the actual day of the second meeting held on July 15th is subtracted.
Either way, the whole thing reminds one of a nine-day wonder or a nine-day creation-story. If you add the missing so-called letters of the Rastafari brethren to the Principal of the University, what you get is a sort of Immaculate Conception of the Report.
The question that the timeline obliges us to ask is—what was the need for such insane speed in producing a Report on the Rastafari movement in the first place? The Rastafari movement was one of the most complicated, deeply rooted, and socially contentious problems ever to have confronted Jamaica. And you are going to embark on a study of its “history, organization, aims,” etc., and get it done in . . . nine days, ten days, even fourteen days? One is forced to ask the question: what’s going on here? What could possibly explain such haste?
One aspect of the break-neck speed with which the Report was initiated and completed was, ironically, the informal nature of the entire procedure. There was no letter of commission issued to the team by the Principal, who, according to Roy Augier’s testimony, simply telephoned him in his office and summoned him to the Principal’s office one Friday evening where he found M. G. Smith and Rex Nettleford already present. When the Report was completed, there was no letter accompanying it. Likewise, there was no letter from the Principal acknowledging receipt of the Report. Whether such informality was simply a function of haste or the way the University conducted its business, the whole procedure does strike one as rather peculiar.
That was the source of the initial skepticism that led me to question the Report. I began by asking the question, quite legitimately, in my opinion—what sort of reliance can be placed on the outcome of an investigation conducted in such extraordinary haste? The Report itself was a bit of a hodge-podge—seven chapters of thirty-two pages total (thirty-one pages, if the single page of recommendations is deducted), dictated over the space of a single night; and the whole padded out with four appendices (three consisting of documents from other sources and one appendix that appears to have been written independently of the Report, and which replicated material repeated in the body of the Report).
The reckoning used to assess the length of time (two weeks) it took for the Report to be completed overlooks something that was never mentioned in the Report. The fact is that Smith had been involved with a top-secret “Ras Tafari Rehabilitation Committee” set up by the Minister of Home Affairs in early May 1960. Shortly after returning to Jamaica following a month-long visit to the University of California, Los Angeles, Smith was awakened by an official messenger. He wrote to tell his friend David Lowenthal about it:
I’m taking about a week to unwind, pick up local threads and start new ones. Yesterday the Home Affairs ministry woke me up to say could I come on a committee to plan Ras Tafari rehabilitation . . . But really, as I wish to point out, it’s not only the Rastas who want rehabilitation, but all of us, beginning with Issa, Manley, & Co. (M. G. Smith to David Lowenthal, May 12th, 1960).
On the same day that Smith wrote this letter, the American Consul General in Kingston, Robert G. McGregor, was summoned to a meeting with the Minister of Home Affairs, William Seivright. In a memorandum for the U.S. State Department on the subject of “Public Order in Jamaica,” McGregor described the meeting:
I called on the Minister of Home Affairs, The Honorable William Seivright, on May 10. The Minister launched immediately into a discussion of the Ras Tafarian movement; this being uppermost in his mind when I called. Ever since he took over the Ministry last fall, the Minister said that the Ras Tafarian movement has been an increasing security threat in Jamaica . . . In closing this part of the conversation, the Minister said that a committee had been set up to consider ways and means of dealing long range with the Ras Tafarian element. The Government recognized that there are many sociological factors involved, and that it is not sufficient to control the situation solely by repressive police measures, but rather to shatter the organization by reforms leading to the social rehabilitation of the elements of which the movement is composed.
M. G. Smith was appointed vice-chair of the committee, with Monsignor Gladstone Wilson as chairman. The first meeting of the committee, which took place on May 20th, 1960, was duly reported on to David Lowenthal:
Funny things are happening here . . . The Rastas have been swiping dynamite from various builders. The PFM [People’s Freedom Movement] boys (? or some other) have been burning down sugar-canes in Vere, Monymusk etc.; and I suspect that my prophecy of a bust-up locally may be fulfilled inside two years, perhaps this year, perhaps, next month. The place has a curious surrealist mood . . . This is just between us, but the Rastafari Problem Committee—which is most hush-hush—met last Friday [May 20th] for the first time. Minister Seivright decided to address us, and duly blew up the Churches for failing to convert, proselytize, or otherwise demobilize the Rastas, who seem to be rather more militant at the moment (M. G. Smith to David Lowenthal, May 26th, 1960).
Smith had been conducting research in West Kingston for this “most hush-hush” committee when the crisis in the Red Hills broke on June 21st, 1960. After spending over a month intensively investigating the Rastafari movement in Kingston, Smith resigned his position as vice-chairman of the rehabilitation committee. There was a change of committee, but it was still the same Government that Smith would be working for. Abandoning his position with the Seivright committee, Smith changed course and reconstituted an emergency intervention under the guise and cover of the University. By then, he had already done the research that he would incorporate and include in the University Report. That was both how and why the University Report could be completed in “two weeks” and why the focus of the Report had to be limited to Kingston (“Rural units, whether branches of the E.W.F. [Ethiopian World Federation] or unaffiliated brethren, have not formed part of this survey,” p. 32).
Working for the top-secret Rastafari Rehabilitation Committee, Smith was insistent on being given access to the security files on the movement. Thus, a comparison of the data contained in the University Report with data from the Special Branch reports of the Jamaican Police Force, found in The National Archives in Great Britain, shows that Smith had obtained access to Special Branch reports on the movement. In this connection, Colin Clarke’s field journal records the following revealing anecdote:
In May 1960, soon after his return from the U.S., Mike [M. G. Smith] was invited onto a government Ras Tafari Problem Committee with Monsignor Gladstone Wilson. Seivright, the Minister of Home Affairs, promised to make available all the necessary detailed information that could be provided, but his offer was immediately blocked, for security reasons, by ‘Hambone’ Hamilton, the acting Permanent Secretary. Mike walked out.
This explains how Smith was able to portray the history of the movement and its leaders working in such a short period of time. The section of the Report on Leonard P. Howell, for example, drew extensively on reports of the Special Branch department. In 1960, and for many years following, little or no information had been published about Howell. There was no way that in “two weeks” the information about Howell contained in the University Report could have been gathered by any researcher. It was simply not possible.
Ironically, M. G. Smith had earlier in the nineteen-fifties carried out extensive fieldwork in rural Jamaica, with the results being published in his Report on Labour Supply in Rural Jamaica (1956). Smith had encountered Rastafari brethren in the rural areas of Jamaica in the course of this research. The 1960 Report makes no attempt to explain or justify its delimited focus on urban Kingston, other than to plead, as if in extenuation, that it was a “a rapid survey among the Ras Tafari brethren of Kingston during the fortnight beginning on July 4th, 1960” (p. 7).
Rev. Claudius V. Henry holding his rod of correction, Harlem, New York, ca. 1957
In Chapter IV of the Report, the extraordinary disclosure was made that “The team had no contact with the followers of the Rev. Claudius Henry, who are, in any case, a small minority of the Kingston brethren” (p. 25)—this despite the fact that it was Rev. Claudius Henry and his son and their followers who were responsible for initiating the very crisis that brought about the investigation by the University! The majority of Rev. Henry’s followers were made up of cane-cutters from Vere in southern Clarendon, a fact that the Report acknowledges—“It appears that whereas the Rev. Henry’s activities have had a profoundly disturbing effect on the urban Ras Tafari brethren, most of these remained aloof, and that the African Reform Church drew the bulk of its following from the rural areas” (p 32). But that was the very point that the Report needed to try to explain, but which it signally failed to address, namely, how could a movement drawing the bulk of its followers from the rural areas have had such “a profoundly disturbing effect on the urban Ras Tafari brethren”. Instead of addressing the issue of the Henry phenomenon and its various “disturbing” ramifications, the Report preferred to rationalize its way out of the problem by focusing its attention on the urban branches of the Rastafari movement that it believed posed the most imminent danger. Yet it was Rev. Henry and his followers who stood accused of resorting to insurrectionary violence and as such embodied the very change of direction in the movement that the Report claimed at the outset to be concerned to investigate. At the end, the Report simply recommended that “The police should complete their security enquiries rapidly” (p. 38), meaning, of course, Henry and his followers. (Note the Report’s exhortation calling for rapid work by the security forces.)
Shortly after the Report was issued, a female member of Rev. Henry’s African Reform Church, Adina Earlington of 13a Cassia Park Road, Kingston, wrote a letter addressed to the Government, asking for the Government to include Rev. Henry as a member of the forthcoming government-sponsored mission to Africa. The letter was dated August 7th, 1960, and was sent to the Principal. The letter was passed to M. G. Smith for his advice on how it should be handled. Would you believe that the University turned the letter over to the Ministry of Home Affairs? Turning the letter over to the Ministry of Home Affairs was tantamount to handing it over to the Police. It might be a small matter in the bigger picture, but it is revealing how the University saw its role. Here we see the University acting as informer for the Government’s security apparatus.
AP: Are you suggesting Bobby that MG Smith might have been an undercover agent for the British government? What are your reasons for thinking so?
RAH: No, I am not suggesting that Smith might have been an undercover agent for the British government. What I am suggesting is far more interesting than any kind of facile conspiracy theory. What the evidence clearly indicates is that Smith at the time thought that he could do intelligence all by his lonesome, like a one-man intelligence bureau. Of course, this was before he went on to become the chief intelligence guru to Prime Minister Michael Manley’s government of Democratic Socialism in the 1970s. In this latter capacity, Smith would play a leading role in overseeing intelligence and security generally for Manley. In particular, Smith was one of the key architects of the infamous Gun Court, established under the draconian Gun Crime Act (March 1974), made equally notorious by the bizarre use of red paint in the holding cells meant to disorient the prisoners. This was followed by the imposition of the State of Public Emergency (June 1976); and the controversial Security Forces operation that became known as the “Green Bay Massacre” (January 1978).
In a strictly technical sense, and borrowing the language of the craft of intelligence, the University Report belongs to the category of what are called “covert operations,” the definition of which “aim to fulfill their mission objectives without any parties knowing who sponsored or carried out the operation and are operations planned and executed as to conceal the identity of or permit plausible denial by the sponsor.” In this context, the University performed the facilitating role of a typical front organization, part of the necessary disguise to conceal the true purpose of the operation.
Recently, Professor Colin Clarke has shared with me notes from his field journal and what the notes reveal bears this out. Clarke was a Ph.D. student doing research at the time for what eventually became his magisterial Kingston, Jamaica: Urban Development and Social Change, 1692-2002 (1975; 2nd ed., 2006). During his fieldwork in Jamaica, he became a friend of M. G. Smith who acted, in turn, as his informal supervisor. Here are Colin Clarke’s notes from his meeting with Smith at his home on the Mona campus on July 15th, 1961:
[Minister] Seivright’s visit to Mike Smith’s house was retailed to me at the end of a long day’s discussion about my research, with Mike filling me in about what he knew. It was highly confidential, and I don’t think either of us held back. But I was tired and a bit bemused by the evening. Mary joined us for a drink, and then the Seivright tale came out from Mike, with Mary chipping in. Seivright was worried by what he thought he had been told to do, and turned to Mike for advice on his own initiative. Mike told me how Home [Affairs] Minister Seivright had arrived at their home, and, bewildered, claimed that he has been ordered by Premier Manley to bring out the troops, and to be prepared to shoot it out in the country—in Frome and other places. Mike’s checking proves that Seivright has completely misunderstood Manley, and Mike advises inaction.
In fact, it was Minister Seivright who provided the link that connected the brethren with the University. Around June 12th, 1960, as a result of numerous letters he received from the leader of the United Rases Organisation (URO), one Mr. Dabney, Seivright convened a meeting at the office of the Ministry of Home Affairs. The problems that the URO was seeking assistance for from the Ministry were threefold, viz.
- Recognition of the members (of Ras Tafari) by the Government.
- Work (to aid the members to get employment, to aid them in their development of their skills.)
- Approved centre or centres in various parts of the island, where the members may dwell, worship and live.
The verbatim transcript of the meeting reveals that as the meeting was wrapping up Minister Seivright directed that the brethren prepare for a follow-up meeting with him by taking certain steps. (The transcript was prepared by one Joseph Royal O’Sullivan—an Irish-Canadian who came to Jamaica, he claimed, to collect material for a book on the Rastafari movement, but was soon deported by the Government as an ‘undesirable’ [“Canadian ‘Undesirable’ Here,” Daily Gleaner, July 16, 1960].) Seivright told the brethren: “The next step is that I want to be assured that the order (U.R.O. as the presumed ‘representatives’ of all Rastas) is taken seriously.” Seivright then went on to specify what he meant:
So I suggest that a meeting, or series of meetings, be set up with other people (of merit and presumed influence) who also are interested in the problems of the Rastas, at which time or times an agenda or point programme can be set up; then, return again for a meeting here to discuss the matter and the basic needs to a further conclusion (“Meeting at Headquarters House, Ministry of Home Affairs, Kingston, Between Hon. W. Seivright, Minister, and Mr. B. St. J. Hamilton, Acting Permanent Secretary And Joseph Royal O’Sullivan [in attendance by invitation of Dabney], Lloyd Aarons [Ras Tafari], Mr. Dabney, United Rases Orgism,” ca. 12th June 1960)
Seivright’s reference to “other people (of merit and presumed influence) who also are interested in the problems of the Rastas” was code for University people. Seivright was steering the brethren toward the University; after all, he was already knowledgeable of M. G. Smith’s role as deputy chairman of the top-secret “Rastafari Rehabilitation Committee,” so it was only logical that Seivright should have turned to the University to provide guidance to the brethren.
This was how, on June 25th, 1960, Rex Nettleford, Resident Tutor of the Extra-Mural Studies Department, was able to inform the Principal, W. Arthur Lewis, that he had met with Dabney, the URO leader. “I did meet with Mr. Dabney who styles himself the Secretary General and ‘Minister of the Pen’ for the United Rases Organ,” Nettleford wrote Lewis. Nettleford outlined the substance of the conversation with the URO:
What they want us to do seems to fall under two broad headings:
- To provide a meeting place where they can hold their “conventions” so as to derive some benefit from the “intellectual influence of the College”.
- To carry out some research into their movement with a view to providing the public with the “true facts” as to the nature, aims and objects of the movement and different branches.
I think I was successful in telling him that we could not grant the first request, but could work in collaboration with the Social Welfare Commission, whose officer was also present, to help find a meeting place in town. Mr. Dabney agreed that this would be better. I however took the opportunity to tell him that we intended to start very soon on number 2, and I got from him a promise to give us his co-operation to introduce us to members of other groups and to provide us with all the information that will help in such an enquiry.
The speed with which Nettleford pounced on Dabney’s second suggestion was stunning, when contrasted with the hesitancy and tentativeness of his response to Dabney’s first request. The question it raises is—exactly who was inviting whom? Was Dabney inviting the University or was it the other way around? This much is clear: Nettleford seized upon Dabney’s idea for a “study” because plans were already underway. This is confirmed in Nettleford’s follow-up memorandum to Principal Lewis dated July 1st, 1960:
Dr. M. G. Smith, Dr. Roy Augier and myself have been meeting to plan a survey which we hope to conduct among the Rastafaris.
After careful consideration, we all feel that the best line of approach would be for you first to meet with a group of Rastafari leaders representing the different branches or orders of the movement, and introduce us as accredited representatives of the College. Then a press release could follow, stressing the fact that this survey is being done at the request of the Rastas themselves.
We would then start the field work, basing our enquiry on the following categories of assessment:
2. Character and constitution of each group
3. Inter-relationships (i.e. between different branches of the movement)
4. Needs and capacities (i.e. with a view to determining the nature and scope of the educational help we can give them)
The link between the URO and the University was not only facilitated by Minister of Home Affairs. In a very real sense, what, ultimately, would result, in the form of the University Report had its genesis in the Ministry of Home Affairs and its overriding concern in achieving the pacification of the Rastafari movement in Jamaica. Thus, we see that the first three items of the agenda as enunciated by Nettleford in his second memorandum to Lewis bore little or no resemblance to what Dabney and the URO had requested. (The University at no time, either then or subsequently, provided any of the educational help that it promised or that the brethren had requested.)
On the contrary, the agenda reveals a series of what are classic intelligence categories—exactly the sort of political intelligence that security agencies specialize in gathering and analyzing. It was not until one comes to the fourth item on the agenda that the concerns expressed by the Rastafari brethren is addressed—tacked on to the agenda of the study as a sort of after-thought. The fundamental division of the two sets of concerns was starkly presented from the very outset. On the evidence provided by Nettleford’s memorandum, what we have is a political intelligence survey of the Rastafari movement in Kingston concealed behind the smoke-screen of a social-humanitarian endeavor. Right from the start, the Report was a covert operation aimed at stemming the insurgency of Rastafari in Jamaica. It was in that sense a classic counter-insurgency operation.
The emphasis throughout on the need for swift action was also brought to bear on the Principal. We see him being nudged by Nettleford in the days leading up to the meeting with representatives of Rastafari leaders. “We had thought of bringing the leaders up to see you,” Nettleford informs Lewis on Friday, July 1st, “but some of them have since asked for you to meet them at the Jones Town Government School on Monday, 4th July at 8.00 p.m. I would very much like to see you to discuss this so that I can get word to them by Sunday evening.”
Ironically, it was the very group that the Minister of Home Affairs had steered toward the University that had added to the pressure for speed. “It is, of course, important that we get as wide a representation as possible,” Nettleford told Lewis, “since we have reason to believe that a certain branch is eager to take over active leadership of the entire movement and that this bid for power is resented by other branches.” “It so happens,” Nettleford revealed, “that this power-seeking branch is the United Rases Organization—one of the three groups that have been asking us for help.”
The curious idea that it was within the province of the University to act as some kind of umpire or gatekeeper, adjudicating rival claims among various factions, each vying for influence within the movement, was most extraordinary. Apparently, Nettleford and his colleagues saw nothing wrong with the idea. In any case, how, in the first place, did they know that “a certain branch is eager to take over active leadership of the entire movement and that this bid for power is resented by other branches”? It would suggest that there was already in existence among them a rudimentary network collecting and analyzing intelligence on the movement. All of the evidence points toward Smith as the source of the network of informants. Of the nineteen groups interviewed for the Report, the fieldwork records indicate that Smith alone was responsible for data collection from a total of sixteen, with Nettleford and Augier responsible for a paltry three between the two of them. Overwhelmingly, it was Smith’s network of informants which provided almost entirely the bulk of the data drawn upon in the Report.
In my view, Smith’s service, both to Norman Manley in the fifties and early sixties, and later in the seventies as an official adviser in the administration of his son, Michael, signifies the development of a system of political intelligence under local control. It marks the beginning of the process when Jamaica went from being a colonial dependency under the tutelage of the British government to asserting its own independent political judgment on intelligence matters. Smith’s role was emblematic of this crucial moment of transition in the security apparatus during the process of decolonization.
When seen in this context of the change-over in the local intelligence-assessment process, the Report of 1960 falls into place as one of a series of documents that Smith prepared over the years for Norman Manley and the People’s National Party. The first document was prepared in 1954 following Smith’s return to Jamaica; we have not been able to find it, though we know of its existence from notes made by Smith’s wife, Mary, in his archive. The second document was Smith’s 1956 study, A Report on Labour Supply in Rural Jamaica (1956), which brought forth from Chief Minister Norman Manley the following commendation:
You certainly have done a tremendous job. The Appendices must rank as the most detailed survey of basic economic conditions in rural areas that has ever been undertaken. I think the whole work will be very valuable to Government and I thank you most warmly and congratulate you on it (N.W. Manley to Dr. M. G. Smith, March 13, 1956).
The third document was prepared the following year, entitled “Politics and Society in Jamaica” (1957), a portion of which was to be published four years later as “The Plural Framework of Jamaican Society,” in The British Journal of Sociology (Vol. 12, no. 3 [September 1961]: 249-262). In my opinion, the fourth document in this series of documents that Smith prepared for N.W. Manley was the 1960 Report on The Ras Tafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica. The fifth report was Smith’s secret 1961 essay prepared at the request of Manley entitled “Race and Politics in Jamaica”.
What I am saying is that the University Report was not a one-off document. When it is viewed in the proper context of the close Manley-Smith political relationship, its true meaning becomes clear. It was no accident, therefore, that the Report, as soon as it was completed, was addressed in the first instance to N.W. Manley and rushed to him for his approval. In other words, right from the beginning the real audience of the Report was Manley—it was neither the Rastafari brethren nor the public that was its primary audience.
By September 1960, however, only a month since its appearance, Premier Manley began to express serious misgivings about the Report and what it had led to. He confided some of these thoughts in a meeting with the American Consul General; at the same time, he revealed what a heavy toll the Report had exacted upon M. G. Smith. In a dispatch on September 6th, 1960, the U.S. official commented that “Mr. Manley appears to have changed his mind in the last month regarding the usefulness of the U.C.W.I. report.” According to the report,
Mr. Manley described the report as an irresponsible document and said that “Mike” Smith, one of the three authors, had got himself so involved emotionally that he had had to disassociate himself from the subject. Mr. Manley was unhappy that the University had been affording Ras Tafaris radio time saying that all this public attention was merely stirring them up.
Manley by this time had begun to have not only second thoughts, but also that he had been lured into a trap. The predicament that he found himself in had everything to do with “the decision to try to form a party to go to Africa to explore immigration possibilities.” At the same time, Manley still clung to the belief that “it is the only way to bring these people down to earth.” Reported McGregor:
He [Manley] is not sanguine that the Mission will accomplish anything but he would rather have the Ras Tafaris emote in public rather than conspire in private (Foreign Service Despatch, American Consulate, Kingston, Jamaica, Despatch No. 84, to Department of State, Washington, D.C., September 6, 1960).
It is frankly amazing how many people have been fooled by the Report’s apparent semblance of academic legitimacy. Two widely separated examples will suffice to show how persons have been duped into thinking that the research was legitimate. The first example was provided by Professor George Eaton Simpson, who was the author of the first two serious academic studies of the Rastafari movement in Jamaica, both of which were published in 1955 (“The Ras Tafari Movement in Jamaica: A Study of Race and Class Conflict” [Social Forces, Vol. 34, no. 2], and “Political Cultism in West Kingston” [Social and Economic Studies, Vol. 4, no. 2]). Smith acknowledged the importance and value of Simpson’s research: “Simpson’s early work,” declared the Report’s introduction, “enabled the present survey to proceed far more rapidly and effectively than would have been possible otherwise” (pp. 6-7).
As soon as he heard about the University study, Simpson, who was then engaged in his own field research in Trinidad, contacted the Principal of the University and offered to assist with the investigation. The Principal acknowledged Simpson’s offer of assistance with a two-sentence letter dated July 19th, 1960—
I enclose a press release which says what we are doing with the Ras Tafaries. It was good of you to say that you might be available for a short time, but I think we will be able manage, since what they are asking for seems fairly straightforward.
What Lewis was undoubtedly referring to as “fairly straightforward” was the Rastafari brethren’s demand for repatriation to Africa. Before coming to Jamaica to take up his position as Principal, Lewis served for the previous five years as economic adviser to the Government of Ghana. Surveying the situation in Africa, Lewis was clearly sanguine that migration to Africa was feasible. If anything, the problem was not at the African end; it was to be found in Jamaica. What his letter to Simpson reveals is that the Report was not undertaken as an impartial investigation so much as it was the means of advancing a policy recommendation that had been decided upon in advance, with the Report serving as academic wrapping.
A second person who took the University investigation at face value and failed to recognize the nature of what was being carried out was one Orlando Patterson. In an extensive interview with David Scott published recently in the journal Small Axe (“The Paradox of Freedom: An Interview with Orlando Patterson” [Small Axe, Volume 17, number 1, March 2013 [No. 40]: 96-242), Patterson describes how he offered also to assist with the investigation. Unlike Simpson, however, Patterson’s offer did not receive any acknowledgment and to this day he still resents the apparent indifference shown to his offer of assistance. The relevant portion of Patterson’s reminiscence shows just how little he knew or understood about the reality behind the Report—
DS: In the wake of the Claudius Henry events, famously there was a report authored by M. G. Smith [MG], Roy Augier, and Rex Nettleford.
OP: Oh yes. I was at university then.
DS: Exactly. These were all university lecturers you would have known. What is your memory of the publication of the report?
OP: I was a little disappointed not to have been asked to participate in that exercise because I knew more about it than any of them. I was down there [in the areas studied] before that report.
DS: So by 1960 you had already generated a distinct interest in Rastafari?
OP: Oh yes. I had gone down at the height of all the newspaper reports. So when I heard that there was going to be this report, I remember writing to MG (who was the anthropologist who taught me sociology) and I told him I was familiar with the area and if I could be of help in any way I’d love to help. They did it over the course of the summer, and I never heard back from them. And the report was very much a quickie report. But I was a little cheesed off that they had the historian, Roy Augier. I don’t know what he knew about the subject. But I was just a humble undergraduate, so . . .
DS: But what was your impression of the selection of the folk who were to conduct the research? I gather that Rastafarians had approached Arthur Lewis, insisting that something be done because they were getting a bad name in connection with violence. So the university responded. And presumably MG, as the senior anthropologist, was tasked by Lewis to lead the research and select his co-researchers?
OP: I don’t know who selected them. I think it may have been done at the university level, because MG would not necessarily have selected Augier and Nettleford.
DS: Why not?
OP: Because MG was a serious anthropologist who was very skeptical about political types. MG would have seen this as a scholarly activity, and he would have wanted some other social scientists to be involved. So the composition was very carefully done to include Rex, who was already “Mr. Black Identity”—certainly he was emerging as such. He was also trained in political science and was very keen on promoting the African base of Jamaican culture.
DS: So your sense was that it was politically directed from above, because had MG been able to shape it himself, it wouldn’t have taken the form it did.
OP: I think it was certainly done with the advice of the university authorities; and it was seen as a document that could be very important. It took more the form of what the British would call a royal commission. We have that tradition of royal commissions. So while you may say they were all academics, Rex would represent the politically, culturally important person. And who knows?
Maybe they felt that they would get more of a response from that group.
AP: You also question the role that Mortimer Planno played in instigating the university to undertake the Report and suggest that he was promoted by university scholars as a central leading figure beyond his actual importance in the Rastafari movement. Could you expand on your reasons for claiming this?
RAH: This is one of the main myths surrounding the Report. Mortimer Planno did not instigate the university to undertake the Report. Let me repeat that—Mortimer Planno did not instigate the university to undertake the Report. At the time, Planno was not a widely known figure among the Rastafari brethren. It was his selection for the mission-to-Africa delegation that launched his career and subsequent reputation. Don’t get me wrong—Planno was a remarkable individual, extremely talented, but also highly political. His opening appeared as brethren wrangled and jockeyed among themselves over the delegation that was to meet with Manley to discuss the terms of the government-sponsored mission to Africa and to discuss the Rastafarian members of the mission.
Planno played his hand very astutely, it should be said. Most of the senior Rastafarian brethren had withdrawn from negotiations with the Government and refused to have anything further to do with it. The result was that the Government was desperate to find brethren who would be cooperative. It was then that Planno emerged as a candidate who was acceptable to the Government and the brethren who remained in the negotiations.
Of course, over time Planno was hailed as a hero by members of the University team. I see what happened with Planno as emblematic and symptomatic of the whole cooptation process that began with the Report, a process of cooptation of brethren which the University was instrumental in setting in motion.
AP: Why do you think younger UWI scholars have been as uncritical in their acceptance of the Rastafari Report as the scholarly text it’s portrayed as? Why have they taken it at face value instead of asking pertinent questions about its origin story?
RAH: I disagree with your comment, in so far as it appears to be restricted to “younger UWI scholars”. In my view, your comment applies to the present position of the entire University Faculty of Social Science. In truth, the Report functions as a sort of intellectual charter in a line of academic descent from Smith et al to the present. Members of the faculty bask in the reflected glory, as it were, of the famous Report. What it means for the healthy growth and development of Rastafari studies will have to form the topic of another conversation.
University Press Release
(Daily Gleaner, July 6th, 1960)
A meeting was held on the evening of Monday July 4th between the Principal of the University College of the West Indies and some of the chief members of the Ras Tafari movement. Some of these had written to the Principal asking that the College should initiate a sociological study of the movement, its ideals, aspirations and needs.
At the meeting the Principal introduced three members of the UCWI staff who will spend the next two weeks with members of the Ras Tafari movement, undertaking the study which has been requested. These are Dr. M. G. Smith Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Mr. Rex Nettleford, Resident Tutor for Extra-Mural Studies, and Dr. Roy Augier, Lecturer in History.
It was emphasized that the team would be operating only at the request of these leading members-of the movement, who promised to support it fully. A report would be produced, which would be available to the public. On the basis of this report, further discussions would be held to determine what the next steps should be.
Manley will meet Rastas
Govt. accepts African mission in principle
Gleaner Political Reporter
Daily Gleaner, August 3, 1960
The Hon. Norman Manley, Premier will meet a deputation from the leaders of the Ras Tafari movement to discuss migration of Jamaicans back to Africa. The Government, he said, accepted in principle the recommendation that a mission should go to Africa to investigate the possibilities of migration.
Mr. Manley, disclosing this decision shortly before he left the island yesterday for a 10-day tour of the West Indies, said he would meet the deputation some time during the week commencing August 15.
The recommendation that the Government should seek to encourage migration to Africa was made by a three-man team of the UCWI’s Institute of Social and Economic Research in a report which was sent to the Premier by Dr. Arthur Lewis, Principal of the UCWI. The report is being serialized on the Gleaner’s Editorial Page, starting today.
Expressing the Government’s appreciation of the report, Mr. Manley said: “I regard the report as a distinctive contribution to our knowledge and understanding of this difficult matter. I think it is an excellent example of how the University College of the West Indies can contribute to the life of the community and to the solution of its problems.
“The Principal of the University College of the West Indies played a direct and leading part in these matters and we are very grateful to him for his forthright initiative and to the authors of the report for the intensive and valuable study which they have made.”
In a covering letter to the report, Dr. Lewis suggested that the Premier should have an early meeting with a small group of leaders of the Ras Tafari movement. MR. Manley replied to Dr. Lewis, observing that the report listed its first two recommendations as follows: “(1) The Government of Jamaica should send a mission to African countries to arrange for immigration of Jamaicans. Representatives of Ras Tafari brethren should be included in the mission.
“(2) Preparations for the mission should be discussed immediately with representatives of the Ras Tafari brethren”
Said Mr. Manley:
“In a letter addressed to me by Dr. Arthur Lewis, Principal of the University College of the West Indies, the hope is expressed that I may be able to arrange a meeting at the earliest possible opportunity with a small group of prominent representatives of the Ras Tafari movement. Dr. Lewis expresses the opinion that although the movement has no single leader or group of leaders it is willing to produce a small group of prominent representatives to discuss the recommendations contained in the report.
“I am willing to see a deputation from leaders of the Ras Tafari movement to discuss recommendations in the report and in particular to discuss the problems of migration to Africa.
“I consider it of great importance to find out what those problems are and to find out to what extent and subject to what conditions it is possible for persons who wish to go to Africa to leave Jamaica and to be received in any African country.
“I also accept the view that any mission which might go to Africa for that purpose should contain representatives of the Ras Tafari movement and those representatives should be accredited leaders of the movement proceeding under the authority of their own members.
“I am leaving Jamaica today and will not be back until August the 12th. I hope to be able to arrange for such a meeting sometime in the week commencing August the 15th. I have left instructions for such a meeting to be arranged.
“I think it is right that I should make two statements about the report. First, that Government accepts in principle the recommendation that a mission should go to Africa but considers that the first purpose of such a mission must be to find out the conditions under which immigration may be possible. Government believes that everybody has the right to emigrate if he can satisfy the conditions which are required.
“Secondly, Government has not had the opportunity of studying in detail all the other recommendations in the report but I undertake that they will receive the most urgent attention,” Mr. Manley concluded.