My First Encounter With Dreadlocks
by John Blenkiron
(formerly Runaway Bay)
A Jamaican Rastaman
I enjoyed Rosemarie Gordon's article on the history of Jamaican dreadlocks.
It brought back many poignant memories for me of my early life in Jamaica.
My first encounter with dreadlocks was as a young boy in the 1950's when my mother hired Luke as a gardener for our yard in Mandeville
Luke was a giant of a man who showed up one day in our yard looking for work ; barefoot with machete in hand and yard long locks that appeared to be daubed in bauxite.
His overall appearance was quite unusual at that time in British colonial Mandeville which was still a quiet "English village" and the capital of Manchester located high up in the central hills of Jamaica.
Each morning Luke would show up around six in the morning and get his coffee at the kitchen door before cutting grass, trimming hedges, pruning citrus trees and caring for the yams, bananas, vegetable gardens and flower beds.
All this he did primarily with an ironwood staff and his machete which he constantly kept sharp with a file which he had tucked into the cord which held up his three quarter length trousers.
Luke would often lean on his staff while cutting close to the ground, using it to protect his legs when cutting towards himself with long swings of the machete.
Luke sang all day as he worked and was a deeply spiritual man; a quality that my mother saw in him immediately so that she hired him despite the warnings from neighbours that these strange people known as Rastafarians were suspected of being an unpredictable lot who were prone to revolutionary behaviour and excitability under the influence of ganja.
Luke introduced me to the agricultural and horticultural practices of Jamaica and seemed to have a natural "green thumb" for making things grow.
As I grew older I began to appreciate through this strange long haired man the art of flower bed terracing and produce gardening.
He also talked reverently about the abundance of the soil and our obligation to the Creator to understand and acknowledge the gifts bestowed on mankind.
In later life I was to understand more fully the philosophy and practices of Jamaicans like Luke who kept their hair in dreadlocks and lived agrarian lives as stewards of the land.
I came to know that when establishing a cooperative farming venture in the hills of St Ann, Jamaica, my best partners were these Rastafarians who were no longer looked upon with fear.
Thanks to the universal attention garnered by such famous "dreads" as Bob Marley and Burning Spear.
On a final note about dreadlocks and Luke's initial appearance in our household with bauxite daubed hair:
Luke explained that he would only wash his hair in pure running water without soap or shampoo (which he declined when offered some).
In his opinion the best place to wash one's hair was in a flowing river or under rainwater falling from a roof during a good rain. Luke had shown up in our yard far from a river and during a dry spell.
Hi John, love the history my brother, thank you!
Yeah, lots of struggle, Rastafarianism has certainly come a far way in Jamaica.
I believe that a student will find this very insightful.
By the way, good to know that you are from beautiful and cool cool Mandeville!!!
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