The relexification of African forms into the language of the masters was a political necessity as well as a matter of communicative convenience but this fact of development never did deprive the slave or his creole descendants of the memory of ancestral language patterns or his skill to creatively forge new means of expression using those very patterns. The rastafarians are inventing a new language, using existing elements to be sure, but creating a means of communication that would faithfully reflect the specificities of their experience and perception of self, life and the world.
– Rex Nettleford
As man first ventures into the unknown his experience is one of communion. The ruggedness of the land pulls him into an upright standing, celestial preponderances urge his measure of the world (into physical form) and those first groans of the homo sapiens resound into prefacing performances of the soul and self. Evolution by inflection is a unique genius of the time. It is through primal utterances that we arrive at the sonnet, the tercet, terza rima, the prayer, slang, the sestet, mantras, invocations and tongues. Before man becomes herd animal, he is possessed of the radical notion that nature’s intelligence far exceeds his own. It is from fire he learns, from rain, from star.
Without astonishment the parent of his every syntax articulates the communion between nature and himself. The sole informant of his status as a beneficiary of such power resides in his relationship with the earth. Why then have we largely moved away from these ideas? How has the natural domain come to be excommunicated from our daily activities, specifically our language?
Sylvia Federici once wrote that
Parallel to the history of capitalist technological innovation we could write a history of the disaccumulation of our pre-capitalist knowledges and capacities, which is the premise on which capitalism has built the exploitation of our labour. The capacity to read the elements, to discover the medical properties of plants and flowers, to gain sustenance from the Earth, to live in woods and forests, to be guided by the stars and winds on the roads and the seas was and remains a source of autonomy that had to be destroyed. The development of capitalist industrial technology has been built on that loss and has amplified it.
It is not by chance that man comes upon his conscious ability, and yet he will bear and be borne by a soul unknown. Resisting evolution from this point he begins to die. Beyond death the body disassembles into macromolecules, similar to those preceding birth, whose fifteen billion years cumilative wisdom displaced projections bursting from the origin of stars. The soul’s germ however is easily lost. Ancient thinkers termed this the “soul’s death”. In Mesoamerican philosophy that part of the self made its return ad astra by way of rites which sought to communicate the body’s resignation. In absence of these practices the evolutionary will has been limited to material expression, and although ailment and suffering set the body on a different path of existence the multitude continue to resist the stirring to change. In Western culture it is particularly common to relinquish communicative rites with a natural origin and to instead become what the Vodunsi calls the zombi. Return from this point, improbable as it may be, is a call to either learn of the passage that the soul provides or be silent in partaking of its death.
Image credit University of the West Indies Archive, Writing by Zena Nicholson
Quotations taken from Dread Talk: The Language of the Rastafari, V. Pollard (1994),
Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons, S. Federici (2018)