I was at a con a while back where someone swore they’d met me ‘back in the days when you had dreadlocks’ and nothing I could do would dissuade this person from believing I’ve never had them.
It’s true though, nonetheless.
I’ve had long hair, but not locks.
Because I’m not rasta.
Let me take you back to the first rastafarian I met. I remember the man clearly to this day. I met him under the old rickety jetty by the hotel bar my parents ran in Lance Aux Pines bay on the southern tip of Grenada. The old weathered gray planks ran overhead, but they were fastened to an old concrete slab.
If you swam under the jetty, you swam in a private little place in the clear water, over the white sand, by the thick slab of stone like a shelf.
I met him under there, a place I considered my own hangout. I usually splashed around that little space, but this time, he squatted in the water where I usually played.
He was using that slab of concrete, with barnacles and algae all covering it, to hold several slabs of cactus that he’d cut. He washed his hair, and slathered and squeezed the aloe out of the cactus into his somewhat long, knotting hair.
Never said boo to me, after doing his thing, he walked out from under the jetty and across the beach, past tourists lying in the sand watching him curiously, and off into the bush.
I saw him a few times after that, using the beach to clean up, before he went back into the bush.
You see some poor people, see people hard up, but he had an air of deliberateness. Someone said he’d taken ‘the vow.’ He was spending forty days in the wilderness, not talking to anyone, living wild.
The wildness scared me at first. Here was something different.
I never realized how tied I was as a little child to social mores, but meeting a wildman, turning his back on things and society for the wilderness: it was somewhat scary.
Why was he doing this?
What did it mean that others didn’t?
What did he believe, that drew him to do such a thing?
Some people, black like the nice lady who made hops bread and shared it with me from time to time and some of the maids, said locks were dirty and something poor people ‘got.’ White people sniffed about them in similar fashion. As a child, I’d grown to assume they happened to people who couldn’t cut their hair.
So why would this man purposefully create them?
It was something I shelved for a while. The man under the jetty, he didn’t look ready to talk to anyone. Others told me ‘that’s just rasta.’
Then an older man with long, natty dreadlocks started squatting in a stone cottage halfway down the beach: one of those old ruins, probably from colonial times.
He would talk to me. He’d ‘breaks them bread’ with me whenever I’d come by. Things were lean in my life. We lived on the old wooden boat out at anchor and I roamed the beach. Often I’d skip lunch, eat seagrapes or mangoes from trees around the area, skinning up them like a monkey.
But this rasta always welcomed me, a little blonde boy with pale skin and a lot of questions, into the cottage with its thatched palm trees fixing the roof, somewhat, against some of the rain. He often had fish stew with thick, chewy dumplings, which he’d ladle out into a wooden bowl and share with me.
And this rastaman would talk. About the bible, about rastas, about my questions. About ital food, and how it was good for your body.
Locks were grown to signify rasta, he said. Because he’d taken the Nazerene vow: no shaving or combing the hair or beard. The other rasta had gone into the wilderness, like Jesus.
There were other young men, out of jobs, throughout the area. They would shout things like ‘yankee go home’ at me. Words that hurt because the island was all I’d ever known, and was home. Half my family was Grenadian.
But most people didn’t say such things.
And even though others didn’t like rasta, and were relieved when the man in the stone cottage was busted by the police and taken away for squatting, I always felt comfortable around true natty dreadlocks because of him, his charity, gentle patience, humor, and friendship. Long locks, irregular, lifelong. Not styled, or carefully managed. They were a sign of devotion and faith and lifestyle.
They taught me my own bubble of perception wasn’t the only path. Other perspectives existed. That there was more than one interpretation of religion. Ways of eating. These things added to my growing framework of questioning, pluralism, and questing that books later then nurtured far further.
I wonder about that man sometimes, and if he remembered sharing what little he had with a little white boy on the beach. If he’s still alive.
But those two rastamen had a bit impact on me. And they’re also why I don’t have locks, anymore than I wear yellow robes, or a priest’s white collar. The locks were a definitive statement, and thinking of the man who’d spent time in the wilderness, and man in the cottage and his almost monk-like manner, every time I considered locks, I thought it wouldn’t be true.
I know they’re more of a fashion statement these days, and for many, a tie or a claim to ethnicity. Later on, I would meet more and more people who took on the dreads, but not the careful thought and commitment, the philosophy, the monk-like approach.
But for me growing locks would ring hollow to the memory of what they really meant. So I may joke about it, or consider it.
But I don’t see myself doing it.
Because I’m not rasta, but I respect rasta.