Dreadlocks for Sale?

As mentioned in my last post, I took a trip to Amsterdam where marijuana use has been decriminalized for a number of years. Since marijuana is still illegal in most countries, the Netherlands has become quite popular with tourists looking to use marijuana recreationally. While in Amsterdam, I went into a souvenir shop, and to my surprise, there was a small section of items covered in Jamaican flags, as well as the colors of the Rastafarian flag, and dreadlock wigs attached to knit hats. Rastafarianism is a religion founded and most commonly practiced in Jamaica. The group has become more popular for having dreadlocks and using marijuana both recreationally and in ceremonial traditions. This has meant that Jamaica itself has also become known for producing marijuana. Nevertheless, I was caught off guard seeing the aforementioned items in a store in the Netherlands.

I am currently taking a class on globalisation, and in defining globalisation we have discussed developed nations imposing their practices on those in undeveloped nations, but I’d like to discuss not just what developed nations leave behind, but what they take as well. Although at this point neither marijuana nor Rastafarianism are unique to Jamaica, they are a part of Jamaican culture and the island is known to the world because of them, amongst other things (music, sports, etc.). This souvenir shop was profiting off of another — much less developed— nation. This leads me to ponder what Jamaica gets out of globalisation in this instance.

While in Amsterdam for merely three days, I saw an astounding number of White people with dreadlocks. Though most White people who wear dreadlocks are probably doing it because they like the style, that may not have been the case here as I have learned that according to scholar and author Neil Savishinsky, Amsterdam “harbors the largest population of White Rastafarians [he came] across,” (Prahlad 65). White people practicing Rastafarianism is something I have questions about. It is one thing to have dreads but another to practice Rastafarianism. A major purpose of Rastafarianism is teaching Afrocentrism. Jamaican Rastafarians were taught about their African history, and spread the metaphor of “returning to Africa,” (Trpkovich 1). The religion was created to instill pride in Jamaica’s African descendent peoples. So what does that have to do with White people living in the Netherlands? Referring specifically to the souvenir shop, the dreadlock wigs/hats in particular make a mockery of Rastafarian traditions, as though this aspect of one’s culture is for others to try on and wear as a costume.

While in Amsterdam, I also saw a coffee shop called Babylon Coffeeshop. Babylon is the term used by Rastafarians for the oppressive authorities that rule the world. It was ironic to see a coffee shop that sells marijuana donning the name Babylon; it seemed like whoever named it was just trying to make a connection between marijuana and Rastafarianism. Although I think globalisation as a concept is a good thing, in practice there are some that gain far more than others through the process. Here Amsterdam’s tourism industry is benefitting from appropriating Jamaican and Rastafarian culture, with no benefits to Jamaica itself.

References

Prahlad, A. (2001). Reggae Wisdom: Proverbs in Jamaican Music. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi.

Trpkovich, A. (2019). “How Cannabis Became a Major Part of the Jamaican Culture.” Toronto: Greencamp. 

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