Three years before the April 1966 visit of Emperor Selassie to Jamaica, a massive massacre of Rastafarians took place on March 16, in St James. The Rastafarian Community annually commemorates this as ‘Bad Friday’, coinciding with the celebration of ‘Good Friday’ in Christendom.
That thousands of Rastafarians were made sacrifices and unjustly slaughtered because of the actions of six bearded men who burned a gas station down has even spurred political campaigns. Those six bearded men were reacting to a land deal with a ‘bald’ head, gone bad, which resulted in a bearded man being locked up.
Ironically the incident which took place on order of the then Jamaica Labour Party leader Bustamante was likened to the recent unjust slaughtering of members of the Tivoli Gardens community. Interestingly heads of the Rastafarian community did not use the opportunity to claim reconciliation, but instead call for compensation for all victims.
The story according to the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper articles was that on Holy Thursday, in 1963, six bearded men, without locks, burnt down a gas station in Coral Gardens. The act was to protest the unjust lock up of one bearded man after a land deal with a non-bearded man went sour. The men, assumed to be Rastafarians, were said to be armed with machetes and other weapons. Two policemen, and, six civilians including three of the assailants died. The then Prime Minister Sir Alexander Bustamante instructed the army and police to round up all Rastafarians from the parishes of St James, Hanover and Trelawny. The excess prisoners who could not fit in the prisons were to be ‘disposed’ of by killing and taking them to Bogue Hill, above a major cemetery in Montego Bay. This led to a collective crucifixion of many innocent followers of the Rastafarian faith and suppression of the movement islandwide.
Annually activities are held in Montego Bay and Kingston to commemorate the riot and eventual massacre.
This year, Montego Bay, where that 1963 ‘Bad Friday’ is annually commemorated, was the venue for a symposium set for the Pitfour Nyahbinghi Centre on Friday, on March 29. Queen Ifrica, Chronixx, Jah9, Warrior King, Tarrus Riley, Tony Rebel, Junior Kelly and Bushman were only a few slated to participate in a concert at Jarrett Park on Saturday after ‘Bad Friday’. On Sunday, Andrea Williams Green’s IRIE FM Running African programme was to be aired live from Jarrett Park between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.
In Kingston, a peaceful protest march on Holy Thursday’s March 28, 2013 was organized by Mutabaruka, IRIE FM, the Rastafari Millennium Council and the Coral Gardens Committee heads. Mediahouses Roots FM and Newstalk also were invited to participate. Marchers gathering at Ward Theatre, moved at noon from Parade to Heroes Circle in downtown Kingston. The protest also featured the 2010 Tivoli Incursion. At the National Heroes circle, where the crowd swelled to short addresses by Mutabaruka and Andrea Williams Green, the marchers joined a motorcade headed for a rally in Mandela Park in Half-Way Tree.
The motorcade was the IRIE FM Shockwave truck, although not decked in Rastafarian colours had two of the station’s broadcasters, the respected Rastafarian ancient Mutabaruka and Andrea Williams Green mounted on top leading the protest. The day’s event was aired live on Mutabaruka’s ‘Stepping Razor’ programme.
Hopefuls about some form of compensation of both the massacre and 2010 Tivoli incursion, got a glimpse of surety. Mutabaruka accomplished a few objectives. Radio stations joined to increase the volume on the Rastafarian call to the nation to become conscious and caring to the seriousness of the events as one priority.
Among questions raised by participants is on the issue of the Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller not asking Britain’s Prince Harry about reparations for slavery during his Jamaica visit.
“They have to acknowledge especially the atrocity to Rastafari 50 years ago and pay some form of compensation to the victims,” Mutabaruka said.
Peter Tosh’s ‘Get Up, Stand Up’, and a good expounding of Art of War were critical to the days events. Below is a part of the Chant of the 2013 Protest march.
We shall never forget the Coral Gardens incident
The crimes committed by the State
Oh, what a crime
A brutal crime crime
The crime committed by the State
The orders from the State when the jail ‘coulden’ hold
To put them in the cemetery a Bogue
Fifty years gone by
And many still a cry …
Fifty years gone by and the powers that be
Don’t pay for the atrocity
Bad Friday 63
A time in our history
That we must ensure
Don’t come knocking at our door.