I was raised anxious about the end of days. The fear was never instilled by my parents, or any religion. I was never formally warned of the Four Horseman or anything. Instead, it seeped surreptitiously into my awareness, drawing from a peripheral swirl of stories, songs, and an imaginative media, whose tales drew me to the television each afternoon of my schooldays. My first musical composition, titled “It Will Do For Now”, I wrote when I was eleven. It was inspired by a reoccurring apocalyptic dream. In the dream, I was strumming the tune on my guitar when gravity began to fail. My mother calmly told me it was time to go, and I should gather my things. I remember that I asked whether or not the roll of film in my backpack would keep as we entered into heaven. From there, I was transported to a desert scene, where strange creatures vividly faced off in the battle between good and evil.
Stephen King’s The Stand had just been adapted into a mini-series for network television, and I had been a weekly watcher. The plot and the television’s imagery had found their way into my subconscious. It was a precursor to the Y2K hype of my teens, the endless war of my twenties, and the creeping reality of global warming that is shaping my fears presently. Apocalyptic themes have created an underlying paranoia that this is it. Were we the final generation of humans to walk the earth?
The sun continues to shine. Life goes on. As I stare into the eyes of my daughter, I’m forced to tuck those fears deep within. Anything is possible. I must have faith in my personal agency. Day to-day survival requires the presence of hope for a calm tomorrow.
A controversial article released recently by the Atlantic, describes ISIS a millenarian Islamic sect, trying to bring about apocalyptic prophecy in the Middle East. Their religious conviction was presented as an edge when compared to other terrorist groups. They believe we are living in a time of God’s return to earth to deliver judgement. They claim only to be playing their part in an already written history, understanding that most of them, and everyone else, will die violently before the savior arrives and establishes the Kingdom of eternity.
It is not a unique take. Apocalyptic dreams are commonly found in Christian sects throughout the world, however, they are mostly absent from Islam. Muslim kids are not taught about a second coming the way that the Christian youth is. It is not as central to the faith. This is an important detail in separating ISIS from the other billion Muslims in the world. Where was this judgement day prophecy coming from, if not the Quran?
In 2003. The north of Ghana has been engulfed by the Sahara for centuries. How could you differentiate one endless desert view from another, without machine gun wielding soldiers and barbed wire demanding recognition of a man-made border? Local languages and customs straddle country lines and share more in common with each other than they do with Ghanaian ethnic groups to the south. The national language of Burkina Faso is French, because France colonized it. I don’t speak French, and I didn’t venture very far into the country. At most, 100 yards.
I wasn’t there to visit Burkina Faso. It is just a reference in the song as to where I was in Ghana. Bolgatanga means the land of sand and rock. That’s where I wrote the song. I took a bus up there with my school group. I got Malaria from smoking joints and playing guitar outside all night. I was doing a research paper called “Reggae and Rastafarianism: A Vehicle and a Voice”. It was my way to do what I wanted to do while abroad in college. It was supposed to be an anthropological project of sorts. It was more of a personal journey though, where I got to listen to lots of reggae while hanging out, exchanging ideas with several super cool, for the most part, like-minded people.
So in Bolgatanga, the land of sand and rock, on the border of Burkina Faso, it was easy to spot Scorpi among the street scene of humbly dressed Muslims, swirling sand, and brownish buildings. He was the lone dread with the bright red, green, and gold shirt on.
Vibe was great on this guy. Very mellow and friendly. We somehow got talking, and I was asking him about reggae, and Rasta, and he just seemed really excited to have someone to talk with about these subjects. He came and hung out with our group. We sat on the roof of the hostel and smoked spliffs looking at the Burkina border. He kept insisting on using matches because lighters are “air pollution”. I told him that I was working on a project about Ghanaian Reggae and Rasta culture, and would it be cool if I interviewed him. He gladly agreed and I started asking some of my general questions like, “how did you learn about Rastafari?” “What is Rastafari to you?” “What beliefs do all Rastas share?”
I had been interested in finding out what books, if any, Rastas in Ghana turned to for education about their worldly and spiritual interests. Many named the same four books: the Holy Piby, The Kebra Negast, the Bible (including the Apocrypha,) and a book called National Sunday Law.
The Holy Piby was a text I had heard about for years, but had never seen. In fact, my trip mate Matt Goodwin had taken some notes down about it that had initially sparked my interest. Supposedly it was printed in Newark, NJ, in 1922, and the Library of Congress doesn’t even have a copy. I knew that it celebrated Ethiopians, black Africans, as God’s chosen people, and made many biblical connections between the blacks in the West Indies and the ancient families described in the Old Testament. It is seen worldwide as a primary source for Rastafarian beliefs. Some people I spoke with in Ghana had crumpled printouts of a few of the stories, but nothing that represented the entire text. Mostly their knowledge was things they had heard about from others. That was 2002. Today, the entire text exists here.
The Kebra Negast, was something that I actually had at home and was fairly familiar with. I had bought it in NYC outside of a Midnite concert. It is a collection of ancient Ethiopian biblical stories. In the most famous tale, the Queen of Sheba, sets out from Ethiopia, to visit King Solomon in Israel. He tricks her into having sex with him. Sheba returns to Ethiopia, unknowingly pregnant with King Solomon’s seed. She births a son, who Sheba never tells Solomon about. That son, Menyelek, travels to Israel as an adult. He learns that King Solomon is his father. Solomon realizes that Menyelek, is his first born son, and therefore the rightful heir to the throne of Israel. Meanwhile, Solomon’s latter born twin sons have been warring over who will take over the kingdom when their father dies. In a dream, Solomon sees the sun shining over on the kingdom of Ethiopia, leaving Israel in an era of perpetual darkness war. The next day, he decides to secretly give the Ark of the Covenant, containing the ten commandments, to Menyelek, who, in the middle of the night, leaves with the Ark to return to Ethiopia with it.
This is interesting because, wherever the Ark of the Covenant is located, is Zion for the Jewish people. The promised land. According to the Kebra Negast, the Ark of the Covenant (YES it IS what was being searched for in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark), has been in Ethiopia ever since. This is not in compliance with Holy Jewish Scripture, who believe the ark was destroyed years later when the Romans sacked Solomon’s temple. However, the my Rasta sources claim a fake ark was constructed in order to keep the real ark’s whereabouts hidden. Ethiopia claims that today the Ark is in a temple, in a town called Axum. It is guarded by the Ethiopian Military and looked after by one man for his entire adult life.
One time while packing up for a gig in DC, Chris (panda drummer) and I heard a guy working at the club casually mention that his brother was in fact, “the guy” who watches over the ark in Axum. Not the usual end of the night talk you hear while packing up drums and bass. He said that whoever takes the position develops horrible eye conditions, because of the power of the ark, and his brother was suffering as a result of his job.
The Kebra Negast is a heavy anthology of stories for several reasons. Throughout the collection, the biblical lineage of Adam from Genesis, to Jesus Christ, to Haile Selassie is mapped out, planting the history of the divine family in an Ethiopian bloodline. Ethiopia was never colonized. It is said to be one of the oldest recorded histories in the world. Ethiopia is mentioned in the Bible several times. Not too many 21st century countries can make that claim. The name “Ethiopia”, in ancient Greek, means something close to, “burnt by the sun“. Before Greeks defined things, it was known as the Kingdom of Kush. While there have been many political turnovers, Ethiopia maintains that they have been keeping historical records since Biblical times, and that the Kebra Negast is simply Ethiopian history.
If true, then the Ark of the Covenant, the only physical object named in the bible with divine attributes, whose presence is necessary for an earthly Zion to exist, has been sitting in an Ethiopian temple for the past 3000 years. That means that Ethiopia is Zion for the Jewish people. Not Israel. Ethiopia. Birthright trips would be made to East Africa. There was no mention of this in Indiana Jones. It would mean that the war for territory in Israel was geographically incorrect and unnecessary. It should be happening in Axum, Ethiopia.
This isn’t hidden information. It is well documented by archeologists and Egyptologists. Ethiopian Airlines used to advertise Axum, and the temple of the Ark, as a tourist destination. It is just not taken seriously by most in the Western world. Why? I don’t know, I have my guesses. I’ve read a few books about it. Probably mostly because of racism, disguised as other complaints about “validity”. No one except for its caretaker is allowed to actually see the Ark, so the mystery presents itself with skepticism from experts.
When I have told this story of the Ark to a few fellow North American Jews over Matzah Ball soup at passover seder, they more than scoff. They look at me like I’m insane. A three-thousand year old conspiracy theory? I just shake my head and say, “You may be hearing about this for the first time, but it is apparently documented history of a modern nation”! Who are we to say we know better? A Steven Spielberg movie got the worlds head believing that this divine object was lost, when in fact the world just doesn’t take Ethiopia’s claim seriously, probably, because it is an African nation. At least that is what most believers would say. It is a simplified account, but I have yet to hear a better argument.
The second book mentioned, was The Bible. When I would remind my interviewees that it was colonialism that brought The Bible to West Africa, they would be quick to correct me. In fact, many West African tribes cite the story of Exodus in the Old Testament as the story of their people. They say that when the Jews were cast out of Egypt, some made it over the Red Sea, but those who didn’t, traveled across the Niger desert west and landed in present day Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Ghana, etc.
It is custom in Ghana, when visiting a village, to meet with the elders and have them tell you the history of the area. Every time, this was the story they would tell.
I would say, “You mean the story of Exodus?”
“So you are Jews”?
They would say yes, they had been long ago, but the news of Jesus Christ had come and they accepted him as their savior. When I mentioned that Europeans brought the New Testament to West Africa, the response was often,
“The Lord works in mysterious ways”.
The Bible is probably the most accessible book in Ghana. Rasta sects such as Twelve Tribes of Israel, of which Bob Marley was affiliated, stress the practice of reading a chapter a day. Psalm 87 is particularly important to Rastafari because it makes mention of man originating in Ethiopia, something science later proved to support.
Many also made mention of the Apocrypha, which is another collection of biblical texts, supposedly to have taken place in between the old and new testaments, or sometimes thought of as an appendix after the new testament. They are mostly texts that were removed from the present printing of the King James Bible. Stories that are in dispute by religious authorities from around the world. Most Rastas I spoke with believe that these books were removed from the Bible in an effort to white wash history, and remove evidence of blackness being connected with divinity. To disconnect the thought of Ethiopia and Zion ever coexisting in the same sentence together.
One shared belief amongst Rastas that I spoke with, besides the divinity of Haile Selassie I, was that we were presently living in the time of revelation, as predicted by Daniel in the New Testament. Several told me that Daniel himself, was Rasta like. Black, with dreadlocks. Apparently he was a vegetarian, and that was how he survived the lion’s den. His blood was full of vegetables and not animals, therefore the lion couldn’t see him and he was able to escape.
“Daniel’s blood was GREEN!” they would exclaim. That is what I was told.
Rastas see Haile Selassie as the second coming of Christ, returning as the Lion to fight the forces of evil. Three generations after his coming, would be the judgment day. Again, this is what my subjects said in a chorus of determinism.
Judgement day is inevitable. There is nothing that can be done to prevent it. You can only declare your faith and purity in an effort to be saved. Rastafarianism is defined as a millenarian cult by many theology books. It can be found listed among another forty some names of religious sects when you look up the term millenarian. Most of these movements are Christian based and have apocalyptic expectations. Most are products of the twentieth century. These groups often have an interesting way of blending modern-day international political happenings with the prophecies of ancient biblical scripts, in a code-breaking analysis that confirms, without a doubt, that judgement day is right around the corner.
Which leads me to the fourth book, National Sunday Law, one of the more interesting reads I have come across in my travels. National Sunday Law is one of three books written by Jan Marcussen, a 5th generation, Seventh-day Adventist minister. This was the only physical book that Scorpi had to show me. It is not Afro-centric in nature. It was published in Idaho, USA. I guessed that it made his way via missionaries. I asked him what it was about, and he began to explain to me that the book illustrates why the Pope is Satan, how to identify that we are living in the time of Revelation, and that judgement day is upon us. As I flipped through it, I saw mentions of two-headed beasts, 666, the Vatican, the American Government, Operation Desert Storm, etc.
It was an interesting premise. I wanted to know more, but unfortunately I had to leave the next day.
As I was leaving Bolgatanga, I saw a tall young man wearing a full print Osama Bin Laden T-shirt. It was like a shirt you would see of Michael Jackson, or Bob Marley, but it was Osama Bin Laden. He was staring at our group as we got on the bus. It didn’t make me nervous, as much as it signaled to me just how different the political culture was around us. Peaceful, but certainly coming from an alternative perspective. I couldn’t imagine that shirt being worn in any neighborhood in the United States. I wondered if he thought we were the enemy?
I traveled back down south to do more research in Accra. I stayed in a small bungalow called Akuma village. I met another Rasta youth named Jah Lee. We started talking and I told him of my travels. I told him I was up in Bolgatanga the week before. He wondered if I had met his brother Scorpi. What were the chances? He chuckled that he has to send Scorpi up rolling papers every week cause he puffs so much, and they don’t sell Rizzlas up north. They certainly had a similar demeanor. Jah Lee and I hung out quite a bit, cooking food, jamming tunes, and reasoning about life.
When I got around to asking him about books, he pulled National Sunday Law from his bag. He carried it with him always he said. I asked him if I could borrow it for a few days. He generously obliged.
I was stoked to have another look at it. It’s a quick read. Well worth it. The looseness of its tone caught me off guard right away. It was very conversational. Not unlike this blog. Here is an example:
“Unbelievable! When I first read that statement my mouth fell open. I was amazed that the official statement of the Papacy was nearly a word for word quote from the Bible! Instead of leaving only nine commandments, they cut the tenth one in two, so there would still be ten. Satan had caused the second commandment to be ripped out. But he wasn’t finished. The leaders changed the fourth one also!The change of the fourth commandment was attempted gradually over a period of time so as not to arouse anyone. But the change is a masterpiece of Satan’s work.Get ready for a shock.”
“National Sunday law is a conspiracy theory which alleges that the United States government is on the verge of enacting a national blue law that would make Sunday a day of rest and worship. The theory is based on the idea that the Pope is the Antichrist and the Mark of the Beast is worshipped on Sunday. Sinister forces (read: the Vatican) are conspiring to enact a national Sunday law in the United States, which would be the trigger that unleashes the fulfilment of the prophecies found in the Biblical books of Daniel and Revelation.
This idea originated within Seventh-Day Adventism (which considers the Sabbath to be Saturday), and some on the fringes of the SDA church have taken a handful of failed Congressional bills and Papal writings and inflated them into the trigger of the apocalypse.”
It was kind of a crazy book to be found held by two brothers in both the North and South of Ghana. I also found it bizarre, that out of all the books mentioned, I only saw copies of this one. Others had made mention of it as well. Nowhere did it mention Africa, Ethiopia, Rastafari, Haile Selassie, or anything else directly linked to the Rastafari faith or others of the African Diaspora. Merely one millenarian belief structure supporting another.
However, when read with the Holy Piby, the Kebra Negast, and the Bible, National Sunday Law bridges the gap between antiquity and modernity. For many of the Rastas I met, it lends strong support to the proof of Haile Selassie’s divinity, and the territorial claim that Ethiopia, is in fact, Zion. While it does take some knowledge of twentieth-century international political history to connect the dots, any follower of Haile Selassie is sure to have at least some historical education in folklore and rhetoric alone.
National Sunday Law claims that the force of evil has reared its multi-beast head out into the mortal world several times over past few thousand years, in a determined and prophetic ongoing battle against God. These battles are disguised throughout history as struggles between empires and great wars.
So when Napoleon crippled the Vatican and exiled the Pope in 1798, National Sunday Law explains that this was foretold in Daniels revelation. It was the beasts “deadly wound”, that would be healed and restored by the ultimate coming of evil.
131 years later, like clock-work according to Marcussen, the Vatican is given statehood in Italy and the Pope is once again made King by none other than Mussolini himself, working in cahoots with the Nazis. The ultimate coming of evil indeed.
“In 1929, the Italian government recognized Vatican City as an independent state. Once again, the Pope was king. On March 9, 1929, he said, ‘The peoples of the entire world are with us.’ The San Francisco Chronicle published an account of the pact-signing on the front page of its newspaper. It actually read like this, ‘Mussolini and Gaspari Sign Historic Pact . . . Heal Wound of Many Years.’ That is fantastic! The Bible prophesied that its wound would be healed and the newspaper confirmed it in the exact same words.”
What was one of the first plans that the Nazis, the Italians, and the Vatican exercised together? Invade Ethiopia! Ethiopia had just crowned their new Emperor on November 2, 1930. Ras Tafari was crowned Emperor Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, amongst many other monikers.
Most Rastas that I spoke with told me that they believed Mussolini and the Pope were going after the Ark, not too far off from the plot of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Many told me also that they heard the Pope blessed the Italian fighters as they left to conquer Ethiopia.
However, the Italians never did conquer Ethiopia. In legend, an inferior supplied army led by Selassie beat the Italians out of Africa. Historically, it has been documented to have been much more complicated than that, with the Italians holding Ethiopia in occupation for a few of those years. This was after Selassie had given his famous speech at the League of Nations ,asking for international help, only to denied by the world community with a slap in the face, as the League lifted sanctions on Italy instead of punishing them further for the Ethiopian invasion. It is said, that if Europe had come together to fight fascism right there and then, WWII may have been avoided all together.
National Sunday Law sets the stage well for Rasta theories to be embraced. The books obscurity and non-direct endorsement of the Rastafai millenarian prophecy only supports its legitimacy as a work of coincidental fact. “History is the whole story coming together”, they would tell me, bits and pieces from unrelated sources across the earth, confirming the same prophecy.
A few years later, I was playing a show at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, CA. I went to throw my coffee cup out, and sure enough, there was National Sunday Law, sitting next to the trash can, waiting for me to pick up and read. Apparently 36.8 million copies have been distributed in 63 languages around the world. This is a well-traveled publication. I picked it up again and leafed through it, forgetting just how absurd of a tone it was written in, again, like this BLOG!
You never know who will connect with the message though, and how that message will be passed on, and indoctrinated into other the beliefs and agendas of others. Messages spread.
And that’s what the song was about. Burkina Faso. It was about meeting up with strangers who were cosmical and familiar, and riffing on to no end about the whole story of our history. Entangling our perspectives for proliferation of our own educational growth.
Maybe the future is determined. Maybe there is a reset button and we are building ourselves up to blow it all away. It has always been difficult for me to accept. It is terrifying to have agency stripped from your lifestyle.
And that truly is what poverty is. It is a lack of agency. Choices have been taken away. It is easy to consider a supernaturally determined future if you have lost so much control of your day-to-day reality.
Consider ISIS. Picking up steam in a part of the world that has been war-torn over oil and territory for the past hundred years. Boko Hiram, springing up in a country where you have to bribe even the nursery school teacher on top of the price, to look after your kid at daycare.
ISIS’s apocalyptic dreams have been influenced by something other than Islam. Perhaps by contemporary poverty and war, more than any legitimate religious script.
Options have been removed. Life has been determined by higher forces like drones, and the pentagon. It is sad and it is difficult to accept the struggle that it takes to change such problems.
It is not my intention to group Rastafari with ISIS. The only commonality shared is the belief of apocalyptic determinism, and that Babylon is the root cause. The prevailing belief is that in an effort to bring about peace, “Bablyon” will bring about the inevitable end of days, fulfilling ISIS’s prophecy. An ISIS follower sent a chilling message to the Atlantic, in response to the recent article: (note that when he writes “Muslim” or “Islam”, he is referring to ISIS)
“What stands out to me that others don’t seem to discuss much, is how the Islamic State, Osama [bin Laden] and others are operating as if they are reading from a script that was written 1,400 years ago. They not only follow these prophecies, but plan ahead based upon them. One would therefore assume that the enemies of Islam would note this and prepare adequately, but [it’s] almost as if they feel that playing along would mean that they believe in the prophecies too, and so they ignore them and go about things their own way. … [The] enemies of the Muslims may be aware of what the Muslims are planning, but it won’t benefit them at all as they prefer to either keep their heads in the sand, or to fight their imaginary war based upon rational freedom-loving democrats vs. irrational evil terrorist madmen. With this in mind, maybe you can understand to some degree one of the reasons why many Muslims will share your piece. It’s not because we don’t understand what it is saying in terms of how to defeat the Muslims, rather it’s because we know that those in charge will ignore it and screw things up anyway.”
The two brothers I met were not violent, hateful people. Quite the contrary. They were the definition of irie. Peaceful, lovely, welcoming, and contemplative. They were positive that this was the end though. They took comfort in it even. That it was just a matter of time before the events would begin to unfold.
When I met them, one of my best friends had recently committed suicide, my band mates Father had passed early, and 9/11 had just happened. I had a lot of questions that couldn’t be answered by mortals. The US had just invaded Iraq for the second time, day I arrived in Bolgatanga. All of these tragic happenings felt eerily avoidable, yet they continued to occur.
Millenarian conversations hold light at the end of the tunnel for the pure. Where would that put us? What about our choices? What about “Get Up Stand Up”? We are all witness to certain earthly destructions. Is it our written role to be passive bystanders? “Though I’ve read in revelation what it’s all about, I’m still here crying”. I feel that tragic endings can be avoided. It is hard to just sit and watch. The political and economic powers of the world must stop reinforcing religious zealots arcane visions of doomsday with their actions and policies.
In fact, it seems that more than anything, ISIS is a creation of horrible decisions made globally by the international community, not the deliverance of any divine prophecy. Inevitable, yes, when the agency of humanity is taken for granted and attempted to be smoldered. Weapons have just been sent from the United States to the Iraqi army, to arm them in their battle against the Islamic State. No doubt, some, if not all of those weapons will end up in the hands of ISIS, or whatever the next reactionary group is that comes along in response to this international culture of violence, lawlessness, and militancy that develops in such circumstances.
What will we see? A boost in the local economy possibly, as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, and other weapons companies continue to be paid by the Pentagon to develop and manufacture their products, all, on the tax payers dime. It’s true. I reads like a lost book of revelation. Let’s get the story straight though.