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Rastafarians embrace first beauty queen
Contradict traditional anti-pageant stance
By Basil Walters Sunday Observer staff reporter waltersb@jamaicaobserver.com
Sunday, April 01, 2007

Rastafarians have enthusiastically embraced the crowning of the first Rastafarian Miss Jamaica Universe 2007, Zahra Redwood, in apparent contradiction of their well-known anti-beauty pageant stance.

REDWOOD. first ever Rastafarian to win the Miss Jamaica Universe crown

Redwood, 25, strutted the Miss Jamaica Universe stage last Sunday, her dreadlocks rolled into a neat 'bun' to the back of her head, to beat out 15 other beautiful Jamaicans for the coveted title, grabbing sectional prizes for 'most aware' and 'most congenial' contestant at the same time.

"I think the event speaks to the redefinition of the concept of beauty, which speaks to the idea of a redefinition of self and identity and so on," Rastafaran poet Yasus Afari told the Sunday Observer.

"It is a great thing that a big-lip, black, picky picky natty head woman should a win a beauty contest," said Mutabaruka, the outspoken dub poet and entertainer. "So, it jus' show a level of change weh a tek place inna di mind and consciousness of whosoever a dweet, yuh nuh."

Some Rastafarians, members of a religious movement which was spawned in Jamaica and worships the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie as divine, read much significance into the crowning of Redwood.

They pointed to the coincidence that the pageant was held on the day commemorating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade; the 117th anniversary of the birth of Empress Menen, wife of Haile Selassie and the closing day of the Empress Zion's fourth annual conference at the University of the West Indies; in the 77th year since the emergence of Rastafari as the world's youngest socio-religious worldview; 44 years after the Coral Gardens' incident in which police rounded up Rastafarians and forcibly cut their locks, and 41 years since the visit of Emperor Selassie, "the King of Kings" to Jamaica.
Rastafarians have traditionally opposed beauty contests, describing them as akin to a cattle shows and that such pageants promoted a "Eurocentric perspective of the concept of beauty".

"...The emphasis was so much on the physical and too much on the glorification of the flesh and too much on parading the dawta dem as if dem a chattel fi di lust and the shenanigans of the power brokers of the society," explained Yasus Afari.

"The stereotypical concept that is attached to the competition and what else go with it, used to anti what Rastafari stands for," the poet said at the launch of his book, Overstanding Rastafari: Jamaica's Gift To The World and CD, Revolution Chapter 1 Yasus Afari.

But he added that despite the traditional Rastafari position on beauty contests, Redwood's history-making achievement - which would previously have stirred some disquiet or even now some measure of reservation among members - was still an important vantage point and an important occasion for the movement.

"This dawta kinda neutralised the radical response by her charm and her intelligence, her focus and her upbringing, yuh nuh," he said.
Rastafarian Abba Zero commented: "As a Rasta I know that beauty lies within. And the beauty within, I shall say to you here and now, she manifests the totality of such knowing. Externally manifest. We give thanks and praises to know that within Rastafari our beauty need not be validated by any forces, because we are so confident within knowing who we are. Give thanks that the external world can see us for who we are."

Ras Junior Manning, an elder of the Nyahbinghi Order, expected some "extreme Rastas" to oppose the event. "But the reality is, once the sister knows who she is...this is just a way how to break the barrier and go through the system. So I think this is the right direction," he said.

"The beauty bout it, it's something little different," added Manning. "That's the beauty bout it. And I like the parents' background. We see sey is a complete Rasta dawta...And so this is like a big new direction which will encourage other Rasta youths and will bring about a level of self-confidence among other youths out there who nuff a dem come from Rasta parents and dem end up inna Babylon..."

Dr Sonia Stanley-Niaah, lecturer in Cultural Studies at the UWI, Mona, hailed Redwood as the first Miss Jamaica Universe contestant "to self-identify as Rastafari".

"Rastafari is what put Jamaica on the map, Rastafari is what Jamaica is known for, coupled with reggae music," she said. "And for us as a nation to be celebrating something that has taken us so long to achieve, it means that we are backward. However, I wish her well and I hope that it is a sign that the nation is progressing towards greater acceptance and appreciation for what it is we have produced as indigenous products for this nation."

Chicago-based Rastafarian social scientist Sekou Tafari said: "I think it is about time, as our women have always been considered to be the most beautiful women; is just that the outside world never really look in and saw them."

Sister Mitzie was overwhelmed: "I'm very proud... Because these contests are usually stereotypical in terms of what they are looking for as far as beauty is concerned. And I think we would not have expected a Rasta sister to ever cop a title like that. So I'm very happy for her. She is very beautiful, intelligent and I think she can do the job just as anybody else. I hope she goes as far as she wants to reach."

Robin 'Bongo Jerry' Small saw the crowning of Zahra Redwood as significant. "I was first curious to know if she was Rastafarian or just have on locks. Now that I heard that she is a Rastafarian, it is kind of significant, especially in a year like this.... at the same time it shows a certain amount of withdrawal of the ignorance of the people who host such an event like this."
Dub poet, Nato Meeks of Royal African Soldier's fame noted that with a black Rasta woman winning, "it set a new concept or thought towards what is beauty, from what is the stereotypical concept. So jus pon dat alone, dem fi give it a greater hype".

Fellow poet/singer, Italee Watson added: "For me, a black Rasta woman winning the Miss Jamaica Universe is a phenomenal success. For one, we were trained to think that only European beauty is real beauty. So even when we look on our fellow black female and black male, if them don't have European attributes like straight hair, straight nose, thin lips, we wouldn't consider them beautiful. So it's good to see a black woman, not just a black woman, a black Rastafari woman winning this event."

From a religious point of view, Ras Fagan, head of the Blue Mountain-based Haile Selassie I School of Vision, thought it not fitting, "because of the nudity and the semi-nudity that would be observed in the way she has to portray herself by dictates".

"Based on what I've heard, and the fact that I've also seen other beauty contestants being crowned, I was thinking then, that she has to walk in her bikini and so forth. If that is not the case, there should be no opposition... because, the time is now for the locks to be shown in all its glory."


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