Professor Deborah Thomas of the Anthropology and Africana Studies Departments has been working for several years on an ethnohistorical project concerning the International Peacemakers Association. This group of Rastafari founded a compound in the parish of Clarendon, Jamaica in 1966. The Peacemakers were led by Reverend Claudius Henry, a world renowned spiritual leader who acquired an enormous following, drawing several thousands of people to the compound during his leadership period.
For Reverend Henry, the violence that plagued Jamaica and the Caribbean during the 20th century could be overcome only through the true realization of both material and spiritual development, within a context of a governance structure that incorporated the political, the economic, and the spiritual. This reflects the philosophy of Trinitarian leadership of prophet, priest, and King, found in Rastafarian tenets; for Henry, its manifestation would require the abolition of oppositional party politics and the joining together of secular political and spiritual leadership under the aegis of H.I.M. Haile Selassie, the messiah of the Rastafarian movement. Reverend Henry and the Peacemakers created “God’s Kingdom on Earth,” a self-sustaining society. They found economic success in an on-site bakery, a cattle ranch and farm on the nearby Sandy Bay Beach, and several other smaller scale industries whose products were exported. They also built a school, several homes for students and families, a large community center, all of which surrounded the Ebenezer Baptist Church, which served as the stage for Reverend Henry’s passionate spiritual sermons and powerful political rhetoric.
During this project, I learned more about the Rastafarian movement and how it influenced politics and religion in Jamaica, as well as the overall experience of religious, political, and social life during the 20th century in the Caribbean. As a Cultural and Linguistic Anthropology major, I am dedicated to observing, researching, and participating in other cultures in order to preserve and archive their histories. This project has given me the opportunity to not only explore a culture I closely identify with, but also to expand my own knowledge and experience of history worldwide. The project involved organizing photographs, video, audio interviews, and pamphlets (and their associated metadata), and editing audio and video footage from the interviews. Dr. Thomas and I will also travel to Jamaica during Spring Break to follow up with the interviewees and to collect more data. By the end of the year, I will assist Dr. Thomas in creating both a repository that will be posted on the Penn Library site, as well as a documentary film.