“Our hair is a type of uniform, saying, ‘I believe in God.’ My hair is my glory, it is a gift to know how long I have had it and how long it has grown.”
Crafted below a wrapping of cobalt, sea grape green and cream, stands Arlington’s crown. It doesn’t rest, it elevates. He speaks of his hair as a physical vessel, as a force through which he manifests his spirit. Arlington is Bobo Shanti; his hair is dreaded, elegantly shaped into a pillar representing his two shores of Bahamian reef cities and Ethiopian roots.
For the past twelve years, Arlington has understood himself as a rasta man, and as a prophet on his journey to priesthood. “We share our knowledge to try to get rid of the negative energy and racism around us, so our children can be free,” he says. Upon being anointed with his turban, Arlington encourages others to “know yourself and love others, while being in harmony to help yourself and others to become better.” Many rastas wear their hair dreaded, believing that Christ of Nazareth was a rasta man; Bobo Shantis aspire to look like him, to portray the same character because, when he was executed, he could not be identified due to his brothers’ quality of sameness. There is beauty and continuity in this sameness, the ability to be a member of a collective identity through hair.
He speaks with an open face, with a smile that reaches upwards to greet the crevices of his eyes. His hair is packaged in a neat gift, however it wasn’t always this way. His way of life used to come from platted or braided hair, but “it started to get to me, it was a calling for me to have dreads.” But the first thing people did was start to call him ‘rasta’. Not knowing what that meant, he began to learn. Hair birthed his lens of life and he looked to the bible as a compass. Living naturally for three months, he wore “leggo’ locs,” letting his hair drop while massaging it with hibiscus, aloe and cactus. It was when he was blessed as a prophet that he began to adorn his crown, displaying it with fabrics from the Empress who imports turbans from Africa to design their robes. Colors and life go together, it is only during the Sabbath and fasting that a white blankets his crown. Their rainbow arches its’ spine spanning Sunday in red, yellow on Monday, Tuesday in green, blue on Wednesday, purple for Thursday, and Friday in black. Beads trace the collar of his neck, supporting a wooden carving of Marcus Garvey’s Africa. “He told us to look east, to look to Africa for the crown of a black king,” because “Africa’s redemption is near.” Gazing for more than hope, Garvey knights visioned the godly and righteous Ras Tafari. Ras meaning ‘Head’ and Tafari, meaning ‘Creator’ in Amharic. God incarnate among rastas, he was to guide victims of African Diaspora forward to their homeland. One day Arlington hopes to find himself in Africa, but only when he knows what he wants to give there. He says, “People need to learn to use the sources they have there, they should not look abroad. Africa is looking for creative minds, minds to cherish, not ones that take diamonds or latex.” Arlington and his Bobos stand for freedom, redemption and international repatriation.
In the 1930’s the Rastafari movement was officially born in Jamacia in reaction to Italy’s invasion, while Ras served as Ethiopia’s regent. Many however, believe that Rastafari began some two hundred years prior. Ras became Emperor of Ethiopia and was blessed with the regal renaming of Haile Selassie I; he is majesty, the returned kingly Christ in the flesh. King Emanuel is the founder of the lineage Bobo Shanti, meaning “African Priest” of Rastifari, and he is understood as the High Priest. It is the interaction of King Halie Selassie, King Emanuel, Marcus Garvey and every prophet soul like Arlington’s, that constructs the divine trinity that Arlington lives by. Rastafari has clung strongly to its namesake, perpetuating tradition and for some, hair as incantation. When asked about the recent emergence of dreads as style, Arlington shook his head, “it is a scar for us” he said, “they don’t portray the full lifestyle and we are misrepresented.” For him, dreads are not a fashion to be removed; “My parents always tried to comb my hair when I was young, but I always ran away. I guess in a way it was a part of me…” He grew up in the Christian faith, but never moved to that rhythm. His hair was the first to lead him to his life of fullness, health, and one in which he wants to live long and well with his dreads. Because of it, he says, “When I turn 300, I still be kicking a soccer ball around.”
Photo Credit: Erik Kruthoff