When you are over fifty, you can’t keep up with all the new words that have wound their way into the English Language. Forget about the various dialects of this language that straddle the globe from the Tower of London to the Melbourne Cricket Ground of The Down Under, and it can even be daunting trying to understand all the slang words of the younger generation in your local community that become outdated as fast as they appear. To add to the pot, there’s urban slang and rural talk; technological buzzwords; and then, there’s class and racial overtones and undertones mixed in with this linguistic potpourri. It’s confusedly beautiful to speak this ever-evolving language that re-invents itself and yet remains the same.
Now consider me. I am of Jamaican descent, so I move seamlessly between English and what we call patois each day. And did I mention that I also teach Spanish? For those who don’t know, Jamaica was once a British colony, so English is our national language. We also speak patois which is a mixture of English, African, and even a smattering of Spanish words. You are considering what’s the point of mentioning all of this. The answer is that my brain is a heady swirl, infused with the scents of various cultures that impact my linguistic repertoire.
Can you imagine when I saw the word “natty.” It seemed like a word from a foreign language vocabulary list. Where did I hear that word before? Yes, it has something to do with clothing…fashionable, dapper, debonair. However, that was not what my brain wanted to hear. I don’t how, but I stumbled upon another meaning that I was not aware of: I found out it was a slang abbreviation for the term “natural” and for a cheap light beer. It was an eye opener for me that there was a beer by that name because I avoid drinking like it’s a plague.
Despite my new knowledge, I was sure I was missing something. It finally dawned on me a day later when my brain defaulted to images of the sounds of reggae music, island smells, and dreadlocks wafting in the tropical breeze. How did I forget the pulsating rhythm of Bob Marley and Rastafarians chanting his music like they were under a spell? “Natty Dread!” I said in a Eureka fashion, “How could I have forgotten this?”
My euphoria was only short-lived because my analytic side took over and started to examine natty in the Jamaican context. To truly appreciate the term, we must have a background knowledge of Rastafarianism. Rastafarianism is a movement that originated in the slums of Jamaica during the 1930s to empower black men and as a form of protest against the residual effects of British colonialism like class disparity, poverty, and racism. During the 1970s it gained popularity through one of its most famous adherents, Bob Marley
It is also considered a religion to some because it has borrowed some teachings from the Bible, especially from the Old Testament and Revelation. Many Rastafarians believe in the Judeo-Christian God whom they call JAH. However, many older Rastafarians consider Emperor Haile Selassie as a messianic figure and Africa as the Promised Land. They have also developed a variation of Jamaican patois and are strict vegetarians. They smoke marijuana for ritualistic and medicinal purposes. Their long, matted hair and bright headwear of red, yellow, and green are visible marks of their religion. However, other people may wear a similar hairstyle and are not associated with this way of life.
Adherents of Rastafarianism emphasize natural living, ethnic pride, and purity. Therefore, men allow their beards and hair to grow without combing or cutting. The hair becomes kinky and coils into long locks. Sometimes wax is added to the locks to make them stronger. Because the locks grow so profusely, some of these men appear more formidable than they are and may create fear in others, hence the coinage of dreadlocks.
When natty is combined with dreadlocks/ or dread (as it generally is), it is used to describe its condition. Therefore, it may be the accentuation of the word knotty since the sound of “o” is sometimes pronounced like a short “a” in Jamaican patois. It is interesting to note that a natty dread is a person who wears dreadlocks, but is not a practicing Rastafarian. Natty may also be the diminutive of “natural” because it refers to hair that has not been processed with chemicals. Rastafarians despise anything that is artificial, fake or impure and associate it with Babylon. Babylon in the Bible represents a place of moral decay.
Rastafarianism, although it employs biblical language and some of its tenets, it is not part of the Christian religion. It is more a way of life that appeals primarily to people of African ancestry in various regions of the world who feel disenfranchised. Many people have adopted the dress and speech of Rastafarians and sometimes have committed acts that have caused the police to be suspicious of the members of this group.
Lesson to be Learned
One lesson we can learn as Christians after reading the information above is to understand that appearance can be deceiving. We often take things at face value and get carried away by wrong doctrines because we do not check the word of God to see if it is right. In the same way that dreadlocks does not make one a Rastafarian, someone quoting Bible verses is not necessarily a follower of Christ.