The Son, in a continued quest for the power of generation, has recently entered into a new phase. He has now succeeded in establishing himself in Trinidad’s Africans and Indians and is also on the point of replacing human-kind altogether with computers and robots. Nature, who has borne all this out of love for the whole of her creation, has finally lost patience. The current order of the Son will end in a catastrophic drought and famine, nuclear war, or a heating up of the Earth, a destruction of the Son’s work through his own agency, after which the original state of Nature will once again prevail.
Jeanette herself is a partial manifestation of the Mother who will fully enter into her only at the End. Her task at the time of initial ethnographic fieldwork (1980–1982) was to facilitate the return to Nature by organizing the community known as Hell Valley, the Valley of Decision, to prepare for the return to the Beginning and to “put out the life” to her people, the Black Nation, the Mother’s Children. She has to combat the false doctrines of existing religions which place the Son over the Mother and to correct the distorted teaching of the Bible where she is represented as the Devil (hence “Hell Valley”). She stands for Life and Nature, in opposition to the Christian God who is really the Son, the principle of Science and Death. As the Devil she is opposed to churches and prisons, education and money, contemporary morals and fashionable opinions. Because God is “right” Mother Earth teaches the Left, and the Earth People interchange various conventional oppositions: “left” for “right;” “evil” or “bad” for “good.” Seeming obscenities are only Natural words for She Herself, who is the Cunt, the origin of all life.
The exact timing of the End was uncertain but it was expected in Jeanette’s physical lifetime. Then time would end, sickness would be healed and the nation would speak one language. The Son will be exiled to his planet, the Sun, really the Planet of Ice which is currently hidden by Fire placed there by the Mother: Fire which will eventually return to where it belongs, back to the heart of the nurturant Earth.
Mother Earth’s revelations ceased in 1975–1976 after an episode called the Miracle in which she brought the sun closer to the Earth. At this time her family was still living with her in a deserted village some fifteen miles from the nearest settlement, and they were joined by an assortment of young men, mostly old friends and neighbors of hers from Port-of-Spain, together with Rastafarians attracted by a newspaper article written about a family going naked in the bush. Her ideas were now consolidated in reflection and debate. By 1978 her title of “Mother Earth” was adopted, possibly after a recent carnival masquerade which had portrayed a large, fecund Earth Mother. Mother Earth continued to have visions in her dreams but these were similar to those of other members: premonitions and answers to the immediate organizational problems on which her attention was now focused.
While around sixty people have been active Earth People at different times, in October 1981, twenty-two were resident in the Valley, with perhaps twenty sympathizers and occasional members in town. There were annual naked marches into Port-of-Spain which sometimes ended in arrests with brief stays in the state psychiatric hospital for Mother Earth (with a variety of diagnoses), together with raids on the settlement by social workers which resulted in confinement of the younger children to an orphanage: Mother Earth’s youngest son escaped and trekked back to the community across the mountains. There were, however, supportive articles in two local periodicals, Ras Tafari Speaks and The Bomb. Trinidad’s first prime minister had recently died and the government was preoccupied with an election: those in the Hell Valley group were left to themselves.
Only one other member of the group was female, with 16 young male followers between 18 and 33, most previously associated with the local cults of Rastafari or Spiritual Baptism, besides Mother Earth and her immediate family. The reason they gave for joining (to the visiting anthropologist in 1981) was the corruption and spiritual decay associated with the post-independence government, and a wish to return to a simpler natural lifestyle. In opposition to the materialworld, the group all went naked, sleeping out on the bare ground, and maintained themselves through fishing and cultivation of the land using only cutlasses.
The center of the community was the old wooden house of the deserted village into which Mother Earth had moved in 1972, together with some added “African” huts. For about half a mile in each direction, the secondary bush and scrub of the seasonal rainforest had been cleared and a variety of trees and perennial cultigens were grown: medicine bushes; trees and plants for cordage and wrapping and for basketry and calabashes; timber for building; plantain and banana; roots like cassava, sweet potatoes, dasheen, yam, tannia; aubergine, pineapple, tomato, pigeon peas, callaloo, okra; Indian corn, pumpkin, ginger, sugar cane, christophene; trees bearing oranges, grapefruit, guava, nuts, mango, avocado, pawpaw, pomerac, tamarind and breadfruit; garlic and bushes with pepper, shadobenny and other herbs. Above the settlement, reaching into the lower reaches of the mountains of the northern range, were cocoa and coffee, cannabis and tobacco. In the nearby bush were cress and watermelon, mauby bark, mammy apple, passion fruit, star apple, nutmeg and soursap, while along the coast grew coconut and almond. The variety of crops, virtually every Trinidad food plant, perhaps justified the boast of the Earth People that they were living in the original Eden.
Although all members accepted Mother Earth’s role as the Original Mother, the group was “this worldly” in their emphasis on present cultivation of the land and on the preparation and consumption of food. Daily agricultural labor ended with a swim in the sea and Mother Earth ritually dealing out the cooked vegetable food to the group. The central “rite of synthesis” (as anthropologists would put it) was this daily meal. The evening was passed with the smoking of cigars and ganja spliffs, and communal drumming and dancing with singing of their favorite anthems “Beat them Drums of Africa,” “The Nation It Have No Food” and “We Going Down Town to Free Up the Nation.”
Each new member took a “fruit name” – like Breadfruit, Coconut, Cassava or Pumpkin. Relations between members were fairly egalitarian, and not especially “religious,” generally recalling those of the average Trinidad working-class family. Supposedly the group was living in the Beginning of the End, a run-up to the eventual, very physical, end of the world, but little time was spent on millennial speculation. Painted words on the main house proclaimed “Fock [sic] God” – a sentiment in accord with the group’s opposition to Christianity and Islam (although there was a more sympathetic attitude toward Rastafari and Shango Baptism as being “half-way there”).
In 1982, with disputes in the group relating to differences in practical authority, and Mother Earth’s continued illness, relations deteriorated, splits occurred and the settlement was burned. Mother Earth died in 1984, and by the late 1990s, the Earth People were split into four groups, one on the original site. For all four, what has remained central is less Mother Earth’s personal messianic vision than some sense of a more “natural” and “African” style which her own life had embodied.
Hello, Cross-Cultural students, I am writing to express my views on how some of you have conducted yourself in this university course you are taking with me. It is not uncommon for some-to-many American students, who typically, are first-generation college students, to not fully understand, and maybe not even appreciate the purpose of a university. Some students erroneously believe a university is just an extension of high school, where students are spoon-fed “soft” topics and dilemmas to confront, regurgitate the “right” answers on exams (right answers as deemed by the instructor or a textbook), and then move on to the next course.
Not only is this not the purpose of a university (although it may feel like it is in some of your other courses), it clearly is not the purpose of my upper-division course on Cross-Cultural Psychology. The purpose of a university, and my course in particular, is to struggle intellectually with some of life’s most difficult topics that may not have one right answer, and try to come to some conclusion about what may be “the better answer” (It typically is not the case that all views are equally valid; some views are more defensible than others). Another purpose of a university, and my course in particular, is to engage in open discussion in order to critically examine beliefs, behaviors, and customs. Finally, another purpose of a university education is to help students who typically are not accustomed to thinking independently or applying a critical analysis to views or beliefs, to start learning how to do so. We are not in class to learn “facts” and simply regurgitate the facts in a mindless way to items on a test. Critical thinking is a skill that develops over time. Independent thinking does not occur overnight. Critical thinkers are open to having their cherished beliefs challenged, and must learn how to “defend” their views based on evidence or logic, rather than simply “pounding their chest” and merely proclaiming that their views are “valid.” One characteristic of the critical, independent thinker is being able to recognize fantasy versus reality; to recognize the difference between personal beliefs which are nothing more than personal beliefs, versus views that are grounded in evidence, or which have no evidence.
Last class meeting and for 15 minutes today, we addressed “religious bigotry.” Several points are worth contemplating:
Religion and culture go “hand in hand.” For some cultures, they are so intertwined that it is difficult to know with certainty if a specific belief or custom is “cultural” or “religious” in origin. The student in class tonight who proclaimed that my class was supposed to be about different cultures (and not religion) lacks an understanding about what constitutes “culture.” (of course, I think her real agenda was to stop my comments about religion).
Students in my class who openly proclaimed that Christianity is the most valid religion, as some of you did last class, portrayed precisely what religious bigotry is. Bigots—racial bigot or religious bigots—never question their prejudices and bigotry. They are convinced their beliefs are correct. For the Christians in my class who argued the validity of Christianity last week, I suppose I should thank you for demonstrating to the rest of the class what religious arrogance and bigotry looks like. It seems to have not even occurred to you (I’m directing this comment to those students who manifested such bigotry), as I tried to point out in class tonight, how such bigotry is perceived and experienced by the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the non-believers, and so on, in class, to have to sit and endure the tyranny of the masses (the dominant group, that is, which in this case, are Christians).
The male student who stood up in class and directed the rest of the class to “not participate” by not responding to my challenge, represented the worst of education. For starters, the idea that a person—student or instructor—would instruct other students on how to behave, is pretty arrogant and grossly disrespects the rights of other students who can and want to think for themselves and decide for themselves whether they want to engage in the exchange of ideas or not. Moreover, this “let’s just put our fingers in our ears so we will not hear what we disagree with” is appallingly childish and exemplifies “anti-intellectualism.” The purpose of a university is to engage in dialogue, debate, and exchange ideas in order to try and come to some meaningful conclusion about an issue at hand. Not to shut ourselves off from ideas we find threatening.
Universities hold a special place in society where scholarly-minded folks can come together and discuss controversial, polemic, and often uncomfortable topics. Universities, including UCF, have special policies in place to protect our (both professors’ and students’) freedom to express ourselves. Neither students nor professors have a right to censor speech that makes us uncomfortable. We’re adults. We’re at a university. There is no topic that is “off-limits” for us to address in class, if even only remotely related to the course topic. I hope you will digest this message, and just as important, will take it to heart as it may apply to you.
I think there are some very important questions we need to ask about religion in the dominant culture: Why do Western European peoples, and by extension before them the Near Eastern peoples, need a messiah? Why is their appraisal of the physical world a negative one? Why do their societies suffer such perennial and continuing crises? Why do they insist on believing that ultimate reality is contained in another, almost unimaginable realm beyond the senses and beyond the span of a human life?
I don’t understand it. Religion as I have experienced it isn’t the recitation of beliefs but a way of helping us to understand our lives. It must, I think, have an intimate connection with the world in which we live, and any religion that promotes other places—heaven and so on—in favor of what we have in the physical world is a delusion, a mere control device to allow us to be manipulated.