Reflections on I trod with Sister Ijahnya…
Ijahnya Christian! A Powerhouse! A Militant Soldier! An Ancient Warrioress! A Roaring Lioness! A Queen! A Mama (to the entire/global Rastafari Nation)! De I's presence and contribution will certainly be missed!
Sister Ijahnya was indeed a Sister to I. Actually, she was more than a sister. She was a Mother-figure, a mentor, and a counselor when I needed that listening ear, that attentive and instructive wise-mind. I knew Sister Ijahnya personally. She was my Elder within the Rastafari Movement (at least 15 years my senior), and my husband's colleague and fellow worker in the developmental works of Rastafari in the Caribbean, having first met in 1983 at the ‘Rastafari International Theocracy Assembly’ (RITA) held at UWI, Mona Campus in Jamaica. This platform would be the launchpad for future consolidations, the next being in 1994 (B’dos) at the SIDS conference, which followed on the heels of ‘The Centenary Trod’ of 1992-93, where Elder Patriarch Ras Boanerges, visited 13 islands within the OECS propagating the Nyahbinghi Tradition. They worked tirelessly together, in the formation of the CRO (Caribbean Rastafari Organization), seeking always to fulfill the mandate of InI Father, to organize and centralize!
I remember fondly, InI International Rastafari Conference in 1998 in Barbados. What a glorious occasion! The coming together of ones from all over the world, many meeting for the first time, in love and purpose! The Nyahbinghi ises that first night was so powerful! I was 4 months pregnant at the time, yet flying high, literally carried away by the mesmerizing Nyahbinghi chants. I remember the late brother Ikeal Tafari at that session. What??? Who say white man cyah dance???? This brethren was all over the place, flying high! In perfect rhythm! I was transfixed! It was a glorious and blessed occasion. One that will be forever etched in my memory. That gathering would be my first physical meeting with Sister Ijahnya and other ones within the close-knit (inner circle/Executive) CRO family, although I was intimately involved in preliminary ground works/reasonings leading up to the event.
Sister Ijahnya to I, was the perfect embodiment of InI Ancient African Queen-Mother! She exuded a powerful, strong, yet reserved Energy. Just to behold her reminded one of InI Ancient African Warrioress! Her traditional African physique reflected a comforting, motherly, affectionate aura. One immediately felt drawn to her, feeling comforted by, and comfortable in her presence. It was a deeply inspiring and reassuring image to carry forward in I trod as a young Rastafari woman. I recall having arrived in Barbados for the gathering a couple days before my St. Lucian delegation, as I had traveled by plane, while they were coming in via the ferry. Sister Ijahnya and I were both hosted at the same house; by InI Beloved Elder Ras Sipho. In need of a little massage at the time, being in early pregnancy, and not having my personal "nurse/massage therapist" - Elder Queen Sister "Mama Lavie" (Mother of Life) present to render her regular service, Sister Ijahnya stepped in. Wow! That was so therapeutic! Not merely from the physical bodily manipulation, but the intimate space it afforded InI, as Sisters/women, to bond and connect. We shared deeply personal anecdotes, expressing emotions felt and perspectives held. It was truly an enriching experience.
One of traits in I Sister that I will cherish, and continue to be inspired by is her indomitable Spirit, even in the face of underlying misogynistic tendency/elements within the Rastafari Movement. One has to overs that Sis. Ijahnya’s emergence on the Rastafari scene was pioneering. She challenged the present day patriarchal system generally governing modern society, and Rastafari being a microscopic reflection of that reality was not immune to the ills of this structure. She was going against the grain, not loudly nor boisterously, but through diplomacy, and in a highly dignified manner was able to break this mould. This was brought to the fore during one of InI mini-summits held in 2000. The situation was ugly and explosive! Yet, this Sister maintained full and dignified composure, and, unperturbed, delivered beautifully! She was exemplary!! That experience made Sister Ijahnya even more endearing to I.
Another highlight of my times with Sister Ijahnya, was benefitting tremendously from, and being inspired by a program run by her entitled: On His Majesty’s Service (OHMS), which provides technical assistance to member organs of the CRO. In June 2007, ICAR-SLU (Iyanola – indigenous name of St.Lucia -its Council for the Advancement of Rastafari) benefited from the expertise of Sis. Ijahnya as she conducted a workshop on Conflict Management for members. This was a lovely session; professionally executed! Again, this workshop was a wake-up call, as it also presented another case of sexism/patriarchial male domination, lingering legacy of slavery…western ideological mindset. Sister Ijahnya being the consummate Queen that she is (refuse to use was, denoting past) handled the situation perfectly, diffusing all tension and quelling vexatious spirits. This session was highly anticipated by all, so much so, that Sister Ijahnya paid her own passage. InI were only required to host her. And she wanted to stay with a Rastafari family, as opposed to a guest house. This workshop coincided with Lennard Howell’s Earthstrong (June 16). InI held a glorious ises! A follow-up session was to have been organized, but unfortunately never materialized.
I would again be presented with yet another opportunity to work closely with Sis Ijahnya, years later. I embarked on a proposal of a psychosocial nature for the Rastafari community of St. Lucia, entitled: Healing the Wounded Spirit, addressing issues of untreated emotional and psychological trauma, negatively affecting InI as a direct legacy of slavery. Such unaddressed and untreated trauma manifest in waves of domestic violence, currently being faced by the Black/African Nation which, unfortunately, InI as Rastafari, purporting to be of a more enlightened nature, are still perpetuating. Sister Ijahnya, along with Sis. Keturah, another Stalwart in the Rastafari Movement, were very instrumental in helping I formulating this project. It would be one tailored specifically for the Rastafari community, with resource expertise coming directly from InI community in the persons of Mama Ijahnya herself (Anguilla), Queen Mother Moses (JA/Atlanta), (late) Brother Ikeal Tafari (B’dos) and Semaj (JA). At the time, funding was not forthcoming…but, Sister Ijahnya’s legacy is one so powerful that with her Ascension to the Ancestral realm comes an invigorating Energy, a deep call of recommitment and rededication to the works…Rastafari!
I truly feel empowered to carry on the works…her works; helping to fulfill her legacy, which in essence is all of InI hopes, dreams and aspirations.
The news of InI Beloved Sister’s diagnosis with the dreaded C was shockingly devastating. To be faced with the reality of confronting ones’ immortality is something no one can fully be prepared for. On hearing the news I immediately reached out to my Sister. She was stoic in her acceptance of the situation. Never wallowing in self-pity, but putting on the armor of bravery, positively facing the challenging road ahead. Shortly after her receiving her news, I too found myself in similar position, necessitating (somewhat by reflex) that I reach her, seeking strength and support, as in the past I’ve been occasioned to do, for that motherly-sisterly counsel, being confronted by challenges in married life. She provided much wise and sound counsel. Not just from the stand point of being a Rastafari woman/Sister, but more so because of her professional training and expertise as a Social Worker. My dear Brothers and Sisters, such skills and training are crucial in addressing the many social ills plaguing InI community, ultimately preventing InI from exploring our full potential and blossoming into well-adjusted, highly functional individuals. This is evident in the ‘confidence crisis’ Sister Ijahnya alluded to in one of her last reasonings in the Tabernacle in Dominica, as she addressed ones shortly before her departure for the Motherland. She spoke of this ‘crisis in confidence’ that retards InI growth and development, even to the point of repatriation; not having the confidence in self to actually make that move – repatriate! Something is holding InI back! Even with ones being in a position to make that journey, having the financial resources needed, InI are still not moving! Somehow we lack the political will to make that first step, that initial step confidently! This, to me starts with self-esteem. Self-esteem, which builds ones confidence and fuels ones drive and passion, is critical! It is the foundation! The bed-rock! And Sister Ijahnya’s expertise as a Social Worker, in this regard was vitally important!
InI were so looking forward to a reunion at the (then) scheduled mini-summit in Antigua, carded to have taken place July 14-19, 2020. This was long overdue, as InI had not gathered for many years, and had not had the joy of being with InI Sister since her repatriation. What a grand occasion that would have been. And yes! Definitely, when this Covid-19 lockdown situation is resolved and InI can once again meet and gather in celebration, Nyhabinghi ises will be blazing in Honor of InI Beloved Sister! “King Rastafari know what this gathering is for…” Yes, InI will be there!
Sister Ijahnya! You have given InI renewed hope, renewed vigor, renewed determination and renewed inspiration to forge ahead purposefully! As I satta in reflection, riding the Energy of the times...I am filled with a mixture of emotions: joy, love, hope and divine inspiration...all tempered with sadness. De I's life was a torch, a light to InI! Sister Ijahya’s contribution is boundless! Limitless! And as InI chant: there is no death! De I has merely Ascended unto a higher plane, a higher throne, another dimension; the Ancestral realm.
Bode well my Sister! Bode well!
Hail Our Majesties, Haile Selassie I & Empress Menen!
Sister Sera’el Tafari
(CRO – Past/Former Recording Secretary)