The Grenada Revolution Online

Ras Nang Speaks:
Interview with Prince Nna Nna

Reprinted with permission and courtesy of the late Ikael Tafari, Rastafari in Transition, Appendix II, Frontline Books, 2001 Ikael Tafari. Spellings as given in the book.


The following is the transcript of a taped interview with leading Grenadian Rasta elder and former Commander in the People's Liberation Army, Prince Nna Nna, conducted by the author:


Original artwork by Ras Daniel Hartman; design by Ann Wilder

Q: Prince Nna, the crucial question is: why did the PRG look on the Rastafari as a threat during the course of the Grenada Revolution?

A: Because the Rastafari were more popular, more grassroot and more genuinely revolutionary than the Maurice Bishop administration at that time.


Q: What kind of following did the Rastaman have during that period?

A: Rasta had a bigger following then than Bishop and his people.


Q: What kind of number among the Rases themselves are we talking about here?

A: At that stage, remember, it wasn't Rasta alone. It was Rasta and the general public which fully supported the Rastafari cause. You could even see this at our weekly Nyahbingi meetings. Plenty more people were coming to our Nyahbingi celebrations than those going to Maurice Bishop and dem political meetings. And that caused jealousy.


Q: What number of Rases in the town area would be gathering at these Nyahbingis?

A: At that time, approximately a thousand to twelve hundred Rastas—I not speaking yet of sympathizers and people coming to hear what the Rastaman had to say.


Q: You mean three or four hundred people from the general public?

A: Plenty more than that. Whole villages of people. Especially in places like Victoria, Gouyave and Sauteurs and right in St. George's.


Q: There were more Binghiman in the country than in the town at that time?

A: The Rasta people in Grenada in that period lived more in the mountain, in the interior. A good portion of brethren also lived in the town, but the biggest concentration was in the hills. Rasta in Grenada was more originally a hills vibration like in most of the other Caribbean islands. It was the Maurice Bishop administration that ran the Rasta out of the hills.


Q: At what stage?

A: That was just at the time the Cubans started to come into Grenada, say around the first three months of the Revolution.


Q: That early?

A: Yes. Very early in the Revolution, Maurice Bishop started fighting against the Rastafari. Technically, psychologically and then openly. There are many ways, you know. You have to be very sharp to observe these intellects and lawyers like Maurice and Radix and all the other political gangsters.


Q: How many Rastas were in the original People's Liberation Army?

A: The Liberation Army was predominantly Rasta. Let's say two--thirds at least.


Q: You mean a thousand or more?

A: More than a thousand. There were Rastas in it from all different regions of the island.


Q: Did any of these Rases sit on any of the popular representative bodies of the Revo-like zonal councils or committees for example?

A: Well, the Rasta people were on the frontline, looking to preserve the peace and security of the country and to quell any violent opposition, like. Rasta at that time was a middle man and a liberator. His part in the Revolution was keeping the peace while Maurice and dem part was organizing political power. So while the Rastas were on the battlefield looking to secure the Revolution, Maurice and his little clique were preparing to set up the government.


Q: And getting together a whole new army of his own from his hometown, St. Paul's, too?

A: Yes, and recruiting foreigners in important position, too. And giving them ranks even higher than those of the genuine revolutionaries who had fought to win freedom for the people. Most of the people who fought the battle in Grenada against Gairy and afterwards, too, never really got their due honour or respect or authority. But, seeing that the Rasta people were ever willing to sacrifice their life for the Revo, it was strange that Maurice and dem ended up putting the Rastas as their enemy, just because Rasta was the first to tell these political leaders, look, what all-yuh doing is wrong. All-yuh done make a covenant with the people and you must fulfill it. Because Rasta was tracking all of their statements on the radio, the different promises Maurice Bishop made to the nation.


Q: To what effect? You mean about marijuana?

A: Well, on the air, he never made any declaration about marijuana to my knowledge, but before March 13th, the struggle had been based on a broad vision of liberating the grassroots man—spiritually, intellectually, economically and even in terms of freeing up the proper cultural use of the herb.

And Maurice was the main man behind the scenes identifying with the Rastaman. I say this because I personally was a very close associate of Maurice from the first days of the Revolution when Grenada was just militarizing. I was the Physical Training (P.T.) instructor for the whole army. So I was lobbying for the Rasta people, and had the opportunity to speak closely with the revolutionary leader at that time and discuss Rasta problems with him.

And when Maurice formed the new government and left out Rasta completely, I told him, the first time we met after the government had been formed, that he should never do what he did behind the Rasta people's back, and furthermore, the Rastafari should have their representative in the government to secure the Rastaman's interests, and to make sure that the people of Grenada get justice—all the different cultures and religions—because I could see where the leadership was heading from the time that they could set up a government without including the Rastafari who were the main spearhead of the people's struggle at that time.


Q: Did the Muslims sympathize with these views held by the Rastas?

A: At first, some of the Muslims were vexed with the Rastas for taking up arms to support the Revo, especially since the Muslims were more advanced in revolutionary strategy. They were more aware when it came to politics than the Rastas, and in their military training, too. At that stage Rasta's concern was less with politics and more with basic survival. But when the Revolution began to get into full swing and Maurice cry out for help and made his covenant with the nation, the Rastaman began to gear up himself militarily. He was always in the Revolution as the vanguard of the people's consciousness, you see, but now he began to get himself more politically organized.


Q: Were the Muslims in close co-ordination then with the Rases?

A: True. Both were prepared to struggle alongside one another in the Revo, because at one stage, all the people who believe in the Supreme Architect, the mighty I AM—the Rases call him Rastafari, the Muslims call him Allah and the Christians call him Jesus Christ—at that stage there was a real spiritual unity among all these different religions in Grenada in the face of a common persecution.

Some of the Muslims were I and I true brethrens and when we get the opportunity we pray together, too. I pray in my own Rastafari tradition and they pray in their Muslim tradition and we respect each other—especially brethren such as Bilal, Yusuf and Habib. Certain days we come together and I explain my spiritual tradition and they explain theirs and we reason together about our beliefs. There was never any conflict among I and the Muslims because I read the Koran and I even come to the understanding that certain things in there pertain to Haile Sellassie I. Also, I taught all of the Muslims Martial Arts in prison.


Q: You are speaking of your shared time in detention, but before that was there that much overlap between the two groups?

A: Yes, even before the Revolution there was solidarity between us. The two religions actually sprang up in Grenada at around the same time. The Rastafarian religion was earlier and more predominant, had more followers, you know, because most of the Muslims was brethren that was coming out from long established Trinidad and Guyana Muslim communities, and some from the Far East, too. The Rasta movement was more, you know, a local thing, but the Muslim and the Rasta had a very firm alliance. At one time I discover that the unity was so strong that we together could have ruled Grenada.


Q: Was Bishop closer to the Rases or the Muslims?

A: Well, Maurice was close to everybody. But at one point when I made the statement to the Torchlight reminding him concerning his promise to the nation about elections after six months, and the end to discrimination in the schools against I and I, and the fact that the Rasta was pushing for representation in Government—not only what he had promised but Rasta rights, in terms of participation in the consolidation of the Revo—


Q: Some people argue that by bringing those charges against the PRG, the Rases were playing into the hands of the same rich people, and that the bourgeoisie, whose interests were traditionally represented by Torchlight, were taking the opportunity to manipulate the Rases' resistance so as to further certain ultimately CIA-type interests in actively fighting against the Revo.

A: The Rastafari take a different view. You see, Rasta in Grenada was all class of people, even the children of the rich.


Q: But again some have argued that the grassroots Rastaman rejected those from the ranks of the petty bourgeois who sought to join the movement. Was this so?

A: I wouldn't accept that argument as such. I would have to balance it. You see, after Maurice set up the government, the Rasta people came to the full realization that this was not a genuine people's government, as we could see it was class-biased in favour of the petty bourgeoisie—


Q: It was not a genuinely revolutionary government, in other words?

A: Seen. At that stage, the Rastafari did not give them the recognition of being a revolutionary government. A genuine revolutionary government would have to respect the rights of the various people of different classes and religions to be all represented at the national level. But instead Bishop took his chosen few and set up an elite with mainly foreigners to control the country.


Q: Did Rastaman play a part in some of the national organizations, like the National Youth Organization, and the co-operatives for instance?

A: The Rasta people took part in all the different arms of the Revolution, even the political arm. There were brethren such as Pyta from Gouyave who was an instructor in Marxism/Leninism. He was a member of the Party also.


Q: So there were Rasta in the actual NJM Party structure?

A: Truly.


Q: From before the Revolution?

A: Before and after. Plenty Rastas were members of the NJM. A good portion had also joined the Party before they came to a consciousness of the Rastafari faith. Many in the NJM carried dreadlocks, while they were at the same time studying Marxism and prepared to administrate it, too, as it was later practised full brutality—at Hope Vale, for example.


Q: But surely no genuine Rastaman would have supported these policies of the PRG, carried out in many cases against other brethren.

A: Many man supported them to the very end. Many dreadman were in the Army up to the end of the war. But the majority of these ended up trimming their locks, you see. To be frank, the Revolution really started with dread and ended up with bald head. Eventually all sections of the population became involved, you know, because it was a genuine people's revolution. But the politicians destroyed this genuine revolutionary spirit of mass unity. You see, they felt themselves so wise that they thought they could set up a little government on their own, and then dash the Rasta people one side.


Q: What about the role played by Ras Kabinda (Desmond Trotter) from Dominica in all this?

A: Well, Kabinda is a beloved Rasta brethren I know very well. He came to Grenada when Bishop had I in prison. He went to Maurice and beg for my release from detention and Maurice agree to let me go on humanitarian grounds. But at the same time he was pressuring I to sign documents stating that I would never practise my spiritual concept against the PRG, and that if I ever engaged in such activity I would have to go into prison or exile. In this way, my faith—the Nyahbingi tradition—was technically outlawed under Maurice and dem administration.


Q: At what point? Before the Torchlight issue?

A: No, after the Torchlight issue.


Q: So that is what really brought the confrontation between the Rastafari and the PRG to a head then: the Torchlight affair.

A: No, the Rasta and the PRG was already at war over Bishop's broken promises, both concerning elections and the end to victimization of Rasta children in the schools.


Q: How soon had he promised to keep elections?

A: Within six months. Arid the Rases were the first to approach Maurice about this breach of political faith.


Q: So their protest took place before that of the other dissenters like Winston Whyte and Stanley Cyrus?

A: Yes.


Q: And yet many of the official accounts claim that the Rastas were being used by men like Cyrus Henry and Teddy Victor.

A: Rasta was not used. Rasta went independently before Maurice in late September of `79—I was the elder brethren and main spokesman—I an' I congregation of brethren, daughters and children all went up to Maurice's home and asked him why he was refusing to call the election within 6 months of March 13 as agreed. I was detained two days after the Torchlight publication.

I an' I had a gigantic Binghi on the Saturday at which the PRG was again declared to be anti-Rasta. And I was picked up on the next day—Sunday. That Binghi was held at Victoria and it shake Maurice's whole regime, because people came out in their thousands from every corner of Grenada in solidarity. Some even had to walk to reach the spot. At that time, I was a commander in the army. We were taking some military training at that stage from the Guyanese.

At the meeting with Maurice, one of the points I raised was concerning the scholarships that were being given to officers in the army to go to certain countries like Cuba, Libya and Russia so as to further their studies. I told him Rasta was seeking to go to Africa to pursue career training in medicine, law and so on.

As Sellassie I live, Maurice turned and told I he had always thought that Rasta was only a matter of painting and carving. So then I replied to him, if Rasta was only concerned with painting and carving, how come Rastaman was the first to come out bearing arms on March l3th.

That was the turning point in the relationship between Maurice and the Rasta community. You see when Maurice made that statement, I an' I could see clearly how Maurice was looking on the grassroots people. It was clear that he never intended to provide the Rastafari with the opportunity to educate and develop themselves so as to give greater service to their country.

I even raised the question once again, more directly, with Maurice: Why Russia and not Africa? I had the privilege of questioning him because I and Maurice were still very close at that stage. So I just call my Rasta brethren and sistren together afterwards in my yard, because that was the main place in the town where Rasta used to assemble in those days. Rasta from all over the island used to meet there in I yard and discuss Rasta problems.

So I say to my idren, “Beloved, I an' I can see that Bishop doesn't recognize I an' I. So I-man not going to tarry among dem men.” And I just depart from the Army same time. A while afterwards, they come to me one day and suggest they would like I to set up a programme for a military parade they keeping. So I went back. And I put on one of the sharpest parade dem ever see in Grenada specially for them, and then I left and never look back.

So the revolutionary army eventually died. Or, I should say, the political leadership destroyed it very early in the Revolution. There was a power struggle and the revolutionaries were overthrown actually within the first two months of the Revolution. When I say the revolutionaries, I mean the brethren who first stepped out on the battlefield and made the revolution—not Bishop and dem who was all waiting on board a yacht just off the coast to escape if the attack that morning on Gairy's army barracks failed.


Q: But let's get back to Kabinda. As I understand it, he was a key player in the whole drama between Rasta and Maurice Bishop. Bishop had become close to Kabinda originally while defending him in the celebrated case trumped up against him for murder in Dominica.

A: Truly. At first Kabinda was strongly supporting Maurice. I tried to show him the kind of man Maurice was, when I was in prison. Kabinda came to the prison to visit I, and I tell him plainly in the presence of everybody how I see Maurice and his clique. I tell him I see them as wicked men who pretending to be something that they are not. Not only Maurice but all of them, because I had close reasonings with the entire core of the PRG leadership. Including, to a lesser extent, Bernard Coard. From the first time I met him I could see that he loved to dominate. Because he came into the room with a martial arts class in full progress. And he had to interrupt it, you know. He never show no respect. But when he realize he meet up on a little Rastaman who could defend himself with words as well as with blows, then he shake my hand and say he would like to meet me again to reason further and so on. He even set up a meeting between himself and I at one stage when Rasta and Maurice was going through some conflict, but it never came to pass because they came and lock I up before the time appointed.


Q: Some people believe that while Bishop was negotiating with the Rases, Coard and his OREL group, who were definitely not in favour of legalization of marijuana or Rasta representation in government, were undermining his position of leadership in the Party. So that, in effect, Bishop's hands were tied from the start, even if he himself had wanted to grant concessions to Rasta.

A: That might have been so but what I have to say is that Maurice didn't really want these things personally, according to my knowledge of the man. After March 13, after they got into power and they started getting international recognition, I said to Maurice, “Forget about taking on America, it doesn't make sense. Try to be non-aligned.” That is when Rasta had come out and publicly pledged allegiance to the new government. Rastaman had actually offered his services to Bishop to build the country. Rasta with all kinds of intellectual training were willing to give him their counsel. But he prefer to take Cubans as his advisers. And I realize that a lot of these outside people who had only just come to Grenada try to belittle I an' I in the presence of Maurice, when Rasta was the real Field-Marshal General of the Revolution. Rasta entered the Revolution at the top. We didn't go into the Revolution as a divided house.

We had we own organization, we unity and we own military weapons. And the people's support as well. So we had the right to know anything going on that could affect the fate of the revolution. Rasta stepped onto the battlefield in Grenada because we hear the people cry out for help and we see that blood was going to run red. But Rasta didn't enter the Revolution as a people that come to dominate, but as a liberator. We discuss the whole question about Rasta involvement among weself on the eve of the overthrow, and we come to one mind to step forward in the service of the black people. But since Maurice and dem never ground with the people, they cause whole heap of problems. On the morning of the coup, only one person was killed. But afterwards Maurice regime kill many people, so many innocent people.


Q: I notice you said that the Revolution should have pursued a policy of non-alignment, but could Grenada realistically afford to be scrupulously non-aligned? Wasn't it a matter of survival why the PRG lined up with Russia and Cuba, I mean as a matter of self-defence?

A: What a lot of people do not know is that it was not Cuba that first stretched out the hand of substantial military assistance to the Revolution. It was Guyana. Guyana sent military advisers and men expert in combat techniques, and from the start gave the Revolution military weapons, but Maurice had other ideas. He wanted to shift to Cuban support because of reasons of ideology and culture. You see, the Guyanese military was mostly black man, and they were very sympathetic to the Grenadian popular culture and the Rastafari. But Maurice wanted to play down these genuine revolutionary aspirations and independent cultural feelings among the Grenadian people and pretend that the Revolution was Cuban or Marxist-inspired, to suit his own purpose. Bishop aligned himself with an outside force—Cuba—which tried over and over to dominate events in Grenada and impose their ideas born out of a different cultural situation, you know.

And yet the PRG could have drawn strength from better sources of ideas in their own country. But Maurice and dem chose instead to get together two or three college boys who were mostly afraid to come out and face the Green Beasts on March 13, and give them big ranks over men who were vigilant on the battlefield in dem early days of the Revo. So that was the first overthrow, when the PRG side-stepped the genuine revolutionary freedom-fighters and set up a petty bourgeois friendship clique to control the military in the name of revolution. But the main force that really overthrew the Gairy government in Grenada on March 13 was the Rastafari.


Q: The Muslims did not play any significant role?

A: Well, maybe individual Muslim, but not Muslims as an organized group.


Q: But Habib and Yusuf were in that episode.

A: Yeah, I won't doubt.


Q: And James Herry and the Budhlall brothers and other Black Power people, right?

A: True. But although the NJM and their allies had military strength, they still did not have the power to capture the country. The NJM was pure paper cells. There were other forces in Grenada that created the Revolution beyond Maurice and dem. It was the grassroot village organizations across the countryside, especially St. Patrick's, who had the people with them all the way. Maurice had he support too, but they were mostly cowards. They couldn't face the battlefield. Some of dem were willing and prepared—Layne and Selwyn Strachan and such like—I don't say no. Dem was there on the morning of the overthrow, too.


Q: And those men were quickly given rank?

A: That's right. They had very little military training technically. Only Strachan Phillip was a full military soldier. Bishop and dem was so dogmatic that they never took the trouble to educate their party supporters much, military-wise. Only a few of them. Instead, these men were allowed to run around flashing rank. While the main revolutionaries who put their lives on the line never reaped anything from the revolution besides execution, exile and imprisonment. Maurice Bishop's real aim was not to uphold any genuine revolutionary administration, you know. His main aim was to uphold a petty bourgeois dictatorship, you see, so with regard to the grassroot people, like Yusuf and Strachan Phillip, who were serious about revolutionary change in Grenadian society—Maurice had to destroy them, that was the only way he could get to perpetuate he little stupidness.


Q: Did you know the two Rastaman from Tivoli, Gravel and Skull?

A: I knew all the man dem. Skull was a very religious brethren. Gravel was a big strong Rastaman.


Q: They were close to Buck and KB (Budhlall)?

A: Yeah. Well, they were all from the same region and belonged to the same organization. They entered the Revolution together. These men were highly educated, too. I had many discussions with them in detention and they proved to be remarkable scholars in their own right... Going back to the case of Kabinda. Maurice and dem deport Kabinda from Grenada when the reality start to come out in the open that the PRG was oppressing Rasta. Kabinda began to see for himself the kind of man Maurice really was.


Q: But originally he was in favour of Maurice?

A: He loved Maurice, I can tell you that personally. But he had to draw the sword on Maurice wordically and show him he was being unjust. From the time Kabinda spoke out at the Binghi in September `79 in Gouyave where the Rasta house for the first time brought up official charges against the PRG—from that time Kabinda's days were numbered. From the first week of the Revo, the PRG was encouraging Rastas to trim their locks. And when they did trim, they were given rank.

But it all came to a confrontation at the Binghi in Gouyave where I an' I denounce Bishop and dem as traitor to the Revolution, because Revolution stands for rights and justice and respect for your brother and he that labour must hold the reins. But they never want to give I an' I equal rights at all. And from that day—the first seven days of the Revolution—there was tension between the PRG and I an' I. And a next thing that make it worse was the fact that I and another brethren Bronson was in command of the whole of St. George's, the capital. We had we own transport and we own soldiers to patrol the whole region, right. We had authority to search who we want to search, destroy what we want to destroy and take what we want to take. But the Revolution never really loot or burn, because I and my Rasta brethren hold the roots people steady. We used to print pamphlets and other literature, too, and educate the people.


Q: Ras Nang, was any Rastawoman featured in these activities?

A: Plenty Rastawoman was on the battlefield; at that time it was more balanced in that respect, although, as you know within I an' I faith the man always be predominant numbers-wise. Not only the knotty-dread man but the people in the villages in general used to move close with I an' I and support the Rasta cause. It was a really joyous time. The people and Rasta came closer together in the time of Maurice, you know, because when the grassroots people saw what Maurice was doing, the only voice that would speak out against the injustice of the PRG was Rasta voice. The Grenadian people herald the Rastas as the champion of the masses.

I an' I tell Maurice face to face, give the people what you promise them, otherwise I an' I going to demonstrate against you, see. Plus they were trimming Rasta children to go to school and forcing them to trim if they want to go away on scholarship and all dem kind of things. I know a Rastaman called Medic, they forced him to trim to go away to Cuba for further training. At least, he is a police now, but I still consider him a Rastafari today. He trim but he never forget his Rastafarian principle of brotherhood. Up to now he have excellent relations with I an' I and the public.

Bishop did not want we children to go to school with dread on their heads. He force one Rastaman (Ras Coach) to trim he children, and is from there that we decided to visit Bishop and confront him about these matters. All this was in the first month of the Revolution. When Maurice started to pick up de Rastas and lock dem up, many of the petty bourgeois people and the masses draw in close in solidarity. So he had the fight from all angle. When I say ‘petty bourgeois,’ I mean just a small percentage—his own political enemies. Maurice was working on them too. He fire nuff of dem from their jobs. In those times to get a work you had to be on the NJM's political side. Rasta didn't like that kind of political victimization. He went in the Revolution to get rid of downpression and when he see a new form of downpression infiltrating the Revolution, Rasta start to fight against it same way.

Maurice thought the Rases were he personal friends—give we a little drink and laugh and share out a little money like how he was accustomed to doing with his political patronage, and everything would be fine. He never realize that Rastaman is an independent spirit. You can't really buy him. Because Bishop offer me nuff things. Today I read many of the books on the Grenadian Revolution, and I laugh at some of these authors. Probably if I had the money, I would sue a lot of them and get back some of the money that they made from spoiling I and my brethren's name internationally with a heap of false allegations and reckless statements. Some of them never even visit Grenada much less to know what really took place.

This whole thing about the Torchlight incident and the idea that Rasta was supporting CIA: Rasta was never guilty of these charges. I and another brethren, Erasto Jo-Jo, came together in October and decided to fling in some arrows, because from March 13 things was boiling and boiling, and we had many audience with Maurice without getting any justice. We decided that since we were bearing arms in defence of the Revolution daily and nightly, we had the right to criticize and seek to get the movement set in a proper direction. I-man was a firm supporter originally of Maurice, but when I start to witness certain abuses, I realize that Rasta had to speak up to ensure that the people got their rights.

Because, to be honest, the Rastas could have secured their own particular interests during the time of the Revolution, but it would have been at the expense of the rights of the masses of people. Things were going on and the leadership that was supposed to be responsible for the Revolution did not even know. But I was in full touch with the people, so I knew what was going down. I was a decorated soldier and main security for the top Party echelons. Three times they begged I to take on the responsibility for the personal security of the PM. Everywhere the CC went, I had to be there. So I had access to their private counsels and I knew everything that they knew, as well as what they did not know. And for that cause, when I exposed them, they tried desperately on several occasions to kill I. But they couldn't kill the Rastaman at all. By the powers of Sellassie I, I live to record this portion of history.

SELAH.

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