Actor, film-maker, activist and the granddaughter of Bob and Rita Marley, Donisha Prendergast is currently in India where she conducted sessions at Goa Sunsplash — India’s biggest reggae and sound system festival which was held last weekend (January 12-13), and is also slated for the Jaipur Literature Festival next weekend, from January 24-28.
Prendergast, who is the daughter of Sharon Marley and retired Fifa referee Peter Prendergast, spoke of her celebrated grandparents, life, Jamaica and Rastafari in a wide-ranging article she penned for Vogue India.
She has been one of the voices at the forefront of the movement to preserve Pinnacle, Jamaica’s first Rastafari settlement in the hills of St Catherine. The 500-acre spread is at risk of being sold to private developers. Prendergast used the opportunity to share her thoughts on this matter in her article.
“Jamaica has a very hypocritical relationship with reggae music and Rastafari. The lived experience that inspired the movement and the music is wholly anti-establishment. Back in the ’40s and ’50s, just before the birth of reggae music, the first Rastafari community, named Pinnacle, was fully self-sufficient for 16 years based on the farming of agriculture and marijuana, a cash crop which was central to its economic and spiritual life. Ganja as a sacrament, as well as vegetarian living, was introduced to the African population by the Indian indentured labourers. The colonial governments perceived the emergence and proliferation of Rastafari as a threat to the social order of the day. As a result, they antagonised the community. Each raid resulted in cash and cured marijuana being seized by law enforcement, which helped to finance the monarchy. Finally, in 1954, Pinnacle was burned to the ground by the British colonial authorities with the intention of obliterating the foundations and any potential legacy of the movement. Rasta people were subjected to public shavings of their dreadlocks, family separation and ridicule. None of the inhabitants of Pinnacle have ever received compensation for the loss of their homes, personal effects, or their suffering and humiliation. For the past five years I’ve been fighting for this cause and will not relent,” she said.
This action by the colonial government which Prendergast claimed had a reverse effect and led to a rise in the spirits of the oppressed and could eventually give rise to the likes of her own grandfather, reggae king Bob Marley. These people, she shared with readers, channelled the oppression into creative outlets such as reggae music. It is that spirit which she said is her driving force.
“I identify with the rebellion in the music — the questions, the accountability that it demands. I will continue to be vocal about the true root and context of the movement beyond the music. The truth may be an offence, but it is not a sin. I observe my own evolution with courage, kindness and a knowing that more beauty will be born into this world, and I will be a part of that magic,” she wrote in Vogue India.
Prendergast made headlines in April last year after she and three friends were detained by the police as they were leaving an Airbnb residence they rented.
She along with three other friends were removing their luggage from the house, a neighbour called the police reporting that black people were seen breaking into the house and removing its contents. Prendergast and her party who were initially prevented from leaving by the police, were later released.