Rastafari Safari: A photographer's personal journey through Jamaica

I wrote this blog a year ago after Bill Grimshaw completed his photo essay book about Jamaica. Sadly, he passed away recently.

Six years ago, Ottawa news photographer Bill Grimshaw set out on a journey that would change his life, and his view of the world. He became fascinated with the culture of Jamaica, and followed his nose into the nooks and crannies of this fascinating island, to meet with the average folk, and get to know what made them tick.

The result is a fabulous book he's just completed entitled Rastafari Safari. It's a journey in photographs punctuated by the words of the people themselves in song and poetry. Most of us know Bob Marley and Peter Tosh but few of us are aware of the unsung superstars of song in Jamaica, people like Cat Coore, who founded the Third World Band 43 years ago and the child star turned musical legend Errol Dunkley whose song Black Cinderella still echoes through the Big Yard in Arnett Gardens.

As tourists, we are happy to be served Red Stripe beer by the locals who toil in the big resorts by day who then retire to the slums at night. But, we are blissfully unaware of the struggles of this nation and the sacrifices made by Jamaica's national heroes like Paul Bogle who was executed by hanging at the Morant Bay Courthouse for his role in the Rebellion of 1867, which was a turning point in the political evolution of post-slavery colonial Jamaica.

Who among us has bought souvenir Rasta dolls in the resort gift shops and yet remain ignorant of the actual origins of the Rastafarian movement, and the first Rasta, Leonard Percival Howell who became the most persecuted man in Jamaican history, with over 50 arrests. Howell dedicated his life to fighting oppression and established a Rasta settlement planting food and ganja in a peaceful communal setting, only to have it raided, and its members sentenced to hard labor.

"Images of Rastas, formerly used as targets at police shooting ranges, now adorn trinkets in tourist gift shops," writes Grimshaw. "Victims of both vigilante and government-sanctioned persecution, Rastas are now permitted to use public transit. This was not always the case."

Why should we care?

Grimshaw believes that what's happening in Jamaica today informs our own debate about the legalization of marijuana. It also helps us better understand the psyche of a nation where people have long been repressed by their paternalistic and violent governments.

There is both anger and sweetness in the Jamaican culture, which is reflected in Grimshaw's incredible images. He has gone to great personal risk to help us have greater understanding of the people of Jamaica. Just last month, he barely escaped being trampled at a political rally.

The photographs are magical, the text is inspiring. Truly, it is a reflection of a personal journey filled with passion, and humor.

Rastafari Safari is available at www.magicchalicepress.com. A dollar of the proceeds from every book will be donated to Sandy Park Basic School in Kingston.


  1. wow love it great works and KNOWLEDGE it is the key ... keep sharing the real TALK


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