- In Memoriam Alston Barrington "Barry" Chevannes (1940-2010)
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Barry Chevannes joined the ancestors November 5, 2010 as his family and friends did all they could for him as he battled for his life. His legacy is worthy of emulation by all as he will forever be known for his life's work as an anthropologist, political activist, and spiritual healer through music, kindness and love. He was an uptown/downtown interlocutor and an outstanding citizen who brought the best out of every person with whom he met. His love of Jamaica, of the Caribbean, of peoples of African descent and his commitment to understanding the global human condition was reflected in his writings, his politics, his leadership skills and relentless efforts to ease and interpret the pain and behaviors of others as they grappled with the social inequalities experienced in their daily lives due to their race, gender, class, religion and impoverishment. Barry Chevannes's academic and activist work provides us with explanatory tools to understand surviving and for seeking liberation.
Born in rural St. Catherine Parish, Jamaica, Barry was third of nine children of parents who were small storeowners. To continue his education, he boarded out in downtown Kingston where he was a student at the all boys St. George's College, a Jesuit secondary school for classical and scientific learning. There, Chevannes developed his passion for learning, teaching, a love of Latin and a deepened faith in Roman Catholicism. In 1959, his faith and conviction led him to Shadowbrook, a Jesuit seminary in the Berkshires Mountains of Massachusetts. In 1965, while a seminarian, Barry Chevennes received his Bachelors degree in philosophy and a year later a second degree in the classics—Ancient Greek and Latin from Boston College, a Jesuit university in Boston. He returned to Jamaica and taught at Campion College, co-ed Jesuit high [End Page 145] school for a few years, but was unsettled as he acknowledged the social and economic inequality in Kingston. His experiences in Roxbury Massachusetts, the black neighborhood of Boston and overall US civil rights movement brought him a new political consciousness. Back in Jamaica, this racial, political and social awareness appeared in the folk songs he composed for church and community gatherings gave spiritual uplift and evoked liberation, social justice and human rights for those who sang the lyrics accompanied by Barry on his guitar. At the same time, the black consciousness movement and the University of the West Indies campus protests against the deportation of revolutionary Guyanese historian Walter Rodney coalesced with Barry Chevannes political fervor. Those days also marked when he left the priesthood, married Pauletta, became a proud father of two daughters and became a radically conscious writer and activist.
In the early 1970s, Chevannes studied sociology at UWI and was drawn to the elder leaders of some of Jamaica's Rastafarian groups he identified as a African-Caribbean religion. His research, interviewing skills and writing about Rasta beliefs, politics and worldview led him to another educational opportunity in the US when he received a scholarship to study social and cultural anthropology at Columbia University. It would be years before the dissertation was completed and later still when his outstanding book resulting from that graduate research Rastafari: Roots and Ideology (1995) and then Rastafari and Other African Caribbean Worldviews (1998) would appear. Recognized as a top scholar on socio-religious movements in the region, Barry Chevannes writes of Rastafari in a unique, historical, holistic and religious context, "Rastafari (grew) from an obscure colonial origin (to) spread its influence among Black people all over the world (1998:xvi). These works blended all of Chevannes's worldviews as two historical, ethnographic, spiritual, and philosophic texts.
In the mid 1970s, the "revo" movement took hold of the electorate and the governments of Jamaica, Grenada and Guyana. The transformation of society held social justice as precedent and subsequent legislation was passed to ease the pain of centuries of social and economic inequality. These efforts were put forth by the radical politics of these countries. The Workers' Party of Jamaica (WPJ), a socialist...