Disclaimer: I, myself, am not a Rastafarian, nor do I profess to fully understand the complex philosophy and social structure of Rastafarianism.
However, I do hold the richness of Rastafarian culture and traditions in high regard and would like to make a start at w/u-ing some of the richness to be found in, especially, the language and terminology used by Rastafarians.
The term Dread is an integral and multi-faceted part of Rastafarianism. It represents several social, religious and personal concepts in the Rastafarian religion and culture. Its richness in meaning and wide use is similar to that of other important Rastafarian concepts such as I and I and Roots.
Dread – Fear of the Lord
The term itself is not unique to Rastafarianism and most religions describe some form of reverent fear of the holy personality or force described by the religion.
Rastafarianism is no different and the humbling awareness of the presence of God is often referred to simply as Dread.
Dread – I
The single term is also used to refer to a Rastafarian person (particularly a devout male) and in many cases people will add it as a title to their name, e.g. Dread Isiah. Alternatively Rastafarians may also refer to themselves as a Dread or simply Dread.
Dread Philosophy - Leonard P. Howell
Among the earliest uses, and possibly the origin of the term is as described by Jamaican liberation philosopher Leonard P. Howell (sometimes referred to as the Dread Philosopher).
Howell, a founder of Rastafarianism, developed his philosophy in the early 1930’s based on his experience of the lives of ex-slaves and rural peasants around the colonial town of St. Thomas.
There existed among these peoples a sense of loss and disillusionment at their wretched existence and the seeming impossibility of improving their lives and communities.
Howell described a ‘dreadful freedom’ which paralyzed his contemporaries but which could be used as a life force by embracing the Rastafarian culture and beliefs.
Dread Philosophy preached a return to the earth and African traditions in which Jamaicans could draw strength and direction from their roots.
Dreadlocks – Symbol of Dread
Probably the most commonly known use of the term is in Dreadlocks – the traditional hairstyle of most Rastafarians.
Dreadlocks are worn as a symbol of religious identity and separation from Western culture and, in this context, identifies the wearer as one who embraces Dread Philosophy as manifest in Rastafarianism.
Dread Talk – Holy Tool
Since the 1950’s a highly specific branch of Jamaican patois has developed and become known as Dread Talk.
Dread Talk is used as a religious and philosophical tool which uses biblical metaphors, new words and the partial inversion of words (e.g. understand becomes overstand, human becomes I-man) to create a language that emphasizes equality and the presence of the spiritual.
Dread Consciousness - Consciousness of Suffering
One of the most modern of dread concepts is Dread Consciousness - the consciousness of suffering.
Dread Consciousness is a state of mind in which personal and social suffering (physical, emotional and psychic) is seen as a necessary part of spiritual growth and maturity.