Changes: Safiya Sinclair
The audio version of this episode is available here.
Safiya [00:00:00] When he came home and he saw me for the first time with my dreadlocks shorn, and my dreadlocks at that point had represented to him and the men in his Rastafari circle that he still had his house under control, and when my dreadlocks had been cut, he looked right through me like I was a ghost. Because to him, I had become Babylon.
Annie [00:00:28] Hello and welcome to Changes it is Annie Macmanus here in what is now November 2023. Halloween has been and gone, the leaves are turning, Autumn’s arrived kind of late this year. But I just love this time of year for the leaves showing off basically, showing us what they’re capable of and for the very physically manifestations of the changes of the seasons, seeing the leaves drop, seeing the nights close in and yeah just kind of settling into it, embracing the coziness, the big chunky coats and thick tights. I’ve already started a Christmas list; I don’t know what’s got into me.
Anyway, this episode should keep you very good company. My guest is the Jamaican poet and author Safiya Sinclair. Safiya’s memoir, How To Say Babylon, chronicles her struggles growing up under the shadow of her father who belonged to, I quote, ‘the strictest, most radical sect of Rastafari, the Mansion of Nyabinghi. In the book, Safiya shines a light on the female experience of this particularly sect of Rastafarianism, how women were silenced and minimised and describes how she eventually found a way to break free from the expectations put on her. The book absolutely floored me when I read it. Sophia's story is at times harrowing to read, but her painful experiences are juxtaposed by the beauty of her prose which is luscious and rich, just like the landscapes of Jamaica that she describes within the book. Ultimately, it is poetry that shows Sophia a way out. The author, Marlon James, said about the book "to read it is to believe that words can save". Now, the book has been universally praised since it came out in October, it is already tipped to be one of the books of the year. Sophia currently resides in Phoenix, where she is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Arizona State University, and she's with us here today to talk through her changes. Safiya, welcome...
Safiya [00:01:43] Hi, thanks for having me!
Annie [00:01:46] I wanted to start, if that's okay, with a quote from an interview that you did in The Guardian. You say, "I can't talk glibly about literature and poetry because it's an actual fact that it changed the trajectory of my life". How did literature and poetry change your life?
Safiya [00:02:02] Oh my goodness. In so many ways. You know, poetry has been a part of my life for so long, and that's in part thanks to my mother who was a lover of poetry herself when she was a teenager, and she was always reading poems, reading every book she could find. You know, she was born by a seaside village and the resorts on either side of the village, when the tourists came they would like, discard their books before they left and my mother would like, go to the resort and like, get the box of books that they'd discarded. And so she always had this love of literature, even when it wasn't necessarily accessible to her. You know, she found means to to read and she passed this love on to me and my siblings. Like growing up, we had our own separate curriculum with our mother outside of going to school, that was like after school and on the weekends, and that involved memorising and reciting poetry from, you know, since we were children. And so when I was writing the book and when I was looking back on it I'm like wow, my mother really crafted me into the poet I am today. And she was also the first person who handed me my first book of poems, you know, in a moment when I really needed it. You know, I was in this moment of hurt. I was ten years old, and there was a girl at school that said she didn't want to be my friend because I was a Rasta, and it was one of the first times I felt my selfhood withering. And she handed me this book of poems and she said, you know, poetry has always soothed the ills of the world for me and I think it will do the same for you. And, you know, in the book I describe it as, what my mother handed to me that day was gold. And it really was because after that, I began writing my own poems, I began to see the power of poetry. After she handed me the book, I saw that poetry could change the trajectory of what I was feeling, that poetry could, you know, transfigure, alchemise hurt into something better, something beautiful. And, you know, I never stopped writing after that. And it was through writing that I was able to nurture my sense of self, nurture my voice. A lot of what I write is in tribute to my mother and the gift that she gave me.
Annie [00:04:25] You mentioned being a Rasta. I would love, if it's okay with you, for you to kind of explain to our listeners who don't fully know what Rastafarianism is and what it means to be Rastafari, when the religion arrived and what the basic principles are of it.
Safiya [00:04:41] Sure. I mean, I'll start by saying that there are no unified or standardised principles of Rastafari. That's one of the things that makes it a very interesting- they don't even use the term religion, they say liberty. And so, you know, historically, Rastafari movement began in the early 1930s when Jamaica was still under British colonial rule. And Marcus Garvey, who was a Pan-African abolitionist, in one of his last speeches he said, 'look to Africa for the crowning of a black king, for he shall be the redeemer'. And at the same time, Highly Selassie who was an emperor in Ethiopia was being coronated at the time. You know, Highly Selassie at the time was the only black ruler in the world, and Ethiopia was also the only African nation to never be colonised. He represented for the Rastafari in those early days, black liberation, black unity, like while they were still under the shackles of colonisation, Highly Selassie represented this future hope that they too could be free. And so that's how Rastafari began. There are three different sects of Rastafari and they all have their own different interpretations of what Rastafari means. Some of the main tenets that are the same across all sects is, of course wearing of the dreadlocks. You know, some people think it's kind of a fashion choice or, you know, but for the Rastafari it is not a choice, it is a sacred marker of being Rastafari. It is an expression of your purity and your reverence for Jah, which is what they call highly Selassie. Rastafari also have a specific diet called Ital, it's like a very extreme vegan diet where it's no meat, no eggs, no dairy, no fish, no salt, no sugar. You know, the idea is that your body is supposed to be a temple for Jah, the same way your mind is supposed to be fortified for a Jah. And then within Rastafari, there are some rules for women. Not so much for the men, but for the women. There are rules about how women within Rastafari should dress. They should cover their arms and their knees. A lot of women are supposed to cover their hair. You're not supposed to wear jewellery or makeup, that's the trappings of Babylon. You don't wear trousers. And a woman's highest virtue, I was always told when I was growing up was her silence and her obedience and her compliance.
Annie [00:07:15] So there seems to be a kind of running thread of purity, as well through, and kind of cleanliness.
Safiya [00:07:22] Yes.
Annie [00:07:22] That's purity and cleanliness kind of against what?
Safiya [00:07:24] From Babylon or anything to do with Babylon.
Annie [00:07:27] And what is Babylon?
Safiya [00:07:28] Babylon is what the Rastafari call anything that is profane, that is hedonistic, that is anything tied to Western ideology, tied to colonialism, racism, capitalism. What the Rastafari call 'ism and schism'. Anything that they ideologically do not believe in or they believe is, you know, morally corruptive, they call Babylon.
Annie [00:07:57] Okay. So how did your own father get to know Rastafari liberty? How did he come to be that person who wanted to live that way?
Safiya [00:08:09] You know, he'd always been interested in music. He was a musician from a very young age. He had a popular band in Jamaica when he was a teenager. Then he moved into playing reggae music when he was about 16 or 17 years old and for the Rastafari, reggae music is- it's their form of prayer. For the Rastafari, reggae music is also the way that they spread the message of Rasta. And so my father, I think, first came into it through his admiration for reggae music and he himself being a reggae musician. And then he met some elders, some Rasta bredrin who passed down the wisdom of Rastafari to him, which is how the tenets of Rastafari are shared from bredrin to bredrin. He was born in 1962, which is the same year Jamaica gained its independence from Britain. And so in the sixties and seventies in Jamaica, is around the time where a lot of Jamaican youth were trying to figure out what was next for them, what future would be coming for them, like, what would they make of their lives now that we were free. And so this was also when Reggae and Rastafari, the movement was at its height of popularity in Jamaica. And my father, who never knew his own father and had a very amputated sense of his own history, I think for him, Rastafari and Highly Selassie gave him something he could be rooted to, something he could belong to, and the sense of black unity and black community really called to him because he didn't have that in his home.
Annie [00:09:51] There's a very emotional scene as well where his mother basically asks him to leave the house and there's a sense of him being abandoned, I suppose, by whatever family that he felt he had.
Safiya [00:10:03] Yes. Yes.
Annie [00:10:04] Can I ask then, I suppose, about your childhood growing up in your house under, you know, your father's authority. How did he inhabit the place that you lived and what was the influence of him and his beliefs on you as a child?
Safiya [00:10:21] Umm, you know, my father loomed very large in our household. When I was growing up, me and my siblings- as the head of the household and as a Rasta bredrin, he was the authority figure, he interpreted, you know, the tenets of Rastafari for himself and for us. So his word was law. What he said was, you know, the rule in the home. Yeah, ever since I was a young girl I had to think a lot about what my father said. I would walk around the world and have his voice in my head. He thinks about the world in very strict binaries, right, so you're either pure or you're unclean. You're either a Rasta or you're a bottle head. You're either a Rasta or you're heathen. You know, you're either a virtuous woman or you're a Jezebel. And so these binaries kind of ruled my life, my childhood and my adolescence for a long time. And, you know, he was a very militant and strict Rasta bredrin and father.
[00:11:22] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:11:32] What would you say is the biggest change you went through as a child?
Safiya [00:11:35] My parents had always been Rastafari, but for a short time, up until I was seven, had let our hair grow free, combed our hair. But my parents, when I was seven or eight decided that we were going to grow dreadlocks, me and my siblings. And I would say that is the biggest change in my life. You know, I didn't know what was going to come next after it happened. You know, I sat between my mother's knees and it was, you know, very lovely and like a ritual where she twisted our hair into dreadlocks. And then when I went back to school a couple weeks later, I realised what was actually being asked of me when my parents did this, because the students at school started to tease me, taunt me, my teachers were very unkind. You know, we would get hounded in the streets, me and my siblings. We were the only Rasta children at school and we were the only Rasta children at the beach and the only Rasta children wherever we went because the Rastafari are only 1% of the Jamaican population. So we were oddities everywhere we went. And my life shifted dramatically after that because that was the first time I registered feeling ashamed of myself. And I had never had that feeling before.
Annie [00:12:59] What was the kind of populist opinion of Rastas? You know, obviously they're a minority, but what did popular culture think about them?
Safiya [00:13:07] You know, Jamaica is a deeply Christian country. We have the most churches per capita of any country in the world. Rastafari were always a persecuted minority. I mean, even the government burned the commune to the ground, call them a cult, the Rastafari were always on the fringes. In Jamaica, they were social pariahs, they were outcasts, they were kicked out of their homes, they were turned away by their families, they were forbidden from having jobs. They were forbidden from walking along the beach sides that were being developed for tourists. And so historically in Jamaica, the Rastafari, even though it's the thing that most people think defines Jamaica culturally, the Rastafari are actually still outcast in Jamaica. And my siblings and I, when we went to school in the late eighties, we were among the first children, the first Rasta children, to integrate public schools in Jamaica. Before that, Rasta children weren't even allowed in schools. As recently as two months ago, the government in Jamaica just passed a law that Rasta boys are now allowed to go to school without their dreadlocks covered. Before that, they had to cover their dreadlocks. There are many reports of Rasta children going to school and the principals or the teachers forcibly just cutting their dreadlocks off without their parents consent. And this is recent. This is like this year, a couple of years ago, you know. As recently as a few years ago my brother, who still has his dreadlocks and still walks the path of Rastafari, was asked to cut his dreadlocks to get a job. When he was in law school, he was asked to cut his dreadlocks to continue in law school, which he refused. And so this is still a reality now in Jamaica for Rastafari people.
Annie [00:14:58] How did it change you, young Sophia, upon this shift happening with regards to suddenly being self-conscious, you know, as a seven, eight year old girl?
Safiya [00:15:09] I mean, I, I withdrew. I went into myself, became very shy, shyer than I think I was before. There was a moment when I was nine years old, I befriended a girl in primary school... Well, I thought we were friends and then she sent somebody with a note to tell me that she didn't want to be my friend because she didn't want to be friends with a Rasta. And so that was kind of the moment where things really changed because I felt so wounded. I felt so hurt. And my father had always told me and my siblings that we shouldn't have friends because he didn't want us to associate with anybody who he believed was a part of Babylon. And after that moment, I kind of felt like well maybe I shouldn't even try to make friends anymore. And so I kind of withdrew into this sort of iron bubble that my father had constructed for me and my siblings and, you know, my siblings and I, we just then became very close. We kind of created our own little world amongst ourselves and became kind of isolated from our peers. That's when I think poetry really began to bloom, because I felt that the outside world was a place that wa- you know, to me garnered terror, garnered taunting, it garnered hate. And so I began to nurture that poetic voice and that poetic self.
Annie [00:16:43] You mentioned your father's iron bubble and I was wondering if there's a moment or even a kind of series of moments that you can pinpoint where you felt like the bubble that you were in, in terms of this bubble of safety in your family and this feeling of kind of devotion to your father for being this figure that is the authority, when that started to break, when you started to have an awareness of your father as a fallible human being?
Safiya [00:17:14] For a long time, as I was saying, I, I believed everything you said or, you know, he was such a hero in my eyes that I, I took everything he said without question. But then I think when I began to see the paths diverging between me and my brother, that's when I began to question what he said and question Rastafari in particular. Because my brother and I were always so close, we are two years apart and you know, we were wild children. We loved to run about the yard, we loved to climb our trees, you know. And there was a moment, you know, when I was nine years old and my father said, 'you can't climb trees anymore because Rasta girls don't do that'. And he taught my brother how to ride a bicycle, but not my sisters and me. And he said, because a Rasta woman doesn't part her skirt to sit on a bicycle. Meanwhile, I see my brother zipping up and down the street in his bicycle and I was like, well, what is going on with this? That was also the moment where he said to my mother, throw out every shorts and trousers in the house because no girl child of mine will ever wear trousers again. No girl child of mine will become a Jezebel. And so I began to feel these restrictions, this sort of caged tightening around me simply because of my gender and I didn't see any of those rules imposed on my brother. And that's really when I began to question the things my father said and question Rastafari because I didn't like how diminished it made me feel and I, for a long time wondered, you know, what's wrong with me? Why am I not worthy? Why am I not pure? You know, I want to be clean. I want to be pure. But I think, you know, when I realised my ruin was already fixed because Rasta bredrin believe women are more morally susceptible to corruption because they menstruate. And they call women who menstruate unclean. You know, there is a sect of Rastafari that women are not even allowed to be in the kitchen or touch the pots and pans when they're menstruating because they believe they're unclean. I questioned why this unworthiness or this sense of impurity *laughs* erm yeah, that was the moment I began to question him and everything else.
Annie [00:19:39] How did that shift to menstruation affect you? I mean, it's hard enough for any young girl, it's such a violent thing, you know, just the act of it. It can be a scary thing for what it means, but then I suppose through the prism of this whole other load upon you of being unclean, how did it affect you?
Safiya [00:20:02] I mean, adolescence, which already as you say is such a hard time, there's so much emotional chaos happening, for me it was even harder because I felt this sense of isolation within the Rastafari community, within my household. And then when I went to school, I also felt the sense of isolation. So, I mean, it was incredibly difficult. I think that was the most difficult period of my life.
Annie [00:20:34] You got a scholarship to a secondary school. How was your experience of that school and I suppose what was different in comparison to the world you had lived in up to that point?
Safiya [00:20:43] Yeah. So I got the scholarship to go to a private high school in Montego Bay. I mean, it was different in the sense that most Jamaican children just went to public school, like all of my other siblings went to public school for high school but, you know, my parents saw this as an opportunity for me and, you know, I got a scholarship so I went there but this school was built by wealthy white American and Canadian expats and wealthy white Jamaicans for their children. They built the school like particularly so that their children wouldn't have to go to public school with other Jamaicans. And so this was my first time actually coming face to face with the class system in Jamaica. You know, before that, I'd kind of had maybe just a foggy sense of, you know, what privileged Jamaicans lives looked like. And then seeing the way that my teachers who are all black Jamaicans treated them, right, they fawned over them and they treated them, you know, with the kind of obsequiousness. And then they treated me with disdain because I was Rastafari, because I had dreadlocks. And so, yes, high school was also its own kind of *laughing* horrific trial. Every day I went to school, you know, it felt like a trial.
Annie [00:22:08] All through this your mother was this very solid, kind of steady, quiet presence in your life. I suppose, what did she do for you in that time?
Safiya [00:22:21] A lot of the time she balanced my father's intensity and his rage and his storming, you know. I was also kind of raging and storming and I had a lot of wildfire and I sometimes would ask her like, why don't you ever, you know, why don't you say anything?! Or why don't you just- but because that was my personality and it was so different from hers. When I needed my mother the most, she was there, you know, at every moment. She was kind of the guiding hand that shifted the trajectory of my life in so many positive ways. And in the writing of it, I saw it all kind of laid out for me in a way that I could not see when I was a teenager. And I realised that what I had mistaken for silence or weakness was actually an incredible strength.
Annie [00:23:15] There's a moment in the book that you describe where your father- you having grown up always thinking that, you know, he was devoted to your mother only in a romantic way, revealed something else about his personal life. Would you describe what that was? And I suppose what it meant for your relationship with him.
Safiya [00:23:37] Yeah. There was a moment where my father took my brother and I on a walk, and he said he had something to ask us and we're like okay, what is it? And he said, how would you feel about having a second mother? And I mean, my brother and I were immediately furious. I mean, we were young. I think I was- maybe I was 11, my brother was 9, like we were very young for him to even ask this of us, right, okay? And we said no, we already have a mother. And that was the end of it, we thought. That was a moment for me where I began to see him with new eyes, also began to rage against him as I started to grow into myself and have my own ideas about the world, my own womanist and feminist ideas about the world, and deeply protective too of my mother. I mean, my brother and I *giggling* would've done anything to even protect her from knowing that he asked us this question. We never told her.
Annie [00:24:42] Upon asking you guys 'would you like a second mother?', I suppose what was he asking?
Safiya [00:24:47] I mean, I was 11, so I cannot say for sure what his intentions were either, only he can say.
Annie [00:24:53] Sure.
Safiya [00:24:53] But many Rasta bredrin believe in polyamory and have multiple women as part of their home, and I think he began to consider it.
Annie [00:25:07] There's something in him asking you.
Safiya [00:25:08] Yes.
Annie [00:25:09] That's quite interesting.
Safiya [00:25:10] Very interesting.
Annie [00:25:11] Because he didn't ask you for permission for anything else.
Safiya [00:25:13] No. And he didn't have to ask us, but he did. Did he ask my mother? I have no idea. Erm, yes. *Laughs* I just know my brother and I said absolutely not. This door is closed. This is not a discussion. And what a thing to ask an 11 year old.
[00:25:31] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:25:42] Looking back, what was the biggest moment of change in your adulthood?
Safiya [00:25:47] You know, without doubt, I would say the moment that I decided to cut my dreadlocks. All throughout my adolescence I started to push back on the rules and I tried to get closer to the self that I wanted to be or the woman I thought that I was, versus the woman that I thought my father was trying to bend me into. And so there was a moment when I was like 18, 19- at this point I was already a published poet and I was growing more confident in my voice and what I had to say, but I began to think about what my father really wanted me to be, right. If I followed all his rules, if I followed this path, right, that he laid out for me and my sisters, who would that woman be? What would her life be like? What would her dreams be like? What would her desires be? Would she have any? She manifested to me in this vision of my future self as this sort of bent and broken woman who was sort of suffocated under her silence, who's just another Rasta bredrins wife, who had no dreams, who had no desires, who had no future, who had no art. And I realised I had to cut that woman completely away from me. That was not the future I wanted for myself. My mother is the one who helped me do it. And before she did it, I asked her, are you sure? Like, you know, do you need to ask my father? And she was like no, I don't need his permission. You're my daughter also. And yeah, then she and a friend cut my dreadlocks. I knew my father would be furious. I didn't know what was going to happen next, but I knew whatever came next, I was ready for it. I was willing to do anything to get to the place I needed to be, the woman I needed to become. And it was not that ghost woman that he wanted me to be. But when he came home and he saw me for the first time with my dreadlocks shorn, and my dreadlocks at that point had represented to him and the men in his Rastafari circle that he still had his house under control, but when my dreadlocks had been cut he looked right through me like I was a ghost. We lived in the same house for a year and he didn't speak to me or acknowledge me because to him I had become Babylon.
Annie [00:28:28] How did that feel?
Safiya [00:28:30] You know, one would think it would feel crushing, feel sad, but I was so happy *laughs* that this thing that had weighed so heavy on me, that felt so antithetical to myself, to everything that I wanted to become or everything that I believed in, it was lifted from me. You know, the burdens of being scorned and hated and taunted, all of that had been lifted from me. And for the very first time in my life, I was in this point where I could choose what happened next. I could choose what I wanted to do next. I could choose who I would be. And so it felt incredibly liberating *laughs* and I just leaned into it. You know, my father saw me as a monstrous person because I had cut my dreadlocks. I leaned into that, the sort of rebelliousness of it.
Annie [00:29:33] Yeah, and what did that mean for the house and living together as a family?
Safiya [00:29:39] I mean, there were lots of clashes. There was lots of, you know, fire and brimstone rained down on me and my mother. He was furious. You know, eventually too, what happened after I cut my dreadlocks, a couple of years later, a year and a half later, my middle sister, she cut her dreadlocks. And then my youngest sister, she cut her dreadlocks. And then my mother, who had been growing her dreadlocks since she was 19 years old when she met my father for the first time, she also cut her dreadlocks. And I think that was the thing that really put my father over the edge. I think he really began to see me as the bad seed that corrupted his perfect Rasta family, truly the harbinger of Babylon. But, you know, after my sisters and my mother cut their dreadlocks, my father became violent. And I knew then that I had to leave Jamaica to survive. And so I left. And this was in 2012, I left and went to the U.S. to get my master's degree. And it was in that leaving that I felt a sense of finality in the leaving in that when I returned, it would never be the same again. You know, I would never return to my father's house again.
Annie [00:31:06] Can I ask what happened with your mum, I suppose over the years upon you leaving home, how did your mother fare?
Safiya [00:31:16] You know, after she cut her dreadlocks, she left Rastafari. She's no longer with my father. And that's, you know, years and years ago. Once she cut her dreadlocks she, I think, felt for the first time that she also had permission to make of her own life whatever she wanted it to be in a way that she hadn't thought about before.
Annie [00:31:41] What you have described in this conversation touches on some things that are really difficult for you and were difficult for you and your whole family growing up, how did you begin to try and document this and what was it that allowed you to be able to do that in the end? There was a discussion or an interaction between you and your father I think that helped you know you could write this book in the way you needed to.
Safiya [00:32:09] Yes. I began thinking about writing the book ten years ago, right, in this moment that I'm describing when I left Jamaica and I felt there was some finality, right, to my leaving. I didn't know if I would ever go back. And I tried to write it then when I left, but I just felt that- and I'd left in this really harrowing way, very painful way. When I got to the U.S., I was having all these nightmares, recurring nightmares, and I was trying to like pin it down on the page, but every time I tried I felt like the wound was still too new, too fresh, and that it wasn't going to be the book I wanted to write. I didn't even know if I was able of, capable of writing the whole thing without having processed what I was feeling. And I had a professor then, his name is Gregory Ore and he said to me, 'I think to write this kind of book, you need to write it from a place of safety and I don't think you have that yet'. And he was right, I didn't have that. You know, I didn't. And I didn't want to write the book from a wound, from from hurt, or for vengeance or anything like that, because I, you know, gone through all the different stages of anger, of hurt, of pain until I came to the other side of it which is where I am now, talking to you from a distance, from a place of safety, where things have shifted between me and my father. Yeah. So five years ago, I went back to Jamaica and I read my poems for the first time at home for my first collection and I invited my father to come and hear me read them. And this was the first time he'd ever heard me read. The last poem I read was a poem for him, and before I read it, you know, I had this speech in my mind, I was so nervous and I spoke to him directly and I said, you know, father, I'm just, I'm hoping that you hear me. And when I got off the stage, you know, he embraced me and he said, 'I'm listening and I hear you'. And that was the first time that I felt I had that place of safety, you know. I felt that a lot of what had happened before, what I had been holding onto, it really did feel released from me like a gasp of breath. And I thought, okay, now I can begin, right? Because I know this is where it ends.
[00:34:47] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:34:57] Last question for you, Safiya, is a change that you would still like to make in your life moving forwards?
Safiya [00:35:07] I would love to be a mother. You know, that's, I think, the biggest change that I'm hoping for that will still happen. And a large part of this book was written for my niece and now my sister is having a baby and it's another girl so we have a, I have another niece coming, and so, you know, in the writing of the book I thought a lot about the future of my family, I thought about my niece, I thought about what kind of family was she being born into and what I wanted to give to her, right. Not just the sense of her knowing our family's history and knowing where she comes from, but it was also important to me that she never had to know the struggle that I went through. She never had to walk through the fire that me and my sisters walked through, right. That she would always know herself and she would know that the future was hers for the making. And I would also love to gift that or pay tribute to every Sinclair girl yet to come, and hopefully that's something I can also give to my daughter.
Annie [00:36:19] I'm just so fascinated by patriarchy and religion and you know, we have stated that Rastafari is not deemed a religion, but it is an interesting experiment in how religions are and can be created, right?
Safiya [00:36:34] Yes.
Annie [00:36:34] When you look at it, when you look at how recent it is, and I suppose when you look at religion and all the different religions that our societies and systems are kind of based on, all of them subjugate women.
Safiya [00:36:47] Yes. They all seem to manifest in this way. Isn't that an interesting thing?
Annie [00:36:52] *Sarcastically* Isn't that strange! *Laughs*
Safiya [00:36:53] *Sarcastically* Isn't that so strange! How come? I mean, even Rastafari, this religion that, you know, like it has so many good qualities, right? Is born out of the sense of like, black liberation and black unity and freedom and anti-colonialism.
Annie [00:37:07] Yes! Mmm.
Safiya [00:37:07] And still, you know, there is this sort of repressive idea of women and the sort of subjugation of the women as part of *laughs* this movement that is supposed to be a liberation movement.
Annie [00:37:23] Right.
Safiya [00:37:24] I've been lucky enough so far to meet so many women in different places who come up to me and say, you know, I was part of a fundamental religion and I completely associate with your story, the same things happened to me. I mean, in all different regions of the world, different iterations of faith, somehow it turns back to the women, somehow we are still wearing this sort of dark stigmata of Eve.
Annie [00:37:54] I wonder, has there ever been a religion or belief system born from women? I mean, I wonder has that ever existed? There must be. There must be somewhere.
Safiya [00:38:05] There must be.
Annie [00:38:06] I need to study that.
Safiya [00:38:07] Somehow they were stomped out, burnt out *Annie laughs*. I mean, the closest I could think of is erm, sort of like the Maenadic tradition in Greek, ancient Greece.
Annie [00:38:19] Yeah.
Safiya [00:38:19] Where, you know, they would have these women, these like, the group of women who would sort of become possessed with the spirits. Like these were the women who tore Orpheus apart *laughs*.
Annie [00:38:30] Right, right.
Safiya [00:38:32] The Maenads *laughing*.
Annie [00:38:33] Yeah. Yeah. Well, what's your relationship, I suppose, with faith? And do you have one?
Safiya [00:38:39] I am not a religious person. I'm not a person rooted in faith. I would say that poetry for me, though, is a spiritual space. When I have thought about it, poetry for me is my own form of prayer. It's what I turn to when I have those vast questions to ask of myself, to ask of the universe. It's a place that is full of uncertainty that I never know what's going to happen, but I trust in the process of where the poem is leading me. And I think that's faith.
Annie [00:39:13] Sophia, I cannot thank you enough for this conversation. It's been just completely riveting. And I really appreciate you telling us your story today. Thank you so much.
Safiya [00:39:22] Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure talking to you as well.
Annie [00:39:28] Thank you so much to Sophia Sinclair. Her memoir, How To Say Babylon, is available now and we will put a link in the show notes. I can't recommend it more. It's such a beautiful read. Do please rate, review and subscribe to Changes. It is so appreciated and if you fancy sharing it on social media too, that would be amazing. The more people we can get listening to these episodes the better, we want to tell our stories far and wide. Changes is produced by Louise Mason through DIN Productions, and I'll be back next week with more! See you then.