© 2009 Norman Samuda-Smith


The University of Life throws trials and tribulations at every man, woman or child from time to time, regardless of who we are, our backgrounds or where we come from; but we still move forward, learning the lessons along the way and becoming stronger for it.  We know and understand, deep down, time will tell that what we learn through the years, our higher selves inform us, what we interpret is our truth.

I was christened in April 1959 at the Moseley Road Methodist Church in Birmingham. When my parents moved to Small Heath in 1961, they became members of the congregation of The Holy Family Roman Catholic Church. I can still remember our family ritual every Sunday.  Mom would wake my brother and I at 9.00am. We made our way bleary eyed downstairs to be welcomed by the smell of breakfast being cooked. We would bathe, get dressed in our best suits (that our Mom had made for us) and put on newly polished shoes. We all looked slick!  The one thing I hated about this ritual was that we were never allowed to eat breakfast before attending church service. As Mom used to say…

“…Is de best way to praise de Lord.  For de food we eat, every breath we take and for roaming dis beautiful heaven call Earth…”

All we were allowed was a cup of tea. We’d pile into Mom’s sporty Ford Anglia for 11 o’clock service which lasted for an hour.

Every week in church, my eyes would roam around at the walls, ceilings and altar as the priests conducted the service. As in every Roman Catholic Church, there were pictures portraying Jesus carrying his cross with captions telling the story of his crucifixion. On the ceiling were pictures depicting God in the Kingdom of Heaven surrounded by his army of angels. At the altar; painted carved statues of Mary and Jesus and hanging as though suspended, was a huge crucifix with a wooden statue of Jesus nailed to it.

When I was eleven, I was given my first bible. I recall being surprised at its thickness.  You see, I was unaware of how many books were in the Old Testament (66). When I attended Sunday School and occasionally listened to the priest’s teaching, they only referred to the Gospel of Matthew. “Why is that?” I wondered. So, I started to read my bible from Genesis to Revelation; not every single word, but I read it nonetheless.

The stories which fascinated me the most was Samson, his locks, which were the source of his strength and how Delilah betrayed him. King Solomon, his wisdom and his glorious reign over Israel who were the envy of the world; and Makeda Queen of Sheba who yearned so much to meet the wise King, she set out from Ethiopia to travel to Israel.

By the time I was fifteen, I was becoming disillusioned with what I was being taught in church. Around that time my brethrens and I had formed a sound system. We entertained in and were regular visitors of the reggae dance hall scenes during the mid to late 70’s; absorbing and reasoning with each other about the musical Bible of Rastafari being played.

Jamaican Rasta singers like Rod Taylor sang the lyrics in his tune Ethiopian Kings: “King David, he was a black man, King Solomon, he was a black man of Africa…” Winston Rodney aka Burning Spear released a song called Columbusand sang: “Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar,” referring to Columbus claiming he discovered Jamaica. Further on in his lyrics, Burning Spear questions Columbus’s declaration: “What about the Arawak Indians and the few black man who was around here before him?”  And Bob Marley sang: Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights…”

The dance hall became my church, my new centre of learning about our African ancestors. I came to the conclusion that the church had sold me the idea that the likes of King Solomon, Makeda, Samson and Jesus were white.

One Sunday morning before church, I announced to Mom I was not going to attend church any more. Well, World War III almost broke out!  She said all kinds of abominations and atrocities were going to happen to me because of my decision. But I’m still here and still learning about my ancestral past. Mom soon came round and began to see where I was coming from. We spent many Sunday evenings together listening to my Bob Marley albums and through his lyrics, Mom recognised Bob was speaking his truth.

After further reading, what the church had omitted, Rastafari taught me; black people in the Bible as well as in Coptic literature are among the most famous figures. Ancient African people’s existence and experiences are recorded in the Bible and in many cases large amounts of information were written by black people and are addressed specifically to them. I learned it took the Queen of Sheba six months to travel from Ethiopia to Israel. She and her entourage loaded 797 camels and asses too. A clear indication of her wealth. Furthermore, in the time of Solomon, Israel was a nation of people who were mixed, not just dark people, but black in feature as well.  Delilah gave birth to Samson’s son Menahem after Samson died in the act of destroying the Philistines’ temple. Years later, Menahem became King of the Philistines. Finally, Samson, John the Baptist and Jesus were Nazarenes, which stems from the old Hebraic laws of non-defilement; no trimming of hair, no shaving of beards.

This prayer, I learnt from when I was small, makes more sense to me each day my knowledge increases…

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

Til’ the next time – Everyting Bless.


*All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form or by any means without prior written permission of the writer Norman Samuda-Smith.*


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