Tourists watched as three clerics from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church spread incense and holy water around the Bob Marley Museum, the singer’s former home in the capital of Kingston. Rastafarians who gathered around the property spoke in reverential tones about the icon of reggae music who died of cancer in 1981 at age 36.
Yuya Furukawa, 29, came all the way from Kumamoto, Japan, to pay homage to Marley, who preached non-materialism and popularized the Rastafarian credo of oneness with nature and marijuana consumption as a sacrament.
“Bob Marley is like a god in Japan,” said Furukawa, holding a burning marijuana cigarette as he gazed up at the flower-laden statue of Marley holding his favorite Gibson guitar and pointing a finger skyward.
The singer’s Rastafarian faith was a reason for the low-key observance. Rastafarians, who consider the late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie the messiah, view death simply as a step that brings believers closer to God, or “Jah.”
“We’re trying to quietly and somberly honor and recognize his life on this day,“ said Jackie Lynch-Stewart, general manager of the Bob Marley Foundation.
Roger Steffens, a Marley historian and reggae archivist, said Marley’s music remains alive 30 years after his death “because the situations that Bob was singing about are exactly the same situations we’re undergoing today.”
“He told us that if we stand up for ourselves we can bring about change, that love conquers evil and that a divine spark animates us all,” Steffens said in an email. “Bob spoke to the best in each of us and is an enduring symbol of rebellion for youth everywhere.”
Marley’s anthems calling for love and unity still resonate with many Jamaicans, even if most younger islanders have long ago moved on to the brash reggae-rap hybrid of dance hall reggae music.
“Bob is a person who is timeless. He is real, and now everybody wants to follow the crowd,” said Jamaican graffiti and dance hall artist LA Lewis, who showed up at the Kingston museum wearing a flawless white suit.
Born in 1945, Marley came of age in the gritty Trench Town community of Kingston and later shot to global stardom with hits including Get Up, Stand Up and No Woman, No Cry. His lyrics promoting social justice and African unity made him an icon in developing countries.
His acceptance by mainstream America was sealed when the Budweiser frogs grooved to his song Jamming in a 1999 beer ad. His One Love anthem woos tourists to Jamaica on TV spots featuring white-sand beaches and swaying palms.
In his Caribbean homeland, Marley’s legend was cemented in 1978 when he famously united warring political leaders Michael Manley and Edward Seaga in a solidarity handshake during his One Love Peace Concert in Kingston – a moment that has become immortalized in Jamaican consciousness.
“He was a brave man,” said a 62-year-old Rastafarian called Ozzie, his long dreadlocks tucked into a crocheted cap. “And his music had a message to deliver. Still does.”