A Man Who Represented Rastafari In Real Life
After battling cancer for years, the death of Edwin “Countryman” Lothan hit his friends and fans very hard. Though he passed away September 18th, obituaries are just starting to appear in the international press for this simple Rasta fisherman who appeared in a feature story in Rolling Stone magazine in 1973, a living symbol of Rastafari at a time when few Americans had even heard of reggae music. Nine years later he starred in the film Countryman, produced by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell. He lived a simple life according to strict principles of Rastafari. All the obituaries mention these facts, but this is what I remember, the Countryman I knew. Essay After The Jump…
I was born in the cool lush parish of Manchester, and relished the freedom of roaming the countryside, climbing, picking and eating whatever fruits were in season right off the trees. Moving to Kingston in 1978 was cool, but it wasn’t Manchester or anything like it.
I was thirteen years old when we migrated to America in early 1979, and I vividly remember every emotion I experienced like it was yesterday. I was not happy!
I cried often and longed to go home. I felt disconnected from the earth, from nature, from myself. I didn’t belong in America, but who was I going to say that to? Certainly not my family who would never understand my need to live a simple country life. This wasn’t going to be easy, and I didn’t know what to do.
I remember writing to my grandmother in Manchester and asking her to please mail me a leaf. Weird, huh? It might sound strange to you, but when I received the letter from my “gamma” a month later with three leaves, I held them gently and somehow felt like I was once again connected to my beloved Jamaica. She had also written, “this is a strange request my dear, but here are your leaves and I hope you are okay!”
1982 • Brooklyn, New York
The entire world was celebrating the life, while still mourning the passing of the reggae icon Bob Marley in 1981. For me this was a very difficult time. There was an empty space inside of me that only being in Jamaica could fill. I had to get reconnected with my homeland.
I had a friend whose father worked for a popular magazine, and one evening he gave us tickets to attend the premiere of a new movie filmed entirely in Jamaica called Countryman. This movie from what I read was dedicated to Bob Marley, and starred a newcomer bearing the same name. Simply “Countryman”!
Things were certainly looking up! I was thrilled to have been blessed with front row tickets for an event such as this. I was bursting with excitement and remember being ready to roll to the Kenmore Theater at Flatbush and Church Avenues in Brooklyn two hours early. I hadn’t seen the country I loved in four years, and I sensed that this movie was going to be the closest I’d get to Jamaica for a while. I had just turned seventeen, and I considered the ticket I was holding the best birthday present I’d ever received.
Finally the hour arrived, and Sasha, her dad and I were seated comfortably in the third row of the filled-to-capacity theater. There were media personalities and journalists from various newspapers etc., but I didn’t care about any of that… All I wanted was for someone to “press play.”
Before the lights in the theater were dimmed, we were asked by someone on a microphone who I don’t recall seeing, to welcome the stars of the movie who were entering the theater. I don’t remember who or how many people walked in, but I do remember the man… Late thirties, with his curly black hair pulled back in a pony tail. His stature was similar to Bob Marley’s, and I remember that as small as he may have been, he somehow seemed larger than life when he walked into the room. After taking in the whole movie, watching Countryman rescuing a couple of white tourists in peril like a natural mystic superhero embodying and empowered by all the precepts and principles of Rastafari. I got to shake hands with that man later after the movie, and that was to be the first time I met Countryman in person. Someone who would later become like family to me. A mentor, an inspiration… a legend!
2009 • Hellshire Beach, St Catherine
I’m all grown up and living my own life on my own terms, and Jamaica is once again home. On and off, but yes… home. I had never forgotten the impact the movie Countryman had on me, so I held the memories dear to my heart throughout the years. There was just something about the man I met in 1982… Something rare, something genuine, something special. I would watch the film over twenty times, as the authenticity was undeniable. This man who portrayed Countryman didn’t seem as if he was acting. I only wish I knew what had become of him, if he was still around, and if I could one day sit and have a conversation with this wise elder.
The movie fascinated me in many ways, and I was drawn to the locations in the film. I remember telling a friend “wherever Countryman was filmed, is where I want to be!” Hellshire Beach, St Catherine and Port Maria, St Mary were the locations chosen for the film. #Destiny
On a visit to Jamaica in 2009 to celebrate my birthday, a friend and I were walking on Hellshire Beach while waiting for our fish to be prepared. The sun shone brightly and the warm sand felt good beneath our feet. As we strolled along admiring the turquoise water, I remember thinking to myself, “This is the life. Warm breezes, pristine water, seafood aroma rising from the fish shacks, birds flying about, music playing and no one in a hurry to do anything more than just BE!”
We strolled to the end of the beach, and were just about to turn around and head back to our lunch when I saw a familiar face. This man (30ish) looked quite familiar to me, but I couldn’t recall why. I greeted him with, “Good afternoon how are you?” He replied, “Bless empress, you taking a walk?” I smiled and said “You look very familiar to me” to which he replied, “You probably know my father.”
Laughing, I said to him, “I can’t remember if I know your father if I don’t even know who you are.” That’s when he said it… “My father is Countryman!” I thought I was hearing things. “Countryman? Which Countryman? Yu mean Countryman from the movie?” I asked all excited like a school girl. “Yes,” he replied with a smile. “Him same one!”
I quickly explained to my friend who Countryman was, and what he and the movie had meant to me growing up. I was all excited and rambling to her when Countryman’s only son said the magic words, “Would you like to meet him?” Before I could find the words to say “Heck yeah!” his son was yelling: “Papa, some ladies want to meet you.” Inside the zinc gate, where the modest, most welcoming love-filled two-story zinc-and-wood structure stood, I heard a voice reply “Oyyiiee.” My friend and I were invited inside, and as we stepped through the gate another gate opened and out stepped Countryman. I froze with excitement. In front of me stood the same little man I had met approximately twenty-seven years earlier, with the same larger-than-life presence.
He walked over to me and took both of my hands in his, greeting my friend and me warmly. His wife Delcey also came out and we sat on his famous seat attached to a big shade tree in his yard and chatted for a while. I reminded him of our meeting at the movie premiere in New York and we chatted for what seemed like forever. It was as if we became instant family, and the bond between Countryman and me became stronger as the years went by.
Have you ever been in the presence of someone and felt nothing but pure, perfect love oozing from them? This is what it felt like for me to be in the presence of Countryman. He was gentle, kind, wise, talented, and very spiritual. If you watched the movie then you know Country because he wasn’t acting. I have never heard Country speak an evil word against anyone, never heard him angry (even when he had reasons to be), and never saw him envious of anyone or covet a thing. Despite his simple lifestyle, he would gladly tell you he had everything he needed, and you would have no choice but to believe him. He wore no shoes, no shirt and no pants… just shorts. “I give mi body to the climate of this island,” he would say. “I just a live I life. Nothing can harm me!” He had a smile and a laugh that made his eyes twinkle, and being in his presence made your spirit calm. Country made you want to look into your life, downsize, simplify, and live!
Countryman knew almost every Psalm in the Bible and could recite them continually for hours. He was a man who didn’t waste words and spoke life into everyone he met. Never a harsh word for anyone, even those who had wronged him dreadfully. He would “leave them to Jah” as “the fight isn’t mine and I still a live!”
Countryman who was now in his sixties, had many many stories. I spent months at a time in Jamaica and made it my duty to visit and spend time with Country and his wife on every visit. When I was in the U.S. we spoke frequently and I never grew tired of the stories. I loved his fishing stories and what he discovered while deep under the ocean. And I loved their love story. They shared how they met, lived and loved with me. The two of them had been together since she was sixteen. It was evident that Country and his wife were best friends. They took care of each other and their love glowed! Love conquered all things and they never complained. Country was satisfied with living right there on the beach where the movie was filmed, where he and Bob Marley spent time, where he and his wife shared their life and love. I loved the way she loved him and the pride in her eyes when she showed us photos of Country and Bob Marley, the behind the scenes pictures from the movie shoot, and their two children also featured in the movie. The stories were many and I enjoyed them all on each visit. I loved the stories he told about his friendship with Bob Marley, and stories of being a Rastaman when being Rasta was not “popular” in Jamaica. I appreciated the way he loved life and his principles.
Country traveled all over the world, and it didn’t take me long to figure out that this man and I had a lot in common. We both shared a love of the simple things in life… and the love we have for Jamaica. I often heard Country say that he had everything he needed right there in Jamaica, and we would laugh when we talked about traveling to Key West, Florida. It seemed we both held The Florida Keys dear to our hearts as our favorite place in the U.S.
Countryman has given me so much in the seven years we shared a friendship. He taught me by example without even knowing what he did. (Then again, as wise as he was, I think he did know.)
He gave me gifts that I carry in my spirit, but he also gave me an original copy… a cassette tape of the original soundtrack to the movie. I will cherish it always. I have countless shells that he, his wife and his son would give me that they brought up from the bottom of the ocean. He knew what I liked and would save the best for me. Many many gifts received from this gentle soul, the most important was the “wi love yu Shilo, and wi miss yu”, the giving of himself, his love… A love that I will carry always in my heart.
It’s amazing to me that a legend such as Countryman has passed on and with the exception of a little write-up in the Jamaica Observer, not many seemed to be aware. I just wish Jamaica knew who this man was and what his spirit and his teachings could have meant to so many who think they have nothing. By living a simple life, this man showed how much we really have when we put things in their proper perspective. “We have all we need—and more than we know” is what I got from Countryman. There is no need for us to suffer if we truly know the difference between wants and needs.
Countryman is a legend in my book and will always be. I am thankful I was led to Hellshire Beach, to his home, to him. Jah placed Country’s son right there at that gate at the right time because He knew it was time for us to meet. Again! I will never let this man die… His teachings, his love and his spirit will always live on. Please Jamaica…recognize!
The Final Chapter
The cancer had been ravaging his body, and it pained me to see him in this condition. I would visit often and sit with him, rub his back and bring him treats. He liked raisins 🙂
Countryman was always welcoming to me and anyone else I would bring to meet him. I knew the importance of everyone coming in contact with this man…even once. By November 2015, his voice had become a whisper, but he still communicated. You knew he was in pain, but he didn’t complain and was always accommodating. He was a fighter who knew his time to depart was coming, but he smiled, watching his favorite TV shows, welcoming his visitors and always showing me love and genuine concern.
Sunday, September 18th
I fell asleep around 1am, and slept peacefully all night. I had a dream I was at a gathering in Jamaica and we were waiting on a speaker to come to the podium. No one knew who it was so we waited. Finally the speaker stepped to the mic, and it was a small man. He looked like Haile Selassie, but he also looked like Countryman. I woke up with Countryman on my mind, and a few hours later I found out why. While I was dreaming, Countryman was moving onto Zion. I feel honored that somehow this was his way of telling me he was leaving. (No one can tell me different).
His wife smiled as she told me about his final earthly moments. He whispered. “Mi wife, I love you. Thank you for taking care of me all these years, but I am going home tonight!”
September 25th, 2016
Love never dies.
Countryman was all up in my dream this night. He was concerned about his wife, Mama Delcey and wanted to know she was well. We spoke in the dream, Country and I, and I will never forget it. Remember the black shorts he wore in the movie? Well they’re white now. I watched him laying comfortably on a huge rock in true Countryman fashion, looking up to the brilliant blue sky through some very tall trees, legs crossed, strumming the strings of a banjo. The rock he was lying on was so high I had to climb up to see him.
I am comforted in the knowledge that Countryman is at peace, is in no more pain, and has his wings. Both he and my father left this earth in the month of September. I will always love this elder and will never EVER forget him and all he means to me.
Countryman…May 26th, 1946–September 18th, 2016.
Shilo will love you always!
Thanks for the memories/lessons.