|Jah · Afrocentrism · Ital · Zion|
|Bible · Kebra Nagast · The Promise Key · Holy Piby · My Life and Ethiopia's Progress · Royal Parchment Scroll of Black Supremacy|
|Branches and festivals|
|Mansions · United States · Shashamane · Grounation Day|
|Bob Marley · Peter Tosh · Walter Rodney · Mutabaruka · Benjamin Zephaniah|
|Vocabulary · Persecution · Dreadlocks · Reggae · Ethiopian Christianity · Index of Rastafari articles
The Rastafari movement is a monotheistic, Abrahamic, new religious movement that arose in a Christian culture in Jamaica in the 1930s. Its adherents, who worship Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, former Emperor of Ethiopia (1930–1936 and 1941–1974), as the Second Advent, are known as Rastafarians, or Rastas. The movement is sometimes referred to as "Rastafarianism", but this term is considered derogatory and offensive by some Rastas, who dislike being labelled as an "ism".
Rastafari is not a highly organized religion; it is a movement and an ideology. Many Rastas say that it is not a "religion" at all, but a "Way of Life". Most Rastas do not claim any sect or denomination, and thus encourage one another to find faith and inspiration within themselves, although some do identify strongly with one of the "mansions of Rastafari" — the three most prominent of these being the Nyahbinghi, the Bobo Ashanti and the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
The name Rastafari is taken from Ras Tafari, the pre-regnal title of Haile Selassie I, composed of Amharic Ras (literally "Head," an Ethiopian title equivalent to Duke), and Haile Selassie's pre-regnal given name, Tafari. Rastafari are generally distinguished for asserting the doctrine that Haile Selassie I, the former, and final, Emperor of Ethiopia, is another incarnation of the Christian God, called Jah. They see Haile Selassie I as Jah or Jah Rastafari, who is the second coming of Jesus Christ onto the Earth.
The Rastafari movement encompasses themes such as the spiritual use of cannabis and the rejection of western society (called Babylon, in reference more to the metaphoric Babylon of Christianity than to the historical Mesopotamian city-state). It proclaims Africa (also "Zion") as the original birthplace of mankind, and embraces various Afrocentric social and political aspirations such as the sociopolitical views and teachings of Jamaican publicist, organizer, and black nationalist Marcus Garvey (also often regarded as a prophet).
Today, awareness of the Rastafari movement has spread throughout much of the world, largely through interest generated by reggae music—most notably, that of Jamaican singer/songwriter Bob Marley. By 1997, there were around one million Rastafari faithful worldwide. About five to ten percent of Jamaicans identify themselves as Rastafari.
Rastafari are monotheists, worshipping a singular God whom they call Jah. Rastas see Jah as being in the form of the Holy Trinity, that is, God being the God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Rastas say that Jah, in the form of the Holy Spirit (incarnate), lives within the human, and for this reason they often refer to themselves as "I and I". Furthermore, "I and I" is used instead of "We", and is used in this way to emphasise the equality between all people, in the recognition that the Holy Spirit within us all makes us essentially one and the same.
Some Rastas accept the Christian doctrine that God incarnated onto the Earth in the form of Jesus Christ, to give his teachings to humanity. However, they often feel his teachings were corrupted by Babylon. Many Rastas, in accordance with their assertion that "word, sound is power", also object specifically to the English pronunciation of his name (/dʒi:zəs/) as impure, preferring instead to use the forms in Hebrew (Yeshu) or Amharic ('Iyesus).
Rasta doctrines concerning the Holy Trinity include stressing the significance of the name "Haile Selassie", meaning "Power of the Trinity" or "Might of the Trinity" in Ge'ez — the name given to Ras Tafari upon his baptism, and later assumed as part of his regnal name at his November 2, 1930 coronation by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Acceptance of the God-incarnate status of Jesus is central in Rastafari doctrine, as is the notion of the corruption of his teachings by secular, Western society, figuratively referred to as Babylon. For this reason, they believe, it was prophesied in the Book of Revelation – "And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel." – that Jesus would return with a new name that would be inscribed on the foreheads of 144,000 of his most devoted servants. Rastas hold that this was fulfilled when Haile Selassie was crowned King of Kings on 2 November 1930, whom they see as the second coming of Jesus or the coming of the holy spirit, and therefore Jah, onto the Earth.
Rastas say that Jesus was black, and that Western Society (or Babylon) has commonly depicted him as white for centuries in order to suppress the truth and gain dominion over all peoples.
Haile Selassie I (1892–1975) was the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. Rastas claim that he is the root of Jesus (Yahshua) Christ and therefore an incarnation of Jah (Jehovah) onto the Earth. They also claim that he will lead the righteous into creating a perfect world, called "Zion." Zion would be the ultimate paradise for Rastas. The future capital city of Zion is sometimes put forward as the New Jerusalem (Lalibela, Ethiopia), the very Habitation of the Godhead (Trinity) creator, Rastafari. Prophetic verses of the Hebrew Bible such as Zephaniah 3:10 "From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, my scattered people, will bring me offerings" have been interpreted as subtly hinting that the messianic king will be in Ethiopia, and the people will come from the rest of the world "beyond" its rivers.
Rastas say that Haile Selassie's coming was prophesied from Genesis to the Book of Revelation. Genesis, Chapter 1: "God made man in His own image." Psalm 2: "Yet I set my Holy king/ On My Holy hill of Zion", which is identified by them as Jesus Christ. Psalm 87:4-6 is also interpreted as predicting the coronation of Haile Selassie I. During his coronation, Selassie was given many of the same titles used in the Bible: "King of Kings," "Elect of God," and "Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah the Author of Mankind" are just some of more than 38 titles and anointments. This is one of the primary reasons he is held to be God incarnate. Rastas also refer to Selassie as "His Imperial Majesty" (or the acronym thereof, HIM) and "Jah Rastafari".
According to tradition, Haile Selassie was the 225th in an unbroken line of Ethiopian monarchs of the Solomonic Dynasty. This dynasty is said to have been founded in the 10th century BC by Menelik I, the son of the Biblical King Solomon and Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, who had visited Solomon in Israel. 1 Kings 10:13 claims "And King Solomon gave unto the Queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants." On the basis of the Ethiopian national epic, the Kebra Negast, Rastas interpret this verse as meaning she conceived his child, and from this, conclude that African people are among the true children of Israel, or Jews. Beta Israel black Jews have lived in Ethiopia for centuries, disconnected from the rest of Judaism; their existence has given some impetus to Rastafari, as they feel it validates their assertion that Ethiopia is Zion.
Regarding the death of Haile Selassie I, Rastafari do not accept that God could die and thus insist that Selassie's 1975 reported death was a hoax. It is claimed that he entered the monastery and will return to liberate his followers and vanquish all evil, restoring his creation. A few Rastas today consider this a partial fulfillment of prophecy found in the apocalyptic 2 Esdras 7:28.
For Rastafari, Haile Selassie remains their God and their King. They see Selassie as being worthy of worship, and as having stood with great dignity in front of the world's press and in front of representatives of many of the world's powerful nations, especially during his appeal to the League of Nations in 1936, when he was still the only independent black monarch in Africa. From the beginning the Rastas decided that their personal loyalty lay with Africa's only black monarch, Selassie, and that they themselves were in effect as free citizens of Ethiopia, loyal to its Emperor and devoted to its flag.
Rastas assert that Zion (i.e., Africa, especially Ethiopia) is a land that Jah promised to them. To achieve this, they reject modern western society, calling it "Babylon", which they see as entirely corrupt. "Babylon" is considered to have been in rebellion against "Earth's Rightful Ruler" (Jah) ever since the days of the Biblical king Nimrod.
Some Rastas claim themselves to represent the real Children of Israel or children of god, (this may stem from the belief by some scholars that Ethiopia was populated at some stage by one of the "lost" tribes of Israel; modern credence is given to this view with the acknowledgement of the Beta Israel by the Israeli government). Another historical viewpoint which seeks to validate this link between Ethiopia, Israel and the Rastafari belief system can be found under the Lion of Judah and their goal is to repatriate to Africa, or to Zion. (Rasta reggae is peppered with references to Zion; among the best-known examples are the Bob Marley songs '"Zion Train" and "Iron Lion Zion".)
Many Rastafari are physical immortalists who maintain that the chosen few will continue to live forever in their current bodies. This is commonly called "Life Everliving". Everliving in Iyaric replaces the term "everlasting" to avoid the "negative wordsound" of last implying an end. Rastas say their life will never have an end, but will be everliving, with Jah as king and Amharic the official language.
Afrocentrism is another central facet of the Rastafari culture. They teach that Africa, in particular Ethiopia, is where Zion, or paradise, shall be created. As such, Rastafari orients itself around African culture.
Rastafari holds that evil society, or "Babylon" has always been white-dominated, and has committed such acts of aggression against the African people as the Atlantic slave trade. Despite this Afrocentrism and focus on people of the black race, members of other races, including whites, are found and accepted by Blacks among the movement, for they believe Rasta is for all people.
Rastafari developed among poor Jamaicans of African descent who felt they were oppressed and that society was apathetic to their problems. Marcus Garvey, who is viewed as a prophet of Jah, was a keen proponent of the "back to Africa" movement, advocating that all people of the black race should return to their ancestral homeland of Africa.
Many early Rastas for a time believed in black supremacy. Widespread advocacy of this belief was short-lived, at least partly because of Haile Selassie's explicit condemnation of racism in an October 1963 speech before the United Nations. Most Rastas now espouse the doctrine that racial animosities must be set aside, with world peace and harmony being common themes. One of the three major modern houses of Rastafari—the Twelve Tribes of Israel—has specifically condemned all types of racism, and declared that the teachings of the Bible are the route to spiritual liberation for people of any racial or ethnic background. During his famous UN address (which provided the lyrics for the Carlton Barrett and Bob Marley song "War"), Haile Selassie made the following statement:
"Last May, in Addis Ababa, I convened a meeting of Heads of African States and Governments. In three days, the thirty-two nations represented at that Conference demonstrated to the world that when the will and the determination exist, nations and peoples of diverse backgrounds can and will work together. In unity, to the achievement of common goals and the assurance of that equality and brotherhood which we desire.On the question of racial discrimination, the Addis Ababa Conference taught, to those who will learn, this further lesson: That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil."
He concluded this speech with the words, "We must become members of a new race, overcoming petty prejudice, owing our ultimate allegiance not to nations but to our fellow men within the human community."
Some Rastafari learn Amharic, which some consider to be the original language, both because this was the language of Haile Selassie I, and in order to further their identity as Ethiopian. There are reggae songs written in Amharic.
Rastafari is a strongly syncretic Abrahamic religion that draws extensively from the Bible. Adherents look particularly to the New Testament Book of Revelation, as this is where they find the prophecies about the divinity of Haile Selassie. Rastas claim that they, and the rest of the black race, are descendants of the ancient twelve tribes of Israel, cast into captivity outside Africa as a result of the slave trade.
Some assert that only half of the Bible has been written, and that the other half, stolen from them along with their culture, is written in a man's heart. This concept also embraces the idea that even the illiterate can be Rastas by reading God's Word in their hearts. Rastas also see the lost half of the Bible, and the whole of their lost culture, to be found in the Ark of the Covenant, a repository of African wisdom, which is allegedly located in Ethiopia.
A great interest in the Amharic Orthodox version of the Bible, authorized by Haile Selassie I in the 1950s, has arisen among Rastas. Selassie himself wrote in the preface to this version that "unless [one] accepts with clear conscience the Bible and its great Message, he cannot hope for salvation," thus confirming and coinciding with what the Rastafari themselves had been preaching since the beginning of the movement.
The Kebra Nagast, the national epic of Ethiopia, is also taken as important amongst many Rastas. The Kebra Negast is an African folk bible describing, in greater detail than the King James version, the relationship between King Solomon and Queen of Sheba.
There are two types of Rasta religious ceremonies: Reasoning and Groundation.
A "reasoning" is a simple event where the Rastas gather, smoke cannabis ("ganja"), and discuss ethical, social, and religious issues. The person honored by being allowed to light the herb says a short prayer beforehand, and the ganja is passed in a clockwise fashion except in time of war when it is passed counterclockwise.
A "groundation" (or "grounation") or "binghi" is a holy day; the name "binghi" is derived from "Nyabinghi", believed to be an ancient, and now extinct, order of militant blacks in eastern Africa that vowed to end oppression. Binghis are marked by much dancing, singing, feasting, and the smoking of ganja, and can last for several days.
In public gatherings, Rastafari often say the following standard prayer, with several variants, comparable to the Lord's Prayer:
When lighting a chalice, the following, shorter invocation is often used: "Glory be to the Father and to the Maker of Iration, as it were in the Iginning, is now an shall be foriva, world without end, SELAH."
Some important dates when groundations may take place are:
Generally, Rastas assert that their own body is the true church or temple of God, and so see no need to make temples or churches out of physical buildings. However, some Rastafarians have created temples, as some call spiritual meeting centers in international communities with large Rastafarian populations.
There are three main sects or orders of Rastafari today: the Nyahbinghi Order, Bobo Ashanti and the Twelve Tribes of Israel. All agree on the basic principles of the divine status of Haile Selassie and the importance of black images of divinity. Many Rastafari do not belong to any sect and the movement as a whole is loosely defined and organized.
The Nyahbinghi Order (also known as Haile Selassie I Theocratical Order of the Nyahbinghi Reign) is named for Queen Nyahbinghi of Uganda, who fought against colonialists in the 19th century. The Nyahbinghi Order holds steadfast to ancient biblical values. They consume nothing that harms their body because the body is the temple and the temple the church. The Nyahbinghi Order is a non-violent order that calls upon God's power to execute judgement upon all black and white "downpressors" (oppressors). This is the oldest of the orders and it focuses mainly on Haile Selassie, Ethiopia, and the eventual return to Africa. It is overseen by an Assembly of Elders.
Bobo Ashanti was founded by Prince Emanuel Charles Edwards in Jamaica in the 1950s. "Bobo" means black and "Shanti" refers to the Ashanti tribe in Ghana, from which this sect believes Jamaican slaves are descended. Members of Bobo Shanti are also known as Bobo Dreads.
In belief, Bobo Dreads are distinguished by their worship of Prince Emmanuel (in addition to Haile Selassie) as a reincarnation of Christ and embodiment of Jah; their emphasis on the return to Africa ("repatriation"); and their demands for monetary reimbursement for slavery.
Members of the Bobo Ashanti order wear long robes and tightly wrapped turbans around their dreads. They adhere closely to the Jewish Law, including the observance of the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday and hygiene laws for menstruating women. They live separately from Jamaican society and other Rastafarians, growing their own produce and selling straw hats and brooms. They often carry brooms with them to symbolize their cleanliness.
The Twelve Tribes of Israel sect was founded in 1968 by Dr. Vernon "Prophet Gad" Carrington. It is the most liberal of the Rastafarian orders and members are free to worship in a church of their choosing. Each member of this sect belongs to one of the 12 Tribes (or Houses), which is determined by birth month and is represented by a color. The Standard Israelite calendar begins in April. Bob Marley was from the tribe of Joseph, and Haile Selassie from the tribe of Judah.
The Lion is a symbol of Haile Selassie. Jesus Christ is described as "the Lion of Judah" in the Bible, and for this reason, Haile Selassie is seen as the reincarnation of Jesus. However, in the Nyabinghi order and the Bobo Shanti sub-division, the Lion of Judahis seen as a symbol of God or Jah, therefore Haile Selassie I is seen as God or Jah.
Some Rastafari choose to classify their movement as Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, Protestant Christianity, or Judaism. Of those, the ties to the Ethiopian Church are the most widespread, although this is controversial to many Ethiopian clergy. Rastafari typically hold that standard translations of the Bible incorporate changes, or were edited for the benefit of the power structure.
For Rastas, smoking cannabis, usually known as "herb", "weed", "sinsemilla" (Spanish for "without seeds") or "ganja" (from the Sanskrit word, "Ganjika", created by the Hindus of India), is a spiritual act, often accompanied by Bible study; they consider it a sacrament that cleans the body and mind, heals the soul, exalts the consciousness, facilitates peacefulness, brings pleasure, and brings them closer to Jah. Often burning the herb when in need of insight from Jah. The burning of the herb is often said to be essential "for it will sting in the hearts of those that promote and perform evil and wrongs." By the 8th century, cannabis had been introduced by Arab traders to Central and Southern Africa, where it is known as "dagga" and many Rastas say it is a part of their African culture that they are reclaiming. It is sometimes also referred to as "the healing of the nation", a phraseology adapted from Revelation 22:2.
The migration of many thousands of Hindus from India to the Caribbean in the 20th century may have brought this culture to Jamaica. Many academics point to Indo-Caribbean origins for the ganjah sacrament resulting from the importation of Indian migrant workers in a post-abolition Jamaican landscape. "Large scale use of ganjah in Jamaica... dated from the importation of indentured Indians..."(Campbell 110). Dreadlocked mystics, often ascetic, known as sadhus, have smoked cannabis in India for centuries.
According to many Rastas, the illegality of cannabis in many nations is evidence that persecution of Rastafari is a reality. They are not surprised that it is illegal, seeing it as a powerful substance that opens people's minds to the truth — something the Babylon system, they reason, clearly does not want. They contrast it to alcohol and other drugs, which they feel destroy the mind.
They hold that the smoking of cannabis enjoys Biblical sanction, and is an aid to meditation and religious observance. Among Biblical verses Rastas quote as justifying the use of cannabis:
According to some Rastafari and other scholars, the etymology of the word "cannabis" and similar terms in all the languages of the Near East may be traced to the Hebrew "qaneh bosm" קנה-בשם, which is one of the herbs God commanded Moses to include in his preparation of sacred anointing perfume in Exodus 30:23; the Hebrew term also appears in Isaiah 43:24; Jeremiah 6:20; Ezekiel 27:19; and Song of Songs 4:14. Deuterocanonical and canonical references to the patriarchs Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses "burning incense before the Lord" are also applied, and many Rastas today refer to cannabis by the term "ishence" — a slightly changed form of the English word "incense". It is also said that cannabis was the first plant to grow on King Solomon's grave.
In 1998, then-Attorney General of the United States Janet Reno, gave a legal opinion that Rastafari do not have the religious right to smoke ganjah in violation of the United States' drug laws. The position is the same in the United Kingdom, where, in the Court of Appeal case of R. v. Taylor  1 Cr. App. R. 37, it was held that the UK's prohibition on cannabis use did not contravene the right to freedom of religion conferred under the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
On January 2, 1991, at an international airport in his homeland of Guam, Ras Iyah Ben Makahna (Benny Guerrero) was arrested for possession and importation of marijuana and seeds. He was charged with importation of a controlled substance. The case was heard by the US 9th Circuit Court November 2001, and in May 2002 the court had decided that the practice of Rastafari sanctions the smoking of marijuana, but nowhere does the religion sanction the importation of marijuana. Guerrero's lawyer Graham Boyd pointed out the court's ruling was "equivalent to saying wine is a necessary sacrament for some Christians but you have to grow your own grapes."
Rastafari culture does not encourage mainstream political involvement. In fact, in the early stages of the movement most Rastas did not vote, out of principle. Ras Sam Brown formed the Suffering People's Party for the Jamaican elections of 1962 and received fewer than 100 votes. In the election campaign of 1972, People's National Party leader Michael Manley used a prop, a walking stick given to him by Haile Selassie, which was called the "Rod of Correction", in a direct appeal to Rastafari values.
In the famous free One Love Peace Concert on April 22, 1978, Peter Tosh lambasted the audience, including attending dignitaries, with political demands that included decriminalising cannabis. He did this while smoking a spliff, a criminal act in Jamaica. At this same concert, Bob Marley led both then-Prime Minister Michael Manley and opposition leader Edward Seaga onto the stage; and a famous picture was taken with all three of them holding their hands together above their heads in a symbolic gesture of peace during what had been a very violent election campaign.
Rastas assert that their original African languages were stolen from them when they were taken into captivity as part of the slave trade, and that English is an imposed colonial language. Their remedy has been the creation of a modified vocabulary and dialect known as "Iyaric", reflecting their desire to take language forward and to confront the society they call Babylon.
Some examples are:
One of the most distinctive modifications in Iyaric is the substitution of the pronoun "I-and-I" for other pronouns, usually the first person. "I", as used in the examples above, refers to Jah; therefore, "I-and-I" in the first person includes the presence of the divine within the individual. As "I-and-I" can also refer to "us," "them," or even "you," it is used as a practical linguistic rejection of the separation of the individual from the larger Rastafari community, and Jah himself.
Rastafari say that they reject "-isms". They see a wide range of "-isms and schisms" in modern society, for example communism and capitalism, and want no part in them. They especially reject the word "Rastafarianism", because they see themselves as "having transcended -isms and schisms." This has created conflict between some Rastas and some members of the academic community studying Rastafari, who insist on calling this faith "Rastafarianism" in spite of the disapproval this generates within the Rastafari movement. Nevertheless, the practice continues among scholars, though there are also instances of the study of Rastafari using its own terms.
Many Rastas eat limited types of meat in accordance with the dietary Laws of the Old Testament; they do not eat shellfish or pork. Others abstain from all meat and flesh whatsoever, asserting that to touch meat is to touch death, and is therefore a violation of the Nazirite vow. (A few make a special exception allowing fish, while abstaining from all other forms of flesh.) However, the prohibition against meat only applies to those who are currently fulfilling a Nazirite vow ("Dreadlocks Priesthood"), for the duration of the vow. Many Rastafari maintain a vegan or vegetarian diet all of the time. Food approved for Rastfari is called ital. The purpose of fasting (abstaining from meat and dairy) is to cleanse the body in accordance to serving in the presence of the "Ark of the Covenent".
Usage of alcohol is also generally deemed unhealthy to the Rastafari way of life, partly because it is seen as a tool of Babylon to confuse people, and partly because placing something that is pickled and fermented within oneself is felt to be much like turning the body (the Temple) into a "cemetery".
In consequence, a rich alternative cuisine has developed in association with Rastafari tenets, eschewing most synthetic additives, and preferring more natural vegetables and fruits such as coconut and mango. This cuisine can be found throughout the Caribbean and in some restaurants throughout the western world.
Some of the Houses (or "Mansions" as they have come to be known) of the Rastafari culture, such as the Twelve Tribes of Israel, do not specify diet beyond that which, to quote Christ in the New Testament, "Is not what goes into a man's mouth that defile him, but what come out of it". Wine is seen as a "mocker" and strong drink is "raging"; however, simple consumption of beer or the very common roots wine are not systematically a part of Rastafari culture this way or that. Separating from Jamaican culture, different interpretations on the role of food and drink within the religion remains up for debate. At official state banquets Haile Selassie would encourage guests to "eat and drink in your own way".
The wearing of dreadlocks is very closely associated with the movement, though not universal among, or exclusive to, its adherents. Rastas maintain that locks are supported by Leviticus 21:5 ("They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in the flesh.") and the Nazirite vow in Numbers 6:5 ("All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the Lord, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.").
It has often been suggested (e.g., Campbell 1985) that the first Rasta locks were copied from Kenya in 1953, when images of the independence struggle of the feared mau mau insurgents, who grew their "dreaded locks" while hiding in the mountains, appeared in newsreels and other publications that reached Jamaica. However, a more recent study by Barry Chevannes has traced the first Hairlocked Rastas to a subgroup first appearing in 1949, known as Youth Black Faith.
There have been ascetic groups within a variety of world faiths that have at times worn similarly-matted hair. In addition to the Nazirites of Judaism and the sadhus of Hinduism, it is worn among some sects of Sufi Islam, notably the Baye Fall sect of Mourides, and by some Ethiopian Orthodox monks in Christianity, among others. Some of the very earliest Christians may also have worn this hairstyle; particularly noteworthy are descriptions of James the Just, "brother of Jesus" and first Bishop of Jerusalem, whom Hegesippus (according to Eusebius and Jerome) described as a Nazirite who never once cut his hair. The length of a Rasta's locks is a measure of wisdom, maturity, and knowledge in that it can indicate not only the Rasta's age, but also his/her time as a Rasta.
Also, according to the Bible, Samson was a Nazarite who had "seven locks". Rastas argue that these "seven locks" could only have been dreadlocks, as it is unlikely to refer to seven strands of hair.
Locks have also come to symbolize the Lion of Judah (its mane) and rebellion against Babylon. In the United States, several public schools and workplaces have lost lawsuits as the result of banning locks. Safeway is an early example, and the victory of eight children in a suit against their Lafayette, Louisiana school was a landmark decision in favor of Rastafari rights. More recently, a group of Rastafarians settled a federal lawsuit with the Grand Central Partnership in New York City, allowing them to wear their locks in neat ponytails, rather than be forced to "painfully tuck in their long hair" in their uniform caps.
Rastafari associate dreadlocks with a spiritual journey that one takes in the process of locking their hair (growing hairlocks). It is taught that patience is the key to growing locks, a journey of the mind, soul and spirituality. Its spiritual pattern is aligned with the Rastafari movement. The way to form natural dreadlocks is to allow hair to grow in its natural pattern, without cutting, combing or brushing, but simply to wash it with pure water.
For the Rastas the razor, the scissors and the comb are the three Babylonian or Roman inventions. So close is the association between dreadlocks and Rastafari, that the two are sometimes used synonymously. In reggae music, a follower of Rastafari may be referred to simply as a "hairlocks", "dreadlocks" or "natty (natural) dread", whilst those non-believers who cut their hair are referred to as baldheads.
As important and connected with the movement as the wearing of locks is, though, it is not deemed necessary for, or equivalent to, true faith. Popular slogans, often incorporated within Reggae lyrics, include: "Not every dread is a Rasta and not every Rasta is a dread..."; "It's not the dread upon your head, but the love inna your heart, that mek ya Rastaman" (Sugar Minott); and as Morgan Heritage sings: "You don't haffi dread to be Rasta...," and "Children of Selassie I, don't lose your faith; whether you do or don't have your locks 'pon your head..."
Many non-Rastafari of black African descent wear locks as an expression of pride in their ethnic identity, or simply as a hairstyle, and take a less purist approach to developing and grooming them, adding various substances such as beeswax in an attempt to assist the locking process. The wearing of dreads also has spread among people of other ethnicities, including those whose hair is not naturally suited to the style, and who sometimes go to great lengths to form them. Locks worn for stylish reasons are sometimes referred to as "bathroom locks," to distinguish them from the kind that are purely natural. Rasta purists also sometimes refer to such dreadlocked individuals as "wolves," as in "a wolf in sheep's clothing," especially when they are seen as trouble-makers who might potentially discredit or infiltrate Rastafari.
The Rastafarian colours of red, gold and green (sometimes also including black) are very commonly sported on Rastafarian clothing, badges, posters etc. It is suggested that they originate from the red, black and green of the Marcus Garvey movement, in combination with the gold of the Jamaican flag, and/or in reference to the colours of the Ethiopian flag. Red is said to signify the blood of Black Jamaican martyrs, green the lushness of the Ethiopan and/or Jamaican countryside, and gold the wealth of Africa.
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Music has long played an integral role in Rastafari, and the connection between the movement and various kinds of music has become well known, due to the international fame of reggae musicians such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.
Niyabinghi chants are played at worship ceremonies called grounations, that include drumming, chanting and dancing, along with prayer and ritual smoking of cannabis. The name Nyabinghi comes from an East African movement from the 1850s to the 1950s that was led by people who militarily opposed European imperialism. This form of nyabinghi was centered around Muhumusa, a healing woman from Uganda who organized resistance against German colonialists. In Jamaica, the concepts of Nyabinghi were appropriated for similar anti-colonial efforts, and it is often danced to invoke the power of Jah against an oppressor. The drum is a symbol of the Africanness of Rastafari, and some mansions (Rastafari sects) assert that Jah's spirit of divine energy is present in the drum. African music survived slavery because many slaveowners encouraged it as a method of keeping morale high. Afro-Caribbean music arose with the influx of influences from the native peoples of Jamaica, as well as the European slaveowners.
Another style of Rastafari music is called burru drumming, first played in the Parish of Clarendon, Jamaica, and then in West Kingston. Burru was later introduced to the burgeoning Rasta community in Kingston by a Jamaican musician named Count Ossie. He mentored many influential Jamaican ska, rock steady, and reggae musicians. Through his tutelage, they began combining New Orleans R&B, folk mento, jonkanoo, kumina, and revival zion into a unique sound. The burru style, which centers on three drums — the bass, the alto fundeh, and the repeater — would later be copied by hip hop DJs.
Maroons, or communities of escaped slaves, kept purer African musical traditions alive in the interior of Jamaica, and were also contributing founders of Rastafari.
Reggae was born amidst poor blacks in Trenchtown, the main ghetto of Kingston, Jamaica, who listened to radio stations from the United States. Jamaican musicians, many of them Rastas, soon blended traditional Jamaican folk music and drumming with American R&B, and jazz into ska, that later developed into reggae under the influence of soul.
Reggae began to enter international consciousness in the early 1970s, and Rastafari mushroomed in popularity internationally, largely due to the fame of Bob Marley, who actively and devoutly preached Rastafari, incorporating Nyabinghi and Rastafarian chanting into his music, lyrics and album covers. Songs like "Rastaman Chant" led to the movement and reggae music being seen as closely intertwined in the consciousness of audiences across the world (especially among oppressed and poor groups of African Americans and Native Americans, First Nations Canadians, Australian Aborigines and New Zealand Māori, and throughout most of Africa). Other famous reggae musicians with strong Rastafarian elements in their music include Peter Tosh, Freddie McGregor, Toots & the Maytals, Burning Spear, Black Uhuru, Prince Lincoln Thompson, Bunny Wailer, Prince Far I, Israel Vibration, The Congos, Mikey Dread, Little Roy, Don Carlos, The Viceroys, The Itals, Cornell Campbell, The Meditations, Wailing Souls, Norris Reid, Michael Prophet, The Heptones, Dennis Brown, Twinkle Brothers, and hundreds more.
The first reggae single that sang about Rastafari and reached Number 1 in the Jamaican charts was Bongo Man by Little Roy in 1969. Early Rasta reggae musicians (besides Marley) whose music expresses Rastafari doctrine well are Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer (in Blackheart Man), Prince Far I, Linval Thompson, Ijahman Levi (especially the first 4 albums), Misty-in-Roots (Live), The Congos (Heart of the Congos), The Rastafarians, The Abyssinians, Culture, Big Youth, and Ras Michael And The Sons Of Negus. The Jamaican jazz percussionist Count Ossie, who had played on a number of ska and reggae recordings, recorded albums with themes relating to Rasta history, doctrine, and culture.
Rastafari doctrine as developed in the '80s was further expressed musically by a number of other prominent artists, such as Burning Spear, Steel Pulse, Third World, The Gladiators, Black Uhuru, Aswad, and Israel Vibration. Rastafari ideas have spread beyond the Jamaican community to other countries including Russia, where artists such as Jah Division write songs about Jah, and South Africa where Lucky Dube first learned reggae music from Peter Tosh recordings. Afro-American hardcore punk band Bad Brains are notable followers of the Rastafari movement and have written songs ("I Against I", etc.) that promote the doctrine.
In the 21st century, Rastafari sentiments are spread through roots reggae and dancehall, subgroups of reggae music, with many of their most important proponents promoting the Rastafari religion, such as Capleton, Sizzla, Anthony B, Barrington Levy, Turbulence, Jah Mason, Pressure, Midnite, Natural Black, Daweh Congo, Luciano, Cocoa Tea and Richie Spice. Several of these acts have gained mainstream success and frequently appear on the popular music charts. Most recently artists such as Damian Marley (son of Bob Marley) have blended hip-hop with reggae to re-energize classic Rastafari issues such as social injustice, revolution and the honour and responsibility of parenthood using contemporary musical style.
Berlin-based dub techno label "Basic Channel" has subsidiary labels called "Rhythm & Sound" and "Burial Mix" whose lyrics strongly focus on many aspects of Rastafari culture and ideology, including the acceptance of Haile Selassie I. Notable tracks include "Jah Rule", "Mash Down Babylon", "We Be Troddin'", and "See Mi Yah".
Before Garvey, there had been two major circumstances that proved conducive to the conditions that established a fertile ground for the incubation of Rastafari in Jamaica: the history of resistance, exemplified by the Maroons, and the forming of an Afrocentric, Ethiopian world view with the spread of such religious movements as Bedwardism, which flourished from the 1890s to the 1920s. These groups had long carried a tradition of what musician Bob Marley referred to as "resisting against the system."
Rastas see Marcus Mosiah Garvey as a prophet, with his philosophy fundamentally shaping the movement, and with many of the early Rastas having started out as Garveyites. He is often seen as a second John the Baptist. One of the most famous prophecies attributed to him involving the coronation of Haile Selassie I was the 1927 pronouncement "Look to Africa, for there a king shall be crowned," although an associate of Garvey's, James Morris Webb, had made very similar public statements as early as 1921. Marcus Garvey promoted Black Nationalism, black separatism, and Pan-Africanism: the belief that all black people of the world should join in brotherhood and work to decolonise the continent of Africa — then still controlled by the white colonialist powers.
He promoted his cause of black pride throughout the 1920s and 1930s, and was particularly successful and influential among lower-class blacks in Jamaica and in rural communities. Although his ideas have been hugely influential in the development of Rastafari culture, Garvey never identified himself with the movement, and even wrote an article critical of Haile Selassie for leaving Ethiopia at the time of the Fascist occupation. In addition, his Universal Negro Improvement Association disagreed with Leonard Howell over Howell's teaching that Haile Selassie was the Messiah. Rastafari nonetheless may be seen as an extension of Garveyism. In early Rasta folklore, it is the Black Star Liner (actually a shipping company bought by Garvey to encourage repatriation to Liberia) that takes them home to Africa.
Although not strictly speaking a "Rastafari" document, the Holy Piby, written by Robert Athlyi Rogers from Anguilla in the 1920s, is acclaimed by many Rastafarians as a formative and primary source. Robert Athlyi Rogers founded an Afrocentric religion known as "Athlicanism" in the US and West Indies in the 1920s. Rogers' religious movement, the Afro-Athlican Constructive Church, saw Ethiopians (in the Biblical sense of all Black Africans) as the chosen people of God, and proclaimed Marcus Garvey, the prominent Black Nationalist, an apostle. The church preached self-reliance and self-determination for Africans.
The Royal Parchment Scroll of Black Supremacy, written during the 1920s by a preacher called Fitz Balintine Pettersburg, is a surrealistic stream-of-consciousness polemic against the white colonial power structure that is also considered formative, a palimpsest of Afrocentric thought.
The first document to appear that can be labelled as truly Rastafari was Leonard P. Howell's The Promise Key, written using the pen name G.G. [for Gangun-Guru] Maragh, in the early 1930s. In it, he claims to have witnessed the Coronation of the Emperor and Empress on 2 November 1930 in Addis Ababa, and proclaims the doctrine that H.I.M. Ras Tafari is the true Head of Creation and that the King of England is an imposter. This tract was written while Howell was jailed on charges of sedition.
Emperor Haile Selassie I, whom some of the Rastafarians call Jah, was crowned "King of Kings, Elect of God, and Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah" in Addis Ababa on November 2, 1930. The event created great publicity throughout the world, including in Jamaica, and particularly through two consecutive Time magazine articles about the coronation (he was later named Time's Person of the Year for 1935, the first Black person to appear on the cover), as well as two consecutive National Geographic issues around the same time. Haile Selassie almost immediately gained a following as both God and King amongst poor Jamaicans, who came to be known as Rastafarians, and who looked to their Bibles, and saw what they believed to be the fulfilling of many prophecies from the book of Revelation. As Ethiopia was the only African country to be free from colonialism, and Haile Selassie was the only black leader accepted among the kings and queens of Europe, the early Rastas viewed him with great reverence.
Over the next two years, three Jamaicans who all happened to be overseas at the time of the coronation, each returned home and independently began, as street preachers, to proclaim the divinity of the newly crowned Emperor as the returned Christ, arising from their interpretations of Biblical prophecy and based partly on Haile Selassie's status as the only African monarch of a fully independent state, with the titles King of Kings and Conquering Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5).
First, on 8 December 1930, Archibald Dunkley, formerly a seaman, landed at Port Antonio and soon began his ministry; in 1933, he relocated to Kingston where the King of Kings Ethiopian Mission was founded. Joseph Hibbert returned from Costa Rica in 1931 and started spreading his own conviction of the Emperor's divinity in Benoah district, Saint Andrew Parish, through his own ministry, called Ethiopian Coptic Faith; he too moved to Kingston the next year, to find Leonard Howell already teaching many of these same doctrines, having returned to Jamaica around the same time. With the addition of Robert Hinds, himself a Garveyite and former Bedwardite, these four preachers soon began to attract a following among Jamaica's poorer classes, who were already beginning to look to Ethiopia for moral support.
Leonard Howell, who has been described as the "first Rasta", became the first to be persecuted, charged with sedition for refusing loyalty to the King of England George V. The British government would not tolerate Jamaicans loyal to Haile Selassie in what was then a British colony. When he was released, he formed a commune which grew as large as 2,000 people at a place called Pinnacle, at St. Catherine in Jamaica.
Haile Selassie I had already met with several Rasta elders in Addis Ababa in 1961, giving them gold medals, and had allowed West Indians of African descent to settle on his personal land in Shashamane in the 1950s. The first actual Rastafarian settler, Papa Noel Dyer, arrived in September 1965, having hitch-hiked all the way from England.
Haile Selassie visited Jamaica on April 21, 1966. Somewhere between one and two hundred thousand Rastafari from all over Jamaica descended on Kingston airport having heard that the man whom they considered to be God was coming to visit them. They waited at the airport smoking a great amount of cannabis and playing drums. When Haile Selassie arrived at the airport he delayed disembarking from the aeroplane for an hour until Mortimer Planno, a well-known Rasta, personally welcomed him. From then on, the visit was a success. Rita Marley, Bob Marley's wife, converted to the Rastafari faith after seeing Haile Selassie; she has stated that she saw stigmata appear on his person, and was instantly convinced of his divinity.
The great significance of this event in the development of the Rastafari movement should not be underestimated. Having been outcasts in society, they gained a temporary respectability for the first time. By making Rasta more acceptable, it opened the way for the commercialisation of reggae, leading in turn to the further global spread of Rastafari.
Because of Haile Selassie's visit, April 21 is celebrated as Grounation Day. It was during this visit that Selassie I famously told the Rastafari community leaders that they should not immigrate to Ethiopia until they had first liberated the people of Jamaica. This dictum came to be known as "liberation before repatriation."
In 1968, Walter Rodney, a Guyanese national, author, and professor at the University of the West Indies, published a pamphlet titled The Groundings with My Brothers which among other matters, including a summary of African history, discussed his experiences with the Rastafarians. It became a benchmark in the Caribbean Black Power movement. Combined with Rastafarian teachings, both philosophies spread rapidly to various Caribbean nations, including Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, and Grenada.
There are Rasta communities in all continents around the world and they are becoming increasingly influential. In the western African country of Ivory Coast, presidential candidates tried to reach out to voters in the Rasta village of Port Bouet.
A small but devoted Rasta community developed in Japan in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Rasta shops selling natural foods, reggae recordings, and other Rasta-related items sprang up in Tokyo, Osaka, and other cities. For several years, "Japan Splashes" or open-air reggae concerts were held in various locations throughout Japan. For a review by two sociologists of how the Japanese Rasta movement can be explained in the context of modern Japanese society, see Dean W. Collinwood and Osamu Kusatsu, "Japanese Rastafarians: Non-Conformity in Modern Japan," The Study of International Relations, No. 26, Tokyo: Tsuda College, March 2000 (research conducted in 1986 and 1987).
Rastafarian (plural Rastafarians)