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Rastafari Overview

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Green Gaia

Veteran Member
Rastafarianism, or the Rastafarian movement as they prefer to call themselves, is a religious movement that believes that former emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia is God incarnate (a man who is the earthly aspect of God, as part of the Holy Trinity). It emerged in Jamaica among working-class and peasant black people in the early 1930s out of an interpretation of Biblical prophecy, black social and political aspirations, and the teachings of their prophet, Jamaican black publicist and organiser Marcus Mosiah Garvey, whose political and cultural vision inspired the movement's founders.

The religion has spread throughout much of the world largely through immigration and interest generated by reggae—most notably, the music of Bob Marley. By 2000, there were more than one million Rastafarians worldwide. About five to ten percent of Jamaicans identify themselves as Rastafarians.


The ideas held by Rastafarians depart radically from the norms of the modern western mind, something encouraged deliberately by the Rastas themselves. Unlike most religious and Christian groups which tend to stress conformity towards the powers-that-be, Rastafari stresses nonconformity and peaceful rebelliousness towards what it terms Babylon, which is the modern society in which we live. Rastafari grew up amongst very poor people to whom society had nothing to offer except more suffering. Rastafarians see themselves as conforming to a vision of how Africans should live. Their religion is difficult to categorise because Rastafari is not a centralised organisation, resulting in both sects within the movement and individuals holding a wide of variety of beliefs under the general umbrella of Rastafari.


Rastafari is a response to racist negation of black people. In Jamaica in the 1930s, black people were at the bottom of the racist social order, while white people and their Christian religion were at the top. Marcus Garvey's encouragement of black people to take pride in themselves and their Africanness inspired the Rastas to embrace all things African. They believe they were brainwashed while in captivity to negate all things black and african. They turned the racists' image of them as primitive and straight out of the jungle into a defiant embracing of these concepts as a part of the African culture they see as having been stolen from them when they were taken from Africa on the slaveships. To be close to nature, and to the African jungle and its lions, in spirit if not in the flesh, is central to their idea of African culture. They believe that when they were into captivity their African cultural was stolen from them, and that they must do everything within their power to reclaim this culture. Living close to and as a part of nature is seen as African. This natural African approach is seen in the dreadlocks, the marijuana, the ital food, and all aspects of Rasta life. They see the modern non approach to life for being unnatural and excessively objective and rejecting of subjectivity. The Rastas say that scientists discover how the world is by looking from the outside in, whereas the Rasta approach is to see life from the inside, looking out. Each individual is given tremendous importance in Rastafari, and every Rasta has to figure out the truth for themselves.

Another important afrocentric identification is with the colours red, gold, and green, which are from the Ethiopian flag. They are a symbol of the Rastafarian religion, and of the loyalty Rastas feel towards Haile Selassie, Ethiopia, and Africa rather than for any other modern state in which they happen to live. These colours are frequently seen on clothing and other decorations. Red stands for the blood of martyrs, green stands for the vegetation of Africa, while Gold stands for the wealth and prosperity Africa has to offer. Many Ethiopian scholars state that the colours originate from an old saying that the Virgin Mary's belt is the rainbow, and that the Red, Gold, and Green are an abbreviation of this.

Many Rastafarians attempt to learn Amharic which they consider to be the original language, because this is the language Haile Selassie spoke, and to emphasise themselves as African people, though in practice most rastas continue to speak either English or their native language. There are reggae songs written in Amharic.

Haile Selassie
The one belief that unites all Rastafarians is that Ras (Amharic for Prince) Tafari Makonnen, who was crowned Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia on November 2nd 1930, is the living God incarnate, the black messiah who will lead the world's peoples of African origin into a promised land of full emancipation and divine justice. This is because his titles of Kings of kings, Lord of lords, Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah with the root of David match those of the Messiah mentioned in Revelations.

Rastas call Selassie Jah, Jah Jah, or Jah Rastafari, and believe there is great power in these names. They call themselves Rastafarians (properly pronounced Rastafarians and not Rastafairians) to express the personal relationship each Rasta has with Selassie. Rastas like to use the ordinal, making the name Haile Selassie I, with the one pronounced as an I, again as a means of expressing a personal relationship with God. They also like to call him H.I.M. (pronounced him) for His Imperial Majesty.

For him he is their king as well as their God. An African Haile Selassie, with great pomp and dignity in front of the world's press and representatives of many of the world's poperful nations. Rastas from the beginning decided to in effect treat themselves as Ethiopian citizens, loyal to its leader and devoted to its flag.

Rastafarianism is a strongly syncretic Abrahamic religion that draws extensively from the Bible. They particularly like the New Testament Book of Revelations, as this (5.5) is where they find the prophecies about the divinity of Haile Selassie. Rastas believe 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.

They believe 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 embraced the idea that even the illiterate can be Rastas by read 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.

Rastafarians are criticised, particularly by Christian groups, for taking biblical quotes out of context, for picking and choosing what they want from the Bible, and for bringing elements into Rastafari that do not appear in the Bible. They are also criticised for only using the English language (and particularly the King James version) of the Bible, as they have no interest in Hebrew or Greek scholarship.

Green Gaia

Veteran Member



The wearing of dreadlocks is closely associated with the movement, though not universal among (or exclusive to) its adherents. Dreadlocks are supported by Leviticus 21:15 ("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 Nazarite vow in Numbers 6.5-6. The hairstyle began partially to contrast the kinky long hair of black men with the straight hair of the white race. Dreadlocks have also come to symbolize the Lion of Judah and rebellion against Babylon. In the United States, several public schools and workplaces have lost lawsuits as the result of banning dreadlocks. 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 Rastafarian rights. African American men and women have both joined in the cultural outbreak of dreadlocks. In the Nappy be Happy salons all over the United States dreadlocks are being taught and associated with an inner journey that one takes in the process of locking their hair (growing dreadlocks). It is taught that patience is the key to growing dreadlocks, which is a journey of the mind, soul and spirituality. Its spiritual pattern is aligned with the Rastafarian religion. People who do not understand the process sometimes mock the dreadlock style and make comments about the cleanliness of the locked hair. The way they form dreadlocks, with a black person's hair, is to not comb it. There is no twisting or braiding involved and anything that makes the locking process easier or faster is regarded as akin to sacrilege among the Rasta faithful.

The word dread comes from Rasta terminology. For the Rastas the razor, the scissors and the comb are Babylonian or Roman inventions.

For many Rastas, smoking marijuana (known as ganja or herb) is a spiritual act; they consider it a sacrament which facilitates consciousness and peacefulness, bringing them closer to God. Many believe that cannabis originated in Africa, and that it is a part of their African culture that they are reclaiming. 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 compare their herb to liquor, which they feel makes people stupid, and is not a part of African culture. While there is a clear belief in the beneficial qualities of cannabis it is not compulsory to use it, and there are Rastafarians who do not do so. Dreadlocked mystics, often ascetic, have smoked cannabis in India for centuries. The migration of many thousands of Indian Hindus to the Caribbean in the twentieth century brought this culture to Jamaica. They believe that the smoking of cannabis enjoys Biblical sanction and is an aid to meditation and religious observance.
Biblical verses Rastafarians believe justify the use of herb:

Exodus 10:12 "... eat every herb of the land."
Genesis 3:18 "... thou shalt eat the herb of the field."
Proverbs 15:17 "Better is a dinner of herb where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith."
Psalms 104:14 "He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man." Also see Spiritual use section of cannabis
However, then Attorney General of the United States Janet Reno ruled that Rastafarians do not have the religious right to smoke ganja in violation of drug laws in the United States of America.

Rastafari Today
By the end of the 20th century women have become more important in the functioning of Rastafarianism. Previously, menstruating women were often subordinated to their husbands and excluded from religious and social ceremonies. To a large degree, women are given much more freedom now and contribute greatly to the religion.

Rastafarianism is not a highly organized religion. Most Rastas do not identify with any sect or denomination, though there are three groups or houses within the religion: the Nyahbinghi, the Bobo Ashanti and the Twelve tribes of Israel. By proposing Haile Selassie as the returned Jesus the Rastafari is a new religious movement that has sprung out of Christianity as Christianity sprung from Judaism.

In 1996, the Rastafarian movement worldwide was given consultative status by the United Nations.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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