The Rastafarian Movement
The Rastafarian movement is a religion or ideology that started out in Jamaica in the 1930s. It developed among the poor people in Jamaica who were oppressed and felt bad.
Its followers worship Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia, whom they think of as the second coming of Jesus Christ on Earth. The name comes from Ras, which is like the title Prince, and Tafari, his name at birth. Rastas regard Haile Selassie as a God, not only because he was king of Ethiopia, the only country to be free of foreign influence, but he was also a leader who was widely accepted by the governments of Europe. When Selassie was crowned emperor in 1930, Jamaicans soon started worshipping him.
The Rastafarian movement is against western society and looks towards Africa as the centre of mankind. Many Rastas, as they are called, do not think of their movement as a religion but as a way of life. Today the Rastafarian movement has about one million followers all over the world. In Jamaica about 5 % of the population are Rastafarians.
Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia
World Views of Rastafarians
Rastafarians worship a single god, called Jah, who lives inside the human being. They claim that Haile Selassie will lead Rastafarians into their paradise, called Zion. When the emperor died in 1975 many Rastafarians did not believe it and thought it was a hoax. But for most believers he still remains their god and king.
Rastas view western society as Babylon, an entirely corrupt part of the world. They also think that Africa is a central part of the world, a place where paradise will be created. Rastafarians despise white people who are aggressive and have enslaved Blacks over the centuries. They believe that Blacks are the chosen people of God.
Culture and Ways of Life
Rastafarians have no real place to go and worship because they believe God lives in them anyway. They do not believe in an afterlife but think they will eventually live in Africa. Few Rastas are believed to be immortal, a situation which they call everliving.
Rastafarians believe in smoking cannabis, a sacrament that cleans the mind, brings them pleasure and closer to their god Jah. This has led to conflicts between Rastas and governments in many countries, where growing and smoking marijuana is illegal. Rastas, however, claim that it is part of the African culture.
Most Rastas are vegetarians, or vegans. They eat raw food, mostly fruit and vegetables. They avoid eating meat and drinking alcohol, coffee and milk. Rastafarians consider their food as I-tal , which means pure and clean.
Wearing dreadlocks is strongly associated with the Rastafarian way of life. They view it as something spiritual because the Bible forbids cutting your hair. Dreadlocks also symbolize a lion’s mane. The animal represents strength and power.
Green, gold and red are important colors in the Rastafarian movement. They are the colors of the Ethiopian flag and show loyalty to King Haile Selassie. Red is a symbol of the blood of the blacks who were killed throughout history, green represents Ethiopia’s beauty and vegetation and gold symbolizes the richness of Ethiopia.
Rastafarian with dreadlocks - Photo by Jonathan Stephens, JRS Film Website
Early Rastafarian music began with hymns and drumming. They used their own texts as the lyrics of their hymns.
Reggae is a music genre that developed in Jamaica in the 1960s. It is closely associated with the names of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and others. These musicians spread Rastafarianism throughout the world. It was Bob Marley, who wanted to make people aware of Rastafarianism through his lyrics. He spoke out against discrimination and the inequality towards Blacks.
Marcus Garvey is thought to be a prophet of the Rastafarian movement. He is often seen as a second John the Baptist. In the early 20th century he promoted Black nationalism and claimed that all blacks should get together and help throw the imperialists out of Africa. He was an activist who wanted to improve the situation of blacks. Garvey appealed especially to the poorer blacks of Jamaica.
- accept = thought to be right by many
- activist = someone who works hard to get things down or who protests against something
- afterlife = life after death
- appeal to = to be attractive and interesting
- associate = link to
- avoid = keep away from
- aware = think about
- Baptist = a person who touches or covers a person with water in order to welcome them to the Christian religion
- birth = when a baby comes out of its mother’s body
- cannabis = an illegal drug that is usually smoked; marijuana
- century = a period of a hundred years
- chosen = selected
- claim = to say that something is true
- closely = very much
- coming = arrival
- consider = think, believe, look at
- corrupt = if you use your power in a bad way or if you do something illegally in order to get what you want
- despise = look down on, hate
- develop = grow
- discrimination = inequality; an unfair way of treating someone or a group of people
- dreadlocks = a way that you arrange your hair so that it hangs down in thick pieces that look like a rope; it is the way Rastafarians wear their hair
- emperor = the man who is a ruler of a big country or group of countries
- enslaved = to make slaves
- entirely = totally
- especially = above all
- eventually = slowly
- few = not many
- follower = someone who believes in an idea and supports the leader of this idea
- forbid = not allow
- foreign = from another country
- genre = type, style
- government = the people who rule a country
- hoax = trick, joke, something that is not true
- however = but
- hymn = song to God
- illegal = against the law
- immortal = to live forever
- imperialist = people who like to rule other countries
- influence = power, control
- loyalty = to be faithful
- lyrics = the text of a song
- mane = long hair around the neck of an animal
- mankind = all people as a group
- mind = the thoughts you have and how you think
- movement = idea
- nationalism = when people who have the same religion or language want to have their own country
- oppress = keep down, dominate, treat badly
- pleasure = happiness
- population = the people who live in a country
- promote = to make popular or famous
- prophet = a man who people believe has been sent by God to lead them
- pure = not mixed
- raw = not cooked
- regard = see as
- remain = stay
- richness = wealth, money
- sacrament = a holy event
- single = only one
- spiritual = religious
- spread = move from one place to another
- strength = power
- throughout = in all of
- towards = in the direction of
- vegan = someone who does not eat any animal product, like meat, fish, milk, cheese, butter etc..
- vegetarian = someone who does not eat meat or fish
- vegetation = plant life
- worship = pray to