Rastafarianism: Rastafari, also spelled Ras Tafari, religious and political movement, begun in Jamaica in the 1930s and adopted by many groups around the globe, that combines Protestant Christianity, mysticism, and a pan-African political consciousness.
Rastas, as members of the movement are called, see their past, present, and future in a distinct way. Drawing from Old Testament stories, especially that of Exodus, they “overstand” (rather than understand) people of African descent in the Americas and around the world to be “exiles in Babylon.” They believe that they are being tested by Jah (God) through slavery and the existence of economic injustice and racial “downpression” (rather than oppression). Looking to the New Testament book of Revelation, Rastas await their deliverance from captivity and their return to Zion, the symbolic name for Africa drawn from the biblical tradition. Ethiopia, the site of a dynastic power, is the ultimate home of all Africans and the seat of Jah, and repatriation is one goal of the movement. Many (though not all) Rastas believe that the Ethiopian emperor, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, crowned in 1930, is the Second Coming of Christ who returned to redeem all Black people. The movement takes its name from the emperor’s precoronation name, Ras Tafari.
Rastafarianism Is a Religion
Many people are vaguely familiar with Rastafarians and know that they are connected with Jamaica in some way, but if you ask people if it’s a religion, they often don’t know. Additionally, those who say it is a religion may not be able to say much about it. How about you? When you think of Rastafarianism, do you think of things like dreadlocks, reggae music, and marijuana? Do you know much about its history, meaning, beliefs, and practices? If not, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s take a deeper look at this religion.
Leaders Who Shaped Rastafarianism
Rastafarianism began with a pro-African movement in Jamaica in the early part of the 20th century. Two leaders, in particular, helped shape what would become Rastafarianism: Leonard Howell and Marcus Garvey. Leonard Howell taught about the superiority of African peoples and hatred for Europeans, and he encouraged people to return to their motherlands in Africa. Many of Howell’s teachings were abandoned, but they helped to form the early spirit of pro-African movements.
Another leader to shape the movement which would eventually be called Rastafarianism was Marcus Garvey. Garvey taught that Africans were the lost tribe of the Israelites and that Christ would be born again on Earth, this time as a king in Africa. Because of his prediction, Rastafarians see Garvey as the return of John the Baptist, citing that his prophecy came true with the coronation of Haile Selassie as Emperor of Ethiopia.
Rastafarianism takes its name from its worship of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia as the return of Christ. Before his coronation, the Emperor went by the name Ras Tafari Makonnen. Besides Garvey’s prediction of Christ’s return as an African king, the traditional royal titles for Ethiopian leaders helped support worship of the Emperor. These titles included calling him the ”Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah” and ”Elect of God and King of the Kings of Ethiopia.” Even the name he took at his coronation, Haile Selassie, held the religious meaning of ”Might of the Trinity”. While the Emperor died at the hands of a military coup, Rastafarians often deny his death as a hoax. It is interesting to note that the Emperor always denied he was divine.
Rastafarianism is considered an offshoot of Abrahamic religious traditions like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Rastafarians believe in the Judeo-Christian God and call him Jah. They believe Christ came to Earth as a divine manifestation of Jah. Some Rastafarians believe that Christ was black, while many focus on Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia as the black messiah and rebirth of Christ. They believe that Ethiopia is the holy land, a Heaven on Earth where true Rastas live eternally as bodily and spiritual immortals, negating the need for an afterlife. Rastafarians believe the Ark of the Covenant is currently hidden in Ethiopia.
In contrast to the divinity of Ethiopia, Rastafarians also talk about the sins of Babylon, referring to the power structures and culture of white society throughout the world. As part of the Judeo-Christian foundation, Rastafarians firmly believe in biblical teaching but have their own version of the Bible, which is generally called the Holy Piby or sometimes The Blackman’s Bible. It was written to eliminate the distortions Rastafarians believe were added by the white power structures of Babylon to oppress Africans. The Holy Piby was assembled and retranslated between 1913 and 1917 by Robert Athlyi Rogers.
9 Major things you must Know about rastafarianism
If all you know about Rastas is that they smoke joints and grow dreadlocks, we are here to set the record straight. Sure Rastas do have dreads and they do smoke marijuana, but it’s so much deeper than that. Here are 10 facts you might not know about the movement that developed in Jamaica in the 1930s, and has since spread its message across the globe.
1.Dreadlocks are not just for style.
According to Old Testament scripture (Leviticus 19:27), Rastas believe one should not cut their hair because it is where their strength lies. Dreadlocks form naturally over time.
2. Rastas smoke marijuana to increase spiritual awareness.
Rastas do not consider marijuana a drug. Instead, it is a medium that is used to open their mind and increase their spiritual awareness. Smoking marijuana is considered a religious ritual.
3. No, Bob Marley did not start the Rastafari movement.
While we might associate Mr. Marley with the movement, he didn’t actually start it! However, there is no denying that the insane popularity of his music helped spread the Rastafari way of life.
4. Rastafari has its roots in the philosophy of Marcus Garvey.
Marcus Garvey, born in Jamaica in 1887, was a political activist and supporter of black self-empowerment. Many Rastafari consider Garvey to be a prophet, similar to John the Baptist’s role in Christianity. In his teachings, he urged those of the African diaspora to not only return to Africa, but to also “look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned.” That prophecy was realized with the crowning of the last Emperor of Ethiopia.
5. Another crucial name to know: Haile Selassie I.
Followers of Marcus Garvey’s teachings came together to form a religion in 1930, when Haile Selassie I became the Emperor of Ethiopia. Rastafarians consider the Emperor their messiah, naming the movement after his birth name, Ras Tafari Makonnen. On April 21, 1966, Haile Selassie I visited Jamaica for the first (and only) time. The day is now considered holy, known as Grounation Day. Learn more here.
6. Rastas are not just in Jamaica.
There are approximately one million followers of the Rastafari movement worldwide. Thanks to music (and the Internet), the message of Rastafari has touched people everywhere.
7. Rastas are super healthy!
Generally, Rastas are pretty health conscious. They consider their body to be a temple, based on the Old Testament teachings. Rastas do not drink alcohol or eat food that is not nourishing to their body, which includes meat. Many follow a strict dietary law called ital, which states that all food must be completely natural and raw.
8. Rastas believe Africa is paradise on earth.
Rastas see Africa as a paradise on earth, and at the core of the movement is the belief that all people of the African diaspora should return to their homeland. Many Rastafaris hope to return to Africa during their lifetime.
9. That’s gold in the Rastafarian flag, not yellow!
A common misconception of the Rastafarianism and Rastafari flag is that its colors are red, green, black and yellow. However, the Rastafari colors are red, green, black and gold—and they were all chosen for a specific purpose. Gold (not yellow!) symbolises the wealth of Ethiopia. If you want to know what the other colors signify, click here.