Rastafari: 101

Rastafari, correctly spelled Ras Tafari, assumed a religious and political movement, which emerged from Jamaica in the 1930s, stemming from the teachings of the great Jamaican leader and public figure, Marcus Garvey.  Garvey told black peoples of the world to unite and to return to African, the homeland and motherland. An idea that resonated when Garvey told his followers in 1920s, “Look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is at hand”. In 1930 a man named Tafari Makonnen or Ras Tafari (Ras meaning king) claimed himself Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie I as well as the traditional titles “King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Conquering Lion of the Tribe Judah.and adopted by many groups around the globe, that combines Judaism, Protestant and Orthodox Christianity, mysticism, and a pan-African political consciousness. Following the Bloodline of King David through King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba through the Ethiopian book entitled Kebra Negast to explain Haile Selassie as 225th descendant of King Solomon. The first branch of Rastafari is believed to have been established in Jamaica in 1935 by Leonard P. Howell.

The beliefs of Rastafarians are often syncretic and quite misinterpreted by organized religious groups. Unmistakably, popular culture has portrayed any one who has dreads, smokes cannabis, and plays Reggae music is a Rastafari. There is quite more than these three facets to being a Rasta.  Rastafari is more than Judeo-Christian religion.  It is a movement and a way of life. The Rasta life style is one of Torah obedience. Rastas, as members of the movement are called, see their past, present, and future in a distinct way. Originating from Biblical stories, they “overstand” (to have deeper understanding) tribes in the Bible are African and descents of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in the Americas and around the world to be “exiles in spiritual Babylon.” They believe that they are being judged by JAH (English derivative of Hebrew YAH (God) through slavery and the existence of economic injustice and racial “downpression”. For turning their life away from the Torah as the Bible warned the tribes of Israel. 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. 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. Orthodox Rastas hold no divinity to Haile Selassie.

Jamaican Rastas are descendants of African slaves who were converted to Christianity in Jamaica by colonists using the King James Version of the Bible. Rastas maintain that the King James Version is a corrupted account of the true word of God, since white slave owners promoted incorrect interpretations of the Bible in order to better control colored slaves. Rastas believe that they can come to know the true meanings of biblical scriptures by cultivating a mystical consciousness of oneself with Jah, the Hebrew God of Israel. Rastas read the Bible collectively combining Old Testament, Apocryphal, New Testament, Dead Sea Scrolls and Kebra Negast sometimes even the Quran. However, emphasizing passages from Numbers and that of the Nazarite Vow, which prohibit the cutting of the corners of hair and beard. Laws of Leviticus and the consumption of kosher foods as well as prescribed rituals of prayer and meditation. Based on their reading of the Old Testament, many Rasta men enforce patriarchal values, and the movement is often charged with sexism by both insiders and outsiders. “Iyaric,” or “Dread-talk,” is the linguistic style of many Rastas, who substitute the sound of “I” for certain syllables.

Rastafari “livity,” or the principle of balanced lifestyle, includes the wearing of dreadlocks (natural uncombed, unaltered hair), dressing in the Ethiopian country colors of green, gold, and red (which symbolize the Land, Riches, Blood of fallen slaves), and eating an “I-tal” (derived from Vital emphasizing I as in oneself) diet which is mainly vegan or vegetarian, for some Rastas that includes kosher meats. Religious rituals include prayer services, the smoking of ganja (marijuana) to achieve better “I-ation” (meditation) with Jah, and “binghi” (all-night drumming ceremonies). 

Works Cited Grant, William. “Rastafari Culture.” The Extreme Ethiopian Rasta Vs. The Mellow Dallas Rasta, Professor Snider, 25 Apr. 2002, debate.uvm.edu/dreadlibrary/grant02.htm. Accessed 12 Dec. 2019. McAlister, Elizabeth A. “Rastafari.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 20 June 2019, www.britannica.com/topic/Rastafari. Accessed 12 Dec. 2019. “Rastafarian History.” BBC – Home, 21 Oct. 2009, www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/rastafari/history/history.shtml.

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