Rastafarian Culture And Religion

The culture and religion of Rastafarians from Jamaica have a rich heritage that not many in the rest of the world understand.

In the 1920's, the people living in the slums of Kingston, Jamaica had little to celebrate or look forward to. They lived in grinding poverty and felt that their culture was being destroyed by white imperialism. A man named Marcus Garvey changed that when he began to preach a new philosophy called "Back to Africa." This black self-empowerment movement taught that all blacks should move back to the home of their ancestors""Africa, but even more specifically, Ethiopa. "Look to Africa," Garvey proclaimed in 1920, "where a black man shall be crowned king, for the day of deliverance is at hand!"

His prophetic statement resonated with Jamaicans when, in 1930, a black African named Ras Tafari Makonnen was named Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopa. His followers in Jamaica proclaimed themselves "Rastafarians" and Selassie the "Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah." Rastafarians believe themselves to be one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Haile Selassie claimed to be a direct descendant of King David, and as time went on, he came to be regarded by Rastafarians as a manifestation of God, or "Jah" as they call him, on earth. In Rastafarianism, there is no afterlife, and so the Kingdom on earth becomes very important.

In the beginning, Rastafarianism was much more radical than it is today. Early Rastas despised white people and taught that their culture was "Babylon"""impure, greedy, and avaricious. However, in later years, the prophet Gad, with his Twelve Tribes of Israel movement, included all men, of whatever race, in salvation. Whites can never be Rasta leaders, though, because the divine lineage comes down through the Ethiopian Monarchy: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from beneath his feet, until Shiloh comes and unto him will be the gathering of the people."



The death of Haile Selassie in 1974 shook the Rasta world. How could Jah on earth die? Some were shaken in their beliefs, while many others, especially the elderly, refused to believe his death at all and insisted it was a white media conspiracy.

Rasta culture has only grown stronger in the years since Selassie's death, however. A major proponent of Rastafarianism in the Sixties and Seventies was Bob Marley. First with his band the Wailers and then in his solo career, this talented musician became for many the voice of Jamaica and was the first Jamaican superstar. The music of Rastafarianism was at first ska, which then mutated into reggae. Reggae music has been used for the last four decades to express the joy of Jah and Rasta and also to protest the injustices the Jamaican people have had to endure.

The average Rastafarian eats a diet of I-tal food. I-tal food is natural food that has not been preserved or chemically altered in any way. Most Rastafarians are vegetarians, though they do eat fish. Even those who do eat meat never touch pork. Alcohol is forbidden, and coffee and salt are strongly discouraged. A diet of vegetables, fruits, and seeds is considered one that will keep impurities out of the body and ward off sickness.

The most controversial aspect of Rastafarianism is probably the fact that its adherents smoke "ganga" for religious purposes. The "herb" that they smoke is an Indian strain of hemp, as opposed to the Mexican variety that is familiar in the United States. This Indian strain is much stronger, causing hallucinations and spiritual visions, and Rastafarians believe that they become one with Jah when they smoke it. This habit has always caused a lot of friction between Jamaican authorities and the followers of Rasta.

Some Rastafarians can be recognized by the long "dreadlocks" they sport. These dreadlocks represent the Lion of Judah, or Rastafarian manhood. They also speak a distinct form of the English language. Instead of saying, "you and I," a Rastafarian will often say, "I and I," for he truly believes that all men are one.

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