Rastafari, sometimes termed Rastafarianism, is an Abrahamic religion.
Classified as both a new religious movement and social movement, it
Jamaica during the 1930s. There is no centralised
authority of the movement and much heterogeneity exists among
practitioners, who are known as Rastafari, Rastafarians, or Rastas.
Rastafari refer to their beliefs, which are based on a specific
interpretation of the Bible, as "Rastalogy". Central is a monotheistic
belief in a single God—referred to as Jah—who partially resides
within each individual. The former emperor of Ethiopia, Haile
Selassie, is given central importance. Many Rastas regard him as an
Jah on Earth and as the
Second Coming of Christ. Others
regard him as a human prophet who fully recognised the inner divinity
within every individual.
Rastafari is Afrocentric and focuses its
attention on the African diaspora, which it believes is oppressed
within Western society, or "Babylon". Many Rastas call for the
resettlement of the
African diaspora in either Ethiopia or Africa more
widely, referring to this continent as the
Promised Land of "Zion".
Other interpretations shift focus on to the adoption of an Afrocentric
attitude while living outside of Africa. Rastas refer to their
practices as "livity". Communal meetings are known as "groundations",
and are typified by music, chanting, discussions, and the smoking of
cannabis, the latter being regarded as a sacrament with beneficial
properties. Rastas place emphasis on what they regard as living
'naturally', adhering to ital dietary requirements, allowing their
hair to form into dreadlocks, and following patriarchal gender roles.
Rastafari originated among impoverished and socially disenfranchised
Afro-Jamaican communities in 1930s Jamaica. Its Afrocentric ideology
was largely a reaction against Jamaica's then-dominant British
colonial culture. It was influenced by both
Ethiopianism and the
Back-to-Africa movement promoted by black nationalist figures like
Marcus Garvey. The movement developed after several Christian
clergymen, most notably Leonard Howell, proclaimed that the crowning
Haile Selassie as Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930 fulfilled a Biblical
prophecy. By the 1950s, Rastafari's counter-cultural stance had
brought the movement into conflict with wider Jamaican society,
including violent clashes with law enforcement. In the 1960s and 1970s
it gained increased respectability within
Jamaica and greater
visibility abroad through the popularity of Rasta-inspired reggae
musicians like Bob Marley. Enthusiasm for
Rastafari declined in the
1980s, following the deaths of
Haile Selassie and Marley.
The Rasta movement is organised on a largely cellular basis. There are
several denominations, or "Mansions of Rastafari", the most prominent
of which are the Nyahbinghi, Bobo Ashanti, and the Twelve Tribes of
Israel, each of which offers different interpretations of Rasta
belief. There are an estimated 700,000 to 1 million Rastas across the
world; the largest population is in
Jamaica although communities can
be found in most of the world's major population centres. The majority
of practitioners are of black African descent, although a minority
come from other racial groups.
Jesus of Nazareth
2.2 Haile Selassie
2.3 Afrocentrism, Babylon, and Zion
2.3.1 Salvation and paradise
2.4 Morality, ethics, and gender roles
3.2 Spiritual use of cannabis
3.4 Language and symbolism
4.1 Ethiopianism, Back to Africa, and Marcus Garvey
Haile Selassie and the early Rastas: 1930–1949
4.3 Subsequent development: 1950–present
5.1 Mansions of Rastafari
6.1 Conversion and disillusionment
Jamaica and the Caribbean
6.4 Western countries
6.5 Australasia and Asia
7 See also
8.3 Further reading
9 External links
Scholars of religion have categorised
Rastafari as a new religious
movement, a new social movement, or as a social movement. The
scholar of religion Leonard E. Barrett referred to it as a sect,
and the sociologist Ernest Cashmore as a cult, while scholar of
religion Ennis B. Edmonds argued that it could best be understood as a
revitalization movement. Although
Rastafari focuses on Africa as a
source of identity, the scholar of religion Maboula Soumahoro noted
that it was not an "authentic" African religion but an example of
creolization, a product of the unique social environment that existed
in the Americas. Edmonds also suggested that
"emerging" as a world religion, not because of the number of adherents
that it had, but because of its global spread. Many Rastas
themselves, however, do not regard it as a religion, instead referring
to it as a "way of life". In 1989, a British Industrial Tribunal
concluded that—for the purposes of the Race Relations Act
1976—Rastafarians could be considered an ethnic group because they
have a long, shared heritage which distinguished themselves from other
groups, their own cultural traditions, a common language, and a common
The term "Rastafari" derives from the pre-regnal title of Haile
Selassie; the term "Ras" means a duke or prince, while "Tafari
Makonen" was his name. It is unknown why the early Rastas adopted
this form of Haile Selassie's name as the basis of their religion's
name. Many commentators—including some academic
sources—refer to the movement as "Rastafarianism". This term
has also been used by some practitioners. However,
"Rastafarianism" is considered offensive by most Rastafari, who, being
critical of "isms" or "ians" (which they see as a typical part of
"Babylon" culture), dislike being labelled as an "ism" or "ian"
themselves. Cashmore urged fellow academics not to use this term,
which he described as "insensitive".
The Liberty Bell Temple in
Los Angeles was established by Ed Forchion
Rastas refer to the totality of their religion's ideas and beliefs as
"Rastalogy". The scholar of religion Ennis B. Edmonds described
Rastafari as having "a fairly cohesive worldview"; however,
Cashmore thought that its beliefs were "fluid and open to
interpretation". Because it has no systematic theology or highly
developed institutions, the sociologist of religion Peter B. Clarke
stated that it was "extremely difficult to generalise" about Rastas
and their beliefs. Based on his research in Ghana, the scholar of
religion Darren J. N. Middleton suggested that it was appropriate to
speak of "a plethora of Rasta spiritualities" displaying a "shifting
eclecticism". The movement has continuously changed and developed
over the course of its history. Attempts have been made to
Rastafari belief, but these have never been accorded the
status of a catechism or creed within the movement.
Emphasis is placed on the idea that personal experience and intuitive
understanding should be used to determine the truth or validity of a
particular belief or practice. No Rasta, therefore, has the
authority to declare what beliefs and practices are orthodox and which
are heterodox. The conviction that
Rastafari has no dogma "is so
strong that it has itself become something of a dogma", according to
Rastafari belief is deeply influenced by
It accords the
Bible a central place in its belief system, regarding
it as a holy book, and adopts a literalist interpretation of its
contents. Rastas regard the
Bible as an authentic account of early
black history and their place as God's favoured people. They
believe that the
Bible was originally written on stone in the
Ethiopian language of Amharic. For Rastas, the
Bible is therefore
viewed as the key to understanding the past and the present and for
predicting the future. It is also regarded as a source book from
which they can form their religious practices. The Bible's final
chapter, the Book of Revelation, is widely regarded as the most
important part for Rastas, having a particular significance for their
However, Rastas also believe that the true meaning of the
been warped, both through mistranslation into other languages and by
deliberate manipulation by those who wanted to deny black Africans
their history. They also regard it as cryptographic, meaning that
it has many hidden meanings. They believe that its true teachings
can be revealed through intuition and meditation with the "book
within". As a result of what they regard as the corruption of the
Bible, Rastas also turn to other sources that they believe shed light
on black African history. Common texts used for this purpose
include Leonard Howell's 1935 work The Promised Key, Robert Athlyi
Rogers' 1924 book Holy Piby, and
Fitz Balintine Pettersburg 1920s
work, the Royal Parchment Scroll of Black Supremacy.
Jesus of Nazareth
Rastafari are monotheists, worshiping a singular
God whom they call
Jah. Rastas view
Jah in the form of the
Holy Trinity – Father, Son,
and the Holy Spirit. The term "Jah" is a shortened
version of "Jehovah", the name of
God in English translations of the
As well as regarding
Jah as a deity, Rastas also believe that
inherent within each human individual. This belief is reflected in
the aphorism, often cited by Rastas, that "
God is man and man is
God". Due to the view that
God exists within everyone, Rastas
believe that all members of the religion are intrinsically connected,
and thereby regard statements like "you and I" as being
insignificant. As a result, Rastas speak of "knowing" Jah, rather
than simply "believing" in him. In seeking to narrow the distance
between humanity and divinity,
Rastafari embraces mysticism. In
believing that human beings have an inner divinity within themselves,
Rastas help to cultivate a bastion against the uncertainty and
insecurity that exists within society and societal institutions.
Jesus of Nazareth
Jesus of Nazareth is an important figure in Rastafari. However,
practitioners reject the traditional depiction of
Jesus present in
Christianity, particularly the depiction of him as a white European,
believing that this is a perversion of the truth. They believe
Jesus was a black African and that he was a Rasta.
Christianity is treated with suspicion out of the view that the
oppressors and the oppressed cannot share the same God, with many
Rastas taking the view that the
God worshipped by most white
Christians is actually the Devil. Rastas therefore often view
Christian preachers as deceivers, and regard
Christianity as being
guilty of furthering the oppression of the African diaspora, often
referring to it as having perpetrated "mental enslavement". One
recurring saying among
Rastafari is that "The Pope is Satan".
Jesus is given particular prominence among a
known as the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Rastas belonging to this
group refer to
Jesus as Yahshua and Yesus Kritos, and believe that his
second coming is forthcoming. Accordingly, they do not share the
view of other Rastas that
Haile Selassie was the second coming of
From Rastafari's origins, the religion was intrinsically linked with
Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, who ruled as Emperor of Ethiopia from
1930 to 1974. He remains the central symbolic figure in Rastafari
ideology, and although all Rastas hold him in esteem, precise
interpretations of his identity differ. For Rastas, Haile Selassie
is believed to be the messiah predicted in the Biblical Old
Testament, and the
Second Coming of
Jesus of Nazareth. As
evidence for this, Rastas point to the belief that both
Haile Selassie were descendants from the royal line of David. The
Makonnen dynasty claimed descent from the Biblical figures
the Queen of Sheba. However, historians agree that this alleged
"Solomonic" lineage was broken multiple times in history, and probably
a 13th-century invented tradition to justify Yekuno Amlak's new
reign. Rastas also cite their interpretation of chapter 19 in the
Book of Revelation. For many of these Rastas,
Haile Selassie is
believed to be the manifestation of
God in human form, and thus
the living God. Some perceive him as part of a Trinity, alongside
God as Creator and "the Breath within the temple". Alternately,
other Rastas regard
Haile Selassie as a messenger or emissary of God
rather than a manifestation of
God himself. This attitude may be
more pervasive among Rastas living in Africa itself, who are more
familiar with the realities of the continent's political problems.
Rastas holding to this view sometimes regard the deification of Haile
Selassie as naïve or ignorant.
Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, considered by Rastas to be the
reincarnation of Christ.
On being crowned,
Haile Selassie was given the title of "King of Kings
and Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah". Rastas
use this title for
Haile Selassie alongside others, such as "Almighty
God", "Judge and Avenger", "King Alpha and Queen Omega", "Returned
Messiah", "Elect of God", and "Elect of Himself". Rastas also view
Haile Selassie as a symbol of their positive affirmation of Africa as
a source of spiritual and cultural heritage.
During the 1960s, many Jamaican Rastas professed the belief that Haile
Selassie would never die. The 1974 overthrow of
Haile Selassie by
Derg and his subsequent death in 1975 resulted in a
crisis of faith for many Rastas. Some practitioners left the
movement altogether. Others remained, and developed new strategies
for dealing with the news. Some Rastas believed that Selassie did not
really die and that claims to the contrary were Western
misinformation. To bolster their argument, they pointed to the
fact that no corpse had been produced; in reality, Haile Selassie's
body had been buried beneath a toilet in his palace, remaining
undiscovered there until 1992. To support their claim of his
continued survival, some Rastas claimed that Selassie was now living
under a new name, Abba Keddus or Abba Keddus Keddus Keddus.
Another perspective within
Rastafari acknowledged that Haile
Selassie's body had perished, but claimed that his inner essence
survived as a spiritual force. A third response within the
Rastafari community was that Selassie's death was inconsequential as
he had only been a "personification" of
Jah rather than Jah
During his life, Selassie described himself as a devout Christian.
In a 1967 interview when a Canadian interviewer mentioned the
Rastafari belief that he was the reincarnation of
Jesus Christ, he
responded by saying: "I have heard of this idea. I also met certain
Rastafarians. I told them clearly that I am a man, that I am mortal,
and that I will be replaced by the oncoming generation, and that they
should never make a mistake in assuming or pretending that a human
being is emanated from a deity." His grandson Ermias Sahle Selassie
has said that there is "no doubt that
Haile Selassie did not encourage
Rastafari movement". For some Rastas, Haile Selassie's denials
are taken as evidence was that he was indeed the incarnation of
God. However, critics of the religion have insisted that Haile
Selassie was merely a human being who never claimed to be God.
Afrocentrism, Babylon, and Zion
The eastern African nation of Ethiopia is given great prominence in
According to Clarke,
Rastafari is "concerned above all else with black
consciousness, with rediscovering the identity, personal and racial,
of black people". The
Rastafari movement began among
Afro-Jamaicans who wanted to reject the British imperial culture that
dominated Jamaica, while at the same time making a determined effort
to create an identity based on a re-appropriation of their African
heritage. Rastas equate blackness with the African continent and
thus endorse a form of Pan-Africanism. Practitioners of Rastafari
identify themselves with the ancient Israelites—God's chosen people
in the Old Testament—and believe that black Africans or Rastas are
either the descendants or reincarnations of this ancient people.
Rastafari espouses the view that the true identity of black Africans
has been lost and needs to be reclaimed. In reclaiming this
identity, Rastas believe, they will help to rid themselves of feelings
Rastafari teaches that the black
African diaspora are exiles living in
"Babylon", a term applied to Western society. For Rastas, European
colonialism and global capitalism are regarded as manifestations of
Babylon, while police and soldiers are viewed as its agents.
The term "Babylon" is adopted because of its Biblical associations. In
the Old Testament,
Babylon is the Mesopotamian city which conquered
and deported the
Israelites from their homeland between 597 and 586
BCE. In the New Testament, "Babylon" is used as a euphemism for
the Roman Empire, which was regarded as acting in a destructive manner
akin to the ancient Babylonians. Rastas view
Babylon as being
responsible for both the
Atlantic slave trade
Atlantic slave trade which removed enslaved
Africans from their continent and for the ongoing poverty facing the
African diaspora. Rastas turn to scripture to explain the Atlantic
slave trade. Rastas believe that the slavery, exile, and
exploitation of black Africans was punishment for failing to live up
to their status as Jah's chosen people.
Babylon is regarded as the ultimate evil. Rastas
regard the exile of the black
African diaspora in
Babylon as an
experience of great suffering, with the term "suffering" having a
significant place in Rasta discourse. Rastas seek to delegitimise
and destroy Babylon, something often conveyed in the Rasta aphorism
"Chant down Babylon". Practitioners are often critical of Western
resource extraction from Africa, seeing it as a form of exploitation
akin to the Atlantic Slave Trade. Adopting a Pan-Africanist ethos,
many Rastas have criticised the vision of Africa into nation-states,
again regarding this as a Babylonian development. Rastas often
expect white-dominated society to dismiss their beliefs as false, and
when this happens it is seen as confirmation of the correctness of
their faith, thus strengthening their convictions.
Map of Ethiopia, the "Zion" of the Rastas
Rastas view "Zion" as an ideal to which they aspire. As with
"Babylon", this is again a term derived from the Bible, where it
referred to an idealised Jerusalem, regarded as the City of God.
Rastas use the term in reference either to Ethiopia or to Africa more
widely, a land which has an almost mythological identity in Rasta
discourse. In doing so, Rastas reflect their desire to escape what
they perceive as the domination and degradation that they experience
in Babylon. During the first three decades of the Rastafari
movement, it placed strong emphasis on the need for the African
diaspora to be repatriated to Africa. To this end, various Rastas
lobbied the Jamaican government and
United Nations to oversee this
resettlement process. Other Rastas organised their own
transportation to the African continent. Critics of the movement
have argued that the migration of the entire
African diaspora to
Africa is implausible, particularly as no African country would
By the movement's fourth decade, the desire for physical repatriation
to Africa had declined among Rastas. This change in view was
influenced by observation of the 1983-1985 famine in Ethiopia.
Rather, many Rastas saw the idea of returning to Africa in a
metaphorical sense, entailing restoring their pride and
self-confidence as people of black African descent. The term
"liberation before repatriation" began to be used within the
movement. Some Rastas seek to transform Western society so that
they may more comfortably live within it rather than seeking to move
to Africa. There are nevertheless many Rastas who continue to
emphasise the need for physical resettlement of the African diaspora
in Africa. Some Rastas living elsewhere in Africa see no need to
migrate to Ethiopia specifically because they believe that all of
Africa falls under the Biblical understanding of "Ethiopia"; thus,
Rastas in Ghana for instance described themselves as already living
There is no uniform Rasta view on race. Rastas typically believe
that black Africans are God's chosen people, meaning that they made a
deal with him and thus have a special responsibility. This is
similar to beliefs in Judaism. Influenced by Garvey, many Rastas
endorse black supremacy, believing the black African race to be
superior to other racial groups. This has opened the religion up
to accusations of racism from its critics, including black
Jamaicans. Cashmore noted that there was an "implicit potential"
for racism in Rasta beliefs but that racism was not "intrinsic" to the
religion. Some Rastas have acknowledged that there is racism in
the movement, primarily against Europeans, Asians, and also against
white European Rastas. Some Rasta sects reject the idea that a
white European could ever be a legitimate Rasta, while others
believe that an "African" identity is not inherently linked to black
skin but rather is about whether an individual displays an African
"attitude" or "spirit".
Salvation and paradise
Rastafari has been characterised as a millenarianist movement, for
it espouses the idea that the present age will come to an apocalyptic
Babylon destroyed, Rastas believe that humanity will be
ushered into a "new age". In the 1980s, Rastas believed that this
would happen around the year 2000. In this Day of Judgement,
Babylon will be overthrown, and Rastas would be the chosen few who
survive. A common view in the Rasta community was that the
world's white people would wipe themselves out through nuclear
war, with black Africans then ruling the world, something that
they argue is prophesied in Daniel 2: 31–32. In Rasta belief,
the end of this present age would be followed by a millennium of
peace, justice, and happiness in Ethiopia. The righteous will live
in paradise in Africa. Those who had supported
Babylon will be
denied access to paradise. The Rasta conception of salvation has
similarities with that promoted in Judaism.
Rastas do not believe that there is a specific afterlife to which
human individuals go following bodily death. They believe in the
possibility of eternal life, and that only those who shun
righteousness will actually die. One Rasta view is that those who
are righteous are believed to go through a process of
reincarnation, with an individual's identity remaining throughout
each of their incarnations. Barrett observed some Jamaican Rastas
who believed that those Rastas who did die had not been faithful to
Jah. He suggested that this attitude stemmed from the large
numbers of young people that were then members of the movement, and
who had thus seen only few Rastas die. In keeping with their views
on death, Rastas eschew celebrating physical death and often avoid
funerals, also repudiating the practice of ancestor veneration
that is common among African traditional religions.
Morality, ethics, and gender roles
Rastaman in Barbados, wearing the
Rastafari colours of green, gold,
red and black on a rastacap.
Most Rastas share a pair of fundamental moral principles known as the
"two great commandments". These are love of
God and love of
Rastafari promotes the idea of "living
naturally", in accordance with what Rastas regard as nature's
laws. It endorses the idea that Africa is the "natural" abode of
black Africans, a continent where they can live according to African
culture and tradition and be themselves on a physical, emotional, and
intellectual level. Practitioners believe that Westerners and
Babylon have detached themselves from nature through technological
development and as a result have become debilitated, slothful, and
decadent. Some Rastas express the view that they should adhere to
what they regard as African laws rather than the laws of Babylon, thus
defending their involvement in certain acts which may be illegal in
the countries that they are living in.
Rastafari promotes what it regards as the restoration of black
manhood, believing that men in the
African diaspora have been
emasculated by Babylon.
Rastafari espouses patriarchal
principles, and promotes the idea that women should submit to
male leadership. External observers—including scholars like
Cashmore and Edmonds—have claimed that
Rastafari accords women
an inferior position to men.
Rastafari women usually accept this
subordinate position and regard it as their duty to obey their
men. Rasta discourse often presents women as morally weak and
susceptible to deception by evil, and claims that they are impure
during their period of menstruation.
Rastafari mirrored the views
on gender which were common in Jamaican society more broadly;
however, it has retained its commitment to patriarchy while Jamaican
society has moved toward greater gender equity. Rastas legitimise
these gender roles by citing Biblical passages, particularly those in
the Book of Leviticus, and in the writings of Paul the
Rasta women usually wear clothing that covers their head and masks
their body contours, in a manner akin to traditional Islamic
clothing. Long skirts are usually worn rather than trousers.
Rasta discourse legitimises this female dress code with the claim that
it is necessary to prevent women attracting men; it also endorses this
female dress code as an antidote to the sexual objectification of
women in Babylon. Rasta men are permitted to wear whatever they
choose. Although men and women took part in early Rasta rituals
alongside each other, from the late 1940s and 1950s a more radical
movement within the Rasta community encouraged gender segregation for
ceremonies. This was legitimised with the explanation that women
were impure through menstruation and that their presence at the
ceremonies would distract male participants.
Rasta Shop, Oregon
As it existed in Jamaica,
Rastafari was not monogamous. Rasta men
are permitted to have multiple female sex partners, while women are
expected to reserve their sexual activity for their one male
partner. Marriage is not usually formalised through legal
ceremonies, although there are many Rastas who are legally
married. Rasta men refer to their female partners as
"queens", or "empresses", while the males in these
relationships are known as "kingmen".
Rastafari places great
importance on family life and the raising of children, with
reproduction being encouraged. The religion emphasises the place
of men in child-rearing, associating this with the recovery of African
manhood. Women often work, sometimes while the man is left to
raise the children at home.
Rastafari typically rejects
feminism, although since the 1970s there have been increasing
numbers of Rasta women calling for greater gender equity within the
Rastafari movement. Clarke encountered Rasta women in Britain who
expressed feminist sentiment and criticised sexism within the
religion, while the scholar Terisa E. Turner encountered black
feminists in Kenya who were appropriating
Rastafari and redefining its
content to suit their political agenda. Some Rasta women have
challenged gender norms by wearing their hair uncovered in public and
Both contraception and abortion are usually censured by Rastas,
and a common claim in Rasta discourse is that these were inventions of
Babylon created in an attempt to decrease the black African
birth-rate. Rastas also typically express hostile attitudes to
homosexuality, regarding homosexuals as evil and unnatural; this
attitude derives from references to same-sex sexual activity in the
Bible. In the 1960s, the scholar Sheila Kitzinger suggested that
this horror of homosexuality "may be an indication of a
heterosexuality which is not markedly pronounced" among Jamaican
practitioners. The scholar of religion Fortune Sibanda suggested
that there were likely homosexual Rastas who deliberately concealed
their sexual orientation because of these attitudes. Rastas
typically see the growing acceptance of birth control and
homosexuality in Western society as evidence of the degeneration of
Babylon as it approaches its apocalyptic end.
Some Rastas have promoted activism as a means of achieving
socio-political change, while others believe in awaiting change that
will be brought about through divine intervention in human
affairs. In Jamaica, Rastas do not typically vote and
derogatorily dismiss politics as "politricks". Similarly, some
Ghanaian Rastas were reported as refusing to vote in the 2000 general
election, believing that salvation would only come through livity, not
political activity. The Rasta tendency to believe that
socio-political change is inevitable opens the religion up to the
criticism from the political left that it encouraged adherents to do
little or nothing to change the status quo. Most of these
Jamaican practitioners have rejected both capitalism and socialism as
models of economic development. Other Rastas do engage in
political activism; the Ghanaian Rasta singer-songwriter Rocky Dawuni
for instance has been involved in campaigns promoting social justice,
environmental justice, and democratic elections.
The cultural and religious practices of
Rastafari are referred to as
"livity" by Rastas.
Rastafari has no professional priesthood,
with Rastas believing that there is no need for a priest to act as
mediator between the worshipper and divinity. There are
individuals who are regarded as elders within the community. This
is an honorific title bestowed upon those who have attained a good
reputation among Rastas because of their exemplary conduct.
Although respected figures, they do not necessarily have any
administrative functions or responsibilities among Rastafari.
Elders are often in communication with each other through a
Rastas in the West African country of Liberia
The term "grounding" is used among Rastas to refer to the
establishment of relationships between like-minded practitioners.
Groundings often take place in a commune or yard, and are presided
over by an elder. The elder is charged with keeping discipline in
the group, and can ban those who contravene the rules that they set
forth. The number of participants can range from a handful to
several hundred. Activities that take place at groundings include
the playing of drums, chanting, the singing of hymns, and the
recitation of poetry. Ganja, or cannabis, is often smoked.
Most groundings contain only men, with women being excluded. Some
Rasta women have established their own, all-female grounding
One of the central activities that takes place at groundings is
"reasoning". This is a discussion among assembled Rastas about
the religion's principles and their relevance to current events.
These discussions are supposed to be non-combative, although attendees
can point out the fallacies in any arguments that are presented.
Those assembled inform each other about the revelations that they have
received through meditation and dream. Each contributor is
supposed to push the boundaries of understanding until the entire
group has gained greater insight into the topic under discussion.
Cashmore observed that in England, Rastas arrived and left throughout
the reasoning session. In meeting together with likeminded
individuals, reasoning helps Rastas to reassure one another of the
correctness of their beliefs.
Rastafari meetings are opened and closed with prayers. Barrett
suggested that the most common example had "all the structure of a
classical ritual prayer". This prayer involves supplication of
God, the supplication for the hungry, sick, and infants, calls for the
destruction of the Rastas' enemies, and then closes with statements of
Princes shall come out of Egypt, Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hand
unto God. Oh thou
God of Ethiopia, thou
God of divine majesty, thy
spirit come within our hearts to dwell in the parts of righteousness.
That the hungry be fed, the sick nourished, the aged protected, and
the infant cared for. Teach us love and loyalty as it is in Zion.
— Opening passage of a common Rasta prayer
The largest groundings were known as "groundations" or "grounations"
in the 1950s, although were subsequently re-termed "Nyabinghi
Issemblies". The term
Nyabinghi is adopted from the name of a
mythical African queen. Several dates are often selected for
Nyabinghi Issemblies, particularly those associated with Ethiopia and
Haile Selassie. These include Ethiopian Christmas (7 January),
the day on which
Haile Selassie visited
Jamaica (21 April), Selassie's
birthday (23 July), Ethiopian New Year (11 September), Selassie's
coronation day (2 November). Some Rastas also organise Nyabinghi
Issemblies to mark Jamaica's Emancipation Day (1 August) and Marcus
Garvey's birthday (17 August).
Nyabinghi Issemblies typically take place in rural areas, being
situated in the open air or in temporary structures—known as
"temples" or "tabernacles"—which are specifically constructed for
the purpose. Any elder seeking to sponsor a
must have approval from other elders to do so, and requires the
adequate resources to organise such an event. The assembly
usually lasts between three and seven days. During the daytime,
those Rastas attending the event engage in food preparation, ganja
smoking, and reasoning, while at night they focus on drumming and
dancing around bonfires.
Nyabinghi Issemblies often attract
Rastas from a wide area, including from different countries. They
establish and maintain a sense of solidarity among the Rasta community
and cultivate a feeling of collective belonging. They also help
to confirm Rastas' convictions in the veracity of Rastafari
Spiritual use of cannabis
See also: Spiritual use of cannabis
Rastafari man carrying a basket
Clarke stated that the "principle ritual" of
Rastafari was the smoking
of ganja, or cannabis. Among the names that Rastas give to the
drug are callie, Iley, "the herb", "the grass", and "the weed".
When smoked in ritual contexts, Rastas often refer to it as "the holy
herb". In addition to smoking it, Rastas also ingest cannabis in
a tea, as a spice in cooking, and as an ingredient in medicine.
Cannabis is usually smoked during groundings, although some
Rastas smoke it almost all of the time. Others have criticised
this practice, believing that use of the drug should be restricted to
groundings. However, not all Rastas use ganja, explaining
that they have already achieved a higher level of consciousness and
thus do not require it.
Rastas argue that the use of ganja is promoted in the Bible,
specifically in Genesis 1: 29,
Psalms 18:8, and Revelation 22:2.
Rastas portray cannabis as the supreme herb, and regard it as
having healing properties. They also eulogise it for inducing
feelings of "peace and love" in those taking it, and claim that
it cultivates a form of personal introspection that allows the smoker
to discover their inner divinity, or "InI consciousness". Some
Rastas express the view that cannabis smoke serves as an incense that
counteracts perceived immoral practices, such as same-sex sexual
relations, in society.
When meeting in a grounding, Rastas typically remove their head gear
first. Rastas most often smoke cannabis through a form of large
cigarette known as a spliff. This is often rolled together while
a prayer is offered to Jah; only once this is completed is the spliff
then lit, enabling it to be smoked. At other times, cannabis is
smoked not in a spliff but in a water pipe referred to as a
"chalice". There are different styles of chalices used by Rastas,
including kutchies, chillums, and steamers. The pipe is passed in
a counter-clockwise direction around the assembled circle of
A flowering cannabis plant
By the 8th century, cannabis had been introduced by Arab traders to
Central and Southern Africa, where it is known as "dagga" and
many Rastas say it is a part of their African culture that they are
reclaiming. It is sometimes also referred to as "the healing of
the nation", a phrase adapted from Revelation 22:2. There are
various methods of transmission that might explain how cannabis
smoking came to be part of Rastafari. One possible source was the
African diasporic religion of Kumina, based on the practices of
Bakongo enslaved people and indentured labourers who were brought to
Jamaica in the mid-nineteenth century. In Kumina, cannabis was
smoked during religious ceremonies in the belief that it facilitated
possession by ancestral spirits. The religion was largely
practiced in south-east Jamaica's Saint Thomas Parish, where a
prominent early Rasta, Leonard Howell, lived during the period he was
developing many of Rastafari's beliefs and practices.
A second possible source was the use of cannabis in various Hindu
rituals. Hindu migrants arrived in
Jamaica as indentured servants
British India between 1834 and 1917, and brought the use of
cannabis with them. One Jamaican Hindu priest, Laloo, was one of
Howell's spiritual advisors, and may have influenced his adoption of
ganja. It is also possible that its adoption was also influenced
by the widespread medicinal and recreational use of cannabis among
Afro-Jamaicans in the early twentieth century. Early Rastafarians
may have taken an element of Jamaican culture which they associated
with their peasant past and the rejection of capitalism and sanctified
it by according it Biblical correlates.
According to many Rastas, the illegality of cannabis in many nations
is evidence of persecution of Rastafari. 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. In smoking an illegal substance, Rastas
protest the rules and regulations of Babylon. Rastas have
advocated the legalisation of cannabis. The Rasta usage of ganja
has attracted much popular, scholarly, and legal debate.
Rastafari motif, depicting the Lion of Judah
Rastafari music developed at reasoning sessions, where drumming,
chanting, and dancing are all present. Rasta music is performed
to praise and commune with Jah. In performing it, Rastas also
reaffirm their rejection of Babylon. Rastas believe that their
music has healing properties, with the ability to cure colds, fevers,
and headaches. Many of these songs are sung to the tune of older
Christian hymns, but others are original Rasta creations.
The bass-line of Rasta music is provided by the akete, a three-drum
set, which is accompanied by percussion instruments like rattles and
tambourines. A syncopated rhythm is then provided by the fundeh
drum. In addition, a peta drum improvises over the rhythm.
The different components of the music are regarded as displaying
different symbolism; the bassline symbolises blows against Babylon,
while the lighter beats denote hope for the future.
Rastafari developed, popular music became its chief communicative
medium. During the 1950s, ska was a popular musical style in
Jamaica, and although its protests against social and political
conditions were mild, it gave early expression to the Rastafarians'
social and political ideology. Particularly prominent in the
Rastafari and ska were the musicians Count Ossie
and Don Drummond. Ossie was a drummer who believed that black
people needed to develop their own style of music; he was heavily
Kumina and Burru, two drumming styles developed by
African-Jamaicans. Ossie subsequently popularised this new
Rastafari ritual music by playing at various groundings and
groundations around Jamaica, with songs like "Another Moses" and
Babylon Gone" reflecting this Rasta influence. Rasta themes also
appeared in Drummond's work, with songs such as "Reincarnation" and
"Tribute to Marcus Garvey". Rasta ideas began to feature in the
lyrics of mento songs, such as Lord Lebby's "Ethiopia".
1968 saw the development of reggae in Jamaica, a musical style
typified by slower, heavier rhythms than ska and the increased use of
patois. Although like calypso, reggae was a medium for social
commentary, it demonstrated a wider use of radical political and
Rasta themes than had previously been present in Jamaican popular
Reggae artists incorporated Rasta ritual rhythms, and
also adopted Rasta chants, language, motifs, and social
critiques. Songs like The Wailers' "African Herbsman" and "Kaya",
and Peter Tosh's "Legalize It" referenced marijuana use, while
tracks like The Melodians' "Rivers of Babylon" and Junior Byles' "Beat
Down Babylon" referenced the Rastafarian belief in Babylon.
Reggae gained widespread international popularity during the
mid-1970s, coming to be viewed as music of the oppressed by black
people in many different countries. Its popularity led to the
emergence of "pseudo-Rastafarians", individuals who adopted the
cultural trappings of Rastafari—such as dreadlocks and marijuana
use—without sharing the religion's beliefs. Many Rastas grew
critical of reggae, believing that it had commercialised their
faith. Although reggae contains much
Rastafari symbolism, and
the two have come to be widely associated, the connection between
them is often exaggerated by non-Rastas. Most Rastas do not
listen to reggae music.
Language and symbolism
In the 1940s, a distinct form of Rasta language, often known as
"dreadtalk", developed among Jamaican practitioners. Rastas
typically regard words as having an intrinsic power, with
Rastafari language reflecting Rastas' own experiences, as well as
fostering a group identity and cultivating particular values.
Rastas seek to avoid language that contributes to servility,
self-degradation, and the objectification of the person. They
believe that the
English language is a tool of Babylon, and thus
by formulating their own language are launching an ideological attack
on the integrity of the English language. The use of this
language helps Rastas distinguish themselves from non-Rastas, for
whom—according to Barrett—Rasta rhetoric can be "meaningless
Garvey adopted the three colours of the Ethiopian flag for his
movement; Rastas in turn adopted the tricolour
When greeting one another, Rastas often say "Peace and Love".
Rastas make wide use of the pronoun "I". The use of this word
denotes the Rasta view that the self is divine. It also reminds
each Rasta that they are a human being, not a slave, and that they
have value, worth, and dignity as a human being. For instance,
Rastas use "I" in place of "me", "I and I" in place of "we", "I-ceive"
in place of "receive", "I-sire" in place of "desire", "I-rate" in
place of "create", and "I-men" in place of "Amen". Rastas refer
to this process as "InI Consciousness" or "Isciousness". Rastas
typically refer to Haile Selaisse as "
Haile Selassie I", thus
indicating their belief in his divinity. Rastas also typically
believe that the phonetics of a word should be linked to its
meaning. For instance, Rastas often use the word "downpression"
in place of "oppression" because oppression bears down on people
rather than lifting them up, with "up" being phonetically akin to the
"opp-". Similarly, they often favour "livicate" over "dedicate"
because "ded-" is phonetically akin to the word "dead".
Rastafarians often make use of the colours red, black, green, and
gold. Red, gold, and green were used in the Ethiopian flag while,
prior to the development of Rastafari, Garvey had used red, green, and
black as the colours for his United Negro Improvement
Association. According to Garvey, the red symbolises the blood of
martyrs, the black symbolises the skin of Africans, and the green
represents the vegetation of the land. Many Rastas endorse these
associations to the colours. The colour gold is often included
alongside Garvey's three colours; it has been adopted from the
Jamaican flag, and is often interpreted as symbolising the
minerals and raw materials which constitute Africa's wealth.
Rastas often paint these colours onto their buildings, vehicles,
kiosks, and other items, or display them on their clothing,
helping to demarcate Rastas from non-Rastas and allowing adherents to
recognise their co-religionists. As well as being used by Rastas,
the colour set has also been adopted by Pan-Africanists more broadly,
who use it to display their identification with Afrocentricity;
for this reason it was adopted on the flags of many post-independence
African states. Rastas often accompany the use of these three or
four colours with the image of the Lion of Judah, also adopted from
the Ethiopian flag and symbolizing Haile Selassie.
Main article: Ital
An ital breakfast; ackee, plantain, boiled food, breadfruit, and
Rastas seek to produce food "naturally", eating what they call
ital, or "natural" food. This is often produced organically,
and locally. Most Rastas adhere to the dietary laws outlined in
the Old Testament's Book of Leviticus, and thus avoid eating pork or
crustaceans. Other Rastas remain totally vegetarian, and
also avoid the addition of any additives, including sugar and salt, to
their food. Rasta dietary practices have come under ridicule from
non-Rastas; in Ghana for example, where food traditionally includes a
high meat content, the Rastas' emphasis on vegetable produce has led
to the humorous comment from other Ghanaians that Rastas "eat like
sheep and goats". In Jamaica, Rasta practitioners have
commercialised ital food, for instance by selling fruit juices
prepared according to Rasta custom.
Rastafarians typically avoid food produced by non-Rastas or from
unknown sources. Rasta men also refuse to eat food prepared by a
woman while she was menstruating. They also avoid alcohol,
cigarettes, and hard drugs like heroin and cocaine.
Main article: Dreadlocks
Rasta man with tuff dreads
Through their use of language, dress, dreaded hair, and lifestyle
Rastas seek to draw a clear boundary between themselves and
non-Rastas. One of the "distinguishing mark[s] of the movement" is
the formation of hair into dreadlocks. The formation of
dreadlocks is Biblically inspired, legitimised by reference to the
Book of Numbers
Book of Numbers (6: 5–6). They are regarded as marking a
covenant that the Rastas have made with God, and are also
regarded as a symbol of strength linked to the hair of the Biblical
figure of Samson. Sometimes this dreadlocked hair is then shaped
and styled, often inspired by a lion's mane symbolising Haile
Selassie, who is regarded as "the Conquering Lion of Judah". For
Rastas, the wearing of dreads is a symbolic rejection of
Babylon and a
refusal to conform to its norms and standards regarding grooming
aesthetics. They also reflect a commitment to the Rasta idea of
'naturalness'. Rastas are often critical of black people who
straighten their hair, believing that it is an attempt to imitate
white European hair and thus reflects alienation from a person's
There are Rastas who do not wear their hair in dreadlocks; within the
religion they are often termed "cleanface" Rastas. Some Rastas
have also joined the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Christian
organisation to which
Haile Selassie belonged, and these individuals
are required to not wear their hair in locks by the Church. Many
Rastas also grow their beards long. In reference to Rasta
hairstyles, Rastas often refer to non-Rastas as "baldheads",
while those who are new to
Rastafari and who have only just started to
grow their hair into dreads are known as "nubbies". Members of
Bobo Ashanti sect of Rastas conceal their dreadlocks within
turbans. The tam headdress worn by many Rastas is coloured green,
red, black, and yellow to symbolise allegiance and identification with
From the beginning of the
Rastafari movement in the 1930s, adherents
typically grew beards and tall hair, perhaps in imitation of Haile
Selassie. The wearing of hair as dreadlocks then emerged as a
Rasta practice in the 1940s. Within the oral culture of the
movement, there are various different claims as to how this practice
was adopted. One claim is that it was adopted in imitation of
certain African nations, such as the Maasai, Somalis, or Oromo, or
that it was inspired by the hairstyles worn by some of those involved
in the anti-colonialist
Mau Mau Uprising
Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya. An alternative
explanation is that it was inspired by the hairstyles of the Hindu
It has been suggested (e.g., Campbell 1985) that the first Rasta locks
were copied from Kenya in 1953, when images of the independence
struggle of the feared Mau Mau insurgents, who grew their "dreaded
locks" while hiding in the mountains, appeared in newsreels and other
publications that reached Jamaica. However, a more recent study by
Barry Chevannes has traced the first hairlocked Rastas to a
subgroup first appearing in 1949, known as Youth Black Faith.
Rastafari man in rastacap
The wearing of dreadlocks has faced opposition from other sectors of
Jamaica during the mid-20th century, teachers and police
officers used to cut off the dreads of Rastas. In the United
States, several public schools and workplaces have lost lawsuits as
the result of banning locks. 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
Rastafari rights. More
recently, in 2009, a group of
Rastafari settled a federal lawsuit with
the Grand Central Partnership in New York City, allowing them to wear
their locks in neat ponytails, rather than be forced to "painfully
tuck in their long hair" in their uniform caps.
socially stigmatised in many societies; in Ghana for example, they are
often associated with the homeless mentally ill, with such
associations of marginality extending onto Ghanaian Rastas.
Dreadlocks and Rastafari-inspired clothing have also been worn for
aesthetic reasons by non-Rastas. For instance, many reggae
musicians who do not adhere to the
Rastafari religion wear their hair
in dreads. Many non-
Rastafari of African descent wear locks as an
expression of pride in their ethnic identity, or simply as a
hairstyle, and take a less purist approach to developing and grooming
them. The wearing of dreads also has spread among people of other
ethnicities. Locks worn for stylish reasons are sometimes referred to
as "bathroom locks", to distinguish them from the kind that are purely
Rastafari purists also sometimes refer to such dreadlocked
individuals as "wolves", as in "a wolf in sheep's clothing",
especially when they are seen as trouble-makers who might potentially
discredit or infiltrate Rastafari. The wearing of dreadlocks has
also contributed to the negative view of
Rastafari held by many
non-Rastas, who regard it as wild and unattractive.
Rastafari movement developed out of the legacy of the Atlantic
slave trade, in which over ten million Africans were enslaved and
transported from Africa to the Americas between the sixteenth and
nineteenth centuries. Here, they were sold to European planters and
forced to work on the plantations. Around a third of these
transported Africans were relocated in the Caribbean, with under
700,000 being settled in Jamaica. On the island, the enslaved
Africans were divided into a stratified system, with field workers on
the lowest rung and house servants above them. In 1834, slavery
Jamaica was abolished after the British government passed the
Slavery Abolition Act 1833. Racial prejudice nevertheless
remained prevalent across Jamaican society, with the overwhelming
majority of Jamaica's legislative council remaining white throughout
the nineteenth century, and those of African descent being
treated as second-class citizens. With slavery abolished,
formerly enslaved Africans and Afro-Jamaicans became free
peasants. In the three decades after emancipation, the Free
Village system proliferated across
Jamaica as non-conformist
missionaries, particularly Baptist, purchased land from the large
owners and sold it as smaller plots to former slaves.
The Great Revival of 1860–61 witnessed increasing numbers of
Afro-Jamaicans join Christian churches. They brought with them
many inherited African beliefs and rituals, which syncretised with
Christianity in various ways and to varying degrees. Some of the
new religions that emerged, such as Pukkumina, remained heavily based
on traditional African religion, while others, like Revival Zion, were
more fully Christian. The majority of these groups practiced
spiritual healing and incorporated drumming and chanting, counselling,
and beliefs in spirit possession into their structures.
Increasing numbers of Pentecostal missionaries from the United States
Jamaica during the early twentieth century, reaching a
climax in the 1920s. These Christian movements provided a way for
black Jamaicans—who continued to live with the social memory of
enslavement and who were denied any substantial participation in
Jamaica's political institutions—to express their hopes, fears, and
Ethiopianism, Back to Africa, and Marcus Garvey
Marcus Garvey, a prominent African nationalist theorist who heavily
Rastafari and is regarded as a prophet by many Rastas
According to the scholar of religion Ennis B. Edmonds, Rastafari
emerged from "the convergence of several religious, cultural, and
intellectual streams", while fellow scholar Wigmoore Francis
described it as owing much of its self-understanding to "intellectual
and conceptual frameworks" dating from the nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries. Both
Ethiopianism and the Back to Africa
ethos remain "fundamental ingredients of Rastafarian ideology".
These two movements predated
Rastafari and can be traced back to the
In the nineteenth century, there were growing calls for the African
diaspora located in Western Europe and the Americas to be resettled in
Africa. In that century, many members of the African diaspora
were moved to Sierra Leone and Liberia. Based in Liberia, the
black Christian preacher
Edward Wilmot Blyden
Edward Wilmot Blyden began promoting African
pride and the preservation of African tradition, customs, and
institutions. Blyden sought to promote a form of Christianity
that was suited to the African context, and believed that black
people had to acquire their own historical knowledge about
themselves. The idea of the African diaspora's return to Africa
was given impetus by the creation of the State of
Israel in 1948 as a
nation-state for the
Jewish diaspora to return to.
Also spreading through Africa was Ethiopianism, a movement that
accorded special status to the east African nation of Ethiopia because
it was mentioned in various Biblical passages. For adherents of
Ethiopianism, "Ethiopia" was regarded as a synonym of Africa as a
whole. Across the continent, although particularly in South
Africa, Christian churches were established that referred to
themselves as "Ethiopian"; these groups were at the forefront of the
burgeoning African nationalist movement that sought liberation from
European colonial rule.
Garvey supported the idea of global racial separatism and rejected the
idea that black people of African descent living in the Americas
should campaign for their civil rights; instead he believed that they
should migrate en masse back to Africa. His ideas were opposed by
many blacks in the Americas and he experienced hostility from
African-American civil rights activists like W. E. B. Du Bois. He
also faced opposition from the government of Liberia, which did not
want millions of unskilled migrants arriving on its shores. As a
mass movement, Garveyism declined in the
Great Depression of the
A rumour later spread that in 1916, Garvey had called on his
supporters to "look to Africa" for the crowning of a black king; this
quote was never verified. Soumahoro noted that this statement was
"legendary". Rather, Garvey was critical of
Haile Selassie for
leaving Ethiopia at the time of the Italian Fascist occupation,
describing the king as "a great coward" who rules a "country where
black men are chained and flogged."
Rastafari does not
promote all of the views that Garvey espoused, but nevertheless shares
many of the same perspectives, with many Rastas regarding Garvey
as a prophet. According to Soumahoro,
Rastafari "emerged from the
socio-political ferment inaugurated by Marcus Garvey", while for
Cashmore, Garvey was the "most important" precursor of the Rastafari
Haile Selassie and the early Rastas: 1930–1949
Selassie I in the 1930s
Haile Selassie I was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930. A
number of Christian clergymen, among them Leonard Percival Howell,
Joseph Nathaniel Hibbert, Henry Archibald Dunkley, and Hinds, claimed
that Selassie's coronation was evidence that he was the black messiah
that they believed was prophesied in the
Book of Revelation
Book of Revelation (5:2–5;
Book of Daniel
Book of Daniel (7:3), and the Book of
These preachers began promoting this idea within Kingston, and soon
the message spread throughout 1930s Jamaica. Clarke stated that
"to all intents and purposes this was the beginning" of the Rastafari
Over the following years, a number of street preachers—most notably
Leonard Howell, Archibald Dunkley, Robert Hinds, and Joseph
Hibbert—began promoting the idea that
Haile Selassie was the
returned Jesus. Howell has been described as the "First
Rasta", and the "leading figure" in the early Rastafari
movement. Howell preached that black Africans were superior to
white Europeans and that Afro-Jamaicans should owe their allegiance to
Haile Selassie rather than to George V, King of Great Britain and
Ireland. The island's British authorities arrested him and charged him
with sedition, resulting in a two-year imprisonment. Following
his release, Howell established the Ethiopian Salvation Society and in
1939 created a Rasta community known as Pinnacle, in St Catherine. The
community attracted between 500 and 2000 people, who were largely
self-sufficient. Police feared that Howell was training his
followers for an armed rebellion and were angered that it was
producing marijuana for sale among the wider community. They raided
the community on several occasions and Howell was imprisoned for a
further two years. On his release he returned to Pinnacle, but
the police continued with their raids and shut down the community in
1954; Howell himself was committed to a mental hospital.
In 1936, Italy invaded and occupied Ethiopia, with Haile Selassie
going into exile. The event brought international condemnation and
growing sympathy for the Ethiopian cause. In 1937, Selassie then
created the Ethiopian World Federation, which established a branch in
Jamaica in 1938. In 1941, the Italians were driven out of
Ethiopia and Selassie returned. For many Rastas, this event was
interpreted as the fulfilment of an event described in the Book of
Subsequent development: 1950–present
Rastafari's main appeal was among the lower classes of Jamaican
society. For its first thirty years,
Rastafari was in a
conflictual relationship with the Jamaican authorities. Jamaica's
Rastas expressed contempt for many aspects of the island's society,
viewing the government, police, bureaucracy, professional classes, and
established churches as instruments of Babylon. Relations between
practitioners and the police were strained, with Rastas often being
arrested for cannabis possession. During the 1950s the movement
grew rapidly in
Jamaica itself and also spread to other Caribbean
islands, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
Bob Marley did much to raise international awareness
In the 1940s and 1950s, a more militant brand of Rastafari
emerged. The vanguard of this was the House of Youth Black Faith,
a group whose members were largely based in West Kingston.
Backlash against the Rastas grew after a practitioner of the religion
allegedly killed a woman in 1957. In March 1958, the first
Rastafarian Universal Convention was held in Back-o-Wall,
Kingston. Following the event, militant Rastas unsuccessfully
tried to capture the city in the name of Haile Selassie. Later
that year they tried again in Spanish Town. The increasing
militancy of some Rastas resulted in growing alarm about the religion
in Jamaica. According to Cashmore, the Rastas became "folk
devils" in Jamaican society. In 1959, the self-declared prophet
and founder of the African Reform Church, Claudius Henry, sold
thousands of black Jamaicans, including many Rastas, tickets for a
ship that he claimed would take them to Africa. The ship never arrived
and Henry was charged with fraud. In 1960 he was sentenced to six
years imprisonment for conspiring to overthrow the government.
Henry's son was accused of being part of a paramilitary cell and
executed, confirming public fears about Rasta violence. Clamping
down on the Rasta movement, in 1964 the island's government
implemented tougher laws surrounding marijuana use.
At the invite of Jamaica's government,
Haile Selassie visited the
island for the first time in August 1966, with crowds of Rastas
assembling to meet him at the airport. The event was the high
point for many of the religion's members. Over the course of the
1960s, Jamaica's Rasta community underwent a process of
routinization[disambiguation needed], with the late 1960s
witnessing the launch of the first official Rastafarian newspaper, the
Rastafarian Movement Association's Rasta Voice. The decade also
Rastafari develop in increasingly complex ways. During that
decade, some Rastas began to reinterpret the idea that salvation
required a physical return to Africa, instead interpreting salvation
as coming through a process of mental decolonisation that embraced
African approaches to life.
Whereas its membership had previously come predominantly from poorer
sectors of Jamaican society, in the 1960s
Rastafari began to attract
support from more privileged groups like students and professional
musicians. The foremost group emphasising this approach were the
Twelve Tribes of Israel, whose members came to be known as "Uptown
Rastas". Among those attracted to
Rastafari in this decade were
middle-class intellectuals like Leahcim Semaj, who called for the
religious community to place greater emphasis on scholarly social
theory as a method of achieving change. Although some Jamaican
Rastas were critical of him, many came under the influence of the
Guyanese black nationalist academic Walter Rodney, who lectured to
their community in 1968 before publishing his thoughts as the pamphlet
Groundings. Like Rodney, many Jamaican Rastas were influenced by
Black Power movement. After
Black Power declined
following the deaths of Malcolm X, Michael X, and George Jackson,
Rastafari filled the vacuum it left for many black youth.
A Rasta vendor in the United States, 2013
In the mid-1970s, the international popularity of reggae
exploded. The most successful reggae artist was Bob Marley,
who—according to Cashmore—"more than any other individual, was
responsible for introducing Rastafarian themes, concepts and demands
to a truly universal audience". The popularity of reggae led to a
growth in "pseudo-Rastafarians", individuals who listened to reggae
and wore Rasta clothing but whom did not share its belief system.
Many Rastas were angered by these developments, believing that the
popularity of reggae had commercialised their religion. Through
reggae, Rasta musicians became increasingly important in Jamaica's
political life during the 1970s. In his desire to break from the
past and move towards democratic socialism, Jamaican Prime Minister
Michael Manley courted and obtained support from Marley and other
reggae musicians, helping to bolster his popularity with the
electorate. Manley described Rastas as a "beautiful and
remarkable people", and carried a cane, the "rod of correction",
which he claimed was a gift from Haile Selassie. Following
Manley's example, Jamaican political groups increasingly employed
Rasta language, symbols, and reggae references in their
campaigns, while Rasta symbols became increasingly mainstream in
Jamaican society. This helped to confer greater legitimacy on
Rastafari, with reggae and Rasta imagery being increasingly
presented as a core part of Jamaica's cultural heritage for the
marketing purposes of the growing tourist industry.
Rastafari was likely dampened by the death of Haile
Selassie in 1975 and then that of Marley in 1981. During the
1980s, the number of Rastafarians in
Jamaica declined, with
Pentecostal and other Charismatic Christian groups proving more
Rastafari at attracting young recruits. Several
publicly prominent Rastas converted to Christianity, and two of
those who did so—Judith Mowatt and Tommy Cowan—maintained that
Marley had converted from
Rastafari to Christianity, in the form of
the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, during his final days. The
Rastafari messages in reggae also declined with the
growing popularity of dancehall, a Jamaican musical genre that
typically foregrounded lyrical themes of hyper-masculinity, violence,
and sexual activity rather than religious symbolism. Since the
mid-1990s, however, there was a revival of Rastafari-focused reggae
associated with musicians like Anthony B, Buju Banton, Luciano,
Sizzla, and Capleton. From the 1990s,
Jamaica also witnessed the
growth of organised political activity within the Rasta community,
seen for instance through campaigns for the legalisation of marijuana
and the creation of political parties like the Jamaican Alliance
Movement and the Imperial
Ethiopian World Federation Incorporated
Political Party, none of which have attained more than minimal
Rastafari is not a homogeneous movement and has no single
administrative structure, nor any single leader. Centralised
and hierarchical structures are avoided by Rastas because they want to
avoid replicating the formal structures of Babylon. Rastas also
tend to avoid hierarchic and bureaucratic structures because of the
ultra-individualistic ethos that the religion promotes with its ideas
about inner divinity.
The structure of
Rastafari groups is less like those of Christian
denominations and is instead akin to the cellular structure of other
African diasporic traditions like Haitian Vodou, Cuban Santeria, and
Jamaica's Revival Zion. Since the 1970s, there have been attempts
to fashion a pan-Rasta unity movement, namely through the
establishment of the
Rastafari Movement Association, which sought
political mobilisation. In 1982, the first international assembly
Rastafari groups took place in Toronto, Canada. This and
subsequent international conferences, assemblies, and workshops have
helped to cement global networks and cultivate an international
community of Rasta practitioners.
Mansions of Rastafari
Main article: Mansions of Rastafari
Within Rastafari, there are distinct groups which display particular
orientations. There are often referred to as "houses" or
"mansions", in keeping with a passage from the
Gospel of John
Gospel of John (14:2):
as translated in the King James Bible,
Jesus states "In my father's
house are many mansions". The three most prominent branches are
the House of Nyabinghi, the Bobo Ashanti, and the Twelve Tribes of
Israel, although other important groups include the Church of Haile
Selassie I, Inc., and the Fulfilled Rastafari.
The House of
Nyabinghi is an aggregate of more traditional and
militant Rastas who seek to retain the movement close to the way in
which it existed during the 1940s. They stress the idea that
Haile Selassie was a manifestation of
God and the reincarnation of
Jesus. The wearing of dreadlocks is regarded as
indispensable, and patriarchal gender roles are strongly
Nyabinghi Rastas refuse to make any compromise with
Babylon, and are often critical of reggae musicians like Bob Marley
whom they regard as having collaborated with the commercial music
industry. According to Cashmore, the
Nyabinghi House is
"vehemently anti-white". It is probably the largest Rastafari
Bobo Ashanti sect was founded in
Jamaica by Emanuel Charles
Edwards through the establishment of his Ethiopia Africa Black
International Congress (EABIC) in 1958. The group
established a commune in Bull Bay, where they were led by Edwards, who
served as the group's high priest, until his 1994 death. The
group hold to a highly rigid ethos. Edwards advocated the idea of
a new trinity, with
Haile Selassie as the living God, himself as the
Christ, and Garvey as the prophet. Male members of the group are
divided into two categories: the "priests" who conduct religious
services and the "prophets" who take place in reasoning sessions.
Women are regarded as impure because of menstruation and childbirth,
and so are not permitted to cook for men. The group teaches that
black Africans are God's chosen people and thus are superior to white
Europeans. Bob Ashanti practitioners will often refuse to
associate with white people. Members of this sect are
recognisable by their attire, which include long, flowing robes and
turbans. Since the 1990s, increasing numbers of Bob Ashanti
Rastas have lived outside the
Bull Bay commune, but continue to regard
the latter as a place of pilgrimage.
Twelve Tribes of
Israel headquarters in Shashamane, Ethiopia
The Twelve Tribes of
Israel sect was founded in 1968 by Vernon
Carrington. He regarded himself as the reincarnation of the
Old Testament prophet Gad, one of Jacob's twelve sons, and his
followers thus refer to him as "Prophet Gad" or "Gadman". It is
commonly regarded as the most liberal form of
Rastafari and the
Christianity in its beliefs; Barrett stated that there
was "only a thin line dividing the sect from true Christianity".
Practitioners are often dubbed "Christian Rastas" because they believe
Jesus is the messiah and only saviour;
Haile Selassie is accorded
importance, but is not viewed as the second coming of Jesus. The
group divides its members into twelve groups according to which month
Hebrew calendar they were born; each month is associated with a
particular colour, body part, and mental function. Maintaining
dreadlocks and an ital diet are considered commendable but not
essential, while adherents are called upon to read a chapter of
Bible each day. Some Rastas regarded the Twelve Tribes as a
heretical group for its views. The Twelve Tribes peaked in
popularity during the 1970s, when it attracted artists, musicians, and
many middle-class followers, resulting in the term "middle-class
Rastas" and "uptown Rastas" being applied to members of the
group. Marley was one such of these musicians belonging to the
Twelve Tribes. Carrington died in 2005, since which time the
Twelve Tribes of
Israel have been led by an executive council.
The Church of Haile Selassie, Inc was founded by Abuna Foxe, and
operated much like a mainstream Christian church, with a hierarchy of
functionaries, weekly services, and Sunday schools. In New York,
the group have established prison chaplains. In adopting this
broad approach, the Church seeks to develop Rastafari's respectability
in wider society. Fulfilled
Rastafari is a multi-ethnic movement
that has spread in popularity during the twenty-first century, in
large part through the Internet. The Fulfilled
accept Haile Selassie's statements that he was a man and that he was a
devout Christian, and so place emphasis on worshipping
through the example set forth by Haile Selassie. The wearing of
dreadlocks and the adherence to an ital diet are considered issues up
to the individual.
Born in the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica, the Rastafarian movement has
captured the imagination of thousands of black youth, and some white
youth, throughout Jamaica, the Caribbean, Britain, France, and other
countries in Western Europe and North America. It is also to be found
in smaller numbers in parts of Africa—for example, in Ethiopia,
Ghana, and Senegal—and in Australia and New Zealand, particularly
among the Maori.
— Sociologist of religion Peter B. Clarke, 1986
As of 2012, there were an estimated 700,000 to 1 million Rastas
worldwide. They can be found in many different regions, including
most of the world's major population centers. Rastafari's
influence on wider society has been more substantial than its
numerical size, particularly in fostering a racial, political,
and cultural consciousness among the African diaspora, Africans
themselves, and other dominated communities across the world.
The Rasta message resonates with many people who feel marginalised and
alienated by the values and institutions of their society. In
valorising Africa and blackness,
Rastafari provides a positive
identity for youth in the
African diaspora by allowing them to
psychologically reject their social stigmatisation. It then
provides these disaffected people with the discursive stance from
which they can challenge capitalism and consumerism, providing them
with symbols of resistance and defiance. Cashmore expressed the
view that "whenever there are black people who sense an injust
disparity between their own material conditions and those of the
whites who surround them and tend to control major social
institutions, the Rasta messages have relevance." Benard was of
the view that because of its stances on capitalism, European hegemony,
and white racism,
Rastafari is "easily incorporated into other nations
with similar histories of European oppression". According to
sociologist of religion Peter B. Clarke,
Rastafari "helped to provide
many people of African descent with a deeper sense of their African
Men dominate Rastafari. In the religion's early years, most of
its followers were men, and the women who did adhere to it tended to
remain in the background. This picture of Rastafari's
demographics has been confirmed by ethnographic studies conducted in
the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Conversion and disillusionment
Rastafari is a non-missionary religion. However, elders from
Jamaica often go "trodding" to meet with newly converted Rastas in
order to instruct them in the fundamentals of the religion. On
examining the Rasta movement in England during the 1970s, Cashmore
noted that Rastas had not converted instantaneously to the belief
system, but rather had undergone "a process of drift" through which
they gradually adopted Rasta beliefs and practices, resulting in their
ultimate acceptance of the central importance of Haile Selassie.
Rastas often claim that—rather than converting to the
religion—they were actually always a Rasta and that their actual
embrace of its beliefs was merely the realisation of this. There is
no formal ritual carried out to mark an individual's entry into the
They regard themselves as an exclusive and elite community, membership
of which is restricted to those who have the "insight" to recognise
the importance of Haile Selassie. Rastas often regard themselves
as being the "enlightened ones" who have "seen the light". Many
see no point in establishing good relations with non-Rastas, believing
that the latter will never accept
Rastafari doctrine as truth.
English Rastas have for instance expressed criticism of black Britons
who have not embraced the religion, stating that they have been
"brainwashed", "misguided by European Christianity", and "blinded by
Some Rastas have left the religion. Clarke noted that among the
British Rastas whom he communicated with, he found that some returned
Pentecostalism and other forms of Christianity, while others
Islam or no religion. Some of these British ex-Rastas
described disillusionment when the societal transformation promised by
Rasta belief failed to appear, while others felt that while Rastafari
would be appropriate for agrarian communities in Africa and the
Caribbean, it was not suited to the industrialised and materialistic
society in the UK. Some experienced disillusionment after
developing the view that
Haile Selassie had been an oppressive leader
of the Ethiopian people. Cashmore found that some of British
Rastas who had more militant views left the religion after finding its
focus on reasoning and musical outlets insufficient for the struggle
against white domination and racism.
Jamaica and the Caribbean
Rastafari as "the largest, most identifiable,
indigenous movement in Jamaica." As of the mid-1980s, there were
approximately 70,000 members and sympathisers of the Rastafari
movement in Jamaica. The majority of these individuals were male,
working-class, former Christians aged between 18 and 40. Jamaica
is often valorised by Rastas as the fountain-head of their faith, and
many Rastas living elsewhere travel to the island on pilgrimage in
order to "drink from the source".
In the 2011 Jamaican census, 29,026 individuals identified themselves
as Rastafari. Other sources estimated that in the 2000s they
formed "about 5% of the population" of Jamaica. Jamaica's Rasta
population were initially entirely from the Afro-Jamaican
majority, and although most Jamaican Rastas remain Afro-Jamaican,
it has also gained members from the island's Chinese, Indian,
Afro-Chinese, Afro-Jewish, mulatto, and white minorities. Until
1965 the vast majority were from the lower classes, although since
that point it attracted many middle-class members. By the 1980s,
there were Jamaican Rastas working as lawyers and university
professors. The majority are male. These Rastas are
During the 1970s,
Rastafari ideas were spread through much of the
eastern Caribbean through the growing popularity of reggae. Rasta
ideas complemented the anti-colonial and Afrocentric views then
prevailing in countries like Trinidad, Grenada, Dominica, and St
Vincent. In these countries, the early Rastas often engaged in
cultural and political movements to a greater extent than their
Jamaican counterparts had. A number of Rastas were involved in
New Jewel Movement and were given positions in the
Grenadine government until it was overthrown and replaced following
the U.S. invasion of 1983.
Reggae was introduced to Cuba in the 1970s by Jamaican students.
By the 1980s, underground reggae parties were being held in Havana and
Santiago. Foreign Rastas who were studying in Cuba during the
1990s connected with this reggae scene and helped to ground it in
Since the founding of Rastafari, some practitioners have followed
through with their belief in resettlement in Africa. The West
African states of Ghana and Nigeria have been particularly
favoured. Ghana's status as the first African country to gain
independence from European colonial rule (in 1957) made it an
attractive place for members of the
African diaspora to migrate to;
its first post-independence President, Kwame Nkrumah, encouraged this
as part of his Pan-African ethos. Among the Caribbean immigrants to
arrive in the country during the 1960s were Rastafarians, while some
native Ghanaians also converting to the religion. When asked as
to why they chose Ghana as a new home, several of the Rasta arrivals
described it as the "gateway to the continent"; others cited its
political stability and affordability as making it ideal for
settlement. For his Pan-African efforts, Nkrumah has come to be
regarded as a heroic figure among many Rastas, although other
Ghanaians have been critical of what they perceive as excess
idolisation of the former president. The largest congregation of
Ghanaian Rastas has been in southern parts of the country, around
Accra, Tema, and the Cape Coast, although Rasta communities also
exist in the Muslim-majority area of northern Ghana, especially in the
towns of Tamale and Bolgatanga. The Rasta migrants' wearing of
dreadlocks was akin to that of the native fetish priests, which may
have assisted the presentation of these Rastas as having authentic
African roots in Ghanaian society. Non-Ghanaian Rastas living in
the country have nevertheless complained of social ostracism,
unemployment, and legal prosecution for ganja possession;
Ghanaians who were not Rastas often accuse the Rastas of being
"drop-outs", "too Western", and "not African enough".
Rasta mural in Ethiopia
In the 1960s, a Rasta community established itself in Shashamane,
Ethiopia, on land made available for members of the African diaspora
by Haile Selassie's Ethiopian World Federation. The community
faced many problems; 500 acres were confiscated by the Marxist
government of Mengistu Haile Mariam. There were also conflicts
with local Ethiopians, who largely regarded the incoming Rastas, and
their Ethiopia-born children, as foreigners. The Shashamane
community peaked at a population of 2000, although subsequently
declined to around 200.
By the early 1990s, a Rasta community was present in Nairobi, Kenya,
whose approach to the religion was informed both by reggae and by
traditional Kikuyu religion. Several
Rastafari orders have also
been established in Zimbabwe, all of which send representatives to the
Rastafari Association of Zimbabwe.
During the 1950s and 1960s, several thousand Caribbean migrants
settled in the United Kingdom, some of whom brought
them. In 1955, a short-lived Rasta group was established in
Brixton, South London, and by the latter part of the 1950s, a
Rasta community had settled in the
Notting Hill area of Northwest
London. By the late 1960s,
Rastafari had attracted converts from
the second-generation of British Caribbean people, offering an outlet
for the economic hardship, racial discrimination, and social isolation
that many faced. It spread among the black working-classes not
just of London, but also in Birmingham, Leicester, Liverpool,
Manchester, and Bristol. Its spread was aided by the gang
structures that had been cultivated among black British youth by the
rudeboy subculture; these gangs proved to be a breeding ground for
Rastafari themes. This social structure allowed for the promotion
of in-gang associations and the restrictions of contacts with
Rastafari gained increasing attention in the
1970s as a result of reggae's popularity. In that same decade it
also faced increasing opposition, being regarded as a criminal
sub-culture by both much of the press, and by the police,
resulting in complaints of police harassment.
According to Clarke's research, the majority are from black
working-class families who practiced Pentecostalism, although a small
number are from white families. Cashmore found that the majority
of British Rastas were male and that most had few or no educational
qualifications. He also found that around 50% of them were
unemployed, and 45% employed in manual occupations; only 5% were in
more skilled jobs or higher education. In 1986, there were an
estimated 5000 Rastas living in the United Kingdom. Clarke
believed that there were "probably fewer members" at this time then
there had been at the start of the 1980s, with the movement declining
following Marley's death. According to the 2001 United Kingdom
Census there are about 5000
Rastafari living in England and
Wales. Clarke described
Rastafari as a numerically small but
"extremely influential" component of black British life.
Rastafari was also established in various continental European
countries, among them the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, and France,
gaining a particular foothold among black migrant populations but also
attracting a growing number of white converts. Rasta communities
were also established in two French cities that had substantial black
Paris and Bordeaux. In the Netherlands, it attracted
converts within the Surinamese migrant community.
Rastafari was introduced to the United States and Canada with the
migration of Jamaicans to continental North America in the 1960s and
1970s. As with the case in the UK, American police were often
suspicious of Rastas and regarded their religion as a criminal
Australasia and Asia
Rastafari attracted membership from within the Maori population of New
Zealand, and the Aboriginal population of Australia.
A small Rasta community developed in
Japan in the late 1970s and early
1980s, promoted by a practitioner named
Jamaicans in Ethiopia
List of topics related to Black and African people
Religious and spiritual use of cannabis
Vegetarianism and religion
^ Clarke 1986, p. 11; Edmonds 2012, p. 92; Sibanda 2016,
^ a b c Edmonds 2012, p. 92.
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^ Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah,
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^ Spencer, William
David (1998). Dread Jesus. SPCK Publishing.
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^ a b Clarke 1986, p. 17.
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^ a b c d e Clarke 1986, p. 13.
^ a b c d e Edmonds 2012, p. 40.
^ Edmonds 2012, pp. 38–40.
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^ a b Edmonds 2012, p. 38.
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^ Cashmore 1983, p. 71.
^ a b White 2010, p. 314.
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^ a b Clarke 1986, p. 82.
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^ a b Clarke 1986, p. 11.
^ Cashmore 1983, p. 129.
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^ a b c Clarke 1986, p. 70.
^ Cashmore 1983, p. 134.
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^ a b c Edmonds 2012, p. 97.
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^ a b Clarke 1986, p. 87.
^ a b c Edmonds 2012, p. 95.
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^ Edmonds 2012, pp. 98, 99.
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^ a b Edmonds 2012, p. 99.
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^ a b c d e Edmonds 2012, p. 57.
^ a b c d e f g Edmonds 2012, p. 55.
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^ Edmonds 2012, pp. 49, 55.
^ Barrett 1997, p. 130; Edmonds 2012, p. 56.
^ Hamid, The Ganjah Complex:
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^ Chanting Down Babylon, p. 130 ff.
^ Barry Chevannes,
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^ Benard 2007, pp. 91–92.
^ Edmonds, p. 61.
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^ a b c d e Edmonds 2012, p. 58.
^ a b c d Clarke 1986, p. 94.
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^ a b Edmonds 2012, p. 113.
^ a b King 2002, p. 24.
^ Edmonds 2012, p. 115.
^ a b King 2002, p. 46.
^ Barrett 1997, p. vii.
^ a b Edmonds 2012, p. 117.
^ King 2002, p. 57.
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^ Barry Chevannes, 1998,
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