When it comes to religion, most people would recognize the three global monotheistic religions: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism with all its different sects. Some eastern religions, chiefly, Buddhism are also known globally but there are many more, albeit smaller, religions in the world, such as Rastafari: the religion developed in Jamaica.
The island nation of Jamaica is famous for its music (reggae) and its drink (rum). It is also a popular tourist destination. But its native religion, Rastafari, is a much less well-known aspect of the island.
If you are interested in Jamaica’s culture, you should know about its religion. And if you are interested in religion(s) then you will be fascinated by Rastafarianism.
A Look At Rastafarianism
Rastafari is one of the world’s youngest religions as its origins only date back to the 1930s when Haile Selassie I was crowned King of Ethiopia. At the center of Rastafari is the belief that Haile Selassie is God. The religion’s theology sprang out of the ideas of a black politician and activist called Marcus Garvey.
Interestingly, Haile Selassie I never considered himself to be God. This makes Rastafari an exocentric religion because its god is not in the religion himself.
According to Rastafarian belief, Haile Selassie will one day return all Africans to the continent, including those who left her as part of the slave trade and colonization.
The overwhelming majority of Jamaicans are the descendants of sub-Saharan Africans that were transported to the Caribbean as part of the Atlantic slave trade between the 16th and the 19th centuries.
Today, it is estimated that there are about one million Rastafarians in the world.
Apart from the term Rastafarians, other names are used to refer to the followers of this religion:
Most of these names refer to the Rastafarians’ practice of having dreadlocks. In fact, Rastafari forbids its adherents from cutting their hair and they must twist it into dreads. Their long dreadlocks are said to represent a male lion’s mane.
Although the religion has its origins in 1930s Jamaica, it spread to other regions of the world in the 1970s following the global success of Bob Marley’s music.
My father (Bob Marley), my Rastafari culture, has a tight link to the Jewish culture. We have a strong connection from when I was a young boy and read the Bible, the Old Testament. – Ziggy Marley
Like other religions, Rastafari believes in God’s chosen people. In this case, black people would be the chosen people of God.
Although there are different religious practices for men and women, broadly their ceremonies involve drumming, chanting, and meditation. Also, there is a ritual that involves the inhalation of marijuana. The marijuana, the chanting, the mediation, and the drumming are all designed to reach a state of spiritual awareness.
Rastafari has a clear African influence, but it also includes some laws taken from the Old Testament of the Bible.
In their daily life, Rastafarians are asked to abstain from drinking alcohol and are also supposed to follow a strict diet that includes plenty of natural products such as fresh fruit and vegetable and excludes all kinds of meat with a special emphasis on pork.
As many followers of other religions, Rastafarians are opposed to abortion and any form of contraception.
The lion is the symbol of Rastafari, which is said to represent Haile Selassie I, also known as the “Conquering Lion of Judah”.
The colors of Rastafari are red, green, gold, and black and each of them has its own significance. Red is for the blood spilled by the black community in Jamaica, green is for both hope and the vegetation of the island, gold is for the wealth of Ethiopia, and black is for the skin of Africans.
What Are The Main Beliefs of Rastafari?
Although there is not an official creed, some of the original beliefs of Rastafari include that Haile Selassie I is God, that black people are the reincarnation of ancient Israel and, as such, are God’s chosen people, that white people are inferior to black people, that Ethiopia is heaven and Jamaica hell, that all people of African origin will one day return to Africa, and that black people will then rule the world.
Some of these beliefs have become outdated. Nowadays, Rastafarians are more likely to believe that God is found in every man (there’s humanity in God and divinity in man), or that human life should be protected and protected.
The idea that Haile Selassie as God has become less central to Rastafari since the king’s death in 1975.
Something that has not changed over the years is that Rastafarians still consider themselves to be the Israelites. That is because of the exile and suffering that they have had to endure in modern times, which they likened to the persecution of Israelites in ancient times. This would also explain why Rastafarians adhere to so many Old Testament Laws.
With the global spread of Rastafari, not all followers are black, and the number of white followers is growing. No longer all white people consider evil by Rastafari.
Rastafari Holy Days
There are several important Rastafari festivals that are celebrated each year on the following dates:
- Ethiopian Christmas on January 7.
- Groundation Day on April 21 (the date on which Haile Selassie I visited Jamaica in 1966).
- Ethiopian Constitution Day on July 16.
- Birthday of Emperor Haile Selassie on July 23.
- Marcus Garvey’s Birthday on August 17.
- Ethiopian New Year’s Day on September 11.
- Crowning of Emperor Haile Selassie I on November 2.
Rites of Passage
Rastafari has three main rites of passage: birth, marriage, and death.
The birth of a Rastafarian is marked by a blessing, chanting, drumming, and prayer.
Marriage consists of a man and a woman living together (as long as they are not related). There is no formal marriage ceremony or recognition for same-sex marriage.
Rastafarians believe in eternal life and reincarnation. There is no funeral ceremony when a Rastafarian dies.