Main doctrines Jah · Afrocentrism · Ital · Zion · Cannabis use Central figures Haile Selassie I · Jesus · Menen Asfaw · Marcus Garvey Key scriptures Bible · Kebra Nagast · The Promise Key · Holy Piby · My Life and Ethiopia's Progress · Royal Parchment Scroll of Black Supremacy Branches and festivals Mansions · in United States · Shashamane · Grounation Day · Reasoning Notable individuals Leonard Howell · Joseph Hibbert · Mortimer Planno · Vernon Carrington · Charles Edwards · Bob Marley · Peter Tosh See also: Vocabulary · Persecution · Dreadlocks · Reggae · Ethiopian Christianity · Index of Rastafari articles
The Rastafari movement or Rasta is a new religious movement that arose in the 1930s in Jamaica, at the time a country with a predominantly Christian culture where 98% of the people were the black descendants of slaves. Its adherents worship Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia (ruled 1930–1974), as God incarnate, the Second Advent, or the reincarnation of Jesus. Members of the Rastafari movement are known as Rastas, or Rastafari. The movement is sometimes referred to as "Rastafarianism", but this term is considered derogatory and offensive by some Rastas, who, being highly critical of isms which they see as a typical part of Babylon culture, dislike being labelled as an "ism" themselves.
The Rastafari movement encompasses themes such as the spiritual use of cannabis and the rejection of western society, called Babylon (from the metaphorical Babylon of the Christian New Testament). It proclaims Africa (also "Zion") as the original birthplace of mankind, and from the beginning of the movement the call to repatriation to Africa has been a central theme. Rasta also embraces various Afrocentric and Pan-African social and political aspirations, such as the sociopolitical views and teachings of Jamaican publicist, organizer, and black nationalist Marcus Garvey (also often regarded as a prophet). Another theme is Royalty, with Rastas seeing themselves as African royalty and using honorifics such as Prince or King in order to give royalty to their names.
Rastafari is not a highly organized religion; it is a movement and an ideology. Many Rastas say that it is not a "religion" at all, but a "Way of Life". Many Rastas do not claim any sect or denomination, and thus encourage one another to find faith and inspiration within themselves, although some do identify strongly with one of the "mansions of Rastafari" — the three most prominent of these being the Nyahbinghi, the Bobo Ashanti and the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
The name Rastafari is taken from Ras Tafari, the pre-regnal title of Haile Selassie I, composed of Amharic Ras (literally "Head", an Ethiopian title equivalent to Duke), and Haile Selassie's pre-regnal given name, Tafari. Rastafari are generally distinguished for asserting the doctrine that Haile Selassie I, the former and final Emperor of Ethiopia, is another incarnation of the Christian God, called Jah. Most see Haile Selassie I as Jah or Jah Rastafari, who is the second coming of Jesus Christ onto the Earth, but to others he is simply God's chosen king on earth.
Today, awareness of the Rastafari movement has spread throughout much of the world, largely through interest generated by reggae music, a notable exponent of which was Jamaican singer/songwriter Bob Marley (1945–1981). By 1997, there were around one million Rastafari faithful worldwide. In the 2001 Jamaican census, 24,020 individuals (less than 1 percent of the population) identified themselves as Rastafarians. Other sources have estimated that in the 2000s they formed "about 5 percent of the population" of Jamaica, or have conjectured that "there are perhaps as many as 100,000 Rastafarians in Jamaica".
World-views and doctrines
Rastafari are monotheists, worshipping a singular God whom they call Jah. Jah is the term in the "KJV (King James Version of the Bible) Psalms 68" Rastas see Jah as being in the form of the Holy Trinity, that is, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Rastas say that Jah, in the form of the Holy Spirit (incarnate), lives within the human, and for this reason they often refer to themselves as "I and I". Furthermore, "I and I" is used instead of "We", and is used in this way to emphasize the equality between all people, in the recognition that the Holy Spirit within us all makes us essentially one and the same.
Rastas accept the Christian doctrine that God incarnated onto the Earth in the form of Jesus Christ, to give his teachings to humanity. However, they feel his teachings were corrupted by Babylon. In accordance with their assertion that "word, sound and power", also object specifically to the English pronunciation of his name /ˈdʒiːzəs/ as impure, preferring instead to use the forms in Hebrew (Yeshu) or Amharic ('Iyesus).
The Holy Trinity
“ ... Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God. ”
— Psalms 68:31
Rasta doctrines concerning the Holy Trinity include stressing the significance of the name "Haile Selassie", meaning "Power of the Trinity" or "Might of the Trinity" or powerful trinity in Ge'ez—the name given to Ras Tafari upon his baptism, and later assumed as part of his regnal name at his November 2, 1930, coronation by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Haile Selassie I (1892–1975) was the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. Rastas claim that he is the resurrected manifestation of Jesus (Yahshua) Christ and therefore an incarnation of Jah (Jehovah) onto the Earth. They also claim that he will lead the righteous into creating a perfect world, called "Zion". Zion would be the ultimate paradise for Rastas.
The future capital city of Zion is sometimes put forward as the New Jerusalem (Lalibela, Ethiopia), the very Habitation of the Godhead (Trinity) creator, Rastafari. Prophetic verses of the Hebrew Bible such as Zephaniah 3:10 "From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my worshipers, my scattered people, will bring me offerings," have been interpreted as subtly hinting that the messianic king will be in Ethiopia, and the people will come from the rest of the world beyond its rivers.
Rastas may say that Haile Selassie's coming was prophesied from Genesis to the Book of Revelation. Genesis, Chapter 1: "God made man in His own image." Psalm 2: "Yet I set my Holy king/ On My Holy hill of Zion," which is identified by them as Jesus Christ. Psalm 87:4–6 is also interpreted as predicting the coronation of Haile Selassie I. During his coronation, Selassie was given many of the same titles used in the Bible: "King of Kings", "Elect of God", "Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah the Author of Mankind", "the Power of Authority", etc., are just some of more than 38 titles and anointments placed on Selassie. He also received acclaim from various Christian and Muslim leaders and clergy for the work he performed towards establishing world peace and the brotherhood of mankind. This is one of the primary reasons he is held to be God incarnate. Rastas also refer to Selassie as "His Imperial Majesty" (or the acronym thereof, HIM) and "Jah Rastafari".
According to tradition, Haile Selassie was the 225th in an unbroken line of Ethiopian monarchs of the Solomonic Dynasty. This dynasty is said to have been founded in the 10th century BC by Menelik I, the son of the Biblical King Solomon and Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, who had visited Solomon in Israel. 1 Kings 10:13 claims "And King Solomon gave unto the Queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants." On the basis of the Ethiopian national epic, the Kebra Negast, Rastas interpret this verse as meaning she conceived his child, and from this, conclude that African people are among the true children of Israel, or Jews. Beta Israel black Jews have lived in Ethiopia for centuries, disconnected from the rest of Judaism; their existence has given some impetus to Rastafari, as they feel it validates their assertion that Ethiopia is Zion.
The death of Haile Selassie I is a topic of some debate amongst Rastafari. Some feel that Selassie's 1975 reported death was a hoax. It has also been claimed that he entered the monastery and will return to liberate his followers and vanquish all evil, restoring his creation. Today, a few Rastas consider this a partial fulfillment of prophecy found in the apocalyptic 2 Esdras 7:28. Others view the person of His Majesty as incorporated in all matter and thus not dependent on what was perceived as His only form during the last century.
For Rastafari, Haile Selassie remains their God and their King. They see Selassie as being worthy of worship, and as having stood with great dignity in front of the world's press and in front of representatives of many of the world's powerful nations, especially during his appeal to the League of Nations in 1936, when he was still the only independent black monarch in Africa. From the beginning the Rastas decided that their personal loyalty lay with Africa's only black monarch, Selassie, and that they themselves were in effect as free citizens of Ethiopia, loyal to its Emperor and devoted to its flag representing the Solomonic Dynasty prior to the Communist coup.
Acceptance of the God-incarnate status of Jesus is Rastafari doctrine, as is the notion of the corruption of his teachings by secular, Western society, figuratively referred to as Babylon. For this reason, they believe, it was prophesied in the Book of Revelation—"And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed a hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel."—that Jesus would return with a new name that would be inscribed on the foreheads of 144,000 of his most devoted servants. Rastas hold that they represent this fulfillment based on their experience in the light of Haile Selassie's return and coronation as the King of Kings on 2 November 1930, whom they see as the second coming of Jesus or the coming of the holy spirit, and therefore Jah, onto the Earth. Thus the great messiah king whom the Jews are still waiting for has indeed now returned to earth, according to the Rastas.
Rastas say that Jesus was black while Western Society (or Babylon) has commonly depicted him as white for centuries.
Zion vs. Babylon
Rastas assert that Zion (i.e., Africa, especially Ethiopia) is a land that Jah promised to them. To achieve this, they reject modern western society, calling it "Babylon", which they see as entirely corrupt. "Babylon" is considered to have been in rebellion against "Earth's Rightful Ruler" (Jah) ever since the days of the Biblical king Nimrod.
Rastas claim that they are the real Children of Israel. The Rastafari seek to validate a link between Ethiopia and Israel, pointing to the title Lion of Judah, and their goal is to repatriate to Mount Zion, that is, Africa. (Rasta reggae is peppered with references to Zion; among the best-known examples are the Bob Marley songs '"Zion Train" and "Iron Lion Zion").
Many Rastafari are physical immortalists who maintain that the chosen few will continue to live forever in their current bodies. This is commonly called "Life Everliving". Everliving in Iyaric replaces the term "everlasting" to avoid the "negative wordsound" of last implying an end. Rastas say their life will never have an end, but will be everliving, with Jah as king and Amharic the official language. Rastas strongly reject the idea that heaven is in the sky, or is a place where dead people go to and instead see heaven as being a place on Earth, specifically Ethiopia.
Afrocentrism and Black Pride
Afrocentrism is another central facet of the Rastafari culture. They teach that Africa, in particular Ethiopia, is where Zion, or paradise, shall be created. As such, Rastafari orients itself around African culture. Rastafari holds that evil society, or "Babylon", has always been white-dominated, and has committed such acts of aggression against the African people as the Atlantic slave trade. Despite this Afrocentrism and focus on people of the black race, members of other races, including whites, are found and accepted by Blacks among the movement, for they believe Rasta is for all people.
Rastafari developed among poor Jamaicans of African descent who felt they were oppressed and that society was apathetic to their problems. Marcus Garvey, who is viewed as a prophet of Jah, was a keen proponent of the "back to Africa" movement, advocating that all people of the black race should return to their ancestral homeland of Africa.
Many early Rastas for a time believed in black supremacy. Widespread advocacy of this belief was short-lived, at least partly because of Haile Selassie's explicit condemnation of racism in an October 1963 speech before the United Nations. Most Rastas now espouse the doctrine that racial animosities must be set aside, with world peace and harmony being common themes. One of the three major modern houses of Rastafari—the Twelve Tribes of Israel—has specifically condemned all types of racism, and declared that the teachings of the Bible are the route to spiritual liberation for people of any racial or ethnic background. During his famous UN address (which provided the lyrics for the Carlton Barrett and Bob Marley song "War"), Haile Selassie made the following statement:
"Last May, in Addis Ababa, I convened a meeting of Heads of African States and Governments. In three days, the thirty-two nations represented at that Conference demonstrated to the world that when the will and the determination exist, nations and peoples of diverse backgrounds can and will work together. In unity, to the achievement of common goals and the assurance of that equality and brotherhood which we desire.On the question of racial discrimination, the Addis Ababa Conference taught, to those who will learn, this further lesson: That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the colour of a man's skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil."
He concluded this speech with the words, "We must become members of a new race, overcoming petty prejudice, owing our ultimate allegiance not to nations but to our fellow men within the human community."
Some Rastafari learn and know Amharic, which some consider to be the Adamic language, both because this was the language of Haile Selassie I, and in order to further their identity as Ethiopian. There are reggae songs written in Amharic.
Rastafari is a strongly syncretic Abrahamic religion that "meticulously grounds its beliefs in Old and New Testament". Adherents look particularly to the New Testament Book of Revelation, as this is where they find the prophecies about the divinity of Haile Selassie. Rastas claim that they, and the rest of the black race, are descendants of the ancient twelve tribes of Israel, cast into captivity outside Africa as a result of the slave trade.
Some Rastafari assert that only half of the Bible has been written, and that the other half, stolen from them along with their culture, is written in a man's heart. This concept also embraces the idea that even the illiterate can be Rastas by reading God's Word in their hearts. Rastas also see the lost half of the Bible, and the whole of their lost culture, to be found in the Ark of the Covenant, a repository of African wisdom, which is allegedly located in Ethiopia.
A great interest in the Amharic Orthodox version of the Bible, authorized by Haile Selassie I in the 1950s, has arisen among Rastas. Selassie himself wrote in the preface to this version that "unless [one] accepts with clear conscience the Bible and its great Message, he cannot hope for salvation," thus confirming and coinciding with what the Rastafari themselves had been preaching since the beginning of the movement.
The Kebra Nagast, the national epic of Ethiopia, is also taken as important amongst many Rastas. The Kebra Nagast is an African folk bible describing, in greater detail than the King James version, the relationship between King Solomon and Queen of Sheba. Dr Bernard Leeman, who has audio recorded the entire Ge'ez text of the Kebra Nagast, has argued that the Mosaic Torah in the text predates the "official" Old Testament as it omits the laws of Deuteronomy, "discovered" by Hilkiah ca. 620 BC (Ark of the Covenant: evidence supporting the Ethiopian traditions" January 2011 Queen of Sheba University).
There are two types of Rasta religious ceremonies: Reasoning and Groundation.
A "reasoning" is a simple event where the Rastas gather, smoke cannabis ("ganja"), and discuss. The person honored by being allowed to light the herb says a short prayer beforehand, and the ganja is passed in a clockwise fashion except in times of war when it is passed counterclockwise.it is used to reason with jah.
A "groundation" (or "grounation") or "binghi" is a holy day; the name "binghi" is derived from "Nyabinghi", believed to be an ancient, and now extinct, order of militant blacks in eastern Africa that vowed to end oppression. Binghis are marked by much dancing, singing, feasting, and the smoking of ganja, and can last for several days.
In public gatherings, Rastafari often say the following standard prayer, with several variants, comparable to the Lord's Prayer:
- "Princes and princesses shall come forth out of Egypt, Ethiopia now stretch forth her hands before Jah. O Thou God of Ethiopia, Thou God of Thy Divine Majesty, Thy Spirit come into our hearts, to dwell in the paths of righteousness. Lead and help I and I to forgive, that InI may be forgiven. Teach I and I Love and loyalty on earth as it is in Zion, Endow us with Thy wisemind, knowledge and Overstanding to do thy will, thy blessings to us, that the hungry might be fed, the sick nourished, the aged protected, the naked clothed and the infants cared for. Deliver I and I from the hands of our enemy, that I and I may prove fruitful in these Last Days, when our enemy have passed and decayed in the depths of the sea, in the depths of the earth, or in the belly of a beast. O give us a place in Thy Kingdom forever and ever, so we hail our majesty Haile Selassie I, Jehovah God, Rastafari, Almighty God, Rastafari, great and powerful God Jah, Rastafari. Who sitteth and reigneth in the heart of man and woman, hear us and bless us and sanctify us, and cause Thy loving Face to shine upon us thy children, that we may be saved, Selah."
When lighting a chalice, the following, shorter invocation is often used: "Glory be to the Father and to the Maker of Iration, as it were in the Iginning, is now an shall be foriva, world without end, SELAH."
Some important dates when groundations may take place are:
- January 7 – Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas
- March 25 – The birthday of Empress Menen
- April 21 – The anniversary of Haile Selassie's visit to Jamaica. Also known as Grounation Day.
- May 25 – African Liberation Day
- July 23 – The birthday of Emperor Haile Selassie
- August 17 – The birthday of Marcus Garvey
- September 11 – Ethiopian New Year
- November 2 – The coronation of Haile Selassie
Places of worship
Generally, Rastas assert that their own body is the true church or temple of God, and so see no need to make temples or churches out of physical buildings. However, some Rastafarians have created temples, as some call spiritual meeting centers in international communities with large Rastafarian populations.
Sects and subdivisions
There are three main sects or orders of Rastafari today: the Nyahbinghi Order, Bobo Ashanti and the Twelve Tribes of Israel. All agree on the basic principles of the divine status of Haile Selassie and the importance of black images of divinity. Many Rastafari do not belong to any sect and the movement as a whole is loosely defined and organized.
The Nyahbinghi Order (also known as Haile Selassie I Theocratical Order of the Nyahbinghi Reign) is the oldest of all the Rastafari mansions and was named after Queen Nyahbinghi of Uganda, who fought against colonialists in the 19th century. The Nyahbinghi Order holds steadfast to ancient biblical values. They consume nothing that harms their body ( drugs, pork, etc., taken from the bible Deuteronomy 14:8 - The pig is also unclean; although it has a split hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses. ) because the body is the temple and the church ( 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 - Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body ). The Nyahbinghi Order is a non-violent order that calls upon God's power to execute judgement upon all black and white "downpressors" (oppressors). This is the oldest of the orders and it focuses mainly on Haile Selassie, Ethiopia, and the eventual return to Africa. It is overseen by an Assembly of Elders.
Bobo Ashanti was founded by Prince Emanuel Charles Edwards in Jamaica in 1958. "Bobo" means black and "Shanti" refers to the nzemas group in Ghana, from which this sect believes Jamaican slaves are descended. Members of Bobo Shanti are also known as Bobo Dreads.
In belief, Bobo Dreads are distinguished by their worship of Prince Emmanuel (in addition to Haile Selassie) as a reincarnation of Christ and embodiment of Jah; their emphasis on the return to Africa ("repatriation"); and their demands for monetary reimbursement for slavery.
Members of the Bobo Ashanti order wear long robes and tightly wrapped turbans around their dreads. They adhere closely to the Jewish Law, including the observance of seventh-day Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday and hygiene laws for menstruating women. They live separately from Jamaican society and other Rastafarians, growing their own produce and selling straw hats and brooms. They often carry brooms with them to symbolize their cleanliness.
Twelve Tribes of Israel
The Twelve Tribes of Israel sect was founded in 1968 by Dr. Vernon "Prophet Gad" Carrington. It is the most liberal of the Rastafarian orders and members are free to worship in a church of their choosing. Each member of this sect belongs to one of the 12 Tribes (or Houses), which is determined by birth month and is represented by a color. The Standard Israelite calendar begins in April. Bob Marley was from the tribe of Joseph, and Haile Selassie from the tribe of Judah.
The Lion of Judah is an important symbol to Rastas, for several reasons. The lion appears on the Imperial Ethiopian flag, used in Haile Selassie I's Ethiopia. In addition, the Ge'ez title Mo`a Anbesa Ze'imnegede Yihuda ("Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah") has been applied to Ethiopian Emperors since time immemorial, traditionally beginning with Menelik I, said to be the son of king Solomon (c. 980 BC). It is unknown whether John of Patmos was aware of this ancient Ethiopian title when he penned it into the Book of Revelation 5:5, in reference to the returned Messiah. In 1930, when Jamaicans first read news reports of Haile Selassie I's coronation including this title, this New Testament verse was crucial in inspiring the early Rastafari movement to identify Haile Selassie I with the returned Messiah, though not the only reason offered. The fact that Lions come from Africa is also part of the attraction.
Rastafari and other Abrahamic faiths
Some Rastafari choose to classify their movement as Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, Protestant Christianity, or Judaism. Of those, the ties to the Ethiopian Church are the most widespread, although this is controversial to many Ethiopian clergy . Rastafari typically hold that standard translations of the Bible incorporate changes, or were edited for the benefit of the power structure, and one common idea is that half the Bible story has never been told.
Spiritual use of cannabis
For Rastas, smoking cannabis, usually known as herb, weed, sinsemilla (Spanish for without seeds), or ganja (from the Sanskrit word Ganjika, used in ancient India), is a spiritual act, often accompanied by Bible study; they consider it a sacrament that cleans the body and mind, heals the soul, exalts the consciousness, facilitates peacefulness, brings pleasure, and brings them closer to Jah. They often burn the herb when in need of insight from Jah. Cannabis remains illegal in Jamaica and most of the world and this has caused friction between Rastas and the police. The burning of the herb is often said to be essential, "For it will sting in the hearts of those that promote and perform evil and wrongs." 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 phraseology adapted from Revelation 22:2.
The migration of many thousands of Hindus & Muslims from British India to the Caribbean in the 20th century may have brought this culture to Jamaica. Many academics point to Indo-Caribbean origins for the ganjah sacrament resulting from the importation of Indian migrant workers in a post-abolition Jamaican landscape. "Large scale use of ganjah in Jamaica... dated from the importation of indentured Indians..."(Campbell 110). Dreadlocked mystics Jata, often ascetic known as sadhus or Sufi Qalandars and Derwishes, have smoked cannabis from both chillums and coconut shell hookahs in South Asia since the ancient times. Also, the referance of "chalice" may be a transliteration of "jam-e-qalandar" (a term used by Sufi ascetics meaning 'bowl or cup of qalandar') . In South Asia, in addition to smoking, cannabis is often consumed as a drink known as bhang and most qalandars carry a large wooden pestle for that reason. Bhang is often produced in large vessels at dargah gatherings known as "shaam-e-qalandar". During these gatherings large kettle drums known as naggara are played or alternatively, the Dhol. It is known Qalandri dhamaal.Both groups, the Qalandar's and Sadhu's were lumped together by the British as faqeers. They are still frowned upon by the industrious population and are considered "dreadfull". Yet they are considered holy men by many. Both groups practice either some sort of chilla nashini or yoga in remote jungles, mountains or charnel grounds in which ganja aids to put a veil on the worldly & to transcend the various societal trends and pressures. It is also used to induce a state of euphoria and trance by some in conjunction with drumming, dance or whirling. 
According to many Rastas, the illegality of cannabis in many nations is evidence that persecution of Rastafari is a reality. 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. They contrast it to alcohol and other drugs, which they feel destroy the mind.
They hold that the smoking of cannabis enjoys Biblical sanction, and is an aid to meditation and religious observance. Among Biblical verses, Rastas quote as justifying the use of cannabis:
- Genesis 1:11 "And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so."
- Genesis 1:29 "And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb-bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat."
- Genesis 3:18 "... thou shalt eat the herb of the field."
- Psalms 104:14 "He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man."
- Proverbs 15:17 "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith."
- Revelation 22:2 " the river of life proceeded to flow from the throne of God, and on either side of the bank there was the tree of life, and the leaf from that tree is for the healing of the nations."
According to some Rastafari and other scholars, the etymology of the word "cannabis" and similar terms in all the languages of the Near East may be traced to the Hebrew "qaneh bosm" קנה-בשם, which is one of the herbs that God commanded Moses to include in his preparation of sacred anointing perfume in Exodus 30:23; the Hebrew term also appears in Isaiah 43:24; Jeremiah 6:20; Ezekiel 27:19; and Song of Songs 4:14. Deutero-canonical and canonical references to the patriarchs Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses "burning incense before the Lord" are also applied, and many Rastas today refer to cannabis by the term "ishence" — a slightly changed form of the English word incense. It is also said that cannabis was the first plant to grow on King Solomon's grave.
In 1998, Attorney General of the United States Janet Reno gave a legal opinion that Rastafari do not have the religious right to smoke marijuana in violation of the United States' drug laws. The position is the same in the United Kingdom, where, in the Court of Appeal case of R. v. Taylor  1 Cr. App. R. 37, it was held that the UK's prohibition on cannabis use did not contravene the right to freedom of religion conferred under the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
On January 2, 1991, at an international airport in his homeland of Guam, Ras Iyah Ben Makahna (Benny Guerrero) was arrested for possession and importation of marijuana and seeds. He was charged with importation of a controlled substance. The case was heard by the US 9th Circuit Court November 2001, and in May 2002 the court had decided that the practice of Rastafari sanctions the smoking of marijuana, but nowhere does the religion sanction the importation of marijuana. Guerrero's lawyer Graham Boyd pointed out that the court's ruling was "equivalent to saying wine is a necessary sacrament for some Christians but you have to grow your own grapes."
Rastafari culture does not encourage mainstream political involvement. In fact, in the early stages of the movement most Rastas did not vote, out of principle. Ras Sam Brown formed the Suffering People's Party for the Jamaican elections of 1962 and received fewer than 100 votes. In the election campaign of 1972, People's National Party leader Michael Manley used a prop, a walking stick given to him by Haile Selassie, which was called the "Rod of Correction", in a direct appeal to Rastafari values.
In the famous free One Love Peace Concert on April 22, 1978, Peter Tosh lambasted the audience, including attending dignitaries, with political demands that included decriminalising cannabis. He did this while smoking a spliff, a criminal act in Jamaica. At this same concert, Bob Marley led both then-Prime Minister Michael Manley and opposition leader Edward Seaga onto the stage; and a famous picture was taken with all three of them holding their hands together above their heads in a symbolic gesture of peace during what had been a very violent election campaign.
- "He [the Almighty] taught us that all human beings are equal regardless of sex, national origin and tribe. And He also taught us all who seek Him shall find Him." -- Haile Selassie I, Dec. 1968 interview with Dr. Oswald Hoffman on 'The Lutheran Hour'.
Per Haile Selassie's consistent lifelong message, Rastas tend to be firm adherents to the proposition that in the eyes of Jah, all men and women deserve equal and just rights, treatment and respect. With both King Alpha and his Queen Omega as shining examples, Rasta bredren and sistren (collectively idren) seek to emulate kings and queens according mutual respect and dignity.
Rastas assert that their original African languages were stolen from them when they were taken into captivity as part of the slave trade, and that English is an imposed colonial language. Their remedy has been the creation of a modified vocabulary and dialect known as "Iyaric", reflecting their desire to take language forward and to confront the society they call Babylon.
Some examples are:
- "I-tal", derived from the word vital and used to describe the diet of the movement which is taken mainly from Hebrew dietary laws.
- "Overstanding", which replaces "understanding" to denote an enlightenment which places one in a better position.
- "Irie" (pronounced "eye-ree"), a term used to denote acceptance, positive feelings, or to describe something that is good.
- "Upfulness", a positive term for being helpful
- "Livication", substituted for the word "dedication" because Rastas associate dedication with death.
- "Downpression", used in place of "oppression", the logic being that the pressure is being applied from a position of power to put down the victim.
One of the most distinctive modifications in Iyaric is the substitution of the pronoun I and I for other pronouns, usually the first person. I, as used in the examples above, refers to Jah; therefore, I and I in the first person includes the presence of the divine within the individual. As I and I can also refer to us, them, or even you. It is used as a practical linguistic rejection of the separation of the individual from the larger Rastafari community, and Jah himself.
Rastafari say that they reject -isms. They see a wide range of -isms and schisms in modern society, for example communism and capitalism, and want no part in them. For example, Haile Selassie himself was an anti-communist during the cold war, only to be deposed by a Marxist coup. Rastafarians would reject Marxism as part of the Babylonian system or, at the very least, just another version of western Humanism. They especially reject the word "Rastafarianism", because they see themselves as "having transcended -isms and schisms". This has created conflict between some Rastas and some members of the academic community studying Rastafari, who insist on calling this faith "Rastafarianism" in spite of the disapproval this generates within the Rastafari movement. Nevertheless, the practice continues among scholars, though there are also instances of the study of Rastafari using its own terms.
Many Rastas eat limited types of meat in accordance with the dietary Laws of the Old Testament; they do not eat shellfish or pork. Others abstain from all meat and flesh whatsoever, asserting that to touch meat is to touch death, and is therefore a violation of the Nazirite vow. (A few make a special exception allowing fish, while abstaining from all other forms of flesh.) However, the prohibition against meat only applies to those who are currently fulfilling a Nazirite vow ("Dreadlocks Priesthood"), for the duration of the vow. Many Rastafari maintain a vegan or vegetarian diet all of the time. Food approved for Rastafari is called ital. The purpose of fasting (abstaining from meat and dairy) is to cleanse the body in accordance to serving in the presence of the "Ark of the Covenant".
Usage of alcohol is also generally deemed unhealthy to the Rastafari way of life, partly because it is seen as a tool of Babylon to confuse people, and partly because placing something that is pickled and fermented within oneself is felt to be much like turning the body (the Temple) into a "cemetery".
In consequence, a rich alternative cuisine has developed in association with Rastafari tenets, eschewing most synthetic additives, and preferring more natural vegetables and fruits such as coconut and mango. This cuisine can be found throughout the Caribbean and in some restaurants throughout the western world.
Some of the Houses (or "Mansions" as they have come to be known) of the Rastafari culture, such as the Twelve Tribes of Israel, do not specify diet beyond that which, to quote Christ in the New Testament, "Is not what goes into a man's mouth that defile him, but what come out of it". Wine is seen as a "mocker" and strong drink is "raging"; however, simple consumption of beer or the very common roots wine are not systematically a part of Rastafari culture this way or that. Separating from Jamaican culture, different interpretations on the role of food and drink within the religion remains up for debate. At official state banquets Haile Selassie would encourage guests to "eat and drink in your own way".
The wearing of dreadlocks is very closely associated with the movement, though not universal among, or exclusive to, its adherents. Rastas maintain that locks are supported by Leviticus 21:5 ("They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in the flesh.") and the Nazirite vow in Numbers 6:5 ("All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the Lord, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.").
It has often 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.
There have been ascetic groups within a variety of world faiths that have at times worn similarly matted hair. In addition to the Nazirites of Judaism and the sadhus of Hinduism, it is worn among some sects of Sufi Islam, notably the Baye Fall sect of Mourides, and by some Ethiopian Orthodox monks in Christianity, among others. Some of the very earliest Christians may also have worn this hairstyle; particularly noteworthy are descriptions of James the Just, "brother of Jesus" and first Bishop of Jerusalem, whom Hegesippus (according to Eusebius and Jerome) described as a Nazirite who never once cut his hair. The length of a Rasta's locks is a measure of wisdom, maturity, and knowledge in that it can indicate not only the Rasta's age, but also his/her time as a Rasta.
Also, according to the Bible, Samson was a Nazarite who had "seven locks". Rastas argue that these "seven locks" could only have been dreadlocks, as it is unlikely to refer to seven strands of hair.
Locks have also come to symbolize the Lion of Judah (its mane) and rebellion against Babylon. 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[when?], a group of Rastafarians 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.
Rastafari associate dreadlocks with a spiritual journey that one takes in the process of locking their hair (growing hairlocks). It is taught that patience is the key to growing locks, a journey of the mind, soul and spirituality. Its spiritual pattern is aligned with the Rastafari movement. The way to form natural dreadlocks is to allow hair to grow in its natural pattern, without cutting, combing or brushing, but simply to wash it with pure water.
For the Rastas the razor, the scissors and the comb are the three Babylonian or Roman inventions. So close is the association between dreadlocks and Rastafari, that the two are sometimes used synonymously. In reggae music, a follower of Rastafari may be referred to simply as a "dreadlocks" or "natty (natural) dread".
As important and connected with the movement as the wearing of locks is, though, it is not deemed necessary for, or equivalent to, true faith. Popular slogans, often incorporated within reggae lyrics, include: "Not every dread is a Rasta and not every Rasta is a dread..."; "It's not the dread upon your head, but the love inna your heart, that mek ya Rastaman" (Sugar Minott); and as Morgan Heritage sings: "You don't haffi dread to be Rasta...", and "Children of Selassie I, don't lose your faith; whether you do or don't have your locks 'pon your head..." Some Rastafarians may eschew dreadlocks, either as a means of avoiding persecution or for practical reasons, especially in as they may be a liability in many industrial jobs as it may get trapped in machinery. 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, including those whose hair is not naturally suited to the style, and who sometimes go to great lengths to form them. Locks worn for stylish reasons are sometimes referred to as "bathroom locks", to distinguish them from the kind that are purely natural. Rasta 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.
Red, gold and green
The Rastafarian colours of red, gold and green (sometimes also including black) are very commonly sported on Rastafarian flag, badges, posters etc. The red, gold and green are the colours of the Ethiopian flag and show the loyalty Rastafari feel towards the Ethiopian state in the reign of King Selassie. The red, black and green were the colours used to represent Africa by the Marcus Garvey movement. Red is said to signify the blood of martyrs, green the vegetation and beauty of Ethiopia, and gold the wealth of Africa.
Music of Jamaica General topics Related articles Genres National anthem Jamaica, Land We Love Regional music