The Rastafarian religion has roots tracing to Africa, but it became well known in the ghettos of Jamaica. In these ghettos, a boy was born who would have an everlasting effect on the religion. This boy grew up to become a famous musician who then opened the world to the Rastafarian views and spread the Rastafarian message to thousands of people. Jamaica recognized his effect on the culture shortly before his death, which was mourned by millions. The man responsible for the worldwide recognition of the Rastafarian religion was Bob Marley. The Rastafarian religion has a vast history full of many beliefs, practices, and influential people.
The crowning of Prince Ras Tafari Makonnen as the Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930 gave birth to the Rastafarian religion. Years earlier in 1927, Marcus Garvey told blacks to “look to Africa for the crowning of a king to know that your redemption is near”. Many blacks considered his crowning to be the fulfillment of Marcus Garvey’s prophecy. Garvey’s plan was to bring all Africans back to Africa (“Rastafarianism”). This started a Rastafarian movement and the religion had officially begun (Littman “Rastafarianism”). The Rastafarian religion grew out of the Ghetto’s of Kingston, Jamaica (Jackson “Rastafarianism”). An early leader of the movement was Leonard Howell. “Leonard Howell, was arrested in 1933 by the Jamaican government for preaching a revolutionary doctrine” (Garcia “Rastafarianism: An Overview”). Howell’s arrest helped organize the Rastafarian movement, and may have influenced the group to remain leaderless for a period of time, which in turn helped to strengthen them (Garcia “Rastafarianism: An Overview”). As the Jamaican economy grew weaker, many Rasta’s turned to practical action. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, Rastafarian leaders strengthened their conflict with political leaders by defying the government and organizing illegal street marches. By the mid 1950’s the Rastafarians were perceived as nothing more then bearded drug addicts. In the 1960’s, Garvey’s “back to Africa” plan seemed realistic, as a group of Rastafarian leaders were sent to Africa (Jackson “Rastafarianism).
“Though no large-scale immigration to Africa by Jamaicans was achieved, the sending of some Rastafarian leaders to Africa resulted in the movements enhanced knowledge of African realities, and probably diffused the movement’s enthusiasm for immediate repatriation” (Garcia “Rastafarianism: An Overview”).
The single most important even in Rastafarian history was the visit of Haile Selassie I to Jamaica. He arrived in Jamaica on April 21, 1966. His visit resulted in two major developments. First, Haile Selassie I convinced the Rastafarian brothers that they should not immigrate to Africa until the Jamaican people were liberated. This also marked April 21 as the “special holy day” among Rastafarians (Garcia “Rastafarianism: An Overview”). In the 1960’s the Black Power Movement was started, and this began to develop the Rastafarian religion. The 1970’s gave birth to a new view of Rastafarians. They became a positive forced and were praised for contributing to the culture of Jamaica. “On August 27, 1975, Haile Selassie I died, and a tremendous crisis in faith ensued” (Littman “Rastafarianism”). This was a contradiction to the religion, because Haile Selassie I was believed to be the living God of the Rastafarians. People tried to deny the acquisition of his death by saying it was a cover up by the media aimed at bringing down the religion (Ifill “Rastafarian Religion”). The late 1970’s brought many Rastafarians to America as a result of the general migration of Jamaicans. In America they were perceived as violent, and were blamed by the media for many murders (Garcia “Rastafarianism: An Overview”). The Rastafarian movement had become increasingly secular since the 1980’s. Many symbols lost their religious significance. Rastafarian colors were worn by all, and had no meaning. Dreadlocks have now become a trendy hairstyle in both black and whites. Another great sign of change in the Rastafarian religion was the presence of women. Women previously were not allowed to participate in rituals and were expected to show complete respect to males (Garcia “Rastafarianism: An Overview”). Rastafarian women are now a major part of the religion. Even with its current changes, the Rastafarian religion is still a great moral authority (Garcia “Rastafarianism: An Overview”).
The Rastafarian religion is a blend of the purest forms of Judaism and Christianity. During the reign of King Solomon, Queen Makeba ruled the empire of Sheba. The empire of Sheba spanned out across Ethiopia, Egypt, and parts of Persia (Salewicz “Rastafari”). When Queen Makeba came to visit King Solomon, the wise wealthy ruler of Jerusalem, he converted her beliefs to the God of Abraham. Before this time, she worshipped the sun god Ra. Queen Makeba changed the religion of her entire empire to Judaism (Boot 49). While she was visiting Solomon, she became pregnant with his child. She promised Solomon after the child was born, if it was a boy she would send him to Jerusalem to be brought up under the teachings of his father (Salewicz “Rastafari”). She gave birth to a son whom she named Menelik. As promised, when her son was a young man, he was sent to Jerusalem. Menelik swore to his mother he we return to Ethiopia to take over as ruler of the Empire. After Solomon brought him up, he returned to Ethiopia to rule his empire. Here, the Judaism religion existed in undiluted form (Salewicz “Rastafari”). The beliefs and customs of many Rasta’s are a result of the Judaism religion.
At the heart of the religion lie the mysteries of Ancient Egyptians. Many of these mysteries come from the Egyptian book of the Dead (Boot 50). The influence on the Rastafarians comes from Egyptian mysticism. “This became institutionalized by Moses; when adopted by the High Priest’s daughter in Egypt, he was taught the principles of Osiris, Isis, and other Egyptian Gods” (Salewicz “Rastafari”). Moses is the source of Judaism on the Rastafarian religion. He is believed to be the author of the first five books of the Bible. The Rastafarians believe there is an Obeah textbook, written by Moses which contains the sixth and seventh books of the bible which were too complex for the common man to understand (Salewicz “Rastafari”). Paul the Apostle is known for the Christian influence on the religion. He converted an Ethiopian eunuch to Christianity. “This eunuch was a high-placed, respected rabbi of Orthodox Judaism” (Boot 49). When the eunuch returned to Ethiopia, he converted the entire country to Christianity. This began the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The church was a pure form of Christianity that still believed in its Judaic and Egyptian pasts (Salewicz “Rastafari”). By combining all the elements of these religions, the basis of the Rastafarian religion was formed.
The foundation of the Rastafarian Religion is the Holy Piby. The Holy Piby is known as the “Black Man’s Bible” (Jackson “Rastafarianism”). The Holy Piby was written from 1913 to 1917 by Robert Athlyi Rogers. It was published in 1924. The Barbadian minister, Reverend Charles F. Goodridge, came upon the bible in Colon, Panama. The bible was being published in large quantities in Newark, New Jersey. These copies were sent to Kimberly, South Africa, where missionaries of black supremacy started a church for diamond-field workers. This church was called the Afro-Athlican Constructive Church (AACC) (Salewicz “Rastafari”). Through this movement, Goodride met Grace Jenkins Garrison. They brought the Holy Piby to Jamaica in 1925. They opened a branch of the AACC under the name Hamatic Church. They were persecuted by conventional church leaders for the changes they made to the Bible. They fled to St. Thomas in Eastern Jamaica (Salewicz “Rastafari”). The roots off the Rastafarian religion were planted in St. Thomas. Early Rastafarian leaders started camps to read the Holy Piby. These people believed the Holy Piby was the closest translation to the original bible. They believed “white church scholars distorted the Amharic bible in the translating and editing process to make God and his prophets Caucasian instead of black” (Salewicz “Rastafari”).
The Rastafarian religion is full of unique beliefs and practices. Four out of five people surveyed associated the smoking of marijuana with the Rasta Religion (Moravec “Survey”). The Rastafarian leaders urged the people to smoke marijuana. They believed it was a religious rite. They used “wisdomweed” to as a spiritual sacrament and to aid in meditation (White 12). It was also used for medicinal purposes. Leaders alleged that is found growing on the grave of King Solomon. They cited many biblical passages to support their theories. “Though shalt eat the herb of the field.” (Genesis 3:18) “Eat every herb of the land” (Exodus 10:12). “Better is a dinner of herb where love is, than a stalled ox or hatred there with” (Proverbs 15:17). “He causeth the grass for the cattle, and herb for the service of man” (Psalms 104:14). The Rastafarians also have to maintain an I-tal diet. They look down upon the ingestion of alcohol, tobacco, meat, shellfish, scale less fish, and scavenger species of marine life (Salewicz “Rastafari”). Their food is cooked, but served in the rawest form possible. They cannot use salts or preservatives. The food must never touch chemicals and is always completely natural.
There are many religious symbols in the Rastafarian Religion. The colors that define the Rastafarian religion and their beliefs are red, gold, and green. The colors are taken from the Garvey movement. The Red is symbolic of the bloodshed of past martyrs in the Rasta history. The yellow is a representation of the wealth of their homeland. The green is for the beauty and vegetation of their promise land, Ethiopia (Littman “Rastafarianism”). The lion is one of the most dominant symbols associated with the Rasta’s. It represents the “conquering lion of Judah” Haile Selassie I. In Jamaica, the lion is present wherever Rastafarians have connections. The lion is seen in their artwork and songs. It also represents the maleness of the movement. To Rastafarians, the lion represents strength, knowledge, and aggression (Littman “Rastafarianism”).
The most famous symbol associated with Rastafarians is the Dreadlocks. They symbolize the Rastafarian’s roots, and contrast the blonde straight hair of the white man. Dreadlocks are a symbol of the Rastafarian heritage, and while supporting the bible. Only three out of five people surveyed knew that Rastafarians started the dreadlock hairstyle (Moravec “Survey”).In Leviticus 21: 5, it says “They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off thy corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings of the flesh” (Littman “Rastarianism”). The Rasta’s beard is a sign of his pact with Jah and the Bible. It is believed to be his source of knowledge (Rastafarianism).
The Rastafarians believe they were oppressed by the white-man. They refer to this oppression as Babylon (Hartman “The Afrocentric Experience”). The term Babylon means, “white political power structure that has been holding the black race down for centuries” (Littman “Rastafarianism”). They claim to have been held down physically by slavery. They feel they are still brought down by poverty, illiteracy, inequality, and the trickery of the white man.
Bob Marley was the most famous and influential Rastafarian. All five people I surveyed said the first thing that came to mind about Rastafarianism was Bob Marley (Moravec “Survey”). He was born on February 6, 1945. His father, Norval Marley, was a 50-year-old white naval captain, and his mother, Cedella Booker, was an 18-year-old Jamaican girl. Bob was raised in Trenchtown, Jamaica and grew up listening to artists such as Ray Charles, Fats Domino, and Curtis Mayfield. While in Trenchtown, Bob met Bunny Wailer. They both shared a love for music and formed the group the Rudeboys in 1961 (Microsoft “Malrey, Bob”). The group was later called the Wailers. The group’s early music resembled the New Orleans jazz and blues Bob had listened to as a child. In 1967 Bob’s life dramatically changed. His wife, Rite Marley, was converted to the Rastafarian religion during Haile Selassie I visit to Jamaica. She in turn converted Bob from Christianity to Rastafarianism (Salewicz “Rastafari”). This had a profound influence on his music. He began incorporating the religion’s elements in his music. His songs embraced carefree attitudes and professed his love for Jah, the Rastafarian God. As his music started becoming famous around the world, his message of peace and freedom spread throughout the world. Thousands of people began to recognize the Rastafarian religion and converted to it. Reggae music was associated with Rastafarian culture, and Bob was awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit for his contribution to the country’s culture. He was diagnosed with cancer, and died on May 21, 1981 (Salewicz “Rastafari”).
Marcus Garvey is considered the founder of the Rastafarian religion. The fulfillment of his prophecy for an African king gave birth to the Rastafarian religion. He was born in St. Ann, Jamaica in 1887. He was a political leader who was devoted to making the black race equal to the white. In the Rastafarian religion, he is looked at as second only to their living god, Haile Selassie I (Redington “Rastafari History and Beliefs”). In the 1920’s he formed the United Negro Improvement Association, and spoke of “Ethiopia as the land of our fathers” (Salewicz “Rastafari”). In 1924, he revealed his prophecy, “Look to Africa for the crowning of a Black King; He shall be the Redeemer” (Salewicz “Rastafari”).When Haile Selassie was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia, people claimed his prophecy was fulfilled. Garvey himself did not like Haile Selassie I. He looked down upon Ethiopia because slavery still existed. The Rastafarians continued to respect Garvey, saying the John the Baptist had doubts about Christ (Salewicz “Rastafari”).
In 1930, Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia. He was the great-grandson of King Saheka Selassie of Shoa. Ras Tafari was regarded as King of Kings. He was given the title Haile Selassie, which means, “Power of the Holy Trinity”. He claimed to be a direct descended from King Solomon, and he was thought of as the long-awaited savior (Salewicz “Rastafari”). He was the Rastafarians pro-claimed living God. In Africa, he was regarded as the greatest modern monarch, and a symbol of Ethiopia’s potential. Haile Selassie I was not a Rastafarian. He visited Jamaica once, and his visit had a profound effect (Salewicz “Rastafari”). As a result of his visit, Bob Marley was eventually converted to the Rastafarian religion. Haile Selassie I died in 1975, and controversy struck Rastafarians. Many denied his death, saying it was a media cover-up to destroy the Rastafarian religion.
The Rastafarian religion has a vast history full of many beliefs, practices, and influential people. The history dates back to the ghettos of Jamaica in 1930. The crowing of Haile Selassie I fulfilled Marcus Garvey’s prophecy, and the Rastafarian religion was born. Early leaders such as Leonard Howell helped shape the religions vast background. The Christian and Judaism influence is easily seen in their beliefs and customs. The ancient Egyptian mysteries helped make the religion unique. The religion was one full of unique customs. They had I-tal diets and believed in the smoking of marijuana. The lion and the colors red, yellow, and green are dominant symbols always associated with the religion. The Dreadlocks are the most famous symbol, but are now a trendy hairstyle and have lost much of their religious meaning. Bob Marley’s music opened the world to the views and beliefs of the Rastafarians.