What Is Rastafarianism?
A brief look at the origins, doctrine and symbols of the Rastafarian religion.
The Rastafarian movement was originated in Jamaica in 1930 based on the philosophies of Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887-1940). Today, Rasta has branched out including groups that still hold Garvey's beliefs and groups that have disavowed his more controversial stances. His organization's aim was to unite black people (Negroes) with their rightful homeland, Africa. He prophesied about his people being redeemed by a future black African king. This prediction was fulfilled in November 2, 1930, when Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned King of Ethiopia. He later claimed the titles "Emperor Haile Selassie" and " the conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah". He was considered as the God of Africa whom Garvey had spoken about and as a result the Rastafarian faith was born.
Leonard P. Howell was the first to establish a branch of the Rastafarian movement and in 1933 was arrested by the Jamaican Government for preaching a " revolutionary doctrine". Other contributors to the Rastafarian theology were Robert Hinds, H. Archibald Dunkley and Nathaniel Hibbert.
The visit of Haile Selassie to Jamaica on April 21, 1966 was a momentous occasion for the Rastafarian movement. He encouraged the followers to liberate their Jamaican brothers before they sought to immigrate to Ethiopia. Haile Selassie's death on August 27, 1975 came with many responses from the Rastafarian community. Some said that his death was a fabrication. Others said his death was of little consequence because he was a personification of God. However, today followers of the Rastafarian movement still hold to the claim the he is God.
Leonard Howell gave the Rastafarians several principles to live during the establishment of the movement:
1. "until the day when the color of a mans skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes there will be no justice, there will be no peace."
2. Preparation to go back to Africa
3. The acknowledgement that Emperor Haile Selassie as the Supreme being and the only ruler of Black people
Rastafarian ideology teaches about Babylon referring to the government or white oppressors in general and also the concept of "I and I" which is an expression of Oneness i.e. God is within all of us and we are one.
Other Garvey doctrines include:
1. The devil is the god of the white man
2. The bible is the central text however much of the writings have been deliberately distorted during the translation to English.
3. Women's role in the Rastafarian movement is that of a subordinate
Many Rastafarians distinguish themselves by growing their hair coiling it into long matted "dread locks". This symbolizes the Rastafarian roots and also represents the symbol of the lion of the tribe of Judah.
The Rastafarian colors are red, green, gold and black. These were taken from the Garvey movement. The red symbolizes the blood of the martyrs, the green the beauty and vegetation of Ethiopia, the gold the wealth of their homeland and black the color of Africans.
Ganja (marijuana) is also an important part of the Rastafarian way of life. It is used extensively for religious purposes. They consider it to the "holy herb" referred to in the bible. Rastafarians believe that when they smoke the herb, they reach another state of consciousness where the revelation that Haile Selassie is God is realized. They believe that ganja is the key to new understanding of self, the universe and God.