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The black consciousness religion called Rastafarianism

Many people always identify with word “Rasta.” But few actually know that it is a pan-African religion which has a sizeable number, and which has some peculiar beliefs.

Rastafarianism is a religion that speaks African. It accepts Emperor Haile Selassie I as the God incarnate and the Messiah. It has roots that go back to Jamaica in the 1930s. Selassie was the last emperor of Ethiopia, and because of that Rastafarians believe that Ethiopia is where their redemption lies. In that regard Ethiopia is referred to as Zion. A larger population of Rastas are concentrated in Jamaica, with smaller numbers in other countries. It is a black consciousness movement—Afro-Caribbean—and there is a split between the religion and its accompanying social consciousness, so people can appreciate what Rastas are trying to do socially while not embracing the religion.

Rastafarianism started with Marcus Garvey when he uttered his prophecy in 1927. He talked of how the black race would be liberated when a king would be crowned in the east. In 1930, Haile Selassie, who was called Ras Tafari Makonnen, was crowned as emperor in Ethiopia in 1940, and four Jamaican ministers independently declared him as their savior. Those who heeded Garvey’s words and looked to Selassie—or rather “Ras Tafari”—withdrew from mainline Jamaican society. They also deemed traditional Christianity to be “white religion”—and rejected it as such. They also rejected Western culture because they considered it to be the modern “Babylon.” Some Rastafarians also adopted ganja (i.e., marijuana) as their sacred “herb.”

Hence the word “Rastafari” came from Selassie’s name, Ras Tafari. As an incarnation of Jah, Selassie I is both god and king to Rastas. While Selassie officially died in 1975, many Rastas do not believe that Jah can die and thus that his death was a hoax. Others believe that he still lives in spirit although not within any physical form. And hence the chant, “Jah Rastafari!”

Selassie is greatly revered as can be seen with his numerous titles, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, His Imperial Majestic the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God, which correlates to Revelation 19:16: “He hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”

There is a link between Rastafarianism and Judaism. Rastas believe that Selassie was a direct descendant of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Rastafarianism hinges on Judaism and Christianity  beliefs, although there is much stress on the Old Testament. As such, Biblical promises to the chosen people are applicable to them. The also accept many of the Old Testament injunctions, such as the forbiddance of cutting one’s hair (which leads to the dreadlocks commonly associated with the movement) and eating of pork and shellfish. Many also believe that the Ark of the Covenant is located somewhere in Ethiopia.

And you have once heard Rastas saying something about Babylon every time. Babylon simply refers to an oppressive and unjust society, are mainly comprised of the politicians, the churches, the police, and other selfish institutions. It originates in the Biblical stories of the Babylonian Captivity of the Jews, but Rastas commonly use it in reference to Western and white society, which exploited Africans and their descendants for centuries. Babylon is blamed for a great many spiritual ills, including the corrupting of Jah’s message originally transmitted through Jesus and the Bible. As such, Rastas commonly reject many aspects of Western society and culture.

And then let’s come to the smoking of Ganja. Ganja is a strain of marijuana which Rasta smoke, as they believe that it cleanses the mind, and edifies the soul. They also believe that it makes believers get closer to Jah. It is a common practice but one that is not enforced on every believer. Many Rastas limit their diets to what they consider “pure” food. Additives such as artificial flavorings, artificial colors, and preservatives are avoided. Alcohol, coffee, drugs (other than ganja) and cigarettes are shunned as tools of Babylon that pollute and confuse. Many Rastas are vegetarians, although some eat certain kinds of fish. This is called Ital cooking.

Rastafarian colours are red, gold and green. Sometimes black is added. Red signifies the blood of those killed for the cause of the black community, throughout Jamaican history. Green represents Jamaica’s vegetation and hope for the eradication of suppression. Gold symbolises the wealth of Ethiopia. Black signifies the colour of the Africans who initiated Rastafari. The symbol for them is the Lion, This lion represents Haile Selassie I, who is referred to as the ‘Conquering Lion of Judah’. Rastafarians’ dreadlocks represent the lion’s mane.

Rastas celebrate several specific days in the year including Selassie’s coronation day (November 2), Selassie’s birthday (July 23), Garvey’s birthday (August 17), Grounation Day, which celebrates Selassie’s visit to Jamaica in 1966 (April 21), the Ethiopian New Year (September 11), and Orthodox Christmas, as celebrated by Selassie (January 7).



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