Rastafarianism: A Little-known Religious Movement Of Jamaicans

Do you know ever wonder how many religions there are in this world? Let me answer this for you – there are 4300 religions worldwide. I’m sure many of us might not even be aware of more than 10-15 religions. The number of cultural beliefs increases based on the number of religions because every religion has one or more beliefs or ideas that differentiate them from other religions. Doesn’t it excite you to know how some never-heard religions came into existence? What are their beliefs? Are they still in practice?

For instance, have you ever heard about Rastafarianism?

Well, I am sure you haven’t heard about that name, and even if you have, you might not know much about it. So let me introduce you to this unheard religion. Let’s find out the history and beliefs of this religion. 

What is Rastafarianism?

The origin of Rastafarianism traces back to the 1930s in Jamaica, an Abrahamic religion also known as Rastafari. Rastafarianism is a religious as well as a social movement. There was no control of central authority over this movement. 

The people who practice Rastafarianism are known as Rastafari, Rastafarians, or Rastas. The flag of Ethiopia used during Haile Selassie’s reign is claimed by the Rastas. It’s a tricolor (green-gold-red) flag consisting of the conquering lion of Judah.

How did it start?

In 1930s Jamaica, Rastafarianism rose among the poor people deprived of their social rights in Afro-Jamaican communities. The reason behind the origin was the colonization of Africans by Europeans. The Afrocentric ideology of the Rastas caused reactions against Jamaica’s then-dominant British colonial culture. 

Ethiopianism and the Back-to-Africa movements promoted by black nationalist figures such as Marcus Garvey influenced them. The Universal Negro Improvement Association’s mission to unite blacks with their original land, led by Garvey, started the Rastafari movement. Rastafari voiced against the Europeans who took the Africans as slaves and traded them all over the world. Their captivity areas were known as “Babylon.”

Soon, Emperor Haile Selassie I in Ethiopia, was crowned. The Rastafarians believed that this movement fulfilled Garvey’s prophecy. Haile Selassie’s original name was used as the religion’s name. The movement is decentralized and organized on a cellular basis. The Nyahbinghi, Bobo Ashanti, the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and many other denominations all had different interpretations of the Rasta beliefs. There are nearly 1 million Rastas worldwide, with Jamaica having the highest population. The majority of the Rastas come of black African descent and others from various ethnic groups, but the mansions only accept black members.

Unique beliefs

Rastafari was described as having a ‘fairly cohesive worldview’ by Edmonds. The Rastafari beliefs can’t be explained as the status of a catechism or creed was not granted by this movement. Rasta believed in the ideology of personal experience and intuitive understanding, which is why they did not have the authority to describe any beliefs as orthodox or heterodox. 

According to the preacher Leonard Howell, the early Rastafari had some strong statements about racial issues: 

  • They had a strong hatred for whites.
  •  They believed that black was superior and were God’s chosen people. They thought that blacks would rule the world.
  •  They wanted to take revenge on the whites for the way they treated the blacks.

Some Rastas described themselves as Christians and considered ‘The Bible’ the holy book. Rastas believed the Bible was the only key to understanding the past and present and foreseeing the future. 

Religious practices of Rastafarians

Rastafarians wear dreadlocks to represent the Lion of Judah, which is a discrepancy between the refined and bold look of the white man and the establishment. It’s also said to be inspired by the Bible.

The true Rasta only eats I-tal food, which is natural and never touches chemicals. They are vegetarians and drink herbal tea.

Cannabis or Ganja is generally smoked in a ritualized form and as a drug and isn’t officially supported for recreational use. It’s believed to prop understanding and contemplation and is claimed to be the ‘holy’ or ‘green’ condiment mentioned in some restatements of the Bible.

Where is it still practiced?

Although it originated in Jamaica, Rastafari roots are spread in the Caribbean, including Cuba, and also in West and Southern Africa. There are Rastafari that are staying in North America and Europe, Central and South America, specifically in Brazil. There are some in New Zealand and Australia and even in Japan.

After World War II, many Jamaicans and Rastas immigrated to England and North America. Hence it’s believed to be practiced in these countries. There have been many biographies of Rastafari, and many of its locations include Britain, West Africa, South Africa, Brazil, Trinidad, and Dominica.

In conclusion, the Rastafari originated for the African slaves, and their movements were to voice against the whites who mistreated the blacks. I hope you enjoyed this article and are now aware of one more unheard religion.

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