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Rastafarian, sometimes referred to as Rastafarianism, is a religious movement that arose in Jamaica in the 1930s. Dreadlocks and cannabis use are probably the two most iconic aspects of the religion, and even today, cannabis culture and the Rastafarian religion seem to be very closely related.
This was primarily born in communities of the poor Afro-Jamaican working class and is sometimes seen as a larger movement rebelling against British colonialism (Jamaica gained independence from Great Britain in 1962).
She was also deeply influenced by other political movements such as the Back-To-Africa movement and adopted the powerful idea that people with African heritage should return to their homeland to strengthen their nations there and help them with the oppression which they faced from the western world to overthrow.
At the center of Rastafarianism is the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I. Selassie is often addressed as a messiah, prophet or incarnate deity, and his coronation is mostly seen as the fulfillment of biblical prophecies.
The Rasta religion is characterized by the lack of a central authority that clearly dictates the beliefs and practices of the religion. There are several denominations within the Rastafarians, the most common being Nyahbinghi, Bobo Ashanti and the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
While the Rasta movement is widely accepted in Jamaica today, it came into conflict with regular Jamaican society in the 1950s and also expanded to the nearby Caribbean islands, the United States, and other parts of the world.
The 1950s also saw the emergence of a more radical form of Rastafarian, which led to an attempt by militant Rastas to claim Jamaican cities like Kingston and Spanish Town, and to other violent conflicts.
However, these tensions ebbed and in the 1960s the Rasta movement began to gain broader support from privileged members of Jamaican society. During this period of time there is also a shift in traditional Rasta beliefs, especially the idea that members are obliged to undertake a physical retreat to Africa for their salvation. The movement also began to take inspiration from other political movements that were active at the time, especially the Black Power movement in the United States.
In the 1970s, Rastafari was really brought to the world stage with the help of reggae music. Musicians like Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh and many others found worldwide success with their iconic sound.
However, in the late 1970s and early 80s the Rasta movement lost momentum, possibly for a number of reasons, including the death of Haile Selassie in 1975 and then that of Bob Marley in 1981. The simultaneous loss of popularity of reggae music, which preached many of the Rastas' religious messages, will also have contributed to this.
It is estimated that there are around 1 million Rastas around the world today. The greatest concentration of Rastafarian communities continues to be found in Jamaica.
WHAT DO RASTAS BELIEVE IN? WHICH RITUALS ARE PRESENTED?
As we mentioned earlier, Rastafarian lacks some sort of centralized authority that governs the beliefs and practices of religion. In addition, religion can actually be divided into about 6 different denominations (commonly referred to as "mansions"), each with their own rules and rituals.
Rasta members tend to follow the teachings of their religion or the "mansions" only partially - and sometimes not at all. This is based on a general belief in freedom of consciousness and in distrust and aversion to institutionalized rituals.
This fact does not necessarily make it easier to paint some kind of global picture of this religion. However, there are some common beliefs associated with Rastafarian:
- Adoration of Jah, a monotheistic God, in the form of a holy trinity similar to Catholicism (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Rastas believe that Jah lives in all people by essentially making all people one and the same.
- Worship of the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I. How Selassie is worshiped differs, especially between the various "mansions". However, he is widely viewed as the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament as the second coming of Jesus to earth. Other Rastas even worship Selassie as an incarnated god, while others see him only as the representative of Jah on earth. He is often referred to as the Almighty God, King of kings and Lord of lords, the victorious lion of the tribe of Judah, as well as many other names.
- Afrocentrism. Rastafarian usually promotes black empowerment and a rediscovery of black identity and culture, all of which have been suppressed by Western society. Traditional Rastafarian beliefs focus on a physical return to Africa for salvation, while more modern interpretations focus more on reusing African heritage and identity to reduce oppression and inferiority. Rastas often compare themselves to the ancient Israelites and God's chosen people, and Rastas who live outside of Africa speak of living in "Babylon" and are encouraged to return to "Zion" or Africa.
- An alternative interpretation of the Bible. Rastas have taken to reinterpreting scriptures and using many terms and stories from the Bible in their religion. For example, as mentioned above, the term Babylon is used in both the Old and New Testaments and was adopted by the Rastas.
- Reincarnation. Rastas do not believe in an afterlife; instead, they assume that the spiritually enlightened will be reborn while others simply die. Those who are reincarnated are believed to maintain their individual identity through each reincarnation.
- Morals and "natural laws". Likewise, Rastafari have adopted many of the moral principles shared by other religions such as Christianity. They also share a strong bond with nature, believing that western society has been quite poisoned by technological advances and has become detached from nature.
Just as Rastas tend to develop their own beliefs instead of following a strict doctrine, they also know very individual ways of practicing their religion. In the following we present some common Rastafarian rituals, whereby one should again bear in mind that not all Rastas adhere strictly to them.
The "grounding" (for example: "grounding", "foundation") is a kind of Rasta ceremony that involves a gathering of Rastafarians under an elder. These ceremonies often include music, chanting, drumming, and the use of cannabis.
One of the main purposes of the groundings is to allow discussion among members of the religion about its interpretation and how it relates to current events. The groundings are usually reserved for men.
There are relatively strict gender roles among Rastas. Women are excluded from groundings and other religious gatherings and should dress clearly differently from men. They are also considered impure because of their menstrual cycle and distract men with their sexual stimuli. Women are taught to seek male guidance and dress in a way that covers the contours of their head and body so as not to sexually irritate the men.
As we mentioned earlier, the Rastafarian religion places a strong focus on its members' connection with nature. One sees an important way of doing this in a special diet, which is usually referred to as "Ital". This consists of natural foods, with some "mansions" even producing their own food and living on a self-sufficient basis.
Some Rastas have chosen to be completely vegetarian, while others tend to follow Old Testament dietary guidelines (and especially avoid pork or crustaceans). Other Rastas, on the other hand, avoid adding additives such as salt or sugar to their diet.
SPIRITUAL CANNABIS USE
While the spiritual uses of cannabis by its members are certainly not unique, this was definitely one of the aspects of Rastafarianism that shocked Western society when the religion hit the global stage in the 1960s and 1970s. Rastas consume cannabis, commonly referred to as "ganja," by smoking or ingesting it, often in teas and in their daily diet. Some Rastas believe that cannabis use should be limited to grounding ceremonies, while others use it regularly. They see it as a powerful substance that has the power to bring users closer to Jah.
At a grounding, a Rasta member will usually prefer a spliff while saying a prayer to Jah. Once the prayer is over, the spliff is lit and smoked. Alternatively, the Rastas also ingest cannabis through large water pipes known as “chalices”.
The exact origin that cannabis could become such an important part of the Rasta religion is unclear. Some believe this derives from kumina, a religion practiced by Congolese servants who were brought to Jamaica in the 1800s and who also used cannabis in their spiritual practices.
Others, however, believe that cannabis was adopted from those Hindu religions that Indian servants brought with them when they were shipped to Jamaica between the 19th and 20th centuries. There, too, cannabis was used for spiritual purposes.
Rastas have a unique sense of clothing and appearance. The dreadlocks are very iconic and widespread among some Rastas, while some denominations even prohibit this hairstyle. Certain schools, such as the Twelve Tribes of Israel or Bobo Ashanti, dress specifically to distinguish themselves from believers of other denominations, which may include robes and turbans.
Music is central to the Rasta religion and plays a huge role in a Rasta's life. Chanting, drumming and singing are often integral parts of the groundings, while reggae music serves as an important platform to convey the key messages of religion.
The music is used to praise Jah and is believed to have unique healing properties. Some Rasta songs are sung in the melodies of ancient Christian hymns, while others are original. Rasta music places a strong emphasis on rhythm and bassline, both of which are interpreted very symbolically and reflect the core beliefs of religion.
Rasta Elder Prof-I explains why Rastafarian is not a religion or organization:
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