Alexa Rastafari, a religion that developed against “Whites”

Dhaka, Wednesday   23 October 2019


Rastafari, a religion that developed against “Whites”

 Abdur Rahman Rahad

 Published: 04:13 PM, 11 September 2019   Updated: 04:25 PM, 11 September 2019

Symbol of Rastafari; Photo: Collected

Symbol of Rastafari; Photo: Collected

A religion with deep political convictions, Rastafarianism began in the slums of Jamaica in the 1920s and 30s. Rastafari also spelled Ras Tafari is an Abrahamic new religious movement. African religious tradition has heavily influenced the culture of Rastafarianism and biblical themes have heavily influenced the religion’s belief system.

There is no formal, organized leadership in Rastafarianism, creating a wide variety of spiritual and moral variation within the religion. Some Rastafarians see Rasta more as a way of life, and others see it more as a religion. 

Nevertheless, uniting the diversity within the movement is the belief in the divinity and messiah-ship of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, the influence of Jamaican culture, the resistance of oppression, and pride in African heritage.

History of Rastafarianism

The origin of the Rastafarian religion can be traced back to the early 20th century in Jamaica, which was then a British colony. The religion grew from the impoverished black community in Jamaica who were inspired by earlier ideologies and movements such as Ethiopianism. 

The reverence of Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie started soon after his coronation in 1930 after influential clergymen stated that the Emperor’s crowning fulfilled a prophecy in the Bible.

Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie

Rastafarianism gained global popularity in the 1970s after global reggae superstars such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh who were devout Rastas became the religion’s global ambassadors. However, the popularity and following of Rastafarianism tumbled in the 1980s after the deaths of Emperor Haile Selassie and Bob Marley. The media attention the religion received through music was also suppressed by the emergence of new genres such as dancehall.

Rastafarian beliefs

Rastafarians believe in the Judeo-Christian God, whom they call Jah. In general, Rastafarian beliefs are based on Judaism and Christianity with an emphasis on Old Testament laws and prophecies and the Book of Revelation.

Jah was manifested on earth as Jesus. 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 think that he still lives in spirit although not within any physical form. 

Selassie is referred to as His Imperial Majesty or HIM and believed to still be alive — his death was a hoax and he lives in protection awaiting the Day of Judgment. Selassie is worshipped as divine. Rastafarians also honor Old Testament prophets like Moses and Elijah.

Rastafarians do not believe in an afterlife. True Rastas are believed to be immortal, both physically and spiritually, a concept called ‘everliving’. An important Rastafarian concept is ‘I and I’ which is said instead of ‘You and I’. It emphasizes the oneness between humanity and God as well as the equality of all humans.

Another central concept is Babylon, which refers to the white power structure of Europe and the Americas. Rastas seek to resist Babylon which once cruelly enslaved blacks and still continues to hold them down through poverty, illiteracy, inequality, and trickery. The greed and conceit of Babylon are contrasted with the humble simplicity and naturalness of the Rastas.

Rastafarian Communities

In the Rastafarian religion, the different communities in which the religion exists are known as mansions. These mansions defer in doctrine and beliefs. There are three principal mansions that makeup Rastafarianism and these are the House of Nyabinghi, the Bobo Shanti, and the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

  • House of Nyabinghi: The House of Nyabinghi is the oldest of the three mansions and represents the earliest form of the Rastafarian religion. The House of Nyabinghi is also the largest of the three mansions based on the number of followers. Followers of the House of Nyabinghi follow strict rules and are extremely anti-white, with some critics even viewing the mansion as “racist”.

  • Bobo Shanti: The Bobo Shanti is a mansion that was founded in 1958 by Emanuel Charles Edwards who established himself as the Christ. It is one of the strictest mansions with adherents following a strictly vegan diet, as well as following other dietary restrictions and with regular fast days, wearing long robes and turbans over their dreadlocks, and separating women from men.
  • Twelve Tribes of Israel: The Twelve Tribes of Israel is the most recent of the three mansions. The Twelve Tribes of Israel is considered as the most progressive and liberal of the three mansions and its beliefs and customs closely resemble those practiced in Christianity. The mansion was founded in 1968 by Vernon Carrington.

Black Pride

The origin of Rastafarians is strongly rooted in black empowerment movements. Some Rastas are separatists, but many believe in encouraging mutual cooperation among all races. While the vast majority of Rastas are black, there is no formal injunction against the practice by non-blacks, and many Rastas welcome a multi-ethnic Rastafari movement. 

Rastas also strongly favor self-determination based on the fact that both Jamaica and much of Africa were European colonies at the time of the religion’s formation. Selassie himself stated that Rastas should liberate their people in Jamaica before returning to Ethiopia, a policy commonly described as ‘liberation before repatriation’.

Bob Marley

Bob Marley: The Most Popular Rasta

Musician Bob Marley is the most well-known Rasta, and many of his songs have Rastafari themes. He made the Rastafarians popular all over the world. Reggae music, for which Bob Marley is famous for playing, originated among blacks in Jamaica and is unsurprisingly deeply interwoven with Rastafari culture.

Food Habits of Rastafarians

The mainstay of the Rastafarian diet has a lot to do with laws that are innately divine to man’s nature. The prohibition of many foods and the strict dietary laws that Rastas are known to have kept in tune with many biblical references to stay clean, healthy and unpolluted.

They refrain from eating red meat, pork, chicken, fish (for some), eggs, cheese, white flour products, and processed foods. The purpose is to keep a dietary law that is more in harmony with the Earth. It also is to keep them from digesting any part of the blood of animals or their flesh, allowing a more human quality to always be present in man instead of the animal/flesh driven passions that pervade the western culture.

Rastafarians limit their diets to what they consider pure food. Additives such as artificial flavorings, artificial colors, and preservatives are avoided. Alcohol, coffee, drugs except ganja and cigarettes are shunned as tools of Babylon that pollute and confuse.

The Rastafari religion is clearly a syncretic religion mixing elements of Traditional African beliefs with elements of a Pan-African and Afro-centered version of Christianity, and it obviously challenges Christianity at different levels, to begin with, its structure. Christians and Rastafarians mainly differ in their interpretation of the Bible which most of the time is read from a white perspective by the former and from a black perspective by the latter.