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Rastafarianism

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I. Group Profile

1. Name: Rastafarians, Rastas, or Ras Tafarians 1

2. Founder: Tafari Makonnen, pre-coronation title of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. However, Selassie was more the embodiment of the Rasta faith than the actual founder of the religion. In actuality, he was known to have been devoted to Ethiopian Orthodox faith, which is more Christian-based in its theology. 2

3. Date of Birth: 1892

4. Birth Place: Harer, Ethiopia

5. Year Founded: approximately 19303

6. Sacred or Revered Texts: Certain sections of the Holy Bible are considered sacred, however the Rastafarians believe that some aspects of the Bible were changed by "Babylon," which has come to represent the white power structure. To greater represent the truth, Rastafarians reject the Bible used by most Christians, opting instead for a "black man's Bible," known as the Holy Piby. 4 Also, Rastafarians give special significance to the Ethiopian Holy Book, the Kebra Negast.

7. Cult or Sect:

Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts "cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing "Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will find additional links to related issues.

8. Size of Group and Member Characteristics: There are between 3,000 and 5,000 Rastafarians in the United States. However, these figures may be slighly distorted as a result of the large number of people who have adopted the external appearance of Rastafarians. 5 Worldwide, the total following is approximately 1,000,000 people.6

Most members are male. Traditionally, women have played a very minor role in Rastafarianism. Until 1965, the membership was essentially lower class, but this is no longer the case. Once considered "products of the slum," the Rastas have now penetrated the middle class. At present, the overwhelming majority of members are African, but there are also Chinese, East Indians, Afro-Chinese, Afro-Jews, mulattoes, and a few whites. Rastafarians are predominantly ex-Christians. 7

| Profile | History | Organization | Beliefs | Links | Bibliography |

II. History of the Group

The original Rastas drew their inspiration from the philosophies

of Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887-1940), who promoted the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in the 1920s. The organization's main goal was to unite black people with their rightful homeland, Africa. Garvey believed that all black people in the western world should return to Africa since they were all descended from Africans. He preached that the European colonizers, having fragmented the African continent, unfairly spread the African population throughout the world. As a result, blacks were not able to organize themselves politically or express themselves socially. Their intellect had been stunted by continuous European oppression. Enslavement had provided blacks with a "slave mentality" so that they had come to accept white racist definitions of themselves as inferior. For Garvey, blacks in the Americas had not only been repressed physically, but their minds had been affected by years of white subordination. Slavery had degregaded them so badly that they actually considered themselves as little more than slaves.8

As a result, programs aimed at the gradual integration of blacks into white society were worthless in Garvey's eyes. His mission was to restore the lost dignity of blacks by severing ties with the white world. As he expressed in the New York Times on August 3, 1920, "We shall organize the four hundred million Negroes of the world into a vast organization to plant the banner of freedom on the great continent of Africa... If Europe is for Europeans, then Africa is for the black people of the world." 9 After spending nearly a decade in the United States and Great Britain, Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1927, where he spread his political views among the black working class. He assured his followers, "No one knows when the hour of Africa's redemption cometh. It is in the wind. It is coming. One day, like a storm, it will be here." 10 He told blacks to "look to Africa for the crowning of a king to know that your redemption is near."11

In 1930, Prince Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned the new Emperor of Ethiopia. Upon his coronation, he claimed for himself the title of Emperor Haile Selassie (Power of the Trinity) I. This announcement was a monumental event that many blacks in Africa and the Americas saw as the fulfillment of Garvey's prophecy years before. 12 After the crowning of Selassie, the Rastafarian movement gained a following and officially began.13 Ironically, Selassie was never a Rastafarian himself, and no one is really sure what he ever thought of his following. 14Also noteworthy is the fact that Garvey himself was admittedly not an admirer of Haile Selassie, and he went as far as to attack the Ethiopians as "crazy fanatics."15

Although Leonard Howell has been proclaimed the first Rastafarian preacher in Jamaica, there were at least three other Rastafarian groups in existence during the 1930s. While each group exemplified a different style of worship and emphasized distinctive aspects of the Rasta "doctrine," there were several common themes uniting these factions. First, all four groups condemned

Jamaica's colonial society. Second, all believed repatriation to Africa was the key to overcoming oppression. Next, all of these groups advocated non-violence. Finally, all four groups worshipped the divinity of Haile Selassie I. The four early Rastafarian groups reflected the movement's history of diversification and lack of centralized leadership. 16

In 1935, the Italian army invaded Ethiopia. This event drew widespread attention to the incompetence of the Selassie Regime, which had left Ethiopia's peasantry impoverished, uneducated, untrained in military service, and entirely unprepared for war. Moreover, Jamaica's economic crisis continued to worsen. Black workers, plagued by malnutrition

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