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Edward T. Pettiford

Rastafarianism is a religion that was created in the early 1900 hundreds due to the social and poor economic conditions of the Black people in Jamaica. The Rastafarian religious and political movement has come under great scrutiny by society because of it's beliefs and traditions. They have been referred to as a violent cult not only in Jamaica, but also in America and Canada, where many of the members and affiliates have migrated. In my opinion these myths are not accurate, and I believe this religion is no different than any other religion of today.

The followers of Rastafarianism believe that Haile Selassie the former Emperor of Ethiopia, is the Black Messiah who appeared in the flesh for the redemption of all Blacks exiled in the world of white oppressors. The movement views Ethiopia as the Promised Land. The group has no individual leadership. Most of the members are men from thirty-five to fifty-five years of age. The older members are either ex-Graveyites or sympathizers of his movement. Women play an important role in the Rastafarianism today, but the majority are followers of their husbands. In 1965 the membership was essentially lower class, but this is no longer the case. The Rastafarians were once considered "products of the slum," but Rastafarians now can be found among the middle class. They are found among the elite, some are students at prestigious University of the West Indies; some are in the medical and legal professions and other upper-class occupations.

The Rastafarians have their roots in the teachings of Jamaican Black nationalist Marcus Garvey, who in the 1930's preached a message of Black self-empowerment and initiated the "Back to Africa" movement. This movement called for all Blacks to return to their ancestral home, specifically Ethiopia. Marcus Garvey taught self-reliance in Jamaica where he was born, as well as abroad and preached a "back to Africa movement" consciousness. Marcus Garvey in 1920 said "look to Africa, when a Black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is at hand". Many people thought the prophecy was fulfilled when in 1930; Ras Tafari was crowned emperor Haile Selassie 1 of Ethiopia and proclaimed "king of kings, lord of lords, and conquering lion of the Tribe of Judah." Haile Selassie claimed to be a direct descendant of King David, the225th ruler in an unbroken line of Ethiopian Kings from the time of Solomon and Sheba. He and all his followers took great pride in being Black and wanted to regain the Black heritage that was lost by losing

faith straying from the holy ways.

Their unique hairstyle known as the "dreadlocks" which many people feel is wild and unattractive is one of the reasons the Rastafarians obtained a negative image in society. Rasta, which is short for Rastafarians, adopted the dreadlocks while in the hill country in Jamaica where the movement developed its early characteristics. Another trait that is contributed to the Rastafarian's negative image is their use of "ganja" (marijuana) in their rituals. These two particular traditions have deemed the Rastafarians as an unacceptable society by Westerners, as well as the people from within there own community.

Religions always reflect the social and geographical environment out of which they emerge like Rastafarianism. For example, the use of marijuana as a sacrament and aid to meditation is logical in Jamaica where a particular plant "ganja" grows freely. Ganja is used for religious purposes for Rastas. Rasta's believe that its use is written in the Bible in Psalms 104:14, "He causeth the grass for the cattle, and herb for the service of man". The use of this herb is very extensive among the Rasta's not only for spiritual purposes as in their Nyabingi celebration, but also for medicinal purposes for colds and such. The following are a few of the many Biblical texts that Rasta embrace as reasons Jah (which is there name for god), gave for the use of the herb:

". . . thou shalt eat the herb of the field " (Genesis 3:18).

". . . eat every herb of the land " (Exodus 10:12).

"Better is a dinner of herb where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith" (Proverbs 15:17). Rasta's feel that god made marijuana from the earth to grow for people. This plant is illegal in most of the world, except in some place in Europe.

Dreadlocks are a common characteristic among Rasta's, symbolizing deep devotion to the Holy God. Another reason that Rasta's wear dreadlocks is that locks are a semi-permanent symbol signifying their devotion to Jah(god). Dreadlocks take time to grow, and person can't just change their hairstyle without shaving all of their hair. Therefore, it's a symbol of a commitment. In the earlier old testaments Rasta's point out many different mentions of "locks". For example "All the days of the vow of the separation there shall no razor come upon his head until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the Lord, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow (Numbers 6:5)." However not all Rasta's have dreadlocks, and not all people with dreadlocks are Rasta's.

In the past, Rasta saw that Blacks were held down physically by the shackles of slavery. In the present, Rasta feel that Blacks are still held down through poverty, illiteracy, inequality, and trickery by the white man. The effort of Rasta is to try to remind Blacks of their heritage and have them stand up against this Babylon. These ideologies inspired the late great Bob Marley the first Rasta to bring the Rasta's political struggle and views to mainstream society by music (Reggea). Rastafari is probably most often associated with reggae music. Reggae is a music style that developed in Jamaica in the late 1960's. It is now a fairly popular style, and was made so with the contribution of Bob Marley. Bob Marley wrote political songs like "Concrete Jungle" the following are the lyrics from the song.

No sun will shine in my day today

(No sun will shine.)

The high yellow moon won't come out to play

(Won't come out to play.)

Darkness has covered my light (and has changed,)



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