Rastafarian Religion Like All Other Religious Groups  Term Paper

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Rastafarian Religion

Like all other religious groups, the history of Rastafarian religion also commences before the group itself. Marcus Garvey, an influential black spokesman, born in 1887, had directed the philosophical ideologies that eventually lead to the Rastafarian movement (Rick. 2002).

It was in the early 1920's, that Garvey also founder of the "back-to-Africa" movement, often spoke of the redemption of his people as coming from a future black African king (Magical Blend, June/July 1994, p. 76) and so on one of the occasion, Garvey announced,

Look to Africa for the crowning of a Black King, he shall be the Redeemer." (The Rastafarians, p. 67).

It was then after only a few years later that prophecy was to be fulfilled in the person of Ethiopia's king, Haile Selassie, as explained by Barrett, "in the pantheon of the Rastafarians, Marcus Garvey is second only to Haile Selassie." Thus, Ras Tafari Makonnen, on November 2, 1930, was crowned king of Ethiopia, and due to his coronation, he stated for himself the titles of:

Emperor Haile Selassie (Power of the Trinity) I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God and King of the Kings of Ethiopia" (Ethiopia and Haile Selassie, Peter Schwab, editor, p. 11).

However, the Rastafarian movement gained a following and formally began in 1930, after Selassie was crowned and the evident completion of the millennial expectations of Marcus Garvey. Furthermore, one of its early leaders Leonard Howell, who in 1933 was arrested by the Jamaican government for preaching a revolutionary doctrine (The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions, Keith Crim, editor, p. 601), helped formed the theology of the movement. His arrest helped shaped the movement's organizational structure. As explained by Barrett:

The harassment of Howell by the police might have been the reason why Rastafarians have decided to remain leaderless, a decision which has strengthened the movement" (The Rastafarians, p. 91).

However, one of the main doctrines of Rastafarians was their expectation that they would one day return to Africa, the Zion that would be restored to them after centuries in the Diaspora. The ideology of Garvey, with his "back-to-Africa" had inspired much of this hope (Rick. 2002).

Thus, this anticipated move appeared potentially achievable in 1960 and so with the help of the Jamaican government, a delegation of Rastafarians set out on a task to Africa. Although not a large-scale immigration to Africa by Jamaicans was attained, and at the same time the sending of some Rastafarian leaders to Africa ended in the movement's improved knowledge of African realities, and most likely diffused the movement's eagerness for direct and instant repatriation. (The Rastafarians, pp. 100-101, Riddle. 2000).

In the Rastafarian movement, one of the most important historical event occurred when Haile Selassie visited Jamaica on April 21, 1966. This event resulted in two great developments within the movement; firstly, Selassie persuaded the Rastafarian brothers that they should not seek in order to immigrate to Ethiopia till they had released the people of Jamaica. Secondly, since that time onward, April 21 has been celebrated as a "special holy day" among Rastafarians (Riddle. 2000).

With the death of Haile Selassie on August 27, 1975, came many types of rationalization from many Rastafarians. The responses that then concerned Selassie's death ranged from "his death was a fabrication" to "his death was inconsequential since Haile Selassie was just a "personification' of God" (Rastaman: The Rastafarian Movement in England, Ernest Cashmore, pp. 59-60). Furthermore, as the Magical Blend states,

When Selassie died in 1975, his divinity did not die with him. According to current belief, the Ras Tafari lives on through individual Rastafarians" (June/July 1994, p. 76).

However, presently, the Rastafarian movement has authorized and certified branches in Canada, the Caribbean islands, England, and America, along with members in the majority of the civilized countries (The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions, p. 601).

Moreover, since the death of Selassie, it has experienced some disintegration, among which, one of the well-known splinter-groups, was known as the "Twelve Tribes of Israel," which was founded by Vernon Carrington and has its headquarters in city New York (The Rastafarians, pp. 210, 227, 236). Other groups that had claimed loyalty and commitment to Ras Tafari were the "Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church" and the "Ethiopian World Federation."

Overview Of Origination:

Basically, the Rastafarian religion is not just a religion, but also a way of life, which is originated in Africa. It is usually linked with the poorer black population of Jamaica. Rastafarians speaks out against the poverty, oppression and inequality as well as not just religious ideas but also global problems.

The basic key belief of the Rastafarians is that Haile Selassie is the living God for the black race, whose previous name was Ras Tafari, was the black Emperor of Ethiopia. Furthermore, Rastafarians say scriptures predicted him as the one with the hair of whose head was like wool, and feet were like unto burning brass (Rick. 2002).

However, Selassie was not a Rastafarian himself, he was a pious Christian. In reality, no one is still much sure as to what he thought of the whole Rastafarian movement. When Haile Selassie was reported dead, Rastas was the one who did not believe it as they believed that it was a trick of the media in order to try and bring their faith down. Rastafarians believed that Haile Selassie I had walked on to the perfect flesh, and sat on the highest point of Mount Zion where he and Empress Menen awaited the time of judgment.

Additionally, the Rastafarian name for God is Jah and the Lion of Judah represents Haile Selassie, the Conqueror. It also represents the King of Kings since a lion is the king of all beasts. And so Selassie wore a Lion of Judah ring, which was given to Bob Marley at the time of Selassie's death (Rick. 2002).

Coming to Babylon, which is the Rastafarian term for the white political power structure has been holding the black race down for centuries. However, in the past, Rasta saw that the shackles of slavery held down blacks physically and presently, Rasta feels that the white man is still holding down blacks through poverty, illiteracy, inequality, and trickery. Thus, the effort of Rasta is still to try to remind blacks of their heritage and have them stand up against this Babylon (Rick. 2002).

Africa in general, specially, Ethiopia, is considered the Rastas' heaven on earth, where there is no afterlife or hell as believed by Christianity. Therefore, Rasta's believed that Jah would send the sign in order to help the blacks migrated back to their homeland, Ethiopian.

However, any kind of news from Ethiopia was taken very seriously as a warning signal to be ready to leave any time. This belief came from Marcus Garvey's theme, "Back to Africa." Though before Selassie's death came, it was possible, however, it did succeed in turning the desires of blacks to look towards Africa as their roots.


As observed by Cashmore:

The belief system of Ras Tafari was so vague and loosely defined, even at its inception, due to its lack of a single authoritative voice, that what was to be acceptable doctrine was largely a matter of individual interpretation" (Rastaman, p. 7).

Thus, Leonard Howell early in the history of the movement provided the Rastafarians six principles.

Detestation for the White race;

The entire dominance of the Black race;

Revenge on Whites for their wickedness;

The denial, harassment, and disgrace of the government and legal bodies of Jamaica;

Preparation to go back to Africa; and Acknowledging Emperor Haile Selassie as the Supreme Being and the only ruler of Black people (The Rastafarians, p. 85).

As Barrett noted that this first sight of the new doctrine launched the Rastafarian movement has however, not changed significantly over the years. Furthermore, other than these six principles are also overriding concepts that lead to the key to the Rastafarian system.

Colors, Symbols And Rituals

Colors have been one of the more obvious symbols of the Rastafarians, which include red, gold, and green, taken from the Garvey movement. The color red symbolizes for the Church Triumphant, the church of the Rastas. Moreover, it symbolizes the blood that martyrs have shed in the history of the Rastas.

Moving on to the yellow, it represent the wealth of the homeland, where green stands for the beauty and vegetation of Ethiopia, as the Promised Land. At times black is used to symbolize the color of Africans, to whom 98% of the Jamaicans are descended.

Next is Ganja that is used for religious purposes for Rastafarians and its usage is written in the Bible in Psalms 104:14, "He causeth the grass for the cattle, and herb for the service of man." Thus, the use of this herb is very wide among the Rastas, which is not only for spiritual purposes as in their Nyabingi festivity, but also for medicinal reasons such as colds and others.

The following are a few of the many Biblical texts…

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