Rastafarianism Term Paper

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..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. "(Barrett, 1997, p. 2-3)

One of the early innovators and leaders of the movement,

Leonard Howell, stated a number of principles that have been the hallmark of Rastafarianism and still apply to a large extent today. These include the following:

1)hatred for the White race; (2) the complete superiority of the Black race; (3) revenge on Whites for their wickedness; (4) the negation, persecution, and humiliation of the government and legal bodies of Jamaica; (5) preparation to go back to Africa; and (6) acknowledging Emperor Haile Selassie as the Supreme Being and only ruler of Black people. (Barrett, 1997, p. 85)

Another essential aspect which is of cardinal importance in Rastafarianism is the concept of I and I. This is explained as "an expression to totalize the concept of oneness. 'I and I' as being the oneness of two persons. So God is within all of us and we're one people in fact. 'I and I means that God is in all men." (Branch R).

Among the many outer characteristics of the movement is the wearing of the "dreadlocks" hairstyle. There is also an emphasis on the smoking of marijuana, which is seen as a holy sacrament. Their music is highly distinctive and the success of musicians such as Bob Marley has been largely responsible for the increased popularity of the movement. "... exponents such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh became international stars. Reggae has immensely helped in the legitimization of Rastafarian life and ideals." (RASTAFARI: ACCORDING TO THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN RELIGIONS)

4. Social and philosophical aspects

There is a strong tendency in the literature to see Rastafarianism as being deeply intertwined with social and political issues as well as a predilection tendency towards" negritude" that has been a dominant force in world of Black politics and culture in the past century.

This view also links Rastafarianism to "liberation theology." (Royackers, 1999, p. 387)

As have been mentioned briefly, Rastafarianism emerged among the lower and working classes of Jamaica partly as an outcry against poverty, injustice and discrimination. This cultural view "delegitimizes forms of racism and domination." (Hadden, 1984, p. 131) In essence Rastafarianism developed as a response to the search for a social and cultural sense of place and identity among the Black people to Jamaica. This is still the case today as one study points out... "... their theology is having a profound effect on Jamaicans' understanding of themselves and their history of external domination. And in a broader context, Rastafarianism is impacting the consciousness of most of the peoples of the Caribbean. (Hadden, 1984, p. 131)

As a Black Nationalist Movement one of the foremost leaders and political activist in the history of Rastafarianism was Marcus Garvey. He was the founder of "...Universal Negro Improvement Association, who, among other endeavors, promoted a steamship company that would provide transportation for blacks going back to Africa." (RASTAFARI: ACCORDING TO THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN RELIGIONS.)

Garvey also propounded the view that a Black King would be crowned who would lift the yoke of white domination. This was a reference to the 1935 coronation of Haile Selassie as emperor of Ethiopia. (RASTAFARI: ACCORDING TO THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN RELIGIONS.) In the 1920s; Garvey founded the "back-to-Africa" movement. (Branch R.)

It is also significant that Garvey would blend his politics with religious and biblical imagery. This would very often refer to the possibility of the return or "exodus" back to Africa. "We have gradually won our way back into the confidence of the God of Africa, and he shall speak with the voice of thunder that shall shake the pillars of a corrupt and unjust world and once more restore Ethiopia to her ancient glory." (Cashmore, 1996, p. 142)


From an anthropological and cultural point-of-view it is obvious from the above discussion that the religious and philosophical elements are intimately bound up with the economic, political and socio-cultural aspects in Rastafarianism. As one study states: "Rastafarian theology is based upon a dialectical projection of a symbolically mediated presence that negates the specific subjective absences generated by the processes of marginalization and stereotypical redefinition." (Pettiford E.T.) The marginalization of Black people in Jamaica was a central motivation of the development of the philosophical and theological aspects of Rastafarianism.

Rastafarianism has shown an intensified growth in recognition and acceptance since the 1970's, largely due to the "...acceptance of reggae as an avenue of Rastafarian self-expression," (Barrett, 1997, p. 213) The movement has grown beyond the confines of Jamaica and there are branches in many countries, including England, Canada, the Caribbean islands and America. (Branch R.)

However studies also note that there has been a decline in the theological and religious aspects of the movement. Many purists complain that there has been a split between the religious and the political aspects of the movement.

On the other hand, international reggae also exacerbated the split between "religious" and "political" Rastafarians. While., more traditional, religious Rastafarians seemed appalled by what they considered the commercialization and secularization of the movement, more politically oriented Rastafarians hoped to exploit reggae's new popularity to further the cause. (King, 1998, p. 39)

Rastafarianism can thereof be discussed from both a socio-political perspective as well as from a religious point-of-view. However, any attempt at truly understanding this movement and religion requires that these two aspects be seen as coterminous and strongly integrated in the history of the Jamaican culture.

Reference List

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Hadden J.K. (1984) Prophetic Religions and Politics: Religion and the Political Order. Volume: 1. New York: Paragon House

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