Rastafarian Belief System

Little is known about the Rastafari movement. More often than not, the term Rasta is associated with dreadlocks and ganja (marijuana) burning. However, more than these impressions Rastafari have strong religious and sociopolitical underpinnings that are recognized worldwide.

Rastafari emerged from the slums of Kingston in Jamaica during 1920s and 1930s. In an environment that is characterized by great poverty, depression, class discrimination and racism, Rasta clearly served as the message of black pride, liberty from oppression, and the hope to return to the promise land (Africa). The followers of Rastafari are also referred to as Rastafarians, Rastas, Rastafaris, or Ras Tafarians. This movement is named after Ras Tafari Makonnen (Haile Selassie I), crowned emperor of Ethiopia in 1930 (Rastafari, 2008).

Although Rastafarian is not considered as a highly organized religion, but more of an ideology, its central belief system is based from the Christian bible. Their sacred text known as the Holy Piby or the Black Mans Bible is a version of the Christian Bible that has been altered in order to remove the distortions that are believed to have been incorporated by white leaders during its English translation. Rastafarians believe in the Judeo-Christian God known as Jah. At the core of the Rastafarian belief system is the underpinning that black people are the original descendants of early Israelites, and their transgression against God was the reason for their exile. They hold on to the belief that their salvation is in the hands of the savior, Haile Selassie I. Selassie is perceived by the Rastas as the reincarnation of Christ, who will lead them to the land of freedom, Africa, specifically in Ethiopia, which they associate with heaven. Their salvation is attained through repatriation, which contain various meaning for those who adhere to the Rastafarian belief. For some, repatriation is the physical return to Africa, for others more than physical return, repatriation is to become aware of the African identity re-establish their identity that have been overpowered by other forms of force, and immediately undergo changes in reality that is totally different from the reality they are living in at the moment (Williams, 2007).

Although conflicting theories have existed to address the origins of the matted locks (dreadlocks) among Rastafaris, all these theories agree that it was in mid-1950s that wearing matted locks has become a prominent and defining feature of the Rastafarian movement. According to Jamaican scholar Horace Campbell, Jamaican Rastas wore hair locks in 1950s after seeing a photo of Mau Mau of Kenya, an African freedom fighter whose presence instilled fear in the hearts of those who oppose his struggle against oppression and racism. Accordingly, this potent image of Mau Mau took shape among Rastas through the appropriation of the matted lock hairstyle. Along with the dreadlock, the term Mau Mau became the ideal representation of Jamaican defiance among younger generation of Rastas. A group of young Rastas known as Youth Black Faith thoroughly identified themselves with Mau Mau, that they actively promoted the cause of anticolonial guerilla force. In fact, they closely adhered to Mau Mau that they organized a protest demonstration against Jamaican authorities wore their hair in matted locks to emphasize their anticolonial sentiments and reinforce black supremacy as inspired by the Rastafarian doctrine (Murrell, Spencer and McFarlane, 1998). The Youth Black Faith even went a step further with their desire to go against colonial conformity by institutionalizing the use of Ganja (marijuana) as an integral part of the Rastafarian movement. Hence, the weed has become associated with the movement (Chevannes, 1994).

Other important identification of the Rastafarian movement is that of the colors red, yellow, green and black which functions as the most conspicuous symbols of the movement globally. Red and blac signifies the blood of the Jamaican martyrs and the Africans whose descendants make up 98 percent of Jamaicas population respectively Green for the African vegetation and the Rastafarian hope for victory against oppression and yellow which is the color of Jamaicas national flag (Murrell, Spencer and McFarlane, 1998).

With wider understanding and tolerance for the Rastfarian belief system, the movement has sustained over the years and has grown to coincide with other religious denominations in the world.


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