The Cultural Beliefs And Practices Of Rastafarians In The Jamaican Setting
“Enlightened leadership is spiritual if we understand spiritualty not as some kind of religious dogma or ideology but as the domain of awareness where we experience values like truth, goodness, beauty, love and compassion, and also intuition, creativity, insight and focused attention.” – Deepak Chopra.
Rastafarians are known to people for having dreadlocks and smoking weed, however there is much more to Rastafarianism such as; history, beliefs, culture/customs, rituals rites of passage. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary Rastafarianism can be defined as “a religious movement among black Jamaicans that teaches the eventual redemption of blacks and their return to Africa, employs the ritualistic use of marijuana, forbids the cutting of hair, and venerates Halie Selassie as a god.” Rastafarianism is not only practised here in Jamaica, but in other parts of the world.
First, the history of Rastafari begins with the colonisation of Africa, or ‘Ethiopia’ as it is known to believers, by Europeans. The European powers took many Africans as slaves, and the people of Africa were divided up and sent into exile as captives throughout the world. The areas of captivity became known as ‘Babylon’. For Africans this exile marked the suppression of their culture by whites. However, Rastafarians believe that the suppression of blacks in Babylon is ending and that soon they will all return to ‘Ethiopia’.
There were two specific people who had a great impact on the Rastafarians religious movement. Namely Bob Marley and Marcus Garvey. Bob Marley’s first experience with Rastafarians was when he left home to pursue music and became a pupil of a singer and devoted Rastafarian Joe Higgs. He was a poet and a prophet, a message of Rastafarian politics and theology in his music and to Rastafarians, is songs had deep meaning. Marcus Garvey on the other hand, is said to be the person behind the founding of the religion with his teachings of black self-empowerment. Because he believed that all black people should return to their rightful homeland Africa, his ideas made a great impact on the Rastafarianism movement. Although Marcus Garvey never actually followed Rastafari or believed in the movement, he is one of the main religion’s prophets, because it was his ideologies that eventually grew into Rastafari.
Second, Rastafarians believes that Halie Selassie is their god, naming the movement after his birth name, Ras Tafari Makonnen. This belief came about when the followers of Marcus Garvey and his teachings came together to form a religion in the 1930’s, during this time Halie Selassie I became the Emperor of Ethiopia. In conforming to the believes of Halie Selassie, Rastafarians rejects the Babylonian hypocrisy of the modern church. The church of Rome, and the Rome council is said to be Babylonia. They also believed that black people are the reincarnation of ancient Israelites, who are were sent in exile to Jamaica by white people and not only that but also that the whites is inferior to the blacks. It is also said that Jamaica is hell and Ethiopia is heaven, and that the Emperor of Ethiopia is arranging for expatriated persons of African origin to return to Ethiopia and soon Blacks shall rule the world.
Third, religion/ worship plays a huge role in a Rastafarian’s culture/custom. Although they do not have a specific religious building for worship, they still manage to worship, nonetheless. Rastafarians would meet weekly, either in a believer’s home or in a community centre or large forests. These meetings are said to be called “reasoning sessions”, within these sessions they sing, pray, chant and discussed issues at hand. During this time Rastafarians may smoke marijuana to produce heightened spiritual state. The music used during these sessions are known as Nyabingi, reggae and drumming.
Marijuana is in fact known to or regarded as an herb of religious significance, or “wisdom weed”. As was stated before, marijuana is smoked during “reasoning sessions” which are communal meetings involving deep meditation. Its alleged that it (marijuana) was found growing on the grave of King Solomon for which they cited biblical passages such as; Psalms 104:14. Next the Rastafarians diet and dreadlocks, the use of alcohol, tobacco, meat (especially pork), as well as fishes without scales, shellfish, scavengers of the sea/ocean, and the use of salt. These and other things that are classified as not “Ital” (meaning pure, natural) is forbidden. Rastafarians consume a lot of vegetables, fruits, nuts and fruit juice because they are of the earth and said to be clean.
They also believe that man strength lies within is hair, and so they proscribed the cutting of or combing of the hair. To support this, they cited passages from the bible, namely Leviticus 21:5 which reads “they shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh.” The wearing of nappy dreads is believed spiritual which is justified by the scripture above. Not only do they practice scared religious ceremonies, they also have rites of passage (birth, death, and marriage).
When a child born unto Rastafarians, tradition is that he or she should be blessed by elders of the community during Nyabingi sessions while on the other hand marriage is seen as a social occasion rather than a religious event, that is if there’s a marriage. Why is this so you may ask, it is said that once a man and a woman is living together, they are considered husband and wife, unless they are related in some way. When it comes to death for the Rastafarians there is no funeral, for they believe that there is reincarnation after death.
Finally, like any other religion practices, they have their own holidays (holy days), which are of great importance to Rastafarians. There are several “holy days” that are kept by the Rastafarians, such as: Ethiopian Christmas, Groundation Day, Ethiopian Constitution Day, Birthday of Emperor Halie Selassie, Marcus Garvey’s Birthday, just to name a few. Because there several of these holy days we will on focus on three. Ethiopian Christmas this Christmas holiday unlike us who celebrates Christmas on December 25, they celebrate it on January 7. An Ethiopian Christmas is marked by a huge feast, made entirely of vegan or vegetarian dishes.
On the day of the feast reading and prophecies take place, and “reason session” after. Next is Groundation Day, celebrated April 21st this day marks the date Halie Selassie I visited Jamaica for the first time, it was also the only time he visited the island. Like all the others a Nyabingi session is held. Ethiopian Constitution Day, which is celebrated on July 16th is said to commemorate the implementation of Ethiopia’s first constitution by Haile Selassie in 1931. Rastafarians remember the history of Ethiopia and the events that led to the birth of the Rastafari religion, and like all the others a Nyabingi session also occurs to honour the importance of Ethiopia.
In conclusion, Rastafarians are known to people for having dreadlocks and smoking weed, however there is much more to Rastafarianism such as; history, beliefs, culture/customs, rituals rites of passage. Rastafarianism is not only practised here in Jamaica, but in other parts of the world. Rastafarianism developed in Jamaica the 1930’s, when Halie Selassie was crowned king of Ethiopia. They believed that Halie Selassie is god, and that he will return to Africa the people whom are in exile.
There theology was developed from the ideas of Marcus, whom was political activist. Religion played a very important role in Rastafarians lives, as they would sing and worship, and smoke to meditate. They also believe that man strength lies within is hair, and so they proscribed the cutting of or combing of the hair. When a child born unto Rastafarians, tradition is that he or she should be blessed by elders of the community during Nyabingi sessions while on the other hand marriage is seen as a social occasion rather than a religious event. Within religion, they have their own holidays (holy days), which are of great importance to Rastafarians such as; Ethiopian Christmas, Groundation Day, Ethiopian Constitution Day, Birthday of Emperor Halie Selassie, and Marcus Garvy’s birthday.
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