RastafarianismRastafarianism is a religion that emerged in the 1920s on the island of Jamaica. Jamaica was a colony of The British Empire and the movement stemmed from the structural inequalities faced by the descendants of African slaves on the island. The religion preaches black power and the emancipation and repatriation of african descendants to Africa. It central focus of worship is rooted on the belief of King Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia as God.

What is Rastafarianism

Rastafarianism  developed out of Jamaica in the beginning of the twentieth century. The religion connects closely to black power and freedom from oppression that is seen as rooted in colonial and postcolonial systems.. The movement followed a heavily debated call for persons of African descent to return to Africa by pro-black activists. It catapulted to an organised religion when Haile Selassie I was crowned emperor of Ethiopia in 1930. It was a held prophecy among the followers of the Return to Africa movement, that a king will be crowned in the East to signal the return of God.  Rastafarians believe that Haile  I is God. His coronation signalled the emancipation from colonial oppression for black men and women across the world. The religion has since grown beyond the island of Jamaica and is practiced by many persons around the world. Among one million persons around the world report to follow the religion. The religion has had great influences on lifestyle and culture. Followers of Rastafarianism are referred to as Rastas, Dreads, Locksmen, among other labels.

The origins and history

Rastafarianism stemmed out of the barrack yards in Jamaica in the midst of pro-black movements in the 1920s and 1930s. The followers of the movement at the time were descendants of African slaves, brought to Jamaica by plantation owners. At the time many Afro-Jamaicans were subject to poverty, poor living conditions, racism, discrimination and persecution. The movement is largely attributed to the teachings and activism of Marcus Garvey. At the time Garvey was the leader of the Universal Negro  Improvement Association which advocated for the empowerment of Africans of their repatriation. Garvey spoke of a prophesy of a king being crowned in Africa that will signalled the emancipation of African men and women. In 1930 King Haile Selassie I was crowned the the emperor of the Ethiopian nation. From there the Rastafarian religion further developed and grew in Jamaica, and eventually further around the globe.

The first arm of Rastafarianism is believed to have established in 1935 by Leonard P. Howell in Jamaica. Howell preached the supremacy of the black community and divinity of the recently-crowned Ethiopian monarch. His preachings attracted the attention of the authorities and he was targeted and arrested for not showing allegiance to the British monarchy. Since then, a decision was made to keep the religion free from a specific leadership so as to avoid targeted persecution. In the 1960s, much to the enthusiasm and joy of the followers of Rastafarianism, King Selassie visited Jamaica. He encouraged Jamaicans to work for the liberation of blacks on the islands before thinking about returning to Africa: “Liberation before Repatriation”.

Symbolism & Beliefs

There is no formal belief structure or book that dictates Rastafarian beliefs. The practice can vary depending on where the religion is practiced. However there are some recurring practices and beliefs. Some of these were recorded by Leonard Barrett in his book “The Rastafarians, The Dreadlocks of Jamaica”,published in 1977.

The religion follows some laws that can be found in the Old Testament. Followers believe in reincarnation and the concept of God (Jah) follows much of Judeo-Christian principles and beliefs. King Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia is considered by some followers of the religion as God. The following prayer reflects this belief:

“Glory be to the father and to the maker of creation. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be World without end: Jah Rastafari: Eternal God Selassie"

African descendents are perceived as being in exile and Rastas advocate for the repatriation of African descendants to their ancestral land, Ethiopia which is heaven (Zion). Rastas believe that African people are God’s chosen people. However due to systematic oppression, African people do not have their rightful place in society. I.”

However, this belief of Haile Selassie I as God is not held by all contemporary Rastas. Rastas believe that God is revealed through the humanity, the good actions of man. Evilness is seen in structures (Babylon). Evilness is demonstrated by oppressive governments, and exploitative corporations. Nature must be respected. This respect reflects adherence to God’s orders.

The movement has added symbolism to colours identified with Rastafarianism: a) Red signifies the blood of those killed in Jamaica in the fight for freedom. b) Green represents nature and eradication of the suppression of African descendants. c) Gold is wealth of Ethiopia. d) Black represents the African men and women of the movement. The Lion - this is the symbol which represents King Haile Selassie I, “The Conquering Lion of Judah”. The flag of Ethiopia is also incorporated into the religion.


  • The Nyahbhingi Order - named after a Ugandan 19th century Queen who fought against the colonialist. This is the oldest sect and focuses on Haile Selassie.
  • Bobo Shanti - founded by a man by the name of Prince Emmanuel Charles Edwards in 1950s Jamaica. This sect worship Prince Emmanuel along with Haile Selassie I. They follow many aspects of Jewish laws. They tend to live separately from the rest of society, growing and selling their own food.
  • The Twelve Tribes of Israel - followers belong to a different tribe according to their birthdays.

Holy Days

7 January - Ethiopian Christmas
21 April - Groundation Day - The date that Haile Selassie visited Jamaica.
16 July - Ethiopiation Constitution Day - the date Ethiopia adopted its first constitution
23 July - Haile Selassie I Birthday.
17 August - Marcus Garvey’s Birthday
11 September - Ethiopian New Year
2 November - Coronation of Haile Selassie I


The religion calls for strict dietary and lifestyle rules that follows beliefs about nature, human nature and corporate establishments.

  • No alcohol. Vegetarian diet. Pork is especially forbidden. Rasta eat what they describe as Ital food. Ital food is natural, clean with little to no additions of spicesa and salt.
  • Rastas do not believe in the use of contraceptives and against abortions.
  • Hair is allowed the lock and remain in its natural state. The Rasta’s dreadlocks represents the lion’s mane and represents a spiritual connection to God. “They shall not make baldness upon their head” - Leviticus 21:5
  • Accumulation of wealth is not encouraged.

Unlike many other religions, Rastas do not congregate in an established place/structure to worship. Followers arrange to meet weekly at someone’s home or a common point in the community. Religious ceremonies include drumming and chanting, reminiscent to tribal traditions of Africa. This music played at the meetings is called Nyabingi. Marijuana (referred to as holy weed) is used ritualistically to meditate and to bring a heightened state of consciousness. Marijuana is also used as a means of communal connection when it is smoked and shared at meetings. Rastas use a number of scriptures that justifies the use of marijuana as a holy herb. For example: “...thou shalt eat the herb of the field” - Genesis 3.18 and “Better is a dinner of herb where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith” - Proverbs 15:17.

Rastas do not believe in the formal marriage structures as dictated by the state. When a man and woman together they are considered husband and wife. It is not typical to have any marriage ceremony but there may be a social event to celebrate the union. Furthermore, Rasta do not have funerals to mark the death of someone as they believe death is not the end, and that the person will be reincarnated.

Rastafarianism and Women

The religion has very specific rules and laws when it comes to women. Women are considered Queens whose main responsibility is cater to her King (husband). Women’s identity is heavily rooted in her reproductive duties of childbearing and rearing, and taking care of the home. Women cannot be spiritual leaders. Women are expected to cover their hair (which they keep natural), wear no makeup and dress modestly. Women are not allowed to cook for their husbands when they are menstruating.

Influence on Reggae Music

Much of reggae music reflects the tenets of Rastafarianism, for example marijuana use, black power and the divinity of Haile Selassie I. In the 1950s Count Ossie developed certain rhythmic patterns that Rastafarians started to use in their meetings as they beat their drums. These rhythms moved beyond the Rasta community into the wider Jamaica and slowly seeped into the musical culture of the island.

Bob Marley  helped to popularise the movement through his music. Bob Marley, born in 1945, converted to the Rastafari religion and used its teachings and beliefs to heavily influence his music and persona. He famously took the speech Haile Selassie I made to the United Nations, and turned it into his song “War”:

“Until the philosophy

Which hold one race superior and another


Is finally

And permanently


And abandoned

Everywhere is war

Me say war

That until there no longer

First class and second class citizens of any nation

Until the color of a man's skin

Is of no more significance than the color of his eyes

Me say war

That until the basic human rights

Are equally guaranteed to all

Without regard to race

Dis a war”


Article written by: SarahAjaoud
Times read: 1690x
Added: 01-02-2017 22:27
Last modified: 15-04-2017 10:53

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