“The is no longer a mere revolutionary movement; it has become a part of the establishment, a part of officialdom.” ~L. Barret Rastafari is, before it is anything else, a way of life. It offers approaches and answers to real problems black people face in daily living; it promotes spiritual resilience in the face of oppressive poverty and underdevelopment. It produces art, music and cultural forms, which can be universally recognized and appreciated.
More important, Rastafari provides a positive self-image, an alternative to people who need and cannot find or accept one elsewhere. I will reflect on the Rastafarian lifestyle, including history, population, music, symbols, and beliefs. The original Rastas drew their inspiration from the philosophies of Marcus Moriah Garvey (1887-1940), who promoted the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNI A) in the 1920 s. The organization’s main goal was to unite black people with their rightful homeland, Africa.
Garvey believed that all black people in the western world should return to Africa since they were all descended from Africans. He preached that the European colonizers, having fragmented the African continent, unfairly spread the African population throughout the world. As a result, blacks were not able to organize themselves politically or express themselves socially. Their intellect had been stunted by continuous European oppression. Enslavement had provided blacks with a ‘slave mentality’s o that they had come to accept white racist definitions of themselves as inferior. For Garvey, blacks in the Americas had not only been repressed physically, but their minds had been affected by years of white subordination.
Slavery had degregaded them so badly that they actually considered themselves as little more than slaves. As a result, programs aimed at the gradual integration of blacks into white society were worthless in Garvey’s eyes. His mission was to restore the lost dignity of blacks by severing ties with the white world. As he expressed in the New York Times on August 3, 1920, ‘We shall organize the four hundred million Negroes of the world into a vast organization to plant the banner of freedom on the great continent of Africa…
If Europe is for Europeans, then Africa is for the black people of the world.’ After spending nearly a decade in the United States and Great Britain, Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1927, where he spread his political views among the black working class. He assured his followers, ‘No one knows when the hour of Africa’s redemption cometh. It is in the wind. It is coming. One day, like a storm, it will be here.’ He told blacks to ‘look to Africa for the crowning of a king to know that your redemption is near.’ This prophecy was fulfilled when in 1930 Prince Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned the new Emperor of Ethiopia. This is from where the Rasta movement took its name.
Upon his coronation, he claimed for himself the title of Emperor Haile Selassie (Power of the Trinity) I. This announcement was a monumental event that many blacks in Africa and the Americas saw as the fulfillment of Garvey’s prophecy years before. After the crowning of Selassie, the Rastafarian movement gained a following and officially began. Ironically, Selassie was never a Rastafarian himself, and no one is really sure what he ever thought of his following. Also noteworthy is the fact that Garvey himself was admittedly not an admirer of Haile Selassie, and he went as far as to attack the Ethiopians as ‘crazy fanatics.’ “Nearly every black movement in recent American history inherits some legacy from Marcus Garvey — -through the Urban League, the Black Panthers, the Republic of New Africa, People United to save humanity (PUSH), the Nation of Islam, and other groups.
Garvey’s influence lives on. His memory certainly lives among the Rastafarians of his homeland” (Nicholas 16). There are between 3, 000 and 5, 000 Rastafarians in the United States. However, these figures may be slightly distorted as a result of the large number of people who have adopted the external appearance of Rastafarians. Worldwide, the total following is approximately 1, 000, 000 people. Most members are male.
Traditionally, women have played a very minor role in Rastafarianism. Until 1965, the membership was essentially lower class, but this is no longer the case. Once considered ‘products of the slum,’ 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. As Dr. E. E. Cashmore observed, ‘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 matter of individual interpretation.’ However, in spite of that claim, early in the history of the movement Leonard Howell gave the Rastafarians six fundamental principles: 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. Further, there are three overriding concepts that are key to Rastafarian beliefs: Babylon: ‘Babylon’ is the Rastafarian term for the white political power structure that has been holding the black race down for centuries.
In the past, Rastas claim that blacks were held down physically by the shackles of slavery. In the present, Rastas feel that blacks are still held down through poverty, illiteracy, inequality, and trickery by the white man. The efforts of Rastafarianism are to attempt to remind blacks of their heritage and have them stand up against this Babylon. I and I: This concept has become ‘the most important theoretical tool apart from the Babylonian conspiracy in the Rastafarian repertoire.’ Cashmore explains, ‘I and I is an expression to total ize the concept of oneness, 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.
The bond of Ras Tafari is the bond of God, of man. But man itself needs a head and the head of man is His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia.’ Jah: The Rastafarian name for God is Jah. The presence of Jah in His children and in the world is the triumph over the tribulations of everyday life. Ethiopia specifically, and Africa in general, is considered the Rastas heaven on Earth. However, there is no afterlife or hell as Christianity believes. Rastafarians do not have a sacred or preferred text.
Though, certain sections of the Holy Bible are considered sacred, however the Rastafarians believe that some aspects of the Bible were changed by ‘Babylon,’ which has come to represent the white power structure. To greater represent the truth, Rastafarians reject the Bible used by most Christians, opting instead for a ‘black man’s Bible,’ known as the Holy Pi by. 4 Als.