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Rastas often adopt the flag of Ethiopia as was used during Haile Selassie's reign. It combines the conquering lion of Judah, symbol of the Ethiopian monarchy, with green, gold, and red.

Rastafari, sometimes termed Rastafarianism, is an Abrahamic religion. Classified as a new religious movement, it developed in Jamaica during the 1930s. It lacks any centralised authority and there is much heterogeneity among practitioners, who are known as Rastas.

Rastas refer to their beliefs, which are based on a specific interpretation of the Bible, as "Rastalogy". Central is a monotheistic belief in a single God—referred to as Jah—who partially resides within each individual. The Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, is given central importance. Many Rastas regard him as an incarnation of Jah on Earth and as the Second Coming of Jesus of Nazareth. Others regard him as a human prophet who fully recognised the inner divinity within every individual. Rastafari is Afrocentric and focuses its attention on the African diaspora, which it believes is oppressed within Western society, or "Babylon". Many Rastas call for the resettlement of the African diaspora in either Ethiopia or Africa more widely, referring to this continent as the Promised Land of "Zion". Other interpretations shift focus on to the adoption of an Afro-centric attitude while living outside of Africa. Rastas refer to their practices as "livity". Communal meetings are known as "groundations", and are typified by music, chanting, discussions, and the smoking of cannabis, the latter being regarded as a sacrament with beneficial properties. Rastas place emphasis on what they regard as living 'naturally', adhering to ital dietary requirements, fashioning their hair into dreadlocks, and following patriarchal gender roles.

Rastafari originated among impoverished and socially disenfranchised Afro-Jamaican communities in 1930s Jamaica. Its Afrocentric ideology was largely a reaction against Jamaica's then-dominant British colonial culture. It was influenced by both Ethiopianism and the Back-to-Africa movement promoted by black nationalist figures like Marcus Garvey. The movement developed after several Christian clergymen, most notably Leonard Howell, proclaimed that the crowning of Haile Selassie as Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930 fulfilled a Biblical prophecy. By the 1950s, Rastafari's counter-cultural stance had brought the movement into conflict with wider Jamaican society, including violent clashes with law enforcement. In the 1960s and 1970s it gained increased respectability within Jamaica and greater visibility abroad through the popularity of Rasta-inspired reggae musicians like Bob Marley. Enthusiasm for Rastafari declined in the 1980s, following the deaths of both Haile Selassie and Marley.

The Rasta movement lacks any central authority and is organised on a largely cellular basis. There are several denominations, or "Mansions of Rastafari", the most prominent of which are the Nyahbinghi, Bobo Ashanti, and the Twelve Tribes of Israel, each of which offers different interpretations of Rasta belief. There are an estimated 700,000 to 1 million Rastas across the world; the largest population is in Jamaica although communities can be found in most of the world's major population centres.


Scholars of religion have categorised Rastafari as a new religious movement,[1] or as a new social movement.[2] The scholar of religion Leonard E. Barrett referred to it as a sect,[3] while scholar of religion Ennis B. Edmonds argued that it could best be understood as a revitalization movement.[2] Edmonds also suggested that Rastafari was "emerging" as a world religion, not because of the number of adherents that it had, but because of its global spread.[4] Many Rastas themselves do not however regard it as a religion, instead referring to it as a "way of life".[2][5]

The term "Rastafari" derives from the pre-regnal title of Haile Selassie; the term "Ras" means a duke or prince, while "Tafari Makonen" was his name.[6] The way of life is sometimes referred to as "Rastafarianism", but this term is considered offensive by most Rastafari, who, being critical of "isms" or "ians" (which they see as a typical part of "Babylon" culture), dislike being labelled as an "ism" or "ian" themselves. Rastafari has always been conceived as a way of life for and by people of African descent.[7]


File:Liberty Bell Temple 1.jpg
The Liberty Bell Temple in Los Angeles.

Rastas refer to the totality of their religion's ideas and beliefs as "Rastalogy".[6] The scholar of religion Ennis B. Edmonds described Rastafari as having "a fairly cohesive worldview".[6] The sociologist of religion Peter B. Clarke stated that it was "extremely difficult to generalise" about Rastas and their beliefs because the Rastafari movement had no systematic theology or highly developed institutions.[8] Attempts have been made to summarise Rastafari belief, but these have never been accorded the status of a catechism or creed within the movement.[9] Emphasis is placed on the idea that personal experience and intuitive understanding should be used to determine the truth or validity of a particular belief or practice.[10] No Rasta therefore has the authority to declare what beliefs and practices are orthodox and which are heterodox.[9] The conviction that Rastafari has no dogma "is so strong that it has itself become something of a dogma", according to Clarke.[11]

Rastas regard the Bible as an authentic account of early black history and their place as God's favoured people.[11] They believe that the Bible was originally written on stone in the Ethiopian language of Amharic.[11] However, they believe that its true meaning has been warped, both through mistranslation into other languages and by deliberate manipulation by those who wanted to deny black Africans their history.[11] They believe that its true teachings can be revealed through intuition and meditation with the "book within".[11] For Rastas, the Bible is therefore viewed as the key to understanding the past and the present and for predicting the future.[11]

Jah Rastafari

Rastafari are monotheists, worshiping a singular God whom they call Jah. Jah is the term in the King James Bible, Psalms 68:4. Rastas view Jah in the form of the Holy TrinityFather, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Rastas say that Jah in the form of the Holy Spirit (incarnate) lives within the human. For this reason, they often refer to themselves as "I and I". "I and I" is used instead of "We" to emphasize the equality between all people, in the belief that the Holy Spirit within all people makes them essentially one and the same.[citation needed]

Rastafari embraces mysticism in seeking to narrow the distance between humanity and divinity.[2] Rastas often cite the aphorism "God is man and man is God".[12] Jah is also understood to be the God within the human being.[13] As a result, Rastas speak of "knowing" Jah, rather than simply "believing" in him.[14] In believing that human beings have an inner divinity within themselves, Rastas help to cultivate a bastion against the uncertainty and insecurity that exists within society and societal institutions.[13]

Haile Selassie and Jesus of Nazareth

From Rastafari's origins, the religion was intrinsically linked with Haile Selassie, who ruled as Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974.[6] Although he is a figure held in esteem by all Rastas, precise interpretations of his identity differ.[15] For Rastas, Haile Selassie is believed to be the messiah predicted in the Biblical Old Testament,[16] and the Second Coming of Jesus of Nazareth.[17] Some Rastas regard Haile Selassie as the embodiment of Jah Rastafari, God himself, manifested in human form.[15] For them, Haile Selassie was the living God.[14] For other Rastas, Haile Selassie is seen as a messenger of God rather than a manifestation of God himself.[15] As evidence for this, Rastas point to the belief that both Jesus and Haile Selassie were descendants from the royal line of David.[17] They also cite their interpretation of chapter 19 in the Book of Revelations.[17]

Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, considered by Rastas to be the reincarnation of Christ.

Among the titles that Rastas give to Haile Selassie are the Almighty God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Judge and Avenger, King Alpha and Queen Omega, Returned Messiah, Elect of God, and Elect of Himself.[18] Rastas also view Haile Selassie as a symbol of their positive affirmation of Africa as a source of spiritual and cultural heritage.[19]

The overthrow of Haile Selassie by Marxist revolutionaries and his subsequent death resulted in a crisis of faith for many Rastas.[20] The death of Haile Selassie I is a topic of some debate among Rastafari.[21] Some Rastas believed that he did not really die and that claims to the contrary were Western misinformation. To bolster their argument, they pointed to the fact that no corpse had been produced; in reality, Haile Selassie had been buried beneath a toilet in his palace, remaining undiscovered there until 1992.[22] Another perspective within Rastafari acknowledged that Haile Selassie had undergone bodily death, but that his inner essence survived.[22] Many Rastafari claim to have met Haile Selassie after his reported death and know him also by his claimed new name Abba Keddus or Abba Keddus Keddus Keddus.[23]

During his life, Selassie neither confirmed nor denied his divinity,[24] and he described himself as a devout Christian.[25] In a 1967 interview when a Canadian interviewer mentioned the Rastafari belief that he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ,[26] he responded by saying: "I have heard of this idea. I also met certain Rastafarians. I told them clearly that I am a man, that I am mortal, and that I will be replaced by the oncoming generation, and that they should never make a mistake in assuming or pretending that a human being is emanated from a deity." His grandson Ermias Sahle Selassie has said that there is "no doubt that Haile Selassie did not encourage the Rastafari movement".[27]

Jesus is an important figure in Rastafari.[17] However, they refute the traditional depiction of Jesus present in Christianity, believing that this is a perversion of the truth.[17] They believe that Jesus was a black African and that he was a Rasta.[17] Jesus is given particular prominence among a Rastafari denomination known as the Twelve Tribes of Israel.[12] Rastas belonging to this group refer to Jesus as Yahshua and Yesus Kritos, and believe that his second coming is forthcoming.[12] Accordingly, they do not share the view of other Rastas that Haile Selassie was the second coming of Jesus.[12]

Afrocentrism, Babylon, and Zion

The eastern African nation of Ethiopia is given great prominence in Rasta thought

According to Clarke, Rastafari is "concerned above all else with black consciousness, with rediscovering the identity, personal and racial, of black people".[28] The Rastafari movement was established among Afro-Jamaicans who wanted to reject the British imperial culture that dominated Jamaica while at the same time making a determined effort to create an identity based on a re-appropriation of their African heritage.[19] Rastas identify themselves with the ancient Israelites, believing them to be either their descendants or reincarnations, and believe that God's chosen people were black.[29] Rastafari espouses the view that the true identity of black Africans has been lost and needs to be reclaimed.[30] In reclaiming this identity, Rastas believe, they will help to rid themselves of feelings of inferiority.[30]

In Rastafari, the black African diaspora are regarded as being exiles living in "Babylon", a term applied to Western society.[31] The term "Babylon" is adopted because of its Biblical associations. In the Old Testament, Babylon is the Mesopotamian city which conquered and deported the Hebrew people between 597 and 586 BCE.[32] In the New Testament, "Babylon" was used as a euphemism for the Roman Empire, which was regarded as acting in a destructive manner akin to the ancient Babylonians.[32] Babylon is viewed as being responsible both for the Atlantic slave trade which removed enslaved Africans from their continent and for the ongoing poverty facing the African diaspora.[31] European colonialism and global capitalism are also viewed as manifestations of Babylon.[33] They turn to scripture to explain the Atlantic slave trade.[34] Rastas believe that the slavery, exile, and exploitation of black Africans was punishment for failing to live up to their status as Jah's chosen people.[35] Rastas regard soldiers and police as agents of Babylon.[31]

Rastas regard the exile of the black African diaspora in Babylon as an experience of great suffering.[35] Rastas seek to delegitimise and destroy Babylon, something often conveyed in the Rasta aphorism "Chant down Babylon".[31] Rastas often expect white-dominated society to dismiss their beliefs as false, and when this happens it is seen as confirmation of the correctness of their faith, thus strengthening their convictions.[36]

Map of Ethiopia, the "Zion" of the Rastas

Rastas view "Zion" as an ideal to which they aspire.[31] As with "Babylon", this is again a term derived from the Bible, where it referred to an idealised Jerusalem, regarded as the City of God.[31] Rastas use the term in reference either to Ethiopia or to Africa more widely, a land which has an almost mythological identity in Rasta discourse.[37] In doing so, Rastas reflect their desire to escape what they perceive as the domination and degradation that they experience in Babylon.[37] During the first three decades of the Rastafari movement, it placed strong emphasis on the need for the African diaspora to be repatriated to Africa.[37] To this end, various Rastas lobbied the Jamaican government and United Nations to oversee this resettlement process.[37] Other Rastas organised their own transportation to the African continent.[37]

By the movement's fourth decade, the desire for physical repatriation to Africa had declined among Rastas.[38] This change in view was influenced by observation of the 1983–1985 famine in Ethiopia.[39] Rather, many Rastas saw the idea of returning to Africa in a metaphorical sense, entailing restoring their pride and self-confidence as people of black African descent.[40] The term "liberation before repatriation" began to be used within the movement.[38] Some Rastas seek to transform Western society so that they may more comfortably live within it rather than seeking to move to Africa.[41] There are nevertheless many Rastas who continue to emphasise the need for physical resettlement of the African diaspora in Africa.[38]

There is no uniform Rasta view on race.[42] Rastas typically believe that black Africans are God's chosen people, meaning that they made a deal with him and thus have a special responsibility.[42] This is similar to beliefs in Judaism.[42] This has resulted in critics accusing the Rastafari religion of espousing racial superiority, exclusivism, and racism.[42] Some Rastas have acknowledged that there is racism in the movement, primarily against Europeans, Asians, and also against white European Rastas.[42] Some believe that an 'African' identity is not inherently linked to black skin but rather is about whether an individual displays an African "attitude" or "spirit".[43] Other sects reject the idea that a white European could ever be a legitimate Rasta.[42]

Salvation and paradise

August Town Kingston, considered Mount Zion in Jamaica by Bedwardites and still revered by some in the Rasta Movement

Rastafari espouses a millenarianist worldview in which it is believed that the present age will come to an apocalyptic end.[44] In the 1980s, Rastas believed that this would happen around the year 2000.[45] In this Day of Judgement, Babylon will be overthrown.[46]

In Rasta belief, the end of this present age would be followed by a millennium of peace, justice, and happiness in Ethiopia.[44] The righteous will live in paradise in Africa.[46] Those who had supported Babylon will be denied access to paradise.[46] The Rasta conception of salvation has similarities with that promoted in Judaism.[35]

Rastas do not believe that there is a specific afterlife to which human individuals go following bodily death.[47] They believe that only those who shun righteousness will actually die.[48] Those who are righteous are believed to go through a process of reincarnation,[47] with an individual's identity remaining throughout each of their incarnations.[49] In keeping with their views on death, Rastas avoid celebrating physical death and often avoid funerals,[48] also repudiating the practice of ancestor veneration that is common among African traditional religions.[50]

Morality, ethics, and gender roles

Rastaman in Barbados, wearing the Rastafari colours of green, gold, red and black on a rastacap.

Most Rastas share a pair of fundamental moral principles known as the "two great commandments".[51] These are love of God and love of neighbour.[51] Rastafari promotes the idea of "living naturally",[52] in accordance with what Rastas regard as nature's laws.[53] It espouses the idea that Africa is the "natural" abode of black Africans, where they can live according to African culture and tradition and be themselves on a physical, emotional, and intellectual level.[43] They believe that Westerners and Babylon have been detached from nature through technological development and as a result have become debilitated, slothful, and decadent.[53]

Rastafari promotes what it regards as the restoration of black manhood, believing that men in the African diaspora have been emasculated by Babylon.[54] Rastafari espouses patriarchal principles,[55] and promotes the idea that women should submit to male leadership.[54] External observers—including scholars like Edmonds[56]—have claimed that Rastafari accords women an inferior position to men.[41] Rasta discourse often presents women as morally weak and susceptible to deception by evil,[57] and claims that they are impure during their period of menstruation.[58] Rastafari mirrored the views on gender which were common in Jamaican society more broadly,[59] however it has retained its commitment to patriarchy while Jamaican society has moved toward greater gender equity.[57] Rastas legitimise these gender roles by citing Biblical passages, particularly those in the Book of Leviticus,[56] and in the writings of Paul the Apostle.[57]

Rasta women usually wear clothing that covers their head and masks their body contours, in a manner akin to traditional Islamic clothing.[60] Long skirts are usually worn rather than trousers.[58] Rasta discourse legitimises this female dress code with the claim that it is necessary to prevent women attracting men and presenting it as the opposition to the sexual objectification of women in Babylon.[61] Rasta men are permitted to wear whatever they choose.[58] Although men and women took place alongside each other in early Rasta rituals, from the late 1940s and 1950s a more radical movement within the Rasta community encouraged gender segregation for ceremonies.[56] This was legitimised with the explanation that women became impure through menstruation and that they would seduce and distract men.[56]

Rasta men are permitted to have multiple female sex partners, while women are expected to reserve their sexual activity for their one male partner.[62] Marriage is not usually formalised.[63] Rasta men refer to their female partners as "queens",[64] or "empresses",[65] while the males in these relationships are known as "kingmen".[62] Rastafari places great importance on family life and the raising of children.[66] The religion emphasised the place of men in child-rearing, associating it with the recovery of African manhood.[67] Women often work, sometimes while the man is left to raise the children at home.[63] Both contraception and abortion are usually censured by Rastas,[68] and a common claim in Rasta discourse is that these were inventions of Babylon created in an attempt to decrease the black African birth-rate.[69]

Rastafari typically rejects feminism,[59] although since the 1970s there have been increasing numbers of Rasta women calling for greater gender equity within the Rastafari movement.[70] Clarke encountered Rasta women in Britain who expressed feminist sentiment and criticised sexism within the religion.[59] Some Rasta women have challenged gender norms by wearing their hair uncovered in public and donning trousers.[65]

Some Rastas have promoted activism as a means of achieving socio-political change, while others believe in awaiting change that will be brought about through divine intervention in human affairs.[71] In 1996, the International Rastafari Development Society was given Consultative Status by the United Nations.[72]


The cultural and religious practices of Rastafari are referred to as "livity" by Rastas.[6] Rastafari has no professional priesthood,[6] with Rastas believing that there is no need for a priest to act as mediator between the worshipper and divinity.[73] There are individuals who are regarded as elders within the community.[74] This is an honorific title bestowed upon those who have attained a good reputation among Rastas because of their exemplary conduct.[74] Although respected figures, they do not necessarily have any administrative functions or responsibilities among Rastafari.[74] Elders are often in communication with each other through a network.[74]


File:Rastafarians celebrate Marcus Garvey.jpg
Rastas in the West African country of Liberia

The term "grounding" is used among Rastas to refer to the establishment of relationships between like-minded practitioners.[75] Groundings often take place in a commune or yard, and are presided over by an elder.[63] The elder is charged with keeping discipline in the group, and can ban those who contravene the rules that they set forth.[74] The number of participants can range from a handful to several hundred.[63] Activities that take place at groundings include the playing of drums, chanting, the singing of hymns, and the recitation of poetry.[76] Ganja, or cannabis, is often smoked.[76] Most groundings contain only men, with women being excluded.[77] Some Rasta women have established their own, all-female grounding circles.[77]

One of the central activities that takes place at groundings is "reasoning".[78] This is a discussion among assembled Rastas about the religion's principles and their relevance to current events.[78] They are supposed to be non-combative, although attendees can point out the fallacies in any arguments that are presented.[79] Those assembled inform each other about the revelations that they have received through meditation and dream.[63] Each contributor is supposed to push the boundaries of understanding until the entire group has gained greater insight into the topic under discussion.[80]

The largest groundings were known as "groundations" or "grounations" in the 1950s, although were subsequently re-termed "Nyabinghi Issemblies".[81] The term Nyabinghi is adopted from the name of a mythical African queen.[82] Several dates are often selected for Nyabinghi Issemblies, particularly those associated with Ethiopia and Haile Selassie.[83] These include Ethiopian Christmas (7 January), the day on which Haile Selassie visited Jamaica (21 April), Selassie's birthday (23 July), Ethiopian New Year (11 September), Selassie's coronation day (2 November).[83] Some Rastas also organise Nyabinghi Issemblies to mark Jamaica's Emancipation Day (1 August) and Marcus Garvey's birthday (17 August).[83]

Nyabinghi Issemblies typically take place in rural areas, being situated in the open air or in temporary structures—known as "temples" or "tabernacles"—which are specifically constructed for the purpose.[84] Any elder seeking to sponsor a Nyabinghi Issembly must have approval from other elders to do so, and requires the adequate resources to organise such an event.[85] The assembly usually lasts between three and seven days.[84] During the daytime, those Rastas attending the event engage in food preparation, ganja smoking, and reasoning, while at night they focus on drumming and dancing around bonfires.[84] Nyabinghi Issemblies often attract Rastas from a wide area, including from different countries.[84] They establish and maintain a sense of solidarity among Rastas and cultivate a feeling of collective belonging.[84] They also help to confirm Rastas' convictions in the veracity of Rastafari teaching.[84]

Spiritual use of cannabis

Clarke stated that the "principle ritual" of Rastafari was the smoking of ganja, or cannabis.[86] In addition to smoking it, Rastas also ingest cannabis in a tea, as a spice in cooking, and as an ingredient in medicine.[87] Cannabis is usually smoked during groundings,[63] although some Rastas smoke it almost all of the time.[88] Others have criticised this practice, believing that use of the drug should be restricted to groundings.[88] However, not all Rastas use ganja,[89] explaining that they have already achieved a higher level of consciousness and thus do not require it.[73]

Rastafari man carrying a basket

Rastas argue that the use of ganja is promoted in the Bible, specifically in Genesis 1: 29, Psalms 18:18, and Revelations 22:2.[90] Rastas portray cannabis as the supreme herb,[87] and regard it as having healing properties.[91] They also eulogise it for inducing feelings of "peace and love" in those taking it,[87] and cultivates a form of personal introspection that allows the smoker to discover their inner divinity, or InI consciousness.[92]

When meeting in a grounding, Rastas typically remove their head gear first.[78] Rastas most often smoke cannabis through a form of large cigarette known as a spliff.[78] This is often rolled together while a prayer is offered to Jah; only once this is completed is the spliff then lit, enabling it to be smoked.[78] At other times, cannabis is smoked not in a spliff but in a water pipe referred to as a "chalice".[78] There are different styles of chalices used by Rastas, including kutchies, chillums, and steamers.[78] The pipe is passed in a counter-clockwise direction around the assembled circle of Rastas.[78]

By the 8th century, cannabis had been introduced by Arab traders to Central and Southern Africa, where it is known as "dagga"[93] and many Rastas say it is a part of their African culture that they are reclaiming.[94] It is sometimes also referred to as "the healing of the nation", a phrase adapted from Revelation 22:2.[95] There are various methods of transmission that might explain how cannabis smoking came to be part of Rastafari. One possible source was the African diasporic religion of Kumina, based on the practices of Bakongo enslaved people and indentured labourers who were brought to Jamaica in the mid-nineteenth century.[75] In Kumina, cannabis was smoked during religious ceremonies in the belief that it facilitated possession by ancestral spirits.[75] The religion was largely practiced in south-east Jamaica's Saint Thomas Parish, where a prominent early Rasta, Leonard Howell, lived during the period he was developing many of Rastafari's beliefs and practices.[75]

A second possible source was the use of cannabis in various Hindu rituals. Hindu migrants arrived in Jamaica as indentured servants from British India between 1834 and 1917, and brought the use of cannabis with them.[75] One Jamaican Hindu priest, Laloo, was one of Howell's spiritual advisors, and may have influenced his adoption of ganja.[75] It is also possible that its adoption was also influenced by the widespread medicinal and recreational use of cannabis among Afro-Jamaicans in the early twentieth century.[75]

According to many Rastas, the illegality of cannabis in many nations is evidence of persecution of Rastafari. They are not surprised that it is illegal, seeing it as a powerful substance that opens people's minds to the truth – something the Babylon system, they reason, clearly does not want.[96] They contrast it to alcohol and other drugs - this is definitely true - alcohol is seen very much, in its relation to its legality whereas ganja (weed etc.), is the opposite - seen in relation to its illegality.[97][clarification needed]


The reggae musician Bob Marley incorporated Rasta chants, language, and social critique into his work

Rastafari music developed at reasoning sessions,[98] where drumming, chanting, and dancing are all present.[99] Rasta music is performed to praise and commune with Jah.[100] In performing it, Rastas also reaffirm their rejection of Babylon.[100] Rastas believe that their music has healing properties, with the ability to cure colds, fevers, and headaches.[100] Many of these songs are sung to the tune of older Christian hymns,[101] but others are original Rasta creations.[100]

The bass-line of Rasta music is provided by the akete, a three-drum set, which is accompanied by percussion instruments like rattles and tambourines.[99] A syncopated rhythm is then provided by the fundeh drum.[99] In addition, a peta drum improvises over the rhythm.[99] The different components of the music are regarded as displaying different symbolism; the bassline symbolises blows against Babylon, while the lighter beats denote hope for the future.[99]

The first person to record Rasta music was Count Ossie, a drummer who believed that black people needed to develop their own style of music.[98] He was heavily influenced by Kumina and Burru, two drumming styles developed by African-Jamaicans.[102][103] Ossie subsequently popularised this new Rastafari ritual music by playing at various groundings and groundations around Jamaica.[102] By the 1960s, Rastafari had begun to influence Jamaican popular music, particularly through the work of Ossie and Don Drummond.[104] Rasta ideas began to feature in the lyrics of mento songs, such as Lord Lebby's "Ethiopia".[104] Rasta ritual rhythms also began to be incorporated into reggae,[105] and soon the genre also began to incorporate Rasta chants, language, motifs, and social critiques.[105] As a genre, reggae contains much Rastafari symbolism.[3] Like an older form of Caribbean music, calypso, reggae soon became a medium for social commentary from members of the African diaspora.[106]

Language and symbolism

In the 1940s, a distinct form of Rasta language, often known as "dreadtalk", developed among Jamaican practitioners.[107] Rastas typically regard words as having an intrinsic power,[108] with Rastafari language reflecting Rastas' own experiences,[107] as well as fostering a group identity and cultivating particular values.[109] Rastas seek to avoid language that contributes to servility, self-degradation, and the objectification of the person.[110] They believe that the English language is a tool of Babylon,[111] and thus by formulating their own language are launching an ideological attack on the integrity of the English language.[108] The use of this language helps Rastas distinguish themselves from non-Rastas.[98]

Rastas make wide use of the pronoun "I".[112] The use of this word denotes the Rasta view that the self is divine.[113] It also reminds each Rasta that they are a human being, not a slave, and that they have value, worth, and dignity as a human being.[114] For instance, Rastas use "I" in place of "me", "I and I" in place of "we", "I-ceive" in place of "receive", "I-sire" in place of "desire", "I-rate" in place of "create", and "I-men" in place of "Amen".[109] Rastas refer to this process as "InI Consciousness" or "Isciousness".[22] Rastas typically refer to Haile Selaisse as "Haile Selassie I", thus indicating their belief in his divinity.[114]

Rastas also typically believe that the phonetics of a word should be linked to its meaning.[108] For instance, Rastas often use the word "downpression" in place of "oppression" because oppression bears down on people rather than lifting them up, with "up" being phonetically akin to the "opp-".[108] Similarly, they often favour "livicate" over "dedicate" because "ded-" is phonetically akin to the word "dead".[108]

Red is said to signify the blood of martyrs, green the vegetation and beauty of Ethiopia, and gold the wealth of Africa.[115][116]


An ital breakfast; ackee, plantain, boiled food, breadfruit, and mango-pineapple juice

Rastas seek to produce food "naturally",[53] eating what they call ital, or "natural" food.[117] This is often produced organically,[117] and locally.[108] Most Rastas adhere to the dietary laws outlined in the Old Testament's Book of Leviticus, and thus avoid eating pork or crustaceans.[118] Other Rastas remain totally vegetarian,[119] and also avoid the addition of any additives, including sugar and salt, to their food.[118]

Rastas typically avoid food produced by non-Rastas or from unknown sources.[120] They also avoid alcohol,[41] as well as cigarettes, heroin, and cocaine.[87]


Through their use of language, dress, dreaded hair, and lifestyle Rastas seek to draw a clear boundary between themselves and non-Rastas.[30] One of the "distinguishing mark[s] of the movement" is the formation of hair into dreadlocks.[121] The formation of dreadlocks is Biblically inspired, legitimised by reference to the Book of Numbers (6: 5-6).[122] They are regarded as marking a covenant that the Rastas have made with God,[88] and are also regarded as a symbol of strength linked to the hair of the Biblical figure of Samson.[123] Sometimes this dreadlocked hair is then shaped and styles, often inspired by a lion's mane symbolising Haile Selassie, who is regarded as "the Conquering Lion of Judah".[124] For Rastas, the wearing of dreads is a symbolic rejection of Babylon and a refusal to conform to its norms and standards regarding grooming aesthetics.[125] They also reflect a commitment to the Rasta idea of 'naturalness'.[126] Rastas are often critical of black people who straighten their hair, believing that it is an attempt to imitate white European hair and thus reflects alienation from a person's African identity.[126]

Rasta man with tuff dreads

Some Rasta groups, like the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, forbid the wearing of dreadlocks.[127] Many Rastas also grow their beards long.[109] In reference to Rasta hairstyles, Rastas often refer to non-Rastas as "baldheads".[107]

From the beginning of the Rastafari movement in the 1930s, adherents typically grew beards and tall hair, perhaps in imitation of Haile Selassie.[38] The wearing of hair as dreadlocks then emerged as a Rasta practice in the 1940s.[38] Within the oral culture of the movement, there are various different claims as to how this practice was adopted.[38] One claim is that it was adopted in imitation of certain African nations, such as the Maasai, Somalis, or Oromo, or that it was inspired by the hairstyles worn by some of those involved in the anti-colonialist Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya.[38] An alternative explanation is that it was inspired by the hairstyles of the Hindu sadhus.[128]

It has been suggested (e.g., Campbell 1985) that the first Rasta locks were copied from Kenya in 1953, when images of the independence struggle of the feared Mau Mau insurgents, who grew their "dreaded locks" while hiding in the mountains, appeared in newsreels and other publications that reached Jamaica. However, a more recent study by Barry Chevannes[129] has traced the first hairlocked Rastas to a subgroup first appearing in 1949, known as Youth Black Faith.

Rastafari man in rastacap

In the United States, several public schools and workplaces have lost lawsuits as the result of banning locks. Safeway is an early example, and the victory of eight children in a suit against their Lafayette, Louisiana school was a landmark decision in favor of Rastafari rights. More recently, in 2009, a group of Rastafari settled a federal lawsuit with the Grand Central Partnership in New York City, allowing them to wear their locks in neat ponytails, rather than be forced to "painfully tuck in their long hair" in their uniform caps.[130]

For Rastafari the razor, the scissors and the comb are the three Babylonian or Roman inventions.[131]

Dreadlocks and Rastafari-inspired clothing have also been worn for aesthetic reasons by non-Rastas.[132] Many non-Rastafari of African descent wear locks as an expression of pride in their ethnic identity, or simply as a hairstyle, and take a less purist approach to developing and grooming them. The wearing of dreads also has spread among people of other ethnicities. Locks worn for stylish reasons are sometimes referred to as "bathroom locks", to distinguish them from the kind that are purely natural. Rastafari purists also sometimes refer to such dreadlocked individuals as "wolves", as in "a wolf in sheep's clothing", especially when they are seen as trouble-makers who might potentially discredit or infiltrate Rastafari.[133] The wearing of dreadlocks has also contributed to the negative view of Rastafari held by many non-Rastas, who regard it as wild and unattractive.[121]

The tam headdress worn by many Rastas is coloured green, red, black, and yellow to symbolise allegiance and identification with Ethiopia.[30]


The Rastafari movement developed out of the legacy of the Atlantic slave trade, in which over ten million Africans were enslaved and transported from Africa to the Americas between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Here, they were sold to European planters and forced to work on the plantations.[134] Around a third of these transported Africans were relocated in the Caribbean, with under 700,000 being settled in Jamaica.[134] Here, the enslaved Africans were divided into a stratified system, with field workers on the lowest rung and house servants above them.[134] In 1834, slavery in Jamaica was abolished after the British government passed the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.[135] Racial prejudice nevertheless remained prevalent across Jamaican society,[136] with those of African descent being second-class citizens.[137] For most of the nineteenth century, the overwhelming majority of Jamaica's legislative council was white.[138] Formerly enslaved Africans and Afro-Jamaicans became free peasants.[136] In the three decades after emancipation, the Free Village system proliferated across Jamaica as non-conformist missionaries, particularly Baptist, purchased land from the large owners and sold it as smaller plots to former slaves.[139]

The Great Revival of 1860–61 witnessed increasing numbers of Afro-Jamaicans join Christian churches.[140] They brought with them many inherited African beliefs and rituals, which syncretised with Christianity in various ways and to varying degrees.[138] Some of the new religions that emerged, such as Pukkumina, remained heavily based on traditional African religion, while others, like Revival Zion, were more heavily Christian.[141] The majority of these different groups practiced spiritual healing and incorporates drumming and chanting, counselling, and beliefs in spirit possession into their structures.[142] Increasing numbers of Pentecostal missionaries from the United States arrived in Jamaica during the early twentieth century, reaching a climax in the 1920s.[143] These Christian movements provided a way for black Jamaicans—who continued to live with the social memory of enslavement and who were denied any substantial participation in Jamaica's political institutions—to express their hopes, fears, and aspirations.[142]

Ethiopianism, Back to Africa, and Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey, a prominent African nationalist theorist who heavily influenced Rastafari and is regarded as a prophet by many Rastas

According to the scholar of religion Ennis B. Edmonds, Rastafari emerged from "the convergence of several religious, cultural, and intellectual streams".[144] Both Ethiopianism and the Back to Africa ethos remain "fundamental ingredients of Rastafarian ideology".[145] These two movements predated Rastafari and can be traced back to the eighteenth century.[146] In the nineteenth century, there were growing calls for the African diaspora located in Western Europe and the Americas to be resettled in Africa.[146] In that century, many members of the African diaspora were moved to Sierra Leona and Liberia.[146] Based in Liberia, the black Christian preacher Edward Wilmot Blyden began promoting African pride and the preservation of African tradition, customs, and institutions.[147] Blyden sought to promote a form of Christianity that was suited to the African context.[148] The idea of the African diaspora's return to Africa was given impetus by the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 as a nation-state for the Jewish diaspora to return to.[149]

Also spreading through Africa was Ethiopianism, a movement that accorded special status to the east African nation of Ethiopia because it was mentioned in various Biblical passages.[150] For adherents of Ethiopianism, "Ethiopia" was regarded as a synonym of Africa as a whole.[150] Across the continent, although particularly in South Africa, Christian churches were established that referred to themselves as "Ethiopian"; these groups were at the forefront of the burgeoning African nationalist movement that sought liberation from European colonial rule.[151]

Garvey supported the idea of global racial separatism and rejected the idea that black people of African descent living in the Americas should campaign for their civil rights; instead he believed that they should migrate en masse back to Africa.[152] His ideas were opposed by many blacks in the Americas and he experienced hostility from African-American civil rights activists like W. E. B. Du Bois.[153] He also faced opposition from the government of Liberia, which did not want millions of unskilled migrants arriving on its shores.[154] As a mass movement, Garveyism declined in the Great Depression of the 1930s.[153]

He promoted his cause of black pride throughout the 1920s and 1930s, and was particularly successful and influential among lower-class blacks in Jamaica and in rural communities. Although his ideas have been hugely influential in the development of Rastafari culture, Garvey never identified himself with the movement. Garvey was even critical of Haile Selassie for leaving Ethiopia at the time of the Italian Fascist occupation, "Hailie Selassie is the ruler of a country where black men are chained and flogged... He will go down in history as a great coward who ran away from his country."[155] Rastafari does not promote all of the views that Garvey espoused, but nevertheless shares many of the same perspectives,[154] with many Rastas regarding Garvey as a prophet.[156]

Haile Selassie and the early Rastas

Selassie I in the 1930s

Emperor Haile Selassie I was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930. A number of Christian clergymen, among them Howell, Hibbert, Dunkley, and Hinds, claimed that Selassie's coronation was evidence that he was the black messiah that they believed was prophesied in the Book of Revelation (5: 2-5; 19: 16), the Book of Daniel (7: 3), and the Book of Psalms (68: 31).[157] These preachers began promoting this idea within Kingston, and soon the message spread throughout 1930s Jamaica.[157] Clarke stated that "to all intents and purposes this was the beginning" of the Rastafari movement.[157]

Over the following years, a number of street preachers—most notably Leonard Howell, Archibald Dunkley, Robert Hinds, and Joseph Hibbert—began promoting the idea that Haile Selassie was the returned Jesus.[158] Howell has been described as the "First Rasta".[159] Howell preached that black Africans were superior to white Europeans and that Afro-Jamaicans should owe their allegiance to Haile Selassie rather than to George V, King of Great Britain and Ireland. The island's British authorities arrested him and charged him with sedition, resulting in a two-year imprisonment.[160] Following his release, Howell established the Ethiopian Salvation Society and in 1939 created a Rasta community known as Pinnacle, in St Catherine. The community attracted between 500 and 2000 people, who were largely self-sufficient.[161] Police feared that Howell was training his followers for an armed rebellion and were angered that it was producing marijuana for sale among the wider community. They raided the community on several occasions and Howell was imprisoned for a further two years.[162] On his release he returned to Pinnacle, but the police continued with their raids and shut down the community in 1954.[163]

In 1936, Italy invaded and occupied Ethiopia, with Haile Selassie going into exile. The event brought international condemnation and growing sympathy for the Ethiopian cause.[86] In 1937, Selassie then created the Ethiopian World Federation, which established a branch in Jamaica in 1938.[86] In 1941, the Italians were driven out of Ethiopia and Selassie returned. For many Rastas, this event was interpreted as the fulfilment of an event described in the Book of Revelation (19: 11-19).[86]

Subsequent development

Rastafari's main appeal was among the lower classes of Jamaican society.[86] For its first thirty years, Rastafari was in a conflictual relationship with the Jamaican authorities.[164] Jamaica's Rastas expressed contempt for many aspects of the island's society, viewing the government, police, bureaucracy, professional classes, and established churches as instruments of Babylon.[71] Relations between practitioners and the police were strained, with Rastas often being arrested for cannabis possession.[8] During the 1950s the movement grew rapidly in Jamaica itself and also spread to other Caribbean islands, the United States, and the United Kingdom.[86]

Reggae musician Bob Marley did much to raise international awareness of the Rastafari movement

In the 1940s and 1950s, a more militant brand of Rastafari emerged.[163] The vanguard of this was the House of Youth Black Faith, a group whose members were largely based in West Kingston.[165] Backlash against the Rastas grew after a practitioner of the religion allegedly killed a woman in 1957.[71] In March 1958, the first Rastafarian Universal Convention was held in Back-o-Wall, Kingston.[71] Following the event, militant Rastas unsuccessfully tried to capture the city in the name of Haile Selassie.[71] Later that year they tried again in Spanish Town.[71] The increasing militancy of some Rastas resulted in growing alarm about the religion in Jamaican society.[71] In 1959, the self-declared prophet and founder of the African Reform Church, Claudius Henry, sold thousands of black Jamaicans, including many Rastas, tickets for a ship that he claimed would take them to Africa. The ship never arrived and Henry was charged with fraud. In 1960 he was sentenced to six years imprisonment for conspiring to overthrow the government.[166] Henry's son was accused of being part of a militant cell and executed, confirming public fears about Rasta violence.[167]

In August 1966, Haile Selassie visited Jamaica for the first time, with crowds of Rastas assembling to meet him at the airport.[168] The event was the high point for many Rastas.[24] During the 1960s, Rastafari developed in increasingly complex ways.[24] Whereas its support had previously come predominantly from poorer sectors of Jamaican society, in this decade it began to attract support from more privileged groups like students and musicians.[169] The foremost group emphasising this approach were the Twelve Tribes of Israel, whose members came to be known as "Uptown Rastas".[25] At the time, some Rastas began to reinterpret the idea that salvation required a physical return to Africa, instead interpreting salvation as coming through a process of mental decolonisation that embraced African approaches to life.[24]

Many of the Rastas in the 1960s were influence by the Black Power movement that had established in the African-American community.[170] For many black youth, Rastafari helped to fill the vacuum left by the decline of Black Power following the death of Malcolm X, Michael X, and George Jackson.[171] Black Power ideas exerted a further interest in Rastafari via the Guyanese academic Walter Rodney who have a series of lectures to Jamaica's Rasta community in 1968, subsequently publishing these as the pamphlet Groundings.[172] During the early 1970s, Rasta musicians had become an increasingly influential part of Jamaican political life.[127] The country's Prime Minister Michael Manley courted and obtained support from the Rasta reggae artist Bob Marley, something which helped to bolster his popularity with the electorate.[173] Manley described Rastas as a "beautiful and remarkable people",[121] and carried a cane that he referred to as the "rod of correction" and which he claimed was a gift given to him by Haile Selassie.[174] More widely, political groups increasingly employed Rasta language, symbols, and reggae references in their campaigns.[174] This helped to confer greater legitimacy on Rastafari in Jamaican society.[174]

Enthusiasm for Rastafari was likely dampened by the death of Haile Selassie in 1975 and then that of Marley in 1981.[175] A number of publicly prominent Rastas converted to Christianity,[176] and two of those who did so—Judith Mowatt and Tommy Cowan—both maintained that Marley had converted from Rastafari to Christianity, in the form of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, during his final days.[177] Post-1980, Pentecostalism and other Christian Charismatic groups proved more successful at converting young people in Jamaica than Rastafari.[176] The significance of Rastafari messages in reggae also declined with the growing popularity of dancehall, a Jamaican musical genre that typically foregrounded lyrical themes of hyper-masculinity, violence, and sexual activity rather than religious messages.[178] Since the mid-1990s however, there was a revival of Rastafari-focused reggae associated with musicians like Anthony B, Buju Banton, Luciano, Sizzla, and Capleton.[178] From the 1990s, Jamaica also witnessed the growth of organised political activity within the Rasta community, seen for instance through campaigns for the legalisation of marijuana and the creation of political parties like the Jamaican Alliance Movement and the Imperial Ethiopian World Federation Incorporated Political Party, none of which have had more than minimal electoral support.[179]


Rastafari is not a homogenous movement and has no single administrative structure.[180] Centralised and hierarchical structures are avoided by Rastas because they want to avoid replicating the formal structures of Babylon.[181] Rastas also tend to avoid hierarchic and bureaucratic structures because of the ultra-individualistic ethos that the religion promotes with its ideas about inner divinity.[73]

The structure of Rastafari groups is less like those of Christian denominations and is instead akin to the cellular structure of other African diasporic traditions like Haitian Vodou, Cuban Santeria, and Jamaica's Revival Zion.[180] Since the 1970s, there have been attempts to fashion a pan-Rasta unity movement, namely through the establishment of the Rastafari Movement Association, which sought political mobilisation.[182] In 1982, the first international assembly of Rastafari groups took place in Toronto, Canada.[182] This and subsequent international conferences, assemblies, and workshops have helped to cement global networks and cultivate an international community of Rasta practitioners.[183]

Mansions of Rastafari

Within Rastafari, there are distinct groups which display particular orientations.[184] There are often referred to as "houses" or "mansions", in keeping with a passage from the Gospel of John (14:2): as translated in the King James Bible, Jesus states "In my father's house are many mansions".[184] The three most prominent branches are the House of Nyabinghi, the Bobo Ashanti, and the Twelve Tribes of Israel, although other important groups include the Church of Haile Selassie I, Inc., and the Fulfilled Rastafari.[184]

The House of Nyabinghi is an aggregate of more traditional and militant Rastas who seek to retain the movement close to the way in which it existed during the 1940s.[184] They stress the idea that Haile Selassie was a manifestation of God and the reincarnation of Jesus.[184] The wearing of dreadlocks is regarded as indispensable,[184] and patriarchal gender roles are strongly emphasised.[184] Nyabinghi Rastas refuse to make any compromise with Babylon, and are often critical of reggae musicians like Bob Marley whom they regard as having collaborated with the commercial music industry.[185] It is probably the largest Rastafari group.[184]

The Bobo Ashanti sect was founded in Jamaica by Emanuel Charles Edwards through the establishment of his Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress (EABIC) in 1958.[186][187] The group established a commune in Bull Bay, where they were led by Edwards, who served as the group's high priest, until his 1994 death.[188] The group hold to a highly rigid ethos.[188] Edwards advocated the idea of a new trinity, with Haile Selassie as the living God, himself as the Christ, and Garvey as the prophet.[188] Male members of the group are divided into two categories: the "priests" who conduct religious services and the "prophets" who take place in reasoning sessions.[188] Women are regarded as impure because of menstruation and childbirth, and so are not permitted to cook for men.[188] The group teaches that black Africans are God's chosen people and thus are superior to white Europeans.[188] Members of this sect are recognisable by their attire, which include long, flowing robes and turbans.[188] Since the 1990s, increasing numbers of Bob Ashanti Rastas have lived outside the Bull Bay commune, but continue to regard the latter as a place of pilgrimage.[188]

Twelve Tribes of Israel headquarters in Shashamane, Ethiopia

The Twelve Tribes of Israel sect was founded in 1968 by Vernon Carrington.[188][189] He regarded himself as the reincarnation of the Old Testament prophet Gad, one of Jacob's twelve sons, and his followers thus refer to him as "Prophet Gad" or "Gadman".[188] It is commonly regarded as the most liberal form of Rastafari and the closest to Christianity in its beliefs.[12] Practitioners are often dubbed "Christian Rastas" because they believe Jesus is the messiah and only saviour; Haile Selassie is accorded importance, but is not viewed as the second coming of Jesus.[190] The group divides its members into twelve groups according to which month in the Hebrew calendar they were born; each month is associated with a particular colour, body part, and mental function.[191] Maintaining dreadlocks and an ital diet are considered commendable but not essential,[192] while adherents are called upon to read a chapter of the Bible each day.[193] The Twelve Tribes peaked in popularity during the 1970s, when it attracted artists, musicians, and many middle-class followers, resulting in the term "middle-class Rastas" and "uptown Rastas" being applied to members of the group.[193] Carrington died in 2005, since which time the Twelve Tribes of Israel have been led by an executive council.[193]

The Church of Haile Selassie, Inc was founded by Abuna Foxe, and operated much like a mainstream Christian church, with a hierarchy of functionaries, weekly services, and Sunday schools.[194] In New York, the group have established prison chaplains.[182] In adopting this broad approach, the Church seeks to develop Rastafari's respectability in wider society.[182] Fulfilled Rastafari is a multi-ethnic movement that has spread in popularity during the twenty-first century, in large part through the Internet.[182] The Fulfilled Rastafari group accept Haile Selassie's statements that he was a man and that he was a devout Christian, and so place emphasis on worshipping Jesus Christ through the example set forth by Haile Selassie.[182] The wearing of dreadlocks and the adherence to an ital diet are considered issues up to the individual.[182]


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Born in the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica, the Rastafarian movement has captured the imagination of thousands of black youth, and some white youth, throughout Jamaica, the Caribbean, Britain, France, and other countries in Western Europe and North America. It is also to be found in smaller numbers in parts of Africa—for example, in Ethiopia, Ghana, and Senegal—and in Australia and New Zealand, particularly among the Maori.

— Sociologist of religion Peter B. Clarke, 1986[28]

As of 2012, there were an estimated 700,000 to 1 million Rastas worldwide.[195] They can be found in many different regions, including most of the world's major population centers.[195] Rastafari's influence on wider society has been more substantial than its numerical size,[196] particularly in fostering a racial, political, and cultural consciousness among the African diaspora, Africans themselves, and other dominated communities across the world.[195]

The Rasta message resonates with many people who feel marginalised and alienated by the values and institutions of their society.[197] In valorising Africa and blackness, Rastafari provides a positive identity for youth in the African diaspora by allowing them to psychologically reject their social stigmatisation.[197] It then provides these disaffected people with the discursive stance from which they can challenge capitalism and consumerism, providing them with symbols of resistance and defiance.[197] The scholar of religion E. Ellis Cashmore expressed the view that "whenever there are black people who sense an injust disparity between their own material conditions and those of the whites who surround them and tend to control major social institutions, the Rasta messages have relevance."[198] According to sociologist of religion Peter B. Clarke, Rastafari "helped to provide many people of African descent with a deeper sense of their African identity".[30]

Rastafari is a non-missionary religion.[199] However, elders from Jamaica often go "trodding" to meet with newly converted Rastas in order to instruct them in the fundamentals of the religion.[199]

Rastafari is a religion dominated by men.[200] In the religion's early years, most of its followers were men, and the women who did adhere to it tended to remain in the background.[200] This picture of Rastafari's demographics has been confirmed by ethnographic studies conducted in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries.[201]

Jamaica and the Caribbean

Barrett described Rastafari as "the largest, most identifiable, indigenous movement in Jamaica."[3] As of the mid-1980s, there were approximately 70,000 members and sympathisers of the Rastafari movement in Jamaica.[202] The majority of these individuals were male, working-class, former Christians aged between 18 and 40.[202] Jamaica is often valorised by Rastas as the fountain-head of their faith, and many Rastas living elsewhere travel to the island on pilgrimage in order to "drink from the source".[203]

In the 2011 Jamaican census, 29,026 individuals identified themselves as Rastafari.[204] Other sources estimated that in the 2000s they formed "about 5% of the population" of Jamaica,[205] or conjectured that "there are perhaps as many as 100,000 Rastafari in Jamaica".[206] Jamaica's Rasta population were initially entirely from the Afro-Jamaican majority,[207] and although most Jamaican Rastas remain Afro-Jamaican, it has also gained Chinese, Indian, Afro-Chinese, Afro-Jewish, mulatto, and white adherents.[208] Until 1965 the vast majority were from the lower classes, although since that point it attracted many middle-class members.[207] The majority are male.[207] These Rastas are predominantly ex-Christians.[209]

During the 1970s, Rastafari ideas were spread through much of the eastern Caribbean through the growing popularity of reggae.[210] Rasta ideas complemented the anti-colonial and Afrocentric views then prevailing in countries like Trinidad, Grenada, Dominica, and St Vincent.[210] In these countries, the early Rastas often engaged in cultural and political movements to a greater extent than their Jamaican counterparts had.[211] A number of Rastas were involved in Grenada's 1979 New Jewel Movement and were given positions in the Grenadine government until it was overthrown and replaced following the U.S. invasion of 1983.[211]

Reggae was introduced to Cuba in 1970s by Jamaican students.[212] By the 1980s, underground reggae parties were being held in Havana and Santiago.[212] Foreign Rastas who were studying in Cuba during the 1990s connected with this reggae scene and helped to ground it in Rasta beliefs.[212]


Since the founding of Rastafari, some practitioners have followed through with their belief in resettlement in Africa.[213] The West African states of Ghana and Nigeria have been particularly favoured.[213] In the 1960s, a Rasta community established itself in Shashamane, Ethiopia, on land made available for members of the African diaspora by Haile Selassie's Ethiopian World Federation.[214] The community faced many problems; 500 acres were confiscated by the Marxist government of Mengistu Haile Mariam.[214] There were also conflicts with local Ethiopians, who largely regarded the incoming Rastas, and their Ethiopia-born children, as foreigners.[214] The Shashamane community peaked at a population of 2000, although subsequently declined to around 200.[214]

There are a substantial number of Rastas, Federation des Rastas du Congo, or FERACO that make up Ndjili Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.[215] The House of Judah Community in Azania and other areas of South Africa have some of the largest and most prominent Rastafari communities, and a Nyabinghi Groundation is regularly held.[216]

There is a Rastafari community in Malawi as well. They have had influences in the music industry in Malawi where reggae remains a popular form of music. Malawian reggae band, The Black Missionaries, continues to propagate the Rastafari culture and issues in Malawi. They have featured at the Lake of Stars Music Festival, an international music festival which features international artists including many of Malawi's reggae artists. They have also brought Malawi-style reggae to the international scene through their performance abroad, including in the United States.[citation needed] One of Malawi's most popular reggae singers used to be Lucius Banda, who was especially outspoken against the autocratic state of Kamuzu Banda. Later, he briefly became a member of Parliament in the now Democratic Malawi.[citation needed] Another outspoken Malawian reggae artist, Evison Matafale known as "The prophet" was imprisoned in Malawi and later died under police custody in 2001.[217]

Western countries

During the 1950s and 1960s, a community of Caribbean migrants settled in the United Kingdom, some of whom brought Rastafari with them.[218] By the latter part of the 1950s, a Rasta community had settled in the Notting Hill area of Northwest London.[218] By the late 1960s, Rastafari had attracted converts from the second-generation of British Caribbean people, offering an outlet for the economic hardship, racial discrimination, and social isolation that many of them faced.[218] British Rastafari gained increasing attention in the 1970s as a result of reggae's popularity,[219] although in the same decade faced increasing police harassment; police often regarded Rastafari as a criminal sub-culture.[220]

Clarke described Rastafari as a numerically small but "extremely influential" component of black British life.[202] The majority are from black working-class families who practiced Pentecostalism, although a small number are from white families.[221] In 1986, there was an estimated 5000 Rastas living in the United Kingdom.[222] Clarke believed that there were "probably fewer members" at this time then there had been at the start of the 1980s, with the movement declining following Marley's death.[223] He noted that among those he communicated with, he found that some returned to Pentecostalism and other forms of Christianity, while others embraced Islam or no religion.[224] Some of these British ex-Rastas described disillusionment when the societal transformation promised by Rasta belief failed to appear, while others felt that while Rastafari would be appropriate for agrarian communities in Africa and the Caribbean, it was not suited to the industrialised and materialistic society in the UK.[224] Some experienced disillusionment after developing the view that Haile Selassie had been an oppressive leader of the Ethiopian people.[224] According to the 2001 United Kingdom Census there are about 5000 Rastafari people living in England and Wales,[225] the majority of whom live in London and are of Jamaican origin.[citation needed]

Rastafari was also established in various continental European countries, among them the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, and France, gaining a particular foothold among black migrant populations but also attracting a growing number of white converts.[226] Rasta communities were also established in two French cities that had substantial black populations, Paris and Bordeaux.[227]

Rastafari was introduced to the United States and Canada with the migration of Jamaicans to continental North America in the 1960s and 1970s.[218] As with the case in the UK, American police were often suspicious of Rastas and regarded their religion as a criminal sub-culture.[228]


A small but devoted Rasta community developed in Japan in the late 1970s and early 1980s.[229]

See also



  1. Clarke 1986, p. 11; Edmonds 2012, p. 92.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Edmonds 2012, p. 92.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Barrett 1997, p. viii.
  4. Edmonds 2012, pp. 71–72.
  5. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Edmonds 2012, p. 32.
  7. Stephen D. Glazier, Encyclopedia of African and African-American Religions, 2001, p. 263.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Clarke 1986, p. 49.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Clarke 1986, p. 63.
  10. Clarke 1986, pp. 49–50, 63.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 Clarke 1986, p. 64.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 Edmonds 2012, p. 36.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Clarke 1986, p. 12.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Clarke 1986, p. 65.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Edmonds 2012, p. 34.
  16. Clarke 1986, pp. 15–16, 66; Edmonds 2012, p. 32–33.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 17.5 Clarke 1986, p. 67.
  18. Clarke 1986, p. 66.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Edmonds 2012, p. 1.
  20. Edmonds 2012, pp. 36–37.
  21. Dread, The Rastafarians of Jamaica, by Joseph Owens ISBN 0-435-98650-3
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Edmonds 2012, p. 37.
  23. Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah, Rastafari – The New Creation, p. 41.
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 Clarke 1986, p. 51.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Edmonds 2012, p. 25.
  26. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  27. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Clarke 1986, p. 17.
  29. Clarke 1986, p. 17; Edmonds 2012, p. 38.
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 30.3 30.4 Clarke 1986, p. 13.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 31.3 31.4 31.5 Edmonds 2012, p. 40.
  32. 32.0 32.1 Edmonds 2012, p. 38.
  33. Edmonds 2012, pp. 38–40.
  34. Clarke 1986, p. 19.
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 Clarke 1986, p. 69.
  36. Clarke 1986, p. 77.
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 37.3 37.4 Edmonds 2012, p. 41.
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 38.3 38.4 38.5 38.6 Edmonds 2012, p. 42.
  39. Clarke 1986, p. 99.
  40. Clarke 1986, p. 100; Edmonds 2012, p. 42.
  41. 41.0 41.1 41.2 Clarke 1986, p. 85.
  42. 42.0 42.1 42.2 42.3 42.4 42.5 Clarke 1986, p. 81.
  43. 43.0 43.1 Clarke 1986, p. 82.
  44. 44.0 44.1 Clarke 1986, p. 11.
  45. Clarke 1986, pp. 11, 69.
  46. 46.0 46.1 46.2 Clarke 1986, p. 70.
  47. 47.0 47.1 Clarke 1986, p. 74.
  48. 48.0 48.1 Clarke 1986, p. 75.
  49. Clarke 1986, p. 76.
  50. Clarke 1986, p. 73.
  51. 51.0 51.1 Clarke 1986, p. 79.
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  53. 53.0 53.1 53.2 Clarke 1986, p. 83.
  54. 54.0 54.1 Edmonds 2012, p. 96.
  55. Clarke 1986, p. 87; Edmonds 2012, p. 95.
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  61. Edmonds 2012, pp. 98, 99.
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  64. Clarke 1986, p. 87; Edmonds 2012, p. 109.
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  66. Clarke 1986, pp. 87–88.
  67. Edmonds 2012, pp. 103–104.
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  82. Edmonds 2012, p. 59.
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  91. Clarke 1986, p. 89; Edmonds 2012, pp. 48, 55.
  92. Edmonds 2012, pp. 49, 55.
  93. Hamid, The Ganjah Complex: Rastafari and Marijuana, introduction, p. xxxii.
  94. Chanting Down Babylon, p. 130 ff.
  95. Barry Chevannes, Rastafari and Other African-Caribbean Worldviews, pp. 35, 85; Edmonds, p. 52.
  96. Edmonds, p. 61.
  97. Chanting Down Babylon, p. 354.
  98. 98.0 98.1 98.2 Clarke 1986, p. 93.
  99. 99.0 99.1 99.2 99.3 99.4 Edmonds 2012, p. 58.
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  103. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  104. 104.0 104.1 Edmonds 2012, p. 115.
  105. 105.0 105.1 Edmonds 2012, p. 117.
  106. Barrett 1997, p. vii.
  107. 107.0 107.1 107.2 Edmonds 2012, p. 45.
  108. 108.0 108.1 108.2 108.3 108.4 108.5 Edmonds 2012, p. 47.
  109. 109.0 109.1 109.2 Clarke 1986, p. 92.
  110. Clarke 1986, pp. 92–93.
  111. Edmonds 2012, p. 46.
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  113. Edmonds 2012, pp. 2, 38.
  114. 114.0 114.1 Clarke 1986, p. 92; Edmonds 2012, p. 37.
  115. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  116. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  117. 117.0 117.1 Clarke 1986, p. 83; Edmonds 2012, p. 47.
  118. 118.0 118.1 Edmonds 2012, p. 49.
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  121. 121.0 121.1 121.2 Barrett 1997, p. ix.
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  128. Edmonds 2012, pp. 42–43.
  129. Barry Chevannes, 1998, Rastafari and Other African-Caribbean Worldviews, chapter 4.
  130. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  131. Cf. Chanting Down Babylon, p. 32; Gerlad Hausman, The Kebra Nagast: The Lost Bible of Rastafarian Wisdom and Faith, p. 48; Gerhardus Cornelis Oosthuizen, Rastafarianism, p. 16; An Educator's Classroom Guide to America's Religious Beliefs and Practices, p. 155.
  132. Edmonds 2012, p. 90.
  133. Chanting Down Babylon, p. 2.
  134. 134.0 134.1 134.2 Chevannes 1994, p. 2.
  135. Clarke 1986, p. 24; Chevannes 1994, p. 3.
  136. 136.0 136.1 Chevannes 1994, p. 3.
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  139. Chevannes 1994, p. 4.
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  148. Clarke 1986, pp. 32–33.
  149. Edmonds 2012, p. 18.
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  154. 154.0 154.1 Clarke 1986, p. 44.
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  156. Clarke 1986, p. 35; Edmonds 2012, p. 7.
  157. 157.0 157.1 157.2 Clarke 1986, p. 46.
  158. Edmonds 2012, p. 9.
  159. The First Rasta: Leonard Howell and the Rise of Rastafarianism by Helene Lee, 1999
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  161. Clarke 1986, p. 46; Edmonds 2012, pp. 13–14.
  162. Edmonds 2012, pp. 14–15.
  163. 163.0 163.1 Edmonds 2012, p. 15.
  164. Edmonds 2012, p. 10.
  165. Edmonds 2012, p. 16.
  166. Clarke 1986, p. 50; Edmonds 2012, p. 19.
  167. Edmonds 2012, pp. 19–20.
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  169. Clarke 1986, p. 51; Edmonds 2012, p. 25.
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  183. Edmonds 2012, pp. 88–89.
  184. 184.0 184.1 184.2 184.3 184.4 184.5 184.6 184.7 Edmonds 2012, p. 62.
  185. Edmonds 2012, pp. 59, 62.
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  188. 188.0 188.1 188.2 188.3 188.4 188.5 188.6 188.7 188.8 188.9 Edmonds 2012, p. 64.
  189. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
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  191. Edmonds 2012, p. 65.
  192. Edmonds 2012, pp. 66–67.
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  198. Cashmore 1984, p. 3.
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  203. Edmonds 2012, p. 87.
  204. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  205. Reuters AlertNet (Reuters Foundation):Jamaica (citing "NI World Guide 2003/2004"); The world guide: a view from the south, New Internationalist Publications, 2005, p. 312 ("Rastafarians 5 per cent")
  206. Michael Read: Jamaica. Lonely Planet, 2006 p. 38
  207. 207.0 207.1 207.2 Barrett 1997, p. 2.
  208. Barrett 1997, pp. 2–3.
  209. Barrett 1997, p. 3.
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  211. 211.0 211.1 Edmonds 2012, p. 82.
  212. 212.0 212.1 212.2 Edmonds 2012, pp. 82–83.
  213. 213.0 213.1 Edmonds 2012, p. 78.
  214. 214.0 214.1 214.2 214.3 Edmonds 2012, p. 79.
  215. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  216. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  217. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  218. 218.0 218.1 218.2 218.3 Edmonds 2012, p. 72.
  219. Edmonds 2012, p. 74.
  220. Edmonds 2012, pp. 74–75.
  221. Clarke 1986, pp. 53–54.
  222. Clarke 1986, p. 14.
  223. Clarke 1986, p. 61.
  224. 224.0 224.1 224.2 Clarke 1986, p. 59.
  225. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  226. Edmonds 2012, p. 83.
  227. Clarke 1986, p. 98.
  228. Edmonds 2012, p. 76.
  229. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.


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Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.

Further reading

  • M.G. Smith, Roy Augier and Rex Nettleford, "The Ras Tafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica" (Institute of Social and Economic Research, University College of the West Indies, 1960) in Caribbean Quarterly vol. 13, no. 3, (Sept 1967), pp. 3–29; and vol. 13, no. 4 (Dec 1967), pp. 3–14; online
  • Lincoln Thompson, Experience, 1979
  • William F. Lewis, Soul Rebels: The Rastafari, 1993
  • Stephen D. Glazier, "Rastafarianism", in Patrick L. Mason (ed.), Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, 2nd edition, New York: Macmillan Reference, 2013
  • Tracy Nicholas, Rastafari: A Way of Life, Frontline Books, 1966, ISBN 0-948390-16-6
  • Book of Memory: A Rastafari Testimony, composed by Prince Elijah Williams, edited by Michael Kuelker, ISBN 0-9746021-0-8

External links