Dreadlocks are very closely associated with the Rastafari movement, although many people who wear dreadlocks are not Rastas and many Rastas do not have dreadlocks.
The association between Rastas and dreadlocks is so deep that the terms are used interchangeably – a Rasta can be referred to as a “dreadlocks” or “natty (natural) dread“.
In previous generations, Rastas were not part of mainstream Jamaican society and no one would wear dreadlocks unless they were a Rasta.
Today, due to the worldwide popularity of Bob Marley, having dreadlocks and Rastafarian beliefs don’t necessarily go hand in hand, as for many, dreads are just another hairstyle.
However, for Rastafari, locks are much more than a fashion statement!
The Rasta cultural tradition of wearing hair in uncut, uncombed strands is derived from the Nazarite Vow of being separate unto the Lord and letting the locks of hair on one’s head grow.
The very earliest Christians may have worn the dreadlocked hairstyle – a noteworthy description of James the Just, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, describes a Nazarite who never once cut his hair.
The Bible also depicts Samson, another Nazarite, as having “seven locks” which as Rastas explain, could only have been dreadlocks and not seven individual strands of hair!
Some say Rasta dreadlocks were copied from pictures of Mau Mau Rebels in Kenya who grew their “dreaded locks” while hiding in the mountains and fighting for independence.
Others trace the first dreadlock Rastas to the Youth Black Faith, a group first appearing in 1949, but a variety of world faiths are also known to wear similarly matted hairstyles – such as Judaism, Hinduism, Sufi Islam and Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity.
For many, locks symbolize the mane of Selassie’s Conquering Lion of Judah and Rasta’s rebellion against Babylon.
A Rasta’s locks can be a measure of his or her knowledge, wisdom and experience as its length could easily reveal how long the person had been Rastafari.
Dreadlocks also symbolize a Rasta’s journey of the mind, soul and spirit that occurs during the process of growing hair into locks, teaching that patience is the key to all.
The way to form natural dreadlocks is to allow hair to grow in its natural way, without cutting, combing or brushing, but simply to wash it with pure water.
In the Rastafari movement, the razor, scissors and the comb are three Babylonian or Roman inventions.
As important and connected with the Rastafari movement as dreadlocks are, it is not mandatory or required by the faith.
Some Rasta may even avoid dreadlocks to improve employability and reduce social stigma, or for practical reasons, where locks might interfere with work or get trapped in machinery.
In modern times, the wearing of dreadlocks has spread among non-Rastafari of African descent and other ethnicities, as an expression of pride in their identities, or simply as a hairstyle.
Rastafari consider locks worn for stylish reasons with less effort take in grooming them “bathroom locks”, different from the kind that are purely natural, sometimes refer to such dreadlocked individuals as “wolves in sheep’s clothing“, especially when they are disrespectful of themselves and others, a potential discredit to sincere Rastafari.
Another famous cultural tradition of Rastafari is Cannabis – also known in Jamaica as herb, weed, sensemilla or ganja – smoking it as a spiritual act and aid to reasoning, often associated with Bible study, contemplation and discussion.
Despite what the world may think, smoking Cannabis is neither legal nor socially acceptable in Jamaica, and it was strictly prohibited by law until 2015, when possession of small quantities under two ounces was partially decriminalized.
For Rastas, smoking weed is considered a sacrament that heals the soul, cleanses the body and mind, expanding pleasure, consciousness and peace.
Rastas believe that marijuana is the “Tree of Life” spoke of in the Bible and that smoking it during religious ceremonies – always saying a short prayer before lighting it – enhance feelings of unity during group meditation and brings them closer to Jah.
“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 I.”
They argue that smoking cannabis is endorsed by the Bible in reference to Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses “burning incense before the Lord“. Additional claims exist that cannabis was the first plant to grow on King Solomon’s grave.
Rastas of today refer to cannabis by the term “I-shence” – a slightly modified variation of the word ‘incense’ – and burn the herb when in need of insight from Jah and as an aid to religious meditation.
For Rastas, burning of the herb, often referred to as wisdom weed or holy herb, is often said to be an essential part of practicing the faith – many Rastas say it is a part of their African culture that they are reclaiming while others refer to it as “the healing of the nation“, a Biblical phrase from Revelations 22:2.
While cannabis is still sanctioned in Jamaica and most of the world, creating divisions between Rastas and modern societies, according to many Rastas, the illegality of the plant in multiple countries proves that the oppression against the Rastafari movement is not imagined.
Rastas see cannabis as a powerful substance that opens people’s minds to the truth — something Western Society (Babylon) does not want – so they are not surprised that their sacrament is illegal, in comparison to society’s acceptance of alcohol and other legal drugs, which they see as weapons to destroy the mind.
Rastas believe that their bodies are the true church or temple of God, and see no need to make temples or churches out of physical buildings.
In light of the body being a temple, Rastas eat unprocessed (natural) foods known as “I-tal“, derived from the word vital, in a diet derived mainly from Hebrew dietary laws.
Ital tradition is not compulsory, yet it is held as an ideal, referring to a loose set of guidelines for a healthy lifestyle in accordance with Rastafari values.
Some Rastas eat some types of meat, but to comply with the Dietary Laws of the Old Testament they do not eat shellfish or pork, insects or creeping creatures and only eat food that is fresh and in season.
Rastas often fast to cleanse their bodies, by avoiding all animal products, such as meat, dairy and eggs.
For Rastafari, eating and cooking Ital is mentally and spiritually sustaining, as well as form of a creative meditation and only eat food prepared in a pure and clean state of mind.
Living Ital is more than the food that is eaten, it is striving to be at one with nature and at peace with oneself and the surrounding environment.
Every aspect of preparing the meal is sacred – including the ingredients used!
Rasta kitchens are made with natural materials like wood, and food is served only in bowls that have come from the earth like gourds.
Rastafari also avoid bleached white substances such as white sugar, white flour, white bread and white rice, and refrain from anything polluted with pesticides and any type of packaged food.
Processed, chemically-altered and artificial foods, including dried foods, salt and oil, are generally not consumed by those following an Ital diet because they are also believed to be destructive to the body.
Drinks like sodas, tea and coffee are rarely, consumed by strict Rastafari because of their caffeine content with herbal tea being the exception due to its low caffeine content and natural herbal properties.
Alcohol is forbidden in Rastafarian culture due to its destructive effects not only on the body, but also on culture and society as a whole.
Alcohol, especially wine, rum and other strong liquor, is seen as one of Babylon’s efforts to confuse people, incompatible with the Rastafari way of life, and many associate the consumption of fermented substances with turning the body as God’s temple into a cemetery.
While Ital food and recipes may vary greatly, the common goal is to increase “levity” or the life energy believed to be within all living beings. Therefore, food should be as natural and pure as possible.
Many Rastas are vegan or vegetarian, only eating Ital food approved for Rastafari consumption and rejecting all meat and flesh in the belief that touching meat is touching death, a violation of the Nazarite vow.
A few Rastas make an exception for small fish not more than 12 inches long, but the actual ban against eating meat only applies to those currently fulfilling a Nazarite vow or “Dreadlocks Priesthood“, and only for the duration of the vow.
As a result of the Rastafari natural food tradition, a rich vegetarian Ital cuisine has developed in harmony with Rasta beliefs and practices, avoiding chemical additives and choosing natural fruits and vegetables.
Ital cuisine can be found in Cook Shops and restaurants all over Jamaica, just Search our Rasta Routes Cultural Travel Directory for the location nearest you!
Some Rasta sects, known as Mansions or Houses, like the Twelve Tribes of Israel, do not specify diet but instead quote Christ of the New Testament who emphasizes that it isn’t what goes into a man’s mouth that is important, but what come out.
Additionally, Haile Selassie would encourage his guests at official banquets to “eat and drink in your own way“, leaving the debate on Rasta diet open to individual interpretation.
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