One of the most prominent and internationally famous aspects of Jamaican culture is the Rastafari movement.
Rastafari is the worship of a singular God called Jah, originating from an increased consciousness and awareness of Africa and its political situation.
Jamaican Rastafari, a minority belief system sometimes classified as Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, is derived from wider Jamaican Christian culture, and based on teachings found in the Bible, especially the Book of Revelation.
Because it is not a centrally organized religion, there is no way of knowing how many followers of the Rastafari faith exist, but over one million worldwide adherents are estimated.
Many Rasta believe that standard Bible translations, like the King James Version, were changed and edited over time by the religious power structure, and as a result, one half of the real Bible story has never been told.
The Rastafari spiritual and political movement originated in 1930’s Jamaica, weaved tightly around African pride and culture.
Much of Rastafari was based around the philosophy of Marcus Garvey, Jamaica’s first national hero and vocal advocate of the “back to Africa” movement, a conviction that all the black people of the world that were displaced by slavery should now return to the ancestral homeland of Africa.
Rastafari originally believed in the idea of black supremacy, but later, evolved to accept people of all races, coming to believe that the faith should belong to all.
For Rastas, Marcus Garvey is often viewed as a prophet and 2nd John the Baptist. Rastafari could be seen as an extension of Garveyism, and many first Rasta originally started out as Garveyites.
Garvey’s teachings of repatriation, black pride and brotherhood greatly influenced the development of early Rastafari doctrine and culture.
After centuries of intellectual discredit and purposeful marginalization by a colonialist slavery-based system, Marcus Garvey’s promotion of the cause for African and black pride was very successful, as it resonated loudly with poor lower-class Jamaican blacks, especially in rural areas.
In Rasta mythology, it is the Black Star Liner shipping company owned by Marcus Garvey that takes black Jamaican home to Africa, toward an ultimate goal of decolonizing the white controlled African continent.
Although his ideas were critical to the development of Rastafari culture, Marcus Garvey himself never identified with the movement.
What most separates Rastafari from Christianity, is the belief that Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia is God, and they are the real Children of Israel.
For Rastas, Western Society (Babylon) has been white-dominated ever since the rise of Rome, and its insistence on the image of God also being white was colonial, racist and incorrect.
Many claim that Jesus was black and is only depicted as white due to Western Society’s distortion of Christianity.
Rastafari consider Babylon to have been in rebellion against “Earth’s Rightful Ruler“, Jah, ever since the days of Biblical king Nimrod, and that Babylon holds responsibility for the slave trade’s genocidal aggression against Africans.
Jamaica is overwhelmingly Christian – with more churches per square mile than any other country in the world – so the minority beliefs and practices of Rastas, such as the claim of Haile Selassie being God, is often viewed as a misguided pagan subculture that receives little official recognition on the island.
Rastas believe in the divinity of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, considered by them to be Christ the Messiah. They assert that he will lead the righteous into a perfect world called Zion, the ultimate paradise for Rastas, where the chosen few will continue to live forever in their current bodies.
Rastas reject that heaven is a place in the sky where dead people go, in Rastafari faith heaven is a place on Earth, specifically Ethiopia, where “Mount Zion”, or paradise, shall be created with Jah as king and Amharic the official language.
This life without end in the future city of Zion, the land that Jah promised them, is commonly referred to as “Life Everliving“. To earn this privilege, Rastas reject “Babylon” – in the form of modern Western Society – as being wicked, evil and morally corrupt.
On November 2, 1930, Emperor Haile Selassie I was crowned “King of Kings”, “Elect of God”, the “Author of Mankind” – and, “Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah“, a title for Rastas linking Ethiopia and Israel, and their ultimate goal of repatriation to Mount Zion.
Selassie’s coronation was widely publicized throughout the world, including Jamaica, along with his status as the only monarch of a fully independent African nation.
According to tradition, Haile Selassie was the 225th descendant in an unbroken line of Ethiopian monarchs from the Solomonic Dynasty, said to have been founded by Menelik I, son of Biblical King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, who had visited Solomon in Israel.
The Rastafari faith takes particular note that during his coronation, Haile Selassie was given over 30 of the same titles used in the Bible, especially and including “King of Kings” and “Conquering Lion of Judah”.
Hailed as the “returned Messiah” of Revelation 5:5 come to life, His Imperial Majesty (H.I.M.) Haile Selassie – also refered to as “Jah Rastafari“ – is regarded by Rastas as the earthly embodiment of God himself!
Additionally, the significance of the name ‘Haile Selassie’ meaning “Power of the Trinity“, or “Might of the Trinity“, or “Powerful Trinity” in the Ge’ez language is further seen by Rastas as additional evidence of the fulfillment of Revalation’s prophecy regarding the second coming of the Messiah.
Rastas proclaim that Jah, in the form of the Holy Spirit, lives within the human, and for this reason they often refer to themselves as “I and I“ – the individual and Jah as one.
“I and I” is also used to emphasize equality between all people and the Rastafari belief that the Holy Spirit’s presence makes us all essentially one and the same.
Despite denying the Rasta claim that he was God, during the 1950’s, Haile Selassie granted permission for West Indians of African descent to settle on his personal land in Shashamane, Ethiopia, with the first actual Rastafarian settler, Papa Noel Dyer, hitchhiking all the way from England.
After meeting with several Rasta elders in Ethiopia in 1961 and giving them gold medals, Haile Selassie himself personally visited Jamaica on April 21, 1966.
When it was announced that Selassie was coming to visit, over one hundred thousand Rastas from all over Jamaica came to wait patiently at the Kingston airport, smoking cannabis and playing drums.
The scene was so peacefully chaotic that when Haile Selassie arrived at the airport, he delayed disembarking from his plane out of concern for his personal safety, until a well-known Rasta named Mortimer Planno welcomed him and escorted him onto the island.
From then on, the Rastafari faith was a success. After being outcasts in Jamaican society for so long, Selassie’s visit brought a temporary respectability, for the first time making Rastas semi-acceptable and opening the way for the growth of reggae music, and the further global spread of Rastafari.
Because of Haile Selassie’s visit, April 21 is celebrated by Rastas as Groundation Day.
During his visit, Selassie told Rasta community leaders that they should not worry about immigrating to Ethiopia until they had first liberated the people of Jamaica, a philosophy now known as “liberation before repatriation“.
Haile Selassie’s reported death in 1975 is a topic of debate amongst Rasta, with many believing it one of Babylon’s deceptions and that Selassie voluntarily entered his monastery and will return to liberate his followers and destroy all evil.
For Rastafari today, Haile Selassie is still their God and their King, worthy of their worship.
Since no formal organizational structure exists, no individual can speak for the whole Rastafarian tradition.
The faith is highly individualistic; focused on the relationship between the individual Rasta and Jah, with some preferring to think of Rastafari as a “way of life.”
There are no mandatory practices for Rastafari, how one chooses to pray or worship is strictly between the individual Rasta and Jah. They believe there are no untrue Rastas. Either one fulfills his or her vows or one does not.
Each individual is encouraged to create and follow his or her own personal spiritual path, striving to be as kings and queens, living with mutual respect and dignity.
Membership in the Rastafari faith occurs individually through spiritual birth and self-awareness, it is claimed by right as a believer and through their personal relationship with Haile Selassie.
In accordance with Haile Selassie’s consistent lifelong message, Rastas tend to firmly believe that in the eyes of Jah, all men and women deserve equal and just rights, treatment and respect.
It is this belief in equality and that all people are equal, regardless of race that allows anyone – white or black – to be a Rasta because all people are children of Jah!
Dedicated to the work of Bob Chapman & the Human Son I will leave behind on this strange planet.
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