Rastafarianism: Beliefs, Rituals & Rules

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  • 0:04 Rastafarianism Is a Religion
  • 0:34 Leaders Who Shaped…
  • 2:13 Judeo-Christian Religion
  • 3:30 Rules and Rituals
  • 5:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, we'll explore Rastafarianism. Taking a closer look at its beliefs, holy rules to live by, and unique rituals, we will better understand this fascinating belief system from Jamaica.

Rastafarianism Is a Religion

Many people are vaguely familiar with Rastafarians and know that they are connected with Jamaica in some way, but if you ask people if it's a religion, they often don't know. Additionally, those who say it is a religion may not be able to say much about it. How about you? When you think of Rastafarianism, do you think of things like dreadlocks, reggae music, and marijuana? Do you know much about its history, meaning, beliefs, and practices? If not, you've come to the right place. Let's take a deeper look at this religion.

Bob Marley is one of the best known Rastafarians.
Bob Marley

Leaders Who Shaped Rastafarianism

Rastafarianism began with a pro-African movement in Jamaica in the early part of the 20th century. Two leaders, in particular, helped shape what would become Rastafarianism: Leonard Howell and Marcus Garvey. Leonard Howell taught about the superiority of African peoples and hatred for Europeans, and he encouraged people to return to their motherlands in Africa. Many of Howell's teachings were abandoned, but they helped to form the early spirit of pro-African movements.

Marcus Garvey

Another leader to shape the movement which would eventually be called Rastafarianism was Marcus Garvey. Garvey taught that Africans were the lost tribe of the Israelites and that Christ would be born again on Earth, this time as a king in Africa. Because of his prediction, Rastafarians see Garvey as the return of John the Baptist, citing that his prophecy came true with the coronation of Haile Selassie as Emperor of Ethiopia.

Rastafarianism takes its name from its worship of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia as the return of Christ. Before his coronation, the Emperor went by the name Ras Tafari Makonnen. Besides Garvey's prediction of Christ's return as an African king, the traditional royal titles for Ethiopian leaders helped support worship of the Emperor. These titles included calling him the ''Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah'' and ''Elect of God and King of the Kings of Ethiopia.'' Even the name he took at his coronation, Haile Selassie, held the religious meaning of ''Might of the Trinity''. While the Emperor died at the hands of a military coup, Rastafarians often deny his death as a hoax. It is interesting to note that the Emperor always denied he was divine.

Haile Selassie

Judeo-Christian Religion

Rastafarianism is considered an offshoot of Abrahamic religious traditions like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Rastafarians believe in the Judeo-Christian God and call him Jah. They believe Christ came to Earth as a divine manifestation of Jah. Some Rastafarians believe that Christ was black, while many focus on Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia as the black messiah and rebirth of Christ. They believe that Ethiopia is the holy land, a Heaven on Earth where true Rastas live eternally as bodily and spiritual immortals, negating the need for an afterlife. Rastafarians believe the Ark of the Covenant is currently hidden in Ethiopia.

In contrast to the divinity of Ethiopia, Rastafarians also talk about the sins of Babylon, referring to the power structures and culture of white society throughout the world. As part of the Judeo-Christian foundation, Rastafarians firmly believe in biblical teaching but have their own version of the Bible, which is generally called the Holy Piby or sometimes The Blackman's Bible. It was written to eliminate the distortions Rastafarians believe were added by the white power structures of Babylon to oppress Africans. The Holy Piby was assembled and retranslated between 1913 and 1917 by Robert Athlyi Rogers.

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