Rastafarianism: Definition & History

Instructor: Margaret Moran
Rastafarianism, is a religion based out of Jamaica with nearly one million global followers. It isn't all just dreadlocks and reggae; the background, history, and some of the faith's facts are explained here.

What is Rastafarianism?

A new movement began in 1930, mainly out of poor areas and places within Afro-Jamaican communities in Jamaica. Rastafarianism has always lacked any semblance of an organized leadership structure, and those who practice its beliefs are a very diverse group, but their belief is powerful.

The people of the faith refer to themselves as Rastafari, and the basis of the faith has different interpretations of the Bible, which are called ''Rastalogy.'' The believers hold faith that Jah is found in every living person, and the term is their way of referring to the one God. So basically, God is found within us all.

Rastafarian faith is influenced heavily by Judeo-Christian roots thanks to the missionary movements; practitioners believe the Bible is paramount. Rastafarians see the Bible as the first hand account of how black people are God's favored people. The first Bible written on stone is believed to be in the Ethiopian language of Amharic. It makes it a key belief to understanding black histories, but Rastafari also believe it predicts the course and the events of the future. They believe the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelations, to be the most important part.

Rastafarian Flag, crowned Lion.
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However, Rastafari also believe that the words of the Bible have been twisted. They believe this misdirection of the Bible's words, through different translations over the generations, was caused by the white man's influence who wanted to deny the history of black Africans. They also believe the words have hidden messages. The true teachings are learned and discovered through meditation of the ''Book within.''

Rastafarianism History

The birth of Rastafarianism can be traced to the lingering effects of the Atlantic slave trade. During this time, over 10 million Africans between the 16 and the 19th century were forcefully enslaved and relocated. Of these slaves, nearly 700,000 Africans were relocated to the island of Jamaica. Here, they were forced into field and servant jobs in homes across the island. Those taken by force began to see their places of relocation as Babylon, and their homeland of Africa as Ethiopia.

For those unlucky slaves taken from Africa, this exile from their lands marked a period of cultural elimination of their ways of life, traditions, and beliefs. Rastafarians of today do not still hold on to this oppressed belief, but believe their salvation from Babylon is ended and they will soon return to their homelands of Ethiopia.

1930s, the Movement

''Look to Africa where a black king shall be crowned, he shall be your Redeemer.''

Marcus Garvey, a black political leader, spoke these prophetic words. The 1930's were the true beginning of the Rastafari movement. Shortly after Garvey spoke these words, Haile Selassie I was crowned emperor in Ethiopia, and Rastafari around the world viewed him as the prophetic king. The name of the religion is that of the Emperors birth name: Ras Tafari Makonnen. They view the emperor as the actual Black Messiah, and he is seen as the embodiment of salvation and redemption from the white oppression.

Emperor Haile Selassie I, Rastafari Messiah and Emperor of Ethiopia
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