Are you curious about the Rastafarian in Jamaica? I went to Jamaica with my husband and mom-in-law and toured around the island. We met a few Rastafarians in Kingston and get to know more about the Rasta’s culture, lifestyle and history.
Rastafarianism is the one that really caught my attention during our visit to Jamaica. The king of Reggae Music, Bob Marley is one of the famous Rastas (A person who practices Rastafarianism) and he helped to spread the preachings of the religion through his songs.
Rastafarian in Jamaica: Understanding the Culture and Beliefs
Rastafarian origin and history:
Rastafarianism is a young religion that originates in Jamaica during the 1930s. Rastafari is commonly called Rasta, Ras or Natty. Rastas worship and follow the teachings of H.I.M Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, Lords of Lords, Kings of Kings, and the conquering Lion from the tribe of Judah.
His family lineage is from the offspring of King Solomon and Queen Sheba. Rastafari came from the title and birth name of H.I.M Haile Selassie I, Ras (rank of nobility as a Duke in Ethiopian language) and Tafari Makonen is the birth name of Haile Selassie I. He was the emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974.
Haile Selassie visited Jamaica in April 1966 wherein he was welcomed by the Rastafarians who worship him as the reincarnated Messiah. The visit of Haile Selassie I to Jamaica strengthen and validates the faith of the Rastafarians.
Many Rastafarians believe that Haile Selassie I is the “Second coming of Jesus” in reference to the teachings in the Book of Revelations. Hence they see the Ethiopian monarch as the Messiah and the living God.
The ideology of Rastafarianism was empowered by the teachings of Marcus Garvey (considered as one of the apostles of JAH) about black self-empowerment. They believed that all the black people should return to their homeland in Africa, which they refer to as “Zion”. The new world and the suppression are referred to as “Babylon”.
Wherein the African black people should follow a true black African King, hence all eyes went to Ethiopia’s King, H.I.M Haile Selassie I. Rastas refer to God as JAH (whom Haile Selassie I), a shortened term for “Jehova” based on the Hebrew bible.
In the past, Rastas were considered to be the outcasts of the social system due to their beliefs, values and unique views of life. They are more socially accepted now than before. The smoking ritual of marijuana or what they refer to as the “holy herb” is part of their meditation and holy sacrament.
Rastafarian Symbols, Colours and Meanings:
Rastafarian Flag Colours:
Red – which signifies the blood & bravery of the martyr who fought for black freedom and equality,
Green – which signifies the homeland of the Rasta, Ethiopia, and
Yellow – signifies the wealth of Africa.
The Lion of Judah
The Lion of Judah represents the H.I.M Haile Selassie I. It also means the values and beliefs of Rastafarians such as strength, kingship, pride and African sovereignty.
Star of David
The Star of David is used by Rastafarianism as an emblem because of they believe that Haile Selassie I is a descendant of King Solomon and King David. The Rastafarian use this symbol with the lion at the centre of the star to signify the Lion of Judah.
Rastafari Royal Creed:
This is the Rastafarian Royal Creed written in Patois. This is the statement of belief that Rastas live by:
Princes and Princesses must trod out of Egypt,
Itihiopians now stretch forth their hands to
Haile Sellassie I, JAH Rastafari O’ Haile Sellassie I
of Ithiopia, I an’l lvine Majesty,
Thy Irits come into I to dwell in the parts of righteousness.
Lead I an’l, Help I an’l to forgive that I an’ must be forgiven
Teach I an’l love, loyalty on earth as it is in Zion
Endow I an’l with they wise mind, knowledge
and overstanding to do Thy will.
Thy blessing to I an’l O JAH. Let the hungry be fed.
the naked clothed, the sick nourished; the aged protected,
and the infants cared for
Deliver I an’l from the hands of I an’l I enemies
that I an’l must prove fruitful
in these perilous days
When I an’l enemies are passed and decayed
In the depths of the sea, in the depths of the earth
or in the belly of a beast
Give I an’l a place in thy Iverliving Kingdom
Through the Power of the
Kings of Kings, Lord of Lords,
Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah,
Elect of Himself and Light of This World.
I an’l lvine Majesty, Emperor Haile Sellasie I, JAH Rastafari
First I-ncient King of Iration
JAH art the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning
Without End, the First and Forever,
The Protectorate of all human faith and the
Ruler of the Iniverse
Thou art the only High Priest of the
Order of Melchisedek, Who Liveth and Reigneh Foriver.
I an’l hail to our JAH and King Emperor Haile
Sellassie I, JAH Rastrafi! Almighty I, JAH Rastafari,
Great and Thundarable I, JAH Tafari!
Mansions of Rastafari:
The Mansions of Rastafari refers to the umbrella term for the different groups that follow Rastafarianism. The “Mansion of Rastafari” derives from the Bible verse in John 14:2 “In my Father’s house are many mansions.”.
The most known Mansions of Rastafari but not limited to are the following:
- Bobo Ashanti
- The Twelve tribes of Israel
- African Unity
- Covenant Rastafari
- Messianic Dreads
- Selassian Church
Rastafarianism do not have a formal “church” and institutional organisational hierarchy like the other religions. They typically congregate to celebrate and worship JAH by “Grounding”. Rastafarians use the Nyabinghi drums when they are grounding.
The Holy Piby
Rastafarians refer to their own bible as the “Holy Piby”, the Black man’s bible written by Robert Athlyi Rogers published in 1924 in New Jersey. The Holy Piby is the response to the Christianity’s Holy Bible, which they think has “White origin”. Marcus Garvey was declared as one of the “Apostles of God” and co-written a whole chapter of the book about his ideology.
Most Rastafarians see the practice of Rastafarianism as a “way of life and spiritualism” more than an institutionalized religion. They have an intense political activism stance on race and other oppressing issues in society.
They are kind, and very self–reliant, they stick to a vegetarian diet and treat their body as a temple. Rastas are also known for their dreadlocks hairstyle, which signifies their identity as a Rasta. They believe that kept their hair in dreadlocks and long (they never cut their hair), as a form of holiness and respect to JAH.
Rastas usually cover their dreadlock hair with the colourful Rastacap or tam. The Rastacap or tam are vary in sizes and typically crochetted. However, everytime their worship, Rastas typically let their hair out as a sign of holiness and respect to JAH.
On our visit to Kingston, My family and I went to Life Yard for lunch. It is a vibrant community of Rastas. They welcomed us with their big smiles. They grow their crops in their little garden for their food and help hungry school kids with their lunch in the nearby school.
Ital food in Rastafarianism:
Ital food is mainly the religious dietary requirements of majority of Rastafarians. Ital comes from the word “Vital”. The Ital diet aims to increase the “Livity”, a Rastafarian spiritual concept living the spiritual energy of Jah in their daily lives. Rastas often refer to this as ” I and I”, wherein the first I refers to Jah, and the second I refers to oneself.
Following the Ital diet or way of life, is mainly avoiding any processed food or scientifically modified food. Ital diet has to be pure and natural, mainly a plant-based diet. Rastas who follow a strict Ital food diet, even avoid salt, instant coffee, caffeinated drinks and food that has been preserved by canning and drying. They prefer to grow their own products to ensure quality without any fertilisers or insecticides.
I hope that inspired you to understand and appreciate more about the Rastafarian in Jamaica.
Special thanks to Mockingbird Hill, Altamont Hotel Kingston, Life Yard Community, Backayard Magazine and Jik Reuben for helping and hosting us in Kingston, Jamaica.