What is Rastafarianism? Ask somebody to describe a Rastafarian and it's unlikely they'll have any difficulty doing so. The colorful clothing, the laid back mannerisms and of course the iconic hairstyle all make a follower of the belief system relatively easy to spot.
But ask those same people to go beyond appearance and describe the key philosophies that such a person lives by, and you'll find they have slightly more trouble forming a clear picture of the person they pointed out in the crowd.
Rastafarianism, you see, is a popular movement, recognized by many, but understood completely by few.
What is Rastafarianism?
In 1930's Jamaica, on the back of centuries of black repression, rose Rastafarianism. Described as a religion, but followed by most simply as a way of life, its core belief systems are most identifiable as a mixture of Hebrewism and afro-Caribbean philosophy.
Haile Selassi I with a Lion.
Individuals like Haile Selassi I, the former Emperor of Ethiopia, Marcus Gavey, a Jamaican political leader, and Menen Asfew, former Empress of Ethiopia, have also been of great influence to the movement, and are at the center of worship and praise from followers. Each has, in their way, been strongly involved with the elimination of black inequality.
Rastafarian's believe strongly in Jesus, and accept the majority of the bible as fact, yet disagree with parts of it on the belief that the true word of God has been, at times, mis-interpreted.
The most recent census estimates that over 1.5 million people follow Rustafarianism Subculture worldwide, with around 120,000 of those living in Jamaica.
What do Rastafarian's believe?
To answer the question of what they believe, it's important to know what they stand for. Knowledge, discipline, equality, understanding and the denial of materialism are all key themes within the movement.
The influence of Abrahamic scripture on rastafarianism is obvious, simply by reading through its code of ethics. It shares a very similar message of peace and freedom to other major religions such as Christianity and Buddhism. Along with this desire for equality is the desire for the liberation of black people. There's a clear embrace of Afrocentric ideals, and a longing for the actualization of the Zionist Ethiopia spoken about by the founders of the movement. Most Rastafari's belong to one of four sects, however allegiance to one isn't essential. Some individuals choose to embrace the philosophy, yet choose to find religious freedom elsewhere.
The diet of a Rastafari is often vegetarian or vegan and in accordance with Old Testament teachings. Pork and shellfish are strictly avoided, though fish is sometimes an option if it's under 12 inches in size. The diet is designed to cleanse the body, making one ready for the coming of a new age of enlightenment.
Alcohol is also forbidden due to its hypnotic effects, though marijuana is permitted and actually encouraged as a spiritual enlightener.
Leading the way by a long shot is the iconic reggae legend, Bob Marley. Credited for bringing the movement into mainstream focus, Bob Marley is often used as the face of everything Rasta.
Photo credits: Dennis Morris
Along with the famous Jammer are his Wailers band member Peter Tosh, original preacher Leonard Hibbert, Mortimer Planno (teacher to Bob Marley) and Archibald Dunkly, one of the founding fathers of the movement.
Most recently, rapper and hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg has brought the message of Rustafarianism to the masses and has even changed his name to Snoop Lion (back in 2012). The lion being a major symbol of the religion.
Cannabis and dreadlocks
Rastafarianism is different from virtually every other major religion in the sense that it encourages illicit substance use to its followers. The use of marijuana in a responsible manner is recommended as a method of gaining freedom. Dating back to slavery, weed was used by afro-caribbeans in order to experience the mental peace that they couldn't experience in the flesh. The herb allows Rastafari's to reach similar states of relaxation and contemplation to those experienced by the Buddhists during a session of meditation. Inner-evaluation is critical to the development of a Rastafarian, as without it freedom can't ensue.
The drug also heightens feelings of community within the movement, and produces blissful contentment similar to that of a divine location.
The dreadlocks are more of a cultural thing. They allow Rastafarian's to remain recognized, and heighten the sense of belonging within anybody sporting them. There are some links to the trend being biblical based, with the scripture quoting, "They shall not make baldness upon their head."
There is no spiritual place of worship set out within the movement for followers to go to regularly to give praise. Instead, regular meetings take place at followers houses, or at local community centers, in which anybody is free to attend. These sessions are referred to as Reasonings, and allow for music, chanting, prayer and the smoking of cannabis.
Continuing that sense of community, issues surrounding the local area are often discussed, and the partaking in large meals too.
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