Rastafari – My Introduction to Jamaica
By Sabrina Caserta – Staff Writer
We continue to feature different aspects of Jamaican culture and history. This week American student Billy Daddono tells us about his fascination with Rastafari. Intrigued by the lifestyle of Rastafari, he impressed us with his knowledge of Rasta and why they continue to hold his attention.
My name is Billy Daddono and I’m here to tell you about the Rastafari movement because it was my fascination with rasta culture that introduced to Jamaica. Before I get into the beliefs and impact of the movement, it is important that I explain the origin. It arose in Jamaica in the 1930’s as a product of the working class’ dissatisfaction with an oppressive society.
Somewhere between a religion and way of life, the movement has spread across the globe since then. But it could not have become so popular, however, if it wasn’t for a man named Haile Selassie I, and Marcus Garvey, a black activist leading the cause for black racial pride in the 1920s. Yet Selassie was regarded as a prophet by many Rastaa, and none could deny his positive impact on world society. Selassie was in the perfect position to assume the role. From 1930-1975, he was the Emperor of Ethiopia, and the power allowed him to voice his opinions and fought against colonial rule in his own country. He became the figurehead of the Rasta religion, and even after his death it persists.
But to understand Rasta, we have to begin with a Jamaican man named Leonard Howell was the first Rasta. Howell set up a commune of 5,000 Rasta’s in St, Catherine Jamaica. It’s rare that such a prominent way of life has emerged so recently and quickly, which is testament to the validity of the beliefs of Rastas.
Rastas accept the bible as their religious text, but there also small variations in beliefs that allow Rastafari to be considered its own religion. For example, Rastas believe that they need to repatriate to Ethiopia, also known as Zion. Repatriation is the idea that a Rasta needs to both physically and mentally move to Zion in order to fulfill their religious obligation. Ethiopia is considered the birthplace of humankind, and is also considered heaven. As opposed to the Christian and Jewish religions, Rastas believe that heaven is on Earth at Ethiopia. They also believe that Babylon is a place of corruption, a place that is the exact opposite of Zion. With these general beliefs in place, the way of life then emerges. Serious Rastas condemn certain types of meat, all liquor, and materialism. They view these things as poison to the mind and body, which in turn will prohibit one from reaching Zion.
A curious aspect of Rastafari is the use of marijuana as a spiritual gateway. Most religions condemn “drugs”, but this one is tolerant if used in a positive manner. Rastafari is a religion founded by the oppressed which is why it’s not as structured as most. This is one of the reasons it has impacted the world population.
The effects of Rastafari are everywhere, but it’s most evident in Jamaica. The main tool Rastas have used to spread their message is music – Reggae, a genre indigenous to Jamaica. For example, everyone knows who Bob Marley is. Most people also know that he was a Rasta. His work for Rastafari is comparable to gospel music for Christianity, except Bob Marley has instant classics that transcend both distance and race. His positive messages of love and unity have had an impact on us all, and those words stem from his belief in Rastafari. In addition, Rastafari has been a crutch to the Jamaican people. During the 30’s, they needed something to believe in more than ever. Instead of turning to more malevolent ideology, people followed the Rastafari way of life, which promotes awareness and positive actions. The Rastas in Jamaica will do what it takes to create both social and economic stability, but they will do it peacefully.
In conclusion, Rastafari is an important part of Jamaican culture and worldly culture. If you research the topic as I have, you may find you identify with Rastas more than you think.