October 27, 2015
Rastafari is generally believed to have been founded in November 1930, is the same month and year that Selassie ascended the throne of power in Ethiopia. However, the movement was based on the social activism and cultural movements of the 1920s under Marcus Garvey.
Most importantly, and what provides the greatest legitimacy to the holy nature of Selassie to Rastas is the prophecy of Marcus Garvey, when he proclaimed in 19210 “Look to Africa, where a black king shall be crowned, he shall be the Redeemer” this was very quickly followed by the ascension of Selassie to the throne ten (10) years later. When Selassie was crowned emperor, many thought Garvey’s words had come true. Essentially, Selassie is regarded as the “God of the Black Race”. To support the claim that God is Black, Rastafarians look to the Biblical text in Jeremiah 8:21, “For the hurt of the daughter of my people as I hurt; I am black; as astonishment hath taken hold of me.”
At the time of Selassie’s crowning, the King of England (who at that time was regarded by many as the most powerful man in the world because of the size of the British empire) was unable to attend, but sent the Duke of Gloucester to represent himself and the English crown. When greeting Selassie, the Duke bowed before him; which many Rastas regard and believe revealed that the Ethiopian Emperor was more important than the most important man in the world.
There are three (3) main sects of Rastafari, that also go by the name of “Mansions”. However, it is very tough to narrow down exactly how many Mansions there could be, with some sources citing three (3), other sources citing six (6).
Nyahbinghi - the oldest of all Rastafarian orders. The name is derived from Queen Nyahbinghi who ruled Uganda in the 19th century and fought against the British Empire. They were the first to proclaim Emperor Haile Selassie as the incarnation of the supreme deity. The Nyahbinghi pushed for repatriation to Ethiopia.
Bobo Shanti - the name is derived from Bobo, which stands for Black, and Ashanti, a tribe from Ghana. It is believed most of the slaves brought to Jamaica were from the Ashanti tribe. Prince Emanuel Charles Edwards founded the Bobo Shanti order in Jamaica in the 1950s. He, along with his descendants and Haile Selassie, are seen as gods. Marcus Garvey is regarded as a prophet. The Bobo Shanti also believe black people should be compensated financially for slavery. They wear long robes and very tightly wrapped turbans, and avoid eating salt and oil.
The 12 Tribes - this sect was founded in 1968 by Dr Vernon "Prophet Gad" Carrington and is the most liberal of all Rastafarian orders. Twelve Tribes members are free to worship in a church of their choosing or at home. They consider themselves the direct descendants of the 12 sons of Jacob. They are divided into 12 houses which are determined by birth month and each house is represented by a different colour. Bob Marley was their most famous follower.
Many Rastafarians trace Selassie’s lineage back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (likely we’ll have a future episode on the Queen of Sheeba, but we may need to add plans to cover King Solomon as well). In the Book of Kings, more specifically 1st Kings 10:1-13, there is textual reference to a visit being made by the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon. Rastafarians believe that King Solomon and the Queen of Sheeba had sex during this visit, and this led to the conception of a child in the same line of descendants as Selassie.
Rastas do not believe in cutting or combing their hair; this too has Biblical derivations, as the Rastas see themselves as one of the 12 Tribes of Israel, owing to Numbers 6:5, “All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the Lord, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.” Further, in Leviticus 21:5, “They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor may any cuttings in the flesh.” The length of a Rasta’s locks is a measure of wisdom, maturity and knowledge in that it can indicate not only a Rasta’s age, but also his/her time as a Rasta as well. Further, according to the Bible, the strongest man to live, Samson, was a Nazrite who had “seven locks”, and the Rastafari argue that these seven locks could only have been dreadlocks as it is highly unlikely to refer to seven individual strands of hair.
The lifestyle of the Rasta is an outward reminder to practioners that they have made a covenant with Jah and themselves to live a natural lifestyle. The vegetarian covenant is derived from the Rastas “ital lifestyle” or vital, meaning the intent to promote life in all its forms, animals included. The vegetarian lifestyle is one of the main tenants of the Rasatafari movement. Those who strictly adhere to it abstain from all meat and flesh, asserting that to touch meat is to touch death, and therefore in direct contradiction of Nazirite law, derived from the Bible.
Consuming alcohol is generally deemed to be unhealthy to the Rastafari way of life, primarily because it is seen as a tool of Babylon to confuse people, and partially because alcohol is something fermented and within the body is felt to be much like turning the body into a proverbial cemetery. Because of the removal of what is considered the unhealthy elements, the Rastafari lifestyle promotes and prefers natural vegetables and fruits, such as coconuts and mangos, all of which can easily be found throughout the Caribbean and is widely available in most restaurants.
Rastas sometimes refer to it as “wisdom weed” and believe the plant first grew from the grave of King Solomon, whom the Bible refers to as one of the wisest men to ever walk the planet. Further, the smoking of marijuana is not for recreational purposes, but is instead believed to be a “food that feeds the spirit of the Rasta”. Smoking marijuana is a spiritual act, often accompanied by the reading and studying of the Bible, as it is considered a sacrament that cleans both the body and the mind, heals the soul, heightens the levels of consciousness, encourages peacefulness, brings forth pleasure and brings one closer to Jah.
Just as any other religion, belief or movement, the Rastafari have a number of symbols that are representative of their way of life. For the Rastafari, the colors of green, gold and red (sometimes including the color black) are commonly sported on flags, icons, badges and posters. The green, gold and red represent the colors of the Ethiopian flag and exhibit the loyalty Rastafari feel toward the Ethiopian state during the reign of Selassie. The red, black and green were the colors used by Garvey to represent Africa.
As with other elements of the movement, even the representation of colors has variations that are open to interpretation and virtually subject to personal preference as well. As well, the Ethiopian flag has different meaning for different members; the proper orientation of the flag from bottom to top is red, gold and green. Many members of the movement use them in a different orientation or completely opposite as well.
But regardless of the orientation, the colors always have the same associative meaning, with: (i) red signifying the blood of the martyrs; (ii) green being the vegetation and beauty of Ethiopia; and (iii) gold representing the wealth of Africa.