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Rastafarianism Beliefs and Rituals Essay

The incorporation in many modern societies of dread locks amongst youths, the ever increasing efforts to legalize marijuana; what started out as an entirely black oriented religion spread throughout the world, particularly in the 1970s because of the popularity of reggae music, and currently has around one million followers in Japan, New Zealand, and elsewhere (Simpson 96) , along with many other activities that we are accustomed to in the American pluralistic society, represents a form of rituals and beliefs that have been brought to the mainstream by the Rastafarians. I had often been puzzled by the way in which my Rastafarian friends viewed and behaved within each different situation; in particular how happy and settled they usually were even on the most difficult conditions. The Rastafarian religion’s beliefs and rituals are extremely rich and pure; throughout extensive research it was possible to unveil six main beliefs that can be considered truly Rastafarians, one of them stating that Haile Selassie I is the only God.

These beliefs don’t hold true in a theological point of view because the bible teaches us of the Holy Trinity, and clearly proves that Jesus Christ is the son of God, the only living God, and that salvation can only be obtained through Jesus Christ. Before describing exactly what Rastafarianism’s religious beliefs and rituals are, it is important to understand the religious background. Rastafarianism is relatively new religion based on the African traditional religion. The Rastafarian religion falls into the Experiential/Emotional Dimension due to its particular distinctions between that which is profane and that which is sacred, and also to their careful distinction of food that the followers of this sect of religion’s are allowed to eat. Rastafarians don’t build special places for worship because they believe that their own body is the true church or temple of God; Although, some Rastafarians have created temples, as some call spiritual meeting centers in international communities with large Rastafarian population.

As a religion Rastafari is difficult to encapsulate, it might be meaningfully described as a spiritual movement that started in Jamaica with a goal rooted in returning to, retrieving, or reinventing African heritage and identity. The name Rastafari derives from the title and given name (Ras, translated as “prince,” and Tafari, “he who must be feared,” from the Amharic language of Ethiopia) of Haile Selassie (Amharic for “power of the Trinity”; 1892–1975), the former Ethiopian emperor, whom most Rastafari worship as a God-king or messiah (Morris 217). Rastafari emphasizes the interior location of deity (Haile Selassie I), often referred to as I and I instead of We which represents an overdetermined symbol that includes both a sense of the self as divinity residing internally and the notion that the spirit and power of Haile Selassie I dwell within each individual Rastafari. Because of their cultural background some of their beliefs are similarly shared by those of the Lost/Found Nation of Islam (Corduan, 104) although it differs on the prophetic message.

One might wonder about what are the main religious beliefs of Rastafarians. First it’s important to define religious beliefs. Religious belief is a strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny. Such a state may relate to the existence, characteristic and worship of the deity or deities, divine intervention in the universe and human life, or values and practices centered on teachings of spiritual leaders (although Rastafarianism doesn’t have spiritual leaders), religious beliefs are usually codified. This power derives not from a body of systematic or logical truth, but rather from the psychological, emotional content of ideology (Barret, 103). The Rastafarians have developed for themselves a body of myth and rituals which can be summarized in a systematic form. Throughout my investigation, only the central ideas will be discussed along with the most basic rituals of the movement.

Note also that many beliefs and rituals may vary from one group to the next depending on their demographic location. Information regarding this investigation was obtained from various internet sources, books, and scholarly published journals. There are a few main beliefs that can be described as being truly Rastafarians, They are the following! Haile Selassie is the living God. All true Rastafarians believe that Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia, is the true and living God, at least for the black race. One member of the Rastafarian Repatriation Association it explained this way: We know before that when a king should be crowned in the land of David’s throne, that individual would be Shiloh, the anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ returned in the personification of Rastafari. He (Ras Tafari) is the “Ancient of Days” (The bearded God). The scripture declares that “the hair of whose head was like wool (matted hair), whose feet were like unto burning brass” (i.e., black skin).

The scripture declares that God hangs in motionless space surrounded with thick darkness (hence a black man). Rastafarians also regard Haile Selassie I as God because of Marcus Garvey’s prophesy “Look to Africa where a black king shall be crowned, he shall be the redeemer “was swiftly followed by the ascension of Haile Selassie I as Emperor of Ethiopia. The notion of Haile Selassie being the God of the black race is supported by the Rastafarian idea that God himself is black, a claim backed by the biblical text found in Jeremiah 8:12 “ For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt, I am black; as astonishment hath taken hold of me”. This scripture is true, but one must be careful on how to use scriptures in order to defend our own views based on racial principles. It is necessary to study and understand completely the Holy Bible, and not quote verses that seem favorable for that moment our use at that instance.

Rastafarians offer justification for the divinity of Haile Selassie I, by using biblical names such as Lord of the Lords, King of Kings and Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah for Haile Selassie I. further proof that Haile Selassie I is not God can be said because this term had been used throughout history to describe Ethiopian Emperors and describing him as another God would be taking the Rastafarian religion as a variation of Hinduism in which reincarnation of God’s is common. Many Rastafarians trace Haile Selassie’s lineage back to King Salomon and the Queen of Sheba. They believe that the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon found in the Book of Kings (1 Kings 10:1-13) provides further proof of the divinity of Haile Selassie I.

Rastafarians believe that King Salomon and Queen of Sheba had sexual intercourse during the visit, which led to the conception of a child who was in the same line of descendants as Haile Selassie I; which to many of them this shows the divine nature of Haile Selassie as he is therefore related to Salomon’s father King David and therefore to Jesus. This perception is basically a Rastafarian myth since there are no literature that defends the idea of King Salomon and Queen of Sheba being involved sexually and this idea arose because King Solomon is well known for being unfaithful and married different woman in order to expand his empire.

The Rastafarians also believe that the lord Jesus Christ spoken of in the bible is Haile Selassie I and believe that the early Christians missionaries present him as a Jew in order to hide from the black slaves their true identity. However, the research shows that Haile Selassie I was a devoted Christian and did not want to be perceived as a God, which contradicts one of the main beliefs of the Rastafarians. According to Rastafarian teaching, the black person is the reincarnation of ancient Israel, who at the hand of the white person, has been exiled in Jamaica, because they believe to be Israelites, they have not been able to break away from the world “Israel”. They believe that Israelites and Ethiopians are basically the same name referring to holy people. The idea of Ethiopia being Israel “Israelite state founded in 1947” and that Jamaicans Slaves came from Ethiopia is completely false; and African History shows that Jamaican slaves came from different parts of Africa not from Ethiopia; Ethiopia is actually the only country that was not exposed through slavery and that Slavery act According to the Rastafarians, they, the true Israelites have been punished for their sins by God, their father through slavery under whites.

This sin has led to their exile in Jamaica. They believed to have been long pardoned by God, and should have returned to Ethiopia long time ago, but because of the slavemasters’ trickery, they have been unable to do so (Barret 112). Another major Rastafarian teaching states that the white person is inferior to the black person. This idea of black supremacy comes largely as an echo from the days of Marcus Garvey and remains a strong point in both the Black Muslins in the (United States) and the Jamaican Rastafarian movements. As example from Garvey’s African Fundamentalism we read: If others laugh at you, return the laughter to them; if they mimic you, return the compliment with equal force. They have no more right to dishonor, disrespect and disregard your feeling and manhood than you have in dealing with them. Honor them when they honor you; disrespect and disregard them when they vilely treat you.

Their arrogance is but skin deep and an assumption that has no foundation of morals or in law (Barret, 114). I greatly disagree with the idea of black or white supremacy because God has made us equal in every sense, and that the only perfect man to ever walk in the earth did not see ethnicity but taught us that the most important thing in the world is to love each other. Rastafarians believe that not all white people are evil. I have previously mentioned that this Rastafarian belief is very similar to the Black Muslin movement as can be seen in the supreme wisdom of Elijah Muhammad that says: The original man is none other than black man, the black man is the first and the last: creator of the universe and the primogenitor of all other races including the white race, for which a black man used a special method of birth control. White man’s history is only six thousand years long, but black man coexistence with the creation of the earth… Everywhere the white man has gone on our planet they have found the original man or sign that he has been there previously (Morris, 118).

The last major Rastafarian belief states that Jamaica is Hell; and Ethiopia is Heaven thus representing their idea of Heaven on earth. Rastafarians regard ‘Ethiopia’ as their homeland and believe they will eventually return. During periods of colonization Africans were divided up and sent to destinations throughout the world, in most cases as slaves to whites. This is why many Africans found themselves in Jamaica and why it is regarded by many Rastafarians as hell. Ethiopia, the homeland, was seen as a place of fond memories of freedom and life prior to oppression. This meant it eventually became regarded as heaven. To develop this belief Rastafarians refer to Psalm 137:1 “By the Rivers of Babylon we sat down; there we wept when we remembered Zion”. The intent of this belief was to lift up their morale and give them hope of a place where blacks just as much rights as their fellow whites. I completely agree with this idea of Ethiopia representing Zion for Jamaican slaves. One important aspect of the Rastafarian religion is to be found on its rituals.

The most important ceremonial occasion is the Nyabinghi, which is held to commemorate events that are sacred to the Rastafari. Nyabinghi was a religious-political cult that resisted colonial domination in Uganda in the last decade of the nineteenth century. It was also a term that came to suggest a secret organization, Nyabinghi, which swore on oath ‘death to whites’ (Chevannes 1995, 15). In contemporary setting, it essentially refers to Rastafari ritual meetings, otherwise known as groundation, a conflation of the words ‘ground’ and ‘foundation’ (Morris, 219). The typical Nyabinghi meetings were held monthly or on specific occasions, such as to mark the coronation or birthday of Haile Selassie. They began in the early evening and would last for an entire night or extend for several days with prayers, readings from the bible, dancing, smoking of ganja, and feasting. The other kind of ritual is more informal and consists of a small gathering of brethren who share the smoking of the sacred weed, ganja, and engage in what is described as ‘reasoning’ (Chevannes 1995,17).

The weed is to be passed on a clockwise manner; the only time that the weed is passed on a counterclockwise is at the time of war. Yet although there is very little in the way of rituals among the Rastafari and they repudiated baptism and funeral rituals, nevertheless there are crucial rituals focused around the individual person and the body. The other aspect of Rastafari personal rituals is the emphasis on I-tal [natural] food and the ritual avoidance of many foods that aren’t considered natural. The Rastafari, in varying degrees, refrain from drinking alcohol (which is associated with aggression), using salt in their cooking, eating meat (which is associated with sexuality), and even express a revulsion for chickens and goats that, like the pig, are associated with scavenging. Rastafarians express a viewpoint that is essentially naturalistic and ecological, for like the early romantics, they have a positive attitude towards nature and organic life.

Yet though affirming that they are vegetarians and non-violent, the key image that they promote of themselves is, ironically, that of a lion aggressive, proud, dominant, dreadful, and they ‘simulate the spirit of the lion in the way they wear they locks and in the way they walk (Morris, 221). Rastafarians reject the use of alcohol, since is a fermented chemical that does not belong in the temple of the body and make a person completely stupid, thereby playing into the hands of the white leaders.

This is contrasted with the holy herb of marijuana, which is natural and believed by Rastas to open their mind and assist in reasoning. Throughout this research, it was possible to see that Rastafarians like other non Christian religions often ignore some teachings of the Holy Bible in favor certain scriptures that defend their wrong doing. Nowhere in the Holy Scriptures says that the smoking of Marijuana enhances one’s ability to communicate with God, Paul teaches us that Christ is our only way to God, and despises the use of narcotics! The emphasis is to accept Jesus Christ as our savior and live a life that glorifies him, so the use of marijuana is not the right way to get God’s attention.

Some people, most people like me haven’t spent enough time studying and understanding the essence and different types of religions. Rastafarians are very passionate and caring people who by the smoking of ganja believe to have a better understand of the world; they beliefs and rituals are very rich and pure. Although their all religion is based on revolutionary ideas rather than biblical techings; I believe that they have not understood that the New Testament gives us a clear guidance on how to live for God even when on face of persecution, and that the only living God has already walked on the earth two thousand years ago. A careful study is necessary in order to create basis and understand of their background which throughout my research I found it to be very contradictory of what the bible teaches us about God. In conclusion; contradiction is the main word I can find to describe Rastafarianism beliefs and rituals.

Works Cited
Morris, Brian. Religion and Anthropology: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Print. Corduan, Winfried. Neighboring Faiths. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1998. Print. Barret, Leonard. The Rastafarians. Boston: Beacon Press,1997. Google Book Search. Web. 20 November 2012. Chevannes, Barry. “The continuity creative debate, the case of revival.” Diss. University of the West Indies, 1995. Print. Simpson, George. “Afro-Caribbean Religions”. The Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Mircea Eliade. New York: McMillan, 1995. Print.


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