Most people would have listened to at least a little bit of reggae music over time, most especially the music of Bob Marley. A fair number would have also seen people with dreadlocks – white as well as black. For some, dreadlocks are a fashion statement, a connection to their heritage. For others, it is aligned to the Rastafarian religion or some may say movement.
Rastafari is a religious movement, sometimes considered a political movement that was founded by Marcus Garvey, a black Jamaican who led a “Back to Africa” movement in Jamaica from the 1930s. In an environment of poverty, depression, racism and class discrimination, he taught of black pride and freedom from oppression rooted in the hope of returning to Africa – the homeland.
He taught that Africans are true Israelites – exiled to Jamaica and other parts of the world. Rastafari is based on the Judeo-Christian God – Jah with an emphasis on Old Testament laws and prophecies (most especially Exodus and Leviticus) together with the book of Revelations for deliverance from captivity and a return to Zion often seen as Ethiopia with the believe that Jas was manifest on earth through Jesus – a black Messiah – Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. With the strong connection to Africa, Rastafari is heavily influenced by African tradition and culture as well as the Bible.
Exodus is especially relevant, as in Bob Marley’s song it relates to the migration of God’s people. The book of Leviticus in the bible which admonishes the cutting of hair and beards and eating of certain foods, is key to the Rastafari growing of hair long, locked in its natural, uncombed state. It also forms the basis of the Rastafari diet. The books of prophecies also provide a strong connection to prayer and meditation. It is debatable as to whether the smoking of ganja i.e. marijuana is part of the religion or if it is more cultural.
Rastafari is also represented by the colours of red, green, gold and black symbolic of the lifeblood, herbs, royalty, and blackness respectively. Going back to my initial reference to reggae music, reggae grew out of the Rastafari movement, made especially popular by the Jamaican singer and songwriter, Bob Marley. Even though there is a lot of focus on Bob Marley, there are a number of other great reggae artistes with the Rastafarian movement message in their music such as Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, and Toots.
With migration from Jamaica, Rastafarian communities have grown in Britain as in other parts of the world. According to a Guardian article from 2002, while the exact size of the Rastafarian community in the UK is unknown, the membership of combined Afro-Caribbean churches stands at about 70,000. That’s almost 20 years back – what I can’t say is whether the numbers have increased or decreased since then. A dedicated resource for the Rastafari movement in Britain is the Rastafari in Motion website
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