Kenya, Music, Rants

Rastafarianism is a Religion

If smoking weed, growing dreadlocks, and listening to Bob Marley sounds good to you, you just might be a Rastafarian! There’s a lot more to it than that, but I’ll be damned if I ever meet a “Rasta” who can explain it without mentioning reggae music or marijuana. It’s quite popular here in Kenya, but after meeting dozens of self-proclaimed Rastafarians I still always wonder: do these guys know that Rastafarianism is a religion, or is it just what the cool kids do?

While its roots are in the Back to Africa and black nationalism movements popularized by Marcus Garvey in the 1930s, it has evolved into much more than just a “black hippie” movement. In a nutshell, Rastafarianism is a Judeo–Christian religion that purports the late Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia was the second coming of Jesus Christ (and therefore God incarnate). This and other Rastafarian beliefs are backed by verses from their holy scripture, the Bible.

Haile Selassie bore a striking resemblance to the Ethiopian Orthodox church’s traditional depiction of Jesus…

From what I can tell Rastafarians also believe in world peace, love, long hair, and ritual use of marijuana. Furthermore, while not technically a belief, a large part of Rastafarian culture revolves around music. Traditionally this would be reggae, but I’m pretty sure the related genres dancehall and ragga are important as well, as they often mention “Jah” (God). I’m assuming that these are the reasons youths find Rastafarianism attractive, and not the cult-like, Bible-based worship of Haile Selassie as a literal reincarnation of Jesus!

Finally, because I can’t stand reggae, here’s a crazy video by Jamaican dancehall musician Elephant Man (you can even see the world champion Jamaican runner Usain Bolt “sweeping” in the background!).

16 Comments

  1. Gerhard

    ya man

    alan it’s nice that you are interested in rastafarI and that you realize that it’s more than ganja and reggae. but still roots reggae is purely spiritual and not just a teenage music. elephant man is not a good example for reggae music and it’s better to call the movement rastafarI instead of rastafrianism. rastafarI is not only the name for the movement but also for its followers and for the almighty god jah rastafarI

    give thanx

    if you want to listen to conscious spiritual roots i can reccomand you for example garnet silk

    1. Alan Author

      Gerhard,

      Hey, thanks for stopping by! Sorry, maybe I didn’t make my point very well. I was trying to show that, in my experience, “Rastafarians” rarely know what the movement is REALLY about; they merely recite things they’ve heard in songs (lion of zion, judah, Jah, Shashamane, ganja, etc) and smoke marijuana! The more subtle point would be the Rastafarian claim that Haile Selassie, a man who lived within RECENT, well-documented history, is Jesus incarnate; a fairly serious claim!

      As for the “ism” in Rastafarianism, I had read that it’s considered demeaning by Rastafari. I debated not using the term in my blog post, but I wanted the content of the post to focus on the facts of Rastafari beliefs alone. I didn’t mean any disrespect, it’s just that people are used to “isms,” so it makes it easier to read for people who are outside of the movement (like my family members who read the blog!).

      Basically, I don’t mean to pick on the Rastafarian movement, I am wary of ALL religions equally. :)

  2. Ruth

    Saw the rastafari livity on K24,i kinda expected them to give us the root of the religion but was disappointed…all i heard was weed n dreads. makes me wonder if thats they rastafari way or its us kenyans who are getting it all wrong…

  3. Tim

    Our Rasta brothers and sisters have got the Black Jesus thing correct. The earliest depictions of Mr. Christ in the Coptic Church in Egypt show a handsome man of distinct African features, e.g., the negroid features of black Africans. Since these paintings were created by Mr. Christ’s contemporary supporters, there is no reason to think that they painted him black due to: ignorance, racism, propaganda, et cetera. Jesus was a black man. I find the Haile Selassie worship interesting, but then again, millions of Catholics are devoted to a former Nazi (before you go crazy look that one up yourself. Yeah, I know, all the other boys were doing it to, really.)

    How the Europeans co-opted Christianity and painted a white Jesus is truly a stoke of marketing genius and racial injustice that spans the ages. Having lived in Nairobi (2000-2003) I would love to see all Christian brothers and sisters worshiping a Black Jesus and bowing down to no man, black or white. Stand up for your rights (Marley). Cheers to all, Tim.

    1. Alan Author

      Thanks for stopping by, Tim.

      I think you’re right about the marketing genius. I always figure a rational view would be to look at the people living in the Levant 2000 years ago… they weren’t the white Jews who migrated in the 20th century, they were “brown” Arabs! So I think you’re right… I find it hard to believe the modern depictions of Jesus are correct.

  4. chris groves

    The I has it all wrong. Don’t judge another mans whole faith based on a few people who do it for fashion. You think Rastaman had gone thru serious deadly persecution because it is cool? Read more before you critisize and Im not talkin a out Wikipedia. These claims are very hurtful and ignorant.

    1. Alan Author

      Regarding Rastafari as fashion, Elephant Man, and ragga music as not being Rastafari. “Real Muslims” around the world claim that Osama bin Laden and the Taliban aren’t Muslim. And “real Christians” around the world claim that George Bush and other violent leaders aren’t Christian.

      Also, there’s no need to get emotional; I’m not criticizing you, I’m criticizing the beliefs of the Rastafari faith. It’s foolish to believe that Haile Selassie was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. First, he was a man who lived in recent history, and interacted with people we know. His life is well documented, and people who knew him are still alive today. Second, the first Rastafari were uneducated and illiterate (Bob Marley was himself). Third, it implies a belief in Jesus Christ himself, which opens another can of worms about Christianity and the accuracy of that whole tradition.

      You don’t need Rastafari to be a good person. Just eat natural food, be nice to people, and listen to good music. Why label it anything?

  5. tony rasta

    faya burn all dat disrespect rastafari…in this time of great evil,the concious man is seen as the lost man simply because the world is blinded by vernity and is unwilling to leave behind its evil ways!The mission of rastafari is good over evil & life over death and to me that is true worship of the most high.

  6. Dennis Mungai

    This is freaking hilarious!

    Riddle me this : Why U catch feelings online based on someone else’s opinion? That’s plain stupid, Rasta man.

  7. Ongojo

    The reality is:No one will get out of here alive, so whether, rasta, muslim, christian, budhist, or whatever, what counts is to live in harmony,peace and respect one anothers beliefs. It is human nature to feel superior than others, to think that we are right and all the others are wrong, to always point a finger at those who are not in our herd…it is just human, nothing to worry about. So rasta or whatever,PEACE.

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