The Rastafarian Movement

One of the most obvious sources of modern Ethiopian culture and religious heritage is undoubtedly the Rastafarian Movement. Rasta culture, which has its roots in Jamaica, has spread to nations in Europe, the United States, Asia, and Africa. The modern African Diaspora Rastafarian Movement, however, sees Ethiopia as the Promised Land where Black people will eventually be freed from Western country slavery. Therefore, this essay contends that wherever Africans are, Rastafarianism has a transformative effect on their lives.

Rastafari is by definition a revolutionary religious and cultural reaction that was born and raised in Jamaica and whose movement was greatly influenced by Western colonialism, enslavement, repression, and enduring poverty. Leonard E. Barrett describes it as a sect whereas another religious scholar Ennis B. Edmonds holds that the movement can best be described as a revitalization front. The term Rastafari however, originated from ‘Ras’ (prince) and ‘Tafari Makomen’ which was the full name of the ruler (Haile Selassie).


The history of Rastafarianism can be traced way back during the afro-centric religious movement in the Caribbean island of Jamaica. Rastafarians typically originate from poor backgrounds, rising against the harsh economic conditions and post-colonial oppression of disadvantaged blacks in Jamaica. The Rastafarian Movement had not gained more international influence during Jamaica’s independence in 1960’s until 1890’s when the movement had ostensibly gained international and cosmopolitan following.


Rastafarians are held together with a common belief that they are all Africans living in Diaspora, exiled in ‘Babylon’ and therefore destined to be delivered back to Africa from captivity. Rastafarians have superficial ideals such as keeping their hair bushy as a common sense of destiny and identification. Other beliefs such as smoking marijuana, the African-American pride, repatriation and redemption of black people to Ethiopia and the firm faith in reggae music comprise of their most popular beliefs. Rastafarians also believe in the Bible as their official document for the formal and informal teachings.


Traditionally, Rastas are thought to provide a voice for the poor Blacks living in Jamaica and all over the world thus encouraging some form of resistance to those societies oppressive to the black culture. The Rastafarians’ religious and cultural practices are collectively termed ‘livity’ by Rastas. They lack any professional priesthood with a strong belief in the irrelevance of a priest as a mediator with divinity. However, they are lead by elders who are privileged to such thrones through exemplary conduct, therefore, good reputations amongst Rastas. Seniors, in turn, communicate with each other through a close-knit of a network.

The meetings of the Rastafarians are opened and closed with prayers similar to the classical ritual prayers with bhang forming the spiritual ritual. However, the present-day Rastafarians practice farming, as the primary economic source of food and income for their families.

Organization and Demographics

As earlier on noted, Rastafari is a religion of people living in exile and oppression as a result of slavery. Rastafarians are individuals who live in harmony with a common course of serving their Lord and King, Haille Sellasie. Organized in groups, Rastafarians are known to come together during rituals commonly known as ‘grounding’ and ‘reasoning’ where they meet to smoke, drum, chant, and feast.


Barrett, Leonard E.The Rastafarians: Sounds of CulturalDissonance. Boston: Beacon, 1988. Print.

Edmonds EB. Rastafari: from outcasts to cultural bearers. Oxford University Press; 2002 Dec 26.

Midas H. Chawane. "The Rastafarian movement in South Africa: A religion or way of life?" Journal for the Study of Religion-University of Johannesburg, Department of Historical Studies., May 2014: 2-5.

Nico Agnone. "The Rastafarian Movement in the African Diaspora." University of Johannesburg, Department of Historical Studies, 2014: 4-6.

Savishinsky, Neil J. "Rastafari in the Promised Land: The Spreadof a Jamaican Socioreligious Movement among the Youth of West Africa."African Studies Review 37.3 (1994): 19. Print.

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