Rastafari is a religious movement. It developed in Jamaica in the 1930s, following the coronation of Haile Selassie I as Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930. There are many sects of Rastafari that have developed over the years. Its adherents worship him in much the same way as Jesus in his Second Advent, or as God the Son. Members of the Rastafari way of life are known as Rastafari, Rastas, or simply Ras. Rastafari are also known by their official church titles, such as Elder or High Priest. The way of life is sometimes referred to as "Rastafarianism", but this term is considered offensive by most Rastafari, who, being critical of "isms" or "ians" (which they see as a typical part of "Babylon" culture), dislike being labelled as an "ism" or "ian" themselves. Rastafari has always been conceived as a way of life for and by people of African descent.
The name Rastafari is taken from Ras Tafari, the title (Ras) and first name (Tafari Makonnen) of Haile Selassie I before his coronation. In Amharic, Ras, literally "head", is an Ethiopian title equivalent to prince or chief, while the personal given name Täfäri (teferi) means one who is revered. Yah (יה in Hebrew) is a Biblical name of God, from a shortened form of Jahweh or Yahuah found in Psalms 68:4 in the King James Version of the Bible and many other places in the Bible. Most adherents see Haile Selassie I as Jah or Jah Rastafari, an incarnation of God the Father, the Second Advent of Christ "the Anointed One", i.e. the second coming of Jesus Christ the King to Earth.
Rastafari developed in Jamaica during the 1930s, having been influenced by both Ethiopianism and the Back to Africa movement promoted by black nationalist figures like Marcus Garvey. A number of Christian clergyman, most notably Leonard Howell, believed that the crowning of Haile Selassie as Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930 marked the fulfilment of a Biblical prophecy. This idea generated the Rastafari movement, which spread throughout Jamaica in that decade. By the 1950s the religion has come into conflict with many other aspects of the island's society and had spread to other nations. In the 1960s it expanded and began to gain an increasing influence through music.
The Rastafari way of life encompasses the spiritual use of cannabis and the rejection of the degenerate society of materialism, oppression, and sensual pleasures, called Babylon. It proclaims Zion, in reference to Ethiopia, as the original birthplace of humankind, and from the beginning of the way of life calls for repatriation to Zion, the Promised Land and Heaven on Earth. This can mean literally moving to Ethiopia but also refers to mentally and emotionally repatriating before the physical. Some Rastafari also embrace various Afrocentric and Pan-African social and political aspirations.
Some Rastafari do not claim any sect or denomination, and thus encourage one another to find faith and inspiration within themselves, although some do identify strongly with one of the "Mansions of Rastafari"—the three most prominent of these being the Nyahbinghi, the Bobo Ashanti, and the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
International awareness of Rastafari grew in the 1970s as a result of the popularity of reggae music, and especially the international success of singer-songwriter Bob Marley. By 1997 there were, according to one estimate, around one million Rastafari worldwide. In the 2011 Jamaican census, 29,026 individuals identified themselves as Rastafari. Other sources estimated that in the 2000s they formed "about 5% of the population" of Jamaica, or conjectured that "there are perhaps as many as 100,000 Rastafari in Jamaica".
The sociologist of religion Peter B. Clarke stated that it was "extremely difficult to generalise" about Rastas and their beliefs because the Rastafari movement had no systematic theology or highly developed institutions. Attempts have been made to summarise Rastafari belief, but these have never been accorded the status of a catechism or creed within the movement. Emphasis is placed on the idea that personal experience and intuitive understanding should be used to determine the truth or validity of a particular belief or practice. No Rasta therefore has the authority to declare what beliefs and practices are orthodox and which are heterodox. The conviction that Rastafari has no dogma "is so strong that it has itself become something of a dogma", according to Clarke.
Rastas regard the Bible as an authentic account of early black history and their place as God's favoured people. They believe that the Bible was originally written on stone in the Ethiopian language of Amharic. However, they believe that its true meaning has been warped, both through mistranslation into other languages and by deliberate manipulation by those who wanted to deny black Africans their history. They believe that its true teachings can be revealed through intuition and meditation with the "book within". For Rastas, the Bible is therefore viewed as the key to understanding the past and the present and for predicting the future.
Rastafari are monotheists, worshiping a singular God whom they call Jah. Jah is the term in the King James Bible, Psalms 68:4. Rastas view Jah in the form of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Rastas say that Jah in the form of the Holy Spirit (incarnate) lives within the human. For this reason, they often refer to themselves as "I and I". "I and I" is used instead of "We" to emphasize the equality between all people, in the belief that the Holy Spirit within all people makes them essentially one and the same.
Jah is also understood to be the God within the human being. As a result, Rastas speak of "knowing" Jah, rather than simply "believing" in him. In believing that human beings have an inner divinity within themselves, Rastas help to cultivate a bastion against the uncertainty and insecurity that exists within society and societal institutions.
Jesus of Nazareth and Haile Selassie
Jesus of Nazareth is an important figure in Rastafari. However, they refute the traditional depiction of Jesus present in Christianity, believing that this is a perversion of the truth. They believe that Jesus was a black African and that he was a Rasta.
Haile Selassie I (1892–1975) was the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. Rastafari say that he will lead the righteous into creating a perfect world called Zion. For Rastas, Haile Selassie is believed to be the messiah, and the Second Coming of Jesus of Nazareth. He is also understood as the living God. As evidence for this, Rastas point to the belief that both Jesus and Haile Selassie were descendants from the royal line of David. They also cite their interpretation of chapter 19 in the Book of Revelations.
Among the titles that Rastas give to Haile Selassie are the Almighty God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Judge and Avenger, King Alpha and Queen Omega, Returned Messiah, Elect of God, and Elect of Himself. Rastas also view Haile Selassie as a symbol of their positive affirmation of Africa as a source of spiritual and cultural heritage.
The death of Haile Selassie I is a topic of some debate among Rastafari. Some Rastas consider it a partial fulfillment of prophecy of the "Temporary Messianic Kingdom" found in the apocalyptic 2 Esdras 7:28. Others believe that Haile Selassie's 1975 reported death was a hoax. It has also been claimed that he entered a monastery and is now known by many as Abba Keddus (Amharic for Holy Father) and will return to liberate his followers and vanquish all evil, restoring his creation. One Rastafari reaction to Haile Selassie's supposed death was contained in Bob Marley's song Jah Live, which declares emphatically "God cannot die." Many Rastafari claim to have met Haile Selassie after his reported death and know him also by his claimed new name Abba Keddus or Abba Keddus Keddus Keddus.
For some Rastafari, Haile Selassie I remains their God and King.
During his life, Selassie neither confirmed nor denied his divinity. In a 1967 interview when a Canadian interviewer mentioned the Rastafari belief that he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, he responded by saying: "I have heard of this idea. I also met certain Rastafarians. I told them clearly that I am a man, that I am mortal, and that I will be replaced by the oncoming generation, and that they should never make a mistake in assuming or pretending that a human being is emanated from a deity." His grandson Ermias Sahle Selassie has said that there is "no doubt that Haile Selassie did not encourage the Rastafari movement."
Afrocentrism, Zion, and Babylon
The Rastafari movement was established among Afro-Jamaicans who wanted to reject the British imperial culture that dominated Jamaica while at the same time making a determined effort to create an identity based on a re-appropriation of their African heritage. Rastas assert that Zion (i.e., Ethiopia) is a land that Jah promised to them. To achieve this, they reject modern western society, calling it "Babylon", which they see as entirely corrupt due to materialism and greed. "Babylon" is considered to have been in rebellion against "Earth's Rightful Ruler" (Jah) ever since the days of the Biblical king Nimrod.
Rastas believe that the slavery, exile, and exploitation of black Africans was punishment for failing to live up to their status as Jah's chosen people.
According to Clarke, Rastafari is "concerned above all else with black consciousness, with rediscovering the identity, personal and racial, of black people". Rastafari espouses the view that the true identity of black Africans has been lost and needs to be reclaimed. In reclaiming this identity, Rastas believe, they will help to rid themselves of feelings of inferiority.
Rastas regard the exile of the black African diaspora in Babylon as an experience of great suffering. Rastas often expect white society to dismiss their beliefs as false, and when this happens it is seen as confirmation of the correctness of their faith, thus strengthening their convictions. The 1983–1985 famine in Ethiopia was seen by some Rastas as evidence that physical repatriation to Africa was not the answer. Rather, they saw the idea of returning to Africa in a metaphorical sense, entailing restoring their pride and self-confidence as people of black African descent. Some Rastas seek to transform Western society so that they may more comfortably live within it rather than seeking to move to Africa.
There is no uniform Rasta view on race. Rastas typically believe that black Africans are God's chosen people, meaning that they made a deal with him and thus have a special responsibility. This is similar to beliefs in Judaism. This has resulted in critics accusing the Rastafari religion of espousing racial superiority, exclusivism, and racism. Some Rastas have acknowledged that there is racism in the movement, primarily against Europeans, Asians, and also to white European Rastas. Some believe that an 'African' identity is not inherently linked to black skin but rather is about whether an individual displays an African "attitude" or "spirit". Other sects reject the idea that a white European could ever be a Rasta.
Salvation and paradise
Rastafari espouses a millenarianist worldview in which it is believed that the present age will come to an apocalyptic end. In the 1980s, Rastas believed that this would happen around the year 2000. In this Day of Judgement, Babylon will be overthrown.
In Rasta belief, the end of this present age would be followed by a millennium of peace, justice, and happiness in Ethiopia. The righteous will live in paradise in Africa. Those who had supported Babylon will be denied access to paradise.
Rastas do not believe that there is a specific afterlife to which human individuals go following bodily death. They believe that only those who shun righteousness will actually die. Those who are righteous are believed to go through a process of reincarnation, with an individual's identity remaining throughout each of their incarnations.
In keeping with their views on death, Rastas avoid celebrating physical death and often avoid funerals, also repudiating the practice of ancestor veneration that is common among African traditional religions.
Morality and ethics
Rastafari promotes the idea of "living naturally", in accordance with what Rastas regard as nature's laws. It espouses the idea that Africa is the "natural" abode of black Africans, where they can live according to African culture and tradition and be themselves on a physical, emotional, and intellectual level. They believe that Westerners and Babylon have been detached from nature through technological development and as a result have become debilitated, slothful, and decadent.
Rastafari espouses patriarchal principles, and mirrors the views on gender which are common in Jamaican society more broadly. Marriage is not usually formalised, and Rasta men refer to their female partners as "queens". Rastafari places great importance on family life and the raising of children. Rasta women often cover their head and clothing when in public, in a manner akin to traditional Islamic clothing. Women often work, sometimes while the man in left to raise the children at home. Both contraception and abortion are usually censured by Rastas, some of whom believe that they were developed out of an attempt to decrease the black African birth-rate. External observers have claimed that Rastafari accords women an inferior position to men. Rastafari typically rejects feminism, although Clarke encountered Rasta women in Britain who expressed feminist sentiment and criticised sexism within the religion.
There are two types of Rasta religious ceremonies: Reasoning and Groundation.
A "reasoning" is a simple event where the Rastas gather, smoke marijuana ("ganja"), and discuss. The person honored by being allowed to light the herb says a short sentence beforehand, and the ganja is passed in a clockwise fashion (passing 'pon the lef' han' side) except in times of war when it is passed anticlockwise. It is used to reason with Jah (God).
A "groundation" (also spelled "grounation") or "binghi" is a holy day; the name "binghi" is derived from "Nyabinghi" (literally "Nya" meaning "black" and "Binghi" meaning "victory"). Binghis are marked by much dancing, singing, feasting, and the smoking of ganja, and can last for several days.
Groundings often take place in a commune or yard, and are presided over by an elder. The number of participants can range from a handful to several hundred. Activities that take place at groundings include the playing of drums, chanting, the singing of hymns, and the recitation of poetry. Ganga, or cannabis, is often smoked. Those assembled inform each other about the revelations that they have received through meditation and dream.
Spiritual use of cannabis
Clarke stated that the "principle ritual" of Rastafari was the smoking of ganga, or cannabis. Rastas often believe that ganga has medicinal properties. Ganga is usually smoked during groundings, although some Rastas smoke it almost all of the time. Others have criticised this practice, believing that use of the drug should be restricted to groundings. However, not all Rastas use ganga.
Rastas argue that the use of ganga is promoted in the Bible, specifically in Genesis 1: 29, Psalms 18:18, and Revelations 22:2.
By the 8th century, cannabis had been introduced by Arab traders to Central and Southern Africa, where it is known as "dagga" and many Rastas say it is a part of their African culture that they are reclaiming. It is sometimes also referred to as "the healing of the nation", a phrase adapted from Revelation 22:2.
Alternatively, the migration of many thousands of Hindus and Muslims from British India to the Caribbean in the 20th century may have brought this culture to Jamaica. Many academics point to Indo-Caribbean origins for the ganja sacrament resulting from the importation of Indian migrant workers in a post-abolition Jamaican landscape. "Large scale use of ganja in Jamaica... dated from the importation of indentured Indians..."(Campbell 110). Dreadlocked mystics Jata, often ascetic known as sadhus or Sufi Qalandars and Derwishes, have smoked cannabis from both chillums and coconut shell hookahs in South Asia since the ancient times. Also, the reference of "chalice" may be a transliteration of "jam-e-qalandar" (a term used by Sufi ascetics meaning 'bowl or cup of qalandar'). In South Asia, in addition to smoking, cannabis is often consumed as a drink known as bhang and most qalandars carry a large wooden pestle for that reason.
According to many Rastas, the illegality of cannabis in many nations is evidence of persecution of Rastafari. They are not surprised that it is illegal, seeing it as a powerful substance that opens people's minds to the truth – something the Babylon system, they reason, clearly does not want. They contrast it to alcohol and other drugs - this is definitely true - alcohol is seen very much, in its relation to its legality whereas ganja (weed etc.), is the opposite - seen in relation to its illegality.
They hold that the smoking of cannabis enjoys Biblical sanction, and is an aid to meditation and religious observance. Among Biblical verses, Rastas quote the following as justifying the use of cannabis:
- Genesis 1:11 "And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so."
- Genesis 1:29 "And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb-bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat."
- Genesis 3:18 "... thou shalt eat the herb of the field."
- Psalms 104:14 "He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the service of man."
- Proverbs 15:17 "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith."
- Revelation 22:2 " the river of life proceeded to flow from the throne of God, and on either side of the bank there was the tree of life, and the leaf from that tree is for the healing of the nations."
According to some Rastafari, the etymology of the word "cannabis" and similar terms in all the languages of the Near East may be traced to the Hebrew "qaneh bosm" קנה-בשם as one of the herbs that God commanded Moses to include in his preparation of sacred anointing perfume in Exodus 30:23; the Hebrew term also appears in Isaiah 43:24; Jeremiah 6:20; Ezekiel 27:19; and Song of Songs 4:14. Deutero-canonical and canonical references to the patriarchs Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses "burning incense before the Lord" are also applied, and many Rastas today refer to cannabis by the term "ishence"—a slightly changed form of the English word incense. Some Rastas claim that cannabis was the first plant to grow on King Solomon's grave.
In 1998, Attorney General of the United States Janet Reno gave a legal opinion that Rastafari do not have the religious right to smoke marijuana in violation of the United States' drug laws. The position is the same in the United Kingdom, where, in the Court of Appeal case of R. v. Taylor  10 million. App. R. 37, it was held that the UK's prohibition on cannabis use did not contravene the right to freedom of religion conferred under the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
On January 2, 1991, at an international airport in his homeland of Guam, Ras Iyah Ben Makahna (Benny Guerrero) was arrested for possession and importation of marijuana and seeds. He was charged with importation of a controlled substance. The case was heard by the US 9th Circuit Court November 2001, and in May 2002 the court had decided that the practice of Rastafari sanctions the smoking of marijuana, but nowhere does the religion sanction the importation of marijuana. Guerrero's lawyer Graham Boyd pointed out that the court's ruling was "equivalent to saying wine is a necessary sacrament for some Christians but you have to grow your own grapes."
In 2009, Rasta Doug Darrell was arrested after a National Guard helicopter flying over his New Hampshire home found he was growing 15 marijuana plants in his backyard. In a subsequent trial in September 2012, Darrell was found "not guilty" by twelve jurors exercising the right of jury nullification.
There are three main Mansions (sects or orders) of Rastafari: the Nyahbinghi Order, Bobo Ashanti, and the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Almost all agree on the basic principles of the divine status of Haile Selassie, most Twelve Tribes of Israel adherents do, but this is not a requirement to belong to Twelve Tribes. Many Rastafari do not belong to any sect.
The Nyahbinghi Order (also known as Haile Selassie I Theocratical Order of the Nyahbinghi Reign) is the oldest of all the Rastafari mansions. It focuses mainly on Haile Selassie I, Ethiopia, and the eventual return to Africa. It is overseen by an Assembly of Elders. Nyahbinghi brethren also accept the Bible according to the teachings of Haile Selassie I.
Nyabinghi was a legendary Ugandan/Rwandan tribe queen, who was said to have possessed a Ugandan woman named Muhumusa in the 19th century. Muhumusa inspired a movement, rebelling against African colonial authorities. Although she was captured in 1913, alleged possessions by Nyabinghi continued (mostly afflicting women). Bloodline of the true Nyabinghi warriors rightfully settled in the heart of Dzimba dze Mabwe now known as Zimbabwe. For Rastas, Nyahbingi is the mystical power of the Most High to mete justice throughout the universe. Although the genuine origin of the word means "Black Victory" and is Ugandan, as a concept and theology. "Niya" meaning "black" and "binghi" meaning "Victory." Therefore, it is through prayer, music and biblical reasonings that the Rastaman chants bingi, calling on the forces of nature to destroy the powers of racial oppression.
The Bobo Ashanti sect was founded by Prince Emanuel Charles Edwards in Jamaica in 1958. The term "Bobo" came from the idea that Rastas wore "Bobos" or "Bobo dreads" and "Ashanti" because the Ashanti (Asante) was majority of African slaves in Jamaica.
Twelve Tribes of Israel
The Twelve Tribes of Israel sect was founded in 1968 by Dr. Vernon "Prophet Gad" Carrington. It is the most liberal of the Rastafarian orders and members are free to worship in a church of their choosing. Each member of this sect belongs to one of the 12 Tribes (or Houses), which is determined by Gregorian birth month and is represented by a colour, a part of the body and a character trait often called a faculty. The Standard Israelite calendar begins in April, the 12 tribes being Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph and Benjamin. Although the 12 representations apply to male and female alike, Dinah, although not considered a tribe, is representative of the feminine. Members of this order are not required to be turbaned.
Some Rastas have promoted activism as a means of achieving socio-political change, however others believe in awaiting change that will be brought about through divine intervention in human affairs.
Rastafari language fosters identity and helps to cultivate particular values. Rastas seek to avoid language that contributes to servility, self-degradation, and the objectification of the person. The use of this language helps Rastas distinguish themselves from non-Rastas.
Rastas make wide use of the pronoun "I". The use of this word denotes the Rasta view that the self is divine. It also reminds each Rasta that they are a human being, not a slave, and that they have value and worth as a human being. For instance, Rastas use "I" in place of "me", "I and I" in place of "we", "I-ceive" in place of "receive", "I-sire" in place of "desire", "I-rate" in place of "create", and "I-men" in place of "Amen". Rastas typically refer to Haile Selaisse as "Haile Selassie I".
The formation of dreadlocks is Biblically inspired, legitimised by reference to the Book of Numbers (6: 5-6). They are regarded as marking a covenant that the Rastas have made with God, and are also regarded as a symbol of strength linked to the hair of the Biblical figure of Samson. Sometimes this dreadlocked hair is then shaped and styles, often inspired by a lion's mane symbolising the Lion of Judah. For Rastas, the wearing of dreads is a symbolic rejection of Babylon and a refusal to conform to its norms and standards.
It has been suggested (e.g., Campbell 1985) that the first Rasta locks were copied from Kenya in 1953, when images of the independence struggle of the feared Mau Mau insurgents, who grew their "dreaded locks" while hiding in the mountains, appeared in newsreels and other publications that reached Jamaica. However, a more recent study by Barry Chevannes has traced the first hairlocked Rastas to a subgroup first appearing in 1949, known as Youth Black Faith.
In 1844, the trade for unskilled labor from India and South China was expanded to the colonies in the West Indies, including Jamaica, Trinidad and Demerara, where the Asian population was soon a major component of the island demographic. The Indian laborers brought their culture with them, which includes, prominently, the wearing of dreadlocks by holy men
There have been ascetic groups within a variety of world faiths that have at times worn similarly matted hair. In addition to the Nazirites of Judaism and the sadhus of Hinduism, it is worn among some sects of Sufi Islam, notably the Baye Fall sect of Mourides, and by some Ethiopian Orthodox monks in Christianity, among others. Some of the very earliest Christians may also have worn this hairstyle; particularly noteworthy are descriptions of James the Just, "brother of Jesus" and first Bishop of Jerusalem, whom Hegesippus (according to Eusebius and Jerome) described as a Nazirite who never once cut his hair. Also, according to the Bible, Samson was a Nazirite who had "seven locks". Rastafari argue that these "seven locks" could only have been dreadlocks, as it is unlikely to refer to seven strands of hair.
Locks have also come to symbolize the Lion of Judah (its mane) and rebellion against Babylon. In the United States, several public schools and workplaces have lost lawsuits as the result of banning locks. Safeway is an early example, and the victory of eight children in a suit against their Lafayette, Louisiana school was a landmark decision in favor of Rastafari rights. More recently, in 2009, a group of Rastafari settled a federal lawsuit with the Grand Central Partnership in New York City, allowing them to wear their locks in neat ponytails, rather than be forced to "painfully tuck in their long hair" in their uniform caps.
Many non-Rastafari of African descent wear locks as an expression of pride in their ethnic identity, or simply as a hairstyle, and take a less purist approach to developing and grooming them. The wearing of dreads also has spread among people of other ethnicities. Locks worn for stylish reasons are sometimes referred to as "bathroom locks", to distinguish them from the kind that are purely natural. Rastafari purists also sometimes refer to such dreadlocked individuals as "wolves", as in "a wolf in sheep's clothing", especially when they are seen as trouble-makers who might potentially discredit or infiltrate Rastafari.
Red, gold and green
Through their use of language, dress, dreaded hair, and lifestyle Rastas seek to draw a clear boundary between themselves and non-Rastas. The tam headdress worn by many Rastas is coloured green, red, black, and yellow to symbolise allegiance and identification with Ethiopia.
The Rastafari colours of green, gold and red (sometimes also including black) are very commonly sported on the Rastafari flag, icons, badges, posters etc. The green, gold and red are the colours of the Ethiopian flag and show the loyalty Rastafari feel towards the Ethiopian state in the reign of Haile Selassie. The red, black and green were the colours used to represent Africa by the Marcus Garvey movement.
The Ethiopian Flag has a different meaning for different members of Rastafari, although the proper orientation of the flag goes bottom to top as red, gold and green although many members of the movement use it in different or sometimes opposite orientation, the red, gold and green are associated with the first, third and fourth chakras of the body which is usually referenced as "Seals" Referring to the Seven seals Within man and womb-man, this is also in contrast with the New Haile Selassie I Bible (1962) and also the seven different types of Biblical Literature. This Ethiopian Christian and Rastafari Holy book is also known as to some as the book of the Seven seals fulfilling Revelations 5:5.
Rasta music is performed to praise and commune with Jah. In performing it, Rastas also reaffirm their rejection of Babylon. Rastas believe that their music has healing properties, with the ability to cure colds, fevers, and headaches. Some of these songs are sung to the tune of older Christian hymns, but others are original Rasta creations.
Another style of Rastafari music is called burru drumming, first played in the Parish of Clarendon, Jamaica, and then in West Kingston. Burru was later introduced to the burgeoning Rasta community in Kingston by a Jamaican musician named Count Ossie. He mentored many influential Jamaican ska, rock steady, and reggae musicians. Through his tutelage, they began combining New Orleans R&B, folk mento, jonkanoo, kumina, and revival zion into a unique sound. The burru style, which centers on three drums – the bass, the alto fundeh, and the repeater – would later be copied by hip hop DJs.
The Rastafari movement developed out of the legacy of the Atlantic slave trade, in which over ten million Africans were enslaved and transported from Africa to the Americas between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Here, they were sold to European planters and forced to work on the plantations. Around a third of these transported Africans were relocated in the Caribbean, with under 700,000 being settled in Jamaica. Here, the enslaved Africans were divided into a stratified system, with field workers on the lowest rung and house servants above them. In 1834, slavery in Jamaica was abolished after the British government passed the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. Racial prejudice nevertheless remained prevalent across Jamaican society, with those of African descent being second-class citizens. For most of the nineteenth century, the overwhelming majority of Jamaica's legislative council was white. Formerly enslaved Africans and Afro-Jamaicans became free peasants. In the three decades after emancipation, the Free Village system proliferated across Jamaica as non-conformist missionaries, particularly Baptist, purchased land from the large owners and sold it as smaller plots to former slaves.
The Great Revival of 1860–61 witnessed increasing numbers of Afro-Jamaicans join Christian churches. They brought with them many inherited African beliefs and rituals, which syncretised with Christianity in various ways and to varying degrees. Some of the new religions that emerged, such as Pukkumina, remained heavily based on traditional African religion, while others, like Revival Zion, were more heavily Christian. The majority of these different groups practiced spiritual healing and incorporates drumming and chanting, counselling, and beliefs in spirit possession into their structures. Increasing numbers of Pentecostal missionaries from the United States arrived in Jamaica during the early twentieth century, reaching a climax in the 1920s. These Christian movements provided a way for black Jamaicans—who continued to live with the social memory of enslavement and who were denied any substantial participation in Jamaica's political institutions—to express their hopes, fears, and aspirations.
Ethiopianism, Back to Africa, and Marcus Garvey
According to the scholar of religion Ennis B. Edmonds, Rastafari emerged out of "the convergence of several religious, cultural, and intellectual streams". Both Ethiopianism and the Back to Africa ethos remain "fundamental ingredients of Rastafarian ideology". These two movements predated Rastafari and can be traced back to the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, there were growing calls for the African diaspora located in Western Europe and the Americas to be resettled in Africa. In that century, many members of the African diaspora were moved to Sierra Leona and Liberia. Based in Liberia, the black Christian preacher Edward Wilmot Blyden began promoting African pride and the preservation of African tradition, customs, and institutions. Blyden sought to promote a form of Christianity that was suited to the African context.
Also spreading through Africa was Ethiopianism, a movement that accorded special status to the east African nation of Ethiopia because it was mentioned in various Biblical passages. For adherents of Ethiopianism, "Ethiopia" was regarded as a synonym of Africa as a whole. Across the continent, although particularly in South Africa, Christian churches were established that referred to themselves as "Ethiopian"; these groups were at the forefront of the burgeoning African nationalist movement that sought liberation from European colonial rule.
Garvey supported the idea of global racial separatism and rejected the idea that black people of African descent living in the Americas should campaign for their civil rights; instead he believed that they should migrate en masse back to Africa. His ideas were opposed by many blacks in the Americas and he experienced hostility from African-American civil rights activists like W. E. B. Du Bois. He also faced opposition from the government of Liberia, which did not want millions of unskilled migrants arriving on its shores. As a mass movement, Garveyism declined in the Great Depression of the 1930s.
He promoted his cause of black pride throughout the 1920s and 1930s, and was particularly successful and influential among lower-class blacks in Jamaica and in rural communities. Although his ideas have been hugely influential in the development of Rastafari culture, Garvey never identified himself with the movement. Garvey was even critical of Haile Selassie for leaving Ethiopia at the time of the Italian Fascist occupation, "Hailie Selassie is the ruler of a country where black men are chained and flogged... He will go down in history as a great coward who ran away from his country." Rastafari does not promote all of the views that Garvey espoused, but nevertheless shares many of the same perspectives, with many Rastas regarding Garvey as a prophet.
Haile Selassie and the early Rastas
Emperor Haile Selassie I was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930. A number of Christian clergymen, among them Howell, Hibbert, Dunkley, and Hinds, claimed that Selassie's coronation was evidence that he was the black messiah that they believed was prophesied in the Book of Revelation (5: 2-5; 19: 16), the Book of Daniel (7: 3), and the Book of Psalms (68: 31). These preachers began promoting this idea within Kingston, and soon the message spread throughout 1930s Jamaica. Clarke stated that "to all intents and purposes this was the beginning" of the Rastafari movement.
Over the following years, a number of street preachers—most notably Leonard Howell, Archibald Dunkley, Robert Hinds, and Joseph Hibbert—began promoting the idea that Haile Selassie was the returned Jesus. Howell has been described as the "First Rasta". Howell preached that black Africans were superior to white Europeans and that Afro-Jamaicans should owe their allegiance to Haile Selassie rather than to George V, King of Great Britain and Ireland. The island's British authorities arrested him and charged him with sedition, resulting in a two year imprisonment. Following his release, Howell established the Ethiopian Salvation Society and in 1939 created a Rasta community known as Pinnacle, in St Catherine. The community attracted between 500 and 2000 people, who were largely self-sufficient. Police feared that Howell was training his followers for an armed rebellion and were angered that it was producing marijuana for sale among the wider community. They raided the community on several occasions and Howell was imprisoned for a further two years. On his release he returned to Pinnacle, but the police continued with their raids and shut down the community in 1954.
In 1936, Italy invaded and occupied Ethiopia, with Haile Selassie going into exile. The event brought international condemnation and growing sympathy for the Ethiopian cause. In 1937, Selassie then created the Ethiopian World Federation, which established a branch in Jamaica in 1938. In 1941, the Italians were driven out of Ethiopia and Selassie returned. For many Rastas, this event was interpreted as the fulfilment of an event described in the Book of Revelation (19: 11-19).
Rastafari's main appeal was among the lower classes of Jamaican society. For its first thirty years, Rastafari was in a conflictual relationship with the Jamaican authorities. Jamaica's Rastas expressed contempt for many aspects of the island's society, viewing the government, police, bureaucracy, professional classes, and established churches as instruments of Babylon. Relations between practitioners and the police were strained, with Rastas often being arrested for cannabis possession. During the 1950s the movement grew rapidly in Jamaica itself and also spread to other Caribbean islands, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
In the 1940s and 1950s, a more militant brand of Rastafari emerged. The vanguard of this was the House of Youth Black Faith, a group whose members were largely based in West Kingston. Backlash against the Rastas grew after a practitioner of the religion allegedly killed a woman in 1957. In March 1958, the first Rastafarian Universal Convention was held in Back-o-Wall, Kingston. Following the event, militant Rastas unsuccessfully tried to capture the city in the name of Haile Selassie. Later that year they tried again in Spanish Town. The increasing militancy of some Rastas resulted in growing alarm about the religion in Jamaican society. In 1959, the self-declared prophet and founder of the African Reform Church, Claudius Henry, sold thousands of black Jamaicans, including many Rastas, tickets for a ship that he claimed would take them to Africa. The ship never arrived and Henry was charged with fraud. In 1960 he was sentenced to six years imprisonment for conspiring to overthrow the government.
In August 1966, Haile Selassie visited Jamaica for the first time, with crowds of Rastas assembling to meet him at the airport. The event was the high point for many Rastas. During the 1960s, Rastafari developed in increasingly complex ways. Whereas its support had previously come predominantly from poorer sectors of Jamaican society, in this decade it began to attract support from more privileged groups like students. At the time, some Rastas began to reinterpret the idea that salvation required a physical return to Africa, instead interpreting salvation as coming through a process of mental decolonisation that embraced African approaches to life.
During the early 1970s, Rasta musicians had become an increasingly influential part of Jamaican political life. The country's Prime Minister Michael Manley courted and obtained support from the Rasta reggae artist Bob Marley, something which helped to bolster his popularity with the electorate. Rastafari political ideas were also promoted by the Guyanese academic Walter Rodney through such works as the pamphlet Groundings, which was based on lectures that he gave in Jamaica in 1968.
Many of the Rastas in the 1960s were influence by the Black Power movement that had established in the African-American community. For many black youth, Rastafari helped to fill the vacuum left by the decline of Black Power following the death of Malcolm X, Michael X, and George Jackson.
Rastafari's influence on wider society has been more substantial than its numerical size. The scholar of religion E. Ellis Cashmore expressed the view that "whenever there are black people who sense an injust disparity between their own material conditions and those of the whites who surround them and tend to control major social institutions, the Rasta messages have relevance." According to sociologist of religion Peter B. Clarke, Rastafari "helped to provide many people of African descent with a deeper sense of their African identity".
As of the mid-1980s, there were approximately 70,000 members and sympathisers of the Rastafari movement in Jamaica. The majority of these individuals were male, working-class, former Christians aged between 18 and 40.
In Botswana, a prevalent Rastafari community exists and was profiled in the documentary Runaway Slave. There are a substantial number of Rastas, Federation des Rastas du Congo, or FERACO that make up Ndjili Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. The House of Judah Community in Azania and other areas of South Africa have some of the largest and most prominent Rastafari communities, and a Nyabinghi Groundation is regularly held.
Rastafaris are very visible in the coastal city of Fort Dauphin in the south east of Madagascar, predominantly by the beaches where surfing is a favourite pastime. The movement has yet to fully settle with the more conservative views of some of the town and is seen as something of a subculture that is grown out of.
There is a Rastafari community in Malawi as well. They have had influences in the music industry in Malawi where reggae remains a popular form of music. Malawian reggae band, The Black Missionaries, continues to propagate the Rastafari culture and issues in Malawi. They have featured at the Lake of Stars Music Festival, an international music festival which features international artists including many of Malawi's reggae artists. They have also brought Malawia-style reggae to the international scene through their performance abroad, including in the United States. One of Malawi's most popular reggae singers used to be Lucius Banda, who was especially outspoken against the autocratic state of Kamuzu Banda. Later, he briefly became a member of Parliament in the now Democratic Malawi. Another outspoken Malawian reggae artist, Evison Matafale known as "The prophet" was imprisoned in Malawi and later died under police custody in 2001.
Canada hosts a large number of Rastafarians nationally, notably with the establishment of the Sanctuary of the Rastafarian Order Ministry in Vancouver, British Columbia. Rastafari people started arriving in the United States in large numbers in the 1960s and 1970s mostly from Jamaica.
Within Britain, Rastafari has represented what Clarke described as a numerically small but "extremely influential" component of black British life. The majority are from black working-class families who practiced Pentecostalism, although a small number are from white families. In 1986, there was an estimated 5000 Rastas living in the United Kingdom. Clarke believed that there were "probably fewer members" at this time then there had been at the start of the 1980s, with the movement declining following Marley's death. He noted that among those he communicated with, he found that some returned to Pentecostalism and other forms of Christianity, while others embraced Islam or no religion. Some of these British ex-Rastas described disillusionment when the societal transformation promised by Rasta belief failed to appear, while others felt that while Rastafari would be appropriate for agrarian communities in Africa and the Caribbean, it was not suited to the industrialised and materialistic society in the UK. Some experienced disillusionment after developing the view that Haile Selassie had been an oppressive leader of the Ethiopian people. According to the 2001 United Kingdom Census there are about 5000 Rastafari people living in England and Wales Especially in London, Manchester, Birmingham and many other places, the majority of whom live in London and are of Jamaican origin. Rasta communities were also established in two French cities that had substantial black populations, Paris and Bordeaux.
In 2000, Judge Charles Gibson suggested that a Declaration of incompatibility could be issued by a high court, ruling that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is incompatible in its current form, with the UK's obligations under Article 9 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (incorporating the European Convention of Human Rights into UK domestic law); providing a right to freedom of religion and to manifest a religion or belief in worship and practice.
In 2008 an Italian high court ruled that since the Rastafari religion considers marijuana a sacrament, its members should be permitted to possess an amount appropriate for personal use, considering the heavy amounts that some Rastafari smoke. This annulled a prison sentence handed to a Rastafari musician by a court in Italy.
Fairfield House, Bath, where Haile Selassie I lived during his five years in exile, has a community of Rastafari that regularly meets to maintain the garden and hold events. The Facebook group "Rastafarians and Friends of Fairfield House" keeps members up to date with goings on there. While events attract Rastafari from around the UK, much of the core membership are drawn from areas of Bristol, where there is a growing number of Rastafari centered on the Jamaican community of St Pauls.
A small but devoted Rasta community developed in Japan in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Rasta shops selling natural foods, reggae recordings, and other Rasta-related items sprang up in Tokyo, Osaka, and other cities. For several years, "Japan Splashes" or open-air reggae concerts were held in various locations throughout Japan.
- "Rastafarin movement overview". BBC. October 2, 2009.
- Stephen D. Glazier, Encyclopedia of African and African-American Religions, 2001, p. 263.
- Dread, The Rastafarians of Jamaica, by Joseph Owens ISBN 0-435-98650-3
- The Ganja Complex: Rastafari and Marijuana by Ansley Hamid (2002)
- "Babylon". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2013-03-22.
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- "What Do Rastafarians Believe". Jamaican Culture. Jamaicans.com. May 30, 2003. Retrieved 2013-03-22.
- Skowera, Jennifer. "A Study of Ethiopianism in Rastafarianism with a Focus on the Concept of Ethiopia as Zion". The Dread Library. Retrieved 2013-03-22.
- Chanting Down Babylon, pp. 342–43.
- Barnett, Michael (June 2005). "The many faces of Rasta: Doctrinal Diversity within the Rastafari Movement". Caribbean Quarterly. 51 (2): 67–78.
- Chanting Down Babylon, p. 1.
- "Jamaica". Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (US State Department). September 14, 2007. Retrieved 2010-10-20.
- Reuters AlertNet (Reuters Foundation):Jamaica (citing "NI World Guide 2003/2004"); The world guide: a view from the south, New Internationalist Publications, 2005, p. 312 ("Rastafarians 5 per cent")
- Michael Read: Jamaica. Lonely Planet, 2006 p. 38
- Clarke 1986, p. 11.
- Stephen D. Glazier. Juergensmeyer, Mark K.; Roof, Wade Clark, eds. Encyclopedia of Global Religion. Sage. p. 614. ISBN 978-0761927297. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
- Clarke 1986, p. 49.
- Clarke 1986, p. 63.
- Clarke 1986, pp. 49–50, 63.
- Clarke 1986, p. 64.
- Clarke 1986, p. 12.
- Clarke 1986, p. 65.
- Clarke 1986, p. 17.
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- Clarke 1986, p. 67.
- Clarke 1986, pp. 15–16, 66.
- Clarke 1986, p. 66.
- Edmonds 2012, p. 1.
- Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah, Rastafari – The New Creation, p. 41.
- Leonard E. Barrett, The Rastafarians, 1988, p. 252.
- Clarke 1986, p. 51.
- Spencer, William David (1998). Dread Jesus. SPCK Publishing. p. 44. ISBN 978-0281051014.
- MacLeod, Erin C. (2014). Visions of Zion: Ethiopians and Rastafari in the Search for the Promised Land. New York University Press. pp. 70–71. ISBN 978-1479882243. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
- Edmonds, p. 54.
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- Bradley, John H. (June 2009). "House of Judah Nyabinghi Rastafarian Grounation in Khayalethu South Township, South Africa". Cape Town to Cairo Website. CapeTowntoCairo.com. Retrieved 2009-11-10.
- Clarke 1986, p. 47.
- Clarke 1986, p. 89.
- Hamid, The Ganjah Complex: Rastafari and Marijuana, introduction, p. xxxii.
- Chanting Down Babylon, p. 130 ff.
- Barry Chevannes, Rastafari and Other African-Caribbean Worldviews, pp. 35, 85; Edmonds, p. 52.
- Bhang is often produced in large vessels at dargah gatherings known as "shaam-e-qalandar". During these gatherings large kettle drums known as naggara are played or alternatively, the Dhol. It is known as Qalandri dhamaal. Both groups, the Qalandar's and Sadhu's were lumped together by the British as faqeers. They are still frowned upon by the industrious population and are considered "dreadfull". Yet they are considered holy men by many. Both groups practice either some sort of chilla nashini or yoga in remote jungles, mountains or charnel grounds in which ganja aids to put a veil on the worldly & to transcend the various societal trends and pressures. It is also used to induce a state of euphoria and trance by some in conjunction with drumming, dance or whirling. Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God: Retracing the Ramayana Through India, Jonah Blank, p. 89.
- Edmonds, p. 61.
- Chanting Down Babylon, p. 354.
- These quotations are taken from the King James Version.
- "Proverbs 15:17 Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred". Bible.cc. Retrieved 2010-02-01.
- Marijuana and the Bible, published by the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church
- "Rastafari: The Secret History of the Marijuana Religion". Cannabisculture.com. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
- "Frequently Asked Question". Gospelreggae.com. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
- Kleiman, Mark A. R; Hawdon, James E (2011-01-12). Encyclopedia of Drug Policy. ISBN 9781452266282.
- Case No. 00-71247 United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit
- Stewart, Phil (July 10, 2008). "Rasta pot smokers win legal leeway in Italy". Reuters. Retrieved 2010-02-01.
- "Doug Darrell Acquitted of Marijuana Charges Through Jury Nullification in New Hampshire". The Huffington Post. September 17, 2012.
- "The Nyahbinghi Order". BBC. October 12, 2009. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
- "Bobo Shanti (Bobo Shanti Congress or Ethiopia Black International Congress)". BBC. October 21, 2009. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
- "Twelve Tribes of Israel". BBC. October 12, 2009. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
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- "UN Report of the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations". Un.org. Retrieved 2010-02-01.
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- Edmonds 2012, p. 2.
- Clarke 1986, p. 90.
- Clarke 1986, p. 53.
- Barry Chevannes, 1998, Rastafari and Other African-Caribbean Worldviews, chapter 4.
- Leonardo Alfonso Villalón, Islamic Society and State Power in Senegal, 1995, p. 167.
- Neil J. Savinsky in Chanting Down Babylon. pp. 133, 143 fn.#37; citing David Buxton, The Abyssinians, p. 78.
- Eusebius of Caesarea, The Ecclesiastical History, book 2, chapter 23.
- The Kebra Negast: The Lost Bible of Rastafarian Wisdom and Faith, p. 49.
- The Associated Press (August 8, 2009). "Rastafarians win suit allowing them to bare dreadlocks at work". New York: Nydailynews.com. Retrieved 2010-02-01.
- Cf. Chanting Down Babylon, p. 32; Gerlad Hausman, The Kebra Nagast: The Lost Bible of Rastafarian Wisdom and Faith', p. 48; Gerhardus Cornelis Oosthuizen, Rastafarianism, p. 16; An Educator's Classroom Guide to America's Religious Beliefs and Practices, p. 155.
- Chanting Down Babylon, p. 2.
- Murrell, Nathaniel Samuel; Spencer, William David; McFarlane, Adrian Anthony (1998). ''Chanting Down Babylon: the Rastafari reader'', p. 134. Books.google.co.uk. ISBN 978-1-56639-584-7. Retrieved 2010-02-01.
- Hubbard, Benjamin Jerome; Hatfield, John T; Santucci, James A (April 2007). An educator's classroom guide to America's religious beliefs and practices, p. 156. Books.google.co.uk. ISBN 978-1-59158-409-4. Retrieved 2010-02-01.
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- Jeff Chang, Can't Stop, Won't Stop, St. Martin's Press, 2005, pp. 24–25.
- Chevannes 1994, p. 2.
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- E. David Cronon, Black Moses, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison (1955), 1966, p. 162.
- Clarke 1986, p. 35; Edmonds 2012, p. 7.
- Clarke 1986, p. 46.
- Edmonds 2012, p. 9.
- The First Rasta: Leonard Howell and the Rise of Rastafarianism by Helene Lee, 1999
- Clarke 1986, p. 46; Edmonds 2012, pp. 11, 13.
- Clarke 1986, p. 46; Edmonds 2012, pp. 13–14.
- Edmonds 2012, pp. 14–15.
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- Edmonds 2012, p. 10.
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- Clarke 1986, p. 52.
- Clarke 1986, p. 54.
- Clarke 1986, p. 55.
- Clarke 1986, p. 14.
- Cashmore 1984, p. 3.
- Clarke 1986, p. 16.
- "House of Judah (Rastafarian Community)". Retrieved 2012-07-10.
- "Malawian farewell to 'the prophet'". BBC News. November 29, 2001.
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- "Rastafari at a glance". BBC. October 2, 2009. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
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- "Judge advises Rastas over drug challenge". BBC News. December 18, 2000.
- "Rasta pot smokers win legal leeway in Italy". Reuters.
- "Europe: Rastafarians Can Smoke Marijuana, Italian Court Rules".
- "UK | Anger amid Rastafarian temple raid". BBC News. April 12, 2007. Retrieved 2010-02-01.
- "Religions – Rastafari: Rastafarian history". BBC. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
- Cashmore, E. Ellis (1984). "The Decline of the Rastas?". Religion Today. 1 (1). pp. 3–4. doi:10.1080/13537908408580533.
- Chevannes, Barry (1994). Rastafari: Roots and Ideology. Utopianism and Communitarianism Series. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press. ISBN 978-0815602965.
- Clarke, Peter B. (1986). Black Paradise: The Rastafarian Movement. New Religious Movements Series. Wellingborough: The Aquarian Press. ISBN 0-85030-428-8.
- Edmonds, Ennis B. (2012). Rastafari: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199584529.
- M.G. Smith, Roy Augier and Rex Nettleford, "The Ras Tafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica" (Institute of Social and Economic Research, University College of the West Indies, 1960) in Caribbean Quarterly vol. 13, no. 3, (Sept 1967), pp. 3–29; and vol. 13, no. 4 (Dec 1967), pp. 3–14; online
- Lincoln Thompson, Experience, 1979
- William F. Lewis, Soul Rebels: The Rastafari, 1993
- Stephen D. Glazier, "Rastafarianism", in Patrick L. Mason (ed.), Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, 2nd edition, New York: Macmillan Reference, 2013
- Tracy Nicholas, Rastafari: A Way of Life, Frontline Books, 1966, ISBN 0-948390-16-6
- Book of Memory: A Rastafari Testimony, composed by Prince Elijah Williams, edited by Michael Kuelker, ISBN 0-9746021-0-8
- Rastafari at DMOZ
- Dreadlocks Story – Documentary exploring the hidden spiritual links between Jamaican Rastas and Indian Sadhus.
- Rastafari Scholarly profile at the Religious Movements Homepage (University of Virginia)
- A Sketch of Rastafari History by Norman Reddington
- Rastamentary – A Documentary of Rastafari Culture & Beliefs
- on YouTube
- Rastafari: Alternative Religion and Resistance against "White" Christianity by Jérémie Kroubo Dagnini for Etudes caribéennes, n° 12, 2009
- Remembering Rasta Pioneers: An Interview with Barry Chevannes by Jérémie Kroubo Dagnini for the Journal of Pan African Studies, vol. 3, n° 4, 2009
- Songs of Freedom Interview with Ras Mike on the authentic roots of the Rastafari movement and its fulfillment
- "The True Story of Rastafari" from The New York Review of Books (6 January 2017)
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