There are many misconceptions surrounding the Rastafari Movement with many people believing that to be Rasta simply means to have dreadlocks and to smoke ‘ganja’ while listening to Bob Marley. Although these certainly are customs of this “religion” (Rastafarians refer to their beliefs as a way of life as opposed to a Religion) it is much deeper than that. Because Belize has a substantial amount of Rastafari followers I thought it would be worthwhile to give some information and history into this movement for those who are interested.
The Rastafarian faith was born in Jamaica in the 1930’s due in great part to a man named Marcus Garvey who’s aim was to unite the black community in his country and promote freedom from oppression, black pride and to reconnect his people to their African homeland. It was a prophecy preached by Garvey in 1927 that became the foundation for this faith when he told his followers, “Look to Africa where a black King will be crowned, he will be your redeemer”. Just three years later on November 2nd 1930 Emperor Haile Selassie I was crowned King of Ethiopia. It was then that the movement received it’s official title after the Emperor’s birth name, Ras Tafari. Rastas believed Emperor Selassie to be the physical presence of God (or Jah) on earth, referring to him as ‘King of Kings’ and ‘Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah’. Selassie was King of Ethiopia until 1974 when he was pushed out by a military coup and kept under house arrest until he was apparently killed by his captors in 1975. Many Rastas believed that his death was a hoax, and that he lives on in hiding until the Day of Judgment. Others say that he lives on through individual Rastafarians.
Rastafarians believe in the Judeo-Christian God, whom they call Jah. In general, Rastafarian beliefs are based in Judaism and Christianity, with an emphasis on Old Testament laws and prophecies and the Book of Revelation. Jah was manifested on earth as Jesus, who Rastas believe was black, and Emperor Haile Selassie. Selassie is referred to as His Imperial Majesty or H.I.M. (pronounced “him”). Rastafarians do not believe in an afterlife, but instead look to Africa (called “Zion”) as a heaven on earth. True Rastas are believed to be immortal, both physically and spiritually, a concept called “everliving.” An important Rastafarian concept is “I and I,” which is said instead of “you and I.” It emphasizes the oneness between humanity and God as well as the equality of all humans. Another central concept is Babylon, which refers to the white power structure of Europe and the Americas. Rastas seek to resist Babylon, which once cruelly enslaved blacks and still continue to hold them down through poverty, illiteracy, inequality, and trickery. The greed and conceit of Babylon is contrasted with the humble simplicity and naturalness of the Rastas.
Some of the most common practices of the Rastafarian Movement are as follows:
Marijuana is regarded as a herb of religious significance. It is used in Rastafari reasoning sessions, which are communal meetings involving meditation. Marijuana is used by Rastafarians to heighten feelings of community and to produce visions of a religious and calming nature. It is believed to open the mind and allow you to have a greater understanding of the world.
(* I must note that Marijuana is illegal in the entire country of Belize, as it is in most parts of the world. Please understand if you are caught using Marijuana during your stay in Belize there will be legal ramifications)
Rastafarians can often be recognised from the way they style their hair. Rastafarians grow their hair long, before coiling it into dreadlocks. The wearing of hair in dreadlocks by Rastafarians is believed to be spiritual; this is justified in the Bible: They shall not make baldness upon their head – Leviticus 21:5.
Rastas may also refrain from shaving their facial hair and grow beards following the same principle as above.
• Rastafarians eat strictly I-tal which means natural and clean
• Early Rastafarians are unlikely to eat meat, scavengers or shellfish
• Rastafarians do not eat pork
• Rastafarians regularly eat fish, but will not eat fish more than twelve inches long
• Rastafarians eat copious amounts of vegetables, as they are of the earth, and therefore good
• Food is prepared without salt, and coconut oil is the most likely form of oil to be utilised
• Rastafarians do not drink alcohol
• They do not drink milk or coffee, but will drink anything herbal, grown from natural roots, e.g. herbal tea
• Rastafarians consume plentiful amounts of fruit and fruit juice
Red, Gold, Green and Black
When you arrive in Belize you will notice lots of people dressed in red, gold and green or wearing jewelry in these colors. This is because these are the colors of the Rasta Movement. Red stands for the triumphant church of the Rastas as well as the blood of the martyrs in the black struggle for liberation. Gold represents the wealth of their African homeland and green symbolizes Ethiopia’s beauty and lush vegetation. Black is often also included, representing the color of the Africans. You may have noticed that the Raggamuffin logo, boats and office are adorned in these colors.
The reason Bob Marley has essentially become the face of Rastafari was that he helped spread awareness of the religion among outsiders through his appearances and his lyrics. Many people believe that Bob Marley was the main factor in the spread of Rastafari to the USA, Canada, most of Europe, Africa and Australasia. His lyrics were influential in the spread of political and social ideas of the Rastafarian movement. He spoke out against the inequality experienced by the black community and the negativity they were subjected to.
So there you have it! Hopefully now you will have a better understanding of what Rastafari is when you encounter it in Belize. In Belize you will find both strict followers of Rastafari as well as people who incorporate only some of these customs to their lives (eg. dreadlocks and a vegetarian diet). If you have any more questions or would like to find out more, just talk to the locals while you are here. Belizeans love to talk and answer questions regarding their country and culture