The Rastafarian religion is unique in having few set beliefs to follow or doctrines to live by. Its African origins teach unity and love among all. There is no unified Rasta church, but it does however hold certain philosophies sacred and a number of principles true. People who believe that Selassie is divine or of divine nature are called Rastafarians. The religion is about justice and freedom of the Black race. It was born from the pains of oppression (Erskine, pg 161, 1998). The messages speaks of freedom from physical and mental slaveries of all kinds. The Rasta philosophy opposes violence, and practices a more peaceful means of resistance. The first evidence of Rastafarians in Jamaica date back to 1930 (Nicholas, pg 25, 1996). The community generally holds some truths evident, but beliefs may vary. But all are united that Haile Selassie was divine. They believe that he was the living God, returned. He was Ethiopia's emperor, but was considered a holy prophet by many more (Baptist, 1997). There was also a strong movement to renew African culture in ones everyday life.
Rastafarians must explore the different ideals presented to them by communicating with Jah, their God, and through careful examination of the Bible. By living a natural life and giving praise to Jah through every deed are key methods to living an eternal life (Nicholas, pg 31, 1996). Through meditation the followers arrive at the truths, and begin to come to understanding what has been left out of the Christian Bible. The Bible gives a representation of the past and future, but can really only be understood within oneself. The idea of personal experience and being guided by Jah shows the Rastafarians independence. With Jah’s guidance the truth will ultimately be told. The Rasta does not only believe in Jah, but he knows Jah, which ultimately leads to knowing oneself. It is not only their God, but it is everything in this world. Jah can be seen in every person and every object. The idea of knowing God on a different level fascinates me. I think it is interesting to look at objects for more then what they appear to be.
Generally the message the Rasta’s believe in speaks of equality and consists of the six holy truths.
The six holy truths are:
-Black people are the descendants and of the early Israelites and have been exiled to Jamaica by the White man
-Haile Selassie is the living God
-The White person is inferior to the Black person
-Ethiopia is heaven while Babylon is hell
-Their God will arrange for their repatriation to Ethiopia
-In the future Blacks will rule the world (Barret, pg 104, 1988).
There is a notion in the six holy truths that tells of the Black man truly being the Reincarnation of the ancient Israelites. This stems from the belief in a holy people coming from oppression. Black slaves always felt a relation to the enslaved Hebrews of the past. Rastafarians think of themselves to have been the ancient Hebrews who were exiled in Babylon. Rasta’s think translators distorted the Bible long ago, so Blacks wouldn’t know their true relationship with God. Many things in the Bible have changed from the original version, which is why the bible must be read with great care. Rasta’s question the ideas that Europeans had left out in hope of diminishing pride and confidence.
The people of the Rasta movement believe in Jesus as do many other religions, but they believe in a black Jesus who is fits more into the Rastafarian culture. It is thought that Haile Selassie is the returned Messiah, but at the same time a fellow traveler. The spirit of Rastfari, or better known as Selassie, is universal and eternal (Nicholas, pg 33, 1996). He was thought to be the true, living god of the Black race. Biblical references point to his holiness, although he himself wasn’t so sure of this. His role was very important to the religion and his spirit lives on through everyone and everything. "From Jeremiah 8:21 they are convinced that God is Black: ‘for the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold of me.’ A Black god to the Rastafarians is of the greatest importance, because ‘Blackness is synonymous with holiness.’ The distinctiveness of Halie Selassie for the movement lies therefore in the authority of the scriptures of his divinity and in the fact that he is Black. His Ethiopian birth further strengthens the belief, for the Bible clearly states that their god would be born in that country" (Barrett, pg 106, 1988). Selassie strived toward a universal equality among men, and taught the sacredness of truth and justice. They believe that their god is quite different then the White mans god. It is only the White man’s god creates all evils that are found in this world. Again, the ideas have stemmed from the racial oppression the Black man has suffered in the past.
The idea of Black superiority was largely due to Marcus Garvey and others like him. Garvey was interested in economic equality between the White and Black races. He believed that the key to succeeding was through education and religion, even though he wasn’t a religious man himself. He was an admired political leader with great expectations for the Black race. He laid the important fundamentals in Rastafarian thought (Erskine, pg 94, 1998). They preached to uplift the spirits of the oppressed, and gave confidence during times of hardships. Through well-spoken speeches messages began giving a positive message for those who would listened. Garvey spoke of a ‘back to Africa’ movement. The universal feeling amongst the Rastafarian religion was that repatriation would be the answer to their social and economic problems (Erskine, pg 165, 1998). The Rastafarians are not anti-White, contrary to what many think. Depending on where you stand in the struggle is how people should be judged. The attitude towards non-Black Rasta’s is and should be, "If you experience ‘black,’ approach life in a ‘black’ way, and are ‘spiritually’ African, then you are Rasta" (Clarke, pg 82, 1993). It is important to note that the entire White race was not thought to be the oppressor. Garvey once wrote:
"…the Greeks spoke of Ethiopia as ‘the land where the Gods loved to be’ and of Ethiopians as the ‘blameless race.’ These revelations about Ethiopia came at a time when all other African people, inside and outside of Africa were under White rule. Only Ethiopia had never been conquered by the white man. Ethiopia was the torchbearer of freedom and the bastion of African independence, and pride"(Napti, Jamaicans of Ethiopian Origin and the Rastafarian Faith, 2/95)"
Those who believe, wait for the day of return to Africa, the Promised Land. Selassie will ensure the safe return and the Rasta must be educated in the African culture. This return will lead them to heaven, where freedom and justice will run throughout the land. Ethiopia became a powerful icon to the African Slaves and was also a place to be proud of (Snider, lecture, 2/8/00). A quote taken from the prophecy of Isaiah says: "I will say to the north, give up: and to the south, keep not back; bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 43:6). A day of judgment will come and Babylon will fall. When the emperor visited Jamaica in 1966, it was thought to be the final step before the return back to Africa. Even though this day has yet to come.
There is a large following that believes Blacks are destined to become the rulers of the world. Through interpreting text in the bible they feel that Whites will suffer from societal downfall, where only Blacks will survive and eventually rule the world. Many Black historical figures are pointed to when discussing their intellectual potential as a race. Racial pride is important and the Rastafarians have strong Rasta roots.
The Rastafarian religion seeks to expand their message and remain together as a group. "The Rastafarian movement is less about the acceptance of a set of doctrines and more about the way one lives" (Clarke, pg 79, 1993). Their distinct cultural rituals are shared amongst members and help keep the oneness of the group. Meetings are often held to raise the spirits of members and for inspiration. It is not uncommon to hear words of prayer as well as mediation to be seen at these gatherings.
The strong sense of community can be seen through weekly meetings. Discussions of upcoming events, community and individual problems, and government practices are all common issues that could be heard upon attendance. People have opportunities to voice opinions to the group. Debates often lead to solutions by using democratic methods. Aside from weekly informational meetings, monthly community gatherings are also common. They tend to be for spiritual while they add a friendly atmosphere. Dancing, drums and eating lighten the setting and allows for laughter.
The largest and most important meeting in the Rastafarian tradition is the Nyabingi, which involves members from various regions of Jamaica. It is a selective meeting only intended for Rasta’s. Its exclusiveness makes the gathering seem cult-like in many respects. It is a religious ceremony in the sense of bringing the Rasta’s closer to Jah. But also a social gathering that creates unity. The religion stresses togetherness to fight the oppressors and gain what they feel they deserve. Drum playing, poetry reading and ganja smoking are all practiced to create a religious atmosphere. The meeting has strict rules which all must abide by, and visitors are not generally well greeted. The Nyabingi is a time when people’s actions become collective and their spirits and hopes are raised. A quote taken from Nicholas exemplifies this by saying:
"The Niyabingi is heard here, raising the power of Earth to the sky. Through rhythmic beats on the heavy bass drum, you can feel the earth’s very center…from smaller drums, carry the Rasta cry of freedom and dignity into the sky above…Rastafari have come to relax and share their innate power in nature. Some play the drums. Others dance in an unfrenzied, flowing motion. Each has its own, but all emanate for, and return to, the essential rhythm. Niyabingi…Each sings his own song, all sing the same song, ‘Carry Rastafari home’" (Nicholas, pg 70, 1996).
Nature and the environment is a central theme in Rastafarianism. Living with respect to the land and its many components is showing one’s respect for Jah. The laws of nature are thought to be most prominent in Africa, and upon their return they will be able to live in harmony with nature. Living off of the land means food is produced organically and agricultural practices are implemented safely, causing no damage to the land. The Rasta diet is followed closely and has strict rules. Alcohol and swine is forbidden and for the most part they lead a vegetarian lifestyle. The idea behind the practice is vegetables come from the earth, and the earth only produces good things. Fruits are thought of in the same way. Things made from natural roots and herbs are an acceptable part to the diet. The diet is called I-Tal, and is primarily vegetarian.
The most preferable method of getting food is through one’s own plantation or garden. This idea is the most environmentally sound way of farming and producing food. The return of this process is doing the least damage to the land. Its objectives are to live a healthy lifestyle, while also separating out the unholy foods in ones diet. Often the desire to live ‘naturally’ is unfeasible because of Western societies wants and desires, but Rastafarians strive to live this way. The cycle of supply and demand carries on leaving degradation and the natural processes of the land ignored. Many are just beginning to see the importance of sustainable agricultural practices. The idea of ‘unmanageable land’ scares those that depend on the products from these high input practices. Multinational corporations were looked down upon, and the feeling was Jamaica’s natural resources were being exploited (Erskine, pg 163, 1998).
Becoming one with God is one of the most important and necessary ideas in the Rastafarian religion. Once you know God, you begin to know yourself. One of the more common ways of becoming closer to Jah is through the smoking of Ganja. It is a natural herb that is used in religious rituals and gatherings.
"A significant aspect of ganja use amongst Rastafarians is the possibility that it may induce a mystical experience in the user. The ingestion of certain drugs to induce mystical states is extensively documented" (Nolan, Rastafarians and Ganga, 2/98)"
Although illegal in Jamaica, it is a necessary part of ritual services and everyday life for many Rastas. The Rastas smoke ganja because the Bible tells them so (Boot, pg 88,1976). There is no obligation to smoke the holy herb, but it is offered widely across the people. It creates inspiration and healing for those who choose to partake in the smoking of marijuana.
"He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of Man..." (Psalm 104:14)."
The sacredness of the herb makes one wonder why it is still illegal in a country where it is so widely used for spiritual purposes. The Rasta’s believe it is one of the most natural ways to worship God (Clarke, pg 89, 1993). Personal consumption for religious purposes is a valid reason for partaking in the smoking of ganja. It is not being abused using it in this way, therefore I believe it should be decriminalized in their society. The selling of herb for profit should still be an illegal practice as well as punishing those not affiliated with the religion that partake in consumption. The laws in Jamaica are working against the Rasta and their people. Unfortunately their government is trying to move in the same direction as the Western world, ultimately trying to modernize and keep the masses down. Instead of focusing on the negative, they should look at what the religion brings to the Jamaican culture and its many influences on society.
When the word Rastafarian arises the first thoughts that come to mind are dreadlocks. "…not all Rastas have locks, and not all locksmen are Rastas. It is just a common characteristic among Rastas, symbolizing deep devotion to the Holy God". Taking ideas from the bible has led to the cultivating of dreadlocks and takes on a religious motive. It follows the idea of living naturally by not grooming them and taking a natural course. Although seen as a symbol of defiance, Rasta’s feel it gives them power and deeper feeling of their origins. "The cultivation of dreadlocks is intended to symbolize this historical stage of wandering through the wilderness towards the promised land" (Clarke, pg 92, 1993). The locks serve a purpose and hold meaning to the religion. Dreadlocks have become trendy to some people in today’s society, but their significance is too often lost. While it is true you don’t have to be a Rastafarian to have locks, I have begun to wonder how many really know the symbolism behind the tradition. The Old Testament shows evidence of locks with warriors such as Samson. The Rasta locks are symbolic of a lion’s mane, an animal with power and authority. The historical backgrounds and rebellious nature of dreadlocks has made it a popular tradition in the Rastafarian culture (Clarke, pg 90, 1993).
The Lion is the most important symbol in the Rastafarian culture and is widely associated with the Rasta’s. It stands for power, strength and pride. It represents Selassie, who is referred to as the Conquering Lion of Judah (Barrett, pg 142, 1988). The lion has always been shown as a dominant animal and is a good representation of their powerful ideas. The lion is often portrayed holding the Ethiopian flag. There is that connection to nature through the choosing the lion to represent the group. The reoccurring theme shows how significant it really is to the religion. Thinking about the future, I see this environmental way of thinking taking shape in the rest of our society. There are brilliant ideas behind this religion, contrary to what most think.
The Rastafarian language is also unique and gives character to their culture. The Patois language has words with strong meanings and that give senses of feelings. For example, Babylon represents the corrupt establishment such as the police or oppressors. It what people strive to get away from. It is not necessarily tangible ‘I and I’ is an expression commonly used. It is the idea of everyone being part of a whole, and everyone being one. "I and I reminds the Rastafarian of his own obligation to live right and at the same time, it praises the almighty" (Nicholas, pg 39, 1996). It represents a collective group. Another commonly used expression is the ‘one love’. It is the idea of loving others as well as yourself. The love must be shown to all throughout ones life collectively (Snider, 2/8/00, lecture).
The clothing they wear reflects the lifestyle of hardwork they lead. The most common colors one would find on a Rasta or in the culture are red, gold and green. All are symbolic and are also the colors of the Ethiopian flag. The red stands for the blood that was shed through the many years of slavery. The gold stands for the gold that was stolen throughout the many long years. And finally the green stands for the earth and hope, the hope of a better life for the future (Snider, 2/8/00, lecture).
From past movements and expressions, Rasta’s have been questioned on their intended message. Many think that they speak of bringing the White race down, and of their hatred towards Babylon or the oppressors. People make judgments on mere looks alone. Bring beaten and treated as property clearly points to the reasoning of resentment. Since the times of slavery the Black race had been mistreated. The movement has survived obstacles throughout its history. Everything from power struggles to leadership crises has tried to keep the religion from succeeding (Nicholas, pg 25, 1996).
Forced to live under peoples rules has caused anger to rise and the Rastafarians are now finally able to express their feelings through religion. Today the freedoms of the Rasta people is restricted by establishments they don’t believe in (Nicholas, pg 33, 1996).
The religion holds strong messages and its devoted followers have great pride in their heritage. It arose from the oppressive practices of Western society against African slaves. Although some preach negative ideas to others, generally Rastafarians have begun to accept those who hear the message they are striving to convey. Equality and recognition are what they are fighting for and will not stop until their voices are heard. Reoccurring themes can are seen in the basics of the Rastafarian religion. A strong appreciation for the land has led to a simpler lifestyle that moves away from the Western approach. When one looks at the history of the Rastafarian culture you begin to see the other side of the story.
Baptist, Maria. "The Rastafari," 1997
Barrett, Sr. Leonard E. The Rastafarians. Boston: Beacon Press, 1977.
Barrow, S & Dalton, P. Reggae - The Rough Guide. London: Rough Guides, 1997.
Boot, A & Thomas, M. Jamaica: Babylon on a thin wire. New York: Schocken Books, 1976.
Clarke, Peter B. Black Paradise: The Rastafarian Movement. Northamptonshire: The Aquarian Press, 1986.
Davis, Stephen. Reggae Bloodlines: In search of the music and culture of Jamaica. New York: DaCapo Press, 1977.
Erskine, Noel L. Decolonizing Theology: A Caribbean Perspective. New Jersey: Africa World Press Inc, 1998.
Garvey, Marcus. African Fundamentalism. Jamaica:1966. [email protected], "Beginners Rastafari Page,"
Napti, "Jamaicans of Ethiopian Origin and the Rastafarian Faith," 2/95
Nicholas, Tracy. Rastafari: A way of life. Chicago: Research Associates School Times Publications, 1996.
Nolan, P. "Rastafarians and Ganga," 2/98 [email protected], "Dreadlocks,"
Rastafari Selassie Center Homepage, URL: http://nettilinja.saunalahti.fi/~hsaarist/,
Simpson, George. (1985) Religion and Justice: Some Reflections on the Rastafari Movement. (Vol. 46) New York: Phylon.
Living in harmony with the environment and the laws of Nature is one of the central ideas of Rastafarianism. To live in accordance with the Earth is to live in accordance with Jah; it is incorporated into the morality that is Rastafarian consciousness. The Rasta's reverence for nature is influenced by the traditional African religions which are still practiced in Jamaica and which have also influenced Christianity on the island tremendously. Hinduism, too, has influenced many Rastafarian beliefs and practices. Through the Rastafarian's calculated rejection of Western cultural norms they have come to realize capitalism and the environmental destruction it has caused as Babylon, a place of destruction and greed. In order to escape this"Babylon system"a lifestyle has been employed that is focused on a correlation between man and nature. This lifestyle is an environmentally sound ideal that others around the World are only now beginning to strive for.
The African Tradition
In order to understand the Rastafarian idealism relating to the environment we must first consider the traditions from which it came. In Jamaica, the survival of the African religious tradition can be felt throughout the island. Most clearly this religious tradition is demonstrated by Kumina groups. Kumina is generally accepted as being West African in origin; brought here by the Ashanti. These people above all others were taken for the slave trade because the British regarded them as an especially sturdy and good for labor (Barrett 16,1997.) The Ashanti came to dominate slave, and later, peasant society, especially within the realm of religion. The practice eventually spread throughout the slave World (Barrett 17,1997.)
Kumina is based on the belief in a pantheon of gods, mostly non-human spirits associated with natural forces, the worship of ancestors, a high superstitious quality, and the belief that sometimes human spirits return to the living in the form of duppies or ghosts (Bishton 104,1986.) Among the Ashanti is the belief that everything possesses a soul or sunsum, even non-living objects like rocks. Thus the religion of the slaves believed that,"the entire realm of nature has been endowed with personal life; and every tree or plant, every river or stone, becomes a source of energy or power which may be used, abused, offended or destroyed (Morrish 17,1983.)"
Unlike in Haiti, where slaves wee virtually forced to accept Catholicism by the French, the British found their slaves to be unworthy of their religion. One hundred and sixty-one years after the British took over the Jamaican House of Assembly passed an act to bring Christianity into the lives of the slaves. However, opposition to the act was so strong among the British planters that no clergyman would risk the support of his parish in order to carry out the task. In fact, it was missionaries from outside of Jamaica that brought Christianity to the slaves. The Moravians, Methodists, and Baptists were the first to come. They were non traditional denominations that had exuberant services that fit into the excitement of Kumina ceremonies. What resulted from the influx of Christianity into the Afro-Jamaican's life was a religion that was basically a mix between the African tradition and the new Christianity (Barrett 20,1997.) The new mixture has survived. Presently in Jamaica there are three sects of African-Christian religions: Pukumina, the Revival Cult, and Revival Zion. All draw aspects from African religions yet identify themselves as Christian (Barrett 20,1997.)
In Jamaica, where 99 percent of the population is of African decent shamanism and the spirit World are very much a part of reality for many, especially in rural communities (Bishton 103,1986.) It is from this tradition that Rastafarianism was born.
Rastafarianism began as the beliefs of four men: Leonard P. Howell, Robert Hinds, H. Archibald Dunkley and Nathanial Hibbert. All were clergymen and all claimed to have had a revelation that the coronation of Haile Selassie signaled that he was the black messiah foretold of in the scriptures who would lead Africans out of Babylon into redemption. Howell was the most outspoken of the group and proclaimed the divinity of Selassie to all that would listen (Clarke 33,1986.) Howell
's main goal was the establishment of a community of followers. In 1940 he formed the Pinnacle community in St. Catherine's. This was the first Rastafarian community. One of Howell's early followers was an Indian man remembered only as Laloo. It has been suggested that has influences on Howell may account for some of the similarities between Hinduism and Rastafarianism. Howell preferred to be referred to as Gunggunguru Maragh. The name is a combination of the three Hindi words gyan, wisdom, gun, virtue, and guru, teacher ,or translated to teacher of famed wisdom. Maragh means king (Bishton 105,1986.)
An account of the possible influences of Hindu philosophy on early Rastafarianism thought has been given by Dr. Ajai Mansingh in an article in the July 18, 2021 Daily Gleamer. Dr. Mansingh states that roughly 36,400 indentured servants were brought to Jamaica from India between 1845 and 1910, bringing with them a new religious, cultural, and social outlook. He also hypothesizes that because the Indians had a similar outlook on nature and its forces in terms of faith healings, herbal medicine, and animalism as the Afro-Jamaicans that it sparked an interest in Hindu philosophy. It has also been noted that within the Afro Christian religions there is a great respect given to the"Great Book of Magical Arts, Hindu Magic and Indian Occultism (Bishton 105,1986.)
The Rastafarians like the Hindus believe in a system of reincarnation . Rastas believe that from one birth to another the same spirit persists. Therefore, all the prophets from Jesus to Garvey to Selassie are in a sense the same. This belief is central to the understanding that they, as Africans in exile, are the chosen people- the Israelites of the old testament (Clarke 69,1986.) Dr. Mansingh also reflects on the relationship of Rastafarians to ganja, or marijuana, which was brought to Jamaica by the Indians who had used it for herbal medicine and as a hallucinogen to be used as a meditation aid for centuries. Rastafarians often refer to it Kali- a Hindu goddess whose name means"great black mother whose invoking is usually associated with the lifting of sagging spirits (Bishton 116,1986.)"Also, Reddington (1995) states that"the dreadlocked, ganja-smoking saddhu or wandering ascetic is a well known figure in India, and bands of saddhus often live in Rasta-like camps and smoke marijuana from a formally-blessed communal chalice pipe."The influence of Hinduism on Rastafarianism, though most likely not as significant as the African influences, definitely should not be overlooked when considering the development of the movements ideology.
Sitting in the Dust
From these traditions the Rastafarians received a respect and deep connection to the natural World that has been incorporated into the lifestyle which Rastafarians emulate. The term"livity"is common among Rastas. It refers to an independent lifestyle that rejects the dependency mentality cast upon blacks since slavery. Rastafarians act out livity in various ways, but the goal is to strive for the an Ital way of life (Jacobs 90, 1985.)
The Rastafarian seeks to live in harmony with the natural World. Johnson-Hill (p202, 1995) states that"the Rasta word Ital is used to convey a sense of natural, organic purity, as well as cultural authenticity."The ital way of life is regarded as directly opposed to the artificiality of lifestyles associated with Western consumerism. The Rastafarian's consciousness of the Ital ideal is expressed through diet, hairstyle, a rural experience, a sense of community, and an emphasis on simplicity (Johnson-Hill 201, 1995.) In practice, living naturally means producing one's own food, eating only an Ital diet and, respecting the sacredness of the Earth by refusing to use it commercially or to sell it for profit. In this way, Rastas believe themselves to be living in accordance with both the ways of Jah and with the African way. This is in some ways, an attempt to return to the pre-Babylon days (Clarke 83, 1986.)
An important aspect of the Rastafarian quest for a closeness with nature consists of the practice of"sitting in the dust,"or remaining close to the Earth in order to develop an understanding of the intricacies of nature. However, Clarke (83, 1986) observes that"in the West it is almost impossible now to 'sit in the dust,' for there man confronts Nature, strives to manipulate and conquer it, disrespects its laws, is even prepared to manufacture weapons for the total destruction of this loving mother, Earth."
Rastafarianism livity evokes a consciousness in regard to living arrangements that aim to bring about a communal relationship. It also brings a yearning for country life as it was in earlier days, and how it is presently within established Rasta communities. Country life is often idealized because of the nurturing and sense of community that it fosters. The Rastafarian ethic calls for social renewal by means of building on the solidarity of the village (Johnson-Hill 335, 1995.)
The Ital Diet
An important aspect of Rastafarian livity is the diet which they adhere to. Rastas are primarily vegetarians: They eat no meat, poultry, pork or shellfish. On occasion many will eat fish smaller that twelve inches in length. Fish larger than that are considered to be symbolic of the Babylonians who feed on the lives of others (Jacobs 89,1985.)
Many Rastas advocate eating holistic, unprocessed foods which they call"ital,"coming from the words"natural,"and"vital."Many fruits and vegetables are eaten raw in order to gain the most nourishment. The Ital diet is believed to be more helpful to the body than are processed foods that use chemicals and preservatives (Youd 1987.) Indigenous fruits and vegetables like plantains, papayas, oranges and calallo are the basis for the diet. Many combine their foods with a great understanding of their nutrients and the relationships among those nutrients (Jacobs 91,1985.)
Natural medicine is widely practiced within Rastafarianism. The general belief among Rastas is that there is no illness for which nature provides no cure (Chevannes 24,1998.) Wild bushes and leaves from trees are prepared in teas and juices which are aimed at the alleviation of certain symptoms, including headaches, colds, cramps, and others. Within Rastafarian society there is often a"Rasta-doctor,"who specializes in the ways in which the various herbs, leaves, roots, and grasses interact. The Rasta doctor also may use prayer or sorcery to combat the particular illness. One Rastafarian doctor, Ras Hu-I is quoted as saying to Bishton:(105, 1986)
"I believe in herbs because there are more powerful active ingredients in the herbs than have ever been discovered by Western scientists. I know that herbs was before man. I know that these active ingredients within these herbs are for the use of man. I would never encourage no one to take any active part in Western medicine. It kills. These Western scientists, they use too much weapons, too much surgery which destroys the natural, the harmonious flow of life within one's system."
Ganja, or marijuana, tea is also used widely for its medicinal values. Rural doctors prescribe tea for a variety of illnesses including rheumatism and insomnia. The leaves and stems of green ganja are boiled and the resulting tea is drank (Bishton 106, 1986.)
Ganja is not used exclusively for its medicinal purposes within Rastafarianism. It is considered a sacrament and is used both ritually and socially. At meetings, or 'reasoning sessions' participants take the 'sacred chalice' to smoke. Drum playing, chanting, and poetry readings are common occurrences. While no one is forced to participate in the smoking of ganja, most Rastas do. It is widely believed amongst Rastas that can bring revelation and inspiration to those who smoke it. Smoking the herb is said to bring great healing and increase the intensity of meditation (Clarke 89, 1986.)
The use of ganja is justified by Rastafarians on the basis that it is a plant, which grows from the Earth and was therefor given to man. Many Biblical quotes are employed to demonstrate this point including, from Genesis 1:29"Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the Earth, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat."From the book of Revelations 22:2"In the midst of the street there was the tree of life, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."Rastas believe Ganja to be this tree, and the smoking of it to be in accordance with the natural way.
Dreadlocks are symbolic of many things within Rastafarianism. A widely held belief is that dreads are intended to intimidate and put dread into them. While this is one explanation, it is only one aspect of the practice. Dreads are grown by some in order that they resemble a lion's mane- a sign of strength and a tribute to the Lion of Judah, Haille Selassie (Clarke 90, 1986.)
Many see the cultivation of locks as Biblically inspired and a sign of accordance with the natural way. Dreadlocks are not created by the use of any type of gel or glue, rather they are uncut, uncombed black hair in its natural state. They are also seen as an outward expression of a commitment to natural living. They are also a device aimed to create an increased self-awareness, and are an affirmation of ones African heritage (Clarke 92,1986.)
By growing dreadlocks the Rastafarian has rejected the Western standard that have thrust chemicals and treatments onto Africans. They have distanced themselves from mainstream culture by signaling that they do not wish to be accepted into a society that does not cherish African beauty and heritage. In this way locks are a form of protest against the prevailing"Babylon system"(Clarke 90,1986.)
To Rastafarians the culture and particularly the economic and political systems of Jamaica, and the West in general, are equated with the Biblical Babylon, a place of captivity. Babylon has also come to symbolize the attitudes that hold Africans in a subservient position. The World, as the Rasta knows it, is dominated by the belief system that brought about slavery, racism, capitalism, and exploitation and has therefor pushed aside the needs of African peoples (Witvliet 114, 1985.) In Babylonian life there is a void of spirituality, and respect for the Earth which has instead been replaced by the pursuit of money and rampant development.
The Babylonian has, in the eyes of the Rasta, lost his connection to the natural World. He has become independent from the natural processes by surrounding himself with artificial gadgets and high rise buildings. The Westerner, who once used slaves, now uses machines to perform his natural tasks. This has led to the decadence which is present within the industrialized society (Clarke 83,1986.)
Babylon is encompassing of all that is wrong with the white, capitalist World. According to the Rasta Western society is built upon imperialism and domination over human and non-human life. Babylon has come to represent any system which is oppressive including the police, politicians, and the dominant philosophy (Johnson-Hill 257,1995.)
Most recently, Babylon has revealed itself through the neo colonialism of foreign aid and structural adjustments. These programs, sponsored by institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, are supposed to be aimed at reducing debt within developing nations. However, they have essentially been turned into a war on the poor. They have ended communal control of land, seized land for debt, and forced upon developing nations new agricultural programs aimed at increasing capital. With these programs cash crops have replaced traditional farming and subsistence agriculture. The drive towards industrialization and large-scale agriculture has been relentless. The goal of structural adjustment programs has been"the annihilation of the old, African system of reproduction of labor power and struggle based upon the village and its tenure of the commons"(Federici 12,1990 as cited in Turner 38, 1994.) Increasingly, for Rastas Babylon is no longer a reference to a Biblical city, nor is it a term of abuse. It is a description of their everyday reality (Chevannes 186, 1998.)
Around the globe there are huge inequalities in the distribution of wealth. To many Rastas, nothing is more symbolic of the absurd abuse of funds and power than the space program. Rastafarians question how the West can morally justify the amount of money spent on space expeditions while the poor can hardly afford the basic necessities for survival. To a Rastafarian, a moon launch represents an abandonment of Earthly realities and of responsibilities to others on the planet (Johnson-Hill 215, 1995.)
The structural adjustment programs and neo-colonialism present within Jamaica are not limited to the island country. They are being employed all over the developing World. In Kenya programs have had strong effects on the Mau Mau and other indigenous people. However, the Mau Mau have fought back. Led by Dr. Wangari Matu Maathai, a Kenyan feminist, the various groups effected by the programs united to form the Green Belt Movement. The movement, primarily consisting of women, has employed resistance tactics to oppose development, and defend the land on which they live and farm. Many of the members have been referred to as Rastafarians (Turner43, 1995.)
Within the movement political reggae is central and Bob Marley is highly revered. Since 1982 Kenyan Rastas have been commemorating Marley's birthday. Turner (44, 1995) reports that:"While Government repression discourages the display of any Rasta symbolism or the Garveyite colours of red, gold, and green; phrases such as 'beat down Babylon, ghetto child,' may be seen traced in the dust on a city bus."
Rastafarianism has also influenced other islands within the Caribbean. In the 1970s the islands in the Caribbean faced a huge unemployment rate of between 30 and 40 percent. Under these conditions, the youth of the Caribbean began to look to Rastafarianism. In Grenada, Rastafarian groups formed agricultural communities and began to cultivate locks. They also participated in the People's Revolutionary Army which successfully overthrew the government. The victory in Grenada attracted youths of all races within the Caribbean, including Indians and some whites, to unite under Rastafari (Barrett 236, 1997.)
Rastafarianism is a way of life that has emerged in response to the oppression, poverty, and colonialism imposed upon African peoples by the dominant, Western, white culture. The Rastas, though, have not accepted the view of nature that the dominant has handed them, rather, they have chosen to follow in the traditions of their ancestors. The African tradition in Jamaica adheres to the principles of animism, where all things are believed to have a spirit. This doctrine is essential to the development of a World view that is encompassing of the natural laws. Through the Afro-Jamaican heritage and various influences the Rastafarians have gained a deep appreciation for the intricacies of the Earth. Their beliefs, lifestyles, and rituals are a reflection of this appreciation.
The lifestyle of the Rastafarians comply with those that are currently prescribed by ecologists and environmentalists. The diet of the Rastas, which consists of organic, vegetarian foods has been a mainstay of the movement since its beginnings. Yet, only recently has this idea gained momentum in the Western World. The emphasis placed on small farms, or sustainable agriculture, too, has recently been recognized as a more viable form of agriculture than are the large, agro-industries that have taken over much of the World. Because the Rasta did not allow himself to be separated from nature, he has become more aware of the laws which govern it and has therefor retained a deep respect for the Earth, unlike the majority of the Western World.
1) Barrett, Leonard E.,The Rastafarians (Boston, Beacon Press, 1997)
2) Bishton,Derek Blackheartman: A Journey into the Rasta (London, Chatto and Windus Ltd., 1986)
3) Chevannes, Barry Rastafari and Other African-Caribbean Worldviews (New Brunswick, Rutgers U. Press 1998)
4) Clarke, Peter B. Black Paradise: The Rastafarian Movement (San Bernadino, Borgo Press 1986)
5) Jacobs, Virginia Lee Roots of Rastafari (San Diego, Slawson Communications, Inc 1985)
6) Johnson-Hill, Jack A. I-Sight, The World of Rastafari: An Interpretive Sociological Account of Rastafarian Ethics (Metuchen N.J., The American Theological Library Ass. And Scarecrow Press, Ink. 1995)
7) Morrish, Ivan Jamaica and its Religions (Cambridge, James Clarke and Co. 1982)
8) Reddington, Norman Rastafari History, http://lamar.colostate.edu/~`laingg/rasta.html May 1995
9) Turner, Terisa Arise Ye Mighty People: Gender, Class, and Race in Popular Struggles,"The New Society"(Trenton, Africa World Press, 1994)
10) Witvliet, Theo A Place in the Sun: An Introductio to Liberation Theology in the Third World (SCM Press Ltd. 1985)
11) Youd, Ital Itations of Jamaica and I Rastafari... the First Itation (Miami, Judah Anbesa Ihntahnahshinch 1987)
A History and Examination of Prophetical Figures in Modern Rastafarianism
TRAVIS PIPER - April, 1998
PROPHET (prof'it), n. 1. a religious teacher regarded as being divinely inspired. 2. one who predicts the future. (Webster's Dictionary)
PROPHET: one whose righteous actions adversely influence people's minds, resulting in great enlightenment. (Travis Piper)
Throughout history, there have been many events and figures which have significantly altered the course of time. That which has been responsible for the huge amount of such drastic worldwide changes, ranges from the international success of The Beatles, to the abolishment of apartheid in South Africa. Although many great events have occurred that have both positively and negatively contributed to global change, the basis of this study will focus on the impact of three men in the lives of nearly everyone on earth, but, most particularly in the lives of black Jamaicans. These three men are Robert Nesta Marley, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, and Ras Tafari Makonnen. Their influence is nearly impossible to accurately gauge, especially in a study of this nature. However, it is my intention to investigate each of their impacts through the eyes of an outsider, and to attempt to determine if any of their existences were prophetical, using a comparison between the two definitions of the word, listed above.
In 1944, a 50 year old white captain named Norval Marley, married an eighteen year old black girl named Cedella Booker. Shortly there after, they had a son named, Robert Nesta Marley, who was born at two-thirty on a Wednesday morning, February 6, 1945, in his grandfather Omeria's house. The captain however, seldom saw his son although he did provide financial support for him.
In the late fifties, Bob and Cedella moved from St. Ann to Trenchtown in Kingston, (called so by the water trenches which flow through). In these early days in Kingston, Bob met a man named Bunny Livingston, (later to become Bunny Wailer). Together they began to play around a bit and shared common interests. It was also around this same time that they met Peter McIntosh, a local boy who, because of a bad home life, had no real place to be. Peter was commonly seen playing his guitar around town.
Slowly but surely, the band which was later to be known as the Wailers, came together. After many years of writing and playing in Kingston, Marley auditioned for Leslie Kong, who took the young singer into the studio to record his first single"Judge Not", in 1962. The following year, Bob formed the Wailing Wailers, together with Peter and Bunny. The three men were soon introduced to Clement Dodd, a producer of the record company Coxsone. On this label the Wailing Wailers released their first single,"Simmer Down", which became a big sensation in Jamaica. At this time three more members had joined the group: Junior Braithwaite, Beverly Kelso, and Cherry Smith. The Wailing Wailers began recording regularly and released some music that established the group in Jamaica. Soon thereafter, Junior, Beverly, and Cherry left the group, making it the original trio again.
Around this time, Bob's mother, Cedella, convinced him to move to Delaware, where she was working, so he could get a job. After some hesitation, he agreed and decided to move there. Before he did however, he felt it was necessary to marry the young girl he had been courting, Rita Anderson, so she would wait for him while he was gone. In America he worked some odd factory jobs, just enough to finance his music and then soon left for Jamaica again. As Bob came back to his home country, he, Bunny and Peter reformed the group as the Wailers. Since Jamaican music style was changing the group changed as well.That brought them into conflict with Coxsone Dodd and the group formed the record label Wail 'N' Soul. The label soon folded however and the group seemed without much hope until they met the great, Lee Perry. Together with Perry, the Wailers produced great tracks like"Soul Rebel","Duppy Conqueror","400 Years"and"Small Axe". In 1970 Aston"Family Man"Barrett and his brother Carlton, joined the Wailers. The band was, at the start of the seventies, internationally unknown, but famous throughout the Caribbean.
Around this time Bob took a trip to Sweden and London. While in London, he recorded"Reggae on Broadway"which later was released by CBS. When all the Wailers got to London to promote that single, they found themselves stranded there. With no other way out, Bob Marley stepped right into Basing Street studios of Island records and asked to see the boss, Chris Blackwell. He knew of the Wailers and offered to record them.The band was advanced a couple of thousand pounds so that they could return to Jamaica and record their first album for Island records. Now the Wailers had access to great recording facilities and for the first time, a reggae group could compete with the already established rock groups. The album was called"Catch a fire"and was released in December 1972. It didn't catch on at first but the reviews were excellent in England and certainly far from poor in America.
In April 1973, the Wailers came to London and started a three month tour in Britain. Directly following, on their American tour, they even supported Bruce Springsteen for a weekend. Later the Wailers were about to support Sly & The Family Stone for seventeen dates. But rumor has it, after only four shows they were fired because they were too good. The band was left in Las Vegas without manager nor money. Somehow though, they managed to get to San Francisco were they did a live concert broadcast for the radio station KSAN-FM. Their second album"Burning", was released in 1973. That included some older songs like"Duppy Conqueror","Small Axe"and"Put It On"together with"Get Up Stand Up"and"I Shot The Sheriff". In the beginning of 1975 the group released"Natty Dread". During that period Bunny and Peter left the group to go solo. The harsh lifestyle of constant touring was not what they had in mind when they began playing with Bob. Another reason why Peter and Bunny left was that they couldn't find the natural,"i-tal"food that they liked to eat on tour.The band was renamed Bob Marley and the Wailers and Bunny and Peter were replaced by the I-Threes, Rita Marley, Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt. When the band performed at the Lyceum, the show was recorded and later released as the album,"Live !". In a concert by Stevie Wonder on behalf of the Jamaican Institute for the blind, Bob, Bunny, and Peter did the song"Rude Boy". It was the last time the original Wailers ever performed together."Rastaman Vibration"was released in 1976 and boosted into the charts in England and the United States."Rat Race","Johnny Was", and"War"are a few of the tracks that made the album so popular.
On December 5, 1976, Bob decided to hold a free concert at Kingston''s National Heroes Park. The idea of the concert was to work for peace among the warring factions of Jamaica and to thank the people of the country. The government called an election for about two weeks after the concert which was a signal for renewed ghetto war. Gunmen broke into Marley's house two days before the concert and shot Bob, Rita and some of their friends. Miraculous enough nobody got killed although most of the wounds were fatal. Bob was safely hidden at Strawberry Hill and had a hard time deciding whether he was going to do the show or not. Eventually he decided that the music was what was truly important and decided to go on anyway. After amazing success at the show, Bob left Jamaica directly after the concert, and in 1977 the whole group moved to London to record and later release the album"Exodus".
"Exodus"went to number one in England and Germany and the singles"Exodus", Waiting In Vain"and"Jammin'"sold massive. The band toured Europe and also did a week of concerts at London's Rainbow Theater. At the beginning of the tour Bob hurt a toe during a football game and later was diagnosed with cancer, as a result of his medical examination. Because of his strict Rasta beliefs, Bob refused to receive any amputations or serious medical treatment, for the body of a Rasta is sacred and to pollute it, or modify it with the tools of Babylon, would be immoral.
In 1978 Bob the Wailers released"Kaya". Although the album's success became huge in following years, Bob was then accused of going soft and selling out. Two singles from"Kaya"went into the charts:"Satisfy My Soul"and"Is This Love". In April the band played the One Love Peace Concert in Jamaica in front of the prime minister Michael Manley and the opposition leader Edward Seaga. In one of the most moving stage performance ever, Bob, amidst lightning, joined hands of the two leaders over his head in mid song, to show the people that they can all unite.
On June 15, Bob received the Third World Peace Medal by all the African delegations to the United Nations. He also made his first visit in Africa that year and went to Kenya and Ethiopia.The earlier tour in Europe was recorded as a ground to the band's second live album"Babylon By Bus". As"Survival"was released in 1979 it included,"Ambush In The Night"and"Africa Unite"amongst other great tracks. With the message of black survival, the album art was covered with the flags of almost every African nation. These were divided by a diagram that shows how the Africans were packed like sardines on a slave ship bound for West Indies.
In the beginning of 1980 Bob Marley and the Wailers flew to Gabon to make their African debut. It was here Bob found out that Don Taylor (Bob's manager) defrauded him on money. Bob got so angry that he almost beat Don to death and then fired him. Dispite this misfortune, the government of Zimbabwe invited the group to play at the country's Independence Ceremony in April the same year. That was a triumph for Bob Marley and maybe even the greatest moment of his life.
The band's last album"Uprising"received mixed criticism. It included such songs as"Could You Be Loved","Coming In From The Cold","Work"and the tear jerking,"Redemption Songs". The group went on an European tour that included a Milan concert with over one hundred thousand Italians. The new album did well and plans were made for an American tour that would later intersect with Stevie Wonder. Bob started at Madison Square Garden and continued on to the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, which would be his last performance. At this point the cancer had spread throughout his body to the stomach, lungs and unfortunately even to his head. Despite extensive radiation treatment, on his way home to Jamaica, Bob died in a Miami hospital May 11 1981, at thirty six years old. He was put to his final rest ten days after his death. Bob was then 36 years old (White 1983).
At his funeral, there occurred one of the most significant Rasta gatherings ever. Like gathering for a big party, they came from all over to march from Kingston to Nine Miles, the place of Bob's birth, to bury his body. The funeral was attended by both Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, symbolizing true progress in the struggle against political violence and oppression.
The total impact of Bob Marley's life has sparked one the largest social movements in history. Although Rastafarianism surely existed before Bob declared himself a believer, the exposure that he provided the world with, truly opened up the religion to those who, without him, may never have even heard of Rasta, or reggae music for that matter. Some say part of Bob's overwhelming success was in his handsome, captivating appearance. As his father was white, Bob's complexion was very clear and handsomly proportioned between black and white. I suggest this as only a fraction of his popularity. I believe Bob Marley had a gift; a direct spiritual connection that perhaps no one else has had to date.
There are many reasons why Bob Marley and the Wailers became international superstars and the forefathers of global reggae, but only a few reasons why Bob was the way he was. Perhaps without him, the band would have reached similar levels of achievement, but the message that he spread and the feelings he conveyed throughout those who were lucky enough to know him and through those who are only able to hear him, were exceptionally phenomenal. So phenomenal, that divine inspiration and direct spiritual influence may be the only explanations.
When I watch footage of Bob performing live onstage, I sometimes get shivers, as if there is a beam of light which comes from the sky and shines directly on his head. The way he skanked his body, throwing his locks in every direction, sending praise to the most high, Jah Rastafari, captivates people, unlike any other reggae performer ever has. When Bob played, it seemed he got his spirit and power directly from God, and used his body as a translator to convey the energy to the people.
The great struggles that we all endure, particularly black Jamaicans, are the basis of Bob's inspiration. How could people living in such a beautiful place undergo such incredible hardships? The irony is shocking. When music is all that you have, it feels pretty good when you can all get together and share a common wealth, that no one can take away from you. Music is all that Jamaicans have against the oppression of Babylon and it's evil ways. Bob's contributions and influence to this"chanting down of Babylon"has changed thousands of lives. As Bob says in Trenchtown Rock,"One good thing about music, it when hits, you feel no pain...one good thing about music, is when it hits ya, you feel no pain.. SO, hit me with music, hit me with music now! The metaphorical comparison of physical brutality by the hands of Babylon, and brutality with music, described above, provides an excellent Rasta assimilation.
I think part of the reason why Bob reached such incredible achievement and success, is that he was one of the people that he sang about setting free. Its not like he grew up in a rich part of Kingston and simply became interested in reggae and decided to start performing. His childhood in Trenchtown gave him brilliantly clear evidence of the oppression that was going on there. I suppose it was this that helped inspire such passionate performances.
The second figure of significant importance in African-American, and Rastafarian history, and often referred to as the"Black Moses", was Marcus Mosiah Garvey, a black, Jamaican native who was born in St.Ann's Bay, on the northern coast, on August 17, 1887. As the youngest of eleven children, Garvey was often thriving for attention amongst his family. Largely self taught, Garvey attended school until he was fourteen and moved to Kingston, where he found work in a print shop and quickly became acquainted with the abysmal living conditions of the laboring class. As a result of this, he immediately involved himself in social reform, by participating in the first Printer's Union strike in Jamaica in 1907, and in setting up the newspaper, The Watchman. Once Garvey got a taste of the discriminatory conditions going on in Jamaica, he left the island to make more money to finance his projects. In the years directly following, he visited Central and South America, amassing more and more evidence that black people everywhere were experiencing the discrimination that he had, in Jamaica.
In 1911, Garvey returned to Jamaica and began to lay the groundwork for the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the first important American black nationalist movement, to which he would devote most of his life. Because of the importance he felt for his plans, the lack of enthusiasm he experienced by the Jamaican people, left him severely unimpressed. In 1912, he traveled to England in search of additional financial backing. In England, he met Egyptian journalist, Duse Mohammed Ali, while working for his publication African Times and Oriental Review . It was then that Garvey began to study the history of Africa and the exploitation of indigenous peoples, by colonial powers, particularly England and France. A major piece of literature that helped shape Garvey's strict values was Booker T. Washington's, Up From Slavery, a book that advocated black self-help.
Finally on August 1, 1914, with a group of friends, Garvey completely organized, and got underway, the Universal Negro Improvement Association and it's coordinating body, The African Communities League. The motto of the UNIA soon became,"One God, One Aim, One Destiny"and signified well, Garvey's intense beliefs. In 1920, the organization held its first convention in New York City, which opened with a parade down Lenox Ave, in Harlem. That evening, in a speech to over 25,000 people from the steps of Association's Liberty Hall, Garvey explained the outline of his plan to build an African nation-state. He spoke of a"new Negro", who was proud of being black and taught that blacks would only be respected when they were economically strong, as well as preaching an independent black economy within the framework of white capitalism. His words convinced many people that night, and his plans took off in NYC, as thousands enrolled in the UNIA. It was then that he began publishing the newspaper, The Negro World , which told of the exploits and heroes of the black race, as well as the splendors of African culture. Garvey also began touring the country, preaching about black nationalism to large audiences. In a matter of months, Garvey and his associates, established over thirty branches of the UNIA, as well as launching some successful business ventures. At it's peak, the UNIA boasted a membership of over four million strong.
One of the most notable business ventures that Garvey started was, The Black Star Shipping Line, which was something that was unheard of at this time: a business belonging to, and operated by blacks. The Black Star gave even the poorest blacks the opportunity to become stockholders in a big business enterprise. Even though the idea of blacks owning and operating a business, was unheard of and largely unsupported by majorities, Garvey pushed on. The Black Star Line was established as a commercial venture, and it is my belief that Garvey did not intend, as critics so often claim, that the Line would serve merely as a vehicle for the transportation of all Negroes back to the African homeland.
The Black Star Line, despite it's initial success, soon began to loose popularity and consequently, fell into serious financial difficulties. With the Line in such a predicament, Garvey promoted two new businesses, namely, the African Communities League, and the Negro Factories Corporation, as well as many other restaurants, factories, grocery stores and laundries. He also tried to follow through with his strong issues on colonization by sending a delegation to appeal the League of Nations for transfer to the UNIA of the African colonies taken from Germany during World War I. He reached the height of his power in 1920, when he presided at an international convention in Liberty Hall, with delegates present from over twenty-five countries. This affair was followed by a parade of over fifty thousand people, through the streets of Harlem, led by Garvey himself, in flamboyant costume.
Eventually Garvey's numerous financial schemes and occasional betrayals, caught up with him when he, and five other UNIA member were charged with U.S. mail fraud, in connection with the sale of stock to the Star Line. Although many critics contend that the charges were drummed up out of nowhere because the F.B.I wanted him put down, nonetheless, Garvey was sentenced to a five year sentence in 1925. But in 1927, after serving only two years, his sentence was commuted by President Calvin Coolidge, and he was deported as an undesirable alien.
Following this, he returned to Jamaica where he turned his attention to Jamaican politics, campaigning on a platform of self government, minimum wage laws and judicial reform. Some of the other doctrines that Garvey very strongly supported were: worldwide cooperation between all blacks, development of Africa to it's potential, recognizing Africa as important in world affairs, development of black education institutions, raising up the consciousness of black people globally, and that blacks should be proud, self-sufficient, and disciplined. Regardless of this, he was completely defeated at the polls, because most of his followers, particularly the poor folks living in the ghettos, did not have the necessary voting qualifications. Following this, Garvey was never able to relive his moments of success in the states, and in 1935 he left Jamaica and moved to England. He died there of pneumonia, on June 10, 1940, in a cottage on West Kensington, in virtual obscurity. Garvey was only fifty three when he died (Boyd).
Perhaps one of the most notable events that occurred involving Garvey, happened one Sunday in 1927 in a Kingston church, after he had been deported from the states. Garvey prophesied,"Look to Africa, where a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is here."This one statement, layed nearly the entire course of what modern Rastafarianism is today.
In 1930 a tribal warrior from a small corner of Ethiopia named Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned the 111th Emperor of Ethiopia in a descendent line traced directly to the union of King Solomon and Queen Sheba. Upon being crowned, Tafari took the name Haile Selassie, meaning"Power of the Holy Trinity". His official title was now, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, His Imperial Majesty the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Juda, Elect of God. When Garvey-following, Jamaican's saw the picture of the newly crowned Ethiopian emperor on the front page of the newspapers, they looked to their bibles for a sign. The evidence in the Bible, combined with Garvey's prophesy was strong,"And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, 'Who is worthy to open the book and to loose the seals thereof'..And one of the elders saith unto me, 'Weep not: behold, the Lion of Judah, The Root of David, hath prevailed to open the Book, and to loose the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth."
Soon thereafter, several preachers in Kingston began praying to Selassie as the living God and the key to African redemption. Much of the joy felt by Jamaicans, in Selassie's establishment as the living God, came as a result of their unhappiness worshiping a white god. Encouraged by Marcus Garvey, some Jamaicans, although many were and still are Christian, felt the need to pray to their own god; one that could connect to their suffering. It seemed inappropriate, to some, to pray to a god of the same race as those who have oppressed them for hundreds of years. The crowning of Selassie was the best news some Jamaicans had ever received. Worshipers of him became known as Ras Tafaris or Rastamen. It was here that Rastafarianism began.
Haile Selassie reigned as the emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. A cousin of Emperor Menelik II, he was born Tafari Makonnen on July 23, 1892. Menelik was succeeded in 1913 by his grandson Lij Yasu, a converted Muslim. When Lij Yasu attempted to change the official religion of Ethiopia from Coptic Christianity to Islam, Tafari Makonnen drove him from the throne and installed his aunt as Empress Zauditu, in 1916. Assuming the title Ras Tafari, he named himself regent and heir to the throne. He became de facto ruler of the country and was crowned king in 1928. Two years later, after the mysterious death of the empress, he became emperor as Haile Selassie I.
Selassie ruled as an absolute monarch, centralizing Ethiopia and instituting a number of reforms, including the abolition of slavery. In 1935, after the Italian Fascist troops of Benito Mussolini had invaded Ethiopia, Haile Selassie gained the admiration and sympathy of the world with his impassioned plea for aid from the League of Nations. The league was powerless to act, however, and Mussolini consolidated his gains and officially annexed Ethiopia to Italy. Haile Selassie was forced into exile. Ethiopia was then liberated early in World War II, and Haile Selassie regained his throne in 1941. After the war he resumed his long-range plans to modernize Ethiopia. He continued his autocratic rule, however, and opposition to him grew. Beginning in 1960 a series of coups d'etat were attempted, and in reaction his rule became increasingly despotic. Finally, in 1974 the army succeeded in seizing control. Selassie was stripped of his powers, and later that year he was removed from the throne and placed under house arrest. He died in Addis Ababa on Aug. 27, 1975.(jah.com)
The impact that Selassie has had on Rastafarianism is incredible, hence the origin of it's name. Most Rastas believe Selassie to have been the living God. In fact, the famous day on April 21, 1966, when he visited Jamaica for the first time, many magical things were reported to have happened, proving his divinity. On this day there were hundreds of dreads hanging around the airstrip, smoking ganja, just waiting for H.I.M to arrive. When the great plane carrying the King, first appeared through the clouds, with the Lion of Judah shining on the side, it is said, that the sun burst through the clouds and shone on his majesty the whole way down to the ground. It is also said that when Selassie's plane finally came into view, doves appeared and flew in front of it, protecting and guiding it safely to the ground. After it landed however, there were so many Rasta's awaiting a glimpse of their new God, that when Selassie stepped out, he became immediately overwhelmed and went back into the plane for an hour, waiting for some of the crowd to subside. Bob Marley, who was in the states at the time of the King's arrival, knew about it and advised his wife, Rita,"if possible, go see for yourself"(Salewicz 1995), for Selassie would truly be something to see. Rita Marley reported noticing nothing out of the ordinary, with this short, meager man, who wore his cap down over his eyes, until he drove by in his car, waving to the crowds. It was there that Rita saw the nail scars of Jesus' crucifixion on his hands, and knew that he was truly God. Following this she said,"So when I saw this I said to myself, that this could be true, this could be the man of whom it was said 'before the year 2000, Christ will be a man walking on the earth"(Salewicz 1995).
Besides the prophecy of Marcus Garvey, suggesting Ethiopia's newly crowed king was to be God, there are other reasons why Rastafari people around the world see His Majesty Haile Selassie as their leader, king, and God.
First, Ethiopia is simply where the first humans lived. Lucy, or Denkenesh in Amharic, was the first human being and lived in Ethiopia over 4.5 million years ago. She was part of the first group of people that walked erect. In the Bible there is mention of the Garden of Eden and some claims that it was near Baghdad. Though the Bible says, in Gen 2:13, that"a river went out of Eden and its name was Gihon and it compasseth the land of Ethiopia". From here life spread and before there were any countriesor boundaries, all of the earth was one. One Ethiopia.
Second, the ark of the covenant is in Ethiopia. The queen of Sheba visited king Solomon about 950 B.C. After returning to Sheba who bore him a son named Ibn Hakim. Grown up, Ibn Hakim wanted to meet his father, so he journeyed to Israel. Solomon greeted him and wanted to crown him heir to Israel's throne, but Ibn Hakim wanted to return to Sheba and become emperor in the western part of Sheba - Ethiopia. Solomon sent his counselors oldest sons to help his own son rule Ethiopia. The high priest´s son Azaria couldn't bare the thought of leaving the Ark of the Covenant, so with God's permission, he stole it, and brought it with him to Ethiopia. Ibn Hakim became Ethiopia's first emperor and took the name of Menelik I. He is Haile Selassie´s forefather of the Solomonic dynasty.
Third, and arguably most important, is that Selassie's name is in the Bible. In the bible it says that God's title is king of kings and lord of lords ( Rev. 19: 11 - 17 ). That is also the title that Haile Selassie received at his crowning the 2nd of November, 1930 in Addis Ababa. He also received the title: The conquering lion of the tribe of Judah. In revelation 5:5 it says:"Weep not: behold the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof". Both these titles point to His Majesty as God!
As the backbone of the Rasta religion, Selassie sits as the unsuspecting centerpiece. Hearing that all of these Jamaican's thought he was the living God, was completely ridiculous to him. This is why I fail to understand the reason why so many claim Selassie to be God, when he openly admitted that he was not. This is generally responded to, however, by the argument that God would not know he was God, on purpose, just so he, (Selassie), would not become absorbed in his power. I can understand this argument, but do not agree with it. I believe Selassie was often prophetical in his political and social decisions and clearly so, involving his influence on Rastas. However, I do not think of him as a true prophet, using the defenitions stated above . A major reason for this belief lies simply on the fact that he did not encourage the Rastas and refused to condone the"back to Africa"or Zion movement. As a political figure, with an image to uphold, the last thing he wanted was thousands of poor, dreaded Rastas, to sit around Ethiopia, puffing herb, and praising him as the Holy God. Instead he told the Jamaicans to stay where they were, and that Ethiopia was not their Zion.
Many people saw Selassie as a great hero in the struggle of black peoples everywhere and the work that Selassie did towards abolishing slavery in Ethiopia was perhaps some of the greatest work he did, in the eyes of the Rastas. Even though he was God, to many however, not all of his actions were purely righteous. Selassie's purpose was generally regarded as a man searching for political advancement and social achievement. His true intentions did not exceed the boundaries of these narrow goals. Although he is the basis of the Rasta movement, because some believe he is God, his existence on this planet was not truely propehtical. He was mainly a righteous man, politically, but not much else connects him with the Rasta movement. His life was so different than Marcus', or Bob's, because was a political figure at the same time, that they are all very difficult to compare.
When one thinks of Marcus Garvey, they usually think of the Jamaican who dedicated his life towards Black equality. This, for the most part, is true. Garvey influenced and continues to influence, thousands of people, movements, and songs. Without his work, black and white relations would certainly be a lot further behind than their current status. I would suggest, however, that Marcus Garvey was a much different character in the scheme of Jamaican and global influence, than Bob Marley.
The many aspects necessary for a truly prophetic figure, are in some cases, far beyond what secular culture can understand. Yes, although, Garvey was a teacher and was probably thought of as being divinely inspired by some, to me, he was not a true prophet. His overall influence on society was not completely righteous and his actions, didn't necessarily cause enlightenment in people. Some of the shady dealings that Garvey was involved with when getting the Black Star Line together, and making it financially successfull, were far from righteous, even though they might have been done for a good cause. Garvey knew that people needed to be uplifted and, by making them able to support themselves on their own and succeed financially, he provided them with a way to do that. I would suggest that Garvey was more of a black sumpremacy advocate, than a prophet. I don't feel the same level of oneness when reading Garvey's writing or about his life, that I do with Bob. Even though blacks were certainly oppressed in Jamaica, and continue to be so today, I believe Garvey's level of black-power was perhaps too overdone. In some ways, he defeated the purpose he was trying to achieve, which was eqaulity. Eqaulity needs to start with equality, not ammending the injustices of the past. For those injustices are in the past, and the future is in our hands now.
Bob Marley was one of the greatest musical, social figures to ever have lived. Almost constant enlightenment occurred when people listened to Bob sing or speak. It is obviously hard to establish who was a prophet and who was not, when examining three of the most influencial figures in the twentieth century, but after all is said and done, Bob Marley simply stands out from the others. His message of"One Love"has ammednded racial tentions in many ways. One Love is the true bottom line to everything. If we all loved each other equally; your father the same as your friend, the same as your lover, the same as those you don't even know, the world would be a much greater place. Even though not all people are good and there are many who you will not like, if you can atleast understand every person's point of view and know that each of us has our own struggles, than we can begin to lift the weight of racial, social, and political oppression, off of us all. Bob's mission to uplift the people was, in some ways, very similar to Garvey's and Selassie's, but it seems that, plain and simple, Bob Marley had a divine gift of some kind. For the purpose of this paper, I will regard this gift as being a true prophet.
one perfect love for us all
http://www.jamaica.com ; Reggae music.
http://www.jah.com ; Ras Tafari Makonnen.
http://www.stillman.edu/~garboua/Kindom.html ; Ras Tafari Makonnen.
Boot, Adrian. Salewicz, Chris. Bob Marley: Songs of Freedom. Copyright 1995.
Boyd, Herb. www.tbwt.com."Marcus Garvey".
Chang, Kevin O'Brien. Chen, Wayne. Reggae Roots: Story of Jamaican Music.
Kingston, Jamaica. Copyright 1998.
Chevannes, Barry. Rastafari: Roots and Ideology. New York. Copyright 1994.
Nichols, Tracy. Rastafari: A Way Of Life. Chicago. Copyright 1996.
White, Timothy. Catch A Fire: The Life of Bob Marley. New York. Copyright 1983.
Haile Selassie: King of Kings, Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah
Joseph Cardillo - April, 1998
King of Kings, Lord of Lords
Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah
When Ras Tafari Makonnen took the imperial throne in Ethiopia in 1930 as Haile Selassie I, a new movement was born in Jamaica. The crowning of a Black King? Was this not what Marcus Garvey told his Jamaican followers fifteen years earlier when he said"Look to Africa for the crowning of a Black King; he shall be the Redeemer"(BARRETT 8 1)?
Selassie would prove to be one of Ethiopia's most noble leaders. He pushed education for his people. He made a valiant effort to drag Ethiopia out of its stagnant state of unpaved roads, minimal schools, very little education and no say in international affairs. He looked and carried himself like a king. The Ethiopian Emperor traditionally took the title King of Kings, Lion of the tribe of Judah as a title.
There are over seventy different ethnic groups within Ethiopia's mountains. The dominant group were the Amharas. Selassie was an Amharic, and the government traditionally was predominantly Amharic.
The people of Jamaica in 1930 were in a hopeless situation. They had been exploited from the first days of slavery on the island. There were minimal opportunities for improvement. With such Biblical inferences and a contrast to the leading, predominantly white, governments of the world, it is not hard to believe that a people of such strong faith would accept this new Emperor as their living savior. The Rastafarians were born out of desperation. They had nothing and were
going no where. Haile Selassie was a symbol to them that the black man could be strong, contrary to what they saw in their own country. Ethiopia was a black nation that had been independent for thousands of years, despite its African neighbors (with the exception of Liberia). It had been ruled by black emperors who ruled black subjects. Haile Selassie was also believed to be descended from the line of David by Solomon. This only added to the Jamaicans belief that he was their savior. Whether or not he was the second coming, Christ himself or just related to Christ through his heritage.
Haile Selassie was not the infallible savior that these people saw from their island in the Caribbean, however. As true with most governments and monarchies, Selassie's government had its deal of corruption. Although they placed their faith in a noble King, the Jamaicans were disillusioned about the man they believed to be their savior.
The old Ethiopian legend of the Kebra Negast tells the story of the Queen of Sheba's visit to Solomon's mighty kingdom to learn the secrets of being a great leader. While in his kingdom the Queen of Sheba bore Solomon a son, to which Solomon gave a jeweled ring to prove his descent from the seed of David. The Queen of Sheba returned to her land in, then southern Ethiopia, what is today Somalia, with her son to continue to rule the land (GORHAM 9).
Between two hundred and three hundred kings are believed to have ruled between the time of Solomon and Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia.
Believed to have been descended from the seed of David, Tafari Makonnen was born July 23, 2021 in the city of Harar in the eastern province of Harege (KALEIDOSCOPE). His mother died two years after his birth, and shortly after that his country was engaged in a war with the Italians. The Ethiopian army defeated the Italians at the battle of Adwa in 1896 (GORHAM 4), a fate that would be reversed a forty years later. It was at this battle that Tafari's father, Ras Makonnen, fought so loyal next to Emperor Menelik that the Emperor swore their friendship in the hopes of passing the throne to Ras Makonnen when Menelik's time had come.
Contrary to popular Ethiopian tradition, Ras Makonnen insisted on a decent education for his son Lij Tafari."Lij", like the term"Ras", is an Ethiopian title given to people of royal blood, except it is generally used the less powerful men. Fortunately, Makonnen saw to this education early because in 1906 he took ill and died (GORHAM 26) leaving his fourteen year old son to be raised in the house of Menelik. The death of his father removed young Lij Tafari as a candidate for emperor.
Taking the throne without his father's help was going to be hard enough for Tafari, but he was also faced with competition. Menelik's wife, Taitu, wanted to be crowned Empress, the first female ruler of Ethiopia since the Queen of Sheba. Ras Mikael, husband of one of Menelik's daughters, wanted his son, Lij Yasu, to take the throne.
The Emperor, anxious to see Lij Tafari live up to his father's stature and take the throne when the time came, made the young man, now of seventeen years, Governor of the southern province of Sidamo. He won the trust of the people and, more importantly, the Emperor. After holding this position for eighteen months, Lij Tafari received word that he had been made Governor of Harar in the province of Harege, his homeland (GORHAM 36).
It was around this time that Lij Tafari found a wife and was ready to marry. Through the Ethiopian Coptic Church he married Waizero Menin at the age of 19. His wife was the cousin of his rival, Lij Yasu.
In 1907, Menelik suffered a stroke and as a result formed the Council of Ministers to aid him in his decisions, especially as his health was failing (CLAPHAM 15). His wife, Queen Taitu, took advantage of his weakened state and convinced him to name the adolescent Lij Yasu as successor (GORHAM 4 1). The Queen pushed for Yasu with the intention of easily controlling him and his regent, Ras Tasamma.
Ethiopia went through a series of trials and tribulations during this period in its history. When Menelik took control in the late nineteenth century, he centralized the government and made the Rases who ruled the individual provinces respect the authority of the King of Kings. This, in effect, reduced the power of these Rases. When the young successor was named, these Rases were hungry to get that power back.
Aside from the internal power struggles Ethiopia was experiencing, it had other problems. Britain, France, Italy, Germany and the Turkish Empire were all looking at Ethiopia with greedy eyes. The country would soon face the threat of Islamic conversion and the possibility of civil war.
Lij Yasu would prove to be a poor choice for the throne of Ethiopia. He was more interested in the slave trade and the Muslim religion than his own country's affairs. While Lij Tafari had spent a good deal of his upbringing reading books, Lij Yasu spent it drinking tej, a native Ethiopian drink.
Menelik could see the evil inherent in Yasu and refused to crown him Emperor. Yasu reduced his opposition by arresting some of the head Rases that opposed him. Yasu also made attempts on Selassie's life, and assassinated many other Rases.
Yasu increasingly listened to and met with the Mohemmedan Chieftains. It became apparent that he intended to change Ethiopia, one of the oldest Christian states, into a Muslim nation (GORHAM 5 1). Yasu's popularity was quickly fading.
Under pressure from the Church, the Council of Ministers declared a new successor to the throne of Ethiopia. Menelik's daughter, Zauditu, became Empress with Ras Tafari as her regent. Lij Yasu was excommunicated and denounced from any position of power (GORHAM 59). He remained at large and, with his father, made several attempts to regain control, none of which succeeded.
Tafari was finally in control of Ethiopia in 1916. Although he was not Emperor yet, he essentially ran the country for the next sixty years.
Queen Taitu soon died and the rest of Tafari's enemies were thrown in jail. Zauditu, however, could see that Tafari was hungry for the throne, and plotted against him. The Minister of War, Hapta Giorgis, and the Archbishop Matteo both believed in and supported Tafari but kept his modern ideas under control.
From the beginning, Ras Tafari pushed the development of Ethiopia and stressed the importance of education. The Ethiopians had steered away from this direction for thousands of years, avoiding the dreaded ferengi (foreigners) and their ways of life. Sadly, education was viewed as one of the ferengi's ways, and so more than ninety-nine percent of the Ethiopian population at that time was illiterate (GORHAM 73). Education was also kept from the people because once a culture learned to read or write, it was only one step further to be able to think. This was a way of ensuring power to those in control, and keeping it from those not in control. It was an Amharic trait to hoard power and to keep it from those that didn't have it. Ethiopia still had hundreds of thousands of slaves. Addis Ababa, founded less than a generation before Ras Tafari came into Menelik's court, was a mere mud village with no paved roads. There were no highways or railroads that connected Ethiopia. What is worse is that there was a severe lack of professional men: no engineers, no doctors, no teachers, no educated men or women.
World War I came to an end and the League of Nations had been developed. Ras Tafari pushed Ethiopia onto the international level when it was accepted to the League of Nations in 1924 (GORHAM 74). After being accepted with some of the greatest powers in the world Ras Tafari took it upon himself to see the what Europe was truly like. He visited London and Paris delivering lions as gifts to the King of England and the King of France.
Ras Tafari was impressed by what he saw in these foreign lands. What is more is that he now recognized the importance of education. If Ethiopia was to pull itself out of the dark ages, it would have to educate itself. He saw the paved roads, and the grand buildings that these old towns had built over the years. Tafari wanted the same for his country. He pushed reform harder than before and the abolition of slavery was added to the list.
Hapta Giorgis and the Archbishop, two of the head figures that were standing in Tafari's way of reform, died within a few months of each other. Tafari quickly moved his men into Giorgis's territory before the Empress could act, and freed the slaves of that province (GORHAM 79).
Now the only person that stood in his way of reform was the Empress. Zauditu could see Tafari closing in on her. She plotted against him and stirred up dissent among the Imperial Guard. By keeping his cool and being patient, a characteristic that would result in many of Tafari's victories, he won the respect of the Guard and crushed Zauditu's attempted revolt. As a result, in 1928 Ras Tafari was made a Negus with the title of King (GORHAM 83). Zauditu became a mere figurehead now, and all of the power lay in the hands of the King.
Tafari knew that Ethiopia needed roads. In order to have roads, the country needed money. Ras Tafari signed a trade agreement with Italy, and, to the dismay of many Ethiopians, opened the country to trade with the dreaded ferengi.
The Empress made one more attempt to remove Tafari Makonnen from power. In 1930, the Italian-backed Ras Gugsa rode to Addis Ababa with 35,000 men to depose the new King. Tafari attacked the army from the air with the country's four planes, and the rebel army retreated. Ras Gugsa was killed in action (GORHAM 88).
On November 2nd, 1930, Ras Tafari, at the age of thirty-seven, was crowned Emperor Haile Selassie 1, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah (FELLEMAN). From this point on, he ruled as Emperor of Ethiopia for the next forty-four years.
Within one year of the coronation, Haile Selassie made a major step in Ethiopia's history. In 1931 he made the people of Ethiopia citizens and gave them a constitution (CLAPHAM 17) . The constitution was limited in the power it gave the Ethiopians. To make the country free would certainly mean disaster to the largely uneducated masses. The Emperor remained as the sovereign authority. The constitution's main purpose was to give Ethiopia a sense of nationality. Selassie was trying to centralize the government.
The constitution also created the country's first Parliament (CLAPHAM 17). Limited in power as well, the Parliament served more as a chance for the Ethiopians to gain experience in running the country. The head authority remained to be the Emperor.
Selassie's rule and Ethiopia's independence would be interrupted for a period of five years in 1935. After Mussolini realized that the Italians were not going to be able to control Selassie as a puppet figure, they invaded Ethiopia (GORHAM 105). The Italian army, superior to the Ethiopian army in almost every way, proved to be too much for the country. Haile Selassie left for exile in 1936 and the Italians occupied Ethiopia for the next five years.
Selassie appeared in front of the League of Nations in 1936 in Geneva and asked for help against the invading Italians (GORHAM 3). Ethiopia would never see that help. In 194 1, with British aid, Selassie pushed the Italians out of Ethiopia.
Selassie ruled Ethiopia for thirty years until his overthrow in 1974. In that time, Ethiopia would regain control of Eritrea in 1952, a former Ethiopian province that had been under Italian control since the late nineteenth century (GORHAM 142). An attempted military coup in 1960 was cut short in a matter of days because it did not have the backing of the people.
The power in Ethiopia rested on the person of the Emperor and the institution of the Empire (LEFORT 3 1). The Emperor was growing old and senile, and the Empire's state was still below average. Selassie's government slowly came to a head. An aged and senile Emperor was overthrown in 1974 by rebels in the Ethiopian Army, and a military government was established. Since this time, socialism has been the system of government in Ethiopia.
Haile Selassie accomplished many great things during his rein as Emperor of Ethiopia. Perhaps his most important contribution was his efforts to further the education of his people. Education was pressed forwards on all levels - primary, secondary and at the university level (GORHAM 140). What is even more important is that this education was offered to both boys and girls. He sent numerous students to study abroad in some of Europe's and America's finest schools (SCOTT 168). He built numerous primary and secondary schools,. including a university which he named after himself (HARBESON 77). In 1951 the University College of Addis Ababa was also formed (CLAPHAM 22). He was also a key founder in the Organization for African Unity.
As far as civil rights were concerned, the Emperor had pushed for the abolition of slavery since he was regent back in the 1920s. He also promulgated a new constitution in 1958 which gave the citizens the right to vote (GORHAM 140).
In the government judicial systems were reformed, the power of the Rases was controlled by the government, a State Police Force was formed, and the army was modernized. Ethiopia had developed its own currency, backed by the United States dollar held by the State Bank of Ethiopia (GORHAM 141).
Selassie was also a large advocate for peace. In his speech to the United Nations in October of 1968, he stresses the importance of disarmament.
Disarmament has become the urgent imperative of our time. I do not say this because I equate the absence of arms to peace, or because I believe that bringing an end to the nuclear arms race automatically guarantees the peace... Disarmament is vital today, quite simply, because of the immense destructive capacity of which men dispose.
In that same speech, his words have become immortalized in the Bob Marley song,"War":
That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned: That until there are no longer first-class and second class citizens of any nation: that until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes: that Until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race: that until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.
Haile Selassie ruled Ethiopia nobly. He looked for the betterment of his people, and the modernization of his country. He wanted the benefits of what a good education can do for a country. He compared his simple country to the great nations of Europe. He brought Ethiopia into the international scene when it was accepted into the League of Nations in 1928. He made the world understand that his country lived and bled like all others when he pleaded for help against the Italians in Geneva in 1936. He held his people in regard when he drafted Ethiopia's two constitutions in 1931 and 1958. Selassie wanted to pull Ethiopia out of its dark ages and bring it into modern times.
There was corruption in Haile Selassie's government, as is the case in almost all governments. Despite his efforts to make his country a more modem and united nation, greed, negligence and racial issues plague Haile Selassie's reputation.
Land is the one true need in Ethiopia. Land is the key to becoming rich, but only the rich have access to it (LEFORT 8). As seen by many cultures, land is the only thing of true value. Arable land especially so when considering Ethiopia's mountainous terrain.
Land is valuable in other ways than just producing food, even though agriculture remains the basic reason behind its value. The amount of land one has to distribute is directly proportional to the amount of power one has. Land shortage also means that the people can be exploited easier (LEFORT 9). This was the case in over-populated northern Ethiopia.
During his rule, Selassie had handed out over five million hectares of land to his people. Only twenty-one percent of it was given to poor peasants who had no land. The rest of it was distributed amongst nobles, the church, government officials, and army and police officers (LEFORT 9).
The Amhara's had a bad reputation of hoarding power. They enjoyed having it, and kept it from those who didn't. This was another problem that plagued the predominantly Amharic government. Like other Ethiopian emperors, Selassie established the imperial superiority over the provincial dynasties (LEFORT 14).
The weather has a lot of influence on the fate of a population, especially one that is largely agrarian. The effects of the drought that occurred in 1972 were devastating. The famine that ensued could have been alleviated if the government had acted promptly. It is estimated that over 250,000 people died from the famine, and over 1.6 million people were affected by it (HARBERSON 84). When famine strikes a population, it is almost always accompanied by disease and epidemics. Ethiopia fell victim to the diseases that commonly plague a malnourished people.
The rains had been decreasing since the early 1960s. The Ministry of Agriculture had reports in 1973 that predicted bad harvests for many crop-producing districts (HARBESON 84). If the government had acted immediately and gotten food to the northern provinces, the famine could have been greatly reduced. Foreign governments were concerned, but did not attempt to get food to the country until the Ethiopian government itself recognized the problem. It wasn't until Dimbleby, a British reporter, discovered and reported the horrors of the famine in north Ethiopia, that the government acknowledged the famine.
Unfortunately, it is read that Selassie's government and person, could have possibly taken a racist viewpoint on many issues. One of his colonel's claim that he denounced his black officials' opinions and trusted the views of the white man more (SCOTT 164). It should also be noted that although representatives of England, France, Italy and many other countries were invited to the Emperor's coronation in 1930, there were no black representatives invited or present. There were no invitations to any of the leading countries in Africa (SCOTT 203).
Just as Haile Selassie has many positive accomplishments and aspirations, he has his share of negative traits as well. Selassie's neglect for the famine can not go unnoticed. How could the King of Kings spend millions of dollars on entertaining representatives from other countries, and neglect this widespread famine? Selassie's control and distribution of land is also a matter for speculation.
Marcus Garvey preached his concept of Ethiopianism to attentive audiences in Jamaica through out the early nineteen hundreds. His idea of Ethiopianism was a Back-To-Africa movement, calling black men and women to their native land. Before his departure to spread his word in America, Marcus Garvey left his Jamaican followers with the words:"Look to Africa for the crowning of a Black King; he shall be the Redeemer"(BARRETT 8 1).
When Ras Tafari was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia and took the name Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Jamaicans who believed in Garvey's words found this to be far from coincidental. The coronation fulfilled one of Marcus prophesies. The Bible tells of others. Revelation 19:16,"And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords"(BARRETT 83). Even his name, Haile Selassie, literally means"Power of the Holy Trinity".
Leonard Howell and three other men, saw the deep spiritual meaning behind all of this and created a following that would later come to be known as the Rastafarians, taking their name directly from their savior (BARRETT 82).
Although there is no organized church of the Rastafarians, there are some basic principles that all Rastas hold to be true. First and foremost is that they all accept Haile Selassie as their living god in one way or another. That the white person is inferior to the black person is another belief. The idea that Jamaica is hell and Ethiopia is heaven and that Selassie is preparing for the repatriation of black men to Ethiopia were also commonly held beliefs (BARRETT 104). Marijuana use was a practice that many Rastafarians used in their spiritual invocations of the spirit of Haile Selassie.
The Jamaicans viewed Ethiopia as Zion. Jamaica, likewise was Babylon. Babylon is a concept the Rastafarians use to label anything that represent oppression or evil. Babylon is a personal concept, and the meaning can be different from one individual to another. It is the Christian equivalent to hell, except on a more real level. Cities could be viewed as babylon, the oppression of the busy streets and high concrete buildings.
The Rastas beliefs in Haile Selassie fall in contradiction to the realities and beliefs of the man himself. Perhaps most important, Haile Selassie was a Christian. He took faith in Christianity and the Bible.
Today man sees all his hopes and aspirations crumble before him. He is perplexed and knows not whither he is drifting. But he must realize that the solution of his present difficulties and guidance for his future action is the Bible. Unless he accepts with clear conscience the Bible and its great message, he cannot hope for salvation. For myself, I glory in the Bible.
For someone to call him the living savior was blasphemy.
The Emperor never drank alcohol. In his earlier days, when Selassie was known as Ras Tafari, the successor to the throne, Lij Yasu, was influenced by the practices of the Muslims. It is noted that he developed a licking for hashish, a drug similar to marijuana, and that this further inhibited his ability to run the country (GORHAM 5 1). Surely, Selassie saw the faults of using these drugs. How did smoking marijuana and the Emperor Haile Selassie end up in the same belief system?
Contrary to the Rastas beliefs, the Emperor was not preparing ships for their repatriation to Ethiopia. The Emperor did not want them. There were enough people with enough problems in Ethiopia as is.
The belief that blacks are superior to whites is outlandish as well. Especially when viewed parallel to the views of the Emperor. It was quoted earlier in his speech to United Nations in 1968,"That until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes the African continent will not know peace."
How can the Jamaicans ignore these blatant contradictions to their beliefs? How can they overlook the corruption that was inherent in Selassie's government? How can they ignore his neglect for the famine that cost the lives of so many Ethiopians? These questions do not have answers. Many Jamaicans could claim that these faults are the workings of Babylon and not their savior.
Haile Selassie, King of Kings, Lion of the tribe of Judah, was a noble leader for his country. At the same time, he fell victim to the evils that often plague positions of such authority and power. Whether or not Haile Selassie valued a white person's opinion over that of his own kind, no one can answer. Whether or not Haile Selassie viewed the 1973 famine as a regular cycle of Ethiopian history and therefor did little to extinguish the problem, no one knows. What is known is that the famine indeed went on, and that numerous people lost their lives. Selassie controlled all of the land in Ethiopia, and the majority of the people had none. At the time of his dethronement, only two percent of Ethiopia was accessible by paved roads. The rest of the country remained a series of dirt paths and mud villages.
It is also known that he pushed the idea of peace in all that he did. He worked for the betterment of his country and the education of his people. He saw what education had to offer a society, and aspired to bring his country out of his dark ages and into the twentieth century. He gave citizenship to the people of Ethiopia, and brought his country onto the international level. He had good in his heart and good intentions.
To he label him a savior remains a personal belief.
Barrett, Leonard E., Sr. The Rastafarians. Beacon Press Books. (Boston, MA). 1997.
Clapham, Christopher. Haile- Selassie's Government. Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. (New York, NY). 1969.
Felleman, Adam. Unofficial Selassie I Archives. http:/ /web.syr.edu/ affellem/
Gorham, Charles. The Lion of Judah: A life of Haile Selassie: Emperor of Ethiopia . Ariel Books, New York. 1966.
Harrison, Michael. Selassie Home Page, Roots and Culture. August 10,1997. http://wwwjah.com
Kaleidescope. Haile Selassie Biography. 1998.
Kapuscinski, Ryszard. The Downfall of an Autocrat. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. (NewYork,NY). 1978.
Lefort, Rene. Ethiopia: An Heretical Revolution?. Zed Press. (Totowa, NJ). 1983.
Scott, William R. Sons of Sheba's Race. Indiana University Press (Indianapolis, IN). 1993.