Why isn’t Rastafari a respected religion?


I will be the first to admit that I know very little about the Rastafari religion, apart from the trademark dreadlock hairstyle and its endorsement of marijuana use. However, from reading Josiah Hesse’s article, I discover that Rastafari religion and traditions come from a Hebrew background? Wow, I was not expecting that. As I read on, I learn that the Rastafari religion dates back to about 950 B.C. with a story of the Hebrew King Solomon. The tale claims that King Solomon “impregnated the African Queen of Sheba during her visit to his temple in Jerusalem. Her offspring in Ethiopia could then be considered a holy bloodline of “God’s chosen people,” essentially making them African Jews” (Josiah Hesse, Nov 26, 2014). Due to the slave trade during the 18th and 19th centuries, a large portion of Rastafarians now reside in the Caribbean, particularly Jamaica. However, devoted practitioners of Rastafari religion still abide by many of the laws and traditions found in the Hebrew bible, or the Old Testament. Rastafarians still follow many of the Hebrew dietary restrictions, such as only eating kosher as well as prohibiting the use of alcohol. Even the trademark dreadlocks and thick beard derive from biblical origins that come from the same Nazarite law that prevents Hasidic Jews from trimming their head and facial hair. With such a long and imbedded tradition, why is Rastafari religion not taken as serious as other major religions? The author uses Ronnie Weir as an example of a practicing Rasta whose religious beliefs are not taken too serious. Weir claims that, at work, he “wasn’t allowed to wear his headwrap” (a Rastafari religious symbol, similar to the Hebrew Kippah), “but Christians could wear crosses and Muslims can wear whatever they want”. The oppression of the Rastafari religion began with the white ruling class attempting to keep what power they could during the power shift of the 20th century. Due to its Hebrew affiliations, Rastafari religion is not too friendly of an oppressive social class. It often encouraged its followers to stand up for themselves, which the ruling white class did not like. Instead of attacking the Rastafari followers directly, the attack was instead directed at one of the most sacred Rastafari traditions, Marijuana use. For Rastafarians, Marijuana wasn’t seen as an intoxicant, and instead considered a “sacred herb” used for Holy Communion with God, or Jah. “Smoking the herb is freely compared to both the sharing of the communion cup and the burning of incense as these are practiced in the various churches”. “With the Rastafarians encouraging open rebellion from the English government… the government and the media both acted to portray them as a dangerous faction worthy of incarceration. Demonizing ganja became their most effective tool in this endeavor”. In the 1930’s, former U.S. Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger was quoted as saying, “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.” The times have clearly changed, as blunt racist remarks such as this would not go smoothly today. However, it is clear that marijuana has been used to portray certain negative aspects of society and we can still see these translated into the practicing of Rastafari religion.

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One thought on “Why isn’t Rastafari a respected religion?

  1. Rastafarian-ism is definitely an interesting religion, I became interested in studying it after some time in Barbados. It is an interesting topic of discussion as we have covered the SS as a religion in class and there are parallels with racial discrimination. Rastafarian-ism started out as a sort of black supremacist movement against the white masters of the African slave trade. Their ideology was that Haile Selassie, the King of Ethiopia, was the Messiah and would return to take them back to their promised land, rescuing them from slavery and in turn enslaving their white masters. They believed that the black race were God’s chosen people, the Israelites. What is also interesting is that believers today are still waiting for the Messiah to return and take them back home, even though they are no longer slaves and are able to leave of their own free will. One of the first to study Rastafarian-ism as a religion was Joseph Owens. His book Dread is very interesting if you ever get a chance to read it.

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