- Rastafari is NOT a religion
- Rastafari IS a religion
- Afrocentrism and Repatriation
- Ras Tafari - Haile Selassie I
- Rasta Livety
- Food - Ital is Vital
- Ganja and Meditation
- Red Gold Green and other Symbols
- Reasoning and Lingo
- Reggae Music
- Further Sources
There are many misconceptions about Rastafari. For many Rastafari means chilling at the beach, wearing dreadlocks, smoking weed, listen to Reggae music and having a relaxed time. Even though these things are enjoyable, they are by no means what this is about and many Rastaman and Rastawoman don’t participate in some or all of them while being no less Rasta.
An other typical understanding is that Rasta is only for black people and that anyone with the wrong amount of melanin or origin is guilty of cultural appropriation, stealing from black culture for the very own benefit. I am a Caucasian male and I am a Rastaman, so naturally I reject those claims for the depth of my heart. One may disagree but if you are interested in this topic and have the patience to read my points of view gathered over my entire adult life, you may decide by yourself and come to your very own conclusions.
Rastafari is NOT a religion
I reasoned with Rasta Elders and many people from all corners of the world what Rasta actually means to them and what it is. This topic is not undisputed at all and we’ll have a look at the counterpoints a little later but the majority agrees that Rastafari is NOT a religion but a sense of spirituality within yourself, a mindset or philosophy which teaches us right from wrong, how to be an upright and valuable member of the community and a way of inner growing to be a better self.
Rasta is about reclaiming the balance between the inner spiritual and the outer world, between nature and economics, escaping mental oppression and going beyond racism, sexism and all manners of division. It is about human relations and respect for all beings. The core message is summarized beautifully with: One Love, one Heart, one Aim, one Destiny.
After all, we are born equal, we share the same space and time and just have this Life to spend. If we work together, pay respect to one another and don’t let greed fuck-up the world for everyone, we are all together in a way better place and can give the following generations a future which is worth living in.
Rasta teaches us to avoid detrimental influences, to surround ourself with positivity and people who uplift instead of trying to bring you down. It teaches us to care for the elderly, the youth, the meak and the poor. It teaches to respect our parents who went through a lot of pain and suffering to bring us into this life and put food on the table. Even though we are all flawed beings, we all deserve respect and love as long as we try to be good and upright.
After all that you may assume that all Rastas are supposed to be pacifists, but that is not true. Evil beings who cheat, steal, murders, rape or molest will not be tolerated by the Rastas. We are Warriors and come after them in anger and chase them out of our communities. Those individuals just working for their own benefits and greed won’t get any love until they change their ways. Every human being make mistakes but if you go through a spiritual re-birth and honestly change to follow the righteous path, then Rasta will not judge you for what has been but for what you are right now.
All those priciples do NOT require a religious belief of any form. In my understanding it is common sense and not bound to dogma, organizations or institutions to represent the special interest of Rastafari. You can be Christian, Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist, Jew or Atheist and be Rasta. Your religion is usually determinated by your place of birth, upbringing and social environment, all factors you have very little influence. Rasta on the other hand is all about the things you choose to do and in which direction you steer your life, so being born in the “wrong” place with the “wrong” religion can’t disqualify you as long as you do the right things.
Rastafari IS a religion
It is a undeniable fact that the Rastafari movement was born out of a religious background, even though not everyone subscribes to it. There are plenty of religious Rastas on the very foundation of the movement who practice their belief in regard to God and an eternal life. I’ll not judge anyone on their background or on what they hold true in their hearts nor would I ridicule that in any way. As a matter of fact there are many great Rastas who feel very passionate about the divinity of Haile Selassie I and the evil deeds of the devil. Since I can’t really talk about that please feel free to do your own research when it comes to the religious aspects of Rastafari.
Afrocentrism and Repatriation
These aspects of Rastafari are topics I simply don’t feel I have a qualified opinion about as a Caucasian man. I understand it as a way to uplift the consciousness by rediscovering the identity and culture of black people which face systemic racism on a daily basis.
I don’t share the same experiences and I don’t understand the struggle but I know it is real, holding human beings down and prevent them from many opportunities. Racism is Cancer for society and until we as a human race overcome it permanently, there will be no justice and equal rights for everyone.
Today, we look to the future calmly, confidently, and courageously. We look to the vision of an Africa not merely free but united. In facing this new challenge, we can take comfort and encouragement from the lessons of the past. We know that there are differences among us. Africans enjoy different cultures, distinctive values, special attributes. But we also know that unity can be and has been attained among men of the most disparate origins, that differences of race, of religion, of culture, of tradition, are no insuperable obstacle to the coming together of peoples. History teaches us that unity is strength.
H.I.M. Haile Selassie I, May 25, 1965
Ras Tafari - Haile Selassie I
The name of the Rastafari movement is a direct reference to Haile Selassie I. Born as Lij Tafari Makonnen later as Governor of Harar known as Ras Tafari Makonnen. While Ras literally translates to “head” it is a rank of nobility in the Ethopian society often translated as “Prince”. His given name Tafari means “one who is respected or feared” and is followed by that of his father Makonnen. A common Rasta interpretation of the name is “the respected head/prince who’s feared by his opponents”
If you call yourself Rastafari, you have to respect Haile Selassie I as the spiritual leader, teacher and wise man, as your King who governs your path through life. Whilst Rasta is mostly free of dogma or specific rules I believe that you have to love and study His Imperial Majesty and absorb and internalize his teachings. Without this premise you can be a righteous and valuable being without a doubt, but you should not take on his name.
The wise words of his majesty, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah are inspiring and can help us to see the light when darkness is all around us.
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.
H.I.M. Haile Selassie I address to the United Nations, Oct 4, 1963
Education is a means of sharpening the mind of man both spiritually and intellectually. It is a two-edged sword that can be used either for the progress of mankind or for its destruction. That is why it has been Our constant desire and endeavor to develop our education for the benefit of mankind.
H.I.M. Haile Selassie I in a University Graduation address, July 2, 1963
Leadership does not mean domination. The world is always well supplied with people who wish to rule and dominate others. The true leader is a different sort; he seeks effective activity which has a truly beneficient purpose. He inspires others to follow in his wake, and holding aloft the torch of wisdom, leads the way for society to realize its genuinely great aspirations.
H.I.M. Haile Selassie I on Leadership
No matter of your background, no matter which way one may finds the way to Rastafari, there is a common understanding of what considers a healthy way of life … this is what we call Rasta Livety.
The rules every individual follows are not strict and differ very much from person to person. It simply depends on yourself, on your possibilities and where you stand on your long path to self fulfillment to become a more complete human being. No one is less just because not following any particular way, in the end your heart and treatment of people is way more important then what you put into your body.
Nevertheless there are very common practices which I’m going to explain.
Food - Ital is Vital
One of the most important aspects of Rasta Livety is the food we eat. Every Rasta strives to eat Ital, a healthy diet that keeps your body and mind strong and prevents diseases. In general Ital means a natural diet without heavily processed foods, chemicals additives and the heavy usage of salt. Food should be something positive and not harmful, therefore fruits, veggies and herbs are the preferred ingredients for an Ital meal.
We are supposed to life in balance with nature, so eating from the land, growing your own food is highly recommended. Besides the health aspects it also enables one to lower the economic pressure if we don’t have to spend money to get the belly full while ensuring the quality one deserves. No one fucks around with the food supply if its grown for the own consumption instead of the purpose of profit. Additionally is it very good for your mind to spend time in the garden with your hands in the dirt, taking good care of what you’ll eat and appreciate of what you harvest. This is an experience I absolutely can confirm for myself and my family, we are growing many things and quite frankly it just tastes better if you worked for it.
Another effect I noticed is that we are way more resourceful, the leftovers go to the chicken or compost, producing more food instead of going to a garbage dump, increasing the ill effects of global warming. For myself I discovered this aspect of Rastafari as one of the most fruitful and rewarding in my personal life and development, because it sets your mind straight and fills your belly at the same time.
Many Rastas practice a plant based diet. The main idea behind this is that you avoid suffering of the conscious beings, internalizing the tension, pain and fear of the slaughtered animals. My personal rule include that I don’t kill anything that can decide that it would be rather alive just to eat. Therefor I eat eggs of our own healthy chickens, occasionally consume goat milk and I really enjoy honey. I’m in a lucky position that we own land, can grow plenty of fruit trees and can have reasonable sized garden and life-stock to support our needs. I’m blessed in this regard, many other people can’t have this luxury. I don’t have a problem with a brother or sister eating fish, chicken or whatever, I just recommend that they make sure they get the best quality which is not poisoned with the heavy usage of antibiotics or other kinds of fuckery.
Ganja and Meditation
Since Rasta promotes a healthy lifestyle is the usage of drugs frowned upon. That includes alcohol, tobacco and any kind of chemical drug that messes yourself up and weakens your brain and body. It it quite strange to me that many people have the misconception that Rastas are heavy drug users, while nothing could be further from the truth.
The usage of Ganja, Collie, Sensi, Kaya, Cannabis or however you can it is not seen as a drug but rather medicine against a heap of illnesses and anxiety which is luckily embraced by science throughout the last years as well. Rasta call it the “Tree of Life” or the “Healing of the Nation” and its usage is often encouraged besides its medical purpose to bring one into a spiritual and uplifted mood instead of getting high. Many Rastas don’t even smoke but embrace it in other forms as oil or tea.
Ganja is rather considered food for the mind and therefor many of the rules for food apply also for the herb. Genetically modifying herb, commercially grown for profit which shifts the THC/CBD balance for giving the biggest high is not encouraged, thats drugs. The use of homegrown high quality weed which gives you all the benefits and supports deep meditation is the Rasta way to go. If you can’t get it, you better leave it. Do your research, use different herbs or learn how to meditate without it. Meditation is a way to find to yourself, calm you down, put things into perspective and offers clarity about yourself and your surroundings. You’ll gain power to deal with the wickedness and corruption all around and is essential for troddin’ the righteous path of his Majesty.
Rastas promote the decriminalization of the herb worldwide and by this time many countries actually also moving this way forward. Still, in many places are people locked up in jails, persecuted by police and law enforcement just for possessing a natural plant with so many benefits. It’s simply ridiculous. I’m in a position where I can’t partake because of the legal status of my residence country and common traffic checkpoint where the police forces grown man and woman to piss in public to check if they used the oldest medicine known to mankind. I’m looking forward to the day when all the ganjaman and ganjawoman can enjoy the herb in peace.
Red Gold Green and other Symbols
The Red-Gold-Green flag of Rastafari is the most recognizable symbol and widely known throughout the world, even people who have no idea or interest in Rasta know it. The Red actually stands for the blood of the black martyrs were shed during their struggle for liberation, equal rights and justice.It is a reminder that it takes pain and suffering to overcome the evil and oppression and the struggle is far from over. The Gold represents the wealth of Africa and the future we are striving for. The Green represents the beauty and vegetation of the nature and the promised land Ethiopia. This trinity of struggle, future and nature is a powerful symbol reminding us to never give up and moving forward.
The Lion is a symbol for H.I.M. Haile Selassie I, referred as the conquering lion of Judah by the Rastas. The lion stands for strength and power of a righteous being to overcome. Rasta woman are also often called Lionesses as a matter of respect and to pronounce their strength. The Lion is the spiritual animal within Rasta, working together and a fierce opponent for the evil-doers.
Reasoning and Lingo
Within any Rasta community Reasoning is a key tool to serve conflicts, broaden ones mind and simply discuss matters of faith, identity or enlightenment. For this reasons and to give a little protection against outsiders to discuss in peace Rastas developed and own Lingo or language. The general idea is to avoid misleading words and call things by the true name. This may sounds confusing at first but it have a deep underlying logic to it. To give a few examples: the word television is often referred as Tell-Lie-Vision to show that many things you see in TV are not truthful and lies. The word Overstanding is used instead of understanding to pronounce the greater value of a deeper knowledge.
Most famously is the term I&I used to tear down the seperation of you and me, to bring indiviuals on equal terms and emphasize Oneness. Often it is also used to refer to the Rasta community which share a common overstanding of values and ideas.
Reggae music is clearly the most prominent expression of Rasta faith and a vehicle to transport the message of Love and Consciousness throughout the world. It appeals to people of all cultural backgrounds and is an universal language to spread the word. It is sometimes amazing that people can understand what this is about without even understanding a single word. You can go wherever on this globe, you will find people who love Reggae and who started their personal journey to self-reflection and development through the wise words of poets and artists like Bob Marley, Luciano, Sizzla, Richie Spice or in recent years through Chronixx, Jah9, Protoje and Kabaka Pyramid.
Many ideas are spread through songs instead of Gospels or written down rules, the good ones are inclusive and uplifting, providing strength to the weak and hope to the hopeless. While Jamaica bred the foundation with the religious roots, its has grown far beyond that through the power of music. Many non Jamaicans got exposed to this beautiful thing we are calling Rasta because of the songs, we were listening and learning, finally recognizing the underlying universal truth. Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia and the American, we all could connect, find ourselves and come closer to what is necessary to achieve the goal of ONE human race with One Heart, One Soul, One Aim and One Destiny.
There is one more topic I want to address and that is Homophobia, Gay-Bashing and the discrimination of homosexuals in popular Reggae or rather Dancehall music. Even though I barely see that in the last years, it was a common theme for a long time various songs by otherwise brilliant artists as Buju Banton, Sizzla, Capleton just to name a few. If you made it all the way down here, you may already guessed that the very core ideas and the discrimination against humans because of the way they are born are not fitting together. Why should anyone care who you love? If you are not hurting anyone and found someone you share a passion and a heart, how could this be wrong? After all, there is only one Love, right?
After clarifying my stance on the issue, I want to give a little reasoning why this was/is an issue so we all can overstand a little better what’s going on here and why artists shouldn’t be banned and punished for releasing such songs in the past.
Artists are like everybody else products of their environment. So if you grow up in a homophobic society, surrounded by homophobic people it is easy to see how a person can adapt such a viewpoint without ever even thinking about it deeply. If you are on a stage and you need to convince the audience in a very short time of yourself and your performance it is also easy to see why one would pick up on a popular topic which more or less ensures loud agreement. Gay people where often scapegoated as childmolesters, rapists and other horrible things the majority of the public despites. “Burn the child-rapist” is a statement more people could agree to even today then “Burn the gays”. I’m not promoting to hurt anyone, I just think that it is important to understand that this issue is a topic of the society and culture the artist is coming from, then being and inherent part of Rasta.
That said, a person must be allowed to make mistakes and change the stance on topics throughout their life. If Buju Banton did a Gay-bashing song at the age of 16, apologize publicly later on, is it really right to ban him many years later? Even if a person didn’t change their personal view and don’t apologizes, but stopped performing such songs and spreading this ideas, should he be banned? I believe not, but in the end it is up to yourself to make up your mind.