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Rastafari of Jamaica Powell, Joseph

Description

As some Rastafari do not consider themselves a 'religious' group (as Western academic/theological discourse might describe it), the term 'livity' or ‘movement’ is more frequently employed to describe this Afrocentric belief system primarily composed of Afro-Caribbean adherents and those in the Afro- Caribbean diaspora. The Rastafari movement comprises a syncretic belief system combing Judeo-Christian tradition and imagery, African derived Jamaican peasant culture and spirituality, and a fierce political opposition to oppression and separation in favour of love and unity. Variation of practices, specific beliefs and spiritual influences, understood within Rastafari as ‘livity’, are broad within a movement which is deeply anti-hierarchical and which has no central spiritually authoritative body. The movement is however orientated around attestation to the divine, divinely inspired or personally inspirational nature of His Imperial Majesty (HIM) Haile Selassie I (pre-regnal name Ras Tafari), Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930-1974. Largely a monotheistic movement, adherents refer to the divine creator (sometimes interpreted as HIM) as ‘Jah’, an interpreted rendering of ‘Jehovah’. Haile Selassie became a figure of anti-colonial resistance and black assertiveness in colonised communities across the world after his coronation in 1930 which some saw as fulfilment of prophecy foretold by black nationalist Marcus Garvey of a black king who would lead black populations out of oppression and towards glory. Garvey himself built much of his rhetoric of black self-determination around Biblical sentiments, particularly Biblical allusions to 'Ethiopia' (esp. Psalms 68:31) which was interpreted broadly to refer to Africa as a whole. Ethiopia had also gained a reputation as the only non-colonised sovereign state on the continent of Africa having previously defeated Italian imperialists (most significantly at the Battle of Adowa 1896, a date commemorated by Rastafari annually). Haile Selassie then came to embody an anti-imperialist and anti-oppressive struggle many in the Caribbean were experiencing, and become the central focus of a new movement. This led many in the movement both in it’s formation and today to yearn towards a repatriation to the ‘motherland’ of Africa, or more specifically for some to Ethiopia and to Shashamane where Haile Selassie donated land for the repatriative efforts of those in the diaspora. The notions here of resistance to oppression and injustice underpin Rastafari cosmologies and interactions with the world today. Rastafari frequently denounce the wickedness of ‘Babylon’ in contrast to ‘Zion’. ‘Babylon’ offers an interpretation of the industrial, colonial and post- colonial, Western reality as a subjugation of humanity in an existence defined by oppression and suffering. Conversely, the most divine locality of Zion represents a beacon of hope, freedom and a physical and spiritual repatriation to the place of The Almighty. An equally core element of Rastafari belief is an emphasis on the natural and the primordial in recognition that that which is most natural on this earth is most in accord with Jah’s original design for creation. This is conceptualised as ‘ital’ (from vital), a broad philosophical and ethical concept embodying a striving towards all in its most natural form. As some Rastafari do not consider themselves a 'religious' group (as Western academic/theological discourse might describe it), the term ‘movement’ is more frequently employed to describe this Afrocentric belief system primarily composed of Afro-Caribbean adherents and those in the Afro-Caribbean diaspora. The Rastafari movement comprises a syncretic belief system combing Judeo-Christian tradition and imagery, African derived Jamaican peasant culture and spirituality, and a fierce political opposition to oppression and separation in favour of love and unity. Variation of practices, specific beliefs and spiritual influences, understood within Rastafari as ‘livity’, are broad within a movement which is deeply anti-hierarchical, heterogenous and which has no central spiritually authoritative body. The movement is however orientated around attestation to the divine, divinely inspired or personally inspirational nature of His Imperial Majesty (HIM) Haile Selassie I (pre-regnal name Ras Tafari), Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930-1974. Largely a monotheistic movement, adherents refer to the divine creator (sometimes interpreted as HIM) as ‘Jah’, an interpreted rendering of ‘Jehovah’. Haile Selassie became a figure of anti-colonial resistance and black assertiveness in colonised communities across the world after his coronation in 1930 which some saw as fulfilment of prophecy foretold by black nationalist Marcus Garvey of a black king who would lead black populations out of oppression and towards glory. Garvey himself built much of his rhetoric of black self-determination around Biblical sentiments, particularly Biblical allusions to 'Ethiopia' (esp. Psalms 68:31) which was interpreted broadly to refer to Africa as a whole. Ethiopia had also gained a reputation as the only non-colonised sovereign state on the continent of Africa having previously defeated Italian imperialists (most significantly at the Battle of Adowa 1896, a date commemorated by Rastafari annually). Haile Selassie then came to embody an anti-imperialist and anti-oppressive struggle many in the Caribbean were experiencing, and become the central focus of a new movement. This led many in the movement both in it’s formation and today to yearn towards a repatriation to the ‘motherland’ of Africa, or more specifically for some to Ethiopia and to Shashamane where Haile Selassie donated land for the repatriative efforts of those in the diaspora. The notions here of resistance to oppression and injustice underpin Rastafari cosmologies and interactions with the world today. Rastafari frequently denounce the wickedness of ‘Babylon’ in contrast to ‘Zion’. ‘Babylon’ offers an interpretation of the industrial, colonial and post- colonial, Western reality as a subjugation of humanity in an existence defined by oppression and suffering. Conversely, the most divine locality of Zion represents a beacon of hope, freedom and a physical and spiritual repatriation to the place of The Almighty. An equally core element of Rastafari belief is an emphasis on the natural and the primordial in recognition that that which is most natural on this earth is most in accord with Jah’s original design for creation. This is conceptualised as ‘ital’ (from vital), a broad philosophical and ethical concept embodying a striving towards all in its most natural form. Rastafari are also frequently categorised and stereotyped in Western society for their use of ganja (cannabis), their dreadlocked hair and their involvement in reggae music. This view is however rudimentary and narrow, failing to grasp the theological and spiritual depth of this movement. Early Rastafari, and indeed some still today, grounded this divine assessment of His Majesty Biblically, referring to him under the titles of 'King of Kings, Lord of Lords', 'Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah',

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